You know Sean Bean– great actor, appeared in loads of British TV series and Hollywood movies, by all accounts a nice chap. His performances let you see the flawed human being in the men under the tough exterior, even when he’s playing the worst psychopathic baddie.
And according to the internet, he is the most murdered man in the movies. He has become a meme. An endearing and darkly funny meme, because he keeps getting killed in movies (and that one popular TV series).
The internet and moviegoing public now expect that if Sean Bean appears in a movie, he will die in it. He played the baddie in the 1995 James Bond movie Goldeneye and died in the end. He played an IRA terrorist in Patriot Games who tried to kill Harrison Ford and his family and died in the end. He played a wife-beating gangster in Essex Boys and was murdered in it. And many more movies in which he dies.
He had already died in plenty of movies before becoming famous as the tragic Boromir in Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings movie The Fellowship of the Ring and had a poignant death scene where he sacrificed himself and pleaded with his dying breath for Aragorn to take the crown and become the king the land needed.
In the first season of Game of Thrones, he played the principled and idealistic Ned Stark whose honour and integrity led to his downfall and public murder at the end of the first season after viewers who never read the books thought he would be the hero of the series only to suffer the shock of seeing him get his head chopped off at the end of the first season.
Sean Bean has died so often in the movies that it’s worth bringing up the instances where he didn’t die.
When Sean Bean Didn’t Die:
Bean was already a TV star in the UK in the 1990s when he starred as a dashing mercenary in the Napoleonic War in ITV’s adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels. He commanded a rag-tag band of lovable rogues through the main campaigns of England’s war with France and rubbed shoulders with Lord Nelson, fighting as many corrupt and venal officers on the British side as the French side and always came up on top. Several of his men died but Bean managed to get through over ten Sharpe series without getting murdered at all, despite many sincere attempts by his enemies.
In John Frankenheimer’s 1998 thriller, Bean played a gunman who joins Robert de Niro’s gang to pull of an elaborate heist in Paris. He exhibited a streak of weakness and flaw under his bravado that you expected him as a shoo-in for a dirt-nap but de Niro kicked him out of the story before anyone killed him.
Bean played a supporting role in French director Christophe Gans’ first adaptation of the Playstation One video game. He was the husband of the heroine who disappears in the town of Silent Hill, a purgatorial hellscape that serves as a metaphorical expression for the heroine’s guilt and grief as the game always portrayed it. Horrible things happen to people in Silent Hill because it’s their personal hell. They get stabbed, maimed, crucified, burned. Yet Sean Bean, as the grieving husband and father, spends the movie sitting at home waiting for news of his wife, avoided getting killed or even maimed. For Sean Bean, this is something of a miracle.
Sean Bean never came close to getting bumped off in Sir Ridley Scott’s biggest hit, an adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel about a lone astronaut trying to survive on Mars while waiting to be rescued. Bean was not the astronaut. He was the NASA administrator pushing for a mission to rescue his man. He puts loyalty over rules by leaking the information about his lost astronaut to the public and stirring up the public demand to rescue his man. For his troubles, Bean gets sacked and accepts this in good grace. Instead of dying, he is seen in retirement playing golf with his kids and watching the next mission launch to Mars with a melancholy pride.
And lo, it turns out Sean Bean is not the actor with the most deaths in the movies.
If you watch the above video, you will see movie stars who died far more than Sean Bean. John Hurt died in 40 movies. Bela Lugosi died 36 times. Vincent Price died over 33 times. You can see in the video that plenty of famous actors died lots of times, but none of them are famous for dying. Lugosi and Price were known for being actors in horror movies. John Hurt was just known for being a great actor. I’m talking here about actors in the modern era like Sean Bean who got a reputation for dying a hell of a lot in the movies.
So even in that category, Sean Bean may not actually be the most murdered man in the movies. He’s more one of the Top Three.
The other two most murdered men in the movies are Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat and the late Klaus Kinski. Sean Bean is just the most famous one right now because he’s been in the most high profile recent Hollywood movies. Of course, they don’t get killed in every movie, but when you follow their careers or watch a lot of movies, you start to think, “Blimey, this bloke snuffs it a lot!”
Chow Yun Fat – When He Dies, You’re Always Sad
Chow Yun Fat is the biggest Asian movie star in the world. He starred in over a dozen TV series in Hong Kong in the 1970s and was already a household name in Asia before he became a movie star in the 1980s. His popularity comes from his star turns as the guy who could be your best friend, who would come through for you even if it costs him everything, which is what often happens. He was the poster boy for the honorable gangster or hitman who was loyal to his friends and paid the price with his life.
Chow starred in over 120 movies and continues to work today. Even though his international reputation comes from his crime thrillers where he looks cool firing guns, he has said he hates guns and prefers comedies. He appeared in almost as many romantic comedies as thrillers and didn’t die in any of them – he just got the girl in the end, but Westerners didn’t see those movies, only his thrillers. When he played the hero cop in a movie, he usually survived. But Western audiences only saw his action thrillers. He’s an idol to millions and a great actor… who often dies in the movies.
His latest movie The Guttenberg Project was a big hit in china just this summer and yes, he had a major death scene in it.
This is a small list of his most notable movies where he dies. If nothing else, they sum up Chow’s appeal as the tragic and flawed everyman who dies trying to do his best for people. Asian movies are flagrantly unafraid of killing off their heroes and heroines at the end to make you sad.
A Better Tomorrow
The is the movie that launched Chow into superstardom in Hong Kong and abroad. As the cool and tragic Mark Gor, he became the idol of millions and died in a Pekinpah-esque hail of gunfire at the end. That movie launched the whole Heroic Bloodshed genre of Hong Kong gangster movies that put Hong Kong action movies on the map and made Chow Yun Fat a huge star. A Better Tomorrow was so popular that John Woo made a sequel the following year and even cast Chow again as Mark Gor’s twin brother Ken, then has him die in an even bigger and bloodier shootout in the end.
City on Fire
In Ringo Lam’s 1987 seminal thriller, Chow played a doomed undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of violent jewel robbers. Hated and brutalized by his fellow cops, he finds his loyalties torn when his new best friend in the gang, played by Danny Lee cares more about whether he lives or dies than his fellow cops do. Quentin Tarantino lifted the plot of City on Fire wholesale for Reservoir Dogs in 1992. This movie and A Better Tomorrow cemented the expectation that Chow Yun Fat might die tragically and heroically at the end of a thriller.
All About Ah Long
In Johnnie To’s melodramatic take on Kramer vs. Kramer, Chow played a race car driver fighting for custody of his son. He tries to earn more money in races that get more and more dangerous. Chow co-wrote the script and this is considered a classic Hong Kong tear-jerker. You can catch it on Netflix now.
The movie that put John Woo and Chow on the international stage, this was probably the peak of the Heroic Bloodshed genre.Chow plays the tragic and doomed sentimental hitman, which was a riff on Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, but with more bloody shootouts. Chow is the repentant hitman who takes one last job to pay for an operation to help the singer he accidentally blinded on on job. Danny Lee is the cop who starts out hunting him and ends up his new best friend. Chow has possibly the most over-the-top tragic death scene of any thriller you could think of.
In the 90s, he played a morally-compromised New York Chinatown cop partnered with Mark Wahlberg and dies in the end the way we’ve come to expect, trying to do the right thing and redeeming himself. This is one of the few Hollywood movies Chow appears in where he gets to play a nuanced character beyond Iconic Hitman like he did in The Replacement Killers.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
For the 100-odd movies he starred in, Chow didn’t usually do Wuxia movies. He’s often considered a modern Hong Kong man rather than a warrior from ancient China. It was actually unusual for him to play a wise Taoist swordsman in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Here he plays out a tragic love story with swordswoman Michelle Yeoh and dies in her arms at the end, declaring his love for her that he regrets never pursuing while he lived.
Klaus Kinski – The Scary Crazy Man You Can’t Wait to see Dead
Klaus Kinski, who died in 1991, holds the top spot for THE most murdered man in the movies. He has been in more than 130 movies, many of which he admitted were rubbish and he did them for the money. It was almost impossible to see a movie in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s without coming across Klaus Kinski. He was one of the great Crazy Men of the Movies both on-screen and off. His tantrums and fights behind the camera with directors, crew and other actors were legendary.
He shows up in a surprising number of movies, including Doctor Zhivago. Once considered Werner Herzog’s muse in movies like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Woyzeck, Nosferatu the Vampire and Fitzcarraldo. He was so crazy and dangerous that the local tribespeople who appeared with him in Fitzcarraldo offered to murder him, but Herzog needed him alive to finish production.
Kinski wrote an infamous autobiography in the 1980s most notable for the endless recounting of his sexual encounters with women and a pages-long expletive-filled murderous rant against Herzog (which Herzog says he helped Kinski compose so that the book would be sensational enough to sell). You could quote any sentence from it in and out of context and it would sound hilarious and horrifying at the same time. His daughters Pola and Nastasja have since accused him of abusing them. If he was still alive, he would be one of the biggest demons haunting the #MeToo movement.
He often played the bad guy in movies and he wasn’t so much The Man You Loved to Hate as The Man You Really, Really Wanted to Stay the Hell Away From. His craziness fed his charisma, which made him a movie star.
But Kinski did not get killed in any of his movies with Herzog. Hell, he appeared in Billy Wilder’s final movie Buddy Buddy as a weird and crazy sex cult guru that Jack Lemmon’s wife ran off with and he didn’t die. He, in fact, dies in about 80% of all of the other movies he appeared in. If it was a Spaghetti Western or a thriller, chances are he died in it.
Given the sheer number of crappy genre movies he was in, that probably makes him the most murdered man in the movies. He acted in a lot of Spaghetti Westerns and crime thrillers usually as an extremely menacing and unhinged bad guy so of course, he died violently by the end.
For a Few Dollars More
Kinski plays a gunslinger with a hunchback in Sergio Leone’s second Spaghetti Western. He radiated sheer rage and malevolence without even doing anything, so the scenes where Lee Van Cleef nonchalantly trolled him were filled in unusual tension, all leading up to the eventual shootout where Kinski got his comeuppance.
A Bullet for the General
Kinski plays a revolutionary priest fighting the Mexico revolution in Damiano Damiani’s cult Marxist Spaghetti Western. One of the most subversive characters in a Western, Kinski’s character carried a Bible but expressed disgust at the greedy landowners who exploited the workers, and felt morally justified in gunning down the rich and the bourgeoisie. When he’s a villain or not here is up for debate depending on your politics. Of course he dies at the end when the revolutionaries are betrayed.
Here Kinski plays a mad scientist on a space station where he built himself a sex droid, only for her to pull his head off and reveal he himself was an android all along. I don’t know if you can call it a death scene here when he was never really alive. He was suitably nonplussed about having his head yanked off, though, and says as much.
The Great Silence
If there’s one movie I want to bring up where Kinski doesn’t die, it’s Sergio Corbucci’s 1969 snowbound Spaghetti Western that’s been a huge influence on Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Possibly the bleakest Western ever made, it’s notable for being the only Western where the bad guy wins. Kinski kills the hero and the girl at the end and rides away in the end credits. He doesn’t ride away in the sunset but the snow-drowned darkness of night. I can’t think of any other Western with such a clear unhappy ending in the history of Cinema.
Kinski’s death scenes were actually far less memorable than his performances that led up to them. He was always intense, crazy, often crazier than needed, and scarily watchable for that. His bad guys were always vicious, merciless and sadistic. You often felt like he might be like that in real life.
I don’t think there is a single movie in which Klaus Kinski died peacefully in bed. He always came off so creepy and depraved on screen that his deaths felt like a relief, that a really horrible guy was finally removed from the universe.
Sean Bean might still Win the Crown.
Now back to Sean Bean – he might still claim the record for Most Murdered Man. He recently achieved apotheosis in becoming a target in Hitman 2 where thousands of gamers can now indulge their sociopathic fantasies of murdering him.
He’s very hard to get to in the game, and I’m sure players will find all kinds of ways to bump him off, whether it’s by sniping him from afar, sneaking up and garroting him, blowing him up with an explosive rubber duckie, attacking him while dressed as a giant chicken, dropping something big and heavy on his head, drowning him in a toilet, pushing him off a balcony or just running right over and straight-up shooting him. (Yes, I’ve played loads of Hitman.) At this rate, he might catch up to Kinski in the number of times he dies in Hitman 2 alone. As I write, more and more players are posting videos on YouTube of them successfully killing him in the game.
O to be an actor who’s famous for getting murdered all the time, dying to achieve immortality.