7 Movie Moments: The Grim Reaper Came a Knockin’

Here's seven times Death showed up in movies.

The Grim Reaper has long been a go-to character in film, from comedy to horror and everything in-between. Scary and sometimes funny, Death is not usually a chatty type but sure says a lot just by showing up. While this is by no means a complete list, as there are many great appearances in the movies by the scythe-wielding figure, here are seven times Death came a knockin’ that deserve a mention.


DIRECTORGuillermo del Toro     DEATH: Doug Jones

In this sequel to the popular fantasy superhero, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is at it again, this time saving the world from a realm of magical creatures, led by Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) who has declared a war on humanity after a truce had been bartered. In a battle with Nuada, Hellboy suffers a mortal wound and so his team of Liz (Selma Blair), Abe (Doug Jones) and Krauss (John Alexander) take him to meet the Angel of Death at the heart of the Golden Army’s location. Death is, as expected from del Toro, a wildly imaginative creature that is unlike any depiction of the Reaper seen before and is both a stunning and grotesque beast with eyes on its wings and a face of cracked bone. You can’t look away even though all you want to do is run.

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen     DEATH: Norman Rose

One of Allen’s early satires sees him taking some jabs at Russian literature with plenty of the hallmarks that would come to define his brand of offbeat humor. Playing Boris Grushenko, an as expected pacifist and coward more interested in girls than war, he is enlisted in the fight against Napoleon and inadvertently becomes a hero, earning the reluctant hand of Sonja (Diane Keaton). Of course, things don’t all go so well, and in pure Allen fashion, ends up dead as only he could do it, meeting the Grim Reaper, clothed in white, a figure he’s met a few times before. And how is it being dead? Worse than the chicken at Treskies.

DIRECTOR: Terry Gilliam     DEATH: A Puppet (uncredited)

The highly-imaginative tale of Baron Munchhausen (John Neville) follows the fanciful accounts of a man with many colorful experiences, told in flashback to a captive audience, all of which see the braggadocios character spin tales of escaping death time and again. Seen several times in the movie, at one point, the Baron flies through the air on a mortar ball, shot into the city, along the way, passing death in the air, narrowly missing a swing of his scythe. It won’t be the last time he cheats the Reaper. The movie is pure Gilliam magic and is full of metaphor about life, death, and the creative spirit.

DIRECTORJohn McTiernan     DEATH: Ian McKellen

While the vision behind Last Action Hero is a good one, where a boy gets a golden ticket that allows him to become part of the movie he’s watching on screen, the result didn’t quite measure up in this action comedy that sees young Danny (Austin O’Brien) get sucked into the latest Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) film. At one point, as the ticket gets torn up and scattered about, a shred of it lands in front of a theater playing Ingmar Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal, inspiring Death to decided, heck, I’m outta here, and walk off screen, straight into the real world. Naturally, those watching run. Very fast.

DIRECTORMartin Brest     DEATH: Brad Pitt

When you think of the Grim Reaper, Brad Pitt isn’t probably the first thing you think of. Probably not the second either. But back in 1998, in this remake of 1934’s Death Takes a Holiday, Pitt slid into the role of Death, in a story about the Angel taking a break from collecting the dead in order to experience what it was like to be alive and fall in love. While a flawed film, it’s a surprisingly romantic and touching turn for Pitt (one we already talked about here) and as unconventional as it is in bringing the Reaper to the screen, it sure makes one feel not quite so bad about shedding the mortal coil as it were. Who wouldn’t want to go take a walk with 90s Brad Pitt?

DIRECTORTerry Jones, Terry Gilliam     DEATH: John Cleese

If one were to go ahead and riff on life itself, there probably isn’t any better who could do than the boys of Monty Python, who, in this classic farce, give it their absurd spin with some hilarious results. Segmenting life into parts, the final of course is ‘Death’ and in one clip sees the Reaper visiting an isolated English cottage house where the guests have all succumbed to … the salmon mousse! Arguably the funniest moment with the Reaper himself ever put on screen, Death is a pretty scary fellow nonetheless and tied to the whimsy of Python, makes for a very cool movie moment.

DIRECTOR: Pete Hewitt     DEATH: William Sadler

The follow-up to the immensely popular Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure sees our heroes Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) once again rockin’ as the Wyld Stallyns and getting into trouble. In the future, one that sees a world embracing the philosophy of the pair in a utopian bliss, a rebel sends two killer androids (who look like Bill and Ted) to go back in time and assassinate them. So they do and Bill and Ted end up in hell where they face off against Death in a battle of wits … and Battleship. And who knew The Grim Reaper could pound that bass guitar so well?