A fictional death is always preferable to a real-life one. The former can happen over and over again, whilst the latter unfortunately happens just once, and then that’s it. It can be hard to see a fictional character depart their fictional mortal coil, but at least the actor can (and usually does) go through reincarnation – in a way – and show up as a new character in a new piece of entertainment.
Certain actors in certain genres are going to be more likely to die than others, and when looking at the 10 actors who have died the most on-screen, it’s clear that those who often appear in horror or action movies (particularly as villains) are seen as the most fictionally expendable. It’s a testament to how often some of these actors have died that the infamously “always playing doomed characters” Sean Bean does not even make an appearance here! Time will tell if he moves up the ranking though – living actors can ironically keep dying for as long as they pick the right roles, after all …
The following list contains some spoilers
Mark Hamill (30 on-screen deaths)
Mark Hamill is of course best known for playing Luke Skywalker, the main protagonist of the original Star Wars trilogy, and with a smaller (but still vital) role in the more recent sequel trilogy. It was in that trilogy’s middle chapter – the divisive and powerful The Last Jedi – that Luke himself even died on-screen, sacrificing himself so that hope could live on in the galaxy.
Elsewhere, his roles in numerous low-budget horror movies have ensured a few of his characters met grisly fates. Plus his prolific voice work – including voicing the Joker numerous times in animated Batmanworks – has meant several of his animated characters have died on-screen deaths, too.
Bela Lugosi (36 on-screen deaths)
Bela Lugosi is most famous for portraying Dracula in the 1931 classic, who is not only undead the whole time but does indeed die for good by the story’s end. For such an iconic role, he reprised it surprisingly few times, despite 1931’s Dracula having several sequels that admittedly never quite lived up to the original.
With that iconic role under his belt, Lugosi became a horror icon, and appeared in dozens of more horror movies throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Being somewhat typecast, he would often be given similar sorts of tragic monster or villain roles, to the point where he even played Frankenstein’s monster once. Naturally, those sorts of tragic roles often ended with the character’s demise, leading Lugosi to rack up an impressive 36 on-screen deaths.
Eric Roberts (38 on-screen deaths)
Eric Roberts is one of the most prolific actors working right now, with his IMDb page listing 682 different roles he played (and counting). Maybe it’s natural then, on the law of averages alone, that he would be one of the most frequently killed actors of all time.
There’s also the fact that he’s a reliable actor to cast in a villainous role, and evil characters tend to run into death more often than the good ones. For an example, he plays mob boss Sal Maroni in 2008’s The Dark Knightwhere he gets his legs broken via a considerable fall – courtesy of everyone’s favorite caped crusader – and then appears to die later on in a car crash caused by the freshly corrupted Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face.
Lance Henriksen (41 on-screen deaths)
Lance Henriksen is well-known for featuring in two of James Cameron’s early movies – Terminator and Aliens. In the former, he dies, while in the latter, he almost dies before coming back for a smaller role in Alien 3… where a new version of his cyborg character, Bishop, does properly die.
Elsewhere, he’s one of those recognizable faces that pops up in memorable supporting roles in numerous genre films, notably vampire film. Near Dark and the underrated The Quick and the Dead… both of which feature his characters dying. Ironically enough, he also appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Manwhere he plays a man who dies.
Danny Trejo (41 on-screen deaths)
Danny Trejo is always a fun presence whenever he shows up in something. And according to IMDb, he has shown up in a ton of stuff, with over 400 credits and counting. With 41 on-screen deaths, there’s essentially a 10% chance Trejo will die by the end of any movie he shows up in.
One of the most famous of these might be From Dusk Til Dawn, where he plays a vampire bartender who gets staked by a name called “Sex Machine” (it’s a wild movie). Otherwise, his tendency to feature mostly in smaller, villainous roles mean his characters are frequently marked for death.
Boris Karloff (42 on-screen deaths)
Best known for playing horror icons in the 1930s and 1940s like Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy, Boris Karloff tended to die a lot on screen. It might be inevitable, when you’re as skilled at playing movie monsters / tragic villains as Karloff was.
He was also in a few gangster / crime films from around the same era, which naturally are also bloodthirsty, death-heavy genres. One of these included a small role in the original Scarface from 1932, where – since he plays a gangster rival of that film’s Tony – he gets mowed down well before the film’s end.
John Hurt (43 on-screen deaths)
It’s hard to work out why John Hurt’s characters were so often hurt (and killed) on-screen. With about 200 roles throughout his 55-year careerhis 43 on-screen deaths mean his characters died about 20% of the time, all up, which is a pretty staggering percentage.
His frequent on-screen deaths might have had something to do with the fact he was excellent at playing sympathetic, emotional, or otherwise tortured figures, notably in The Elephant Man, 1984and Snowpiercer. And of course, amongst his numerous death scenes stands the infamous chestburster scene from the original Alien (1979), itself easily one of the most iconic and memorable movie death scenes of all time.
Vincent Price (48 on-screen deaths)
Vincent Price is arguably the greatest horror film actor to ever live, thanks to his distinctive voice, unique appearance, and true dedication he brought to every role. He is the kind of actor where even if the movie he in was not good, he himself was always great.
But with a ton of horror roles comes a ton of character deaths, with Price’s characters dying nearly 50 times on-screen, collectively. One of his final film roles ever even gave him a tragic death scene: the brief but very memorable role as the Inventor in 1990’s. Edward Scissorhands.
Dennis Hopper (48 on-screen deaths)
Dennis Hopper had a long, rocky, but ultimately impressive career playing heavily flawed antiheroes at best, and completely monstrous villains at worst. The most famous and vile of the latter might be his turn in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as Frank Booth, who thankfully meets his demise at the film’s end after tormenting and abusing the film’s more sympathetic characters in the most horrific of ways.
It was Hopper’s intensity and boldness that made him work so well in villainous roles, with those characters often dying in violent ways. Even his more light-hearted film roles did not guarantee his character would survive, given he meets his demise in something as goofy as 1993’s Super Mario Bros.too.
Christopher Lee (70 on-screen deaths)
Christopher Lee easily wins when it comes to the most on-screen deaths at an unprecedented 70. Lee passed away in 2015 at the age of 93, so technically this number could be beaten in the future. But with Trejo and Henriksen at 41 each – the most for any actor who is still alive – it does not look too likely.
Lee played Dracula and other horror villains numerous times, which contributed to his collective character death tally. And in his last few roles, the deaths never really stopped coming, with characters like Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy meeting their end before each saga’s conclusions, too.
NEXT: 10 Times a TV Show Character “Died” But Then Got Better