Nine Examples of Prominent Actors and Actresses Unexpectedly and Quickly Killed Off in Movies

There are plenty of scenes in movies where a character is killed seemingly out of nowhere, but it’s not too often when one of those characters is played by a prominent actor or actress and the death comes early in the movie.  It can be jarring and unnerving to say the least, but it also makes that death particularly memorable.  After all, when a prominent actor or actress is seen early on in a movie and some or all the marketing for that movie indicates that said actors and actresses will be a major part of the story, we expect them to live to at least the halfway point.  You can check out nine examples of prominent actors and actresses being killed off unexpectedly and swiftly after the jump.

I really shouldn’t have to write this, but there will be major spoilers.

Drew Barrymore in Scream

The opening scene of Scream features Drew Barrymore popping popcorn while talking to a murderer on the telephone, and it’s certainly rare for a star of Drew’s caliber to be killed off in the opening minutes of a movie.  It’s one thing for Drew to be killed right away, but it’s quite another when she was featured prominently on posters for the movie.  Anyway, her death set the tone for a movie in which anything goes, and I do think Scream has held up pretty well over the years.  It’s quite possibly the quintessential self-aware movie.

Guy Pearce in The Hurt Locker

Readers of this site know that I’m no fan of the Hurt Locker, but that has nothing to do with the early exit of Guy Pearce.  One minute, he’s leading a team that diffuses bombs, the next, he’s dead.  Admittedly, this was an incredibly tense scene.  It’s just a shame the movie deteriorated from that point on.  What’s Pearce been up to, by the way?  I always thought he was a pretty decent actor, but he hasn’t been in much lately, has he?

Jennifer Lopez in Jersey Girl

To the delight of many – including myself – Jennifer Lopez dies in the very beginning of this Kevin Smith movie, despite it being marketed as another “Bennifer” power vehicle.  It’s too bad Affleck didn’t share the same fate (although I’ve sweetened on him a bit in recent years), but he’ll get his a little bit further down on this list…

Julianne Moore in Children of Men

One of my all-time favorite movies, Children of Men is raw and unforgiving.  I don’t think anyone saw Julianne Moore’s grisly death coming in one of the more masterfully shot scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  Graphic, bloody, and totally unexpected, Moore’s death in Children of Men is impossible to forget.

Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea


Surely, you remember this one.  The video clip above says it all.

Steven Seagal in Executive Decision

In a movie that was billed as a Steven Seagal-Kurt Russell action thriller, it was pretty jarring to see the bad ass Seagal succumb to death in the beginning of Executive Decision. And keep in mind, this was back when Seagal was considered an action star and not a walking self-parody.

Ben Affleck in Smokin’ Aces

I told you that Affleck would get his comeuppance.  I’m not a big fan of Jeremy Piven or Smokin’ Aces, but the scene where Affleck is just absolutely riddled with bullets is always worth watching.  Yeah, I know I wrote that I’ve sweetened on the guy, but look at that stupid facial hair.

Janet Leigh in Psycho

This is perhaps the best example of a prominent actor or actress being killed off early in a movie that I thought of.  Janet Leigh was certainly a well-known actress back in her day, and her unexpected and horrific death in the beginning of Psycho is perhaps the most memorable murder scene in the history of cinema.  It’s a brilliant move by Hitchcock to trick the audience into thinking that Leigh’s character will be the film’s protagonist, and it goes to make her death all the more shocking.

Liam Neeson in Gangs of New York

Eh, Maybe I should have expected Liam Neeson’s character to die early on – but I didn’t.  He’s a very well-known actor and I thought his character would have been alongside Amsterdam Vallon throughout the movie, sort of like Brendan Gleeson’s character.  I was wrong.

Can you think of any examples of prominent actors or actresses being killed off quickly and unexpectedly in a movie?  Let me know, because I’m sure there have to be more than what has appeared on this list.

  • Victor

    Although this scene didn’t happen in the beginning and happened near the end of the film, Leonardo Dicaprio’s death in The Departed was quite astonishing.

    When I watched The Departed for the first time, when those elevators door opened and Dicaprio’s head was blown off, it was shocking and crazy. Definitely a very memorable, great scene.

  • ROSS

    It wasnt quickly, but defintely unexpected when Rachel Dawes died in The Dark Knight. I was saying to myself, “Now we know how dent gets his hald his face blown off,” and i figured that gyllenhall would be safe and motivate batman to right the wrong of Dent being disfugured. Then she blew up and everyone in the theater gasped and was like “holy $h*t.”

  • Patrick

    Another Liam Neeson one…his death at the beginning of Kingdom of Heaven. I firmly believe that his survival would have made that film 1000 times better.

  • Zenitram

    Emilio Estevez in the first Mission Impossible. It was one of those, “Hey I didn’t know he was in thi- oh. Okay, then.”

    • Madison

      Oh, that’s a real good one. I had the exact same thought. Would have definitely included it on the list had I remembered.

  • hun23

    Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading
    Sure it was a little longer into the movie than at the very beginning, but it was very unexpected.

    • Madison

      Yeah, not soon enough into the movie, but that definitely caught me by surprise.

  • Josh

    We need a few posts dedicated to how amazing of a film Children of Men was, I think. That ambush scene where Moore dies is one of the greatest scenes in film history. It’s a shame it didn’t win the film the Oscar for Cinematography, really.

    • Madison

      Preaching to the choir. It was nominated for best cinematography, but really, how did it not win? Pan’s Labyrinth had better cinematography? Ok, sure.

  • J5

    I dont think this really counts but it stick out in my mind: Beerfest, when Landfill dies in the giant vat of beer, when he was in there I was thinking “Ok, he’ll climb out, tell the guys and it’s on….”

    Then he dies.

    And even weirder, is replaced by himself.

  • Josh

    @Patrick: That’s a good call. I forgot how quickly he died in that film. It couldn’t have made the Director’s Cut 1000x better, though. The Director’s Cut is one of the best epics to ever be released (and, in my opinion, the best work that Scott has done)

    Another one I am surprised you guys missed is The Other Guys. Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock being badasses and… bloop. Dead.

    Remember, aim for the bushes people.

  • Jeff

    Marlon Brando in Superman. But I guess you knew that was coming…

  • Josh

    @Madison: To be fair, Alfonso Cuarón was also a big part of Pan’s Labyrinth and he supposedly did quite a bit of the cinematography with del Toro. So at least he got an Oscar for his work that year.

    • Madison

      Sure, but it was still nothing compared to the tracking shots in CoM. Did you see the contraption that was built to shoot the infamous car scene? Cuaron was actually on top of the car filming.

  • Quik

    Would Charles Durning playing Waring Hudsucker in the Coen Brothers film “The Hudsucker Proxy” count? Pretty much right after he is introduced, he takes the sky dive off the building. Check it:

  • Josh

    @Madison: Yes, I saw it. It was ridiculous but f’ing brilliant. I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I said I thought it was one of the best scenes in film history. Other than the sudden death of its fourth best actor (it’s sad when freaking Julianne Moore is only your fourth most talented actor), of course.

  • Josh

    Here’s another one, by the way. When I first saw Batman Begins, I figured (like everyone else unfamiliar with the character) that Ken Watanabe was Ra’as Al Ghul (did I spell it right?) and was surprised when he was killed off so suddenly.

    Also, could we add Jigsaw to this? Tobin Bell has been killing people for 4 movies from the dead now. Seems like he may have been killed off a bit soon, too.

  • J5

    Oh shit, not killed of early in the film but killed off quickyl” Bill Murray – Zombieland.

  • Online9

    I think you’re missing one of the most sudden and unexpected deaths I’ve seen in a movie; Wash in ‘Serenity’, sure we knew there would be deaths, but Wash was one of my favourite characters, and Alan Tudyk is a good actor. I know it’s not early on in the film, but the fact that the death wasn’t lingered on with slow cuts and sorrowful music makes you think “Wait… did that actually just happen?”

    • Madison

      That shocked me for sure, but that was well into the movie.

  • Josh

    @Online9: Good call. Whedon certainly knows how to kill off his fan favorites (see: Topher in Dollhouse. One of the greatest and most meaningful deaths ever shown on a screen)

  • Alex

    Hey a Pro7 screenshot. Cool

  • Benchu

    Vincent D’Onofrio in Brooklyn’s Finest, I think he was dead before the credits finished rolling.

  • Sideshow

    Steve Coogan in Tropic Thunder.

    • Madison

      I actually considered that one, but I don’t think Coogan is nearly as prominent as the other actors on this list. Although he probably should be.

  • Sideshow

    Also, Rip Torn in Dodge Ball but that was getting later into the movie.

  • Brittany

    Michelle Rodriquez the last Fast and Furious.

  • No Country for Old Men. Really surprised this wasn’t mentioned. I understood it’s full meaning after watching it the second time through. A LOT of people I talked to about the movie were all “OMG WTF ?!?! HE WASN’T SUPPOSED TO DIE” about Josh Brolin’s character.

    Watching it the second time made me realize he wasn’t the ‘hero’ the whole time and there were no good or bad guys just a country in which Tommy Lee Jones’s character was too old for.

  • Chingiz

    All are good examples, except you forgot or appointed me to mention Bad Pritt’s death in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’. I really copped a squat watching that.

    But on a side note, Children of Men is definately one of my favorites as well. And it probably has the best car chase scene this side of Bourne Supremacy. And you kinda appreciate it more,
    knowing that it wasn’t really just the one take. It should’ve won for Best Editing.

  • brian

    cyclops in x-men 3

  • Jo Manny

    OK this makes perfect sense to me dude.


  • Santa Slay

    Santa Slay is the ultimate movie of this category. Watch the opening scene. I won’t spoil it for you so watch.

  • Andrew

    First off, Jennifer Lopez wasn’t even IN the first half of Jersey Girl. She’s practically just a flash back. Second, it was never marketed as a “Bennifer” movie. That’s just what people wanted. People wnated to hate it like Gigil. In fact, half of the Gigli reviews trashed Jersey Girl right then and there TWO MONTHS before the movie was even out. That’s called biased. The fact is Jersey Girl is completely watchable and actually a pretty touching movie for a direct that has a completely different forte.

    • Madison

      Whether or not it was intentionally marketed as a “Bennifer” movie or not is irrelevant. That’s how the public perceived it, rightly or wrongly.

  • jatheist

    Charlie Sheen in Young Guns comes to mind. As well as John Hurt in Alien.

  • Before Sigourney Weaver was a recognized star Tom Skerritt had appeared in many roles, making his film debut alongside fellow newcomer Robert Redford in War Hunt (1962) and in one of my all-time favorites Robert Altman’s MASH (1970); and The Turning Point (1977).
    In Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) he is in charge of leading the crew until all hell breaks loose. It made the remainder of that classic film more potent for me realizing he was no longer going to be confidently in charge of my journey (WTF Now!?!).

  • Patty

    Christian Slater in Mindhunters.

    I’m convinced no one watched this movie but me.

  • Jonas

    Meet Joe Black…Brad Pitt…that scene where he gets hit by the car…

  • Goose

    Not really. The public was told, by the director and by reviews, that it wasn’t a Bennifer flick because of Gigli. A few even gave away the part about her dying early on. You might have seen it that way, but whitewashing your assumptions as other peoples is never a smart move.

    • Madison

      The fact that the director (Smith) had to make a point of saying it wasn’t a Bennifer flick makes it pretty obvious that that’s what people were expecting.

  • Carlos

    John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”, very surprised you didnt mention this death.

  • Jay

    this isn’t a movie, but for anyone who watches the show 24, Season 5 was a huge shock to watch former President Palmer and Agent Dressler be assassinated one episode into the 5th season. They played huge roles in previous seasons. Really more surreal than a movie cause you knew these people well and to see them die so soon in a season really spins things around.

  • Wil

    Franke Potente’s character in the second Bourne.
    Unexpected, and the driving point for the plot.

  • Greg

    Not a movie or early in the season but whatever. Omar getting killed in The Wire was the most unexpected death I have ever seen.

  • infocalypse

    Bruce Campbell in Congo.

    Couldn’t believe it.

  • G

    Bill Murray in Zombieland

  • smileyleeann

    I love these lists. Have another window open with netflix, just added 4 movies to my list! Thank you for putting it together!

  • JaySin420

    Very cool list……I wish movies would do this more often.

  • Nadine

    Someone mentioned Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James…

    Sorry but, how was his death unexpected? Aside from being a world famous story, it’s in the name.

    If you mean HOW BRUTAL the death was, sure, that was unexpected, but the fact he died at all cant be called a shock.

  • Daddy Tang

    William Petersen in “To live and die in L.A.” As a teen it blew my mind that they would kill the hero and star of the movie off 2/3rds thru the movie.

  • John

    Brad Pitt in “Burn After Reading,” all of the trailers featured him as one of the main characters, but then he’s only really a minor character who gets shot about half-way through the movie.

    Alec Guinness in “Star Wars,” a classic movie, but at the time he was the only established actor (winning an Oscar for “The Bridge on the River Kwai”) and he gets killed just over halfway through the first film. And, for being a bad ass Jedi, instead of going out in a blaze of glory he simply lets Darth Vader kill him so that Luke is there to see it.

    Cyclops in “X-Men 3 the Last Stand,” he’s supposed the leader of the team but is killed by his psycho girlfriend in the first ten minutes (although this was largely a move to make Storm a more important character so they could get Halle Berry to return)

    Of course, the reverse happens in “Galaxy Quest” where you keep expecting “Guy” the extra who didn’t even have a last name in the original show to be killed, but then he ends up being a main character.

  • D

    Heath Ledger in Monster’s Ball tops it

  • Phil

    The first movie in which I’ve noticed this phenomenon is “Alien.” The leader, played by Tom Skerritt, gets killed off really early, leaving Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in charge.

  • Ben

    Brian Dennehy in “Tommy Boy”? Dennis Hopper in “True Romance”?

  • julianM

    Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading.

  • Jack Ryan

    Bill Murray in ZOmbieland was a great call G!

    Although it was near the end again but a big surprise was Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan since you thought the story was about him.

    Bo Derek in Orca…now I’m reaching. You got all the good ones.

  • Tim

    I have to second Brad Pitt’s character getting hit by the car in Meet Joe Black.
    Surely there’s a prominently named actor who has played a red shirt in a Star Trek movie just once. Bruce Greenwood in the JJ Abrams version maybe?

    Also, not a movie, but you’d have to put Kate being killed off in an NCIS season finale as rather unexpected (especially if you hadn’t seen the trailer for the episode).

  • dmax

    There was a whole genre of this in the 70s. “Airport” came first, but the iconic one was “The Poseidon Adventure.” Chock full of big name stars – but they died!?! OMGWTF! You expect the extras to bite it, but not these (at the time) big stars.

    Later you got “Towering Inferno” and the like, but the stage had already been set, so there was no surprise anymore.

  • BB

    @Patty – I did see Mindhunters (that makes two of us) and yes Slater’s death – the first (?) of the lot was quite unexpected – and then Val Kilmer….

  • hi

    Ralph Fiennes “The Hurt Locker”

  • hypertension

    im a massive guy pearce fan,though that may be because im an aussie. I really think he deserves a lot more major roles though, the man can act

  • cage

    this might be a bit of a stretch but anyone remember Tarantino’s small cameo in Desperado? took me by surprise

  • Crono

    Elijah Wood in Spy kids 3. Terrible movie, hilarious scene.

  • Axwage

    Robert De Niro in 15 Minutes
    Billy Bob Thornton in The Ice Harvest
    Sean Bean in the Fellowship of the Ring… just kidding

  • TheEEEdiot

    Bill Pullman. The Grudge. oh hai *splat* -dead

  • Michael Johnson

    Farrah Fawcett in “Logan’s Run.”

  • Chaffro

    Has no-one mentioned Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential?

  • The Sixth Sense kid in Pay It Forward. Jazz in Transformers (actually any bot in both movies. Cybertron has some cheap metal.)

  • Joe

    How about Michael J Fox in Mars Attacks!?

  • Victoria

    Kurt Russell in ” The Poseidon”

  • Victoria

    T. R Knight as George in ” Grey’s Anatomy”

  • Pingback: Tasty Waves and a Screw The Comfort Zone Bud :: Agent Bedhead()

  • Anthony

    The guy at the beginning of “Cube.”

  • Kiefer

    Richard Dreyfus in Piranaha 3D. I was like oh Richard Dreyfus is in this… oh.

  • Canada Eh

    Brooke Shields in “Sweet Alice”. The movie did so-so at the theatre. Brooke became a name in movies and the movie was rereleased with Brooke Shields prodominately shown in the ads.She’s killed off in the 1st 10 minutes.

  • ConMan

    Willem Dafoe in eXistenZ

  • gb gb

    # Pattyon 04 Sep 2010 at 11:22 am

    Christian Slater in Mindhunters.

    I’m convinced no one watched this movie but me.

    I saw it and (actually a decent movie) and came to post this one as well.