Luke Owen counts down his personal Top 5 Fictional Deaths that he never quite got over….
Perhaps it’s the power of the writing, perhaps it’s the strength of the performance, but sometimes a fictional character’s death in movies can affect us deep down inside to provoke an emotional response. Despite these people not being real, we still feel the need to shed some tears as the animators decide to stop drawing them or the actor walks off set to go and work on another movie.
What started today as a trending topic on Twitter got me thinking about my own Top 5 Fictional Deaths That I Never Quite Got Over. Looking through the feed you saw a lot of likely entries like the dog from Marley and Me, Mufasa from Lion King and Littlefoot’s Mum from Land Before Time etc etc. However none of these affected me in the way that the below did. If a psychology major was to read this, perhaps they could tell me why.
So, I present my Top 5 Fictional Deaths I Never Quite Got Over. And there isn’t a dog in sight.
5. Agent Coulson – The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble), 2012
I’m not sure Coulson was ever meant to get the fan following he did. He was just a plot facilitator in Iron Man to drop the S.H.I.E.L.D name in at the end and his role in Thor was to, once again, get the S.H.I.E.L.D name out there. But for some reason, Marvel fanatics and film fans alike took to Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson to the point where people were dressing up as him at Cosplay events.
Even with all the big hitters coming off the screen in The Avengers, Coulson managed to get his own poster. That was the power of Phil.
In the movie, his death comes at a pivotal point for our heroes. The “team” are on the brink of self-destruction and Loki’s plan is starting to fall into place. He’s released The Hulk, he’s sinking the Hellicarrier and he is about to let his brother plummet to his death in a glass cage of emotions and, just when all hope is lost, the valiant Coulson steps forward to show off his gun thing that will take Loki down a peg or two.
Only to get stabbed in the back by the villainous swine.
NOOOOOOOOOO! You heartless bastard Whedon!
But he’s been brought back to life for a TV show. So… does this count?
4. The Toon Shoe – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, 1988
The Toon Shoe is the pure definition of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Some bumbling police officer knocks over a crate of Toon Shoes which start to run (walk) amok around the ACME warehouse while they’re trying to investigate the death of its owner Marvin. The cops struggle to get them back into their box just while Judge Doom is telling Eddie Valiant about his brand of justice.
Then, this sweet and innocent Toon Shoe nudges up against the Judge – scared that he has been separated from his brother. But instead of helping this Toon find his way back into the box, Judge Doom reveals his secret weapon: Dip, the only thing that can kill a Toon.
In an act of pure madness, Doom slowly places this poor and helpless Toon Shoe into the Dip which makes him melt away in one of the most brutal and realistic portrayals of a cartoon shoe being put in chemical waste.
All he wanted to do, was get back in the box…
The complete lack of remorse from Doom is what really makes this death, but I’ve never been able to look at cartoon shoes the same way ever again…
3. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, 1983
Let’s face it, Star Wars (all six movies) is Darth Vader’s story. We see him grow from a child who couldn’t deliver dialogue convincingly, into a teen version of IKEA furniture, into the most feared man in the whole galaxy. Who would have thought that little kid who thought Natalie Portman was an angel would turn into a man who force chocked a dude just because he disagreed with him?
In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, we see Vader’s son Luke Skywalker being special effect lightning to death by the evil Emperor as the former Anakin Skywalker watches on helplessly. The whole movie had been built around Luke trying to find the good in his father, knowing that he was once a great (if a little whingy) Jedi Knight and in one of his final acts, Vader saves his son by throwing his master over a rail and into a… uhhh… blue cloud thingy.
As Luke tries to get Vader out of the now collapsing Death Star, we finally get the touching moment we wanted to see – Vader talk to Luke not as the feared Sith Lord, but as Anakin Skywalker, his father. In his dying breath he tells his son that he was right all along and that he has saved him, all capped off with a beautiful touch by John Williams to slowly pick the Imperial March to signify his end.
Anakin Skywalker’s story (and therefore, the circle) is complete as he goes off to join Obi Wan and Yoda in the blue ghost plane of existence.
Unlike Obi Wan and Yoda’s death scenes, Vader’s is all the more powerful because of his heart-breaking speech to his son. Obi Wan sacrificed himself and Yoda inconveniently died giving plot exposition. I think we know which one is more powerful…
2. Ellie Frederickson – Up, 2009
Hey kids! Let’s go and see that new Pixar movie, it looks like a rather exciting adventure with a floating house and a grumpy man! There’s a giant bird, a talking dog and an epic setting – this should be great fun!
*10 minutes later*
LIFE CAN BE SO CRUEL!!
Who seriously would have thought going into Up, a kids film, that they would provide one of the most heart breaking and beautiful 10 minutes ever committed to film – animated or otherwise?
We instantly warm to Ellie as she is a sweet and kooky girl who falls for the clumsy but adventurous (and more importantly, likebale) Carl. We then see their romance blossom through beautiful animation, exquisite music and a genuine sense of love and joy. But then she falls pregnant only to have a miscarriage, to only then grow old and die leaving Carl Frederickson on his own.
If you didn’t cry at this, then you have a heart of made of solid stone.
The first 10 minutes of Up are some of, if not the, best 10 minutes of animation ever conceived by a human being that isn’t What’s Opera Doc?. But it’s capped off so perfectly with Ellie’s death, sad as it is.
1. Optimus Prime – The Transformers: The Movie, 1986
You can keep your Marleys, your Mufasas and your Bambi’s Mums. Optimus Prime’s death in The Transformers: The Movie still haunts me to this day.
Picture the scene – It’s the early 90s and I’m a kid who loves Transformers. I wasn’t even alive when the franchise was conceived so my experience of the show was my older brother’s VHS tapes and his action figures. But I loved Optimus Prime. Whether it was his voice, his bad ass attitude or just his motto that life is the right of all sentient beings, there was something about Prime that struck a chord with me.
So, imagine my reaction when watching The Transformers: The Movie for the first time and seeing beloved characters like Prowl and Ironhide (not so much Brawn) getting killed by Megatron and his Decepticon cronies. The Autobots had their backs against the wall as the Decepticon’s had the jump on them and it seemed like all hope is lost. But then…
“Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost”
Stan Bush’s The Touch kicks in as Optimus Prime rides into battle – transforming into his vehicle mode before jumping out of it to take down some Deceptacreeps. It all leads to a thrilling showdown between him and the evil Megatron and even though Prime takes some damage, he ends up on top of things with Megatron knocked down. But the slimy Megatron grabs a blaster and, despite some interference from the plucky Hot Rod, Megatron guns Optimus Prime down in cold blood.
“Optimus Prime can’t die”, I said, quite poetically for a 7 year old.
As a mourning crowd surrounds Prime’s battered and damaged body, we hear the heart (?) monitor beeping away as if it were part of Vince DiCola’s beautiful 80s synth score. And as he deliverers his final speech and passes the Matrix of Leadership onto Ultra Magus, the beeping turns into one tone and the iconic red and blue fades into a black and white shell of his former self.
This… this moment… is as incredible as it is emotional. Say what you will about the Transformers as a franchise, but the death of Optimus Prime is one of the most heart wrenching things I remember watching as a child. To this day, it tugs at my heart strings as I hear the final notes of DiCola’s score fade out. I’ve always said that should I die, this will be the music that plays me out.
So there you have it. My Top 5 Fictional Deaths in Movies I Never Quite Got Over. No dogs or lions for me, it’s all about cartoon shoes, robots and side characters. As I said, I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day looking at this list…