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Actors whose characters always seem to die

Dying onscreen poses a unique challenge for an actor, but some are more accustomed to it than others. In fact, some stars seem like they die during just about every movie they're in. Grab a shovel and check out our video above (or keeping reading below!) for a look at a few of Hollywood's finest fake dead people. Beware of spoilers and some not-very-pleasant-looking movie murders.

Samuel L. Jackson

For a guy who's made an excellent living playing imposing characters, Samuel L. Jackson seems to meet his maker in the movies on a surprisingly regular basis. This has more than a little to do with the law of averages. Simply put, when you make over 100 films, you're bound to be called upon for your share of death scenes. But Jackson's many movie deaths—over 20 in all, and still growing—include some of modern cinema's most memorable character exits, including being suddenly slaughtered by a shark (Deep Blue Sea) and sent plummeting to his death by evil Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith).

Gary Busey

Gary Busey has flirted with real-life death so often that it was the subject of an infamous joke during the Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary special in 2000, when guest Billy Crystal—in character as his cheerfully clueless Fernando persona—spotted him in the audience and shouted, "Gary Busey! You are alive!" Busey has died onscreen more than 20 times, and we're pretty sure he's the only actor to be killed for the cameras by Dolly Parton (Wild Texas Wind), Ice-T (Surviving the Game), and Snoop Dogg (Hot Boyz). Other memorable offings have come courtesy of his roles in Lethal Weapon, Point Break, and Predator 2.

Lance Henriksen

One of the most prolific murder victims in movie history, Lance Henriksen has had the honor of being offed by some pretty heavy hitters. He died in The Terminator, Alien 3, and Alien vs. Predator, as well as Pumpkinhead, Scream 3, and one of the many Hellraiser sequels. It's hard to pick a favorite from Henriksen's list of more than 30 deaths, but ours might be the barely remembered Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Hard Target, in which Henriksen's character has a grenade shoved down his pants.

John Hurt

Obviously, plenty of esteemed actors have bit the big one in multiple movies, but John Hurt takes cinematic corpsehood to another level. Not only has he compiled more screen deaths than arguably any other actor—over 40 in all—but the Oscar-nominated legend also boasts one of the most memorable all-time exits: he was the first victim of a "chestburster" in Alien, suffering a gory demise that's made millions of moviegoers jump screaming out of their seats.

Sean Bean

Sean Bean's propensity for playing ill-fated characters is so well-known that it's inspired its own website, countless memes, and a number of in-depth analytical studies to determine whether he has, in fact, died onscreen more than any other actor. We'll leave that to the numbers-crunchers. Suffice it to say we've watched Bean pass away more times than we (or he) can count. "Maybe it's the quality of my death people are fascinated by," he suggested to the Daily Mail. "I liked Lord of the Rings. Big death."

Nicolas Cage

In real life, we suspect Nicolas Cage might be immortal, but at the movies, he's uncommonly susceptible to memorably messy deaths. He took a stake through the chest in Vampire's Kiss, drank himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas, and was burned to a crisp in Kick-Ass, just to name a few—but no matter how many times he dies on screen, our favorite will always be the wackadoodle way he perishes in the all-around crazy 2006 remake of The Wicker Man. Before that movie came along, we'd never have guessed we needed to see Cage punch a woman while wearing a bear suit, or watch him howl in over-the-top agony while having his face covered with bees. Now that we've seen it, our lives will never be the same.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp's distinguished career includes over a dozen "killer" moments, including his electrocution at the hands of Charlize Theron in The Astronaut's Wife and being eaten by the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. His best movie death, however, will probably always be his first: in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Depp's character is yoinked down into his bed after falling asleep, sending a gushing fountain blood spraying up into the room after he's gone. Even in a franchise known for its spectacular death scenes, it remains a standout.

Michael Biehn

After a while, it got to the point where as soon as you saw Michael Biehn's face on screen, you started counting down the minutes until his inevitable death. He's one of many memorable victims in The Terminator, he's imploded in The Abyss, and he's shot in the forehead by Val Kilmer in Tombstone...and those are just the R.I.P. highlights from his first 10 years in the movies. He's gone on to the great beyond more than 20 times, but our favorite might be the crowbar to the head he took in Stiletto, a little-seen 2008 effort featuring Castle star Stana Katic.

Bruce Willis

Never mind Die Hard. For much of his career, Bruce Willis' mantra seems to have been "die often." His dozen-plus on-screen deaths have included crucial turning points in movies like Twelve Monkeys and The Jackal, and it was his character who had the honor of saving the planet by being blown up on an asteroid in Armageddon. He's also had a couple of really stylish deaths courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, biting the dust in Sin City and Grindhouse. But his greatest death might be his most mind-blowing: namely, the sneaky way he bit the dust in The Sixth Sense.

Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo seems like one of the few Hollywood stars who could legitimately handle himself in a violent life-or-death situation, but he's been on the losing end in more than a few mortal movie conflicts during his career. Early on, he was often called on as cannon fodder in action films, dying at the hands of Charles Bronson in Death Wish IV and being blown up in the Gary Busey flick Bulletproof, but he's graduated to more exotic deaths in more recent years. Some of Trejo's more memorable exits include his grisly demise in Predators. But for us, his best death scene will always be his poignant mercy killing courtesy of Robert De Niro in Michael Mann's classic 1995 action thriller Heat.

Liam Neeson

Whether he's getting slaughtered by the merciless Bill "The Butcher" (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the first few minutes of Gangs of New York or run through by Darth Maul (Ray Park) in the climax of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Liam Neeson's characters die a lot. Starting with an offscreen death as Gawain in 1981's Excalibur and more recently a shot to the belly in 2018's Widows, Neeson's died on the big screen more than 25 times. He dies even when he's playing someone who shouldn't be able to die, like when he turns to dust as the god Zeus in 2012's Wrath of the Titans and when he bit the dust as supervillain Ra's al Ghul in 2005's Batman Begins – the comic book version of the villain is constantly resurrected by using magical "Lazarus Pits."

There is also a strange coincidence with Neeson playing animated feline characters. The actor has played a number of animated cats — and each time, they tend to get sent to the litter box in the sky. Neeson lent his voice to the CGI-rendered lion Aslan in 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, who is stabbed to death by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). Nine years later he voiced the leopard Phango in the animated film Khumba — he falls off a cliff and has two large rocks fall on top of him.

Leonardo DiCaprio

If you're judging it only by the number of times an actor's characters have died, Leonardo DiCaprio might not compare to a lot of other names on this list. He's only died onscreen 11 times. But if you consider the fact that DiCaprio has only appeared in 29 films, and then do the math to find out that dying 11 times in 29 movies means he dies in 37% of the films he appears in, his dates with the Grim Reaper seem a lot more significant.  

If there's an award for Most Predictable Movie Deaths, DiCaprio's got it in the bag. A good chunk of his film deaths are while playing people who actually existed like his first onscreen death in 1995's Total Eclipse, when as poet Arthur Rimbaud he dies of syphilis. He also played late historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar and Howard Hughes in The Aviator. You only need to know how the books end to figure out his guys wouldn't survive Romeo & Juliet and The Great Gatsby, and Titanic was about a ship that sank and killed a bunch of people.

Not to mention he's shot and killed by Schulz (Christoph Waltz) in Django Unchained, and once you know it's a Quentin Tarantino film you should be fitting him for a coffin.

Tommy Flanagan

Tommy Flanagan isn't exactly on Hollywood's A-List but he's a great character actor who gets snuffed in close to half of his film appearances. Recently, he experienced arguably one of the grisliest deaths to be featured in any of Marvel Studios' films. As the Ravager Tulik in 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – one of the few who remains loyal to Yondu (Michael Rooker) after the unfortunately named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) leads a mutiny — we watch as he's dragged to an airlock and released into space. As we watch him die, we see a long trail of Ravagers who were released before him.

He also has bad luck with arrows. He's killed by English archers as the Scottish rebel Morrison in 1995's Braveheart and by Roman arrows as Cicero in 2000's Gladiator. The aliens get him in 2004's Alien vs. Predator and a samurai sex worker offed him a year later in Sin City. Flanagan probably just asks for the fake blood as soon as he gets on set. 

Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke dies more than just about everybody. His characters have kicked the bucket in 31 films starting with one of his earliest, 1980's Fade to BlackHis most recent dirt nap was in 2016's WEAPONiZED as Professor Clarence Peterson when Kyle Norris (Tom Sizemore) poisons him. 

It's only fair to point out that a lot of the deaths we're crediting Rourke with either take place offscreen or are never confirmed but seem obvious. For example we never see his character Randy "The Ram" die in 2008's The Wrestler, but when we see he's having chest pains and the film ends with him doing his dangerous signature wrestling move, the death is strongly implied. In a much more blatant example we don't see his character Kasarov shot in 1998's Thursday, but the screen fades to white over his face as we hear the shot that kills him. We also don't see him decapitated as Jordan Kalfus in 2004's Man on Fire, but John Creasy (Denzel Washington) finds his head floating in a pool. 

Mickey Rourke gets shot a lot. Willem Dafoe shoots him in the back in 2003's Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Samuel L. Jackson shoots him a bunch of times in 1992's White Sands, and Tupac Shakur blows him away in 1996's Bullet. He's shot and killed in Passion PlayThe CourierF.T.WKillshot (should've seen that one coming), Stormbreaker, Domino, Fall Time, and a bunch of others. 

Gary Oldman

English actor Gary Oldman isn't far behind Mickey Rourke in movie deaths. He's died 29 times in movies, as heroes, villains, and everything in-between. His first movie death came in his first leading role in a film — as punk rock icon Sid Vicious in 1986's Sid and Nancy. We never see him actually die, but instead watch as he's driven off in a cab with Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) who we see die earlier in the film. A note at the end of the movie reminds us the former Sex Pistols bass player died of a heroin overdose in 1979. 

Oldman's characters have experienced some particularly grisly ways to go. The maimed and vengeful Mason Verger of 2001's Hannibal is torn to pieces and eaten by the same pigs he meant to to feed Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to. In 1997's Air Force One President Marshall (Harrison Ford) kills the terrorist Ivan Korshunov by tying his parachute cord around Ivan's neck and then opening the chute, breaking Ivan's neck as the wind grabs the chute and yanks it away. He's torn to pieces in 1998's Lost In Space and a year earlier Christian Slater makes sure to shoot the pimp Drexl in the crotch before shooting him in the head in True Romance

Considering everything, getting zapped in 2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was probably like getting a foot massage in comparison. 

Robert De Niro

When it comes to movie deaths, Robert De Niro is kind of the opposite of Leonardo DiCaprio. While, as we noted earlier, DiCaprio hasn't died in a lot of movies unless you compare it to the number of movies he's been in (11 deaths out of 29 films), De Niro has a pretty respectable number of movie deaths but at a much lower percentage. De Niro has died in 20 films since his first movie death in 1970's Bloody Mama, when his character dies of a heroin overdose. But that's compared to almost 100 films the veteran actor has appeared in.

That's particularly surprising when you consider how many mafia or other crime-related films he's starred in, particularly the ones directed by Martin Scorsese. The films of Scorsese are not known for their low body counts and in fact we're counting one of them in De Niro's 20 movie deaths – 1973's Mean Streets — though some might argue against it. The film ends with De Niro's character shot in the neck. He's taken away by an ambulance, and the question of his survival is left to our imagination.

Bill Paxton

The late Bill Paxton's movie characters died a lot — in a little over a third of the films in which he appeared. What's particularly worth mentioning is how often he died at the hands of the director he was most closely associated with, James Cameron. 

It's been mentioned quite often — including in obituaries at the time of Paxton's tragic death — that Paxton is the only actor to play characters killed by a Terminator (in 1984's The Terminator), a Predator (in 1990's Predator 2), and a xenomorph from the Alien franchise (in 1986's Aliens). What isn't pointed out as much is how often he appeared in James Cameron's films — and how often his characters died in them. 

Paxton appeared in four of Cameron's films, and his characters die in all but one of them. We already mentioned his ends in Terminator and Aliens. Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) breaks Paxton's character's neck in 1994's True Lies. The only Cameron film Paxton survives? Titanic — the one where everyone else dies. Thankfully he didn't have to count on Kate Winslet's kindness when it came to floating doors. 

Oscar Isaac

Perhaps known best in the role of rebel pilot Poe Dameron in the most recent Star Wars trilogy, Oscar Isaac's characters die in almost a third of the films he shows up in. His first unfortunate end came in what was only his second film credit — when diamond thief Julian Rose (Roger Guenveur Smith) shoots him in 2002's All About the Benjamins. The X-Men killed him when he played the villain of 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse and his characters committed suicide in two movie deaths — he purposely detonates a phosphorous grenade in 2018's Annihilation, and shoots himself in that year's Life Itself.

Isaac is more than aware of his high rate of taking make-believe deaths and if it weren't for his complaining about it, a lot of people wouldn't know who he is. In the Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, after Poe and Finn (John Boyega) escape the First Order, their stolen TIE fighter crashes on Jakku and sinks into the sand. Unlike Finn, we don't see Poe emerge from the fighter and are led to believe he's dead. We later learn he escaped. Apparently, in the original script for the film, Poe was going to die. Isaac wasn't happy with this because he'd not only died in so many films, but his characters tended to die fairly early in the story just as Poe was planned to. Abrams agreed to change the story, and Poe Dameron lives on. 

Laurence Fishburne

Laurence Fishburne's movie roles don't have the highest death rate on this list, but it's clear many of his characters aren't quite as lucky as The Matrix's Morpheus. 

Fishburne's characters close their eyes forever in a couple of his early well-remembered roles. He's one of the soldiers to fall victim to the natives' attack on the river boat in 1979's Apocalypse Now and Charles Bronson sends him to the Great Beyond in 1982's Death Wish II. As the drug mule/bike messenger Voodoo in 1986's Quicksilver, Fishburne wins a friendly bike race with Jack (Kevin Bacon) only to be run over by the vengeful dealer Gypsy (Rudy Ramos). Like Mickey Rourke, he gets shot quite a bit. He also explodes quite a bit. He goes kaboom in 1997's Event Horizon, in 2009's Armored, in 2013's The Colony, and he's shot and explodes in 2010's Predators.

If there's any trend in Fishburne's deaths, it points to the idea his characters really need to become more "down to Earth" people. In other words, he dies a lot in space, or in any movies that have something to do with space. Along with his explosive endings in Event Horizon and Predators, Fishburne's most recent big-screen death was in 2016's science fiction romance Passengers. 

Bela Lugosi

Best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula, the late Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi appeared in over 100 films in his lifetime, and his characters died in 36 of them. Considering the circumstances of Lugosi's career, his roles' high mortality rate isn't surprising. While Lugosi had roles in dozens of movies before 1931's Dracula, it would be his portrayal of the vampire legend that would prove synonymous with his name. As a result, most of his post-Dracula roles were horror films which, by their nature, tend to drop bodies. Horror movies he starred in, and consequently died in, shortly after Dracula include 1932's White Zombie, that year's Chandu the Magician, 1934's The Black Cat, 1935's The Raven, and many more. 

Lugosi died in 1956 and the final film he worked on – The Black Sleep – was released that year. However, it wasn't the last time Lugosi appeared in a movie. Three years after his real-life death, Lugosi makes a brief appearance in Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space — made more infamous by Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Lugosi's character is run over by a car offscreen. 

Vincent Price

The career of the late Vincent Price had quite a bit in common with that of Bela Lugosi. Like Lugosi, Price appeared in over 100 films before he died in 1993. Also like Lugosi, most of his films were of the horror variety, and so — like Lugosi — his characters die in a whole bunch of them. In fact, the characters Price played died in 42 of his movies, beating Lugosi's fictional body count by six. And while this isn't a competition, if we decide it is a competition, then we'd need to point out that Lugosi never got to do a voiceover in a Michael Jackson video.

Ironically, while most of Price's work is most closely associated with the horror genre, his many character deaths include his final two films – neither of which were horror movies. Price's final movie role was in 1993 as the voice of ZigZag, the king's adviser in the animated fantasy The Thief and the Cobbler. The scheming Grand Vizier is eaten alive by alligators. Three years earlier, Price appears as the Inventor in Tim Burton's classic Edward Scissorhands, who dies of a heart attack in the first few minutes of the film, before he can give Edward (Johnny Depp) human hands. 

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