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5 Most Unexpected Deaths in Movies

06 January 2013 | Features, Guest Posts, Other Lists | by David Zou

Movie makers have always tried to shock and surprise audiences. One trick that is always guaranteed to invoke a response is to kill off a character when the audience least expects it. Here are the 5 most unexpected deaths in movies that left audiences at least a little dumbfounded.

5. Austin Travis (Executive Decision)


When you see Steven Seagal leading a special-ops team into a plane hijacked by terrorists, you know that some serious action will ensue. However, what you do not expect is Seagal getting killed even before he can get on the plane. The manner of his passing may be unique, but that did not soften the blow for fans who were disappointed at not being able to see Seagal karate-chop a terrorist in the face.


4. Billy Costigan (The Departed)


Billy Costigan’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) death probably did not come as a surprise to those who had seen Infernal Affairs, the Hong-Kong crime film that The Departed was based upon. However, for most people, seeing Billy getting shot in the head just as he had turned the tables on Matt Damon was definitely a big surprise. In a movie filled with hard-hitting scenes (as expected from any Scorsese film), the elevator shooting scene is definitely the one that stands out the most.


3. Colonel Joseph ‘Von’ Ryan (Von Ryan’s Express)


All critics can agree that Von Ryan’s Express is definitely one of Frank Sinatra’s great films. Playing the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, Sinatra puts in one of his best performances as an actor. However, it was his creative input on the plot that made the biggest difference. Those who had read the upbeat ending in the book knew that Colonel Ryan would go on to escape the Nazis and all would end well. However, in the movie, Ryan is shot in the back just as Major Fincham reaches out and yells at him to run faster. The German troops may have missed their mark in the book, but the movie’s Von Ryan was not so lucky.


2. Bill Murray (Zombieland)


How do you make a good movie even better? The answer is simple; just add Bill Murray. How can it possibly be more awesome? Even simpler; have Bill Murray play himself. Murray’s cameo in the 2009 zombie comedy, Zombieland, was an unexpected treat for every viewer. However, getting shot and killed by Jesse Eisenberg while playing a prank was definitely not on the cards. Fans were left shocked as the character’s tragic demise turned out to be just as surprising as his cameo appearance.


1. Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne (Serenity)


After the TV series Firefly was canceled, show creator Joss Whedon and the legions of Firefly fans (Browncoats) went to great lengths to bring the show back in some form or another. Universal Pictures picked up Joss Whedon’s script for the movie Serenity, a continuation of the adventures of the crew from Firefly. Browncoats around the world packed theatres in eager anticipation. However, many of them stumbled out at the end of the movie, often caught mumbling “Can’t believe he’s gone? Why, Joss Whedon? Why?” Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne’s death was a shock to all viewers, but especially so for Firefly fans, who often identified Wash as ‘the funny one’ in the show. Not only was the manner of his death unexpected, to get pierced by a massive wooden stake, right in front of your wife, is probably not the best way to go.


A tip-of-the-hat to the characters who just missed out on breaking into the top 5 list: Joe Black (Brad Pitt – Meet Joe Black), Tracey Mills (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en), and Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway – Chinatown).

Other then being a loving mother and a wonderful human being, Barbara Woodbery, also works as an editor at


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  • SJHoneywell

    Excellent list. I’m taking #5 on faith, but I agree with the other four. I’d completely forgotten about the death of von Ryan until reminded here–that’s a heartbreaker, and such a strange change from the novel.

    I think my major change would be to move The Departed up higher. I still can’t believe that happened.

    • SJHoneywell

      Damn, I just remembered the one that still shocks me a little and I would put on the list instead of Executive Decision.

      ***SPOILER ALERT*** Drew Barrymore in Scream! ***SPOILER ALERT***

      Seriously, though, that’s one of my favorite directorial/writing/casting decisions ever. It’s at that moment that you realize this director has given himself license to play completely with the conventions of the genre and is liable to do just about anything.

  • Steven Flores

    That’s a good list. Here’s some trivia about Steven Seagal’s death. During the making of Executive Decision, John Leguizamo who was in the film definitely didn’t get along with Seagal. Seagal tried to be all tough and shit and Leguizamo was just mocking him the whole time. Leguizamo showed up on set to see Seagal do his death scene just so he can smile and not deal with that overrated piece of shit ever again. I can kick Steven Seagal’s ass.

    • http://Website Name

      you may hate the guy but your bravado is idiotic.

      seagal is a 7th dan blackbelt in aikido and was probably in the cia.

      you wouldn’t last 5 seconds with him.

      • Steven Flores

        Please, he runs like a girl. I may not run fast either but I can still take him.

  • http://Website Bill Shriver

    I nominate BEAUFORT (2007), an Israeli film which establishes Lt. Ziv Faran (Ohad Knoller) as the protagonist, only to have him blown up near the beginning of the film. When he dies, an otherwise nondescript bunker commander, Liraz, becomes the main focus. Brilliant.

  • http://Website blackpool9

    Two things:
    1) Wash’s death is the reason I have not watched “Serenity” since seeing it in the theater. I bought the DVD, but have yet to be able to put it into my DVD player.
    2) How about Janet Leigh in “Psycho”?

  • Alex Withrow

    Another great, and very very accurate list. These were all very unexpected death scenes. Seagal in Executive Decision, that was just a brilliant choice there. You think he’s coming back, but nope!

  • http://Website Meh

    Brad Pitt’s death in Burn After Reading was another shocking moment. After pretty much owning every scene he was in, you don’t expect him to suddenly get shot by George Clooney.

  • Luke Pilcher

    mavin in pulp fiction

  • ►Deviⓝ Hernandeⓩ◄

    I think the biggest one in 2012 is definitely Chris Hemsworths death in red dawn.