There’s a theory among horror movie fans that big stars don’t really matter. That horror movies can succeed much better when they don’t have huge names among the cast but base themselves off the actual plot and writing to provide the right thrills to succeed. That’s been born out as the most successful horror movies are low-budget efforts that earn far more thanks to their critical acclaim and power. While some horror movies benefit a bit from a star, the majority are better off without them.
So, it’s notable when a horror movie does feature a big star being killed off. In most cases, these are actors who were in the early part of their careers, before becoming the major names we know today. However, every now and then, a major star is cast in a movie just so they can be killed off, a good way to show “no one is safe” and help push the thrills more. Some of them were big names when cast, others future stars but they all have in common dying in rather brutal ways on screen. Here are 15 major Hollywood names that bit it in horror movies and show how wild they can get.
Note: While it should be obvious, SPOILERS for several of these movies.
15 Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Halloween H2O
14 The Scream Ensemble
13 Kate Hudson - The Skeleton Key
12 Jack Black - I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
11 Katherine Heigl - Valentine
10 Bill Murray - Zombieland
9 Chris Hemsworth - Cabin in the Woods
8 George Clooney - Return to Horror High
7 Owen Wilson - Anaconda and The Haunting
6 Sarah Michelle Gellar - I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2
5 Kevin Bacon - Friday the 13th
4 Johnny Depp - A Nightmare on Elm Street
3 Drew Barrymore - Scream
2 Samuel L. Jackson - Deep Blue Sea
This 1999 film was an interesting take on the classic “giant beast” idea. Jackson is the millionaire financier of a scientist (Saffron Burrows) who’s conducting research in curing Alzheimer’s. She takes him to her research facility in the ocean where she’s been harvesting the brain matter of sharks for her cure and pushing the idea of growing them larger in order to harvest more which means making them smarter. It backfires spectacularly as the sharks gets loose and start rampaging around the base, picking off the staff one-by-one. It builds up to the survivors stuck in a small pool chamber as Jackson does a major speech on how he survived an avalanche against all odds, that fighting among themselves does nothing and they need to hold together and…
1 Janet Leigh - Pyscho
It’s become a movie staple as to how Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece is a breakthrough thriller that plays with audience expectations and provides a great series of twists. But it’s forgotten the huge risk the director was taking with his big gambit. That was to cast Janet Leigh, a major star of the time, and promote her as the lead in all the trailers and posters. Viewers thus naturally assumed that she was the central character as the secretary fleeing with a briefcase of money and the movie would follow her journey. She stops at a hotel run by a creepy clerk (Anthony Perkins) and apparently just a brief stop on her journey.
And then comes the now iconic scene where she’s stabbed to death in the shower, the blade lunging forward as she screams to that infamous musical cue, the blood pouring down the drain around her. Suddenly, the entire movie is shifted to become a study of one man’s madness and we realize Leigh was just the window dressing. It’s truly amazing and a daring move to kill the big female lead not even halfway through the movie. But it paid off by helping the movie turn into a hit and a classic in so many ways to redefine the horror genre forever.
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