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16 Movies That Killed Off A Major Star Shockingly Early

January 7, 2021 171 votes 29 voters 1.1k views16 items

List RulesVote up the major character deaths that took you completely by surprise.

The casting of a movie can tell you a lot. You've got your movie stars, your character actors, your bit players. The proof of each character's prominence is usually in the advertising, the posters, the credit listings. An A-lister stands out proudly in the center of the one-sheet poster; that movie star is - one can reasonably expect - going to be taking center stage in the movie itself, too. As a rule, movies generally follow through on that promise.

But then there are the movies that pull the rug out from under our expectations - the movies that dare to wipe out a major star in the first half, or the first few minutes, or even the opening scene. Movies in which the presumptive main character dies early aren't necessarily commonplace, but they happen plenty. The poster may give no indication of any resident A-lister's surprise demise, but that only adds to the shock value when it happens.

As a general rule, movies tend to follow through on the implicit promises of their casts - but sometimes they have a little fun playing with our expectations, whether it's establishing a major character who, it turns out, isn't really the hero at all, or in cases like this, establishing a false protagonist whose quick demise shifts our collective attention to other characters.

Vote up the early departures that surprised you the most.

  • In Alien, John Hurt, as officer Kane, took part in one of the most iconic death scenes of all time. The film follows a crew of astronauts whose journey home gets interrupted after they get awakened from their stasis to respond to a distress signal. They venture to the signal and find an alien spacecraft full of eggs. One of the creatures bursts from its egg and attaches itself to Kane's face.

    Later, aboard the ship, the creature detaches itself from Kane's face, and it seems like he is fine. That is, until an alien that had been gestating inside him bursts out from his chest.

    The filmmakers wanted a genuine surprise out of the other actors, so Hurt's demise came as a surprise to them, as well. They rigged the prosthetic up in secret, and, according to actress Veronica Cartwright, "none of [them] expected it."

    Shockingly early demise?
  • Photo: Lionsgate

    The Cabin In The Woods was released about a full year after the first Thor film and right in the middle of 2012's Avengers hysteria. All of this worked together to mean one thing: Chris Hemsworth was a big deal and by far the biggest star in this film, a meta horror-comedy that has since become a cult classic.

    But Hemsworth's newfound star status wasn't enough to keep him safe in the movie. The Cabin in the Woods was subversive in how closely it followed the traditional slasher movie structure. This meant there was going to be a Final Girl, and that Hemsworth's hunk jock Curt didn't stand a chance.

    While the film is subversive in a macro way, it also subverts expectations from scene to scene. Take, for example, Curt's demise. He needs to clear a ravine on his motorcycle so that he can go and get help. The film slowly builds to the jump, but instead of clearing it and finding help and eventually saving his love at the climactic moment, he smacks right into a force field and plummets to his death.

    Shockingly early demise?
  • The first live-action G.I. Joe film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, starred Channing Tatum as a military operative named Duke. The film's follow-up, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, begins with Duke having ascended the ranks of G.I. Joe operatives to become the leader of the military organization. An audience member might have assumed this film (which featured Duke prominently on the poster) would focus on him in a similar way as the first movie; instead, he is slain in the very first scene as a casualty of an airstrike on the G.I. Joe base.

    Duke's demise might have come from Channing Tatum's clear disdain for the film. While being interviewed by Howard Stern, Tatum said that he "f*cking hates that movie."

    Shockingly early demise?
  • Executive Decision opens on Steven Seagal - at the time, a major action star who regularly headlined his own movies - as Lt. Col. Austin Travis, leading a failed Special Forces raid against the mob in Italy. The film then switches to follow Kurt Russell, who is later put on Seagal's spec ops team to intercept terrorists on a plane. Shortly into the mission, Travis sacrifices himself for the others, and Seagal waves goodbye to the film. 

    While it was certainly strange to have an actor of Seagal's status knocked off so early, he was only there "as a favor to WB." His relationship with the studio made it so a role that most likely would have been played by a much lower-profile actor was instead all the more memorable (and shocking) due to Seagal's presence.

    Shockingly early demise?