1. Kenard and Omar Little, The Wire

The Wire’s Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) earned his status as a fan favorite for his unique mix of competence and bravado, which allowed him to make a very successful living robbing Baltimore’s most dangerous drug dealers. Despite numerous attempts on his life, he survives until the fifth season when he goes to war against the particularly brutal kingpin Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector). Little manages to escape the trap set by Stanfield’s lieutenants only to meet his end at a convenience store, shot in the head by the pint-sized drug dealer Kenard (Thuliso Dingwall), who previously only made life difficult for the show’s teenage characters. The idea that someone so badass could be killed so mundanely is hard for the viewers to believe and even harder for The Wire’s characters to accept and epic legends quickly spring up about how Omar actually met his end. [Samantha Nelson]

Advertisement

2. Gollum and Sauron, The Lord Of The Rings

The Lord Of The Rings may be the ur-text for an accidental pop-culture killing. Sauron, the Dark Lord of Middle-Earth, has already caused world wars before. At the start of Lord Of The Rings, the greatest heroes and leaders of the age band together to prevent him from launching another. The future king, the sexiest elf, the greatest wizard. Elijah Wood’s heroic, soulful eyes. Yet it’s not this Fellowship of heroes who deliver the final blow to Sauron. In the end, it’s the pathetic Gollum who accidentally saves the world. Gollum is one-third comic relief, one-third tragic figure, one-third petty villain, but he’s never a hero. Even in the end, it’s his incompetent villainy, dancing after retrieving his “Precious” and slipping into the fires of Mount Doom after struggling with Frodo, that saves the day and destroys the Dark Lord. In Middle-Earth, evil is so powerful and seductive that only luck can save the day. [Rowan Kaiser]

Advertisement

3. The Gun and the Samurai, Seven Samurai

Seiji Miyaguchi’s Kyuzo is the embodiment of the samurai ideal. Stone-faced and hyper-competent, everything he does in Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is perfect. In the duel that introduces the character, he doesn’t move a single muscle out of place, whether it’s a pretend duel with sticks, or the real thing with swords. The apprentice samurai Katsushiro see Kyuzo the same way as the audience is supposed to: pure awe at his incomparable abilities. But Seven Samurai isn’t the story of how great the samurai were, it’s the story of their end. Kyuzo meets his end not in a dramatic duel, but shot with a gun by a pathetic hidden bandit, and left dead in the mud. There’s no glory at the end for the Seven Samurai, only one of film’s most potent metaphors. [Rowan Kaiser]

4. Rosa Cisneros and Yvonne ‘Vee’ Parker, Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New Black devotes several episodes to developing cancer patient Rosa Cisneros (Barbara Rosenblat), exploring her life as a bank robber that landed her in prison and the love of money that makes her willing to help a young man she meets during a chemotherapy session pull a heist of his own. But she’s still a minor character compared to Yvonne ‘Vee’ Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) who manages to build a criminal empire at Litchfield Penitentiary, leveraging a single stale pack of cigarettes into a group of followers willing to betray friendships for a taste of power, money and approval. Vee’s real battles are with Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Poussey (Samira Wiley), and when the organization she’s built crumbles as a result of those conflicts she escapes prison only to be casually run over by the dying Rosa. Having nothing to lose, Rosa’s able to punish Vee for cruelty that spread beyond the season’s primary conflicts and into the lives of its minor stars. [Samantha Nelson]

Advertisement

5. Donnie Hendrix and Aldous Leekie, Orphan Black

Donnie Hendrix (Kristian Bruun) is Orphan Blacks most pathetic character, a milquetoast suburban dad whose primary achievement in the show’s first season is standing up to his clone wife Alison (Tatiana Maslany) when she tortures him with a hot glue gun. When Donnie confronts the mad scientist Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer), who’s on the run from his own former organization, Leekie is totally dismissive of Donnie until the man brandishes a gun. Even with the weapon pointed at him, Leekie still doesn’t take the situation seriously, happy to give Donnie the small victory of no longer having to monitor Alison. Donnie doesn’t even mean to kill Leekie—he’s stunned when his gun accidentally goes off as he hits it against the car’s steering wheel. Luckily his far more competent wife is there to help him hide the body, which seems to be even better for their relationship than couples therapy. [Samantha Nelson]

6. Gus Grimly and Lorne Malvo, Fargo

On Fargo, the first time Duluth police officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) and hitman Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) meet, Malvo makes it very clear how a confrontation between them would play out: if Grimly really wants to give Malvo a speeding ticket, Gus is going to die. It’s a narrative that’s so convincing that Grimly lets the man go, only trying to bring Malvo to justice with the support of others once he fully grasps how dangerous Malvo really is. Grimly never really wanted to be a cop, but he loves his community and Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and the need to protect both drives him to essentially reprise that one on one encounter on his own terms. Gus has seen Malvo’s ability to manipulate his way out of custody and kill anyone who gets in his way and is willing to face his fear and effectively evil incarnate to stop him from getting to the showdown with Solverson the show seemed to be actually building to. [Samantha Nelson]

Advertisement

7-8. The Runts and Li’l Zé & Otto and Knockout Ned, City Of God

City Of Gods finale details a war between drug kingpin Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino) and citizen-turned-criminal Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge), who joins a rival gang of Zé’s after the crime-lord murders several members of his family. But neither one gets the satisfaction of killing the other, instead getting gunned down by children they’ve wronged. Zé’s assassins are The Runts, a group of pickpockets he regularly torments, and Ned gets targeted by Otto (Otto Amorim), the son of a security guard he accidentally shot during a bank robbery. Each character’s fate plays into a thesis of cyclical crime, for in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, kids see violence as a means of success—Zé himself rose to prominence after slaying an entire hotel’s worth of people as a little boy. Also, for all their ruthlessness, the gangsters’ power remains decidedly localized. It only seems appropriate that their deaths are so uncelebrated. [Dan Caffrey]

Advertisement

9. Old man and Nino Brown, New Jack City

New Jack City follows three police officers (Ice-T, Judd Nelson, and writer and director Mario Van Peebles) as they try to lock up NYC drug lord Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes). But it’s a nameless elderly man (Bill Cobbs) who ends up taking down the film’s villain in the final moments, shooting Nino in the courtroom after he only receives a one-year sentence for his crimes. It’s a fairly clunky epilogue to an otherwise astute film that, in 1991, had its finger on the pulse of the rising crack epidemic in New York City. Yet there’s also something to be said about the ballsy randomness of the ending. Nino casually ruins the lives of so many people he doesn’t know. Why shouldn’t he receive the same fate? [Dan Caffrey]

10. Billina The Chicken and The Nome King, Return To Oz

Like the Wizard Of Oz, in the much belated, far more darkly surreal Return To Oz, people in our world have mirrored counterparts in the magical realm. Dorothy meets Dr. Worley, a psychiatrist pioneering electroshock therapy, who she meets again as The Nome King, a jealous tyrant and living mountain who has destroyed the Emerald City. When Dorothy’s chicken Billina also arrives in Oz, The Nome King is enraged. His anger goes unexplained until the movie’s climax when the king and his minions have cornered Dorothy and her friends, intending to eat them all. Just as the king is about to swallow Jack Pumpkinhead, a frightened, hidden Billina lays a single egg down the giant’s gullet. “Don’t you know eggs are poison?” The Nome King asks incredulously as his eyes cake over and crack, and what was an immutable being of stone erodes away like silt in a running stream until nothing remains. [Nick Wanserski]

Advertisement

11. Janice Soprano and Richie Aprile, The Sopranos

Richie Aprile was on his way out, one way or another. In the second season of The Sopranos, the old-school gangster with the Manson lamps had become a perpetual stone in Tony Soprano’s shoe, and by the penultimate episode of the season, “The Knight In White Satin Armor,” Tony had given consiglieri Silvio Dante the go-ahead to have Richie whacked. They would never get the chance, however, as a heated discussion between Richie and fiancée Janice Soprano (Tony’s sister) over wedding costs turned violent, first with Richie smacking Janice in the face, then with Janice pulling a gun and putting two bullets in her husband-to-be. Despite her hippie trappings, Janice was a Soprano to the core. Tony was left to clean up the mess and soothe his sister’s conscience by sarcastically claiming to have buried Richie “on a hill, overlooking a little river with pinecones all around.” [Scott Von Doviak]

Advertisement

12. The Cartel and Llewelyn Moss, No Country For Old Men

For the first two-thirds of its running time, No Country For Old Men appears to be moving toward a predictable, if thrilling, confrontation. After finding a satchel full of money surrounded by dead drug runners, Llewelyn Moss (James Brolin) makes the bad choice of taking the money and trying to run. In doing so, he attracts of the attention of a brutal free agent named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). The two seem evenly matched, and their first showdown ends in more or less a draw, with both men bloodied but unbowed from the confrontation. Which is why it’s a shock when Moss is ultimately killed by a group of anonymous cartel members looking for the stolen cash. These guys are supposed to be the canon fodder, the warm-up act to the real fight. Instead, their success serves as a reminder that Moss was doomed from the start, no matter how well he could hold his own against Chigurh. Being able to fight off one man doesn’t matter much when there’s a whole army that wants you dead. [Zack Handlen]

13. Trooper Barrigan and Billy Costigan, Jr., The Departed

Save for Mark Wahlberg, almost everyone dies in The Departed. But even more shocking than the high body count is the unceremonious way in which the hero goes down. Having apprehended gangster-masquerading-as-cop Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) on a building rooftop, cop-masquerading-as-gangster Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) seems poised to give the audience the justice they want. Then, after the elevator reaches the ground floor, the doors open and Trooper Barrigan (James Badge Dale), a minor character and friend of Sullivan’s from the police academy, puts a bullet through his head (he also kills Anthony Anderson’s Trooper Brown). It turns out that, like Sullivan, Barrigan is also a mole in the Boston Police Department. There’s no music, no elaborate action sequence, no tense standoff. The only viewer satisfaction in the scene comes from Sullivan killing Barrigan just moments later, framing him for everything. But even that feels cold. The lesson? Being a rat doesn’t pay. [Dan Caffrey]

Advertisement

14-15. Katherine Hale and Mike Cosmatopolis & Yolo and Constable Bob, Justified

Befitting its Elmore Leonard heritage, Justified loved to play with expectations, introducing villains who’d be undone by the last person you’d expect or heroes in the unlikeliest of places. The most noteworthy of the former was Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), a ruthless fixer who became one of the final season’s Big Bads. Amongst her achievements was finally getting the upper hand on the show’s long-time cockroach Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), their increasingly dangerous business partnership reaching a boil once she learned he ratted out her late husband. Ready to kill him, she was stopped by his long-time bodyguard Mike (Jonathan Kowalsky), who admitted while Duffy may need to die Mike would still have to kill anyone who harmed his boss. Katherine pumped him full of bullets, but he still had enough strength to reach out and crack her windpipe in two, and she died in disbelief that such a marginal character could take her out.

On the other side of the spectrum was Constable Bob (Patton Oswalt), whose main claim to fame was carrying a “go bag” to be ready “when this shit goes Road Warrior.” These self-delusions meant he was dismissed by his peers, regularly pushed around by those who’d known him all his life. His chance to shine came in “Decoy” when he was taken captive by Detroit gangsters on the hunt for an old enemy, and he endured several beatings by the cocky Yolo (Bobby Campo) when he refused to disclose any information. It turned out those beatings were simply Bob biding his time, letting Yolo get close enough so Bob could stab him in the leg, get into a brawl, and eventually gun him down. Yolo’s superiors were stunned at the outcome, but as Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) succinctly put it, “People underestimate Bob at their own peril.” [Les Chappell]

Advertisement

16. Jack McCall and Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood

When “Wild Bill” Hickok and his entourage arrive in Deadwood, the effect is not unlike when President Obama comes to New York. Hickok was a legit celebrity in the days before TMZ, and his arrival in the first episode of HBO’s show of the same name gets the locals all aflutter. Unfazed by the attention, he quickly finds his way to a local card game, and enlists fellow recent arrival Seth Bullock to help him out of a jam. With his twin Colt revolvers, outsized reputation, gorgeous flowing locks, and affinity for gambling, it’s not hard to see why some lesser men might want Wild Bill dead. As good as he is with those six shooters, however, Hickok does not have eyes in the back of his head. Instead of going down in a Bon Jovian blaze of glory equal to his legend, Wild Bill meets his end when a resident loser named Jack McCall, angry about some perceived slight, walks up behind Hickok while he’s at the card table and shoots him in the back. [Drew Toal]

Advertisement

17. Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox, The Long Goodbye

While Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe is usually depicted as the epitome of private detective cool, Robert Altman’s 1973 iteration of the character in The Long Goodbye seems outmatched right from the start. First seen unsuccessfully attempting to fool his finicky cat with inferior cat food, Elliott Gould’s mumbly, rumpled ’70s Marlowe gets drawn into a case involving the murder of the wife of his slick pal Terry Lennox (baseball star Jim Bouton), pursuing leads intended to find the real killer. When Marlowe discovers—after being repeatedly duped and beaten in his investigations—that Terry killed his wife after all, the smirking Terry taunts him after Marlowe tracks him to his Mexican hideout. Calling his friend a “born loser,” Terry—and the audience—is shocked when the seemingly over-his-head Marlowe agrees, saying calmly, “Yeah, I even lost my cat,” before plugging Lennox in the gut. Throughout the film, Altman and Gould hinted that their Marlowe has hidden depths. In his one, final act, Marlowe proves it. [Dennis Perkins]

Advertisement

18. Lorne and Lindsey McDonald, Angel

The only character besides Angel himself to stay with Joss Whedon’s vampire detective show from pilot to finale (albeit in a recurring role), Lindsey McDonald was the rare human adversary as tough as any demon. He had an array of magical powers, was a match for Angel in a fight, and was the closest thing to an opposite number the undead gumshoe had over the years. And just so we know he’s evil… he’s a lawyer! So in the series finale, “Not Fade Away,” when Angel hatches a plan to take down all of his enemies at once, even Lindsey himself is surprised to learn he’s low on Angel’s list. Rather than a one-on-one supernatural battle for the ages, Angel sends his least deadly ally—demonic lounge singer Lorne, who usually specializes in comic relief and exposition—to dispatch Lindsey in mundane fashion, with a decidedly un-magical gunshot to the chest. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

19. Benny Blanco and Carlito Brigante, Carlito’s Way

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” Al Pacino’s most memorable line from The Godfather, Part III ends up being the heart of a much better Pacino gangster film from just a few years later. In Brian De Palma’s crime drama, Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, a gangster who gets out of prison early and tries to go straight, with former associates around every corner, trying to lure him back to a life of crime. Early in the film, Brigante tangles with ambitious up-and-comer Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) First he turns down a partnership with the younger man, and then intervenes when Blanco attacks his girlfriend in a jealous rage. The film moves on, as Brigante gets roped into one caper, and then another, finally realizing it’s time to cash out. He collects his money, and gets ready to board a train with his pregnant girlfriend, content that he can retire and leave the criminal life behind once and for all. But waiting for him at the platform is one last adversary—Benny Blanco. The spurned small-timer has taken over the space Carlito had once occupied in the crime firmament, and shows up with a lethal reminder that you can’t simply walk away from the life. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

20. Patrick Danville and The Crimson King, The Dark Tower

Never one to pass up a good anti-climax, one-man Maine doorstopper factory Stephen King surpassed himself in the final moments of his sprawling, multiverse-spanning Dark Tower books. It’s bad enough that when the series’ uber villain, the supposedly omnipotent, reality-shattering Crimson King, finally makes an appearance at the end of the story’s final book, he’s revealed to be little more than a crazy old man, impotently hurling grenades from a locked balcony of the titular Tower. But the malignant monarch doesn’t even have the decency to die at the crippled hands of Roland Deschain, the last of the noble Gunslingers. Instead, he’s wiped out—literally—by Danville, a deus ex machina character from King’s earlier novel Insomnia, armed with little more than a magical pencil eraser, and the author’s palpable desire to get this damn thing over with and be done with the series once and for all. [William Hughes]

21. Norris Ridgewick and Ace Merrill, Needful Things

Ace Merrill isn’t on par with Randall Flagg or even Christine in Stephen King’s pantheon of villains, but anyone who’s read a King story set in Castle Rock knows that he and his family are bad news. In The Body, young Ace uses a switchblade to strike fear in children’s hearts (Kiefer Sutherland memorably plays him in the novella’s film adaptation, Stand By Me), and though the 1991 novel Needful Things finds him older and fatter, he’s still every bit the terrifying bully he was back then. That’s why it’s such a surprise–a delightful one–when the bullet that splits his head wide open was fired by none other than Norris Ridgewick, a meek and diminutive local deputy who knew Ace’s abuse all too well. Score one for the nerds. [Randall Colburn]

Advertisement

22. Catwoman and Bane, The Dark Knight Rises

Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, is one fearsome guy. He’s an expert fighter with brains and brawn aplenty who wears a mask evoking a beast’s maw to boost his pain tolerance. In their first confrontation, Bane beats Batman handily, taunting the hero and then breaking his back in one move. Months later, Batman wins the rematch, but Nolan surprises viewers by having Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), enter offscreen and kill Bane with a blast from the Batpod cannons. Until the climax, Kyle, a self-taught brawler, is terrified of Bane—she even leads Batman into Bane’s trap in act two as a shaky peace offering to the villain. But with an entire city held hostage, and without Batman’s hang-ups about killing people, Kyle dispenses justice in her own ruthlessly pragmatic style: from a safe distance and with a lot of firepower. [Matt Wayt]

Advertisement

23. Swink and Countess Bathory, Stay Alive

Scour the Creepypasta wiki and you’ll find plenty of creepy tales about possessed video games. Stay Alive, unfortunately, is not one of them. In this 2006 snoozer, an age-old murderess named Countess Bathory possesses the movie’s namesake video game, then kills anyone who hits the Game Over screen. An hour of convoluted mythology later, and our heroes find themselves faced with Countess Bathory herself. But it’s not our hunky hero who stops her, nor his crafty love interest; no, it’s Swink, a useless comic relief character played by Frankie Muniz in a backwards visor. It doesn’t help that we were led to believe Swink died just minutes before, and that there’s no explanation for how he dodged a fate that every other character in the movie couldn’t. Hollywood, take note: Horror ≠ Frankie Muniz in a backward visor. [Randall Colburn]

24. Tommy Darmody and Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) built a legion of enemies as the boss of Atlantic City. His lucrative bootlegging operation and often petty disposition meant he was constantly clashing with rivals at home and in New York City, motivating both gangsters and FBI agents to take him down. Yet despite fighting off such iconic criminals like Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) to hold what was his, his downfall came from someone at the bottom rung of that very organization. Joe Harper (Travis Tope), seemingly a disaffected young man who Nucky brought into his crew, confronted the boss when he was preparing to leave Atlantic City for good and revealed his true identity: none other Tommy Darmody, the son of Nucky’s one-time protégé Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Jimmy never forgave Nucky for turning his mother into a teenage pimp, leading him to go to war and get shot in the face at the end of season two. Tommy returned the favor with multiple bullets, paying off a debt Nucky thought he’d settled long ago. [Les Chappell]

Advertisement

25. Sidney and XXXX, Layer Cake

Daniel Craig’s extended audition for the role of James Bond was 2004’s Layer Cake, in which his character (who is never named, and listed only as XXXX in the credits) moves up through the cocaine trade. While he’s on the opposite side of the law, Craig still show’s Bond’s ruthlessness, unflappability, and way with the ladies as he masters London’s underworld. After Craig rises to the top of his profession, he does what no movie criminal manages to—walk away on top. Except minutes after announcing his retirement and walking away, considering the pile of bodies he’s left in his wake, he comes face-to-face with Sidney—a nobody whose girlfriend he effortlessly stole early in the film—who shoots him, presumably fatally. And in a twist that’s only a twist in hindsight, Sidney’s played by future Bond costar Ben Wishaw. Watch your back, James. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

26. Eddie Thawne and The Reverse Flash, The Flash

The villain on the first season of The Flash is Eobard Thawne/The Reverse Flash, a guy from the future who traveled back in time so he could ruin the Flash’s life. He also happens to be a descendant of the Flash’s friend, Eddie Thawne. At one point, The Reverse Flash kidnaps Eddie and tries to break his spirit by telling him that nobody cares about him in the future. Basically, as far as history is concerned, he’s a nobody. This actually gets under Eddie’s skin, and he’s a broken man by the time he’s rescued. When The Reverse Flash has the normal Flash on the ropes, though, Eddie takes advantage of his status as a “nobody” and shoots himself in the chest, preventing The Reverse Flash from ever being born. It’s a dramatic way to save the day, but at least he proved that his life actually mattered. [Sam Barsanti]

Advertisement