I was wondering if there is a title/role in movies, specifically horror or Sci-fi movies, for characters that are cast specifically to die as a way of being an example. This could be as a way to show the cast/party that things have turned horribly wrong or to show what they are up against.

These characters usually die at the beginning of an outbreak or as soon as a there is a troubling encounter with a new obstacle, such as a trap room with a unseen trick.

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    I'd call them a "red shirt", based on the Star Trek trope. May 12, 2017 at 18:21
  • Reminds me of the role that village elders play in cheap martial arts flicks.
    – EvilSnack
    May 13, 2017 at 15:17

2 Answers 2


As @BrettFromLA mentioned is the comments, I would suggest this character is called the:

Red Shirt

Warning! TV Tropes Link!

The trope name come from Stark Trek: The Original Series where the new recruits/ensigns wore red uniforms. This can be a bit confusing because in later Star Trek series the Command positions wore red...

A brief excerpt of what defines the Red Shirt at their core:

  • Their purpose is almost exclusively to give the writers someone to kill who isn't a main character

  • They are used to show how the monster works, and demonstrate that it is indeed a deadly menace, without having to lose anyone important.

  • This works for me. I was looking to see if there was a more "proper" answer, but I am okay with this explanation.
    – Austin
    May 12, 2017 at 18:49
  • For the record, Scotty was a red shirt and never got killed, so that whole trope does have a hole. But, in general, if someone from TOS got killed, they were wearing a red shirt. May 12, 2017 at 19:17
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    I think red shirt is the generic (and correct answer), but there is the Sacrifical Lion when you really want to show how bad things are. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SacrificialLion
    – Yorik
    May 12, 2017 at 19:18
  • AFAIK: red shirts were worn by the security personal (with military training), which were expected to protect the rest of the crew, and therefore had the most casualties. In other seasons of Star Trek, the role of security may wear a different color, but they still suffer the most casualties. May 13, 2017 at 11:07
  • Gold shirts for command, blue for science (including medicine), red for everyone else (including engineering and security). May 13, 2017 at 21:27

In literature what you're looking for is called the 'sacrificial lamb'. A character whose sole purpose is to die so as to give the protagonist a reason to act. It also can be used to show just how 'evil' the villain is.

The 'red shirt' of Star Trek is a perfect example of this, though they're much more in line with the 'cannon fodder' than the 'sacrificial lamb'.

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