What are the Top 10 Movie Executions?

Evil sinners and Oscar winners…but who does it best?

** Warning: here be spoilers **

Obviously, with the terminal nature of all successful executions, some of what follows could give away the endings (and, in some cases, middles and beginnings) of films you still haven’t seen.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to warn you which ones we’re talking about without actually giving the game away. So, if you’re at all concerned, please click the other stories on the site, where you can be sure someone will be dead at the end of each one you read.

The rules

If, however, you care to join in the discussion, here are some things to bear in mind:

  • we’re only interested in scenes played out by actors, where no-one has actually died in real life. Shaky footage taken on a camcorder or camera phone, which has been punted round the web doesn’t count
  • the film needs to actually include scenes of the execution. So, although it’s a good movie, ‘Monster’ starring Charlize Theron, isn’t admissable, as they gloss over the lethal injection with some text at the end
  • although I don’t specialise solely in films featuring death and execution (I’m more of a James Bond kinda guy) I do know my onions. So think long and hard before you try suggesting the hangings at the start of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3 : At World’s End or the end of ‘Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, because they just won’t wash.

The top 10

So, here are the ‘Execution of the Day’ top 10 celluoid executions. If you think you can do better…bring the noise.

10. ‘Schindler’s List – there are plenty of summary executions along the way and there’s no denying Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece has so many memorable scenes, but it’s the short-drop hanging of Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth that sticks in the mind. Evil on a rope.

9. ‘Dead Man Walking – Sean Penn’s character was largely based on the story of one Elmo Sonnier, but while Sonnier met his demise in the electric chair, Sean’s Matthew Poncelet was strapped to a gurney and lethally injected…while Tim Robbins and his missus just looked on smiling and nodding. Those two!!

8. ‘Cromwell – a long time ago in a London square far, far away, Obi Wan gets in some practice at dying. Whether Charles I became more powerful than Oliver Cromwell could ever imagine is debatable, but Sir Alec Guinness does his usual trick of sticking his hands above his head before the fateful blow is struck, just in case.

7. ‘The Name Of The Rose – Connery does Cadfael, in a monk murdering monastry mudbath. But when Sean’s super sleuth bangs heads with the Grand Inquisitor ‘Bernado Gui’, it’s professional uglyman, Ron Perlman’s turn as the hunchback ‘Salvatore’ that gets a roasting, as he’s burned at the stake for heresy.

6. ‘Braveheart – Our first taste of Gibson gore as Mel mashes up the story of William Wallace to produce a decent film…even if it does take a few liberties with the facts. I’m not sure if being tied to a post and having your throat cut is strictly an execution, but it was the only example of hanged, drawn and quartered that I could think of.

5. ‘Sophie Scholl – it’s a pretty gripping film throughout, but when you consider the guillotine used in the final scenes as Julia Jentsch’s Sophie is put to death was the same one that executed the real Sophie back in 1943, it makes it all the more poignant.

4. ‘The Passion of the Christ – if you make it through the torturous 20-minute beating scene during the second act of Mel Gibson’s biblical epic, your stomach is probably strong enough to take the eventual nailing of Jim Caviezel’s Jesus to the cross. As he was rumoured to have coughed up $40 million of his own money, Gibbo decided to save a bit of cash by using his own hands for the close-up of the nails being hammered home.

3. ‘Pierrepoint – so many to choose from here (Ruth Ellis and the luckless Timothy Evans among them), but it has to be the quickfire dispatch of 13 Nazi war criminals – including Irma Grese and the Beast of Belsen, Josef Kramer – that define the film and the efficiency of the man himself.

2. ‘Let Him Have It – the final scenes where Christopher Ecclestone’s Derek Bentley comes face to face with hangman Albert Pierrepoint (via ‘Boon’ star Michael Elphick) are seriously shocking. It’s difficult to comprehend how quick it all happens – it’s enough to shake your shoes off.

And the winner is…

The Green Mile DVD1. ‘The Green Mile – although it’s all pure fiction, the ‘Shawshank Redemption’s’ darker cousin has three electric chair executions to pick from, but the clincher has to be Eduard ‘Del’ Delacroix’s roasting at the hands of the evil Percy. Grim reaping indeed.

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27 Responses to “What are the Top 10 Movie Executions?”

  1. Gorky Says:

    what about the firing squad with arrows on the DVD extras of Gladiator?

    …or the multiple hangings in The Sixth Sense?

  2. Charleymouse Says:

    Can’t fault your first choice. But what did you base your criteria on?

    If it’s the ‘quality’ of the footage of the execution, surely ‘Schindler’s list’ ranks higher than that?

    By the way the Russian roulette scene in ‘The Deer Hunter’ – does that count? Surely that was a form of execution – it involved two prisoners, after all?

  3. May I suggest the guillotinings at the end of Danton? Quite graphically realised-and there is a smug satisafction to be had from watching Depardieu get the chop.

  4. Pan's people Says:

    How about the brutal execution at the beginning of Pan’s Labyrinth?

  5. Reichhart Says:

    Scholl guilloting is fairly accurate in its detail but the assertion that guillotine used is the “same one that executed the real Sophie in 1943” is not true. The guillotine (German “fallbeil”) shown in the film is a real fallbeil from Vienna built in Berlin’s Tegel prison workshop in the late 1930’s. Sophie Scholl and the others were beheaded on a much older fallbeil (late 1800’s) in Stadelheim Prison, Munich. This fallbeil was packed and moved to Straubing, Germany by the Nazis as the U.S. Army approached Munich and later sunk in the Danube by U.S. soldiers. Also, the execution protocol shown in the film is not 100% accurate.

  6. Warnesie Says:

    How about the execution scene in “The Chamber”, starring Gene Hackman and Chris O’Donnell? It might not be totally accurate but the suspense leading up to it made up for that.

    Not a great movie and a bad adaptation of a great novel, but for me, the execution scene would beat out the scene from Dead Man Walking.

  7. 0ne word…….Bjork.

    0kay a few more…..
    Dancer in the Dark.

    l gotta assume not mentioning it means you didn’t see it……which is understandable. l only caught it by accident and have been pushing it on uninterested people ever since.

    • Andy Says:

      Although I’ve not seen it that’s not actually a bad shout. In the current issue of Empire Magazine (August 2009) they have a series of lists as part of a 1001 things… article. One such list is Movie Executions and they lead off with Bjork. I think this list matched up on about 6 or 7. I’ll check what the ones we disagreed on were…

      • Old Sparky Says:

        The others were Paths of Glory (1957) and Che: Part 2 (2008).

  8. Jake Says:

    The Hoodlum Priest gas chamber scene
    Les Deux Hommes guillotine scene
    Billy Budd hanging
    Execution of Private Slovik firing squad

    • Here’s some explanation:

      The Hoodlum Priest is a made-for-tv movie from the 1960s. It may be available in your library. It’s not on-line that I can find, just the trailer. A gas chamber scene near the end of the movie shows the young prisoner bring forced to the chamber, stripped to his shorts, read the death warrant, locked in the chamber (begging the priest to loosen the leather strap on his chest), and receiving the gas.

      There is a good on-line video of Les Deux Homme Dans La Ville. You can find it by searching the title on Google Videos. It shows the prison party waking the prisoner, marching him to the guillotine, cutting his shirt collar, binding his arms and legs, pulling his shirt down his torso, and leading him to the guillotine.

      The Billy Bud scene is readily on line. Just search on Google Videos.

      Private Slovik scene is no longer available on-line. The movie is available for rent at Blockbuster and no doubt available in libraries. Shows the prisoner being prepared for, and then receiving, the firing squad as he is crying, hooded, and saying his Hail Mary’s.

  9. The garrot execution of Antich Puig. The film about Antich’s life is in Spanish. Antich was executed in 1974 at the age of 26. The scene on Youtube from a 2005 film shows the bravery of this young man as he approaches the garrot and receives his punishment.

  10. Catherine Wheel Says:

    Remember, remember the foot janglingly realistic Guy Fawkes in ‘V for Vendetta’?

  11. The film “Execution” has the most realistic scene of an electric chair execution that I’ve seen on film. The movie is a must see for anyone interested in thought-provoking films. This one is a pure philological thriller.

  12. Steve Says:

    Although I hate to armchair QB. I was suprised that the ending in the original movie “In Cold Blood” which showed Robert Blake (as Perry Smith) “taking a ride on the big swing” did not make your top 10.

  13. Tom Says:

    The hanging scene in Changeling. He asks, “Will it hurt,” and indeed it must be painful as the prisoner jerks and struggles before losing consciousness.

  14. jorma rahja Says:

    The guillotine scene in the end of “Danton” (1983) is well done.

  15. I thought the Mary Queen of Scotts beheading scene in the film Elizabeth was very realistic. Best death by axe scene I’ve ever watched.

    The electric chair scene in Ted Bundy seemed pretty realistic too, just not very gory.

  16. Roni24 Says:

    It is very hard to pick just 10 of the top executions in movies but one I feel that was completely overlooked was “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.” The fact that she was burned at the stake and now many years later is recognized as a Saint. I think the visual image of a Saint being burned at the stake is very emotional and provocative. If the list is ever updated or extended I hope Milla’s portrayal of Joan would be on that list.

    • lee kear Says:

      Actually the “St Joan” film made in 1957, starring Jean Seberg is by far the best execution scene for this piece of history. It almost worked too well. True to history Joan was placed too high up. In history this meant she burned to death rather than dying from smoke inhalation or by the use of a spear to despatch her.

      On the film set the fire took hold too quickly and too well which meant a huge burst of flame reached Seberg, licking around her body and almost scorching her face. If you watch the film you can see her react in genuine fear and horror when this happens.

  17. Do scenes where the character lives (through no fault of their own) count?

    The lynching at the beginning of “Hang Em High” would get my nod. As the horse gallops out from under Clint Eastwood, you see him swing around, his head jerk sideways, his bound hands clench behind him and booted legs twitch. And then of course, the sheriff rescues him.

    Runner up would be the ending of “Cat Ballou”. Jane Fonda lifting her head and hunching her shoulders as the trap falls, before the rope is cut, is ingenious.

  18. How about the movie execution of Charles Starkweather, played by Tim Roth in the movie Murder In The Heartland?

  19. Amy Says:

    The Executioner’s Song with Tommy Lee Jones was absolutely chilling the first time I saw it. The execution was great, because the gun shot rang out before the audience was fully expecting it.

  20. Christina Says:

    There is also the gas chamber scene in “I Want to Live” about the story of Barbara Graham in the 1950’s (great movie for a black and white movie)

  21. Toscana Says:

    The gas chamber scenes in the 1977 TV Movie KILL ME IF YOU CAN the true story of the red light bandit Caryl Chessman 12 years on death row.
    The electric chair death of Tony Curtis as Louis Buchalter in the 1975 film LEPKE.
    On the DVD commentary of 10 RILLINGTON PLACE John Hurt recalls Albert Pierrepoint was brought in as technical advisor for the execution scene under an assumed name as the details were still covered under the official secrets act. Having read the Syd Dernley memoir THE HANGMAN’S TAIL the scene is spot on and far more real than any of the executions in Tim Spalls PIERRPOINT.

  22. Jim Says:

    I am trying to find the name of a “b movie” from early 1960s. The final scene is from the condemned’s (sp) point of view in the gas chamber as the blinds are pulled and gas enters. I was probably 8 years old when my mother took me to see the main feature. Lord knows how they chose to show this movie as the double feature with some kind of family movie. Any ideas? Thanks.

  23. ppooll Says:

    Does anyone know what film this is?: Two men are tied up in (separate) chairs on the top of a shoreline cliff and executed by firing squad. I think it was an Italian film, but that may not be true. It was definitely made between the late 60s and early 80s. I think it has something to do with the red scare of the early 20th century, but I’m not sure about that either.

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