The only conditions for my choices were that they have to be memorable, shocking and/or brutal deaths, and that horror films are disqualified (sorry, Halloween) since that's exactly what scary movies are going for. Instead let's look at the deaths that were burned into your memory as you watched in disbelief. There will be spoilers.
5) Bottle Boy - Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully filmed dark fantasy filled with gloom, freakish creatures, and oodles of despair. Early on the film lets you know just how grim things are going to get when the ruthless Captain Vidal questions an apprehended farmer and son suspected of being rebels. The two men claim they are simply out hunting rabbits and when the son insists they are innocent, it causes something to snap in Vidal.
Using a bottle, Vidal proceeds to strike the farm boy in the face over and over until it has completely caved in. To cap off his savage attack, the Captain shoots the weeping father in cold blood, then becomes annoyed when it's revealed moments later that they were telling the truth.
The scene left me aghast seeing how vicious the villain could be. Turns out .... extremely vicious. The film has a number of shocking violent moments throughout, but special mention must go to "the bottle scene" for letting the audience know - with horrific clarity - that this fantasy film means business.
4) One Grave For Two Brothers - Casino (1995)
When Scorsese directs Joe Pesci the role will usually follow this pattern: Pesci plays an aggressive, short-tempered asshole for most of the film and then dies an awful, awful death. Casino is no exception.
Even though the film had established violent mob deeds throughout (head in a vice, anyone?), I was still alarmed at Nicky's demise. He and his brother Dominick are taken out to a cornfield somewhere, beaten nearly to death with baseball bats, stripped down to their underwear and buried alive. The lesson here is that you can only be a cocky prick for so long before the guys in charge will make an example of you.
There is something very raw and relentless about this scene. Maybe it's the way Nicky is forced to watch his brother get clubbed to a bloody pulp until he sobs for them to stop. Maybe it's the sloppy way they are dumped into a shallow grave and you see the dirt covering Nicky as he gasps for air. Whatever the reason, the scene creates pity for a character that for most of the film deserved no pity. The audience can easily anticipate where a character like this will end up, but still be surprised by the details. I wanted him dead, too ... just not that dead.
3) Upham Fails Mellish - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In a movie filled with horrific moments of violence, and graphic combat, the death of Private Mellish still stands out. Images burn deep into the viewer's mind: the knife slowly sinking into Stanley's chest, the drops of sweat dripping off the German soldiers chin, Upham weeping in the stairwell draped in ammunition. It all adds up to a very unpleasant, yet memorable movie death.
Some see this scene as an allegory for the war itself and the late involvement of the United States responding to the horrors Germany inflicted on the Jewish people. That comparison makes sense we see a German character murder a Jewish character while an American character fails to intervene. Later the American kills the German soldier responsible, but it is a hollow victory. The damage is already done.
A scene like this really tortures the audience in two ways: the physical brutality of the kill itself, and the agonizing helpless feeling it drapes over you like a blanket of shit. I've seen the movie several times and this scene is always hard to get through. A part of me thinks that maybe it'll turn out differently this time, that maybe Upham will find the courage to get up those stairs and save Mellish. Alas, it never happens. All you can do is sit there grimacing through it, filled with equal parts sadness and anger.
2) Curb Your Racism - American History X (1998)
Okay, do I even need to explain this one? This death is just horrible on so many levels, and the first time I witnessed it, my brain could barely compute what had happened. Now when I recall the moment where we see teeth making contact with cement, I can't help but cringe or do a full-body shudder.
The build of tension and intensity up to that moment is almost unbearable, and the reaction we see in Danny adequately mimics the viewers' feelings: first a desperate desire for Derek to see reason, panic, and finally stunned beyond measure. As Danny crumples to the ground you can't help but feel the same way... that hate has triumphed and everything feels hopeless.
1) Murphy's First Day - Robocop (1987)
You know that whole movie cliche where a cop will get killed just a few days away from retirement? Well, this movie didn't have the patience for it, instead opting to savagely destroy our cop on day fucking one.
Okay, it wasn't his first day as a cop, but when we first meet Officer Alex Murphy in the abysmal world of "future Detroit" he's been moved to a new precinct, is teamed up with a new partner, and shit gets serious real fast on their first patrol. From everything we see in the opening of the film, Murphy seems like a good guy. He's friendly, professional, has a sense of humour, is a loving husband and father. You certainly don't want to see him get executed in some abandoned steel mill.
When Murphy gets shot up by bad guys, he doesn't just get shot ... he gets blown to goddamn pieces! There were few other more scarring movie moments in my childhood than watching this nice guy get torn asunder by gunfire, screaming bloody murder the whole time. And when a thousand shotgun blasts to the torso wasn't enough to seal the deal, they pop one more round in his skull. Following that is several minutes of disorienting footage of the mangled remains of our hero being rushed to hospital, frantically worked on, then declared dead.
I realized later in life that I watched this movie at far too young an age. Everything about it is horrifying: limbs being blown off, the cruel laughter, geysers of blood erupting everywhere as Murphy is obliterated by this criminal shooting squad. Looking back it felt like the scene was 10 minutes of pure agony and horror. In reality, the whole affair took about a minute. Fun fact! Director Paul Verhoeven had to reduce the gore in scenes like this one to appease the ratings board while making the film's final cut. Meaning ... yeah, what we saw was the shorter, tamed-down version. Let that sink in.
With a reboot of the franchise right around the corner, I already have strong doubts that it can live up to the brutal slaughter unleashed in '87. Those are big, bloody shoes to fill.