Psycho was the first movie to knock off a star without advanced warning. Since Janet Leigh was a top-billed actress in the movie, audiences were completely unprepared for her murder at the hands of Norman Bates less than a third of the way into the film. At a time with no media or spoilers, the secret stayed secret until viewers saw the movie.
#9 My Girl
Macaulay Caulkin was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood (coming off of the blockbuster Home Alone) when he took a role in the child movie My Girl. Since the movie starred two child actors (Anna Chlumsky co-starred) nobody thought one of them would die or anything. Moviegoers got a rude awakening when Caulkin dies from bee stings, provoking a theater-full of sobbing kids.
Robert Shaw’s death-by-shark remains one of the most perfectly executed movie deaths. Shaw was a key character who was just sitting on the boat having a cerebral conversation when a shark just snaps him away. No ominous musical buildup, no warning, just great shock value.
#7 L.A. Confidential
Kevin Spacey got top-billing in this L.A. noir film about mysterious murders of beautiful women in Hollywood. Spacey was coming off a star-making and Oscar-winning performance in the Usual Suspects, so nobody saw it coming when he was shot and killed before the third act.
#6 Bambi’s Mom
Back when Bambi debuted, no one would have thought to be so callous as to bump off a character in an animated Disney movie. But that’s what happens. Bambi’s mom gets plugged by an evil hunter, leaving poor little Bambi orphaned. Since the success of Bambi, dead parents have become a staple of children’s movies. The trope is so strong that even five-year olds knew Elsa’s parents were going to drown the minute they hop on that boat in Frozen.
#5 The Dark Knight
Moviegoers didn’t really expect Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in the Dark Knight to die in an explosion mid-movie. As the love interest of a superhero, the girl is usually in mortal peril, only to be saved in the end. Not here. The movie managed to keep the death a secret until the premiere, no easy feat in the days of the internet and massive movie coverage.
Not only does Gwyneth Paltrow die in the end of David Fincher’s dark masterpiece Se7en, she dies in particularly gruesome fashion. Rather than seeing her die, we, along with her character’s husband Brad Pitt, are desperate to find out “what’s in the box?!” It turns out to be her head.
#3 The Godfather Part II
It’s not just that John Cazale, Michael Corleone’s brother Fredo gets whacked in The Godfather Part II – it’s the way that it happens. Michael, who spent the entire Godfather Part I trying not to become a mobster, finally turns blackhearted in Godfather II. “I knew it was you,” he whispers to Fredo after giving him a kiss on the cheek. That twas the kiss of death, as Fredo got killed.
#2 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Widely regarded as the best of the original Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan included a shock death: Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. The beloved character died in true Spock fashion: for the greater good. This was also a pre-internet death so it was unspoiled.
#1 Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
If you haven’t gotten around to seeing this yet, you may be surprised by the way this film ends. Superman dies, though not at the hands of his nemesis, Batman. Instead his death, which saved humanity from a Big Bad, serves to inspire Batman and Wonder Woman to start the Justice League. The death was unexpected and not spoiled, but few are convinced the hero is staying dead.