The art of dying (on screen) -- Who's mastered it?

Titanic-jacks-death_l Television actor Mike Doyle has been shot with a shotgun, blown up in a boat, burned in a submarine fire, electrocuted on a fence after being gang-raped, strangled, and most recently, stabbed. This last demise, after more than 50 appearances on Law & Order: SVU, was his seventh on-screen death, as the NY Times points out. (That leaves him only 19,993 behind Seizo Fukumoto, the 66 year-old Japanese actor who claims to have been killed 20,000 times on screen. Dude gives "Get busy living or get busy dying" a whole new meaning.)

But as ruthless dictator and noted Tarzan fan Josef Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” I think he was referring to something else, but is there anything more moving than a good on-screen death? Take, for instance, Kevin Spacey, who provided two of the most memorable last gasps, in L.A. Confidential and American Beauty. Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely loves to die (Romeo + Juliet, Titanic (pictured), The Departed, et al), but has any actor ever captured those last fleeting moments of life as artfully as Andy Serkis and the animators who made King Kong?

Are there certain death scenes that took your own breath away, PopWatchers? And which actors and actresses seem to have mastered the art of dying?


Comments (76 total) Add your comment
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  • n

    Leo’s good. I also like when Charlotte died on lost. I’m gonna say that that scene made me tear up.

  • t.g. pierson

    The greatest screen death is, hands down, PIPER LAURIE IN CARRIE. Just amazing.

  • kel

    emile hirsch’s death in into the wild was utterly creeptastic to me. the way they slow panned away from his face was so creepy i remember having to look away..only to look back and see they were still panning away.

  • Meg

    Angel’s scene in Rent–still the only thing to have made me cry.

  • Wojo

    I don’t know if a lot of people will comment on this article or not, but if they do, this sure will spoil a lot of movies for people. Anyway, one of the first deaths that comes to my mind is Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” Her charcter was just haunting, and the manner of her death fit her stalker personality.

  • Zach

    The picture is most definitely from Titanic. I dont know how you thought it was Romeo+Juliet

  • Zach

    The picture is most definitely from Titanic. I dont know how you thought it was Romeo+Juliet

  • Zach R.

    The picture is most definitely from Titanic. I dont know how you thought it was Romeo+Juliet

  • Adam

    Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, Kevin Spacey in Se7en, and in a wildcard, the Australian hunter guy in Jurassic Park.

  • Wojo

    Oh, and speaking of “get busy living or get busy dying,” Brooks’ death in “The Shawshank Redemption” also ranks up there with some of the best death scenes.

  • Jaygee

    Robert Duvall in COLORS. Not a great movie to be sure but his death scene at the end was absolutely both emotionally and physically painful to watch, as his character lay on the ground, gasping to breath as he bled to death. Awesome. Greatest living actor.

  • Cat

    Claire Danes’ death in Little Women always chokes me up. She mastered that tearful chin quiver at an early age, too. Poor Beth!

  • P.Dot

    Even though the movie was kinda garbage, Kurt Russell drowning at the end of “Poseidon” was really shocking. So believable, I actually felt like I was watching a snuff film for a moment. And that’s a good thing!!

  • Augabe

    i think Sharon Stone’s character’s death in CASINO is very moving

  • Ceballos

    Alan Rickman in “Die Hard” is an all-time classic. From the creepy look on his face when he turns the gun on John and Holly McClane to the “Oh s—!” look when John finally undoes his watch and he falls to his death.
    My favorite onscreen death EVER.

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