Sometimes an onscreen demise is brutal not because it’s sudden and unexpected, but for precisely the opposite reason. Yes, some deaths are utterly inevitable, whether it’s because an actor wants to retire an ageing character, the character themselves have run their course, the story requires a heroic sacrifice, or in some cases, they’re based on real life figures whose untimely deaths are a matter of common knowledge.
Nonetheless, this can cause an intense strain of dramatic irony as the audience is left burdened with some foresight they wish they didn’t have, and we can’t fool ourselves into thinking things will work out alright in the end and everyone will ride of merrily into the metaphorical sunset. No, sometimes films force us to contend with the brutal reality of death by introducing us to a character we’re well aware is doomed and making us love them despite the certainty of their eventual fate.
Sure, there’s probably a valuable lesson here about the impermanence of all things and the strange ineffable sense of liberation which comes from knowing nothing can last forever and we are all but drops in the unending waterfall of time’s relentless passing—but damn, did they need to off Mufasa for us to learn that?
12. Wolverine - Logan
We all knew it—once the words “Old Man Logan” first escaped
Hugh Jackman’s lips, the writing was on the wall for the Australia star’s most
beloved screen role. Jackman’s iteration of the gruff X-Men antihero predated
the entire MCU, with his first appearance in the iconic super suit hitting
cinemas way back in 2000. Seventeen long years later, it was time to say
goodbye to the universally adored character, and who better to do the elegiac
job than Walk the Line helmer James Mangold?
And yet… Maybe it’s because the flick toned down the more pointlessly bleak elements of its source material. Maybe it’s because the hard-R rating let the hero use his claws more than ever before and, despite his advancing age, this gory skill made him seem all but invincible.
Whatever the cause, by the end of the film we were wishing the irritable anti-hero might somehow make it out alive despite knowing a necessary heroic sacrifice was on its way, making the inevitable ending even more powerful despite its predictability.