Some movie characters are more likable than others. In fact, there are characters out there who’ve won the audience over from their first scene on. These are characters who hold a spot in the hearts of cinephiles the world over, regardless of how many movies they were featured in.
That means it could be a one-off film. Or the first in a franchise. Or a sequel in a long line of them based on an established IP. One thing all the following movies have in common is they feature a well-liked character failing to make it to the end. From aquatic monster horrors and political thrillers to aviation classics and war epics, these are the movies that feature a very well liked supporting character biting the dust before the credits roll.
20 Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972)
An often referenced gangster epic that stands as many critics’ choices for the best film of all time, more words have been written about the greatness of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather than are in the decades-spanning script. For one, there’s the acting, which is flawless across the board (At least in the first two films).
As far as the first film goes, the highlight besides Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone and Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is the late James Caan as ill-fated eldest son Sonny Corleone. Unfortunately for Sonny, he doesn’t grow old with his family, instead facing a far different fate at a toll booth.
19 Quint in Jaws (1975)
Everything about Jaws, the definitive blockbuster, is impressive, including the fact Steven Spielberg was only 27 years old when he directed it. The film’s less-is-more style (while not initially the intention) has gone on to inspire any number of other films, not to mention the films that outright copied Jaws, e.g. Grizzly.
The film’s location, Amity Island, is also populated by a colorful assortment of individuals, perhaps none more so than shark hunter Quint. Played to grizzled wisdom perfection by Robert Shaw, he’s the type of character that makes the audience forget there’s even an actor on the screen. And, yet, once all has gone wrong on the Orca and the three men are out of options, the shark still leaps onboard and gobbles him up (in one of the film’s many scenes that make the PG rating questionable).
18 Doc Levy in Marathon Man (1976)
Roy Scheider may have survived the events of Jaws, but he only made it halfway through the following year’s Marathon Man. A political thriller than just as often feels like a horror film, Marathon Man is an atmospheric and compellingly-written film with truly masterful performances from Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Scheider.
Speaking of Scheider, his Doc actually has a few close calls before his untimely demise. First, there’s an exploding doll, mere feet from his cab. But he’s out of range. Then, the Nazi diamond-seeker at the heart of the story’s villainy sends out an assassin, the same one who killed one of Doc’s informants at the opera. But, as a parade moves by outside his hotel room, Doc gets the upper hand. But he doesn’t have the same luck when he addresses Oliver’s Szell in person.
17 Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977)
George Lucas’ zeitgeist-capturing Star Wars: Episode IV − A New Hope has gone through many changes and rereleases over the years. But, no matter how many revisions it suffers, there’s no removing the original Star Wars‘ impact. Time would expand upon the climax of the first film, both in terms of the two fighters’ relationship and the advancement of the choreography, but the first film sets things up pretty clearly.
Or, rather, Obi-Wan Kenobi does. While speaking with Luke, he establishes that he trained Luke’s father and Darth Vader killed his father. Of course, the latter is a half-truth that drastically complicates things, but even with just that information Obi-Wan is a character who is very easy to root for. And every minute he spends onscreen in A New Hope (which is quite a bit) makes his third-act death all the more heartwrenching.
16 Evil Ed in Fright Night (1985)
Tom Holland’s directorial debut, mid ’80s horror classic Fright Night, remains an impressive and creative horror comedy that benefits heavily from note-perfect performances. William Ragsdale and Chris Sarandon are excellent leads as, respectrively, a teen boy and the ladies man vampire who moves in next door.
But there’s also Roddy McDowall as a has-been horror movie show not far off from Elvira. Then there’s Stephen Geoffrey’s lovable outcast Evil Ed, the best friend of main character Charlie Brewster. Unfortunately for Ed, he learns the hard way that his friend is, in fact, not wrong about his neighbor being a bloodsucker. Evil Ed appears in the 2011 remake as well, played by Christopher Mintz Plasse, and his fate isn’t much different.
15 J.C. in Night of the Creeps (1986)
Before Fred Dekker was making his directorial debut on Night of the Creeps (which he also wrote), the only project he had to his name was a story credit for Steve Miner’s House. Like that goofy comedic horror film (also released in 1986), the 1950s throwback Night of the Creeps revels in blending genres, but it does so much more efficiently.
The next year, Dekker would helm the similar (but less bloody) The Monster Squad, and why the strength of that pair of projects didn’t lead to anything else for the director is a true mystery. But goodness knows the two films showed a writer who knew how to craft memorably unique but relatable characters. Take for instance Steve Marshall’s J.C. Hooper, nerdy collegiate best friend of lead nerdy collegiate kid Chris Romero. Thanks to J.C.’s friend-of-the-year-award-worthy behavior, it’s absolutely devastating to have him die off-screen just after the halfway point of the zombie movie. But that’s how it goes in a film that strives to be unpredictable (and succeeds in doing so).
14 Goose in Top Gun (1986)
Anthony Edwards’ LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw is the true heart of Top Gun. While he’s living, his personality is far more grounded than Maverick’s while, in death, Goose goes on to inspire Maverick to put forth the effort it takes to get in the sky and get along with his team.
Goose dies midway through the first Top Gun, when his F-14’s canopy fails to open fully as he ejects. But, while sad, at least his death led to the plot of Top Gun: Maverick. Even still, there’s little doubt Goose’s death is one of the more iconic in cinema history.
13 Sgt. Elias in Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone’s Platoon is one of the more iconic war films out there, and it arguably contains the single most famous image a member of its genre has ever produced: Sergeant Elias holding his arms in the air, blood coming from his mouth as he’s shot in the back by NVA troops.
But they weren’t the first to shoow Sgt. Elias, it was Staff Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), who fears his comrade will testify against him in regards to an illegal killing. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and forever cemented Berenger in viewers’ mind as a master of the antagonistic performance.
12 Rick Johnson in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master took a slasher franchise and made it feel like the type of summer blockbuster that would inspire a tie-in rollercoaster. But one section of the ride that absolutely does not work is the death of lead character Alice Johnson’s brother, Rick.
As the best character in one of the better Elm Street films, Rick deserved much better than the bland final sequence he gets. Now, the invisible Freddy martial arts sequence was born of budgetary restrictions. But, it’s such a lame scene in a movie that gets so creative in other spots that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
11 Ricky Baker in Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Morris Chestnut’s Ricky Baker is the most lovable character of John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, which is saying something. He’s also the main character with the most raw potential to succeed in this world.
So, to watch him get gunned down in an alley before he can move out of the neighborhood feels as tragic as it is. And to have a performer as talented and likable as Chestnut playing the character makes it all the more so.
10 Mufasa in The Lion King (1994)
With cinema, it’s difficult to pinpoint what is the “best” or the “most” in any regard, because art is inherently subjective. But, folks seem to agree that Mufasa’s death in The Lion King is just about the saddest thing to ever hit theaters.
And fair enough, because it is. The Lion King is a film that works for every age demographic, but it is geared towards children. So to have a child character witness their own father die to save them from their own recklessness, while hard for parents to watch, is certainly harder for the kids of the world. And, considering Disney’s ’90s classic is one of their most celebrated (to the point it was even remade into a soulless CGI monstrosity), there have been many, many kids who have experienced Simba’s trauma right alongside him. Hail to the king, but what a way to get there.
9 Casey Becker in Scream (1996)
Wes Craven’s Scream easily stands not only as one of the 1990s’ highest-quality horror films, but one of the decade’s best, period. It certainly has the decade’s best opening, where a perfectly-cast Drew Barrymore faces a horrible fate as Casey Becker.
Even though Becker is the first character fans are introduced to, and they see her interact with no one outside her killer, she still feels integral to the entire film. And, considering she’s the ex-girlfriend of Ghostface Stu Macher, in a way she is.
8 Russell Franklin in Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Renny Harlin’s smart shark thriller Deep Blue Sea may be an average film as a whole, but it has what is almost certainly the best character death ever committed to celluloid. It’s certainly in the running for funniest, whether due to the severity of Samuel L. Jackson’s speech or the swiftness of the attack that interrupts it.
Jackson is one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors, and he’s been in many, many movies. Quite a few of which are more critically praised than Harlin’s water-soaked thriller. Yet there’s a reason Deep Blue Sea is often brought up in conversations regarding Jackson’s work, even though he barely makes it halfway through the movie. It’s not because Russell Franklin is a particularly memorable character, but rather because the audience was expecting a Samuel L. Jackson shark movie, and Jackson dies midway through the runtime. On the surface it’s a disappointing turn of events for fans of the actor, but it’s hard to be disappointed when his sendoff is a mixture of hysterical, memorable, and genuinely surprising.
7 Agent Phil Coulson in The Avengers (2012)
The very definition of an event film, The Avengers played and played back in May 2012, with each subsequent weekend box office win further cementing the MCU as a formidable property. But with upped stakes needs to come a loss or two, and the loss of Agent Phil Coulson was a big one.
Clark Gregg had already put in memorable appearances in Iron Man, Iron Man , and Thor, so audiences were well-versed in the likability of both the character and performer. So when he’s impaled on Loki’s staff, it was devastating for fans. Fortnately they wouldn’t have to wait long until he was leading the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6 Rue in The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games was a zeitgeist-capturing movie back in 2012, and one reason for that is its faithfulness to the fan-favorite source material. This applies to the narrative just as it does the characters, including Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the tribute from District 11.
Rue doesn’t get to make it to her teenage years, since no one volunteers to take her place in representing the Distict. She doesn’t even get to make it to the end of the games, since the sadistic Marvel (Jack Quaid) gleefully stabs her with a spear.
5 Stoick the Vast in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
Gerard Butler has sometimes received criticism in the past for a perceived lack of range, but his work in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise alone disproves this notion. His Stoick the Vast doesn’t just feel like a cookie cutter cinematic parental figure, he feels like a father. And that’s because of the heart Butler brought to every one of his line readings.
So to watch him die in How to Train Your Dragon 2is nothing short of heartbreaking. It doesn’t help that the movie is so well-written and compelling, as it’s ensured that audiences will never forget it, or Stoick himself for that matter.
4 Joe Brody in Godzilla (2014)
The promotional materials for 2014’s Godzilla reboot clearly positioned fan-favorite actor Bryan Cranston as the lead of the film. But, it was just a case of misleading marketing (to the extent it angered fans of both Cranston and the Godzilla IP).
Cranston’s Joe Brody dies about 45 minutes into the film, and it’s not even in a particularly climactic fashion. Instead, he just falls with a crumbling bridge, and the movie is then Ford Brody’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to lead.
3 Bing Bong in Inside Out (2015)
Richard Kind’s character in Inside Out, Bing Bong, is one of the greatest characters to grace a Pixar film. Unfortunately, he’s not one who will appear in Inside Out 2.
2 Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
While considered by many to be a slight disappointment after the lighter original film, there’s an argument to be made that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is actually superior. For one, James Gunn’s sequel absolutely has a better villain.
And, more importantly, it has a father-son relationship throughline that works like a charm. But it’s not with Kurt Russell’s sinister Ego, it’s with Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Peter Quill and Yondu’s complicated history was well-established in the first film, but the second film explores it in full, and when the third act takes Yondu from not just Quill but the audience as well, it’s devastating.
1 Merlin in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
There’s something unpleasant about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, even when compared solely to its equally ultra-violent predecessor. Perhaps it’s that the sequel is a little mean-spirited, e.g. its treatment of Sophie Cookson’s Roxy.
It’s tough to say where the Kingsman franchise goes from here, especially given the critical and commercial flopping of Vaughn’s horrendous prequel The King’s Man. But either way Mark Strong’s Merlin won’t be a part of it, because The Golden Circle does away with him, too. But, unlike Roxy, his sendoff is memorable and heroic.