The "Final Destination" series, originally conceived by James Wong, Glen Morgan, and Jeffrey Reddick, ingeniously subverted slasher movie expectations. In a post-"Scream" horror landscape, the slasher subgenre was waning. The first "Final Destination," released in 2000, reimagined the slasher villain as not a masked maniac, but the specter of Death himself. Spurned after a group of attractive teens ostensibly cheat death, he tracks them down one by one, inciting grisly Rube Goldberg machinations to reclaim the souls that cheated him.
Those deaths ultimately defined the series, imbuing it with an all-too-real sense of slasher nihilism. Ordinary, everyday objects and circumstances were rendered deadly, and each subsequent entry expanded on the promise of the former, finding new, grotesque ways to kill the hapless survivors off. With a forthcoming entry with "Spider-Man: No Way Home" director Jon Watts producing, it's time to revisit the 14 best deaths the five-movie series has to offer. In no particular order, these are the deaths that yielded the most impact, either for their inventive subversion of expectations or grisly acknowledgment of how truly fickle life is.
Log Truck (Final Destination 2)
The "Final Destination" series was formulaic by the time the late David R. Ellis' second entry came around. Per its grisly, blood-soaked template, a random denizen has a premonition of impending disaster and, upon waking up, successfully manages to save the lives of several people who otherwise would have died without their intervention. In "Final Destination 2," protagonist Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) has a vision of a terrible pileup on the highway. In it, the accident is incited by an errant log truck. The chains on the bed break free, and a giant log barrels down the highway, smashing through the windshield of Deputy Thomas Burke (Michael Landes). His body graphically bursts into nothing but mush, and in the ensuing chaos, several other drivers are killed.
Arguably the most famous death in the series — and the most resonant — director Ellis expanded on the premise of the first entry for what is objectively the franchise's strongest showing to date. Traffic accidents are uniquely frightening insofar as they're exceptionally common. The original entry's plane crash scares, but it doesn't yield the same, everyday impact Ellis' pileup does. Additionally, Ellis expands the scope of the opening premonition, adding more texture and detail to make sure the gory impact truly lands. It's a terrifying scene destined to ensure drivers everywhere change lanes should they find themselves behind a log truck.
Tanning Bed Death (Final Destination 3)
"Final Destination 3" is never quite given the credit it deserves. While it arguably shifted the trajectory of a moderately-grounded series into more improbable territory — it opens with a credulity-stretching roller coaster accident — it also features the series' most dour tone. The rain-soaked streets of Vancouver never looked so scary, and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman sell the existential terror exceptionally well.
After the inciting incident, Merriman's Kevin is desperate to convince Winstead's Wendy her premonition wasn't simply a fluke; it had happened at least twice before. Concurrently, Ashley (Chelan Simmons) and Ashlyn (Crystal Lowe) are getting a quick bronze in before graduation. As they dismiss every rule and protocol, including changing the thermostat and bringing drinks in, they settle into their respective beds while the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" plays on the stereo. The aforementioned drink shorts some circuits, a shelving unit falls, and both Ashlyn and Ashley are burned alive as their beds reach deadly temperatures. That the subsequent scene matches the beds for cemetery coffins encapsulates how perversely playful the series was looking to become. Replete with gallows humor, a simple death by tanning salon effectively contended just how distinct and worthwhile the series remained three entries in.
Gymnasium Death (Final Destination 5)
Alongside "Final Destination 2," "Final Destination 5" is arguably the best entry. As the series developed, it somewhat abandoned the Hitchcockian playfulness of the first two for shocking, quick deaths. While they worked at the moment, they lacked their predecessors' sick tension and slowly mounting terror. The first post-premonition death in Steven Quale's "Final Destination 5" is a masterclass in suffocating unease. Gymnast Candace (Ellen Wroe) is at practice in what's likely the most dangerous gym in Canada. The air conditioning is broken, there are loose screws on the floor, and frayed wires spark as water trails off from an expanding puddle.
As Candace practices her set, the audience waits with deathly anticipation, endeavoring to work out how Candace is going to meet her end. Alfred Hitchcock defined suspense as an audience knowing more than the characters, and they pick up on every grisly cue Candace remains blithely unaware of. Is she going to be electrocuted? Step on the unseen screw and fall? Even worse, maybe the precarious A/C unit is going to collapse and crush her? It's none of the above, and after a series of mishaps, Candace's focus is broken as she flips on the bars, causing her to lose her grip and land in such a way that her entire body is fractured. It's an unexpected, gruesome sight after minutes of white-knuckle suspense, proving that even fifth entries can subvert expectations well.
Blown-Up House (Final Destination)
Schoolteacher Ms. Lewton (Kristen Cloke) has had it with the survivors of Flight 180. After two of her students die in inexplicable accidents — not counting the many lives lost on the plane itself — she decides it's high time to leave town. One night, she pours herself a drink in a mug and gets to packing up her house. A clear inspiration for Candace's death later in the series, director James Wong tracks Ms. Lewton through her home, cluing the audience into all the different ways she meets death himself.
Her mug is dripping, her computer is sparking, and Wong keeps returning to the knife block precariously placed on her kitchen counter. It's paralyzing tension, with the director teasing her death out for as long as possible, exemplifying the grisly craftsmanship that helped "Final Destination" stand out among a crowded slasher landscape. Eventually, Ms. Lewton's computer explodes, with the glass impaling her neck. As she races to the kitchen for a towel, her kettle bursts, knocking her to the floor. As she reaches for a towel, she's unaware it's atop the knife block, and as she pulls at it, the entire block tumbles down, impaling her several times over. It's terrifying, creative, and a hallmark of the series writ large.
Bus Crush (Final Destination)
Surprise deaths are all the rage in the franchise on account of Terry's (Amanda Detmer) sudden demise here. A little over a month after the Flight 180 crash, survivor Tod (Chad Donella) dies in his bathtub. Protagonist Alex (Devon Sawa) is working it out alongside survivor Clear (Ali Larter) at a streetside café when they're accosted by Kerr Smith's Carter. His girlfriend, Terry, has had it with their bickering. As she steps away from the ruckus, just barely off the street, she pronounces that both of them can simply drop dead. Just as she does, an errant bus rushes down the street, hitting her on the spot.
It was a shocking moment the series has desperately tried to recreate since, though common wisdom tells us the first will likely always remain the best. After Tod's methodical death, the entire "Final Destination" series came into focus with Terry's quick demise. The rules of the franchise were rendered clear and remained steadfast since. No one was safe anywhere and death could come at any moment. More than just a galvanizing moment for the first's main characters, it arguably galvanized the series overall.
Bathtub Strangulation (Final Destination)
Before Terry, there was Tod. Notable for being the very first survivor of death in the series, Tod's death cheats some, but nonetheless remains a heartbreaking and thoroughly tense "Final Destination" beat. After surviving the flight, Tod is in his bathroom, uh, trimming his nose hairs. After he sits down to use the bathroom, the tank begins to drip, unbeknownst to him, as blue toilet water glides across the floor. As Tod finishes his routine, he slips in the puddle, falling into the tub as the clothesline stretched across it wraps around his throat a dozen times. He falls in, unable to free himself. Written off as an alleged death by suicide, only Alex is convinced something more sinister is at play.
Tod's death encapsulates what the series would be. There are red herrings, false scares, and everyday objects rendered homicidal. While it cheats in some capacity, especially with the dripping water — the series often has death simply not interfering beyond what would naturally occur — it perfectly sets the stage for the horrors to come. It's a grim, troubling death, and arguably the first movie's least fun, if only for the implications.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Car Motor (Final Destination 3)
Music has always played an instrumental role in the "Final Destination" series. The first has John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as an augur for the errors to come, while the fifth entry has Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" serving as its precursor to grisly tragedy. "Final Destination 3" is considerably more playful, though its coup de grâce is the use of The Vogues' "Turn Around, Look at Me." As Kevin and Wendy leave the dual Ashley's funeral service, they're in line at a drive-thru, discussing what to do next, with Wendy at least partially convinced her premonition has given her some cosmic insight into who's going to die next. Unbeknownst to them, an errant truck without a driver (there are a lot of errant vehicles in this franchise) is barreling down the street toward the drive-thru lane.
All the while, another truck has backed into Kevin's car, effectively blocking them in. The Vogues come on the radio at the moment of recognition, and both Kevin and Wendy desperately try to escape. With nowhere to move the car, Kevin smashes the windshields and the two jump to safety at the last possible moment. Upon impact, however, the motor from Kevin's car is expelled toward the convertible in front of them, slicing the driver's skull open. That driver is Frankie (Sam Easton), a survivor of the rollercoaster accident. The perfect balance between sudden and protracted, it's an artful scene that brilliantly plays out against a ticking clock.
Lasik (Final Destination 5)
A fun fact about Lasik eye surgery: Most people suffering from vision loss don't actually qualify. While Lasik works well for those with marginal vision loss, more serious conditions remain best treated by corrective lenses. No matter, Olivia Castle (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) in "Final Destination 5" is committed to having it done. Having ostensibly escaped death during the opening bridge disaster, she's tired of not being able to see. It's understandable given how, upon losing her glasses on the bridge in the first act, Olivia is shown to be all but blind, incapable of even seeing a few feet in front of her.
She goes and is strapped in for treatment, the laser just a few inches from her open eye. As "Final Destination" doctors are wont to do, her surgeon steps out of the room for just a moment, setting the stage for disaster. The machine malfunctions and the laser slices up Olivia's eye. Luckily, she escapes, but just as she begs for help, she slips on a teddy bear's loose eye and tumbles out the office window. Eye trauma is always horrifying, though writer Eric Heisserer wisely subverts expectations, killing Olivia through a terrible fall rather than with the Lasik machine itself. It represents the best impulse of "Final Destination 5," namely its willingness to weave when audiences expect a bob.
Dentist Death (Final Destination 2)
In another universe, both Olivia and Tim (James Kirk) could team up to sue their respective doctors for malpractice. Just as Olivia's doctor left her strapped below a powerful laser without supervision, Tim's dentist in "Final Destination 2" gives him the gas before similarly simply leaving the room, distracted by a bird that's crashed through the office window. As Tim slips out of consciousness, a rubber fish on the mobile above his chair falls into his mouth, slowly slipping down his throat. Tim is paralyzed from the gas as he slowly suffocates.
It's an interminable sequence, with director David R. Ellis repeatedly cutting back to the aviary chaos in the office while Tim suffocates just behind the door. Luckily, he's saved, though neither he nor his mother, Nora (Lynda Boyd), have anything to say about Tim almost dying during a routine cavity fill. Once outside, protagonist Kimberly shouts for Tim to avoid the pigeons. Not understanding, he rushes them, distracting a crane operator who accidently drops a windowpane from several stories up. Tim is subsequently crushed on the spot. It's a subversive, sudden, and admittedly pretty graphic death, in no small part because Tim remains the franchise's youngest victim.
Escalator Death (The Final Destination)
Director David R. Ellis has the curious honor of helming both the best and worst entry in the "Final Destination" series. Simply titled "The Final Destination" (though with a fifth entry, it's certainly not the last), it almost amounts to parody. The acting takes a severe hit, the deaths are mostly unimaginative, and the opening disaster at a raceway is replete with laughably bad CGI, feeling more like a video game cutscene than a $40 million movie.
Destined to go bigger than its predecessors, "The Final Destination" features not just one, but two different large-scale disasters, the second of which takes place in an inexplicably explosive shopping mall. In the midst of the disaster, Lori (Shantel VanSanten) finds herself trapped within a broken escalator. Boyfriend and entry protagonist Nick (Bobby Campo) tries to save her, but Lori is unfortunately ground into nothing by the escalator's gears. Of course, it's just a premonition, and Nick successfully disrupts death's plans when he stops the explosion, but it's a standout for its sheer relatability. Escalators are scary, looking more like human meat grinders than a reasonable means of transportation. "The Final Destination" doesn't have much, but it does have escalators.
Elevator Death (Final Destination 2)
Elevators are the evil cousins of escalators. Also, death seems to have had it out for both Nora and Tim Carpenter. After her son is rendered mush outside the dentist's office, Nora meets up with the additional survivors to discuss their next steps. Kimberly warns them to be mindful of signs, and subtle cues in their environment pointing to how they're likely to die. Nora is next on the list, though on account of losing her son recently and her husband years before, she's content to die. It's pretty dark stuff.
As she leaves and takes the elevator down, another survivor spots shadows of a man with hooks, and suspecting it's a clue, phones Nora to warn her. She just so happens to be in the elevator with a man holding a crate of hooks, and she is quickly overwhelmed. She tries to flee, but her ponytail is snagged in one of them, and in the ruckus, she's outside the elevator as the doors close, trapping her neck in-between. The elevator rises, and soon, her head is severed. It's a dark, unforgiving death. Like others on this list, it's representative of the series' existential horror roots before it shifted into comic, Rube Goldberg mayhem.
The Pool (The Final Destination)
Anyone who spent their summers growing up at a community pool has heard the rumors of the friend of a friend of a friend whose body was sucked down the industrial drain at the bottom. It was a poolside urban legend, though it has happened before, though not nearly as graphically as portrayed here. Often, victims simply drown. Nick Zano of the underrated "What I Like About You" plays Hunt. Something of a cad, he's spending the day at the local pool, dismissive of his friends' warnings that death is imminent. After he loses a lucky coin, he dives into the deep end to retrieve it, unaware that the pool's drainage pipe has been activated.
Trapped at the bottom, his friends' race to save him, knowing his death will involve water in some capacity, but they're too late. By the time they get there, Hunt has been disemboweled by the drain. On the surface, it's a ridiculous death, and the disembowelment itself looks pretty silly, but it does what the series does best insofar as it taps into a common — misguided fear and exploits it for all its worth.
Nail Gun (Final Destination 3)
"Final Destination 3" doesn't get nearly enough credit for being genuinely well-written. None of the movies are strictly speaking bad, but there's a certain self-knowing, meta flair to this entry's dialogue. Glen Morgan and James Wong's script shines, most evident in the conversation that occurs when Wendy and Kevin visit Ian (Kris Lemche) and Erin (Alexz Johnson) late one night at a home improvement store to warn them of death's plan.
Ian and Erin are dismissive, remarking on Murphy's law, existential ennui, and sundry other topics to poke a hole in death's design. They raise questions the series often avoided, namely that avoiding the original disaster might have been, in some capacity, part of the design all along. After all, people dodge death every day. Life is full of close encounters and capricious circumstances, so in their case, they're unwilling to buy into Wendy's theory. Granted, with several deaths already, it is a bit odd for them to be so dismissive, but it's a meta exercise that works wonderfully. Death does find them, however, and Erin is impaled several times over after she falls into a nail gun. It's a grim end to a dynamite exchange.
Plane Crash (Final Destination 5)
"Final Destination 5" has a wallop of an ending. For most of the runtime, audiences were led to believe that it was a sequel to the fourth entry. Yet, just as protagonists Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) and Molly (Emma Bell) board their plane to Paris for Sam's new cooking job, they encounter a curious sight. A high school class is being forcibly removed from the plane after one student, Alex Browning, suffers a premonition of the plane exploding. Yes, "Final Destination 5" is a prequel, not a sequel, and the bridge collapse survivors have found themselves in death's throes once again.
Clues are scattered throughout, including old cell phone and coupon expiration dates, but they're easy to miss on the first viewing. That the series, so far, has ended just where it began is sensationally satisfying. It's a high mark for the series, even if it's sad to see both Sam and Molly go given how hard they worked dodging death throughout. Better still, after the plane explosion, Nathan (Arien Escarpeta) is at a memorial service for coworker Roy (Brent Stait). Having accidentally killed Roy at work, Nathan inherited his life. Another coworker comes over and announces Roy had an undiagnosed brain aneurysm that would have killed him soon anyway. As Nathan hears the news, the plane's landing gear crashes through the bar roof and crushes him. At the time, it was the perfect send-off to the series, representing its grim playfulness in the best way.
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