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8 Drama Movies Where the Main Character Dies

Drama is the most common genre in movies. It covers just about everything, aside from comedy and most high concept fiction. Good dramas know how to get the audience emotionally invested in their main characters. Their stories could range from something as simple as a broken marriage, like in A Marriage Story, to something as complicated as removing memories with technology, like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We root for these main characters to overcome their challenges and find happiness — but they don’t always make it to the end of their own movie.

It’s always a shock when we lose the main character. Some of them fall victim to their own vices. Other deaths just make sense for the progression of the story. This article obviously contains spoilers, so don’t scroll any further if you think there’s a chance something might get ruined for you. But if you’re a badass and don’t care, or if you feel confident in the breadth of films you’ve seen, then go ahead and keep scrolling to find eight dramas where the main character dies.

Related: 10 Recent Drama Movies That Are Already Modern Classics

8 Uncut Gems (2019)


Adam Sandler might be known for comedy, but he delivers a great dramatic performance in Uncut Gems. Here, he plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler with a serious gambling problem. Rather than pay back the thugs he’s in debt to, Howard places exorbitant sports bets throughout the movie. At one point, he even pawns NBA star Kevin Garnett’s championship ring for gambling money. The man is a wrecking ball, destroying every situation that he finds himself in.

Finally, the thugs lose their patience and go to collect their money. But Howard traps them all in his jewelry store and forces them to watch a basketball game that he bet money on. Big money. After an intense, heart-pounding build-up, Howard is thrilled to learn that he won his bet. He happily releases the thugs, thinking that he’ll pay them back with his winnings. But in a shocking turn of events, one of the gangsters shoots Howard in the head and kills him. Uncut Gems is a roller coaster ride of anxiety and laughs but mostly anxiety. It highlights the sickness of gambling addiction, showing the insatiable desperation and severe consequences that come with it.

7 American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty
Jinks/Cohen Company

Sam Mendes’ masterpiece American Beauty opens with a narration from its main character, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). “This is my life. I’m 42-years-old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead,” he tells us. We go into this film knowing that our protagonist has a tragic ending waiting for him. What we don’t know, however, is the circumstances that get him there. American Beauty tells the stories of several characters, touching on themes of midlife crisis, familial difficulties, and conformity. All its stories weave together in the end, culminating in the death that Lester promised us in the beginning. American Beauty claimed the Oscar for Best Picture and is regarded as one of the best films of the 2000s.

6 Scarface (1983)

Al Pacino in Scarface
Universal Pictures

Scarface is one of the most famous gangster films ever made. Despite the film’s controversial whitewashing, Al Pacino gave an iconic performance as Tony Montana. From the moment we meet Tony, one thing becomes clear: he is not a good person. He’s short-tempered, mean, violent, and aggressive. These traits only worsen as Tony transforms into a crime boss and drug kingpin, who’s always getting high on his own supply. As viewers, we get the hunch that Tony may not make it to the end of the film. And of course, he doesn’t. Tony’s death is as violent as the path he took in life. He’s not the kind of character whose death leaves audiences weeping and distraught. But it is one of the most entertaining and iconic deaths in movies.

Related: These Are Some of the Best Mafia and Gangster Movies Ever Made

5 Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (1998)
DreamWorks Pictures

Saving Private Ryan is considered to be one of the best war movies of all time. It raised the bar for the genre, showing Hollywood and audiences what a war film could be: bigger and more realistic. This Steven Spielberg masterpiece takes us into the horrors of World War II. The film opens with an unidentified war veteran visiting the Normandy Cemetery. Spielberg then cuts to Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in 1944, which dupes us into thinking that we’re now looking at a younger version of the old man.

Captain Miller and his soldiers are tasked with finding Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the last surviving son of a family that’s been torn apart by war. We follow Miller through explosive battle scenes, but we know that he’ll be OK from that cemetery scene in the beginning. Oh, how wrong we are. In a twist ending, we learn that the old veteran is actually Private Ryan, visiting the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to save him. And one of those soldiers ends up being Captain Miller.

4 Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe in Gladiator
Universal Pictures

Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator spans a few different genres, like epic, adventure, and action. But it’s also very much a drama. It follows the epic journey of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a Roman war general who’s betrayed by the new emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus has the general’s family brutally murdered, while Maximus himself becomes a slave — and then a gladiator at Rome’s Coliseum.

We root for Maximus to get revenge on Commodus, as he embarks on a bloody killing spree that lands him a one-on-one duel with the Emperor. In true villain fashion, Commodus cheats and stabs Maximus beforehand to give him the edge. But Commodus still can’t handle his foe’s warrior skills or thirst for vengeance. Maximums ends up slaying the Emperor in front of Rome, just before succumbing to his own injuries. It’s a bittersweet ending that reunites Maximus with his deceased family. Despite this finale, a Gladiator sequel was announced earlier this year and is reportedly in the works.

3 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Jack Nicholson in the One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
United Artists

Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a horrible person. After raping a 15-year-old girl, he pretends to be insane in order to avoid prison and gets sent to a mental asylum. Yet despite his wickedness, we find ourselves falling for Randle’s charisma, rebellious nature, and compassion for the other patients. It also helps that he’s played to perfection by Jack Nicholson in one of the actor’s most iconic roles.

Randle spends much of the film trying to liberate the patients and terrorizing the asylum’s ward Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who may be just as evil as Randle. After Ratched instigates another patient’s suicide, Randle loses his mind and tries killing her. The consequences for this turn out to be dire: Ratched has Randle lobotomized, turning him into a shell of his former self. As a mercy, Randle’s silent buddy Chief (Will Sampson) smothers the main character with a pillow, finally setting him free from the cuckoo’s nest.

Related: Movies That Won the ‘Big Five’ Oscars (& Others That Came Close)

2 The Godfather (1972)

Marlon Brando in Godfather
Paramount Pictures

There’s a lot of anticipation around Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in the opening scene of The Godfather: we see only the back of his head as he listens quietly to his friend’s plea. Who knew that when we finally met Vito Corleone, we’d also be meeting one of the most famous characters in cinema? Vito is a powerful man, a criminal mastermind who pulls the strings from the shadows and yanks them in his favor. He seems unstoppable — until he’s surprisingly gunned down early into the movie. Vito survives, though his assassination attempt lays the groundwork for his favorite son, Michael, to replace him as boss.

Vito becomes Michael’s advisor and enjoys his semi-retirement. But things are cut short when he collapses to the ground. And this time, Vito doesn’t survive. It’s actually not a bad way to go: hanging out in the garden, playing with his grandson. Vito’s death officially makes Michael the boss of the Corleone crime family, which ends the film with one of the most chilling and greatest shots in cinema.

1 Citizen Kane (1940)

Orson Welles as Kane in Citizen Kane
RKO Radio Pictures

Citizen Kane is widely considered to be the greatest film ever made, and for good reason. Directed by the legendary Orson Welles, Citizen Kane was a trailblazer in terms of editing and cinematography. It got creative with the camera and popularized methods that we see all the time in movies today, such as low angle shots, deep focus shots, and montages. Welles also ditched the traditional linear format and told his story through a series of flashbacks, a very unconventional method at the time. And this is where the movie excels most.

The film’s main character Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles himself, actually dies in the very beginning of the movie, just after muttering this mysterious final word: “Rosebud.” Kane’s entire life story unfolds through the aforementioned flashbacks, as an investigative reporter tries to figure out the meaning of Rosebud. The meaning is revealed to the audience at the very end, in a heart-breaking shot that created one of the greatest twists in movie history.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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