Twenty years ago, audiences were introduced to what has become one of modern horror's great franchises. While cinema history is full of movies that find clever ways to kill off their characters, the Final Destination films turned that approach into a central premise, and to date we’ve had five features that have explored just how far that approach can be taken – with some fantastic results.
To celebrate the special anniversary of the Final Destination movies, we’ve gone back and watched all of the chapters, and while not including the deaths that play out during each of the films’ opening disaster sequences (or between films), we have ranked them all from worst to best. Where does your favorite land? Read on to find out!
39. The Final Destination: Nick O’Bannon, Lori Milligan, Janet Cunningham – Hit by truck
Most would agree that The Final Destination is the weakest installment of the franchise that we’ve seen, and doing absolutely nothing to work in its defense is its super lame ending. There’s no real setup to speak of, and no real firm answers as to why Death is operating as it is – it’s just a dumb final moment where a runaway truck smashes into a restaurant.
38. The Final Destination: George Lanter – Run over by an ambulance
As will be discussed later in this feature, it was excusable early on when the Final Destination franchise wiped someone out with a quick, single stroke, but the death of George Lanter in The Final Destination is just lame. It’s lazy to have the character just randomly hit by an ambulance, but it’s arguably even worse that it happens twice (especially because it’s not made clear why Nick has his premonition just prior to it, as he can’t do anything to stop it).
37. Final Destination 5: Dennis Lapman – Flying wrench impaled in head
Final Destination 5 is full of awesome kills, with about half of them landing in the Top 15 of this list, but the death of Dennis Lapman is disappointing. This is a character who is killed in the bridge collapse premonition by being covered in burning tar, and his exit is simply the result of a wrench falling into piece of machinery before being impaled in his head.
36. Final Destination 3: Jason Wise, Carrie Dreyer – Roller coaster disaster
The deaths of Jason Wise and Carrie Dreyer in Final Destination 3 are notable in the franchise particularly because they are the only named characters who don’t actually die on screen… which is really kind of a bummer. Sure, we see how they meet their end courtesy of Wendy’s premonition, and it’s gnarly, but it’s disappointing that we don’t get to see how anything may have changed with the roller coaster having fewer passengers (at the very least they could have showed us the aftermath).
35. Final Destination 2: Brian Gibbons – Grill explosion
This one gets points for having a surprise factor, as well as a very dark sense of humor (gotta love that arm landing on mom’s plate), but ultimately ranks low for a couple reasons. Brian isn’t a significant character in Final Destination 2, having only one scene where he’s saved from being hit by an on-coming news van, and there isn’t any displayed creativity in his death, as we simply see him go check on the grill at a picnic before the thing explodes and blows him into tiny pieces.
34. Final Destination 2: Kimberly Corman – Drowns (Revived)
This one almost didn’t get counted because Kimberly is left alive at the end of Final Destination 2, but we’re giving it the number 33 slot because the idea is pretty smart. By driving an ambulance into a lake and having a rescuer/doctor on standby, she finds a technicality that lets her earn her extended life.
33. Final Destination 5: Agent Jim Block – Shot multiple times
Having one character murder another character, especially with a gun, is definitely not the most exciting idea for a death in a Final Destination movie, as it misses the special creative spark. It is nice that Final Destination 5 tries to mix things up by introducing the trading lives idea, and it does track logically that Peter would kill Agent Block, but it’s just not one of the franchise’s most memorable moments.
32. Final Destination 5: Peter Friedkin – Stabbed with rotisserie skewer
Again, direct murder isn’t all that thrilling in Final Destination canon, but at least Peter’s death toward the end of Final Destination 5 has a few more plusses than Agent Block’s. For starters, being stabbed by a multi-pronged rotisserie skewer is much grosser than just being shot, but the script also provides a nice false lead with the gun heating up on the stovetop.
31. The Final Destination: Jonathan Groves – Crushed by a therapy tub
The death of Jonathan Groves in The Final Destination very much feels like an afterthought – like the filmmakers felt like they need to add in a minor second act twist, but didn’t bother to think too hard about it. Being crushed by a therapy tub isn’t a great way to go, especially when it’s coming down on you along with the ceiling of a hospital room and a bunch of water, but it’s also not all that interesting in the grand scheme of the series.
30. The Final Destination: Nadia Monroy – Smashed by flaming tire
The Final Destination has some solid mid-movie kills, but its first and last are definitely lame. The death of Nadia is another surprise kill, as there is a moment when you think the main group of characters is safe having gotten away from the speedway before the killer car crash, but being torn apart by a flying tire just isn’t all that interesting (especially without the aid of 3D).
29. Final Destination: Terry Chaney – Annihilated by a bus
While essentially being the same thing as George Lanter being smashed by an ambulance, Terry Chaney being run over by a bus in the original Final Destination gets a little bit of extra credit because of how early it happens in the grand scheme of the franchise. She is only the second main character to die in the series, and at the time it does operate as an interesting tone-setter, given that you are left feeling like Death could really be right around any corner.
28. Final Destination 3: Perry Malinowski – Flagpole through the chest
Perry’s death is far from the most exciting in the Final Destination franchise, and she’s not a particularly significant character (we actually don’t know that she was the one on the roller coaster at the start of Final Destination 3 until her untimely passing), but we can appreciate the A-to-B-to-C nature of her end. A firework goes boom, a horse gets startled and snaps a flagpole, and said flagpole goes flying into Perry’s guts.
27. Final Destination 3: Julie Christensen, Kevin Fischer, Wendy Christensen – Subway crash
The nature of the premonitions in the Final Destination franchise has always been kept a mystery, and while that has had its benefits, the end of Final Destination 3 is a bit off in the same way the death of George Lanter is – as it’s not made clear why a protagonist would have a psychic event if they can’t do anything to stop what’s about to occur. You kind of wish that the film didn’t even bother to try and add that little extra twist, as the subway crash is a really cool sequence all by itself, kicked off by an innocent rat noshing on an old candy bar.
26. Final Destination: Carter Horton – Crushed by a falling billboard
It’s a horror genre tradition to close stories with one big final scare, leaving the audience with that “unsafe” feeling they hopefully had during the majority of the preceding movie, and Final Destination added its own chapter to that legacy when it came out in 2000 (though, as will be discussed, it’s only the franchise’s second best ending). At this point we know to expect a final big kill from the movies in this series, but Carter finding himself under a falling billboard right as the credits ran in the original was novel when the film came out, and still sinisterly delightful to this day.
25. The Final Destination: Andy Kewzer – Smashed against a chain link fence
The central idea of Andy Kewzer’s death in The Final Destination is a good one – smashing somebody through a chain link fence – but it’s slightly disappointing because the execution is flawed. It gets cute with a false lead, as you believe at first it’s going to be the rolling car that kills him, but then you kind of wish that it had gone with that first approach, as the launched oxygen canister idea doesn’t really work because there just isn’t enough force to actually get Andy through the fence (the scene also loses points for cheating by still having chunks of his chest fall out in diamond shapes).
24. Final Destination 2: Eugene Dix, Clear Rivers – Burned to death in hospital room explosion
Part of the fun of Final Destination 2 is not fully knowing if Clear Rivers is safe, having survived the events of the first film, but Death ultimately gets her good with the added bonus of killing Eugene Dix as well. It’s not the most complex chain of events, featuring simply a rollaway ventilator, a leaky oxygen tank, and some closed vents, but the end results are nice and explosive – literally.
23. Final Destination 5: Nathan Sears – Crushed by falling parts of Flight 180
You gotta love the death of Nathan Sears at the end of Final Destination 5 simply because it’s weirdly and wonderfully cruel… which is basically the best part of this franchise’s brand. With the big prequel twist, the film didn’t really need to go back and eliminate the factory supervisor from the equation, but you have to love the one-two punch of him learning that he traded lives with a man about to die, and getting crushed by parts of the crashing plane that the corpse of his friend is inside of.
22. Final Destination: Billy Hitchcock – Head sliced off by a piece of scrap metal
The audience is still learning how Death’s rules work when Alex Browning manages to pull Carter Horton out of the car parked on the train tracks in Final Destination, but lessons about individuals being skipped is learned fast when the passing locomotive kicks up a piece of scrap metal and launches it through Billy Hitchcock’s head. It’s gruesome, effective, and excellent.
21. Final Destination 5: Roy Carson – Lifting hook in the head
While the aforementioned straight-up murders in Final Destination 5 aren’t top tier for the franchise, there is one traded life moment that works out supremely well, namely Nathan Sears trading his life for Roy Carson’s during an “accident” on the factory floor. It’s a well-executed fake out, as at first you believe that Roy has survived, as we see his feet narrowly miss landing on a sheet of blunt spikes, but then we see that the reason he stopped was because the industrial lifting hook that caused his fall in the first place has gone straight through his skull.
20. The Final Destination: Samantha Lane – Rock through the head shot by lawnmower
The false leads in the Final Destination franchise are a treat, mostly because it causes audiences to try and outthink the movie and predict how all of the pieces are going to fall into place. In this regard, Samantha Lane’s exit from the mortal coil is a delight, as just so many things go wrong during her salon appointment – from the broken chair, to the body butter squirted on the floor, to the hairspray sliding towards the flat iron. At the end of it all, though, the end death is rather simple, finding the rock thrown by Samantha’s son prior to entering the salon caught up in a lawnmower and launched right through her eye.
19. Final Destination 2: Tim Carpenter – Crushed by giant pane of glass
Again here we have another great series of fake-outs, but it’s a skosh better in its execution than Samantha Lane’s death, so we put it one spot higher. For the longest time it seems like young Tim Carpenter is going to experience some truly horrible things in his dentist’s office, from the birds knocking against the window mid-exam, to a choking incident involving a toy fish, but it’s leaving the doctor’s office that ultimately does him in, as chasing away a flock of pigeons results in a construction worker being distracted and dropping a giant pane of glass on top of him. It has an edge both because of the nastiness of the end, but also its ability to tuck a mini chain of events into the final fatality.
18. The Final Destination: Hunt Wynorski – Guts sucked out via anus
Similar to the situation with Andy Kewzer, the death of Hunt Wynorski in The Final Destination is more about a central idea than methodology – but the execution is a lot better, so it receives a higher ranking. It’s a simple Rube Goldberg machine, with an imbalanced super soaker turning on the pool drain, and an errant golf ball knocking Hunt’s lucky coin into the water, but it’s definitely effective. Few characters in the franchise have experienced more grisly ends… and while these movies tend to bring out the sadist in movie-goers, there is still a part of you that hopes he drowned before having his guts ripped out of his ass.
17. Final Destination 2: Nora Carpenter – Decapitated by an elevator
There are multiple scenes in the Final Destination franchise that cause viewers to start looking at everyday objects and events a little bit differently, and the way that Nora Carpenter goes out in Final Destination 2. The film isn’t the first to utilize elevators in horrific ways, but it’s a case where effectiveness trumps novelty. Plus this sequence gets bonus points because of the added creep factor coming from the old man with the box of prosthetics who sniffs at Nora shortly before her death.
16. Final Destination 2: Shaina McKlank, Dano Estevez, and Frankie Whitman – Crushed when truck is hit by car carrier
While super quick, the deaths of Shaina McKlank, Dano Estevez and Frankie Whitman are legitimately fantastic just because of the way they totally mess with audience expectations. As you start watching Final Destination 2, you think that the sequel is going to copy the formula of the first movie and follow a group of teenagers trying to cheat death, but that approach is literally obliterated when the truck the characters are in gets hit by an out-of-control car carrier. The focus is entirely shifted to an entirely new group of protagonists, and it’s wonderfully refreshing.
15. Final Destination 3: Ian McKinley – Crushed by a cherry picker
Most of the death sequences in the Final Destination movies fully play out within the span of a few minutes (the films on the whole are pretty short), but one nice thing about the death of Ian McKinley is that Final Destination 3 plays the long game with it. You’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen when a rod knocks over a pile of cannonballs, and then one of the balls dislodges a trailer hitch, but it eventually has a great payoff when fireworks wind up getting launched at the goth teenager. And while that alone would have been fine, the fact that the explosives miss him and instead wind up dropping a cherry picker on his head is an excellent added touch.
14. The Final Destination: Carter Daniels – Burned and then exploded while dragged by tow truck
There aren’t exactly a lot of tears shed for the characters who meet their end in the Final Destination franchise, but at the same time there is still a little extra satisfaction that comes when the really terrible people meet horrific ends. The racist asshole Carter Daniels in The Final Destination is a perfect example, as it feels like it’s more the actions of karma than Death when he winds up getting dragged by his tow truck and burned alive following an attempt to put a flaming cross in George Lanter’s yard. And the fact that his company is called Destiny Towing is icing on the cake.
13. Final Destination 3: Frankie Cheeks – Brain mashed by car engine
The best part about the death of Frankie Cheeks in Final Destination 3 is that most of the sequence is defined by the audience not fully understanding what’s going on. Given that it’s not their time yet, it’s not clear why Wendy Christensen and Kevin Fischer are being pinned at a fast food drive-through as an out-of-control box truck barrels towards them, but then it delivers the big surprise when it’s revealed who is sitting in the car in front of them. Also, getting an engine block to the back of the head, complete with spinning fan, is one of the more inventive ideas in the series.
12. Final Destination 2: Rory Peters – Sliced into pieces by a flying barb wire fence
The approach that Final Destination 2 takes to killing Rory Peter is basically a better applied version of the Andy Kewzer death (which actually makes Andy’s death looks worse since it came two movies later). In addition to accomplishing some gnarly dismemberment, as Rory falls into more pieces than most of the franchise’s characters, it also comes after a nice setup, with the news van puncturing its gas tank backing over a rock while parking, and the explosion being sourced from the cigarette that is dropped by Kat Jennings (we’ll get to her in a bit).
11. Final Destination 5: Isaac Palmer – Head crushed by Buddha statue
In Final Destination 5, Isaac Palmer is another franchise character who we’re not too upset to see meet a terrible fate, and he totally sets himself up for it by stealing a spa gift certificate from the desk of one of his dead co-workers. This is a great one, because it manages to be complex and tricky, while also delivering some real horror. There’s a long stretch where you think it’s going to be the fire that kills him, especially after he gets deeply embedded with acupuncture needles and soaked in alcohol spilled on the floor, but ultimately this is another karma case, accentuated by the Buddha statue delivering the final blow.
10. Final Destination 5: Olivia Castle – Falls out of a window in a high rise
There are plenty of people who look at the Lasik procedure and feel wary about the idea of lasers being shot into their eyeballs, and Final Destination 5 does absolutely nothing to provide any kind of comfort. While Olivia Castle is in actuality killed by the fall she takes after tripping and falling out a glass window in a high rise building, what really makes the sequence a horror show is the malfunctioning machine that carves through her iris. It doesn’t rank too high on the complexity meter, but it’s easily one of the most memorable deaths in the franchise.
9. Final Destination 3: Lewis Romero – Head smashed by weights on a workout machine
Lewis Romero’s death in Final Destination 3 is pure Rube Goldberg awesomeness, with a nice misdirect introduced for good measure. For almost the entire time it feels like a forgone conclusion that the jock is going to have his head cut off by a pair of scimitars, but then it throws a curveball in the mix. A dude punches a stuffed bear, knocks a claw into the eye of a bodybuilder, and when the bodybuilder drops his bar the swords hanging on the wall swing down… but not into Lewis. Instead, he is given one final moment of feeling immortal before he realizes that the cables on his machine have been cut, and his brain is turned into jelly after getting his skull is sandwiched by weights.
8. Final Destination 5: Candice Hooper – Broken neck/split spine from gymnastics accident
The way that Candice Hopper is killed in Final Destination 5 is notable primarily because of the way in which it manipulates the franchise’s approach to false leads. There are so many dangers in the gymnasium where she is practicing her routines, including the faulty air conditioner, the loose equipment, and the fan blowing text to a chalk bowl, and they pretty much all find a way to contribute to Death’s plan. For a moment you think that the screw that falls on the balance beam is a red herring, as Candice misses it while practicing, but just a few moments later another gymnast is stepping on it, falling into the chalk bowl, and creating a cloud that results in Candice dismounting to her death.
7. Final Destination 5: Sam Lawton, Molly Harper – Die in Flight 180
Most of the twists in the Final Destination movies are rather small scale, resulting in a “Hey, that’s neat” kind of reaction, but the end of Final Destination 5 is special in that it is a “Holy shit” kind of twist. The entire time you’re watching the film you’re thinking that it’s just another sequel, but it’s only in the second to last scene that you realize that it’s actually been a prequel all along. It’s a perfect moment for anyone who really loves this franchise, and Sam Lawton dying as Alex Browning was originally meant to is a great touch.
6. Final Destination 2: Kat Jennings – Skull impaled by PVC pipe
The brilliance of Kat Jennings’ death in Final Destination 2 is the slow burn factor. Even though she is left alive after the near collision that causes her car to spin out of control, the fact that she is left pinned in her seat with a jagged piece of PVC pipe behind her immediately lets you know that her time will soon be up. Still, though, you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to happen, and the activation of the airbag by a rescue worker is a master stroke.
5. Final Destination 3: Ashley Freund, Ashlyn Halperin – Burned to death in tanning beds
When Ashley Freund and Ashlyn Halperin make their ill-fated trip to the tanning salon in Final Destination 3, they admittedly have no idea that they are being stalked by Death – but boy do they set themselves up for their own horrible fates. It’s bad enough that Ashley breaks the rules by bringing her drink inside the tanning room, but they also prevent any outside help by locking the front door, and mess around with the temperature controls. Add in Death using a broken shelf to trap the girls inside their respective beds, and you get two of the more gruesome fatalities in these movies.
4. Final Destination 3: Erin Ulmer – Nails shot in the back of the head
When Wendy Christensen and Kevin Fischer go to see Erin Ulmer and Ian McKinley at the hardware supply superstore to tell them about Death stalking them, Final Destination 3 throws so much at the audience. As the group is touring the aisles and the situation is explained, there are all kinds of potential set ups created for disaster, and as you’re watching it’s not entirely clear which are going to pay off. It ends up being that the vast majority of them work in sync, with the falling items activating a forklift eventually getting Erin in front of the nail gun that Ian was using to shoot pigeons. It’s horrible and complicated in all the best ways.
3. Final Destination: Tod Waggner – Strangled on laundry line in bathtub
The Final Destination franchise didn’t take long to establish its greatness, as its very first kill, not counting the explosion of Flight 180, is an all-timer. Death only needs to make a few simple moves against Tod Waggner – shutting the bathroom off from the outside world by closing the window and door, and generating a leak in the toilet – and from there it’s cake. Before too long, Tod has a laundry line cinched tight around his neck, and his feet are unable to get any stability due to spilled soap and shampoo. In the span of a few minutes the movie tells you what it’s all about, and a great legacy was born.
2. Final Destination: Valerie Lewton – Stabbed in the chest by knife after glass in neck
While the death of Tod Waggner is the incident that tells audiences what Final Destination is as a horror story, what ends up happening with Valerie Lewton is the film starting to show off. There is a loving focus on detail – such as the mug cracking as a result of being filled with hot water and then iced vodka – and once Death makes its first blow with the exploding computer monitor it’s just poetry in the mode of overkill. Glass in the neck is bad, a knife in the chest is worse, and then being flambéed as the house is set on fire is the cherry on top.
1. Final Destination 2: Evan Lewis – Impaled through the head by fire escape ladder
When lottery winner Evan Lewis enters his apartment in Final Destination 2, one of the first things he does is toss a skillet filled with old spaghetti out the window… and you immediately know that’s the action that is going to cost him his life. What makes his death sequence so incredible, though, is just how much it throws at you leading up to that point – with the magnet in the Chinese food destroying the microwave, his watch getting his wrist stuck in the garbage disposal, the burning mozzarella sticks, and the magically slamming windows. By the time he gets to the fire escape you’re not really entirely sure how the spaghetti will provide the nail in his coffin, but then it does when he slips on it and winds up getting a ladder to the eyeball.
Do you agree with our rankings, or do you have your own opinions about your favorite deaths in the Final Destination franchise? Hit the comments section with all of your thoughts and feelings, and do yourself a favor by revisiting these awesome films in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary.