Death may be terrifyingly invisible in Final Destination, but he's sure had plenty of visible personifications throughout our collective movie history. If we could include other media in this list, we might mention the alluring Death of Marvel Comics whom the mad Titan Thanos worships or the cute, spunky goth girl Death of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. We might even include that dapper, professional Manny Cavalara from Grim Fandango. But we're keeping our focus tighter here, with portrayals of the grim reaper that range from the traditional to the satirical and even to the surprisingly digital.
Make your peace as we count down...
5. Ryuk from Death Note
I opted out of using an image of Ryuk from the live-action movie since, as ridiculous as this Brylcreem and Hot Topic model looks with his dangly heart earing and clown makeup, he looks about six times more absurd when he’s flapping past a real person. Anyway, shinigami’s the Japanese name for Grim Reaper and, out of all the personifications on this list, big Ryuk here has likely the most believable characterization. If you can get past his look, you can totally believe how an immortal like this would get so bored with his duties that he’d give his deathly powers to a preppy class president just to see what would happen next.
4. Death from Last Action Hero
If we’re going to split hairs then, yeah, this is still the oft-cited Death of the Seventh Seal, but I didn’t want to go for the obvious answer, here. Actually, he's gotten some flak for not being obvious enough. Some have said that referencing an Ingmar Bergman film was a bad idea for this flick (since most Schwarzenegger fans wouldn’t get the reference) but I’ll blow a raspberry at ‘em. This is one of Ian McKellen’s pre-mega-stardom roles, and I’ve always found this vision of Death to be pretty chilling for how all the characters know who he is without him ever getting properly introduced. It’s like he’s a plague who intrudes beyond all boundaries, even the fictional ones.
3. The "Grim Reaper" from the Frighteners
Let’s be real. When you close your eyes and envision the Grim Reaper, you don’t see some dignified old man creeping around and giving people comfortable time to contemplate their final moments. You see a ferocious predator: a primordial force of nature who swoops around and cuts people down like so many brittle reeds of barley. Granted, this “death” isn’t all he appears to be (I’ll say no more lest I spoil this underappreciated flick) and the texture of his CG may be showing some wear, today, but this unstoppable spirit who flows through every surface in sight remains one of the most brilliantly conceived creatures I’ve seen in a movie. You should fear him.
2. Death from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
I’m with Alex on this. We needs a Defending Your Movie or a Besties or a Half-Good or something on Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, ‘cause it’s no less than five kinds of rad. And one of those kinds is most certainly concerned with this dude. If you think that’s a most heinous assertation, then you need to watch this most excellent clip of Death being a sore loser at board games and realize how damn right this ranking is. Death may have taken a holiday later in Meet Joe Black, but none of his vacation activities were nearly as excellent as slapping bass in the Wyld Stallyns or dealing out melvins.
I suppose this is technically the second time that the Seventh Seal’s Death has shown up on this list, and it’s not the only time death will be fighting Keanu here, either…
1. Smith in Matrix Revolutions
If you’ve seen any of the Gnostic readings of the Matrix trilogy, you’ve likely familiar with this rogue agent being interpreted as a Lucifer figure to fit in with Neo’s Messianic journey. However, if you really want to take those interpretations seriously, I’d argue that it’s more accurate to view the Merovingian as the Devil of this digital domain and then Smith as the personified death who’s enslaved all its souls; the death whose cycle Neo must break. Hell, the Oracle even comes out and calls him such. I’ve already made my case for everybody to reevaluate the series and, if you’re confused or turned off by all the allegorical mumbo jumbo, looking at Smith this way gets it all to make more sense.