Lots of movie characters left the mortal coil this year in spectacularly gnarly ways. Eliza Janssen compiles the top 10 movie deaths of 2019.
As the new year rolls closer towards us, another year of cinema is coming to a close. With that sense of finality in mind, it’s hard not to think about 2019’s best goodbyes – and I’m not talking about the elegiac depiction of family and grief in The Farewell.
This is a list of the year’s most important, creative and memorable movie deaths, in no particular order. The selection proves just what a great year it’s been for film. Old boy auteurs like Tarantino and Scorsese make appearances here, alongside instant horror classics from the last twelve months, as well as being joined by some of the year’s most controversial and talked-about hits.
Their only common thread? Each film features at least one death that made us seize up and say: “damn, that’s gotta hurt.”
Obviously, spoiler alerts are in full effect here. Read on at your own caution.
Ari Aster’s elaborate, dollhouse detailing worked great in 2018’s Hereditary, and it resurfaced in his terrifying sophomore effort Midsommar. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play an American couple pushed to the brink by personal tragedy and innate incompatibility, who break up in the worse possible location: a rural Swedish community indulging in its sinister summer ritual.
While the Hårga people are creepy from the get-go, Pugh and Reynor only see how truly fucked their situation is when they’re invited to observe the community’s retirement rituals. Two elderly people willingly walk to the edge of a tall cliff before leaping off, smashing onto the ground in front of the stunned Americans.
Aster’s timing is perfect as usual; we get just enough skull cracking and gory sound design to understand exactly why Florence Pugh would cry like that. But just in case we missed it, one of the villagers then finishes off a surviving geriatric jumper with a huge mallet. Nice.
In Avengers: Infinity War, around half of humanity was finger-snapped out of existence. So its second part, Avengers: Endgame definitely had a big task ahead of itself. Considering that it’s currently the highest grossing film of all time, Marvel has arguably succeeded at their mission.
But how do you bring back 50% of your franchise’s characters from the dead, without bringing a sense of ease and weightlessness to the main narrative? We all knew some big names were going to be sacrificed in the quest to defeat Thanos, and Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark was the most impactful.
Whether you’re Team Marty or Team Marvel, it’s a basic fact that Downey Jr’s Iron Man represented a new era of franchise filmmaking. Without that first successful Marvel film, the concept of a “cinematic universe” might not even exist.
Looking at Marvel’s world domination today, it makes sense that Avengers: Endgame would see the formerly egotistical Tony Stark give his life to save the day, donning Thanos’ blinged-up Infinity Gauntlet to utter “I am Iron Man” before dying in the arms of the supporting cast. The perfect way to conclude a decade that slowly became dominated by superheroes.
This year’s attempt to remake the horror classic Child’s Play for a tech-driven new millennium received mixed reviews. While it was cool hearing Mark Hamill’s voice acting as a wifi-connected Chucky, the doll itself looked clunky, and some far-fetched ideas about the contemporary menace of ‘the Cloud’ didn’t go down well.
The reboot did give us at least one great kill, though, in the comeuppance of philandering asshole Shane. Not only is Shane cruel to 13-year-old protagonist Andy, he’s also lying to Andy’s mom, pretending to be a kind, unattached bachelor while actually hiding a wife and kid in the suburbs.
Andy’s malevolent My Buddy doll, Chucky, won’t let Shane get away with abusing his owner, though. In a gleeful Gremlins-esque scene of holiday carnage, Chucky causes Shane to plummet from the eave of his comfy family home, breaking both legs, before scalping Shane with a ride-on lawn mower. Happy holidays, everybody!
As with his previous revisionist romp Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s Summer of Love hangout flick Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood toyed with its audiences’ knowledge of what actually happened to actress Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family killers. Until the homicidal hippies actually show up to do their evil deeds, viewers were given a solid couple of hours to chill out in mid-century Los Angeles with fading movie star Rick Dalton and his salt-of-the-earth stuntman pal Cliff Booth.
That deceptive chillness only makes the film’s controversial climax all the more bombastic. Tarantino gleefully swings into straight-up fictional, action movie power fantasy once the Manson family decide not to enter the Polanski home after all.
Instead, the unfortunate murderers try to mess with Rick, and get torn to shreds by Cliff and his vicious pitbull. Cliff turns two of the killers to mincemeat pretty quickly, but a half-dead Sadie flees into the backyard, screaming like a banshee.
Luckily, as we know from a comedic anecdote earlier in the film, the typically clueless Rick has experience with a flamethrower, and gets his shit together enough to torch Sadie. Whether you found this ending hilarious or troubling, you have to admit that Tarantino has great timing and imagination when it comes to viscera.
The catalyst for Rian Johnson’s witty whodunnit Knives Out comes with the death of mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey, after a night of celebration with his big family of rich eccentrics. Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by his housekeeper, having apparently slit his own throat – but then again, everyone in the house seems to have their own motivations that could single them out as a killer.
With a little detective work from Daniel Craig, questions begin to emerge. Was Harlan given a lethal dose of morphine by his kind, long-serving nurse Marta? Was it an accident? Above all: was this death a murder, or a suicide?
The answer: uhhhh, both?
As with all murder mysteries, the joy of Knives Out is more in the ‘how’ than the ‘who’, so the movie tells its twisty story of homicide far better than any outright description of Harlan’s death. But in short – one of Harlan’s vindictive family members tricked Marta into believing she had accidentally poisoned Harlan, who then committed suicide via a knife to the neck, even though Marta’s intuitive skill as a nurse meant that Harlan was never really under threat of death at all.
Ultimately, Knives Out’s central death is a suicide that wouldn’t have happened without the interference of a greedy murderer. Got it? Good. Go see the movie to find out more.
Todd Philip’s grim re-imagining of Batman’s greatest nemesis was certainly one of 2019’s most talked-about films: for better or worse, the scope of the superhero film has been irrevocably changed.
A large part of that discussion is due to Joker’s explosive climax, where Phillips and his transformed leading man Joaquin Phoenix draw directly from all the Scorsese flicks their film is inspired by. After a lifetime of being belittled, beaten up, and laughed at for all the wrong reasons, Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is given the chance of a lifetime – to appear as a guest on his idol Murray Franklin’s talk show.
Wearing a full face of deranged greasepaint, Fleck quickly loses ground, becoming hysterically angry at the studio audience’s disregard for his pain. They don’t like his jokes, and they see him as we do – as a villain.
Fleck’s final joke isn’t an especially snappy one: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fuckin’ deserve!” But the punchline is solid, with Fleck pulling out a gun and shooting Franklin (Robert De Niro) square in the head.
Love it or hate it, Joker is perhaps the most emblematic film of 2019’s pet themes – media, toxic masculinity, class war, and mental illness – and its gritty iteration of a superhero origin story speaks to this moment in cinema, somewhere between cynical franchise filmmaking and any Tyler Durden-worshipping film bro’s idea of cinéma vérité.
Another DeNiro death, but this time Bobby’s on the other side of the gun.
In Martin Scorsese’s Netflix requiem for the gangster movie, we’re given three and a half hours to watch Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Teamster hero Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, dynamite) meet, age and decay.
There’s plenty of ‘house painting’ (read: shooting people in the head so their blood ‘paints’ the walls) in this epic crime memoir, but it all feels like it’s leading up to something more meaningful than petty mob rivalries. Gradually, we understand that Sheeran will be responsible in some way for Hoffa’s death, despite the deep mutual trust and understanding between the two men.
Hoffa’s death, alone with Sheeran in a middle-class Detroit family home, is lonely and unglamorous. It’s the polar opposite to the sanguine, splashy kills of Scorsese’s early work in establishing the gangster genre, and that’s exactly the point.
Seeing a convincing model of Al Pacino’s corpse being packed into a cardboard box and ungenerously burn to ashes is as striking as you’d expect, and it makes The Irishman one of this year’s most genuine, stirring examinations of grief and mortality.
Picking the best kill in a John Wick movie is almost as painful as being killed in a John Wick movie. The Chad Stahelski trilogy is rife with creative, brilliantly executed hits, and John Wick 3: Parabellum introduced us to some modern classics.
To choose just one, it’s hard to look past the first act armory fight in which Keanu Reeves’ anti-hero John takes refuge in an antiques warehouse, the walls lined with cabinets full of vintage weaponry. The pack of goons who follow him into the building don’t stand a chance.
They put up a good fight, forcing John to repeatedly punch a knife into one of their heads after it’s not initially submerged enough to kill him. But the piece de resistance is in the sequence’s final, comedic beat. While the final assassin is slowly gurgling his last breath, John slowly picks up an axe and lugs it in their direction for good measure. The audience applauded when I watched it in the cinema.
Parasite – It’s my party, and I’ll die if I want to
Palme d’Or winner Parasite is unpredictable in the best way, tunnelling towards a climax that audiences could not possibly have seen coming from the film’s opening.
The final scenes of Bong Joon-Ho’s class thriller bring together the working class Kim family and their oblivious employers, the priveliged Parks, at the scene of a prissy children’s birthday party – for weeks, a resentful pressure has been building between the members of both families. And the crazy, reclusive former waitstaff in the basement of the Park family isn’t exactly easing that tension.
Things reach breaking point when the psychotic hermit Geun-sae bashes the Kim’s son over the head with a “scholar’s rock,” before sprinting into the idyll of the bourgeoisie backyard party and stabbing the Kim’s daughter to death.
Parasite was one of 2019’s surprise hits, acting as an exciting intro to Bong’s filmography for many cinemagoers, and throwing narrative curveballs to even the most experienced fans of the Korean auteur.
That sinking feeling viewers get from the movie’s clever first half is entirely repaid in its second, when all of the Kim family’s good luck turns around and bites them in the arse. If you say you saw it coming, you’re a liar.
Samara Weaving stunned us in arguably the breakout horror performance of the year. As Grace in Ready or Not, the Aussie actress is perfectly emotive and empathetic. Wouldn’t you want to see your fiance’s head explode, too, if they’d been lying to you about their psychotic Satanist family background?
Without those gloriously red-drenched last five minutes, Ready or Not could be considered a tight (and even realistic?) thriller about a brave young woman realising she’s marrying into an aristocratic family of murderers, who are happy to kill the poor as long as it keeps them rich. But no! Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett go for broke, showing Grace’s in-laws exploding into fountains of blood after they fail to sacrifice her to the devil before the sun rises.
It might be considered in poor taste by viewers who were expecting a more grounded slasher, but the sequence might be the most ‘fun’ death scene of 2019 – a year that isn’t lacking for competition.