It’s an exciting Tuesday because wildman Warren Cantrell is back with a hot slab o’ list straight from his own website, 10rant.com. If you’d like to contribute a Top 10 list to Scene-Stealers, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, I’m handing over the reins to Warren once again for his list of Top 10 Most Manly Movie Deaths:
All any man can really hope for out of life is that he’ll go down hard, falling prey to death’s inevitable swipe in as manly and glorious a fashion as possible, and with plenty of witnesses to tell the tale. Films worth a damn usually understand this, and if bold enough to kill off their hero (or an especially cool villain), they usually take a moment to ensure that the cherished character is given a demise appropriately magnificent. The following list recognizes this most cherished of cinematic traditions, and gives a nod to those pictures which really pushed the bounds of their death scene. The death in question had to be pure in its connotations of honorable defeat, so only the most courageous and bold made it into consideration. Hence, while Sonny did take a fuck-load of lead in The Godfather, he didn’t steal a gun and start firing back at his attackers 30 bullet holes in, thus losing his chance at death-redemption. On the other side of the coin, we must sadly eliminate all pan-Asian films, for nobody knows how to die like the Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. If I started allowing Samurai and other Asian shit on this list, it would essentially relegate Western films to one, maybe two slots. I’ve also left off Paxton’s infamous exit in Predator 2 as this has already received specific attention on another list, and there’s no Al-Qaeda shit, as I don’t support suicide as a means to achieve an awesome death. Going out so hard that what you’re doing is near-suicidal is fine, but to actively seek your death quickly to take out others is not something I will support here or anywhere else (essentially, no bombs allowed – sorry, Slim Pickens). I do give exception to one such death, however, considering the circumstances…
10. Vasquez and Gorman in Aliens (1986)
As stated before, I’m not a huge fan of the C-4 vest or grenade hug as a means to achieve any kind of death, especially manly. If you want your final moments to go down in history as having a two-ton set of nuts attached, your death ought to be long, brutal, and full of agonizing pain inflicted on all parties, yourself included. That said, if about to be overrun by a murderous race of aliens which hope to use your semi-conscious bodies to cocoon a new generation of evil, I give the suicide-explosion method a pass. Even though they never allowed a kind word pass between them, Gorman (William Hope) goes back to help a disabled Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) in the cooling ducts, knowing full well that a pod of xenomorphs is right on the group’s ass.
As a Marine, Gorman follows the impenetrable “no man left behind” ethos of the core, rushing into almost certain death so that his duty and honor might be avenged (if not his life). Quickly incapacitated himself, the two find themselves without cover or sufficient ammunition to hold off the onslaught, opting instead for a dent in the enemy’s numbers at the last possible moment as a means to exact maximum damage. Again, I don’t support this as a method to fight a war, but if about to be savaged by a group of space creatures after making a final, desperate stand, then you’ve got my okay.
9. Mr. Parker and Mr. Longbaugh in The Way of the Gun (2000)
“There’s always free cheese in a mouse trap.” Even though the kidnapping events leading up to the climactic Mexican whorehouse finale didn’t exactly go as planned, Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillippe’s characters end up a mere 20 yards or so away from their ultimate payoff: $15,000,000 in cash. Of course there’s a catch, as is the case with most situations that deal with undeclared transactions in the 15 million-dollar range. An open plaza and a gaggle of seasoned bagman wait behind defilade to cut down anybody stupid enough to go for the loot, yet Parker and Longbaugh know that such opportunities arise but once in a lifetime.
Like true men of character, they know that the cash is a trap yet go for it all the same: a life beyond such a day not worth living if the one chance at true success is abandoned. Braving a veritable thunderstorm of bullets and buckshot, Parker and Longbaugh work their way to a nice chunk of the reward despite multiple wounds, falling just one bullet short of the final prize before getting taught a miserable, final lesson by the always reliable James Caan. Left to die of their wounds slowly (leg-shot all to hell), the “heroes” die without the loot or any sense of victory beyond the knowledge that they gave it an honest try, and went for the big money against all odds. This one would be a lot higher up the list if the audience actually got to see the protagonists’ deaths, but since everything leading up to the last shot is so goddamned solid, it gets in.
8. Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
And speaking of a final performance making up for certain glaring inadequacies, how could one leave off the greasiest man in Middle Earth? Proving decisively and with no room for interpretation that he is a man of pathetically weak stock and character, Boromir (Sean Bean) is immediately thrust from there into a hopeless situation where he’ll have to defend against roughly one hundred Uru-Kai without useful back-up or defensive works. The guy essentially realizes that not only is he about to die and become a feast for inhuman mud-creatures, but he’s also tarnished both his and his family’s name with a lowly act of unforgivable cowardice. That’s the modern equivalent of shitting your pants right before an insurgent attack and accidentally breaking everybody’s guns right before the hurt starts raining down.
Yet showing that he does indeed have some honor left in him, Boromir starts horn-calling for reinforcements and slicing up baddies by the bushel-full. Yes, pulling his shit together long enough to put up a manly last stand, Boromir gets points not only for hacking and fighting despite disproportionate numbers against him and arrows protruding from both the upper and lower thorax, but because he continued to fight in the name of redemption. Indeed, nothing gets street cred. back up to appropriate levels like a heroic final push into the grave. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) comes in at the end to make sure his buddy’s face doesn’t end up a pincushion, but Boromir’s cool, collected glare into certain death, and his refusal to die, allow him the honor nearly lost in his attempt to take the Ring of Power.
7. Stripe in Gremlins (1984)
This little bastard should be hero and saint to us all, recognized in the annals of history as a noble example of true living both inside films and for the real world at large. Not a week old, and Stripe spawned a murderous brood of gang members that would put the Manson Family to shame. Sporting a Mohawk and a grill with razor-sharp teeth, this little son of a bitch is all business. A consummate professional from start to finish, the mutant Mogwai only concerns himself with the important things in life, freely imbibing in essential pleasantries like cigar smoking, liquor drinking, firearm recreation, and ass-grabbing the pool-chick from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Not only does Stripe get the hottest chick in town to act as his personal barmaid, he pretty successfully threw off the chains of his human oppressors to eat, sleep, and get wet with as much frequency and freedom as he saw fit. Though he dies a terrible, wildly cinematic death through a melted and dissolving disintegration, he stands as a true life’s warrior: a creature that took as much from the world as he could get, and embraced all the possibilities afforded a creature with balls enough to make a grab at the prize. He makes it in for this, as well as the fact that he is the only melting death represented here, and such an awesome and unique demise should be duly recognized.
6. Leonidas in 300 (2006)
To be entirely fair, from the moment Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his crew got to the Hot Gates, the death scene could be considered as commenced, for the entire series of days’ battles can appropriately be called a protracted last stand that just so happened to go very, very well for the Greeks. All the elements are here for a noble death, from the fact that the 300 Spartans know victory is all but impossible, yet fight on anyway, to the fact that despite increasingly bad signs against their chances, they stay to see the battle 100 percent through. Though it might seem unfair to recognize Leonidas independently, as all the other 299 men under his command seem to have performed their duties splendidly, let’s not forget who was in charge, and who had the power to order some pussy-assed retreat to fight another day.
No, Leonidas saw that glory and honor could only truly be won at Thermopylae: the only place in Greece where his tactics, and the sacrifice of his men, could carry the most weight. Efficiently carving up the Persian hordes for days until a crippled wretch of a man betrayed their cause, even complete encirclement and certain death didn’t move the Greek King to abandon his fight. For every second Xerxes’ army was held at bay, another second of defensive fortification work was assured, and the safety of the homeland came that much closer to completion. Assembling his men for one final stand, Leonidas pulled the old psych-out on the enemy, feigning submission before breaking ranks for one final, heroic push to inflict maximum damage. The Spartans were quickly cut down by unrelenting arrow fire from above, yet went down hard, stabbing at the seemingly invincible with their last breaths, something that would make the next entrant on this list quite proud.
5. Quint in Jaws (1975)
It’s no secret that Robert Shaw’s character in this picture is but a simply veiled character-composite of the Ahab metaphor: the man so consumed by a supernatural unknown that the unquenchable desire to conquer the beast (and fear) will inevitably consume him. Facing a great white shark rather than a “great white whale,” the metaphor is all but complete, two comparatively normal men volunteering to assist the obsessed captain in his quest to slay the man-hungry beast. Shaw’s Quint tells his shipmates Hooper and Brody that his battle against sharks began in earnest over 30 years previous when he and a bunch of Navy buddies went for a long swim with a couple hundred sharks. Vowing that he would never again cower in fear of the creatures but would henceforth be known only as their oppressor, the decision to put on a life-jacket when his ship is once again crippled is not even an option.
Like a truly worthy man resolved to finish a battle once it’s started, Quint knows that his story can end only two ways: either the shark dies, or he does. After facing the demonic fish with all the tricks old-school angling and modern science can offer, Quint watches in horror as the monster breaches the water’s surface and lands on the Orca’s deck. Quickly in deep shit and sliding into the creature’s teeth-heavy mouth, Quint fulfills his final duty as the defeated champion, stabbing at the creature as the thing eats him alive, his last act in life a tribute to his commitment to the murderous struggle. Without compromise or the slightest waver, Quint died fighting, unapologetically stabbing and fighting with his last very breath. You’re goddamned right.
4. Sam in Club Dread (2004)
Harkening back to the halcyon days of carefree topless murder in the Jason and Halloween tradition, in Club Dread the Broken Lizard team provided us a funny, intelligent send-up of 1970’s and 80’s horror. Reflexively lampooning the cinematic archetype their own movie gleefully embraced, the Broken Lizard crew deftly crafted a film that was suspenseful, comedic, and passionately reverent all at once. Throwing in all the classic staples including a who-dunnit murderer in the midst scenario, the leads are slowly reduced to a meager handful of scantily-clad ladies and the heroic men at their sides. The climax comes as Sam (Erik Stolhanske), captain of the Fun Police, reveals that he has been the one hacking the limbs and major arteries off the staff as a result of his boss picking a grass-stealing asshole ahead of him to run the island.
Like any good horror-villain, Sam’s death comes in phases, each supposed kill simply a false positive to get the audience at ease and ready for a sudden grab-scare. Proving that he is more than just an ordinary one- or two-kill bad guy, Sam takes it up a notch, going for a whopping four-kill count! Yes, Sam is so committed a murderer that he comes back to try to finish the job after getting stabbed in the heart with a machete, suffocated, severed in two underwater, and thrown into the ocean without a lower torso. Shit! The guy is still coming back for more in the final shot, his unattached legs kicking in the direction of the survivors despite the absence of a stomach, chest or head. Now that’s a death worth recognizing, if for no other reason than because in his tenacious attempts to get the job done, Sam gave the audience a quad-dip. Outstanding!
3. Butch and Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Given the chance to go straight in a new country without a bunch of Pinkerton assholes all over their shit, you’d hope Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) would have a happily-ever-after ending. The restraints and pitfalls of the American judicial system behind them, the audience might hold out hope that the miraculous escape from justice in the States was the finale in a storied, legendary career. Yet like true criminals, genuine fiends with no real object in life but the next big score, the promise of wealth not their own is too tempting a lure, and the pair is once again pulled into deviance. Like their namesakes in The Way of the Gun, their path is one that cannot be altered: the quest for “more” the ultimate factor that will forever dominate the decisions they make.
This inevitably leads the two men into a confrontation with what seems like the entire Bolivian army, one that couldn’t give two shits about gringos, cool nicknames, or fucking raindrops falling on fucking heads. Surrounded by what looks to be easily one hundred pissed off soldiers, our two American heroes decide to confront the situation as they had every other in the film: head-on. Though not as glorious or violent a death as, say, getting eaten alive by a 25-foot shark or embracing something like 1800 Persian arrows, give credit to a film that had balls not only to kill its two leads, but in a messy (yet honorable) fashion. In 1969, few films were killing off Paul Newman or Robert Redford, yet this picture axed them both, and went even further by giving them a death scene as uncompromising and balls-out as the outlaw heroes depicted. Speaking of films in 1969 that shot their leads all to hell…
2.) Four-way tie: The Wild Bunch (1969)
Consider that this film, along with Butch and Sundance above, came out the same year the Woodstock festival occurred. The two films could be considered shattering indictments of a generational euphoria that was quickly consuming the best intentions and brightest ambitions of a generation. Consider Pike Bishop and the Wild Bunch for what they truly were: cinematic stand-ins representing the youth of a country at large. William Holden and his boys are archaic dinosaurs: victims of an unforgiving clock that challenges their way of life via new technology and age. Like the 60s and those still clinging to the dream in upstate New York, the Wild Bunch are a collection of individuals that refuse to compromise, holding onto a vision of their future with suicidal intensity.
Though times are changing, Pike and his boys cannot, and as a result they must confront certain death at the end so as to maintain the honor of their squad, returning to collect Angel (Jaime Sanchez) even though each man knows that the resounding act of bravery will almost certainly be their last. What follows is a finale that sees each of the Bunch shot to ribbons, yet only after each man takes something like twenty Mexicans down with them. An ass-load of slow motion, extraneous blood spurts, machine gun murders, and honorable ends so pure it makes you want to weep follow thereafter, every member of the Bunch dying for a code they have already outlived. The film gets such a high ranking because it not only had the guts to kill all its leads in as awesome and protracted a manner as possible, but because in so doing it challenged both the classic western formula but also the assumptions of a generation at large.
1. Tony Montana in Scarface (1983)
It really doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. Now come on, who among us hasn’t gotten a little over their head with an international cocaine syndicate and found themselves forced to confront either a little cage-time or a Columbian merc. squad? Indeed, such things happen to the best and most careful of people. It’s a true man, however, that decides he’s better off alone, over-under M16 in hand and the power of a coke rush in one’s heart to combat the coming tide of knives and fire. True, most of us would take jail time over single-handedly fighting off something like six-dozen heavily armed hitmen all at once, but then again, most of us aren’t Tony (Al Pacino). The carnage starts after one of the hitters plugs Montana’s sister, the murderous frenzy that ensues due in large part to cocaine, massive Cuban balls, and the loss of Tony’s one remaining anchor in the decent realm.
Flushed with a desire for revenge and absolutely enraged that anybody would dare step to his shit, Tony showed us all how to die properly, loading his pin-stripe suit up with ammo and unleashing an unholy shitstorm upon his hapless aggressors. Bullets, more men, bullets, and more bullets didn’t drop Tony, every round that entered his body pissing off the diminutive badass even more, forcing the man to drop grenades upon the heads of those who oppose him. His gun disabled, all chances of inflicting any damage lost to him, Montana still didn’t yield, beating his chest as more slugs drove ruthlessly into him, shit-talking and posturing increasing with every wound. This, dear readers, is how a man dies. Odds stacked against you, bullets tearing into your shit? Smile, run your mouth, take your licks, and make sure any lucky bastard that actually survives your wrath remembers your name. “I’m Tony Montana! You fuck with me, and you fuck with the best!”