Last week we learned that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling nearly killed off her creation’s best friend, Ron Weasley, in the last book in the series, The Deathly Hallows. However, she decided that Harry deserved some kind of reward for suffering so much loss (and saving the world), so Ron lived. Later, it was revealed that Rowling nearly killed off Harry’s first non-shitty parental figure, Hogwarts’ groundskeeper Hagrid, but decided against it purely to have synchronicity with the first book. She liked the idea of bookending the series with images of the gentle half-giant carrying the Boy Who Lived in his burly arms, both instances in an effort to escape mortal danger. (hat tip Dustin)
Good for her! Not killing Hagrid means Rowling put structure and story over a vacuous attempt to reach some sort of verisimilitude in her high fantasy novel. Sometimes people forget that movies, books, TV shows, video games, etc., are written by people who make choices with every single word they type, and while a character’s death may service the plot, just as often, it’s a pointless exercise in the author simply trying to be keep it real. As Dave Chappelle once noted, keeping it real can easily go wrong.
Thankfully, the Harry Potter filmmakers, David Yates (director) and Steve Kloves (screenwriter) always did their best to stay true to the books and didn’t change that aspect, either, meaning Hagrid continued to not die in the final film installment. Unfortunately, Rowling (and by extension Yates/Kloves) and other artists are not immune to killing off loveable characters for the sake of increasing a story’s dramatic stakes, or merely because they don’t have anything else in mind for an ending. Not sure what to type before THE END? Why not try to force pathos down your audience’s gullet?
Below are Ten More Movie Characters Who Should Never Have Died with brief explanations as to why. This way you have even more ammunition for your criticizing comments. And, it really should go without saying, but here there be spoilers. Yar.
Hicks and Newt (Alien 3, RIP 1986)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: When the first five minutes of your sequel completely make the entire previous movie a pointless exercise, you should know you’ve made a mistake. Especially when the entire conclusion to the previous entry would have been completely different if Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley had known of Newt’s fate. Well, maybe not, but James Cameron surely would have done something different had he known. For shame, David Fincher. You, of all people, should know that shocking deaths work better at the end of the movie.
Joker (Batman, RIP 1989)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: Batman doesn’t kill. Period. Having Bats tie Joker’s leg to a stone gargoyle as he hangs from a helicopter’s rope ladder is basically signing his death warrant. This is a problem in Batman Begins, too, with Ra’s Al Ghul on the train, but that scene is mitigated by the fact Tim Burton set the precedent. Boo-urns on you, Tim Burton. Boo-urns.
Darth Maul (Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, RIP 1999)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: He had all of five lines of dialogue, and yet he stole the first trilogy from Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman. His death meant we had three movies of standalone villains instead of one badass like Darth Vader from the original trilogy. We could have been spared the physical impossibilities of Count Dooku and General Grevious, and maybe had a prequel character worth his insane level of pop iconography. In the end, Maul’s death just proves George Lucas has no clue what he’s doing.
Wash (Serenity, RIP 2005)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: After watching Shepherd Book’s last gasp just 20 minutes earlier, it seemed unthinkable that any more of the Serenity crew would die in their (hopefully) first trip to the multiplex. But Wash’s death caught even diehard Joss Whedon fans off guard. And it really, really shouldn’t have. Because Wash should still be alive, damn it! The comic book about Wash pre-“Firefly” doesn’t even come close to making amends, either. But this won’t be the last time we see Whedon’s name on this list…
Penny (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, RIP 2008)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: While she may not have died in a real “movie” per se, Dr. Horrible’s origin story certainly felt big and grand enough to play in your local theater, and though self-contained, from the moment it premiered fans have been hoping for some sort of continuation. Sadly, because Whedon just can’t not kill off everyone’s favorite characters, if there is a theatrical sequel, it will be without Felicia Day’s delightfully droll and passionate Penny. Yeah, yeah, Sing-Along Blog is the story of what makes a guy with issues turn into a super villain, so Penny’s death is one of the few on this list that really does work. But Whedon needs to be constantly reminded that stories don’t need death to have meaning. Grr argh, indeed.
Hitler (Inglourious Basterds, RIP 2009)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic may have been a Jewish revenge fantasy (heavy on the “fantasy”), and as such, he probably only ever had this ending in mind. But the movie itself relies too much on the viewer’s own knowledge of history and World War II movies without really showing why these characters, the titular Basterds, in this situation are the ones who so mercilessly slaughter der Furer. For such a bravura sequence, the film doesn’t really earn the moment and the mutilation of Hans Landa is much more satisfying. So, as painful as it is for me to say, and as great as the scene is in its own right, Hitler should have lived. (Did I just Godwin myself?)
Darwin (X-Men: First Class, RIP 2011)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: So many reasons. First, Darwin’s power set is established in the previous scene that he can adapt to literally anything in order to ensure his own survival. I would assume that would apply to anything he eats, as well, no matter how explosive the diarrhea. Second, for falling victim to the oh-so-1994 stereotype of the black man always dying first; it was hackneyed then, and it’s hackneyed now. Third, his death means nothing to the movie, because Angel doesn’t change her mind after witnessing Darwin’s sacrifice, and none of the other X-Men seem to mourn his passing but for a 30 second scene immediately after. Hopefully Matthew Vaughn will rectify this in the sequel, because until he got blowed up, Darwin was one of the best students in this First Class.
Lupin and Tonks (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, RIP 2011)
Why They Shouldn’t Have Died: Remus Lupin was the only qualified professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts in all of Harry’s time at Hogwarts, and Tonks was god damn Auror — a witch who got paid good galleons to take down evil wizards. These two, out of all the members of
Dumbledore’s Army the Order of the Phoenix, were the most capable and least likely to let a stray avada cadavra do them in. But no. Because stupid Ron and stupid Hagrid got to live, that meant somebody on the winning side had to die, and that somebodies was Lupin and Tonks. At least their newborn child was taken care of by Harry himself. Did I mention they were new parents? I didn’t? Well they were, and their deaths meant Rowling kept the cycle of violence and death going that she condemned for seven books (and eight movies) into the next wizarding generation. So much for fairy tales having a happily ever after. Thanks, Jo!
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force and tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He would have included television characters in this list, too, but it would’ve been filled with nothing but Joss Whedon creations.