For decades, Hollywood has been making television shows and movies that have featured memorable scenes with epic blood baths. Since the very first “splatter film,” Blood Feast, fans have craved bloody fights and killings, and Hollywood has done its best to deliver.
Not every blood bath in television and movies has to be a plot-driven gore-fest, however. Some scenes are driven by character, and are essential in creating a good story. But that doesn’t mean they’re always easy for audiences to stomach. In fact, in a lot of cases, if the audience gets to know the characters on a deeper level, the scene may be difficult to sit through, especially if it’s the hero who’s on the receiving end of a bullet. Or multiple bullets. Or a sword.
One thing is certain: Our appetite for the genre will always exist, and so today, we’re celebrating the best of the best. Here are the most memorable blood baths in television and movie history.
We start off this list with what is arguably the blood bath that inspired all blood baths. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name that was published two years earlier, Carrie received two Oscar nominations — including a Best Actress nomination for Sissy Spacek in the title role — and helped launch the career of John Travolta. What made Spacek’s character so memorable was that she was truly one of the original girls next door. Complicated, sure, but not unlike someone we all knew and liked in high school. That was, until, the penultimate scene in the school’s gymnasium when she killed everyone.
By the time this movie was released, the Coen brothers already had a loyal following with fans of Raising Arizona and Blood Simple. But it could be argued that it wasn’t until Fargo was released a decade later that their gifts for movie-making were finally realized by a mass audience. All you have to do is say the words, “wood-chipper scene,” and people immediately know what you’re referring to.
Half of this list could have consisted simply of four or five different scenes from Scarface. For instance, the Columbians and their chainsaws immediately comes to mind. In fact, at one point, Manny was lying in a pool of blood in a bathtub, making that scene quite literally a blood bath. But in the end, the final shootout with the immortal words of Tony Montana, “say hello to my little friend,” wins out. One underrated key to any good shootout is for the hero to withstand being pelted with bullets, while somehow never losing the ability to keep firing off rounds while killing dozens of henchmen who are attacking him one at a time. This scene scores highly in that area.
John Wick (2014)
A year ago, a list like this couldn’t have included Keanu Reeves’ latest title character. But one short year since its release, John Wick already has a bit of a cult following, and for no better reason than the club shootout scene. One by one, Wick picked off each of his enemies until nobody was left but the man he came for. Oddly enough, despite what looked to be a 100-0 kill ratio, this scene never came across as too super-hero-ish. Or did it? I don’t know. It looked like something any number of garden-variety former assassins would be capable of in real life, is all I’m saying.
Game of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere.”
You know you’ve taken a blood bath scene to a heightened level when people begin to upload compilation videos to YouTube showing people’s horrified reactions to simply watching it. In a scene more commonly referred to as The Red Wedding, the massacre depicted here left some fans of Game of Thrones horrified of what they had just witnessed, and some even outraged at its gratuitousness.
The virtuoso fight sequence in Oldboy is brought on by the main character’s desperate need for revenge, and you cannot defeat a man when revenge is his inspiration. This scene took three days to shoot, and the end-result was one continuous take that lasted for nearly three minutes. You can kick him while he’s down (literally), and you can stab him in the back (also literally), but he’ll keep getting up until there’s nobody left to fight him. And if you just so happen to have five more potential killers with lead pipes waiting in an elevator, well, he’ll just kill them, too.
Spotless – “One Hand Clapping”
With only 10 episodes and one season under its belt, Esquire Network’s new scripted drama Spotless has already given fans its fair share of bloody crime scenes. The show’s premise is that two brothers, Jean and Martin — one of which runs a successful crime scene clean-up business — become entangled into the world of organized crime together. In the series’ first episode, our two heroes are operating over a cadaver who has heroin balloons stashed inside of her stomach, when they’re suddenly interrupted by two mob hitmen who are there to collect their drugs. But when two street toughs interrupt that party, all hell breaks loose, which leads to four bad dudes with guns shooting and stabbing at each other over a carved-up cadaver. It was a wonderful introduction to what proved to be numerous fantastic crime scenes to come in the series’ subsequent episodes.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Oliver Stone’s story about two mass-murders, Mickey and Mallory, was a bit ahead of its time. It’s tough to say how controversial it would be if it were released today versus two decades ago. But it’s interesting how the movie’s central theme seems to have foreshadowed our current gun culture. Throughout the movie, it’s never forgotten that Mickey and Mallory are sadistic killers. But that fact does not stop the media’s feeding frenzy to make them infamous, nor the public’s desire to celebrate them. “Murder is wrong,” said one younger character. “But if I were a murderer, I’d be Mickey and Mallory.”
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Many people don’t know this, but the original script that became Natural Born Killers was written by Quentin Tarantino. In fact, this list could have been nothing but an ode to Tarantino himself, with any number of scenes from nearly all of his films easily worthy of being included — my sincerest apologies to the shootout scene from True Romance, the majority of the warehouse sequence from Reservoir Dogs, and nearly the entire film from start to finish of Django Unchained — but for a pure blood bath in its truest form, nothing outshines Bride defending herself against The Crazy 88.
Breaking Bad – “Felina”
When fans of Breaking Bad think back on their favorite moments from the show’s five flawless seasons, most will mention everything and anything from “Ozymandias,” and rightfully so. But for me, the last three minutes of “Felina” rank up there with any of them, despite the machine-gun scene being criticized by fans for not being plausible. That criticism was never justified, it turns out, but even if it were, the direction, acting, and overall production of this blood bath makes it one of the finest-executed scenes in television history.
Want to see not just some blood, but how it’s cleaned up? Spotless premieres Nov. 14 10|9c on Esquire Network.