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16 Movies That Killed Off A Major Star Shockingly Early

January 7, 2021 171 votes 29 voters 1.0k 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.

  • Deep Blue Sea is known first and foremost for one of the most shocking death scenes of all time. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a corporate executive named Russell Franklin who is sent to check out a facility researching sharks. Once there, things go haywire, and the sharks begin to go after the researchers. 

    As things start to look really grim for the survivors of the various shark attacks, Jackson delivers an impassioned speech about how they need to stick together. The scene is played completely straight, with no hint about what is to come. As Jackson starts to get the group on his side, he transitions from a pep talk to the specifics about how they can try to get out alive. At that very moment, a shark leaps out from the water below and viciously devours him

    Apparently, the scene came to be because no one working on the film liked the monologue Jackson's character had to deliver and didn't think they could pull it off. Jackson reportedly called up the filmmakers and said, "You know, why don’t you just kill me." And that was that.

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  • Drew Barrymore was featured prominently on the poster for Scream, even though, as it turns out, she was barely in the movie at all. The film opens with the now-iconic scene of Barrymore's character, Casey Becker, receiving a phone call at home - "What's your favorite scary movie?" - that leads to her death at the hands of "Ghostface" in the movie's opening minutes. This was especially shocking to audiences at the time, who went into the film assuming Barrymore was playing a leading role.

    While most actors fight for more screen time for their characters, the decision to depart early was actually Barrymore's idea. Apparently, she was originally going to play the lead, but instead specifically requested to be the girl who meets her demise in the opening. "What I wanted to do is to take that comfort zone away," Drew told Sean Evans on Hot Ones. "I asked if I could be Casey Becker, so we would establish this rule does not apply in this film."

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  • When it was time to reboot Godzilla in 2014, Bryan Cranston, hot off his mega-hit Breaking Bad, was called up for another opportunity on the big screen. He'd shown up in his share of supporting roles in prior years, of course - Argo, Drive, Contagion, and John Carter among them - but Godzilla was one of his first prominent roles in a major blockbuster. Early on, it seems as though Cranston's character, a scientist named Joe Brody, is set to lead the movie.

    And for a while, he does... until Joe gets taken out by a kaiju, leaving the film in the hands of his much less interesting son, Ford.

    While some actors, like Drew Barrymore, enjoyed tricking the audience with their character's early departure, Cranston did not. He said of the film, "That character dying at that time was a mistake. I knew it when I read it. When I read it I said, 'Oh, page 50 this character who was the emotional core at the center, that was guiding the audience in the story up to that point - he dies?' What a waste."

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  • Ryan Reynolds is a massive movie star who basically only stars in movies in which he's a headliner. In fact, right before he appeared in 2017's Life, he starred in the most successful R-rated film of all time, Deadpool. But that didn't help him survive through the duration of Life

    The movie follows a team of astronauts on board the International Space Station who examine a soil sample from Mars containing extraterrestrial life. The organism (dubbed "Calvin" by the crew) turns out to be violent and begins attacking the crew members. And in a surprise early twist, Reynolds's character gets consumed by Calvin.

    Fear not: Reynolds wasn't upset about his untimely demise. Speaking about the movie, he said, "I like it when we undermine convention and expectation in inventive ways. So if anyone really knows movies, 'Oh, Ryan's worked with Daniel, and with Rhett and Paul. They're going to take good care of him,' you know? No, he's X-ed out right at the beginning there." Reynolds was, of course, referring to his relationship with the films' creators, who worked with him on both Deadpool and Safe House.

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