Have you ever watched a movie, completely convinced that a certain character was going to die, only to be thoroughly shocked when they made it through? Here are 30 movie characters we totally expected to die but somehow survived.
Hawkeye in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron spends a significant portion of its second act establishing that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a secret family living out on Walden Pond or somewhere, and that his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) desperately wants him to quit Avengering before he gets himself killed. This is entirely likely given that he is the butt of virtually every joke made about the team of superheroes.
Somehow, Hawkeye makes it to the end of the film, and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a character to whom we have absolutely zero emotional attachment, dies instead. It’s a surprising moment for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it seems pretty clear it was intended for Hawkeye.
Cooper and Justin in Event Horizon
Event Horizon is a movie about a spaceship that travels to literal Hell-with-a-capital-H by passing through a tear in the universe and becomes super haunted. Like, so haunted the ghosts work rotating shifts. Justin (Jack Noseworthy) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones) are two charming members of a rescue crew sent to recover the ship, so we expect them to last about as long as an alliance with your rage-quitting friend Pete in a game of Risk.
Justin steps into a Hell portal, goes catatonic, and then walks naked out into space to try and kill himself… but survives. He spends the rest of the movie locked safely in a futuristic medicine tube. And the wise-cracking Cooper gets launched out into the void after the spaceship he is standing on completely explodes, only to somehow rocket back to the haunted ship in time to save the day. It’s… unexpected.
Randy in Scream
Scream revitalized teen slasher films in 1996 while still remaining true to the genre’s tradition of hiring people in their late 20s to play high schoolers. Part of what made the movie fresh and unique was its meta approach to horror films, perfectly embodied in the character of Randy (Jamie Kennedy), an oddball nerd who patiently explains the rules of horror films to his fellow horror movie costars as they are being murdered.
As Randy himself eventually realizes, he is the exact type of character who typically gets murdered into barely quantifiable dust in these movies, only to later be discovered folded into a refrigerator or something by the film’s heroine. But Randy miraculously survives, which in hindsight might not have been the best decision, as it convinced people that Jamie Kennedy should be cast in more movies.
Aunt Meg in Twister
Twister follows a plucky group of storm chasers led by Jo (Helen Hunt) and Bill (um, Bill Paxton) as they pursue tornadoes across the Midwest with no visible source of employment or income. Partway through the adventure, the team stops at Jo’s Aunt Meg’s (Lois Smith) house to eat several Cracker Barrel menu items and exchange expository dialogue.
Aunt Meg is 1000% the wise old character who dies at the end of act 2 to signify the hero’s lowest point, so when we learn that a twister is headed straight for Meg’s hometown, we totally expect Jo to find her pinned beneath some debris, delivering one final line of encouragement before passing on. All of that is exactly what happens, except Meg is somehow basically ok and just has to spend the night in the hospital. Don’t play with our emotions like that, Twister.
Ocean Master in Aquaman
The villainous Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson) seeks to conquer all the realms of the undersea kingdom and then wage war on the surface world, eliminating all terrestrial life on the planet, because he’s sick of finding plastic Coca-Cola rings and Styrofoam containers floating in the ocean. Only Ocean Master’s brother Aquaman (Jason Momoa) can stop him.
Aquaman and Ocean Master have a climactic, Lord of the Rings-style battle on the back of a futuristic submarine while mermaids and crab people and a mythological Kraken wage war around them. Then their mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) shows up and makes them stop fighting and sends Ocean Master to his room. Really thought he was going to get booted into a propeller or eaten by a sea monster.
Nick Van Owen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) is the character everyone always forgets is in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, because that film was made during a time in the 1990s when Vince Vaughn could quietly slip into a movie unnoticed like a tall, box-headed ninja. Nick is a professional photographer sent with a team of scientists to document the dinosaurs on Jurassic Park’s Site B, a second island made for cloning and production.
Nick deliberately sabotages another expedition to keep them from killing a tyrannosaurus, which winds up costing several people their lives, because tyrannosaurs do not have the emotional capacity to show gratitude or understand when someone has done them a favor. Nick disappears during one of the film’s two climaxes, so we totally expect Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to trip over Nick’s severed arm or something, but Nick suddenly reappears at the last minute with a fleet of rescue helicopters.
The Joker in The Dark Knight
For better or worse, Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight is the brass ring comic book movies have been chasing ever since. The Clown Prince of Crime manages to completely destroy the lives of every single character in the film, so when Batman (Christian Bale) tracks him down to a construction site in the final act, we’re totally expecting Joker to get flung headfirst off a steel girder into righteous oblivion.
The Joker does indeed get monkey-tossed off the construction site, but Batman fires a grappling hook into his trouser leg and hoists him to relative safety. Evidently the Joker uses a powerful Kevlar weave in his fanciful clown pants. It’s bittersweet, because we’re admittedly glad the character survived, but we know we’ll never see him again.
Cal in Titanic
Cal (Billy Zane) is the cartoonishly villainous money baron determined to destroy the budding romance between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) in director James Cameron’s epic film Titanic. Cal’s becomes increasingly menacing until finally resorting to chasing them around with a handgun and chaining Jack up as the ship sinks.
Cal somehow makes it to the end of the film, unscathed and with not a hair out of place. We learn in a brief bit of dialogue that Cal later loses all his money in the stock market crash and commits suicide, but that’s hardly the crushed-by-falling-debris-or-perhaps-eaten-by-an-octopus fate the audience had been expecting for the past three hours.
The Operative in Serenity
The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a relentless assassin tasked with recapturing psychic warrior ninja River (Summer Glau) after she is boosted from military custody by her brother Simon (Sean Maher) and hidden aboard a junky spaceship with a crew of charmingly witty miscreants. Their irascible wit is not enough to stop The Operative from killing two of them.
Serenity is a sequel to the beloved but short-lived series Firefly, so plenty of Firefly fans went to see this movie only to be gut-punched by the sudden, unexpected deaths of two major characters. Both deaths are caused by The Operative, the film’s chief villain, so it’s a real surprise when Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) finally defeats him in a battle above unnecessarily spinning future machinery and lets him live.
Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo
Fargo is a typical Coen Brothers crime farce following career wiener Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) as he hires Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can extort ransom money from his overbearing father-in-law. Things quickly spiral out of control due in no small part to the violently unpredictable Gaear, who kills both Carl and Jerry’s wife after they annoy him too much.
When hero cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) catches Gaear stuffing Carl into a woodchipper, we’re practically shouting at her to blow him away before he wreaks any more havoc. But the cool-headed Marge merely wounds him, so she can bring both him and Jerry to justice.
Rod in Get Out
Get Out is the most tense anyone has ever felt watching Lil Rel Howery read dialogue written by Jordan Peele. Howery plays Rod, a TSA agent who suspects that his friend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is being held prisoner by Chris’s new girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) and her creepy parents. Rod provides the few moments of comic relief in the film, so of course we’re expecting him to murdered in accordance with Horror Movie Law.
Not only does Rod not get murdered, but he arrives in the nick of time to save the day, speeding Chris to safety after Chris has successfully killed every single person in Rose’s house. Given the film’s tone of persistent, impermeable dread and its resemblance to an old-school Twilight Zone episode, it’s an unexpected turn of events.
Private Reiben in Saving Private Ryan
Director Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning World War II drama Saving Private Ryan is a movie about honor, duty, and Vin Diesel trying to get a letter to his dad. It begins with a sad old man visiting the graves of his fallen comrades before flashing back to the D Day invasion in 1944, so we’re absolutely expecting every single character except the titular Private Ryan (Matt Damon) to be thoroughly dead before the end credits roll, especially the handsome, wise-cracking Private Reiben (Edward Burns).
Almost every single character except Private Reiben gets killed, even Tom Hanks. Do you know how bold you have to be to kill Tom Hanks in a movie in 1998 instead of the up-and-coming supporting actor? Spielberg knew exactly how to make us experience the tragedy of war.
Melissa McBride in The Mist
When a mysterious mist descends upon the town, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and a number of others find themselves trapped in a supermarket while gigantic stygian monsters patrol the streets like mall security guards. One nameless woman (Melissa McBride) ignores the warnings of the others and leaves the relative safety of the store to go find her kids, and we absolutely do not expect to see her again.
Except we do! When the military shows up at the end to eradicate the interdimensional monster menace, she’s riding safely in the back of a truck with her children. It sounds like a happy ending, but it’s actually the ironic icing on the bitter cake of one of the cruelest twists in horror movie history.
Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds
Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is the villain at the center of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a 1960s fever dream of a spaghetti western disguised as a World War II movie. Landa is an oily Nazi so grimily charming that we can’t wait for the titular Basterds to finally catch up with him and erase him from existence.
In a bizarre twist, Landa suddenly decides he doesn’t want to be a Nazi anymore, and helps the Basterds succeed in their plan to assassinate Hitler and the majority of the German high command. So he basically gets away with everything, except Brad Pitt and B.J. Novak carve a swastika into his forehead, so not totally.
Jefferson Davis in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies ever made, and a big part of that is the surprising amount of emotional consequence in the film’s storyline. In Miles Morales’s (Shameik Moore) universe, Spider-Man is killed in the first 20 minutes, so we know there are actual stakes. And when we see the estranged relationship between Miles, his police offier father (Brian Tyree Henry), and his super villain uncle (Mahershala Ali), we know things are not going to end well.
Surprisingly, it’s Miles’s uncle Aaron that ends up tragically dying, rather than his father. And while dedicated comics fans might’ve seen that coming, it was a shock to audiences who were preparing themselves for the Mufasa-sized disaster the film seemed to be heading towards.
Jake and Hoagie in Jaws: The Revenge
The fourth Jaws film is notable for two reasons – it is the only Jaws film with a lower body count than Disney’s Tarzan, and it is the only rubber shark movie featuring a knighted Academy Award-winning actor. We are of course referring to Michael Caine, who plays the rascally pilot Hoagie.
Both Hoagie and the equally-rascally marine biologist Jake (Mario Van Peebles) are entertaining comic relief side characters, so we aren’t expecting them to outrun the shark’s titular revenge. Hoagie’s plane is dragged beneath the ocean by the insane, rampaging fish, and Jake actually falls into the thing’s mouth in an eruption of blood, leading us to believe that both characters are absolutely dead. But no! Hoagie and Jake improbably reappear to celebrate the shark’s unintentionally hilarious demise.
Hans in The Mighty Ducks
The Mighty Ducks is the only film in history to have spawned a professional sports team, because Disney is the only entity on earth that can create and destroy matter. Hotshot attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is forced to coach a pee wee hockey team after getting a DUI, and is riddled with anxiety over the prospect of having to play against his old hockey coach, whom he let down many years before by missing a game-losing shot. His kindly old mentor Hans (Joss Ackland) offers him grandfatherly encouragement along the way, so we totally expect him to suffer a fatal heart attack or something the night before the big game.
Shockingly, Hans turns out to be stouter than most wise old characters, and resists the narrative temptation to die tragically before the final act of the film. Until the third film, at least, at which point he absolutely succumbs to a fatal case of “being an old person in a drama.”
Hammond and Malcolm in Jurassic Park
It’s easy to forget that Jeff Goldblum hadn’t quite become Jeff Goldblum when Jurassic Park came out, so it was by no means a foregone conclusion that his character Ian Malcolm would live to the end of the film, particularly after getting stepped on by an angry dinosaur. Even more in the danger zone was John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough), the gentle but bumbling old billionaire who built Jurassic Park with little regard for the safety of his employees and guests.
Obviously, both Malcolm and Hammond live to reprise their roles in the sequel, which was a particular surprise to anyone who had read Michael Crichton’s novel, in which both Malcolm and Hammond die very emphatic deaths. The casting of Goldblum so shook heaven and earth that Crichton brought Malcolm back to life in his sequel novel.
Julius Levinson in Independence Day: Resurgence
Independence Day: Resurgence is the sequel absolutely no one wanted, not even Will Smith. The conspicuously Smith-less cast of characters from the original find themselves battling the alien menace once again, including David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his father Julius (Judd Hirsch). In the initial alien attack, we’re rewarded for our ticket money with the deaths of several characters, including the apparent death of Julius.
Julius returns a few scenes later to cantankerously drive a bunch of newly-orphaned children to safety, which is a relative word, because he then has to drive that same bus away from a Godzilla-sized alien warlord. It’s quite a second half comeback for an 80-year-old man who capsized his boat in the first 30 minutes of the movie.
George Simmons in Funny People
Funny People follows George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a famous comedian suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. He decides to spend the final moments of his life being absolutely terrible to everyone he encounters, including struggling standup Ira (Seth Rogen) and his ex-fiancé Laura (Leslie Mann).
George comes dangerously close to having an epiphany about taking life for granted and the horrible way he’s treated his friends and fans when the movie abruptly shifts tone halfway through and reveals that his cancer is in remission. He spends the rest of the film destroying Laura’s marriage and alienating Ira, leaving us wondering exactly how we’re supposed to feel about the whole thing.
Grandma Annie in The Proposal
Irrationally hostile editor Margaret (Sandra Bullock) forces her long-suffering assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her so she’ll avoid deportation. Andrew takes her to his home town in Alaska to meet his family, including his elderly grandmother Annie (Betty White), who is so delighted over their fraudulent nuptials that she might as well have “I’m Going To Die” erupting from her forehead in three-dimensional text like a monolith.
When Margaret and Andrew finally reveal their hoax, Grandma Annie falls out with a heart attack and has to be flown to the nearest hospital, because Alaska is a wasteland. But she reveals midflight that the whole thing was a trick to get Andrew and his father Joe (Craig T. Nelson) to stop fighting.
Grandma Helga in The Witches
The Witches paired Jim Henson and Roald Dahl in a child-frightening dream team. An adaptation of a novel written by Dahl, who by all evidence hated children with every fiber of his being, follows Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) as they try to defeat a coven of witches that have transformed Luke into a mouse puppet.
Luke’s doting grandma Helga knows all about witches and has raised Luke on her own ever since his parents died, so we’re prepared for Helga to get snuffed out by witch magic partway through the movie to make Luke’s journey more difficult and emotional. But none of that happens – they team up to kill all the witches, and then she builds a mouse city for him to live in, which clearly cost her a lot of money because she looks more than a little upset when he suddenly transforms back into a little boy at the end of the film.
Admiral Shane in Battleship
Battleship is the ultimate bar trivia question starring Taylor Kitsch and Liam Neeson that came out in the summer of 2012 to the delight of an audience that immediately forgot it had ever existed. Kitsch plays Lt. Alex Hopper, a hotshot Naval officer trying to win the respect of Neeson’s Admiral Shane so he can marry Shane’s daughter Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Aliens show up to threaten the planet, at which point we totally expect Admiral Shane to get vaporized after finally giving Hopper his blessing to marry Samantha.
In actuality, Admiral Shane kind of disappears for most of the movie, and it’s Hopper’s brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) who gets tragically death-rayed. Shane reemerges at the end of the film to give Hopper some medals and tell him to his face that he isn’t good enough for Samantha, and it might be the best moment of the entire movie.
Peter in Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead follows four survivors doing their able-bodied best to live out the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall, the existence of which was the movie’s most unintentionally optimistic prediction about the future. The survivors get whittled down by zombie attack until only Fran (Gaylen Ross) and Peter (Ken Foree) remain, at which point Peter elects to stay behind and hold off the shambling dead to give Fran time to escape in a helicopter.
Right when the zombies are about to close in on Peter, the soundtrack abruptly shifts to hero music, and Peter seems to hear it. He snaps out of his death fugue and blasts his way through the undead, reaching Fran in time to escape with her to less decayed pastures. It’s one of the most pleasant surprises in the history of horror movies.
Grandma Wendy in Hook
Steven Spielberg’s Hook imagines what it would be like if Peter Pan left Neverland, grew up, had children, and became lame. Robin Williams plays the grown-up Peter, having been raised by Wendy (Maggie Smith), who was Peter’s love interest in the original story but is now about 150 years old. Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) shows up to kidnap Peter’s children and lure him back to Neverland in a genuinely frightening sequence, and we do not expect Grandma Wendy to live through it, primarily because she ceases to be a useful source of exposition.
Wendy hangs on for the whole movie, which is both good and bad, because the audience learns that she’s still very much in love with Peter, and had to grow old watching him raise children with her granddaughter Moira (Caroline Goodall). So it’s not a happy ending for Wendy so much as a continuation of the depressing ending she’s been living for the past 80 years or so.
Professor Henry Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) gets abducted by Nazis, and it’s up to his son, grumbling adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), to rescue him and recover the Holy Grail before Hitler’s goons find it. As is typical for many Steven Spielberg films, the plot revolves around Indy’s estranged relationship with his father, who is so charmingly befuddled that we’re constantly terrified he’s about to bite the dust at any moment.
Professor Jones does indeed get shot in the stomach by the villainous Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), causing many of us to nearly walk out of the theater in tearful outrage. But Indy is able to bring his dad back to life with the Grail, and then immediately lets it fall into the center of the earth right in front of the magical knight who had been guarding it for hundreds of years.
The Driver in Drive
The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a supernaturally gifted wheelman violently allergic to human speech. He gets a crush on Irene (Carey Mulligan), and tries to help her newly-paroled husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) work off a prison debt. They get double-crossed and Standard is killed, forcing the Driver to murder his way through the underworld until he comes face to face with crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), who stabs the Driver so hard he nearly travels backwards through time.
We are led to believe that the Driver is dead, to the point that the camera lingers on his motionless, unblinking face for almost a full minute. But then we realize that reptilian stillness is just the Driver’s default state and he comes back to life, clutching his bleeding side as he drives off into the sunset.
Tennessee Faris in Alien: Covenant
You can tell Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) is a wild card because he wears a cowboy hat in space as he pilots his fellow colonists to a new life on a distant world. They get sidetracked when Tennessee recognizes someone singing “Country Roads” on a stray transmission, and they fly to a planet to get massacred by hideous monsters created by the mad scientist android David (Michael Fassbender), decidedly embittered by his experience in the previous film Prometheus.
Tennessee bears all of the signs of a character that is absolutely not going to see the end of the film – he’s a delightful hillbilly that is wildly out of place in the middle of all this cosmic horror. The sentence “Danny McBride is in an Alien movie” alone is enough to convince you that his character is going to get killed. But he doesn’t! At least, not really – its implied that David is going to murder both him and Daniels (Katherine Waterston) in their sleep when the movie ends. Can’t wait for the sequel!
Chris Mannix in The Hateful Eight
Bounty hunters John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) are forced to wait out a blizzard in a cabin with a bunch of suspicious fellows. Chief among them is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Confederate soldier and loudmouthed racist who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, the town Ruth and Warren need to reach in order to collect their bounties. We’re pretty sure Mannix is lying and means to ambush them. Also, and we can’t stress this enough, he is super racist.
Not only is Mannix telling the truth about being the sheriff, he takes Major Warren’s side when every single other person in the cabin turns out to be a member of the Domergue Gang, there to kill Warren and Ruth and free their captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). We totally expected Mannix to get riddled with bullets, shouting racial epithets to his grave, but he turns out to be one of the closest things to a “hero” this movie has.
Gabe in Us
Ok, so major spoilers ahead. Gabe (Winston Duke) is the dad-jokesiest husband and father in the entire universe, driving his wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and their two children up to the family lake house for a nice vacation. The only problem is, Adelaide had a close encounter there with her evil double years ago, and her doppelganger returns to kill them all off alongside evil doubles of the entire family. The doubles break into the house and immediately cripple Gabe, and his double Abraham drags him off to finish the job.
Gabe eliminates Abraham with a boat propeller and carries the family to brief safety at their neighbor’s house. We think he’s dead a second time when their neighbor Josh (Tim Heidecker) attacks him, but he kills that evil twin as well and limps his way back to the others. It’s not exactly a happy ending (we won’t totally spoil the film), but Gabe definitely sees the end credits, and we absolutely did not expect him to.
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