Sure, movies in general usually feature quite a bit of death. After all, it’s a fact of life, and something that can happen to anyone at any time. Movie deaths can be sad, funny, or exciting, and so characters can and will die. No genre will protect a fictional character from the fictional grim reaper itself.
Then some films go one step beyond when it comes to death. Some films – often war, action, or disaster movies –can feature bodycounts in the 100s, and the following 10 films demonstrate that better than any. The following list includes on-screen deaths only of humans or humanoid creatures, and all can be considered amongst the most death-heavy and bloodthirsty of all time.
We Were Soldiers (2002) – 305 deaths
We Were Soldiers is a film detailing the early stages of the Vietnam War, focusing on the first large-scale battle between American and North Vietnamese forces. It emphasizes the scale and destruction of the conflict by featuring 305 on-screen deaths in just over two hours, featuring about 2.2 people dying every minute, on average.
While We Were Sliders might not have a reputation for being one of the very best war films of all time (and certainly not mentioned as often as something like Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now), it does have the highest bodycount for any way movie depicting any conflict that happened from 1900 onwards.
Titanic (1997) – 307 deaths
It’s to be expected that your average disaster movie will have a reasonably large bodycount. James Cameron’s box-office breaking, Oscar-winning Titanic depicts one of the biggest disasters of the 20th century, and as such, it rather appropriately features the most on-screen deaths of any movie in that genre.
Of course, it’s not just a disaster movie, as plenty of people love it for the tragic romance angle and the music and the (non-violent) spectacle of it all. In the end, Titanic is a disaster film, arguably one of the best, and without a doubt one of the most death-heavy.
Hard Boiled (1992) – 307 deaths
Hard Boiled ties with Titanic for the eighth-highest on-screen bodycount of all time. However, given Hard Boiled is about an hour shorter than James Cameron’s epic, it can be ranked ahead based on it having a higher average rate of deaths per minute. And most of those deaths are caused by guns, because Hard Boiled contains several long and gleefully over-the-top shootouts.
It’s what you’d expect from John Woo, who has a knack for putting out some of the best action/crime movies of all time. Hard Boiled is one of his best, and owing to all the great, copious action (seriously, the last 45 minutes of this movie is just lots of people shooting each other), it might well be one of the best action movies of the 1990s, too.
Grindhouse (2007) – 310 deaths
Grindhouse cheats a bit, because it’s technically two movies in one, plus some fake trailers made exclusively for the film. Penned as a double feature that tributes sleazy exploitation movies of the past, Grindhouse features Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino, and Planet Terror by Robert Rodriguez.
Both are plenty of fun, but Planet Terror ends up doing most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to Grindhouse’s bodycount. It has more action, and plenty of human and zombie deaths, whereas Death Proof “only” has half a dozen on-screen deaths. The hilariously violent trailers boost the bodycount up further, enough to get Grindhouse into position #7 in the overall bodycount chart.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – 468 deaths
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the second film in one of the best (and most bingeable) film trilogies of all time, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. It serves as a good middle chapter, following the fallout from the fellowship disbanding at the end of the first film, and setting up for a huge final battle for the third and final film.
Along the way, it manages to have a good number of its own battles, too. The biggest is certainly Helm’s Deep, which takes up much of the film’s final hour, and is where most of The Two Towers’ on-screen deaths come from. It ensures the bodycount of The Two Towers dwarves that of The Fellowship of the Ring, which only features a measly 118 deaths.
The Last Samurai (2003) – 558 deaths
The Last Samurai is a movie featuring Tom Cruise as an American man who becomes enamored with the samurai way of life in the 1800s. He ends up fighting for them, and aiding their resistance to the Westernization of Japan.
That in turn leads to a lot of death, as the film goes all out in terms of scale when depicting some huge battle scenes. It clearly had a hefty budget behind it, and clearly, some of that money went into staging huge action sequences that could allow for a staggering 500+ deaths to be shown on-screen.
Troy (2004) – 572 deaths
Troy was another large-scale action/war film focusing on a historical conflict, perhaps comparable to The Last Samurai in that way. It can’t be said for absolute certain that it was the success of The Lord of the Rings that made these projects get funded more easily in the early to mid-2000s… but it’s certainly a possibility worth entertaining.
Troy might not be the best historical war epic, but it’s a good bit of fun if you accept it for all its overblown grandeur and melodrama. It also doesn’t skimp when it comes to the big battle scenes depicting the Greek invasion of the city of Troy, complete with its 572 on-screen fatalities.
300 (2006) – 600 deaths
It’s fitting that a movie called 300 has 600 on-screen deaths. It’s a nice, even number for the bodycount to be, considering the title itself is a nice, even number. There’s a great deal of bloodshed in its story of 300 Spartans making a stand against the far bigger Persian army, with a great number of on-screen deaths also being very bloody.
Still, it’s filmed in a stylized way which might lessen the impact of seeing over 600 people die in less than two hours. It’s easy to do the maths, here: more than five people die every minute during 300, on average. It’s without a doubt one of the bloodiest and deadliest war movies of all time, as a result.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005) – 610 deaths
Kingdom of Heaven is a Ridley Scott blockbuster that’s very underrated, considering it didn’t find success or a fanbase until it got a superior Director’s Cut on home media. It focuses on the Crusades and the battles that were fought between various sides of a Holy War, including an extended siege on Jerusalem.
It has an impressive cast, featuring Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, and Brendan Gleeson. Even more impressive are the huge battles, probably only rivaled by The Lord of the Rings film around this time. Armies of thousands clashing will, unsurprisingly, lead to hundreds and hundreds of deaths…
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – 836 deaths
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King shows that the series was saving the best for last, when it came to on-screen deaths at least. The most well-reviewed and praised of the three at the Oscars, The Return of the King also has by far the most characters getting killed on screen, at 836!
There are a huge number of battles throughout the film, which is fitting, given that the entirety of Middle Earth is at stake. The heroes and villains alike give it their all – as do the costume makers, extras, and CGI special effects team – making The Return of the King the most kill-heavy film of all time.