By Paul Berney
All action movie fans know that there’s nothing better than the villain getting what’s due. With every henchman that drops, we know that the hero is one goon closer to the big cahuna — the dastardly mind leading his merry band of thugs and killers in a spree of violence against the good people of the world. There’s no greater thrill than seeing Schwarzenegger drive a broken steam pipe through a vicious psycho, or Van Damme dangle from a chopper and eventually send it hurtling through a stadium in a hail of fire.
Is there anything better in a classic action movie than the ultimate pay-off? Never. And, boy, there are many spectacular ends waiting to meet those lunatics, many of which I’d even forgotten until I started researching for this countdown. But here’s a look at 10 of the very best, the most violent and explosive deaths to grace our screens.
10. “You f**k with my family, you die!” – Marked For Death
‘Marked For Death’ was the second movie for Steven Seagal after the hit ‘Above The Law’ (AKA ‘Nico’). Although Seagal has now completely flushed his career down the toilet with straight-to-video releases that are so bad they shouldn’t have been released at all, there was a time when he was one of the very finest — a sure bet when it came to a romping stomping action thriller.
His first 10 years had many a great action classic, and even in 2000 he starred in my fave movie of his, ‘Exit Wounds’. ‘Marked For Death’ however, showed him at his peak, when he was at his best and most energetic, delivering one of his most fun performances in a movie that has sadly always been greatly overlooked.
The plot was pretty much the same as most early 90’s action movies: a cop’s family is in danger, he must save them, etc. But where this movie differs is the action. The kills in this movie make up for any slight shortcomings it has, and the finest of all is the lead villain, Screwface — who meets his gruesome end by being snapped like a twig over Seagal’s knee and thrown down an elevator shaft.
After 15 years, that is still one of the coolest deaths in any action movie.
9. “Get off my plane!” – Air Force One
Harrison Ford has so many classic movies under his belt, but since the first time I saw it, ‘Air Force One’ it has always been my number one movie to star this great action icon.
In the film, The President of the United States stays behind on his hijacked plane to save his wife and daughter, taking on armed Russian terrorists and foiling their plan to have a dangerous Russian convict freed from prison. Basically, there is no cooler premise in an action movie.
‘Air Force One’ is as wonderful as any action movie can be, and with it’s leading Hollywood megastar and brilliant supporting cast (especially, Gary Oldman taking on the role of lead villain), it places high on my list of thrillers.
And I could never have a rundown of movie villain kill scenes without this ending…
8. “Yippee ki-yay, Motherf**ker!” – Die Hard 2
How could anyone top ‘Die Hard?’ By setting it in an airport, having military terrorists take control of its entire flight system, and having said terrorists hold hundreds of people hostage in passenger planes by making it impossible for them to land.
Of course, Bruce Willis came back for his second ‘Die Hard’ movie as John McClane, the tough cop with a bad attitude and cracking sense of humor. And along with McClane’s wife (Holly yet again in danger) he springs into action, fighting off hoards of mercenary killers, both on the ground, and in the air.
Finally, with his classic line, he ends the movie by wiping out a mid-air plane full of killers with a lighter and a stream of leaking fuel. An awesome end to an awesome movie.
7. “I’ll kill you momentarily, but first, a drink of ice water!” – Batman Returns
The only movie villain to ever die and make me shed a tear for him. Tim Burton’s ‘Batman Returns’ towers above so many comic book movies these days — not only for it’s action but also for its stunning performances from the leading cast, namely Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfieffer.
Just like Burton’s first Batman movie, Keaton does a terrific job as Batman (even better here than the first time) but he is yet again outshone by the villains. Namely DeVito, who is perfect as Penguin, or rather, Tim Burton’s new vision of Penguin. DeVito gives the performance his all, delivering a grotesque and evil little creature who is oddily lovable and extremely hilarious, despite his devasting plans for Gotham City and its newborn baby boys.
For all the brilliance ‘Batman Returns’ has to offer, it’s Penguin who truly makes it something spectacular. Which is why his death give the the film’s finale emotional punctuation. Yes, he’s evil and disgusting, but the sight of his army of king penguins carrying his lifeless body back into the water, and knowing he was born without any chance of a normal life or loving parents…it’s such a poetic and sad ending that caps off a very dark story — a story only Tim Burton could tell.
6. “Let off some steam, Bennett!” – Commando
Let’s face it, ‘Commando’ is one of the greatest action movies ever made and one of the campiest. This is thanks largely to Vernon Wells as Bennett, an ex-soldier (AKA a chubby camp guy in a chain vest) who is mad at Arnie’s John Matrix for dropping him from his army team.
Wells kidnaps Arnold’s daughter in an attempt to force him into executing a foreign country’s President. Safe to say, Matrix is not pleased, and sets out on a kill mission on an island swarming with Bennett and his employer’s army of evil mercenaries. Determined to rescue his daughter and wish Bennett a final farewell, Matrix delivers a steam pipe through the guts of Bennett. Total classic.
5. “You’re FIRED!” – Robocop
Ask any fan of action movies to name a handful of the true classics and ‘RoboCop’ will be on that list.
As visually stunning, shockingly violent, and brilliantly funny as it ever was, ‘Robocop’ has always been a treasure in the canon of action and science fiction, leading to two sequels, a TV series, a mini-series, two cartoon series and a recent movie remake. But none of those have ever compared to the original movie, which tells the story of Alex Murphy, a police officer who is believed to have been brutally murdered by a notorious crime gang. Somehow, enough of him survives to be implanted into a steel robotic body, which is then used as a law enforcement weapon. Inevitably Murphy goes offline and takes control in a raging bid to hunt down his attackers and bring an end to Detroit’s crime wave. The leader of the criminal operation turns out to be a splinter group operating from the corporation that built Murphy’s new body. At the head of the company is high ranking executive, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), pulling the strings.
‘Robocop’ excels in every area it explores, but perhaps the most awesome scenes we get are the many gruesome and explosive kill scenes. The best of which surely has to be the demise of Jones. Murphy, having taken care of the entire gang, needs to take down Jones, but the slimey exec has built a security measure into the cyborg’s program. This forbids Murphy from taking action against anyone working for the company. And it works. Until the end that is, when Jones is ousted from his position and leaving him at the mercy of a vengeful ‘Robocop.’
Still one of the best movie screen villain deaths I’ve ever seen — the ultimate ‘fist pump’ ending to an iconic movie.
4. “They caught a train!” – Eraser
Once again, Schwarzenegger proves he’s not to be messed with. This time in the horribly underrated 1996 action spectacular ‘Eraser’ — my fave Schwarzenegger movie.
This time, Arnie (As John Kruger) is caught up in an arms-dealing operation led by his superior (James Caan), and goes through a series of dazzling action scenes to get to his boss.The audience gets to experience free-falling from a mid-air airplane, Arnold taking on alligators at the New York City Zoo and an incredible finale in which he uses Caan’s own weapons — a futuristic electro-magnetic rifles which shoot rounds of electricity instead of bullets — against those planning to sell them to terrorists overseas. All this while trying to protect a government witness responsible for unearthing the conspiracy (The wonderful Vanessa Williams).
But alas, although Arnie stopped the sale and saved the day, the film begins to wrap up with the ringleaders getting away with it. But no Schwarzenegger movie would ever allow the villains to live…
‘Eraser’ ends in stunning style, as the goons rejoice being free and planning on staying that way, only to be locked inside of their car, driven onto a train track and then blown to pieces as a train smashes right through them. The scene was so violent that the BBFC (British Board of Film Censorship) cut it from the end of the movie. Possibly not an ending that features on many lists, but it has long been one of my ultimate villain death scenes and I really had to include it. A clip can be seen at 1:20 into this trailer.
3. “You gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I Feel lucky?’ Well do ya…punk?!” – Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood defined the cop movie genre. There were great cop movies before ‘Dirty Harry,’ but nothing that compared to it.
Bold, brilliant, funny and one of the most exciting action movies ever made, ‘Dirty Harry’ raised the bar to a whole new level, leading to many sequels and copycats, and making Clint Eastwood one of the greatest names in action movie cinema. But it was this scene that would forever cement his name in movie history, giving him his ultimate catchprase and building a loyal fanbase for 44 years.
All action fans love to root for a hero, and there’s very few we’d root for more than Harry Callahan, a tough San Francisco cop who hunts down a demonic psychopath terrorizing the entire city by targeting everyone, Naturally, this forces him to be the cop no one else has the guts to be — the man who throws aside the laws and rules that stand in the way of him getting the job done.
Throughout the movie, we see Harry pushed to his limits and, finally — after growing tired of seeing such an evil psychotic lunatic walk free from justice — deciding that it was time to put an end to the nightmare once and for all. A stunning finale to a flawless action classic, this scene has long since been one of the greatest movie scenes ever written and acted.
2. “Happy trails, Hans!” – Die Hard
Do you remember when you first saw ‘Die Hard?’ I was about 10-years-old. My mother sat me down in front of the TV and told me ‘Die Hard’ was coming on. And to this day, she tells me that those 2 hours were the most quiet I’d ever been.
‘Die Hard’ holds a special place in the hearts of every action movie fan because of the incredible action, the knockout special effects and for Bruce Willis just being completely awesome and hilarious as the now iconic John McClane. But as much as we loved McClane, we loved to hate Hans Gruber (Played brilliantly by Alan Rickman, who is very well known for playing dreadful villains) just as much. And when Han’s demise comes at last, we get to see that evil pompous ego-maniac experience a long, slo-mo drop from Nakatomi towers as the expression of child-like terror grows across his face while McClane watches over him. (See what I did there?)
That THUD when Gruber meets concrete is still one of the best sounds we’ll hear in a movie. Such an immortal send-off for one of the greatest movie villains ever. It is the final clip in this video.
1. “My daddy promised he’d take me home, he always does what he says!” – Sudden Death
And the big number one (for me at least), the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme in what has long been considered the best of the Die Hard-influenced action thrillers.
‘Sudden Death’ has remained in my all-time top 10 movies since I first saw it around 18 years ago. The biggest reason being the absolutely insane deaths that are handed out to the movie’s merciless and purely evil terrorists.
Van Damme plays Darren McCord (an instant Die Hard-ism: McCord/McClane…) a former firefighter caught up in a horrific game of cat and mouse as he discovers that the arena he’s working in for the night has been taken over by terrorists who have rigged the massive building with C-4 explosives. Threatening to detonate if their demand for billions of dollars is not met, the terrorist have taken over an ice hockey championship game that is being broadcast live on TV across America. But with McCord’s own daughter in the hands of the terrorists, McCord discovers that his child and the vice president of the U.S.A. are being held in a highly secure VIP viewing box high up into the stadium. McCord struggles to find a way to the top and is forced to the contend with the many killers while trying to disarm the bombs that are destined to go off at game’s end, killing all of the 17,000 fans inside the arena.
The group’s leader, Joshua Foss (played brilliantly by Powers Boothe), a smarmy, well-dressed and highly sadistic killer (again, another Die Hard callback), stands no chance against the hero. When Van Damme inevitably saves everyone and rescues his kid, our hero decides to bring an end to the terrorist scum once and for all by diving onto the ladder of their escape helicopter, shooting the pilot and henchman through the bottom of their chopper and then leaping from it as it turns tail down. The chopper descends into the arena with its one remaining passenger screaming as our hero watches him go up in a fireball once it makes impact with the ice.
I’ve never seen a more jaw-dropping end to an action movie. It is an absolutely fantastic scene and easily my number one on any list of the best movie villain deaths. Although, it needs to be said, with a stunt coordinating legend like Gary Hymes (‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Speed,’ ‘The Fast And The Furious’) orchestrating the scene, it was always going to be spectacular.
Below is a video of the kill count from the movie, including the finale.
And that’s it. My top 10 movie villain deaths, the worst of the worst meet their ends at the hands of some of the very best.
Action A Go Go on Twitter and Instagram |Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section! Paul Berney is an Irish man with a great love for movies, pandas and staring at the moon.