There are few cinematic moments with more power than a well-executed death scene. Some tug at the audience’s heartstrings in an attempt to make viewers cry, while others aim for the visceral horror of extreme violence to shock or disgust those watching.
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Reddit users have recently been discussing these scenes after one user asked which cinematic deaths are “seared into your memory”. The responses ran the gamut from epic war movies to violent dramas and even a few devastating childhood favourites.
Here are some of the most popular choices for death scenes that audience’s find themselves unable to forget.
American History X
The two words “curb stomp” will likely cause a shudder in anybody who has ever seen Tony Kaye’s incendiary 1998 crime drama American History X, as it did for the Reddit commenter who made the top comment in this thread. The scene in question features Edward Norton’s violent white supremacist murdering several black gang members who are attempting to steal his car, shooting one and curb-stomping another.
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It’s one of the most shocking moments of extreme violence in cinema history and is rendered even more powerful by Kate’s stark, monochrome cinematography. As far as mentally scarring movie scenes go, it’s tough to look further than this one.
There’s no shortage of unforgettable violent scenes in the filmography of Martin Scorsese, particularly in his genre-defining gangster movies. However, for one user in the thread, the brutal murder of Joe Pesci’s character and his brother in 1995 epic Casino was the most scarring. The scene sees Pesci forced to watch as his brother is beaten almost to death by a gang of baseball bat-wielding goons and is then beaten himself, with both of them subsequently buried alive.
The commenter wrote that the “pinging sound” made by the baseball bats “haunts” him. It’s a scene directed with incredible flair by Scorsese, who focuses as much on Pesci’s reaction to his brother’s murder as he does on the explicit details of the violence.
Saving Private Ryan
There is a lot of death in Steven Spielberg’s iconic Second World War drama Saving Private Ryan, with the opening Omaha Beach sequence lauded as one of the most realistic movie portrayals of the horrors of conflict. When it came to this discussion of mentally scarring death scenes, though, it was the brutal killing of Adam Goldberg’s Private Mellish that was chosen.
One commenter said they “can’t watch” the scene, in which Mellish is over-powered by a German soldier, who slowly forces a knife into his chest. It’s a shocking moment of brutality that stands out as particularly horrible, even in a film that never shies away from grotesquely real bloodshed.
The Green Mile
Frank Darabont’s three-hour Stephen King adaptation The Green Mile is one of the most emotionally potent movies ever made, following Tom Hanks’s corrections officer as he works on Death Row in the 1930s. The eventual execution of supernaturally gifted inmate John Coffey — played by an Oscar-nominated Michael Clarke Duncan — is the movie’s heart-breaking peak.
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Coming towards the end of the movie’s hefty running time, Coffey’s death is an emotional hammer blow that will trigger primal emotion in all but the most hard-hearted viewers.
Bridge to Terabithia
Released in 2007, Bridge to Terabithia is one of the most viciously emotional family films of the last 15 years. The finale sees 12-year-old Jess (Josh Hutcherson) dealing with the news that his friend Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) has drowned after the rope swing she was using to try to cross the creek to their tree house had snapped.
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The death scene is not shown on screen, but Hutcherson’s reaction to it is heart-breaking. As the Reddit commenter who suggested the movie put it, the scene is powerful enough to “kill me inside”.
Disaster movies, of course, feature a lot of characters passing away and inherently focus on some harrowing scenes of human suffering. James Cameron’s seafaring blockbuster Titanic features dozens of memorable death sequences, not least Leonardo DiCaprio’s icy demise when Kate Winslet is unwilling to share her spacious bit of wood with him.
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However, the scene that stuck with one Reddit commenter was the moment in which a man plummets from the side of the ship and slams into one of the metal propellers of the craft, spinning as he is submerged beneath the water. Other commenters were divided on whether the scene is harrowing or hilarious.
The Land Before Time
Children’s movies have a morbid fascination for killing off family members early in the story. Whether it’s Mufasa in the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King, Bambi’s mum getting shot off screen or Nemo’s mother being chomped by a barracuda, familial death is concerningly commonplace. One of the most shocking, though — according to one Reddit comment — is the passing of Littlefoot’s mother in 1988 animation The Land Before Time.
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The death occurs after Littlefoot’s mother defends her child from a “Sharptooth” — Tyrannosaurus Rex — and sustains horrible injuries in the process. For maximum heartbreak, she is able to give Littlefoot some words of advice before she dies. It’s a scene that no doubt inspired a lot of teary parent-child discussions.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the most terrifying movie villains of all time, regardless of the fact he’s appearing in a family film. Early in the story, the audience is shown the shocking power of the substance Doom calls “dip”, which dissolves toons as they scream in pain. Despite some horrifically violent later scenes, it’s the sad demise of this animated shoe that proved mentally scarring for one Reddit commenter.
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It’s a testament to the technical mastery of director Robert Zemeckis and his team of animators, as well as Christopher Lloyd’s sadistic performance as Doom. Truly unforgettable.
The Silence of the Lambs
There’s a lot to be disturbed by in Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning turn as serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Most notably, there’s the escape scene, in which Hopkins bites the face of one prison guard before methodically bludgeoning another with a baton.
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The Reddit commenter who selected the scene revealed they saw it when they were nine years old, which certainly explains why it was quite so horrible for them.
I Am Legend
There’s something about human beings that means we are able to endure a great deal of violence towards humans on screen, but we are absolutely disgusted by violence against dogs. Never has that been clearer than in the choice of one Reddit commenter to highlight the death of German Shepherd dog Sam in post-apocalyptic thriller I Am Legend.
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The scene comes after Sam is bitten by a group of infected dogs and, eventually, begins to turn into one herself. Heartbroken, Neville — played by Will Smith — is forced to smother her in order to ensure she dies peacefully rather than becoming mutated. Any movie featuring the death of a dog is a definite recipe for mentally-scarring tears.