The backlash came and went pretty quickly from Gary Oldman’s June interview in Playboy. If you don’t recall, the celebrated actor was very candid and open about everything from the politics of Hollywood to whether or not Philip Seymour Hoffman could have been “saved,” and in between he revealed that he didn’t really care for some of his most popular films. For example, Oldman admitted that he “can’t bear it” when asked about The Fifth Element, and as for his roles in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise or the Harry Potter films, he replied, “It was work.” And don’t even get him started on Sid and Nancy.
Naturally, when the interviewer mentioned True Romance and The Professional, we got a little nervous, because those films are modern masterpieces in our eyes and hearts, so if Oldman had revealed that he hated them, it would have been a heavy bummer. Fortunately, he was a lot kinder, as he called Drexl Spivey “a nice little turn” and of The Professional, he said, “I could take it or leave it personally.” Considering he said that he could have done “most of” his career’s work better, that checks in as high self-praise.
But I don’t really care if Oldman liked The Professional or not, because I love that damn movie and was determined to celebrate its place in hitman movie history on this day, the 20th anniversary of its American release. The lasting legacy of Luc Besson’s film is truly remarkable, seeing as just the other day a friend of mine asked me who was going out for someone’s birthday dinner, and I shouted, “EVERRRRYONNNNNNE!!!” The performance of that line may have been meant as a joke, but the scene was epic for it.
But the thing that I love about The Professional more than anything else is that final sequence between Léon and Norman Stansfield, the corrupt DEA agent and coward who would murder the hitman by shooting him in the back. It was so beautifully scripted and filmed that you almost forget that you’re watching this guy die after he laid waste to a building full of cops. That made me wonder where such a scene – the hitman makes his name or gets revenge in the cruelest and most appropriate way possible – ranks among the best of a genre that I love so much. Thus, I used my time-honored scientific process to put together this ranking of hitman/assassin movie bad guy death scenes, based on qualifications that are too scientific to even mention.
Honorable Mention: The Jackal
I’m only mentioning this dumb movie because it was on the other day and if I catch it in time, I have to watch the Jack Black death scene. It might be my favorite death scene in movie history, because it’s so cathartic to pretend that Black is playing one of his most annoying characters and I’m watching that character meet his hilariously gory end. And then the movie goes back to Richard Gere’s terrible accent.
20) In Bruges
The Hitman: Harry
How’d He Do It? With a bullet to his own head, but only after a series of dark-yet-amusing events. Ray (Colin Farrell) was probably the mopiest and all-around worst hitman you could hire, but that’s only because he accidentally killed a young boy. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) was also pretty bad at his job, because he had a soft spot for Ray’s depressed, suicidal behavior, and that led to Harry (Ralph Fiennes) shooting him in the neck. However, while attacking Ray, Harry accidentally blew a dwarf’s head clean off and he believed that it was a child, so he shot himself in the head. Somehow, in spite of that morose description, it’s a really fun movie.
The Hitman: Robert Rath
How’d He Do It? People love to dump all over this box office bomb, but it’s a huge guilty pleasure of mine. Rath (Sylvester Stallone) just wanted out of the hitman business, and Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas) was happy to oblige, because it meant that he’d be No. 1. So after they dispatched of the Cold War’s top assassin – and the man who contracted them to kill each other – Rath tried to walk away. But Bain couldn’t simply settle for being the default world’s best killer, so Rath had to put him down with a little behind-the-back action.
(Did You Know? The original writers of Assassins were Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski, but director Richard Donner thought a film named Assassins should be less violent, so he brought Brian Helgeland in to “fix” it. The Wachowskis tried to get their names scrubbed from the awful finished product, but the WGA said no. Fortunately, since Joel Silver had bought their Assassins script at the same time as the script for The Matrix, and since he liked their work on Bound, he supposedly apologized and Warner Bros. allowed them to direct The Matrix.)
The Hitwoman: Nikita
How’d She Do It? She didn’t, really. After she became an unstoppable killing machine for the French intelligence agency, Nikita realized she couldn’t hack it thanks to all of those stupid emotions in her brains and heart. Instead of having to kill her way out, Nikita just kind of ran away, but for the sake of celebrating Luc Besson’s ability to write good a good ass-kicking story, I’m including Nikita’s restaurant scene, because she managed to kill just about every bad guy in the world with two clips.
17) The Bourne Identity
The Hitman: Jason Bourne
How’d He Do It? The problem with including the Bourne franchise is that Jason never actually takes out any of the so-called top bad guys, because he wants to change and live a normal life, or “Marie wouldn’t want me to” or something like that. Like, in The Bourne Identity, instead of killing Conklin, Bourne walked away and forced Abbott to call in the hit. Or in The Bourne Supremacy, he had that insane car chase with Kirill, and then he ended it like, “Aw, I’m not gonna kill you, Russian bro.” However, because I am constantly forced to defend this franchise, I’m including Bourne’s field scene with Clive Owen from The Bourne Identity, because it’s pretty rad.
16) Shoot ‘Em Up
The Hitman: Mr. Smith
How’d He Do It? At least I think he was a hitman. Otherwise, he was just a dude who was really good at slaughtering actual hitmen and thugs in hilariously bizarre action sequences. Ultimately, Smith had to kill the incredibly angry Karl Hertz (Paul Giamatti) in an even more bizarre shootout, in which Smith had to use his actual hand as a gun. I’m no expert of biology or the physics of firearms and whatnot, but I have to imagine that only an expert could pull off such a ridiculous move. Smith even gets a cheap bonus point for trying to take his guy out with a clever catchphrase.
15) Pulp Fiction
The Hitman: Butch Coolidge, kind of
How’d He Do It? In this case, because I can’t write about hitman movie comeuppances without mentioning Pulp Fiction, I will argue that Butch (Bruce Willis) became a killer the moment that he decided to turn on Marsellus Wallace and incur the wrath of his hitmen. Does that work? Probably not, but that has never stopped me before. Anyway, poor Vincent. Sure, he was a junkie and a killer, but we had a soft spot for him because he showed heart by saving Mia Wallace’s life, and even though he blew Marvin’s brains all over the back of the car, he made a fun team with Jules. He sort of deserved better than being shot dead with his own gun right after he got off the shitter.
14) The Boondock Saints
The Hitmen: Connor and Murphy MacManus
How’d They Do It? Beloved favorites of action fan bros everywhere, the Saints fulfilled their God-given destinies by eventually teaming up with Il Duce – their dad, if you can believe it! – to circumvent local and federal law enforcement and assassinate Papa Joe in a courtroom. All they had to do was hone their skills as bar room brawlers, purchase some black market weapons and quickly learn how to shoot their guns better than a bunch of professional Russian hired guns, as well as their hitman father, who presumably had significantly more training and success. It’s a real rags-to-rich-in-ammunition story.
The Hitman: Wesley Gibson
How’d He Do It? After Wesley was trained to become a better killer than his father by the assassins of the Fraternity, he learned that Sloan had been lying to him the whole time, which sucks considering he was tricked into murdering his own father. Whoops! Using his rage and newfound superhuman abilities to curve bullets and see things in slow motion, Wesley invaded the Fraternity’s headquarters to attempt to kill Sloan, as well as the rest of the cool hitmen with the awesome nicknames. He basically failed, since Fox actually killed most of the real assassins and herself for him, and Sloan escaped. However, Sloan was really bad at being a mastermind, because he thought that Wesley would actually return to his crappy office job, and that led to him being popped in the dome by a magic bullet.
12) Lucky Number Slevin
The Hitman: Slevin
How’d He Do It? I don’t know whether to call this one underrated or a guilty pleasure, because it’s not the worst movie of its kind, but it definitely tried a little too hard. Regardless, Slevin (squinty Josh Hartnett) designed the ultimate revenge game on the city’s top two mob bosses, played very well by Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman (this list’s first two-timer!), as he was raised by the man who should have killed him, Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis). Since everyone loves a story about a kid who grows up to get clever revenge on the people who killed his parents over his father’s gambling debt, watching The Boss and The Rabbi suffocate to death, as well as Stanley Tucci’s cop’s demise, was sort of bittersweet.
11) The Mechanic
The Hitman: Arthur Bishop
How’d He Do It? There’s a debate to be had here about the sanctity of original films and the creative liberties of remakes, considering the 1972 version of The Mechanic, starring Charles Bronson, had both of the hitmen dying in the end, while only one met his maker in the 2011 version with Jason Statham. I like the ’72 version’s story better, though, because as much as I like to see the main character walk away at the end, these aren’t heroes. Bishop was a bad, bad man in both versions, but what made the ’72 ending so interesting was the revelation (very poorly acted by Jan Michael Vincent, I might add) that Steve had no clue that Arthur killed his dad. Steve just wanted to be a killer, and he’d prove it by taking out the company’s top guy. It’s a tale of two endings, as Bronson’s Bishop got what he deserved, while Statham’s Bishop walked away as the better and smarter killer. I’ll take the ’72 version for justice served.
Also, I love how quickly the ’72 version ends. It’s just, “Bang, your dead,” explosion and then credits. Nobody f*cked around with the little stuff back then.
10) John Wick
The Hitman: John Wick
How’d He Do It? As I have already written, John Wick might end up being my favorite movie of 2014, and it’s because it was simply a movie about a boy, his dog, a Russian mobster’s son who killed the dog over a beautiful old Mustang, and the ensuing acts of vengeance that would turn one crime syndicate upside down. Ironically, it was the ultimate act of revenge that I thought was sort of boring, but that’s only because everything leading up to it had been so finely-choreographed and played out that the whole film was like a ballet of violence and hilarious headshots. Also, the car sequence at the end had me laughing hysterically, so I was a little tired by the time it was John vs. the boss.
The Hitgirl: Hanna
How’d She Do It? After some crying and twists and turns, Hanna finally realized that it was kill or be killed with Marissa (Cate Blanchett), and she earned double bonus points for using the same line – “I just missed your heart” – at the beginning and end of the film. Obviously, Marissa wouldn’t have known what that meant, so she was probably like, “THAT’s the best hitman phrase you got?” But then she died, so it doesn’t matter. What I always wondered after Hanna was what happens next. Does she just walk up to a foster home and say, “Hey, I’m a highly-trained assassin but I’ve got no home now, please help”? She’s not exactly career-ready.
The Hitwoman: Cataleya
How’d She Do It? It’s like that old saying goes – Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by a drug kingpin who had her parents slaughtered while she listened, causing her to dedicate her life to his own brutal murder. While I have always been partial to the way Cataleya killed Willy – please don’t ever shoot me and then drop me into my shark tank, assassins – setting Don Luis up to “escape” in a van that was carrying two vicious dogs that would tear him to pieces was pretty insane, too. Let that be a lesson to all you violent crime lords out there – always look in the back of the escape van.
7) Ghost Dog
The Hitman: Ghost Dog
How’d He Do It? You wouldn’t think of Forest Whittaker as the kind of guy who would pull off the classic storm-into-a-house-and-shoot-the-f*ck-out-everyone-like-a-total-badass scene, but he did it like a legend in Ghost Dog. In fact, he caused one of the bad guys to die from a heart attack on the spot. Compared to other movie hitmen, that might be one of the best kill scenes I’ve ever seen. People love this movie, and rightfully so, but I never liked the ending. It made me sad.
6) 13 Assassins
The Hitman: Shinzaemon
How’d He Do It? Shinza not only eventually fulfilled his mission by taking the head of the evil and twisted Naritsugu, but he got to take out his rival, Hanbei, first. The best hitmen or assassins are always consistent in style and method, so before Shinza took Naritsugu’s dome clean off, he also lopped off Hanbei’s head. And he gets bonus points for using the eternal murder scene catchphrase… “See you in hell.” Don’t mess with the classics, people.
5) The Killer
The Hitman: Ah Jong
How’d He Do It? With one of the most spectacular last stand shootouts ever filmed. And all of it so he could raise enough money to get the new love of his life an eye transplant. Say what you want about this genre and these movies, but there’s plenty of heart in them. You just have to look through the cloud of bullets, exploding Virgin Mary statues and John Woo’s collection of pet doves.
4) Grosse Pointe Blank
The Hitman: Martin Blank
How’d He Do It? Fed up with the nature of the assassination business and his closest rival, Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), trying to force him into joining a union, Blank (John Cusack in arguably his finest role) agrees to one last mission, which just so happens to take place in his hometown at the same time as his high school reunion. As you can imagine, hijinks ensued and Blank’s target ended up being his high school sweetheart’s (Minnie Driver) father, so in order to re-win her heart and gain her dad’s approval, Blank had to save them all by dropping a TV set on Grocer’s head. It might seem like I’m writing this as a sarcastic movie synopsis, but this is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’m doing everything I can to not break into 10,000 words about how wonderful it is, complete with a sidebar about Jeremy Piven dancing.
3) Kill Bill Vo. 2
The Hitwoman: Beatrix Kiddo
How’d She Do It? The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. It wasn’t as exciting as the vengeance that the Bride took on O-Ren or Vernita, but Bill’s death was always more about the revelation that Beatrix was the baddest killer of them all. Sometimes it’s just cooler to kill a guy by poking him in the chest a few times than it is to chop his limbs off or pull his eye out. Although, from a writing perspective, I always appreciated the subtlety of the similar move from the end of Hot Rod.
2) The Long Kiss Goodnight
The Hitwoman: Charly Baltimore
How’d She Do It? She made Timothy die screaming. As always, I love The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s one of my favorite movies of all-time, and if there’s a way to include it in a conversation, I will. Shane Black deserved the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for this film. There is no debate to be had here.
1) The Professional
The Hitman: Léon
How’d He Do It? With that grenade pin, obviously. Normally, I do that thing where I try to throw a curveball with the No. 1 pick so people will be like, “Damn Burnsy, you crazy for this one!” But again, that final scene of The Professional is just so beautiful. In fact, a while back, I worked for this company and had to drop off paperwork to a woman at another company each week, and her name was Matilda. So every time that I gave the papers to her admin, I’d say, “Thees… ees for… Muh-teel-da.” The girl never understood it, but I didn’t care because I knew it was an awesome reference.
Now’s the time when you write comments like, “No (insert movie here)? This list is stupid.” For my personal favorite, make sure to include foreign films, because that will really make me feel dumb. And while that’s happening, I’ll be watching The Professional for the billionth time.