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What is the longest running screen time between a character's cause of death until that character's actual death?

While most fatally wounded characters die rather quickly, others hold on to life for dramatic impact. Usually the longest death scenes involve slow poisons, or characters going on a quest to retrieve a doctor or cure that fails at the last minute.

I recently watched Dead Man, and the main character is shot in the chest relatively early in the film. He doesn't actually die until approximately 91 minutes later. Though he is shot a second time 18 minutes before death, a character that attempted to save his life had declared him to be a dead man long before that second shot. I am wondering if that is the longest "death scene" on film.

TV episodes which prominently feature the character's death or impending death as a plot device may be considered as long as it is a continuous story arc. Episodes without focus on the dying character should be excluded or have the run time discounted accordingly.

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    Breaking Bad… 8 seasons. ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 16, 2022 at 8:00
  • Any of the versions of DOA (Dead on Arrival) would be my guess.
    – Paulie_D
    Oct 16, 2022 at 13:15
  • @Tetsujin I did consider TV putting off a character's plot line for whole episodes, but I have to admit I hadn't thought of whole seasons where the character's mortality was a major plot point. However, what eventually killed Walter wasn't the cancer, was it? In any case, TV episodes should probably only count if the character, or their impending death, features prominently in the plot. If half the episode deals with side plots/characters, only half the run time should be counted.
    – Booga Roo
    Oct 16, 2022 at 15:25
  • In the same vein as DOA: Kate, released a year ago on Netflix. Oct 19, 2022 at 4:46
  • @Tetsujin I may be missing something, but Breaking Bad has only 5 seasons?
    – Brady Gilg
    Oct 26, 2022 at 21:57

3 Answers 3

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I'll put in a nomination for the Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who. There might be others in Doctor Who, as part of the lore is that Time Lords take a very long time to die even after being fatally wounded, but you asked for screen time, and this is the only one I can think of that lasts for more than one whole episode.

Spoilers follow for the Doctor Who series 10 finale, obviously.

  • At the start of "The Doctor Falls" (Series 10 Episode 12), in the very first (rooftop) scene of the episode, the Doctor gets electrocuted by a Cyberman. It's suggested that he's already dying after this, as regeneration energy starts coming out of his hand at one point while he's walking through the woods with Bill on the higher level.
  • At the end of "The Doctor Falls", he has his heroic last stand against an army of Cybermen, culminating in him blowing up all of them and himself. At this point he's clearly suffered a mortal injury, but I'd argue based on the above (and I think this was said somewhere in one of the episodes, but I couldn't find the quote now) that his first mortal injury was at the start of "The Doctor Falls".
  • He then spends the entirety of "Twice Upon a Time" (the 2017 Christmas special) agonising with himself (a thirteen-regenerations-younger version of himself, to be exact) about whether to regenerate or simply die permanently rather than take a new form.
  • At the very end of "Twice Upon a Time", two whole episodes (a bit less than 2 hours) after receiving his mortal injury, he finally succumbs to the inevitable, dies, and regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor.
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    Very interesting. This is in line with the spirit of my question. I did not initially want to include TV because shows tend to "pause" plot lines indefinitely and an arbitrary number of episodes may separate events. However, Doctor Who features the death of the main character repeatedly, and this is a good example of what I was looking for. Of course, there are plenty of movies that are 3+ hours long, so I do plan on waiting a few days before accepting an answer.
    – Booga Roo
    Oct 16, 2022 at 14:44
  • @BoogaRoo Good to know. I wasn't sure whether the "cinematic" in your question title was meant to exclude TV, but decided this is a good enough fit to post anyway. Someone'll probably find a 3-hour film where the protagonist gets shot at the beginning and struggles through to the end, so I'm not really expecting this to win :-) Oct 16, 2022 at 14:46
  • In light of this answer, I've updated the question to be more inclusive of TV. Of course, certain considerations would be necessary to accommodate shows where the character is "shot in episode 3 and dies in episode 12," but is conveniently ignored 98% of the time. I'd be perfectly happy to let community consensus drive what degree of screen time is considered appropriate to count.
    – Booga Roo
    Oct 16, 2022 at 15:09
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There are many movies where the entire story is based on the actions of a character who is fatally hurt/wounded/poisoned at the start and the events play out until their demise. Several involve slow acting poisons where the point is for the lead character to solve their death before they actually dies. There are several remakes of this idea under the title Dead on Arrival. For example the Dennis Quaid version in 1988, 1hr 39mins long and itself a remake of a 1949 original. There have been other remakes.

A more recent example involving a similar theme is Kate where the theme is relocated to Japan and involves an assassin getting revenge on yakuza bosses and her assasin agency boss. It is 1hr 46mins long.

And there are many others. But the most fun version and the most frenetic (though not the longest as it is just under 1hr 30mins) is Crank, where Jason Statham plays an assassin given a slow acting poison right at the start who can only stave of immediate death by engaging in high-adrenaline activities while he tries to get revenge on his killer and their associates.

The whole movie is, in effect, a death scene (as Statham's character clearly dies though there is a sequel where he is resurrected!)

So the theme of an extended death scene is a common trope and finding the longest version could be a big task. but there are some well-known examples where the death constitutes the plot of the entire movie.

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Part One of Two:

I finally thought of a movie and tv series which might possibly - repeat possibly - be the record holders in characters dying over the longest screen time for their respective forms.

I have never seen the French film L'Abre de Noel/The Christmas Tree (1969) (110 minutes) but I have heard about it. I think it is quite possible that a character in it is dying for longer than the 91 minutes for a character in Dead Man (1996). Warning; it has been called "the tearies film of the 60s".

I also don't remember seeing Run For Your Life (1965-1968) in which the title charcter Paul Bryan learns he has only a short time to live and so travels the world trying to live as much as he can. So I don't know how often his medical condition is mentioned in the various episodes, though the opening credits of every episode explained his situaiton.

As far as I know Paul Bryan survived the 48 minute April 15, 1965 episode of Kraft Supsense Theatre and all 86 episodes (each about 45 to 48 minutes long) of Run For Your Life (1965-1968) or about 3,918 to 4,176 minutes.

I don't know if the dying character has to actually die onscreen before the end of the moive or television series for it to count, or if it alright if they survive to the end if they are clearly dying.

And I can't help thinking that maybe there are other movies and tv shows with similar plots.

The rest of this answer is some some real examples of people and animals living for a long time while dying.

Part Two:

In real life it can be very hard to tell what killed someone, thus it can be hard to tell how long ago the fatal injury or other cause of death was inflicted.

On 27 May 1942, assassins wounded Reinhard Heydrich who died on 4 June, 8 days later. Though he was fatally wounded, Heydrich ordered his driver Klein to chase the assassins,and was still conscious until June 3. Thus it is possible to kill someone, or at least fatally wound them, and for them to still be conscious and capable of taking actions and giving orders for days. The assassins wer tracked down and killed on 18 June.

In the Second Battle of Fort Fisher one of the Union brigades was led by 20-year-old Colonel Uriah Galusha Pennypacker, who carried a flag to the ramparts of the fort and was shot down. Pennypacker was not dead (as was believed at first and was discharged after ten months in the hosbital. Pennypacker eventually died on October 1, 1916, and his dotor said it was from his old wound. If the doctor was correct, it took 51 years for the wound to kill Pennypacker. Pennypacker remained in the army until 1883, and may have sometimes given orders which resulted in the deaths of persons, which would make him a pretty dangerous "dead" person.

While lying "dead" on the ramparts of the fort Pennypacker was actually imobile but conscious,and in alter interveiw he said his men dememand a blanket to cover his body fromt he rebel soldier whohad shot him. When the rebel refused, Pennypacker's men kill him. So that is an example of someone ftally wounding some and yet dying 51 years before their victim.

So if anyone every made a biographical tv series about Pennypacker a very long part of it could be considered to be his dying scene.

And since I don't know about all the tv series ever made, I can't guess how long some might have streatched out the death of a character.

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    Quite the concept, "Run For Your Life" was. A show focused on a man dying of a terminal illness and how he chooses to deal with it. Personally, I don't think I would count it since the character never died nor was implied to have died. Apparently there was even a plan for a fourth season.
    – Booga Roo
    Oct 18, 2022 at 6:34
  • L'Abre de Noel/The Christmas Tree looks like a contender. I'll have to check it out.
    – Booga Roo
    Oct 18, 2022 at 7:36
  • @Boog Roo If there is a similar series to Rune for your LIfe where the protagonists dies at the end that might be a contender for the logenst dying in a tv series. So far The Christmas Tree seems like a good contender for the longes dying in movie. Oct 20, 2022 at 7:17

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