Although we live in advanced and reasonably gender-neutral age, one iron-clad rule remains: Men should avoid tears at the movie theatre. Guys who are well up at the climax of Steel Magnolias, Titanic, Optimus Prime or any film starring Richard Gere should either toughen up or start sticking pins under their fingernails before heading to the cinema.
There are, however, exceptions to every rule. In this case, there are rare cinematic moments where the emotional response is justified — when a worthy male protagonist dies a noble and tragic death following a great and just struggle. Here are 10 such manly movie deaths for which a few silent, respectful tears are perfectly appropriate.
Top 10 Manly Movies Of All Times (Optimus Prime)
10 – Leon in The Professional (1994)
This underappreciated classic follows Leon (Jean Reno), a hit man who takes in a young girl, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), after her family was killed by a ruthless drug enforcement agent, Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda wanted revenge against the rogue agent, and as Leon taught her the trade tricks, they developed an unexpected bond. Stansfield caught up to Leon and shot him from behind, but Leon managed the noblest of deaths when he drew Stansfield to his side and pulled the pin on a grenade strapped to his chest. In the end, Leon died a manly movie death, and Mathilda was avenged.
Posthumous: In a touching scene, Mathilda plants Leon’s beloved house plant in the ground at her school as she promised she would in order “to give it roots.”
9 – Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Optimus Prime engaged in an epic battle with Megatron in the climactic fight to repel the Decepticon invasion, leaving both combatants mortally wounded. On his death bed, Optimus Prime passed Autobot leadership onto Ultra Magnus by bestowing him the Matrix of Leadership orb that Optimus extracted from the heart of his chassis before finally dying a manly movie death. The entire sequence showcased all the traits that made Optimus Prime a courageous leader: courage, loyalty and selflessness.
Posthumous: Optimus Prime has been exhumed many times for the Transformers cartoon and comic books, and in 2007 he was once again reconstituted in typically heroic form for Michael Bay’s movie, Transformers.
8 – Tony Montana in Scarface (1983)
There’s a great tradition in movies of bad hombre who manage to win the audience’s hearts. Tony Montana (Al Pacino) — a violent coke kingpin who, among other sins, offs his best friend in an overprotective rage — is among the saddest of those roguishly popular anti-heroes. Despite his obvious character flaws, the dude died his manly movie death in style. Specifically, he was high as a kite and riddled with bullets while fighting to protect his cocaine-crusted turf.
Posthumous: When Tony toppled over into his ornate hallway fountain, he died his manly movie death without an heir, but that didn’t prevent talk of a follow-up. In 2001, preliminary plans were made for hip-hop artist Cuban Link to write and star in a sequel entitled Son of Tony, but such plans thankfully fell through.
7 – The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Talk about resiliency. While we may have been relieved to see the persistent villain perish in The Terminator, our hearts cracked when the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) took the big swim in Terminator 2. After finally saving Sarah (Linda Hamilton) and John (Edward Furlong) in a near-futile battle against the superior T-1000, our beloved Terminator lowered himself into a vat of liquid metal to erase any evidence of his existence.
Posthumous: Those who were disappointed to see one of the most fantastic action characters die-off were given a ray of hope in 2003 when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released. Unfortunately, not even Kristanna Loken as the sexy T-X could make the film worth seeing.
6 – Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
Some found the scene in which Beatrix (Uma Thurman) finally caught up to Bill (David Carradine) a bit anticlimactic. Perhaps it was when you consider the action that preceded the scene, but one thing you can say about Bill is that the guy knew how to die with dignity. After Beatrix disabled Bill with the fatal Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique, he stayed calm, offered a sweet and respectful goodbye to his killer and former lover, and slowly walked away before collapsing.
Posthumous: Beatrix and B.B. (their daughter) rode off into the sunset to start a new life, with Bill’s implicit approval — exploded heart notwithstanding.
5 – Goose in Top Gun (1986)
Top Gun is the epitome of primo ’80s cheese, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work on an emotional gut level. When Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) are forced to eject after spinning out on a training exercise, Goose hits the cockpit canopy and is killed instantly. Goose’s death was hard to watch, and the viewer was also left wondering whether Maverick would ever get past his guilt to become the great pilot he was destined to be.
Posthumous: The spirit of Goose carried Maverick through. Following graduation, Maverick was sent on a mission to provide cover for a broken-down intelligence ship. Maverick’s plane went into a spin, just like before, but gripping Goose’s dog tags tightly, he steadied himself and led a successful mission.
4 – Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977)
In the climactic scene of Star Wars, with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in peril, Obi-Wan sacrificed his life in a light sabre duel to allow Luke to escape Darth Vader’s wrath. The mere mention of this selfless act of bravery can choke up the hardiest of Gen-Xers and probably explains why most of the population primarily remembers Alec Guinness, one of the most accomplished actors of his time, for his role in Star Wars.
Posthumous: The ghost of Kenobi appeared in Return of The Jedi to explain to Luke why he had lied about Darth Vader’s true identity. Kenobi’s ghost appears again at the end of the movie, besides the spirits of Yoda and a redeemed Anakin Skywalker, watching as Luke and the gang celebrate the destruction of the second Death Star.
3 – Nick in The Deer Hunter (1978)
Nick Chevotarevich’s (Christopher Walken) death by his hand is the searing denouement of a spell-binding film. Following a harrowing experience held captive by the Vietcong, Michael (Robert DeNiro) and Nick manage to escape but are separated. Michael returns to Vietnam after the war to find Nick whacked out on heroin and a pawn in the underground Russian roulette circuit. Mike tries to convince his lost friend to come home with him, but the face-off ends in tragedy when Nick shoots himself in the head.
Posthumous: Before going overseas, Mike promised Nick he would never leave him behind in Vietnam. Following his suicide, Mike brings Nick’s body back to America for a family funeral, a sad fulfilment of that promise.
2 – William Wallace in Braveheart (1995)
The magisterial sweep of the battle scenes in Braveheart ensured that viewers were emotionally invested in Wallace’s (Mel Gibson) fate. But other factors, including betrayal (by the nobles) and especially the sheer intensity and violence of Wallace’s death, made it an emotional tour de force. After being convicted of treason, Wallace refused to admit his guilt or cry out in pain despite being alternately hanged and racked in the public square. In the end, Wallace screamed an inspiring “Freedom!” before being beheaded.
Posthumous: Wallace’s spirit lived on in battle, as Scottish warriors chanted his name when they plunged forward to defeat the surprised English.
1 – Apollo Creed in Rocky IV (1985)
When Apollo (Carl Weathers) takes up Ivan Drago’s (Dolph Lundgren) challenge in the ring, it’s clear that he will likely take a beating to set up Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) inevitable return to the ring. Given this expectation, Apollo’s sudden end was a big surprise. As Drago mercilessly pounded Creed’s sagging body against the ropes in slow motion and the onlookers cried for mercy, viewers were understandably stricken to find out that they were going to let Apollo perish.
Posthumous: Rocky was implored by Apollo’s trainer to “make sure he didn’t die for nothing.” True to form, the Rock didn’t let him down; he endured about 150 haymakers early on before miraculously rallying in the late rounds to take the big Russian down. In an impromptu post-match speech that qualifies as one of the most laughably incredible movie moments ever, he convinced the Russians in attendance that communism was wack.