Everyone knows that the “black guy” (or gal) usually dies in horror movies — so much so, in some instances, the characters themselves seem to be aware of their inevitable fate. Thus, we have the phenomenon of black “heroic death,” in which black characters (usually peripheral) voluntarily sacrifice themselves — or at least, volunteer for tasks that mean certain death — in order to save the (usually white) main stars. Here are some prime examples.
1. Lincoln Kilpatrick, Chosen Survivors (1974)
Scenario: A group of people are taken from their homes to an underground bunker and told they’ve been chosen to keep the human race going in the face of an impending nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t account for a colony of vampire bats invading the bunker. When they discover there’s a way out by scaling up an elevator shaft and pushing an emergency button, only Olympian Wood Russo (Kilpatrick) says he’s capable of doing so. Granted, the extent to which this is heroic is tempered by the fact that he also states he craves glory and that he’s offered $100,000 by a fellow survivor to go through with the plan. He dies, of course, via a bat to the face, but on the bright side, he actually does save the day.
Last Words: [To Peter, who begs him not to go and whose plan to electrocute the bats has just failed] “You had your chance. You blew it.”
2. James Earl Jones, Blood Tide (1982)
Scenario: Treasure hunter Frye (Jones) seeks underwater riches off the coast of a Greek island that has a history of sacrificing virgins to a sea monster. During his search, he unwittingly unleashes the long-dormant creature, and unfortunately for him, it proceeds to eat his girlfriend. When his nutty colleague Madeline decides she should sacrifice herself to the beast, Frye and her brother, Neil, team up to rescue her. Frye blows himself up with the monster, even though he has ample time to escape. I suppose it’s just as well, considering he set it free in the first place.
Last Words: [To Neil] “Get out!”
3. Charles S. Dutton, Alien 3 (1992)
Scenario: The inmates on Fiorina 161 have set up a plan to trap the Xenomorph terrorizing their penal colony and pour molten lead onto it, but things go awry, and Dillon (Dutton), the prisoners’ religious leader, ends up leading the creature into a narrow corridor along with heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Impregnated with an alien queen, Ripley actually wants to stay there and die, but when she offers to sacrifice herself, Dillon exclaims, “It dies first; then you!” He forces her to climb out of the corridor and starts to follow, but seeing the Xenomorph follow him up the wall, he stops, realizing he needs to stay put for the other inmates to have a chance to cover it in hot lead. Which they do…along with him, as the alien tears him a new asshole.
Last Words: [To Ripley] “Pour it now!” [To the alien tearing him to shreds] “Come on! That’s all you got? Is that all you can fight, motherfucker? Come on!”
4. Keith Diamond, Dr. Giggles (1992)
Scenario: Officer Joe Reitz (Diamond), a newcomer to the Moorehigh Police Department, uncovers the identity of a killer stalking the small town — Evan Rendell Jr., AKA Dr. Giggles (Larry Drake) — and tracks him down at the late Evan Sr.’s clinic, where he singlehandedly stops the doc from slicing open heroine Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs) AND performs CPR to bring her back to life. As he leads Jennifer and her late-arriving boyfriend to safety, Dr. Giggles attacks, but Reitz distracts him from the other two by challenging him. Even though Jennifer is the doctor’s primary target, he inexplicably follows Reitz into another room, allowing the others to escape. The cop and the doc tussle for a while, and Reitz even has the upper hand until Giggles stabs him with a handsaw. So, while Reitz is busy getting killed by the doctor, Jennifer and her good-for-nothing boyfriend WHO JUST CHEATED ON HER are able to walk off into the sunset together.
Last Words: “Over here, motherfucker!” followed shortly thereafter by “AAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!!”
5. Steven Williams, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Scenario: Creighton Duke (Williams) is an Ahab-like bounty killer who’s been tracking the now-dead (well, more than usual) serial killer Jason Vorhees, whose evil essence has been jumping from body to body in an effort to find his last surviving blood relatives, through whom he can be reborn. When Jason finally gets his old body back he prepares to kill his niece, Jessica, Duke handcuffs himself to Jason in order to buy her some time (say, 30 seconds or so, which she puts to no good use) — earning himself a fatal bear hug.
Last Words: “Tonight, my friend, you will die!”
6. CCH Pounder, Demon Knight (1995)
Scenario: As a horde of demons lays siege to a small-town New Mexico boarding house, its owner, Irene (Pounder), loses an arm to a possessed resident. This leads to a common rationale behind the heroic death: someone is injured/sick/dying, so they may as well sacrifice themselves for the good of the other protagonists. In this case, Irene straps on a grenade belt and ushers demon hunter Brayker (William Sadler), heroine Jeryline (Jada Pinkett, in one of the rare instances of a black female lead) and a young boy into the attic, exclaiming, “This is my house, and I make the rules. Now, get up there!” Along with local cop Bob, whom the cinematic moral code deems expendable because he’s pudgy and middle-aged, she allows the demons to converge before pulling the pins, blowing themselves up with the creatures, leaving only the Head Demon in Charge (Billy Zane) to battle Jeryline.
Last Words: “Supper time.”
7. Gary Dourdan, Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Scenario: Cloned Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a group of mercenaries on board a space ship are fleeing from Xenomorphs that have escaped the clutches of mad scientists who have been experimenting on them. One of the mercs, Christie (Dourdan), is scaling a ladder with wheelchair-bound Vriess strapped to his back. As an alien climbs up after them, it sprays Christie with acid, causing him to slip, but Vreiss hangs onto a rung, leaving Christie dangling behind him. When the creature grabs Christie’s foot, Vriess grasp begins to slip, so Christie cuts his strap and allows himself to fall to his death with the alien, saving Vriess from plummeting with them.
Last Words: [To the alien] “Get off me!”
8. Roger Aaron Brown, DNA (1997)
Scenario: When mad scientist Carl Wessinger (Jürgen Prochnow) reanimates and alien fossil, the creature unsurprisingly escapes and runs amok. When Wessinger’s assistant Azenfeld (Brown) balks at his plans to capture and weaponize the monster, the madman wounds him and throws him in a cage as bait. Hero Ash Mattley (Mark Dacascos) and the other good guys free him, but they come under fire from Wessinger’s henchmen. Enforcing the ol’ wounded bylaw for heroic death, Azenfeld volunteers to cover them while they escape, declaring, “You all go. I’ll take care of this.” As they drive away, he runs out of ammo but then sets off a detonator, blowing up Wessinger and his goons.
Last Words: [In response to henchman’s observation that he’s out of bullets] “We’ll see about that.”
9. Laurence Fishburne, Event Horizon (1997)
Scenario: Spaceship Captain Miller (Fishburne) leads his crew to investigate the sudden reappearance of the ship Event Horizon, which vanished mysteriously years ago. When it becomes evident the ship has brought back an evil from another dimension, Miller has the good sense to abort the mission. With his own ship damaged, he plots to set off explosives to split the Event Horizon in two and use one half as a lifeboat, allowing the other half to jump back into the hellish dimension from which it came. When he’s trapped in the wrong half by the ship’s possessed creator William Weir (Sam Neill), Miller sets off the explosives to break it up and save his crew in the other half while he careens into Hell. This is one of the few films in which the black character sacrificing himself is also the film’s lead, which I suppose makes up for an eternity of torture and damnation…?
Last Words: [In response to Weir’s query as to whether he sees the hellish fate awaiting him and his crew] “Yes, I see.”
10. Charles S. Dutton, Mimic (1997)
Scenario: Policeman Leonard Norton (Dutton) and a team of scientists are trapped underground in an abandoned subway tunnel by large, genetically engineered insects. Seeing the others cornered by the bugs, Leonard ventures out on his own, aware that the scent of his bleeding wound (injury clause!) would draw the creatures away — not to mention his decision to sing a blues song — allowing the other group members to escape.
Last Words: [Singing] “They say my health has failed me, and I ain’t got too much time.”
11. Seth Gilliam, Starship Troopers (1997)
During an interplanetary war with alien insects, a group of space infantrymen led by Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is searching for fallen comrade Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) on an alien planet. They pull her from the clutches of the bugs, but in their attempt to escape, Sugar Watkins (Gilliam) is gravely injured (uh-oh), so he tells Rico to hand him a “nuke” so he can blow himself up with the aliens as the others escape. He does, not only allowing the others to get away, but also providing another squad the opportunity to capture the “brain bug” leader, turning the tide of the war.
Last Words: [To the bugs, as he’s shooting them] “You like that? You want a little more! Come on!”
12. Derwin Jordan, Jason X (2001)
Scenario: This slasher sequel takes place in the 25th century, with cryogenically frozen serial killer Jason Vorhees thawing out and continuing his reign of terror on a space ship. First up is Waylander (Jordan), who’s part of a group Jason attacks and is the only one who doesn’t manage to make it through a doorway. Lucky for him, he has a detonator in his hand, with which he explodes some charges, blowing himself up with Jason.
Last Words: [To Jason] “Hey, asshole!”
13. Peter Mensah, Jason X (2001)
Scenario: Perhaps the only horror movie to have not one, but TWO separate heroic black deaths, Jason X left off with Waylander blowing up Jason, but OF COURSE, Jason’s not dead, and as the remaining survivors board an escape shuttle (as their ship is about to explode), the killer approaches, but tough guy soldier Brodski (Mensah) closes the door to the escape hatch, sealing himself in the exploding ship with Jason. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! After the ship blows up, Jason hurtles through space toward the escape shuttle but is stopped by the spacesuit-clad Brodski, who ONCE AGAIN sacrifices himself by holding onto Jason as they get drawn into Earth’s gravitational pull and burn up upon reentry into the atmosphere. So, technically, that’s THREE heroic black deaths in one movie. They may as well change the title to Malcolm X.
Last Words: [To the remaining survivors waiting for him to board the escape shuttle] “I’m on my way.”
14. Kelly Rowland, Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Scenario: Having run from a resurrected Jason throughout the first half of the movie, heroine Lori (Monica Keena) pulls Freddy from the dream world into reality so the two titans can fight. An understandably pissed Freddy prepares to attack her, but her bestie Kia (Rowland) distracts him by calling his name, and despite the fact that Lori should be the one he has a grudge against, he turns around and heads in the complete OPPOSITE direction to go after Kia, stating “How sweet; dark meat.” He doesn’t actually get to finish off the smack-talking Kia, however, because she backs into Jason, who knocks her into next Friday.
Last Words: [Taunting Freddy] “I mean, you’ve got these teensy-weensy little things, and Jason has got this big ol’ thing…”
15. Enuka Okuma, House of the Dead (2003)
Scenario: An island rave is interrupted by zombies, and the three remaining survivors — Alicia, Rudy and “third wheel” Karma (Okuma) — head through an underground tunnel in an attempt to escape. When zombies appear, Karma inexplicably walks TOWARD them (rather than toward the exit) with an inflated and ill-advised sense of confidence — basically telling the others not to bother helping her — and proceeds to get eaten. Karma indeed.
Last Words: “I’ll take care of these guys.”
16. Gregory Bastien, Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill (2004)
Scenario: Drug dealer Earl (Bastien) carjacks a group of teens driving through the Southwest and directs them to a ghost town to meet up with a colleague. Instead, they meet up with undead cowboy Bloody Bill and his legion of zombies. Locked in a room with Bill and his undead posse trying to break in, the group decides to exit through a second-story window, but since Earl has just had a few fingers bitten off, he figures he’s going to turn, so he tells them, “Get the hell outta here, and don’t look back!” They flee, and he stays and shoots a bunch of zombies before blowing himself and Bill up with a grenade. Unfortunately, Bill’s already dead, so that doesn’t do much good, and Earl gets his face ripped off and worn like a mask for his effort.
Last Words: [Holding up slave shackles to Bill, the notoriously racist ex-Confederate solder]”Remember these, asshole?”
17. Will Smith, I Am Legend (2007)
Scenario: In a post-apocalyptic New York City, Army doctor Robert Neville (Smith) is one of the last few uninfected survivors of a viral pandemic. He captures one of the nocturnal mutant infected to test potential cures, but when her peeps comes to his house looking for her, he and two fellow survivors — Anna and a young boy named Ethan — find themselves trapped in Neville’s basement laboratory. Having just developed a cure, Neville hands it off to the other two and directs them hide in a conveniently placed coal chute. He then explodes the most powerful grenade ever, killing himself and a small army of mutants. Because Smith is the star (and one of the biggest stars on the planet), there is a touchy-feely alternate ending in which he survives by handing over the female mutant to her folks — and they somehow don’t kill him afterward.
Last Words: [To Anna and Ethan] “Stay until dawn.”
18. Ashanti, Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Scenario: Nurse Betty (Ashanti) is part of a convoy of survivors in a zombie apocalypse. When infected crows attack the group, she and several comrades find themselves trapped inside an incapacitated bus. She helps the others evacuate into another vehicle, but in one of the most pointless sacrificial acts, she chooses to close herself inside the bus with the crows because there’s one person left inside who’s about to get pecked to death…and she feels the need to join him? It’s a murder of crows, girl, not a suicide of crows. Later, Carlos (Oded Fehr) shows that all kinds of minorities are capable of heroic deaths when, after being bitten, he drives a truck full of explosives into a zombie horde.
Last Words: “Go! Just go!”
19. William Howard Bowman, Automaton Transfusion (2008)
Scenario: Scott (Bowman) is one of a group of high school friends fighting to survive a zombie outbreak. After battling for all of A DAY, he declares, “I’m tired of running,” deciding that everyone is doomed and charging headlong into a throng of undead with a chainsaw in hand, benefitting absolutely no one. Perhaps “heroic” is too strong a word here.
Last Words: [To buddy Chris, who tells him, “Don’t do this.”] “I have to.”
20. Charles S. Dutton, Legion (2010)
Scenario: The king of heroic deaths strikes again! Percy (Dutton) is a cook at a roadside diner in the New Mexico desert that becomes a supernatural battle zone between angels intent on bringing about the Apocalypse and those seeking to prevent it by protecting humanity’s only hope, the unborn child of waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). When the “bad” angels set a booby trap that draws in restaurant patron Sandra (Kate Walsh), Percy rushes to her aid, shielding her with his body as an explosion of acid showers his back. He even manages to carry her back to the safety of the restaurant before keeling over. As a bonus, Tyrese dies later in what could be deemed either heroic or just stupidly falling into another trap, as he ventures outside of the confines of the restaurant to rescue what appears to be a child in trouble — only to be bitten by an angel masquerading as a child. (Seriously, though, why are these angels so demonic?)
Last Words: “Come back!”
21. Idris Elba, Pacific Rim (2013)
Scenario: When giant creatures (“Kaiju”) from another dimension invade Earth via a portal beneath the Pacific Ocean, humans build giant piloted robots called Jaegers to battle them. Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost formulates a plan to blow up the portal with a nuclear bomb, so with him controlling one Jaeger and hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) controlling another, they head underwater. Stacker’s robot becomes critically damaged by a Kaiju attack, but he dissuades Raleigh from coming to his aid, insisting he proceed with the plan. As two creatures close in on Stacker (who’s already terminally ill, so his fate is sealed), he detonates his nuke, killing one Kaiju and injuring the other. This allows Raleigh to blow up the portal, saving Earth.
Last Words: [To his co-pilot] “We can clear a path for the lady!”
22. Alfre Woodard, Annabelle (2014)
Scenario: Bookstore owner Evelyn (Woodard), who feels guilt for causing her daughter Ruby’s death in a car accident years ago, helps young mother Mia (Annabelle Wallis) deal with what turns out to be a demonic presence haunting a doll in her home. When the demon targets Mia’s infant daughter’s soul, Mia offers her soul instead and prepares to leap from a window to her death. Her husband John pulls her from the ledge, however, and as he’s wrestling with her, Evelyn climbs through the window and jumps, taking the doll with her and saving the day.
Last Words: “I can make it right. This is what Ruby meant.”