How often have you been watching a film and as you’re following the story, you see how influential the lead character is, or maybe it’s one of the supporting characters, and then BAM!, their character either dies or is killed off suddenly? I know that film makers often do that for shock value and to throw a curve ball at the audience that they weren’t expecting. Sometimes the death of this character is necessary for the film’s storyline to logically play out. Either way, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of ten of these characters that probably threw most of us for a loop when they bought the farm. In the comments section, please provide more that you felt should have been on the list or make corrections if you wish. There’s no rank order here. Enjoy. WARNING: This list is chock full of spoilers if you haven’t seen the films listed.
Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis in “Executive Decision”
What’s the mark of a successful action movie hero? Being able to establish the strength and presence of your character early in the film, and, love or hate Steven Seagal, in his movies over the years, especially the early ones, he’s been able to do this. As Lt Col Travis, leader of a US Army Special Forces Team tapped to take a major commercial airliner back from a vicious group of terrorists hell bent on forcing a chemical called “DZ-5” down our American throats, Seagal was as convincing as any of his prior characters before this. When it was in theatres, no one knew what was about to happen and most of us was prepared to see Seagal kicking some terrorist butt in the skies for about an hour and a half once his team got up there. But the makers of this film wanted the audience to feel as helpless and worried as the people aboard the plane because once they got up there and are attempting to sneak onto the plane through the cargo area, things go terribly wrong. Sgt “Cappy” Matheny, played by veteran actor Joe Morton, is seriously injured. This causes a Dr. Grant, played by the infallible Kurt Russell, who was supposed to stay put, to have to board to help lift him into the plane. The 747 pulls up though, putting too much stress on the boarding sleeve. Unable to board the plane, Colonel Travis sacrifices himself when he closes the 747’s hatch, just as the sleeve breaks and he is thrown from the F-117 to his death miles and miles to the earth below. The devastation in the faces of the team members after losing Seagal’s character was unforgettable but it was awesome to see them rally together for the rest of the movie to save those on board and the American Eastern Seaboard for that matter.
Kate Miller in “Dressed To Kill”
I’ve watched this movie as an adolescent boy, a teenager, and a grown man and every time I do Angie Dickinson’s brief time in it leaves a powerful sexual impact on my “urges”. Before we even have time to admire Dickinson’s alluring beauty in this film, she is torridly slammed through three sex scenes so hot it’ll burn your eyes to watch them. As Kate Miller, she’s playing a housewife that is receiving therapy from New York psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott, portrayed by Michael Caine. Kate winds up going to a museum where she has an unexpected flirtation with a mysterious stranger. Kate and the stranger half-flirt, half-stalk each other through the museum until they finally wind up outside, where Kate joins him in a taxi. I always thought the music during this sequence was great. They immediately begin to have sex in the cab, and continue at his apartment. Hours later, Kate awakens and decides to discreetly leave while the man is asleep. Kate sits at his desk to leave him a note and finds a document indicating that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Mortified, she leaves the apartment but on the way out realizes that she has left her wedding ring on the stranger’s nightstand. When she returns to retrieve it, the elevator doors open on the figure of a tall, blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor. Kate is slashed to death by this creepy killer in the elevator. From here, the female lead is abruptly turned over to the only witness to this heinous act, actress Nancy Allen portraying call girl Liz Blake. The rest of the movie is very good indeed but when it first came out, I’d imagine there wasn’t a man in the audience who wasn’t heartbroken to see Dickinson’s character killed so quickly because they were hoping to see her in more sexual forays during the movie.
Samuel L. Jackson
Russell Franklin in “Deep Blue Sea”
This is one of my favorites on this list. Samuel Jackson is one of my favorite actors of all times due to the conviction with which he delivers his performances. There’s always a razor sharp edge and believability to them; I know; this is what actors are supposed to do but he’s better at it than a lot of his peers. As Russell Franklin, Jackson is portraying a corporate executive sent to a top secret island facility called “Aquatica” to determine if financial backing for this facility’s mission should continue. At this location, they are using great white sharks in a series of experiments to come up with a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. A series of accidents after collection of a brain sample from one of the creatures allows the sharks to engineer an escape and flood the internal structure, allowing them entry to target the humans within it. The team of scientists have to escape the sinking research centre and avoid being killed, without allowing the sharks to reach open water. All hell is breaking loose after the lead scientist loses an arm to one of the sharks and is killed. The team is starting to panic and turn against each other when Franklin, in classic hardcore Jackson style, takes control of the situation. Yelling out that he’s been in this situation before and purportedly has seen worse. As calm is being restored to the situation, Franklin says “…now you’ve seen how bad things can get and how quickly they can get that way. Now we’re not going to fight any more.” Movie goers are getting the feeling that everything may just be okay. Then suddenly one of the sharks spring from the water and takes Franklin into its mouth. To make things worse, once it swims away, another arrives and together they bite him in half. Michael Rappaport, portraying Tom “Scoggs” Scoggins, reaction to this is quite terrifying. Voice trembling, he says “…oh my god did you see that? They ate him. They just ate him….” The reason I liked this one so much is his character’s death was actual proof of what he just said to them moments beforehand.
Harry Mention in “To Sleep With Anger”
This is one of the oddest entries on the list without a doubt. The character of Harry Mention in this film is a Southern drifter who has a malicious penchant for stirring up trouble. While visiting his old acquaintance Gideon, played by Paul Butler, he exercises a strange and powerful effect on Gideon and his family. This becomes intensified when Gideon suffers a stroke. During this time, Harry’s influence on the two sons eventually causes a violent confrontation between the two of them. Harry had been trying to get the younger one to join him and his friends on the road. However, following this sequence, the younger son chooses to stay at home. When Harry comes back to the house to collect some things, he slips on some marbles belonging to Gideon’s grandson and dies. Now I’ll admit, while this is a sudden death, it’s not as jarring as some of the others on this list. What is odd about it though, is how long Mention’s dead body is allowed to stay in the exact same spot on the floor where he died during the movie. A true must see.
Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton in “Cornbread, Earl and Me”
This is another one of my favorites for two reasons. The first being that the movie launched the career of one of the greatest actors of all time, at least to me, that person being Laurence Fishburne. I’m going to explain the second reason in a moment. Jamaal Wilkes, who had a brilliant real life NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was portraying a star teenage basketball player nicknamed Cornbread who had a bright future ahead of him. He was about to become the first guy from their neighborhood to go to college on an athletic scholarship. He was also a local hero to two neighborhood kids named Earl and Wilford. Wilford was portrayed by a very young Laurence Fishburne and even at this age, you could see hints of how great of an actor he would become. After a pick-up basketball game ends because of a heavy rain, all the kids run to the local store to wait it out. All the kids eventually leave, except for Cornbread, Earl and Wilford. Earl and Wilford get into a playful argument about how fast Cornbread can run home. It is decided that Cornbread should make it home in 25 seconds, so he runs off, after buying another soda for himself. Unbeknownst to all of them, an assault suspect is in the area, and is dressed similarly to Cornbread. The police are hot on the suspect’s trail, but lose him in the rain. As the police are coming out of an alleyway, they see Cornbread running by and mistake him for the suspect they’re looking for. Cornbread is shot in the back, and dies in the middle of the street. The coroner’s inquest is hampered by severe police intimidation, and no one knows anything about anything, except for Wilford, who becomes a man on the witness stand by telling exactly what he saw, in graphic detail. The other reason I like this entry so much is because during the trial of the officers involved in this shooting, you never quite know which way the judge is swinging. After Cornbread’s father breaks down with sadness while being questioned on the witness stand, the judge is visibly moved and makes it clear from that moment on that he is seeking the truth in this trial and is also demanding it from everyone being questioned thereafter.
Jesse “The Body” Ventura
“I ain’t got time to bleed.” Portraying elite special forces team member and vietnam veteran Blaine Cooper, Jesse delivered this line to us after Blaine had been hit in an exchange of fire with a guerrilla unit that had kidnapped a presidential cabinet minister in Guatemala. In a movie armed to the teeth with muscle, intensity, true grit, testosterone, and flying bullets, Jesse Ventura playing this character fit right in. Using his modded M134 mini-gun nicknamed “ol’ painless”, Cooper is mowing down the enemy with ease and giving the team that “unstoppable edge”. When this movie first came out, once the Predator began his attack, we were sure this juggernaut soldier was going to be one of the last standing, helping ol’ Arnie fight the hunter from another planet. Shockingly, he was the first to go, split open by a Predator laser round from behind, deeply affecting his vietnam veteran buddy Mac, played by veteran actor Bill Duke. In one awesome display of firepower and determination in this film, after another member is killed, following Mac’s lead, the team members rush to a clearing and open fire in a desperate bid to hit their new, and much more deadly, enemy. By the time they’re done, this area of the jungle is literally obliterated by their ammunition. After reconning the area following their outburst, they’re all disheartened to learn that “they hit nothing”.
Cyrus in “The Warriors”
“Can you count sucka’s? I say the future is ours. If you can count.” By bellowing out this question at the top of his lungs, the exalted leader of New York’s largest, strongest, and most vicious gang, the Gramercy Riffs, quieted the immense crowd of gang members that he’d called to a park to propose taking over New York City if they all worked together instead of against each other in this 1979 gangland classic. He also points out that collectively, there are 60,000 of them and “there ain’t but 20,000 cops in the whole damn city…….can you dig it?” For things to unfold in this movie the way they did, Cyrus’ character couldn’t have lived and yet, when Rogues gang leader Luther pulls a handgun that he snuck into the gathering and shoots and kills Cyrus while the other gang members are cheering him on, it does take you by surprise, if you’ve never seen the movie before. Luther uses the immense and diverse backdrop of the crowd to pull this off without being seen and then in the midst of the chaos, because the Warriors are their archrivals, he screams out “The Warriors did it!!!! The Warriors did it!!!!! They shot Cyrus!!!!” The truce is instantly broken and the Riffs are out for revenge. The rest of the movie involves the Warriors getting out of the city and back to their native Coney Island as all the other gangs are on the hunt for them. To me this is one of those movies that never gets old. It’s as entertaining to me now as when I first saw it. It was developed into a major video game for the Sony Playstation and is a definite must see.
Raheem Porter in “Juice”
Juice has become a very popular “’hood movie” crime drama and was about the lives of four high school age young men in Harlem: Raheem, Q, Bishop, and Steel. While the movie itself centered around Q, portrayed by Omar Epps, and his efforts to become a successful young DJ back then, the clear leader of this bunch was Raheem. Though Raheem had his own issues to deal with like any young man in the hood, such as baby-mamma drama, he would break up fights amongst them, protect the group from rivals, and be the voice of reason when bad or destructive ideas would pop up amongst the group. Unfortunately for his character, he was an advocate for the idea that would lead to his demise. Against Q’s better judgement, they had decided to rob Old Man Quiles’ store. In the heat of the moment, Bishop, portrayed by the late Tupac Shakur, shot and killed Quiles basically for nothing. After they got away from the store and to a safe haven, Raheem mandated that the gun used to kill Quiles be put away and demands that Bishop give it to him. A scuffle ensues and Bishop shoots and kills Raheem. The rest of the movie is quite harrowing as Bishop descends further and further into darkness as he continues to use this gun to kill other key characters in the film.
Apollo Creed in “Rocky 4”
First there was Apollo Creed himself, then there was Mr. T’s Clubber Lang, and then in Rocky 4, along came 6 foot 8, 260 pound Ivan Drago from Russia to be the antagonist in the Rocky fighting drama franchise. Portrayed by Dolph Lundgren, Drago was a powerhouse Russian fighter knocking out contenders left and right in a bid to dominate the heavyweight fighting class. Creed, motivated by patriotism and an innate desire to prove himself, is desperate to step back into the ring in an exhibition bout against Drago. A press conference is held to publicize the bout. It begins on affable terms but the mood quickly changes when Apollo is accused of being a “has been” by Drago’s manager, who suggests Creed shouldn’t even be in the same ring with Drago. Apollo becomes livid. Apollo sets the match between himself and Drago in Las Vegas. After Creed does some trademark sticking and moving, Drago manages to catch him off-guard with devastating punches that quickly turns the tables late in the first round. Apollo is in dire straits as the first round ends. The commentators and audience are visibly shaken by what they’ve seen. Rocky and Duke plead with him to stop the fight. Apollo refuses to do so, and tells Rocky not to stop the fight no matter what. The second round starts just as the first ended. Rocky attempts to throw in the towel but despite Duke’s begging, Rocky honors Apollo’s wish. It turns out to be a tragic decision, as Drago kills the former champion with a devastating hook. Drago displays no sense of remorse, commenting “if he dies, he dies”. Saddened by the death of Apollo Creed and infuriated by Drago’s cold indifference to it, Rocky comes to the decision he must avenge his death by agreeing to fight Drago in his home country.
Harry Connick Jr.
Capt Jimmy Wilder in “Independence Day”
Portraying an upbeat and quick witted best bud to Will Smith’s Steven Hiller, Harry Connick Jr. appeared to be complementing the lead role quite nicely in this action sci-fi powerhouse from 1996. “Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.” When Wilder said this in the movie, it gave you the sense that both he and Hiller would make a great tandem in turning the tide on the alien menace that came to exterminate us and rape the planet. Surprisingly this wasn’t to be. Wilder lost control after a failed retaliation on one of the home ships as he was being pursued by an alien fighter. Despite Hiller trying to talk him through the situation, he and his aircraft are blown to bits by the alien. Along with him went a movie’s worth of cool one liners that could have come from the Wilder character but it opened the door to Hiller’s pairing with David Levinson, played by the incomparable Jeff Goldblum, in the final leg of the movie.