What does it mean to be a man? How is manliness measured? Well, if your name is Charles Bronson, you subscribe to the idea that the measure of a man is the amount of scorched earth and bullet-riddled corpses you leave in your wake. Nobody, but nobody, sends a villain spinning off this plane of existence like Bronson. When I was assigned a retrospective of Bronson’s best kills, I knew some research would need to be done. With so many fantastic bloodlettings to his credit, deciding on the top 10 would be arduous. But 20 films and over 50 hours later, I feel the quintessential collection of Bronson’s best and bloodiest handiwork has officially been compiled.
*A quick note: some of these entries will be spoilery in nature. These will be noted, but be forewarned.
Killing with Flair – ‘Cold Sweat’ (1970)
1970’s Cold Sweat sees Bronson matching wits with a bizarrely accented James Mason and his band of merry thugs. While the movie itself is far from Bronson’s best, there is one particular moment that calls boating safety standards into serious question.:Bronson brings the heat down on his captor, setting him alight with an emergency flair. Bronson proves himself to be the exact opposite of a life preserver.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – ‘Violent City’ (1970)
During the course of this project, dubbed Bronsothon, I won’t deny that there were a few less-than-stellar films. Violent City is sort of a crap sandwich — beginning and ending with greatness but offering a dull, unfocused filling. The ending of the film, however, will justify your patience with it. Bronson, from an unreal distance, takes out two people in a glass elevator. The cinematography in this scene is beautiful and makes the double kill all the more impressive.
Window Pain – ‘Mr. Majestyk’ (1974)
A meme has cropped up in the last year or so involving interchanging the words “melon farmer” for a far more recognizable obscenity, as in, “I’m a bad melon farmer!” The origin of this swear substitution happens to be Mr. Majestyk, in which Bronson actually does play a melon farmer with whom you do not want to trifle. During the climax of the film he is perpetrating a one-man siege of the villain’s hideout and manages a killing stroke that is both effective and acrobatic. While diving headfirst through a window, he executes a perfect shot, sending the villain hurtling into the next county.
Hosed – ‘The Evil That Men Do’ (1984)
Much like the scene from Cold Sweat, Bronson demonstrates a severe lack of understanding the proper use of safety equipment with this kill from The Evil That Men Do. He ties the end of a wall-mounted fire hose to man’s neck and hurls him off a hotel balcony. The brutal, sudden stop at the end of the fall and Bronson’s lethal ingenuity more than warrant this kill’s inclusion to the list.
Death Note – ‘The Mechanic’ (1972)
*Super Super Spoilers Ahead!!
The Mechanic is is one of my absolute favorite Bronson films. He plays a hitman who mentors the son of one of his victims and teaches him how to be a “mechanic.” In the end, he is betrayed and murdered by the boy. But just when the bastard thinks he’s won, he finds a note in his car written by Bronson before his death. Suspecting treachery from his apprentice, he rigs a little surprise in the form of a fiery car bomb. Bronson is so badass that not even death can keep him from getting revenge.
A Better Mousetrap – ‘Death Wish 3’ (1985)
While charting the body count during Bronsothon, it was hard to ignore the significant spike during Death Wish 3. Bronson alone kills 49 people in this film. Forty-nine! There have been natural disasters that haven’t killed that many people, prompting me to rename the film Hurricane Bronson. In one particular scene, he sets a nasty little booby trap that sends a knife on the end of a board vaulting into a gang member’s noggin. It’s a lot like like Home Alone…if Macauly Culkin were a homicidal maniac.
Monologue Interrupted – ‘Death Wish 4: The Crackdown’ (1987)
Charles Bronson sure hates drugs. In the fourth installment of his Death Wish franchise, he shows his distaste for narcotics with bloody resolve. He’s sort of like a gun-toting, mass-murdering McGruff the Crime Dog. But apparently the one thing he hates more than drugs is bad villain monologues. In Death Wish 4, he uses the business end of a grenade launcher to spare the audience one more second of the drug lord’s tirade. Not even allowing him his moment in the spotlight? That’s cold, Charlie, ice cold.
Props to the Bad Guy – ‘Breakout’ (1975)
Remember when you were a kid and your mom used to say, “Don’t play ball in the house” or “Don’t hit your sister” or “Don’t chase Charles Bronson onto a runway when a prop plane is landing”? Well, the villain in Breakout clearly didn’t heed his mother’s words and, as a result, ends up scattered all over the tarmac in very small pieces. The best part of this is that the effects guys knew the dummy they were using looked bogus, so they filled it with red paper and syrupy liquid, creating cinema’s greatest human piñata.
Ghetto Blasted – ‘Death Wish 2’ (1982)
When Charles Bronson starts shooting at you, because clearly you’ve ticked him off, it is only natural to grab a shield and hope for the best. If I may offer a piece of helpful advice, a boombox from the 1980s may not protect you from his vengeful wrath. This is a lesson learned the hard way by a gang member in Death Wish 2, played by a young Lawrence Fishburne no less. Bronson’s shot splits in two not only the ghetto blaster, but also Fishburne’s skull.
Soccer Bomb – ‘Death Wish 5’ (1994)
I’ve never been much for soccer, but if the World Cup operated under Bronson’s rules, you can bet I would be a regular viewer. In this kill from Death Wish 5 — the only reason anyone should consider enduring it — Bronson stuffs a remote-controlled soccer ball with explosives and then, when his foe picks it up, delivers the world’s worst one-liner and blows him to smithereens. The greatest part of this kill is that, if you slow it down, you’ll see that we are definitely dealing with a second-take dummy that has been crudely glued together after a botched first attempt. I also like that the guy isn’t killed outright but runs around on fire before expiring. Fairly certain Bronson will get a red card for that one.