Sci-fi films and television shows thrill us, fuel our imaginations, take us to strange new worlds beyond comprehension, and even make us reflect on our own humanity. But at their core, many of these tales boil down to themes and values that have existed since the dawn of history – the human spirit vs. technology, the triumph of the self over a totalitarian system…heck, plain ol’ good vs. evil. When it comes down to brass tacks, we love to see evil get its comeuppance at the hands of the good guys, and we love it even more when the dark, terrible antagonist meets his or her demise in a particularly memorable way. Here then, is a look at five of the most epic, gruesome, and satisfying sci-fi villain deaths of all-time:[divider]
5.) The Xenomorph – Alien (1979)
The “Xenomorph” from Ridley Scott’s original Alien in 1979 was one of the most terrifying creatures ever created for motion pictures. Designed by Swiss surrelist H.R. Giger, the Xenomorph incorporated elements of grotesquerie, phallic imagery, and an amalgamation of biology and technology. The Xenomorph started off life as the “chestburster,” violently propelling itself out of John Hurt’s chest cavity in one of the most memorable and iconic scenes in film history.
The monster then grew exponentially, and dispatched the entire crew of the space freighter Nostromo one by one, until there was but a lone survivor – Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Weaver was in a desperate struggle for her life, and finally thought she had escaped the creature when she made her way to the Nostromo’s escape shuttle and armed the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence. But somehow, the alien managed to sneak on board the shuttle, and in a breath-taking, harrowing, close-quarters sequence, Ripley was able to blast the Alien out of the shuttle airlock and fry it with the shuttle’s thruster engines.
I read somewhere that airlock scenes are like “the money shots” of sci-fi films. Every film or TV show set in space seems to have one, but this particular scene set the standard for the dozens of people and/or aliens who would meet their fates by getting sucked out in the cold vacuum of space.[divider]
4.) T-1000 – T2: Judgment Day (1991)
The T-1000 Terminator from T2: Judgment Day, the sequel to James Cameron’s 1984 film, The Terminator, was an emotionless, relentless killing machine that was virtually impossible kill because his “liquid metal” composition could instantly repair itself from any damage inflicted upon it. Just to give you an idea about how tough the T-1000 here was to destroy, the screencap above – in which the killer robot from the future gets frozen solid by an entire tanker of liquid nitrogen and shatters into a thousand pieces – isn’t his actual death scene. Yep, he survives this when the individual pieces are returned to a liquid state from the (very convenient) heat of the foundry that the tanker crashed into.
The T-1000 continued to stalk young John Connor and his mother Sarah in the foundry, eventually overpowering and seemingly shutting down Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “good” Terminator character. In the end, it took several point-blank shotgun blasts from Linda Hamilton, a grenade launcher to the face from Ahh-nuld (who magically reappeared riding a conveyor belt), and a dip into a furnace filled with molten liquid metal to finally finish off Robert Patrick’s instantly iconic villain. The image of the T-1000 torn apart by the grenade was a tremendous special effect, as was the series of morphing faces that the T-1000 cycled through as it was thrashing and melting in the lava bath.[divider]
3.) Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)
Even though Roy Batty was played with icy, calculating creepiness by the always phenomenal Rutger Hauer, it’s hard to call him the “villain” of Ridley Scott’s influential sci-fi/noir masterpiece Blade Runner. Roy is a “replicant” – a sophisticated artificial lifeform with a six-year lifespan preprogrammed in. All he wants for himself and his fellow replicants is more life, but his murderous actions to obtain that extension lead him to an inevitable showdown with Harrison Ford’s Deckard, a “Blade Runner” whose job is to “retire” replicants to the scrap heap. That confrontation doesn’t play out as one would expect – Roy’s death isn’t gory or shocking or triumphant; it’s poetic and haunting.
During the battle, in the decrepit expanse of a once-opulent hotel, Batty realizes he has but moments to live, so even though he has the upper hand on Deckard and is about to watch him plummet to his death, he reaches out and saves Deckard’s life in one final desperate attempt to preserve some aspect of humanity. Then, in the driving rain, Rutger Hauer has a transcendent moment – delivering one of the most stirring soliloquies in science-fiction history. Once you’ve seen it, you can never forget it. Time to die…[divider]
2.) Ming – Flash Gordon (1980)
Now this is quite a way to go out – impaled by your own Imperial warship! Max Von Sydow’s portrayal of the classic comic strip villain Ming the Merciless in 1980’s Flash Gordon, is one for the ages. He’s ruthless, cruel, sadistic, and…really, really perverted. Seriously, the guy was a complete hornball. (In all fairness, this whole film is full of weird erotic undertones, but that’s for another article.)
The ruler of the planet Mongo meets this pointy demise after leaving our hero Flash Gordon for dead on an exploding floating city and arranging a quickie wedding to Flash’s love interest, Dale Arden. Soon, Ming’s lackeys find out Gordon is alive and is zooming straight towards the wedding ceremony in Ming’s own battle flagship, War Rocket Ajax!
This is an epic sequence that builds and builds in intensity thanks to fire, smoke, a billion laser blasts and the driving, pounding hard rock score of Queen. Finally, Flash crashes the ship right into the top of Mongo City, spiking Ming through his cold, black heart. It’s a fantastic death sequence that makes you want to raise your hands, jump straight up and yell, YEAHHHH!” which is exactly what Flash does![divider]
1.) The Emperor – Return of the Jedi (1983)
When Darth Vader got down on one knee and the Emperor appeared, striding ominously down the ramp of his private Imperial shuttle in Return of the Jedi, my nine-year-old mind was completely blown. I mean, here was a guy so evil and badass, that the most fearsome villain in the universe was bowing before him? It was inconceivable. Yet, there he was, in complete supplication to this ancient, hideous old man with a chalk-white face and horrible yellow eyes. Every word that came off of his tongue dripped with venom. He wanted to crush the Rebellion once and for all, then turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force, and hell, we all believed he was going to do it.
Things were looking hopeless for the good guys by the end of the film, as the Emperor’s fleet was routing the rebel spaceships, which could not enter the Death Star’s superstructure because of another trap the Emperor sprung on Han Solo and his team on Endor who were trying to shut down the shield generator protecting the second planet-destroying space station. Luke, refusing to kill his defeated father and join the Dark Side of the Force, was being torn to shreds by the Emperor’s nasty “Force Lightning.” All was lost.
But, as in all the great ancient tales, the light of hope and salvation often appears out of the darkness in the nick of time. And so it was in Return of the Jedi, as something long-buried stirred within the blackened soul of Anakin Skywalker. He could not bear to see his son being killed, and he could no longer bear the terrible burden of all of the evil he had inflicted upon the galaxy as the Emperor’s apprentice. So, in a single, stirring, emotional moment – Vader shed the shackles of the Dark Side, lifted his master into the air, and threw him into the Death Star’s reactor shaft. It was the ultimate act of redemption and sacrifice for Vader, and a cathartic, triumphant release for the audience, who finally got to see the Rebel Alliance defeat the evil Galactic Empire.