What makes a movie villain’s death especially satisfying? Is it simply a matter of how evil they are? Or is it more about whether they meet a poetic or ironic ending? Might it instead be how agonizing their final moments are? How memorable? Entertaining? Original?
Yes. There are many factors that go into to a truly gratifying cinematic comeuppance, and no franchise has delivered more of them than Indiana Jones. From melting faces and exploding heads, to alligator feasts and cliff dives, the action-adventure franchise has featured some of Hollywood’s best baddie sendoffs. But which final farewell is the most fulfilling to watch? In honor of the series’ latest installment, The Dial of Destiny, we ranked Indiana Jones villains’ last moments from least satisfying to most. We did not choose poorly.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Dial of Destiny.
20. Chen (Temple of Doom)
Lao Che might have survived his double-cross of Indiana Jones, but his oldest son Chen didn’t. He took a flaming skewer of meat to the belly. (Talk about a last meal.) We didn’t know much about Chen, so while he was a big part of a criminal enterprise that tried to murder our favorite professor, this death was cool without being especially meaningful.
19. Major Gobler (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Raiders of the Lost Ark was so deep in detestable villains and memorable deaths that Nazi Major Gobler’s swan dive off a cliff feels quaint compared to the rest. It’s great watching him and his soldiers free falling down to those rocks, but this isn’t even the best version of a Nazi dying this way in Indiana Jones!
18. Panama Hat (The Last Crusade)
Did the Cross of Coronado belong in a museum? Yes. And did the unnamed Panama Hat figure deserve to die for trying to kill Indiana Jones at sea? Also yes, which is why it was quite enjoyable seeing the antiques collector’s stupid hat land on the water after he died in a boat explosion. But that’s about all we got out of this death, which is pretty tame for these movies.
(Who are we kidding? That guy sucked, but that was a cool hat. Hopefully someone found it at sea and gave it a good home on their head.)
17. Colonel Weber (Dial of Destiny)
Watching a Nazi get thrown from a moving train is always a good time, and that’s what happened to Colonel Weber at the start of The Dial of Destiny. Indy quoting the ransacking Colonel’s own line back to him was also a great touch. But this ranks low for two reasons. First, the franchise has killed lots of Nazis and we didn’t spend enough time with Weber to hate him as much as we hated them. The second is that their deaths tended to be more poetic. “To the victor goes the spoils,” but other farewells get to go higher.
16. Cairo Swordsman (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
We didn’t know anything about this large swordsman besides the fact he wanted to slice Indy in half. We didn’t even know if he was especially evil. What we do know is that he provided one of the most famous and hilarious deaths in movie history. He’s the living embodiment of the old adage you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Plus, the story behind that scene is just as good as what made it into the movie.
15. Klaber (Dial of Destiny)
Boyd Holbrook’s American Nazi was one of the most hatable villains in franchise history, so any death he suffered was going to be satisfying. But while there was something a little poetic about his—he wanted to go back in time and change the past only to die in the past instead—dying in a plane wasn’t especially fitting. And in a franchise that does poetic death so well his demise fell flat even if we loved seeing it happen period.
14. Hauke (Dial of Destiny)
The big Nazi goon relied on pure brawn to achieve his nefarious goals, so it was delightful he met his end because a small child outwitted him. Hauke drowned after Teddy secretly handcuffed him to an underwater grate. The movie didn’t let us see Hauke’s final moments. If it had we would have his watery death higher since it also used water, something Archimedes loved to employ.
13. Nazi Mechanic (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
You want to work on planes for the Nazis? You also want to help them steal the Ark of the Covenant so Hitler’s army can conquerer the world using the literal power of God? Well then you deserve to be torn to shreds by airplane propeller during a fistfight with Indiana Jones. That’s just the way things should work out for Nazi airplane mechanics.
12. Ernst Vogel (The Last Crusade)
The sneering S.S. officer stands as one of Indiana Jones‘ most loathsome enemies. Well, at least he did right up until he drove off a cliff in a tank. It was wonderfully ironic Vogel’s efforts to kill the Joneses and Brody with that metal death trap turned into his own twisted tomb of steel. We hated that guy as much as we loved watching him die.
11. Jürgen Voller (Dial of Destiny)
Mads Mikkelsen delivered a big bad worthy of true contempt in The Dial of Destiny. His Nazi scientist obsessed with controlling the past so he could win World War II was a timely and terrifying foe. But while we loved him meeting his comeuppance while dressed in his full Nazi uniform in the past (all in front of the Dial’s creator Archimedes no less), a simple plane crash just didn’t have the oomph the series’ best death do.
10. George “Mac” Michale (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Mac is one of Indiana Jones few villains who manages to be likable despite his treachery. That’s because his failing was simple greed rather than a desire to take over the whole world. Despite his charms Mac’s death was still amazing, as his lust for gold led to his demise. It had a strange magnetic attraction with those transdimensional beings’ vortex, and with his pockets stuffed with coins he got pulled into it despite Indy’s efforts.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might not be the franchise’s best movie, but it does feature some of its best deaths. Mac’s is only third.
9. Dr. Elsa Schneider (The Last Crusade)
“Elsa never really believed in the grail. She thought she’d found a prize.”
Henry Jones Sr.’s explanation about why Elsa fell into that crevice reaching for the Grail elevated her death from memorable to iconic. It’s a succinct and insightful line of dialogue that adds even more meaning to what happened, which is why this ranks so high even if Elsa wasn’t as awful as others in the film. But hey, you work with Nazis and you get what’s coming to you: the same fate all Nazis deserve.
8. Colonel Antonin Dovchenko (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Is there anything especially poetic or ironic about the death of the heinous USSR Colonel Dovchenko? No, but his final moment is one of the coolest and most horrifying in any of the five films. Being dragged away and eaten by giant ants from the inside out is truly monstrous. In terms of pure entertainment this is a truly great scene.
7. Colonel Dietrich (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Now we’re into special movie villain death territory. Nazi Colonel Dietrich, who stole the Ark of the Covenant for Hitler despite not understanding what it really was, did not get rewarded with a promotion. Instead he got his face melted off before his head imploded. Incredible. And yet, he’s almost a footnote because he’s not close to the film’s best villain and his death is only the third best one in the scene!
6. Colonel Irina Spalko (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Cate Blanchett’s Spalko wanted to gain all knowledge. Not just from this world but from all worlds. Well, that’s exactly what she got. Too bad she didn’t listen to Indy when he told her, “Be careful, you might get exactly what you wish for.” When that transdimensional being ignored her cries and flooded her mind with more knowledge than she could handle Spalko’s eyes burst into flames before she disintegrated into nothingness, a perfect Indiana Jones sendoff.
5. Thuggee Chief Guard (Temple of Doom)
You can’t ask for a better death for a slave driver who makes kidnapped children crush rocks all day than watching him get squished by a rock crushing machine. Bloody and brutal, yes, but also strangely beautiful if you love villains getting the comeuppance they deserve.
4. Mola Ram (Temple of Doom)
One of the franchise’s best villain’s got one of its most famous deaths, as Mola Ram became an alligator feast. But there is one flaw in this otherwise great ending. The alligators weren’t especially relevant to his demise. What was meaningful was why he fell, as Indy called upon the god Shiva whom Mola had forsaken. As a result of that invocation the Sankara stones overheated and dropped out of the bag. When Mola grabbed the last stone he left himself vulnerable, as Indy caused him to fall off the bridge. That fitting use of religion against the religious leader is why this still ranks very highly.
3. René Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
The second best death in Raider of the Lost Ark belongs to the odious archeologist René Belloq, Indy’s personal nemesis. The evil archeologist wanted nothing more than to see the Ark opened and he did so dressed like a priest. He got a little bit more than he hoped for when the Ark’s spirits used his body as a conduit to kill the surrounding soldiers, all before his head exploded. His death is truly a gift from God.
2. Major Arnold Toht (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
The don’t make villains better than Nazi Major Arnold Toht, whose first encounter with fire in the film was nothing compared to his second encounter with flames. The Ark of the Covenant made his face melt away during one of cinema’s most famous, most satisfying, most enduring deaths. (A much more aesthetically pleasing death than Belloq’s.) The fact his last moments are not number one is a testament to this franchise.
1. Walter Donovan (The Last Crusade)
Walter Donovan betrayed his country and his God for the promise of everlasting life. Instead he got an instantaneous death, as the false Grail made him age thousands of years in just a brief moment of unimaginable agony. Why did his monstrous ending deserve the top spot over Toht, Belloq, Mola Ram, and all the rest of the franchise’s villains? It’s not simply that a truly hatable baddie met a perfect, poetic, entertaining, memorable, painful death. It’s that it was then punctuated by one of the most famous lines in movie history.
“He chose poorly.”
And because he did, it was only wise of us to choose his death as Indiana Jones‘ most satisfying.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.