Violence has always existed, but not everyone has witnessed or seen a murder as close as the cinema allows. In the history of cinema, a large number of killing scenes have affected moviegoers, staying fixed in their minds forever.
Killing someone in real life is illegal, but there’s a double relationship between a censure and an interest in death, which makes people fascinated with killing scenes. Over the years, there has been an increasing interest in the cultural representation of crime. For this reason, filmmakers have worked very hard on making art out of what society classifies as illegal or immoral.
Although many great killing scenes, such as the massacre in “Eisenstein’s Strike” (1925) or the gas station scene in “No Country for Old Men” (2007) haven’t been included, this list offers you not only the best killing scenes that have had a great impact on the history of cinema, but also scenes that shouldn’t be overlooked by those who love the extraordinary magic that cinema makes.
20. Battle Royale (2000) Dir. Masamichi Amano
Kazuo Kiriyama with a machine gun killing three guys. Shogo Kawada kills Kiriyama.
It hasn’t been easy to choose one killing scene from a film, since there’s a lot of them that are also great, so it’s easy to understand that some people may disagree with this choice. The exchange student Kazuo Kiriyama is a psychopath who enjoys playing the game of murder. In this scene, he kills three techy guys who were trying to hack a military base. A fire broke out from an explosion blinding Kiriyama, making him easy prey.
Another exchange student, Shogo Kawada, decides to kill him. While both are surrounded by fire, the extradiegetic music makes the scene even more tense and epic. When the shootout starts, everything happens very fast, and we can’t be sure who’s going to die.
19. Casino (1995) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Sam Rothstein’s car exploding. The bombing scene.
Robert De Niro is mainly known for playing the tough guys, the guys who never get killed. However, in this film, De Niro’s character dies in the very beginning of the movie. Once he gets out from the casino, he moves towards the car wearing a flashy pink jacket and white slacks. His voice over talks to us saying, “When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believed, that’s the kind of love I had.”
What may draw the viewer’s attention when watching the film is the dummy that substitutes De Niro before the explosion in the opening scene. However, near the end of the film, there is no mannequin. What could be the meaning of that little detail made on purpose?
18. Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-Wook
India Stoker avenges his father killing his uncle Charlie while he’s choking her mother to death
First of all, it should be highlighted that this film has appeared several times on TOC, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check these lists “5 Reasons Why Stoker is a Criminally Underrated Movie,” “All 10 Park Chan-wook Films Ranked from Worst to Best,” and “The 10 Best Movies Set in Psychiatric Institutions.”
By watching “Oldboy” (2003) or “Lady Vengeance” (2005), you can clearly see that revenge is a recurrent theme on Park’s films; however, this time, human nature and the acquired tendencies are the main concept of the story.
In this scene, India’s uncle Charlie calls her in to witness the murder of her mother. When India appears in the landing, Charlie stares at his niece, who’s drawing the snipper she used to hunt with her father. If you’ve watched the film, you surely know the symbolic meaning of her wearing high heels and leaving behind all her innocence.
Once she gets rid off her purity, she shoots her uncle with her mother staring astonished at her.
17. Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir. Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth
Donny “the Bear Jew” Donowitz and his baseball bat
In this list, a killing scene during World War II could not be missed, and for that reason, one of the best scenes in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” must be included. Donny Donowitz, also known as the “Bear Jew,” is feared by the German soldiers who face him for his unique way of dealing with them. In Lt. Aldo Raine’s words, Donny “bashes their brains in with a baseball bat, that’s what he does.”
Despite Aldo advising Wermer to give him the information he wants, Wermer respectfully refuses like a real gentleman. As a result, Wermer gets his head smashed with a baseball bat in front of his two men who await, on their knees, the same destiny if they don’t give up what the basterds want.
16. Rambo (2008) Dir. Sylvester Stallone
Rambo killing a large number of Burmese soldiers
When the mercenaries are about to get executed by a group of Burmese pirates, Rambo appears to save them and brutally decapitates one of the pirates with a machete. The firing squad are baffled by the sounds of a submachine gun of the jeep Rambo uses to kill the driver. When the soldiers turn their heads to see what’s happening, the massacre begins, the bursts of gunfire coming from the jeep, dismembering and killing every enemy. It’s in this moment when the mercenaries take advantage of the chaos to fight the pirates back.
A large number of bodies lay dead while Rambo’s still doing what he can to save the mercenaries. What we can find in this six-minute-long scene are very graphic deaths, which would make the viewer experience what is like to be in a war.
15. Braindead (1992) Dir. Peter Jackson
The lawnmower massacre scene
Yes, the same Peter Jackson who directed “King Kong” (2005) and the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings (2001–03) made this comic splatter film back in the 1992. It’s been said that this scene is one of the bloodiest in the history of cinema, so for those interested in watching a zombie massacre with large amounts of blood, this is your movie. The bloodshed starts when Lionel Cosgrove decides to use as a weapon the lawnmower to kill the horde of zombies to save Paquita María, who helps him using a blender.
This hilarious scene is a good example of how grisly practical effects can create an enduring splatter fest. In contrast with CGI creation, the effects of this film, which intended to make people laugh while creating disgusting images for the viewers, make it more gruesome rather than terrifying.
14. Miller’s Crossing (1900) Dir. Ethan and Joe Coen
Look in your heart. Tom Reagan kills Bernie Bernbaum in the woods.
In order to prove his loyalty, Johnny Caspar commands Tom Reagan to kill Bernie Bernbaum in the woods at Miller’s Crossing. Although Bernie begs Tom not to kill him asking him to “look in [his] heart,” Tom points the gun at Bernie and they both go into the woods.
While going into the forest, Bernie desperately begs and cries, but Tom stares at him, still pointing the gun and walking. Once Bernie’s hopelessness makes him fall onto his knees, the fatal stroll ends, and it is in this moment when we have several shots and counter shots telling us how both characters respond differently to the same situation.
After a few seconds, Tom looks at Bernie and says to him, “Shut up. You’re dead, get me?” This is not a real killing scene because Tom spares him, but for the rest of the gang, Bernie’s dead.
13. Eastern Promises (2007) Dir. David Cronenberg
The naked fight of Nikolai
It must be hard for a member of the Russian mafia to find a relaxing moment and avoid being killed. In this scene, Nikolai is completely naked in the sauna, and the towel he wears over his shoulder is not as useful as the knives that two guys bring in order to stab Nikolai to death. When you’re alone, fighting against two mafia members is a task you must perform if you want to survive, but it’s even more difficult if you’re naked and have nowhere to go.
In this brutal fighting scene, you can almost feel every punch and stab. Nikolai ends being terribly wounded; however, he manages to finish off the two guys stabbing them. What was supposed to be a relaxing sauna session became one of the best killing scenes in cinema history.
12. Strangers on a Train (1951) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Miriam’s strangled in the amusement park.
After accepting Bruno’s suggestion of getting rid of an unpleasant person, Guy’s wife, Miriam, is strangled in an amusement park. It’s interesting to highlight Hitchcock’s tendency of coupling food as a prelude to sex or death.
While Bruno is following Miriam sailing the boat, we can see him eating popcorn and slightly smiling. It is in this moment when we see Bruno as he really is: a psychopath who’s not worried about the crime he’s going to commit. He’s enjoying not only his popcorn, but also the idea of killing her.
Once they dock, Miriam bumps into Bruno, and he lights his zippo, illuminating his victim’s face. When he makes sure his prey is who she really is, he doesn’t flinch and grabs her by the neck. Miriam’s glasses lay on the floor, and from that position, the glasses reflect the murder that is being committed under the darkness of the night while the music of the carousel is still audible.
11. If… (1968) Dir. Lindsay Anderson
The last scene, when Mick shoots at people from the rooftop
After getting weapons and ammunition, Mick and his friends open fire on the parents, students, and school staff. The victims manage to break open the armory, and they begin to fire back.
This scene has more elements of comedy than tragic: the viewer watches people running aimlessly, a knight trying to avoid being shot, and a general giving military orders to civilians who take part in the shooting. An old lady yells “Bastards, bastards!”, and it is at this moment when the headmaster asks to stop the fire. After his unsuccessful pleading to cease the fire, he’s shot right through the head.
The violent end purpose is not to make people enjoy it; it has a meaning, and many saw the end as an outright incitement to revolution. The shooting goes on, and suddenly, the film fades to black following the word “If…” as if asking us, what if this was to happen? What if people start rebelling against the government?