The 20 Best Grim Reapers
From skeletons and scary Scandinavians to rabbits and rapping reapers, we count down the best movie Deaths with a capital D...
Black Orpheus (1959)
Played by Adhemar da Silva
Bolder than Jean Cocteaus French 1950 version of the same story (where Death turned out to be a moody beatnik), Marcel Camus Cannes winning Brazilian classic puts the Greek myth in the middle of Carnival season. Jumping out of the shadows to chase Eurydice through the streets of Rio, the Reaper is a bit less scary when you know that the man behind the mask was Brazils Olympic triple jump champion.
The Book Of Life (2014)
Played by Kate del Castillo
A real Mexican saint worshiped by drug cartels, La Muerte (Our Lady Of The Holy Death) is usually just an old skeleton in a tatty dress. Reimagined by Jorge Gutierrez for his dazzling 3D animation, La Muerte becomes a feisty, flowery coquette with penchant for winding up her Mayan death god husband Xibalba (Ron Perlman).
The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Played by Tore Svennberg
Legend has it that the last person to die on New Years Eve will have to drive Deaths carriage around all year, harvesting souls and doing all the Reapers dirty work. Victor Sjstrms silent Swedish classic has an air of eeriness that even 90 years cant shake with Deaths hooded, shuffling, loping presence (filmed using double exposures for an early special effect) still casting a long shadow.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Played by Ian McKellen
Ingmar Bergmans Death exits his own film via a magical portal in James Camerons meta-movie, giving Ian McKellen a chance to do a pretty good Bengt Ekerot impression (and help patch over a massive plot hole at the end of the movie that had something to do with a magic cinema ticket and Arnold Schwarzenegger foiling a plan to resurrect Hitler and King Kong).
The Frighteners (1996)
Played by Jake Busey
Okay, so (spoiler alert) its not really the Grim Reaper its just the ghost of mad old Jake Busey pretending to be the Reaper so he can carry on killing people but that doesnt stop Peter Jackson from showing us the Death of Weta. Bursting out of mirrors, creeping under the wallpaper and outrunning cars he actually looks suspiciously like one of the Black Riders from Lord Of The Rings
The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)
Played by John Westbrook
The seventh film in Roger Cormans Edgar Allen Poe series, Vincent Price plays the satanic prince who realises that his muddy medieval village is infected with the plague. A few orgies later, Price comes face to face with the spectral figure responsible a lurid red robed Death.
Watership Down (1978)
Played by Joss Ackland
Forget the eye gouging and the blood-letting, the most horrific scenes in Watership Down all involve the Black Rabbit Of Inle the woodland Reaper who ferries Hazel to the great hutch in the sky and who still haunts the dreams of a generation of children who thought they were watching a nice film about rabbits
The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen (1988)
Played by Uncredited
Bluffing and blagging his way through life, Baron Munchhausens greatest act is cheating Death literally. After outrunning the Reaper on the back of a cannonball and outlasting him in the belly of a giant fish the Baron eventually ends up playing him at cards. Terry Gilliams ragged, winged Reaper looks (like everything else in the film) like it leapt off the canvas of a renaissance painting.
Played by Uncredited
One of the most terrifying dream sequences ever committed to film (and one of the first), Futuristic rich kid Freder (Gustav Frhlich) imagines himself in a church full of mourners, turning to confront the skeletal figure of Death. Statues start moving, weird bone-flutes are played and several jarring jump cuts bring the reaper lurching to life, swinging his scythe at the screen.
Love and Death (1975)
Played by Norman Rose
Great, now Im dead Woody Allens Napoleonic soldier moans to Diane Keaton, standing next to a white cloaked reaper before dancing off with him into the end credits in one of Woodys most memorable scene-stealers. Whats it like being dead? she asks. You know the chicken at Treskies restaurant? Its worse.
Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life (1983)
Played by John Cleese
Another Terry Gilliam entry in the Grim Reaper hit parade this time as a boring dinner guest who doesnt realise hes a goner. Shut up, you American says John Cleeses hooded Death, youre dead now, so SHUT UP! All before taking him to heaven which turns out to be a Vegas Christmas show full of topless women
Played by Whoopi Goldberg
Bored of the whole cloak and scythe look, Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick went a slightly different way for his part-animated adult fantasy picking Whoopi Goldberg to play Death with a leather cone hat, an eyepatch and a pet pug in a luchadore mask.
Meet Joe Black (1998)
Played by Brad Pitt
Updating Frederic Marchs pompous Reaper from Death Takes A Holiday, Brad Pitts take on the lovelorn, lazy Death is altogether more alien. Admitting now that he flat-lined in the role, Pitts vacant performance actually seems to bring out the weirdness of the character (even if he did look like he was from a 90s boyband).
Played by Matt Damon
It must be boring having the same job for all eternity which is why Death gets drunk and resigns in Kevin Smiths un-angelic slacker comedy. Banished to the real world, Death (Matt Damon) gets bored even quicker. If I had a dick I'd go get laid, he moans to Ben Affleck, but I guess we can do the next best thing. Let's kill people
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
Played by Uncredited
Unless you found Ron and Hermiones boring camping trip exciting, the animated Beedle The Bard sequence was the best bit of The Deathly Hallows. Directed by Swiss designer Ben Hibon and created by Framestore, the three-minute fairy-tale interlude features a pretty impressive vision of Death in backlit, paper-cut CG shadow puppetry.
Death Takes A Holiday (1934)
Played by Frederic March
A classic golden age romancer with a deliciously macabre bent, Death Takes A Holiday sees Frederic Marchs gloomy, posh Reaper take a few days off (whilst everyone in the world miraculously survives everything) to try and meet a girl. Or, as the original poster oddly puts it, No one can die while he makes love!
Final Destination (2000-2011)
Played by Unseen
Stalking hapless teens across five of the best slasher movies of recent years, Death is never seen or heard but he still manages to suck a guy through a swimming pool vent, set a rednecks severed head on fire, crush a jock with a set of dumbells and roast two bimbos in a sunbed (amongst a staggering 502 other comical deaths across the whole franchise).
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Played by Doug Jones
One of Guillermo del Toros greatest, scariest, maddest creations, The Angel Of Death has a set of eyes on its wings and a face like half a field mushroom. According to the films designer Norman Cabrera, del Toros remit was simple, Think of every angel of death youve ever seen and dont do that. Job done.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Played by Bengt Ekerot
The prototype for pretty much every Death since (including the Swedish Chefs musical parody in Muppets Most Wanted), Ingmar Bergmans chalk-faced, chess playing Reaper is as iconic as it gets. Soaked in symbolism and dripping menace, Bergmans Middle-ages meditation on religion, philosophy and history is chilled by Bengt Ekerots towering, haunted performance.
Bill & Teds Bogus Journey (1991)
Played by William Sadler
Forget chess. If you had to challenge Death to anything, wouldnt you rather play Twister? Taking Bergmans Reaper and making him more EXCELLENT, William Sadlers bodacious Death does his philosophising in rap: You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper!