2013 was a grim year to be watching movies. Maybe not in terms of box office grosses or in the output of quality films, but with subject matter, we’ve all been in a morbid mood for the past 12 months.
Thanks to 2013, the “apocalypse comedy” is an officially sanctioned genre. This is the End, The World’s End and Rapture-Palooza all milked the end times (and the idea of everyone you’ve ever known and loved suffering a horrific death) for a few yuks. Likewise, the usual crop of award-winners this year is overrun with heroes struggling to overcome their own imminent demise. Where before we might have had an Argo or a Life of Pi in the mix, 2013 brought 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Fruitvale Station and Captain Phillips to the table.
Yet in looking at a film specifically through the lens of death can shed new light on something we’ve all analyzed a thousand times over by now. 12 Years a Slave, despite being a step-by-step guide to mutilating an audience’s emotions, has relatively little on-screen killing. The ABCs of Death 2 has, unsurprisingly, a huge amount. The 13 deaths that follow are the year’s best, representing all the many emotions a cinematic demise can produce- grief, disgust, laughter, and even a little cathartic whooping here and there. And keep in mind that “best death” doesn’t necessarily mean “best film,” so the quality of movies may vary.
It goes without saying, but spoilers ahead.
13. General Zod, Man of Steel
This was the snap heard round the world. Zack Snyder, David Goyer and everyone else took a character known for moral authority and cheery optimism- a character commonly referred to as “The Big Blue Boy Scout”- and had him sever a man’s spinal column with his bare hands, then scream in agony over what he had just done. Good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, few deaths in 2013 had the sheer audacity of General Zod’s undoing.
12. Rayon, Dallas Buyer’s Club
Yet sometimes a death isn’t all shrieking spacemen and extreme bone fractures. Sometimes a person is just there until they aren’t. Dallas Buyer’s Club may go heavy on the melodrama at times, but its handling of Rayon’s passing was solemn and low-key- a fitting send-off for an outstanding performance from Jared Leto. Ignore Matthew McConaughey‘s tirade when he learns Rayon is gone; loads of films have the “character freaks out at a group of doctors” post-death scene, but so few have someone disappear from life the way Rayon does.
11. Giant Eagle, After Earth
To call After Earth a bad movie is being far too generous. Yet even within M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest film lies a death that’s maneuvered that precarious bridge between “so bad” and “it’s good.” When the hilariously named Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) is is stuck in a below-freezing death zone, who is there to save him but a giant, futuristic eagle? Never mind that all life on Earth has evolved to kill humans (also, ignore that life can’t evolve to kill humans if there are no humans on Earth); the eagle dies dragging Kitai to shelter, thus fulfilling a pattern of poor ideas that coalesce into the greatest eagle death this year.
10. Riddick’s Dog, Riddick
Call me a sucker for dog deaths. Riddick‘s CGI canine only made it through the first third of Vin Diesel‘s latest action flick, but what he represented was so much more: the parts of Riddick that were actually really, really good. Seeing Riddick and dog (often referred to as a “dingo-dongo,” for some reason) traverse an empty alien wasteland for a largely dialogue-free half-hour was bliss. It was Wall-E meets Edgar Rice Burroughs; the cover of an old sci-fi novel fully realized on a movie screen. When the dog died, so did Riddick‘s opportunity to be an intelligent piece of science fiction.