Noble sacrifices sufficient to make even the mightiest of men shed a quiet tear of mournful respect litter the annals of practically every film genre. The following list is a reflection on the demise of characters – some obvious and some more obscure – who embraced death as their one moment to truly shine and, in the majority of cases, to quite literally go out with a bang.
10. Bex “Bexy” Bixxel: The Firm (1988)
Arch-rival soccer firm the Buccaneers might have spray painted his pants, keyed his Mondeo, and done a load of wheel spins around the local common while he was in the middle of a game, but ICC “topboy” Bexy is having none of it. The cosh-wielding estate agent and his tight-knit crew of ex-serviceman, tradesmen, and school kids soon strike back with surgical precision, beating the albino enemy leader Yeti to a pathetic, bloodied pulp.
Gary Oldman is at his most divinely psychotic in portraying the swaggering, enraged, practically rabid hooligan front man. But despite all the drool and violence, he still retains an element of endearing cheekiness. Before getting blasted by an antique service revolver, a victorious Bexy can only chuckle as he looks down the barrel of the loaded gun, as if to say, “no need to be silly, we’re all just having a laugh.”
9. Billy: Predator (1987)
As he stares at foliage in bewildered terror whilst nervously clutching the emblem at his neck, Billy is perhaps the first to grasp that the squad of super-elite special-ops in Predator might be in above their heads. His increasingly strained nerves seem to break with the death of Dillon and, despite the pleas of his partner Dutch, Billy tosses his rifle and makes a last stand on a narrow log bridge. Drawing his commando knife, he cuts his chest in ritualistic fashion before an unperturbed Predator. Keen for a souvenir of this epic encounter, the Predator pays Billy the ultimate compliment by taking his head as a memento.
8. Miles Dyson: Terminator II Judgement Day (1991)
She might have tried to terminate Cyberdyne Systems’ top nerd as he unwittingly sewed the seeds for global thermonuclear at his home PC, but even a veteran cyborg killer like Sarah Conner can’t begrudge Miles Dyson some credit. His nerves might occasionally falter, but the father of the apocalypse shows an iron resolve to make up for the mistakes he hasn’t even made yet. Gripping the detonator in a moment of breathless heroism, he scares away the SWAT team before blowing Cyberdyne HQ and apparently averting the apocalypse.
Or does he? In fact, Mile’s sacrifice – however noble – has no real significance as it turns out that judgement day is actually inevitable. But on a plus note, his wheezing did at least make for some good remixes on YouTube, such as the Death Star version we’ve linked below (it’s the closest YouTube had to offer. It makes the man’s deadness quite clear, though.)
7. Vasquez: Aliens (1986)
She might not be male, but the butch, smart-gun toting Vasquez surpasses even Ripley in how effectively she undermines pop sci-fi’s manly-man stereotype. Never one to back down, she becomes the only character to walk – albeit crawl – away from a hand-to-hand scrap with a xenomorph, and even protests “we don’t leave our people behind” as a delirious Hudson practically bursts into tears at the thought of another crack at the aliens down on sub-level three.
To heighten the film’s sense of insecurity, such an indomitable character becomes the perfect sacrifice. Vasquez holds her nerve right to the end, however, as she and a redeemed Gorman – clearly a far more effective suicide bomber than officer – go out in a fiery blaze of self-sacrificing glory.
6. Jackson: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In what is possibly the most memorable opening to any war film ever, Saving Private Ryan depicts the fate that befell thousands of American soldiers as they took to the shores of Omaha Beach on D-Day. As his comrades hug the embankment in a chaotic maelstrom of Nazi motors and MG42 fire, Private Jackson, who caps Nazis with an evangelical enthusiasm, is the first to provide some welcome retaliation. Later, as he assumes a key position in Ramelle’s bell tower, Jackson inflicts heavy losses on the confused German forces below. Yet, things quickly turn totally FUBAR as his precarious vantage point becomes the prime target for an opportunistic German tank gunner.
5. Kikuchiyo: Seven Samurai (1954)
In Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai, a hand-picked group of unemployed samurai warriors are recruited to protect a remote, farming community from a marauding group of bandits. Despite their superior skill and tactics, the samurai are heavily outnumbered and vulnerable in the face of early, 16th-century firearms. The film culminates in a dramatic last stand in which the flamboyant Kikuchiyo, up to his knees in a quagmire of mud, fights off repeated cavalry charges. But as the samurai slowly turn the tables on their besiegers, the cornered bandit leader blasts a seemingly-unstoppable Kikuchiyo with the last remaining musket. Yet, in true Bushido style, the mortally wounded hero staggers on regardless to cut down the last of the enemy before finally succumbing to his wound.
4. William Wallace: Braveheart (1995)
They say that persecution is one of the most important elements to make a character truly endearing. In Braveheart, practically every conceivable form of maltreatment is meted out against William Wallace, to the sound of one of Hollywood’s most depressing musical scores. At the film’s climax, Wallace is sentenced to be hung, drawn, quartered, and then finally beheaded. He opts for maximum agony after rejecting the Queen’s plea that he should use drugs to dull the pain of his execution. Even so, the defiant Scot stands up remarkably well to one of the medieval world’s most agonizing forms of torture. Despite losing a good few of his internal organs, he retains enough of a solid backbone to roar “FREEDOM!” before the executioner’s axe finally falls.
3. Alex Murphy: Robocop (1987)
Before meeting a death brutal enough to cause PTSD nightmares even in Robocop form, Alex Murphy finds himself alone in an abandoned steel mill and at the mercy of the cop-killing crime lord, Clarence Boddicker. Having previously witnessed the Detroit kingpin gleefully launch one of his own men out of moving vehicle, the cornered cop is under no illusions as to the gravity of this situation. Yet, Murphy doesn’t pass up the opportunity to give it some verbal. As Boddicker struts in front of his giggling gang of enforcers and mockingly asks: “You probably don’t think I am a very nice guy, do you?” a gallant Murphy retorts, “Buddy, I think you’re slime.”
His subsequent execution might be brutal, but it becomes the precursor to a rampage of robotic revenge in which, as expected, Boddicker’s behavior goes from bad to worse. Most notoriously, he sticks chewing gum on the desk of a bitchy OCP secretary and spits a juicy gob of blood right on poor Sarge’s police report.
2. Spoon: Dog Soldiers (2002)
In Dog Soldiers, an elite British army squad find themselves out on training maneuvers back in those long distant days when England could still decimate Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier. After the majority of his comrades fall pray to a pursuing pack of werewolves, Private “Spoon” Witherspoon finds himself out of bullets and cornered in a kitchen. Rather than resigning himself to the inevitable, Spoon forces the salivating beast to work for its meal, first subjecting the eight-foot collie to a bombardment of pots, crockery, kitchen utensils and fists, before finally remarking, “I hope I give you the sh**s, you fu**ing wimp!” The Taliban are just lucky he never made it to Afghanistan.
1. Tony Montana: Scarface (1983)
After killing his best friend, kidnapping his sister, and declaring war on the entire Bolivian underworld, a dejected Tony Montana first locks himself in his room and then throws one of the biggest tantrums of any ill-tempered gangland hood in movie history, from Sonny Corleone to Jack Carter. Cunning is replaced by pure, cocaine-fueled brute force as Montana absorbs bullets, effortlessly massacres Bolivians, and seems to never run out of grenades. The world is all his and, in the ensuring battle, the Cuban-kingpin makes a valiant effort to bring as much of it down with him as possible.