One of the great things about science fiction as a genre is that it can be almost anything. Science fiction can be hopeful and utopian, and even more often, sci-fi can be dystopian, nihilistic, and full of darkness. Sometimes, though, great science fiction can also be terrifying.
Many of the best science fiction movies ever made feature grisly kills the likes of which you rarely see outside of the horror genre. There are plenty of worthwhile kills that didn’t even make the cut, as these seven deaths represent some of the most gruesome, shocking deaths in the history of sci-fi movies.
One of the more iconic deaths in the history of science fiction, Kane’s death in Alien completely defines what the franchise will become, and is also just horrific in its own right. The genius conceit of Alien is that it’s a horror movie with sci-fi trappings, and that never becomes more apparent than the moment when it seems like Kane is going to be alright, and then you discover that he definitely won’t be.
Watching the xenomorph burst out of his chest, a newborn killing its host as it leaves, is never something that gets old throughout the rest of the Alien franchise. But it’s never more relentlessly horrifying than it is in this first, petrifying sequence.
A small-scale sci-fi movie about an alien who looks like Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin toes the line between grounded realism and surrealism. The movie essentially plays out as a series of vignettes as Johansson’s menacing alien drives around picking up men and then basically sucking the muscle out from them, leaving only the skin behind.
It’s this uniquely horrific notion that makes Under the Skin‘s kills feel so visceral. In the long history of science fiction kills, we’ve never really seen anything quite like it before or since.
There’s plenty of gruesome stuff in one of Paul Verhoeven’s best American movies, but perhaps nothing is more viscerally upsetting than the death of villain Emil Antonowsky, who winds up driving into a pit of toxic waste near the film’s climax. Some directors may have left what happens to Antonowsky up to the imagination, but not Verhoeven.
Instead, we watch as his rapidly deteriorating body emerges from the acid and he attempts to escape. It’s some of the more horrific imagery in a movie that is not afraid of showing off fairly disturbing stuff, and it’s a truly gruesome end for this villainous character.
The premise of The Thing is plenty disturbing all on its own, but John Carpenter’s dedication to smart practical effects only brings the terror up a level. There are plenty of gruesome moments in The Thing, including times when you catch the alien as it transforms into the likeness of one creature or another.
Perhaps the most upsetting moment, though, comes when the team tries to perform CPR on Vance Norris, who has seemingly suffered a heart attack. They discover he’s been taken over by the alien when a hole opens up in his chest as they attempt to use the paddles and a huge set of teeth bites off the doctor’s arms. It’s a totally practical effect and one that is still deeply upsetting to this day.
David Cronenberg‘s fascination with the grossest corners of the human body is both repulsive and somehow admirable, and The Fly is among the grosser things he’s ever made. The film tells the story of a scientist who inadvertently fuses with a fly, and begins to resemble the insect more and more as time passes.
As he loses his humanity, Seth Brundle eventually inadvertently fuses with a teleporter machine, becoming an even greater monstrosity before he is mercifully killed in the final moments of his life. Seth’s transformation is grisly, and his actual death is somehow even worse.
Life may not be the kind of sci-fi classic that many of the movies on this list are, but it features several genuinely gnarly kills. The movie follows a group of astronauts who discover life on Mars, and then learn exactly how hostile that life is to humanity.
The movie’s grisliest kill comes when that life form is outside the ship and punctures an astronaut’s coolant tank, forcing her to drown inside her suit. It’s deeply upsetting, in part because it takes a couple of minutes for the whole ordeal to fully play out.
Picking a kill from the Predator franchise is like attempting to separate salt and sugar — there are a lot of gruesome kills, and that’s part of the point. Even so, Al Dillon’s death in the very first movie still stands out, partially because it’s a massive comeuppance for dragging the entire team out there to begin with.
Al loses his arm and is then eviscerated by the Predator’s knife, and even the ultra-muscular Carl Weathers is powerless to do anything except scream, warning his team that their lives are in danger with his dying breaths.
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