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Content Warning: The following article contains graphic descriptions of violence and death.

While many were surprised at the violent deaths that pushed the PG-13 envelope in The Batman, that’s a comic book movie. It’s no surprise that not everyone makes it out alive. Indeed, sudden and unexpected deaths are par for the course when it comes to the horror and action genre, but shocking in a non-violent movie, especially if they arrive in particularly brutal ways. The demise of a character, whether early in the story or at its end, reminds fans of the certitude of mortality, and that no one is ever truly safe.


RELATED: The 10 Most Shocking Character Deaths In Horror Movies

Brutal deaths in the midst of dramas, comedies, and animated movies alter what fans think they know about the genre, subverting tropes and expectations alike as they jar the senses and provoke discourse about what it means to truly live.

Chad – Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading Brad Pitt

The Coen Brothers’ darkest comedies often have violence sprinkled throughout, but rarely do they feature the sort of shocking death that occurs in the quirky Burn After Reading. Brad Pitt (who might be rivaling Sean Bean at this point for the actor whose characters have died more times than they’ve made it to the end of a movie) plays human golden retriever Chad, a dim-witted personal trainer who happens upon some special government information.

Except that it’s not particularly top-secret. But poor Chad doesn’t know that when he tries to ransom it back to the alcoholic CIA agent who wrote it and instead runs afoul of a U.S. Marshall. Poor Chad gets shot in the head just trying to hide in a closet, a goofy smile forever plastered on his face.

David Schultz – Foxcatcher

Despite being one of the least accurate sports movies, Foxcatcher nevertheless does get the death of one of its main characters correct. The drama focuses on the affluent and eccentric John E. du Pont, the Schultz brothers, and Team Foxcatcher, the wrestling squad who live and train on du Pont’s enormous Foxcatcher Farm estate.

When younger brother Mark Schultz can no longer endure du Pont’s abuse and manipulation, he runs away, but du Pont can’t seem to let go of the hold his star athlete has on him, and directs his ire at his older brother David, unexpectedly and violently shooting him in the stomach.

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Jesse – Neon Demon

Elle Fanning in Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon

The dreamy psychological horror movie, Neon Demon, cajoles viewers with gauzy visuals of a Los Angeles perpetually cloaked in night, its synthwave heavy soundtrack giving the City of Angels its own pulse. Into this intoxicating world comes Jesse, an ethereal young model hoping to become the next big thing.

The entire movie is set in catwalks, nightclubs, seedy hotels, and eventually, a drained swimming pool that Jesse gets unceremoniously shoved into by her peers. when jealousy and greed overtake the other models around her. For a movie that has been cutting with its words and symbolism up until that point, it’s jarring to see the physical violence, especially when the girls don’t stop there, slicing Jesse up for their own depraved purposes.

Deputy Nick – Bone Tomahawk

When a young doctor is kidnapped from a small frontier town, her husband, the sheriff, and a few locals create a search party to find her. For the most part, Bone Tomahawk proceeds as a standard slow-burn Western focusing on the character development symptomatic of the journey, right up until the heroes find the missing woman and her captors.

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A scuffle ensues, and as the sheriff tries to comfort his deputy with reports of the cavalry coming to save the day, Nick is scalped and then sliced up in one of the most unabashedly horrific slaughterings ever seen in a Western (much less any other film). One of the reasons why it’s so effective is the slow build-up and eventual descent into chaos.

G-Baby – Hardball

In 2001 Keanu Reeves (and a young Michael B. Jordan) made a movie called Hardball, about a reformed gambler who, in order to satisfy a mounting number of debts, needs to coach a little league made up of inner-city kids. But anyone expecting a feel-good sports comedy like The Mighty Ducks or Bad News Bears was shocked by what transpired in the drama.

No sooner is the team warming up for the season (and to their scumbag coach) than the youngest member affectionately called G-Baby gets suddenly killed in a drive-by, dying in his older brother’s arms. The incident is an effective rallying cry for the team to pull together, squash their differences, and win the championship game, but it comes at an incredible cost no one saw coming.

Baby – Mother!

Jennifer Lawrence in Mother

Mother! has a lot of allegorical symbolism and provocative themes, but at its most banal it involves a man (simply referred to as Him) showing off his infant child to a gathering of guests against its mother’s wishes. At first, the bundle goes crowd surfing to lots of cooing and elated sighs, but then mother must look on in horror as it begins to cry piteously.

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A few too many grappling hands are too much for the baby’s frail body to handle, and its neck is snapped in half. What the crowd does with the baby afterward might be too macabre for some viewers, but seems to literalize the Body of Christ.

Christopher McCandless – Into The Wild

Fans of the popular book about the real wilderness travels of trust fund college graduate turned hiker Christopher McCandless might already know what happens to him in the titular Into The Wild, but for those who don’t know his journey, the movie chronicles his time spent in rural Alaska in both bucolic and inhospitable climes.

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Even as he finds himself becoming closer to nature, months of complete isolation make him realize that true happiness is best shared in the company of others, but when he packs up his camp to head home, he finds the river impassible. At this point out of rations, he inaccurately reads a book about edible plants, eventually consuming something that prevents any further nutrients from being absorbed into his system. Fans who hoped he would reunite with his family feel his desperation and hopelessness as he slowly starves to death, documenting the process in his diary.

Thomas J. Sennett – My Girl

Thomas My Girl

Growing up is hard enough, but when you suffer from hypochondria and believe your birth is why your mother died, it’s downright unbearable. That is until Vada Sultenfuss manages to find a kindred spirit in Thomas J. Sennett, a precocious boy who’s allergic to “everything” and is something of a misfit at school.

To watch these two cute youngsters bask under willow trees, catch frogs, and share their first kiss, fans would never expect the tragic ending of the movie. While searching for Vada’s lost mood ring in the forest, Thomas gets stung by bees from an active nest and goes into anaphylactic shock, putting America’s favorite kid in a coffin.

Clayton – Tarzan

Clayton Death Scene Tarzan Disney

The legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle has been told many times, and Disney adds plenty of rousing songs and comic relief to Edward Rice Burrough’s story of the shipwrecked nobleman raised by apes. When civilization arrives to take Tarzan away, he ends up fighting with a big game hunter named Clayton whose demise is particularly grisly for the House of Mouse.

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There have been animated movies to feature the sudden death of characters (The Land Before Time, Bambi), but Clayton’s death scene in Tarzan is not just unexpected for children — it’s shocking for adults, too, making it an exceptionally dark Disney movie. That it shows the villain hanging lifeless from a tree is not any less jarring to the viewer; after all, no one ever saw Gaston’s body after he fell over the ramparts in Beauty and the Beast.

Cliff Vandercave – The Flintstones

Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan) in The Flintstones

Fred Flinstone might not have been the sharpest rock in the Stone Age, but in The Flintstones, he should have known when prehistoric yuppie Cliff Vandercave was up to no good. The corporate stooge embezzled money from the construction company and tries to frame Fred, but everyone’s favorite caveman turns the tables (and the cement mixer) on Vandercave.

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In this PG-13 live-action comedy, ostensibly a family-friendly adventure, a truckload of cement gets dumped on Vandercave, freezing him in place as some sort of grisly statue commemorating white-collar crime. Ending the movie with the villain suffocated in concrete is played for laughs but is actually quite disturbing.

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About The Author

Kayleena Pierce-Bohen
(1331 Articles Published)

Kayleena has been raised on Star Wars and Indiana Jones from the crib. A film buff, she has a Western collection of 250+ titles and counting that she’s particularly proud of. When she isn’t writing for ScreenRant, CBR, or The Gamer, she’s working on her fiction novel, lifting weights, going to synthwave concerts, or cosplaying. With degrees in anthropology and archaeology, she plans to continue pretending to be Lara Croft as long as she can.

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