The element of surprise packs a powerful punch in the world of cinema, especially when a lead character is killed off. So what are the five best unexpected on-screen deaths?

Alien

Ridley Scott‘s Alien. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/©20th Century Fox

Compiled by Tom Grater, a London-based film writer and founder of entertainment website Tom’s Cinema. You can also follow him on Twitter @tomsmovies. If you’ve got an idea for a future Clip joint, drop an email to adam.boult@guardian.co.uk.

In a world where any successful trope of film is regurgitated to death, directors have an increasingly difficult job if they want to catch us off our guard and deliver a genuine surprise. An unexpected death, particularly of a central character, is a plot twist that film-makers often fall back on when they want to shake their audience up. Below are five of the best examples.

Obvious spoiler warning! If you’re squeamish of blood you might want to avoid the clips below. There’s also a fair bit of swearing.

Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino’s films are littered with gleefully unexpected moments of impulsive, or accidental, homicide. There’s the “Goodbye Miss Laura” scene in Django Unchained, and the one from Jackie Brown where Robert De Niro finally loses his temper with Bridget Fonda. Topping them all is this completely unforeseeable calamity in Pulp Fiction.

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The Departed

It’s a tough choice between this particular scene from Infernal Affairs and its remake The Departed, but while a lot of the adaptation is shot for shot, Scorsese’s film adds just a touch of extra drama to this climactic moment.

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Burn After Reading

While Brad Pitt‘s appearance on this list was by no means mandatory, he could have easily been here for Meet Joe Black, which offers a clever take on the tried and tested “unexpectedly hit by a bus/car” motif. However, this shocking moment from the Coen brothers‘ irreverent comedy Burn After Reading makes its way onto this canon via Pitt’s delightfully impish grin, etched permanently onto his face following his untimely demise.

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Animal Kingdom

Exceptional Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom has an ending as surprising and satisfying as they come. Teenage protagonist Joshua has spent the majority of the film in fear of his villainous uncles, in particular the monstrous Pope (played by the superb Ben Mendelsohn), but in one brief moment he exacts an unexpected revenge. The clip includes quite a lot of build-up, making the finale all the more potent.

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Alien

The list just wouldn’t be complete without this scene from Alien, the king of gruesome and shockingly unexpected cinematic deaths. NB: Ignore the “meows”; I don’t think those are authentic.


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