The early demise of a lead character in a movie is a pretty rare phenomenon for a lot of reasons. One, a movie star has been paid a lot of money to appear in the film and it’s been sold on their name, so an audience is likely to get pretty p*ssed if he or she dies in the first act. Two, in any story you want an audience to go on an emotional journey with a character, which again is something that’s hard to do if they get killed off halfway through. But it’s a technique that when it’s done right – and not just for cheap shock value – it can really unnerve the audience and make them question where the film is headed.
So here are 8 films that broke the rules, that dared to toy with your expectations and let you know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t going to play it safe.
So umm…beware of SPOILERS.
8. Janet Leigh (Psycho)
An obvious entry to this list as Psycho is the granddaddy of this style of cinematic rug pull, and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller was constructed to give this twist maximum shock value. He cast a well known actress in the lead and devoted the entire first half to her story in the build up to the infamous shower scene. In the film Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary who impulsively steals a large sum of money from her boss so she can afford to marry her boyfriend. In a panic she goes on the run and ends up at the isolated Bates Motel to hide out.
She should have kept driving.
While she stays there she meets the motel’s creepy owner Norman Bates, who seems a little too attracted to his unseen mother and overly fond of stuffing dead animals. She retires to her room for a shower and, consumed by guilt, decides she’ll return to face the music the next day. But “Mother” has other plans.
This scene is so ingrained in popular culture that it’s near impossible for someone nowadays to come to the film fresh. But you can only imagine how this scene must have melted the minds of an audience in 1960 (there were no internet spoilers in them days) as they watched the person they’ve been following from the beginning being brutally offed. Back then this kind of twist had never really been tried and Hitchcock, ever the innovator, took great delight in uprooting this convention.
Plus it’s a move that no doubt inspired many of the films on this list.
This article was first posted on December 24, 2013