It was the year we said goodbye to Groot (and then, admittedly, hello again straight afterwards in sprout form), watched Tom Cruise meet his maker countless times in Edge Of Tomorrow and when even The Lego Movie’s Vitruvius bounced back from an early encounter with a deep gorge. To paraphrase Crank: High Voltage, they were all dead but they got better. Others were not so lucky, especially if they bumped into Denzel Washington’s Equalizer, The Raid 2’s Rama or Amy ‘Keep Away From Sharp Objects’ Dunne in Gone Girl. Here are 15 of the on-screen offings that lingered longest in the mind.
DEATH(S) OF THE YEAR
EDGE OF TOMORROW
And the much-coveted, much-fought over title of Greatest Movie Death Of 2014 goes to... Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow. Oh wait - it’s a tie! He’ll share it with Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow. And Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow. And Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow. And Tom Cruise... you get the idea.
If you hate Tom Cruise, then Edge Of Tomorrow was your porn. The film’s live-die-repeat structure, as Cruise’s cowardly PR guy Bill Cage slowly became a well-honed alien-killing machine, meant that we saw Cruise die, by our count, roughly 32 times on screen. He’s shot, stabbed, blown up, drowned, run over, squashed, and shot again in a manner that’s not very Cruise-like. And those are just the ones we see - the intimation is that Cage dies many hundreds, if not thousands of times during his journey. And all of them, by necessity, will be horribly painful.
We spoke to Doug Liman about the challenges in killing a megastar (who had only died on screen a handful of times before this) over and over and over and over and over again.
“It's really fun to kill Tom Cruise”
DIRECTOR DOUG LIMAN ON KILLING HIS STAR, OVER AND OVER AGAIN
“The only person who enjoyed killing Tom Cruise more than I did was Tom Cruise. You’ve never seen Tom Cruise squeal or die like this on screen before. I had no reference for what that would feel like. He’s completely fearless and not afraid to try things. If they don’t work, they can look silly. You don’t know unless you go for it. He’s so trusting of his director, and of the process, and given that he’s got this massive brand, he could hunker down and try to protect it. The fact that he was willing to take the Tom Cruise you knew and turn it on its head and do the opposite of what you’d expect from Tom Cruise is really gutsy. Most corporations don’t do that. McDonald’s isn’t suddenly going to say, ''We’re going to stop serving meat, and just become vegetarian.' But that’s basically what Tom Cruise did for his brand in Edge Of Tomorrow. You’re used to Tom Cruise as classic hero, but this time we’re going to be vegetarian. It’s a totally different Tom Cruise than you’ve ever seen before.
Instead of cutting deaths out, we actually added more deaths in. There probably are at least twice as many on-screen deaths as were initially planned. As we were shooting, sometimes I had material that was an outtake, because you shoot scenes multiple times. Sometimes Tom would get the timing wrong, and you’re editing as you’re shooting and that’s funny, to add that extra death there.
Probably my favourite death is when he’s trying to escape and he times it wrong and rolls under the truck. Because I’m a little bit of a sick fuck, the film continues in that moment after he dies and you get the reaction from Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), it means that he’s not actually dead yet. You don’t get to see it. I’m envisaging that this is a particularly gruesome and slow death. You see Farell reacting to it offscreen, and you may not get that the first time you see the film. I make movies for multiple viewings.
I pride myself on being a flexible filmmaker, somebody who, on the set, can notice what’s happening and then adapt as opposed to burying my head in the sand and going on with the plan. Sometimes that means there’s a scene that’s not working and I won’t move on. We can’t pretend it will in the editing and that can infuriate the studio. I did it on Bourne Identity where I just would not move on until I felt we had the material. On Edge Of Tomorrow, on one of the earlier takes of Tom rolling under the truck, because there’s some special effects and visual effects involved in that, because we couldn’t actually risk killing Tom Cruise, my visual effects supervisor pointed out that Tom’s timing was a little off, that the truck would have killed him. But we got into editing and we were like, ‘What if the truck does kill him? Let’s try that.’ It’s no big deal to get Sgt. Farell’s reaction while we were shooting. That moment doesn’t work without that reaction. That was part of my process of discovering, ‘Oh, it’s really fun to kill Tom Cruise’.
Rita (Emily Blunt) shooting him in the head was something we discovered during the film. After we had the experience of the truck, and realising it’s fun to kill him, we started to come up with other ways to kill Tom. I knew the film was going to be fun, but I didn’t realise this aspect was going to be as great as it was, and that’s because of Tom. It’s fun to watch him getting killed, even if it’s Emily Blunt pointing a gun at his head and killing him. Different actor, different tone: it’s not fun. But he has such range as an actor that it’s like the Eskimos who have 200 different words for 'ice'. Tom Cruise had 200 different ways to deliver the performance of being killed!"
One of the most famous deaths from the Spider-Man comics’ history is Gwen Stacy’s neck-snapping plunge from the George Washington Bridge – not least because her demise comes not from hitting the water, but from the Spidey’s web-thwipping attempted rescue. This is a version of that, with the bridge now a clocktower and Peter’s intervention now just-too-late rather than exactly botched. Surrounded by spinning clockwork parts as she falls, Gwen’s slow-mo descent is heartbreakingly intercut with flashbacks to the couple’s happier moments, and there’s a nice shot of Spidey’s web looking like a grasping hand. And there’s something quite shocking about the way Gwen ultimately, almost gently, cracks her head at her journey’s nadir.
Regardless of that Johnny Cash lyric, it’s no easy matter watching a man die. Not in Reno and definitely not in the backwoods Virginia of Jeremy Saulnier’s slowburn thriller – a state, lest we forget, with the death penalty for murder. The man doing the killing here is Macon Blair’s lank-haired drifter, Dwight, and natural born killer this man definitely ain’t. In fact, cowering in the loo cubicle of a rural bar, a shiv clutched in his trembling hand, he looks more like a victim than perpetrator. Nevertheless, the man who killed his parents is standing at an adjacent urinal and vengeance calls. The fight that ensues is short, manic, dirty and ends with a knife buried in a man’s temple. Vengeance is delivered. Dwight has entered the scene as an harmless innocent and left it as a bluegrass Bond.
Recently, Empire sat down with Kingsman: The Secret Service director, Matthew Vaughn, and conversation turned, as it frequently does when you’re in Empire’s company, to Guardians Of The Galaxy. Turns out Vaughn’s a huge fan. “Anyone who can make you feel emotion for a fucking tree and a raccoon is a genius,” he told us. “I cared about a fucking tree that had one line of dialogue, and I cared about that fucking raccoon.” Which pretty much sums up the noble sacrifice of Groot. With Ronan The Accuser’s Dark Aster plummeting towards Nova Prime, it looks like Chris Pratt’s motley crew have guarded their last galaxy. Until Groot grows his branches around them into a protective cocoon. Only problem is – he’s the cocoon. As the ramifications dawn on Rocket, he goes over to plead with his BFF. “Why?” he asks. To which Groot replies, “We are Groot.” There wasn’t a dry eye – CG or otherwise – in the house.
Having been booted down a chasm by Lord Business in The Lego Movie’s opening minutes, Vitruvius doesn’t fare much better when he returns to deliver a beatdown later on. Initially breaking out some nifty room-clearing ninja moves with his skeleton-laser-bolt-deflecting zimmer frame, the Morgan Freeman-voiced wizard is suddenly beheaded mid-sentence by a Frisbee coin. But it’s okay, because his rolling severed head lives long enough to impart some important words of wisdom. It’s a credit to the film’s air of pure and total fun that this scene didn’t have children running screaming from the theatre.
Second only to his sister Hammer Girl in The Raid 2’s utter carnage stakes is Very Tri Yulisman’s otherwise unnamed Baseball Bat Man. And it’s his death you’ll particularly remember. Following the mind-boggling three-way Hammer-Bat-Rama corridor fight, Bat is, shall we say, hoist by his own petard. By which we mean that his weapon of choice is graphically embedded in his own face. The death blow is followed by a lingering – mercifully not close-up – shot of him keeling slowly sideways and sliding down a wall. Yowch.
“There is a moment...”, Matt Damon’s final words are cut off as, ignoring strong advice to not open the inner hatch of his improperly docked spacecraft, he’s cracked on the head by debris and sucked into space as all around him explodes into chaos. A horrorstruck Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway can only look on helplessly and slam their own shuttle into reverse. The tense moment is masterfully drawn out, as it becomes awfully clear to everyone but Damon that his docking clamps are misaligned. And because in space no-one can hear you scream, his actual violent demise plays out in eerie silence. The rest of that last sentence is taken by the disinterested vacuum.
As the creepy, controlling Desi Collings in David Fincher’s thriller, Neil Patrick Harris is a world away from his usual likeable persona. But still, he didn’t deserve to go out like this. Nobody deserves to go out like this. When Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne stumbles back into his life, seemingly frightened and in need of protection, rich boy Desi can’t believe his luck. Especially when, after a few weeks, Amy tells him she wants to take the relationship to the next level. For Desi, this means candles, flowers, a quick roll in the hay while birds sing. For the psychopathic Amy, however, it means framing Desi for kidnapping her, slicing his throat open with a box-cutter while he’s having sex with her, and then writhing around in his blood.
There are very few good ways to go. This is definitely not one of them. At the beginning of Jim Mickle’s remake of the Mexican cannibal horror, we follow a woman (Kassie Wesley DePaiva) as she pops into town on a rainy day, sells some meat to the local butcher, heads back to her car, has a seizure, falls backwards, bangs her head, knocks herself out, falls into a tiny pond, and drowns without anyone noticing a thing. There are bloodier deaths as the film unfolds, of course, but for sheer ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I’-ness, this is hard to beat.
Guts, prepare to be wrenched. Calvary lays open its cards in its very first scene – that an unseen killer will murder Brendan Gleeson’s Father James in one week, on a Sunday, no less, as punishment for the sins of the Catholic Church - and then holds your gaze, daring you to call its bluff. It’s not a bluff. As Father James confronts his killer on a windswept beach, there’s a sense that even though he has resigned himself to his fate, having decided not to run away, that he hopes he can talk the man around. But the man doesn’t blink. Having shot Father James once in the shoulder, he puts a gun to his head and finishes the job. The gasps were audible when this Empire writer saw the film.
One of the worst films of the year, there’s virtually nothing of distinction about Sabotage, which painted itself as a grittier update of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (the film was even called Ten at one point) with its cast of scuzzed-up character actors slowly bumped off one-by-one by an unseen killer. Yet even that aspect is botched, with the deaths all rather bland and uninventive - save one, in which Olivia Williams’s cop and Big Arnie’s dirty DEA agent stumble upon the corpse of one of Arnie’s teammates, Josh Holloway’s Eddie Jordan, nailed to the ceiling of his house. It’s a death that makes little to no sense, logistically speaking, but it’s a memorable image. If only the rest of the movie had been this effective.
The final prank by Oculus’ malevolent mirror costs Karen Gillan her life. Experiencing different memory-sourced realities in different rooms of their old family home, Gillan’s Kaylie and her brother, Brenton Thwaites’ Tim, become increasingly distanced from one other as the film progresses. And as soon as their fail-safe mechanism to smash the mirror should anything go wrong is revealed, you know it’ll be put to some awful use later on. Finally it happens. Kaylie, believing she’s her younger self, accepts the embrace of her dead mother as she appears from the mirror. Seeing none of this on the monitors from the next room, Tim sets the monstrous anvil pendulum in motion. Result: Kaylie pinned to the mirror through the top of her spine. And it’s back to the asylum for Tim.
Surviving a dramatic explosion courtesy of Rosario Dawson and her Old Town whores, Eva Green’s shrapnel-flecked, never noticeably dressed psychopath temptress Ava Lord attempts to convince Josh Brolin that he’s everything she ever wanted. There’s a bloody kiss and some noirish murmuring, but then “the gun barks and bucks in my hand,” and it turns out he’s decided against her advances. Life leaves Ava with a sigh…
For the first 30 minutes or so of Antoine Fuqua’s old-school thriller, Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall has been a rather laid-back action hero. He’s visited a diner, read some books, gone to work at the American equivalent of a Homebase. To quote David Mamet’s Heist, “My motherfucker’s so cool, when sheep go to sleep, they count him.” But there’s always a sense of the violence lurking under the surface and, when McCall slips into a Russian gangster’s den to bargain for the life of Chloë Grace Moretz’s young hooker, it erupts. In a bravura sequence, McCall takes on and kills the entire group of thugs, armed with nothing more than a corkscrew and a paperweight.
Already unsettled by watching his cat get thrown out of a window for no good reason, Jeff Goldblum’s Deputy Kovacs gets an attack of the heebie-jeebies when, on his way home, he finds himself stalked by the cat-thrower, Willem Dafoe’s creepy assassin, Jopling. Attempting to elude his pursuer in a museum, Goldblum makes for a back exit only to be startled by a shoeless, silent Dafoe leering at him out of shadows blacker than a German Expressionist nightmare. A door slams, Goldblum’s fingers fall to the ground, a scream is stifled, and the tonal shift signals that The Grand Budapest Hotel is not such a jaunty trifle after all.
To make sure you don't click on a page which reveals something you're not already aware of, here are links to the 15 movie deaths discussed in the feature, in the order they appear.
DEATH OF THE YEAR
Edge Of Tomorrow