When a character dies in a movie, the filmmakers usually can’t resist giving them a big, flashy, scenery-chewing death scene – the kind satirized beautifully by Jim Carrey in The Mask (“Hold me closer, Ed… it’s getting dark”) – but sometimes, filmmakers take a more reserved approach to their characters’ mortality. In some cases, a character death doesn’t even take place on-screen.
10 Tracy Mills (Se7en)
In the chilling finale of David Fincher’s serial killer thriller Se7en, Detectives Mills and Somerset drive Biblical serial killer John Doe out into the middle of the desert, where a delivery van drops off a box at some specific coordinates. The contents of the box are never explicitly revealed, but it’s heavily implied to contain the severed head of Mills’ wife, Tracy.
The fallout from Tracy’s off-screen demise completes Doe’s septet of murders. Doe himself represents the sin of envy, as he was jealous of Mills’ relationship with Tracy, and Mills fills his role as wrath when he shoots Doe dead in a vengeful rage.
9 Rooster Cogburn (True Grit)
The Coens’ remake of the bleak western classic True Grit refocused the narrative on its original protagonist from the source material. The first adaptation focused on Rooster Cogburn as a starring vehicle for John Wayne, but the Coens’ adaptation is told from the perspective of Mattie Ross, the kid who hires Cogburn to help her hunt down her father’s killer.
In the movie’s epilogue, an adult Mattie accepts Cogburn’s invitation to see him in a traveling Wild West show. But when she gets there, she’s informed that he died three days earlier.
8 Mr. Arnold (Jurassic Park)
Samuel L. Jackson’s Jurassic Park character, Mr. Arnold, is killed off-screen while trying to get the park’s power grid back up and running. When Ellie Sattler heads over to the grid to finish what he started, she finds his severed arm.
In an interview with The A.V. Club, Jackson said that he was originally supposed to get a dramatic death scene. However, a hurricane destroyed the set, so the actor couldn’t make the trip to Hawaii to film his character’s gruesome demise.
7 Rosie Betzler (Jojo Rabbit)
Jojo Betzler’s daring activist mother Rosie is killed off-screen in Jojo Rabbit, but the reveal of her corpse is more shocking than any death scene. Jojo finds his mother hanging in the town square, having been executed by the Nazis for spreading anti-fascist propaganda.
This harrowing twist is foreshadowed earlier in the movie with various shots of Rosie’s feet standing on elevated surfaces behind Jojo’s head, at the swimming pool and by the river.
6 Agatha (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
When Zero first mentions his late wife Agatha in The Grand Budapest Hotel, he says that it’s difficult to talk about her because he becomes so overwhelmed with grief. This introduction telegraphs a grim fate for one of the most likable characters in the movie.
Throughout the movie, Agatha constantly finds herself in dangerous situations: she’s hunted by hitman J.G. Jopling and chased through the hotel by a gun-toting Dmitri. Ultimately, it turns out Agatha was killed by “an absurd little disease” that swept the nation a couple of years after the Boy with Apple heist.
5 Llewelyn Moss (No Country For Old Men)
The neo-western masterpiece No Country for Old Men is another Coen brothers movie that kills off a major character in between scenes. The conclusion of the intense cat-and-mouse chase is beautifully anticlimactic, and frighteningly realistic.
Llewelyn Moss is gunned down off-screen – and not even by the main villain. Sheriff Bell finds him dead at a motel, and like the audience, he struggles to make sense of the whole ordeal.
4 Jack Twist (Brokeback Mountain)
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful love story. It infamously lost out on Best Picture despite being more than deserving of the award. But it adheres to the annoying trend of LGBTQ narratives ending in tragedy.
At the end of Brokeback Mountain, Ennis learns that Jack has died off-screen. Lureen tells him that Jack died in a freak accident while changing a tire, but Ennis suspects that he was murdered by men who discovered his sexuality.
3 Sarah Connor (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines)
Sarah Connor is one of the most badass action heroes ever put on film. In the first two Terminator movies, she transformed from a relatable everywoman targeted by a killer robot from the future into a gun-toting badass who effortlessly destroys killer robots from the future.
But Sarah is completely absent from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, as she died from leukemia between movies. At least she did one last badass act before passing away: she left behind a coffin full of guns at her own gravesite.
2 Adrianna Pennino-Balboa (Rocky Balboa)
The beauty of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-nominated Rocky script is that it’s a love story first and a boxing movie second. Rocky’s rivalries with opponents like Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang were always secondary to his love for Adrian.
So, fans of the franchise were heartbroken when they watched Rocky Balboa and learned that Adrian had died of ovarian cancer a few years before the events of the movie. A widowed Rocky runs an Italian restaurant named in her honor.
1 Newt, Hicks & Bishop (Alien 3)
All the fan-favorite supporting players from Aliens – Ripley’s surrogate daughter Newt, the noble and heroic Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and Bishop, the android that restored Ripley’s faith in androids – are killed off in one fell swoop. This feels like an insult to fans of the franchise, as it made the victory at the end of Aliens seem meaningless.