In Romeo + Juliet, Titanic, and then for the rest of his career, he purposefully condemned his own hotness to death.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Every week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from staff writer Rachel Handler, who will begin her screening of Romeo + Juliet on September 11 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch her live commentary, and look ahead at next week’s movie here.
Hello, and welcome to an extremely serious critical piece about Leonardo DiCaprio. First, allow me to establish my ethos as an academic. My CV includes decades of intensive study that some might describe as “maniacal,” including an erotic awakening encouraged exclusively by Romeo + Juliet, biweekly viewings of both Titanic VHS tapes between the years 1998-2007, and a bisexuality spurred entirely by the angular visage of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. My graduate thesis was a semiotic analysis of Leonardo DiCaprio’s headbands (no it was not). I am here today to posit the following: Over the course of his storied career, Leo has only allowed himself to play the young, androgynously hot romantic male lead if said lead was violently killed off at the end of the movie, usually in a gun duel. I will also posit that the reason behind this is because after the vagina-slaying mid-’90s double-header of Romeo + Juliet and Titanic, young Leo was so fucked up about/humiliated by his new, massive fame — specifically among teen girls, specifically because of his Shane-from-The-L-Word face — and so determined to become Marty Scorsese’s surly muse that he purposefully and continuously condemned himself to cinematic death.
Leo’s made just shy of 30 movies in his three-decade-plus career, which seems low, considering how many 23-year-olds he picked up at 1Oak in that same time period. He has died in nine of these movies. That means he’s died in nearly one-third of his movies. This is, frankly, an insane number of times for an actor to die in their movies. In fact, he is the 30th most-dead person in movie history, after Brad Pitt, Bela Lugosi, and Nicolas Cage. Now, I know what you’re thinking: It’s not that deep; Leo just loves to die. And sure, who among us doesn’t? Look deeper, though, and you’ll find a shocking, illuminating pattern within these filmic deaths. While Leo is not hot in every movie he dies in, in every movie he’s hot in, he dies.
I believe this is not a coincidence. I believe that young Leo was embarrassed by his Fibonacci sequence of a face, and has therefore worked hard to render it less mathematically perfect over the years by drinking heavily on yachts, dining on fries al fresco, and doing things like this. He even said so himself to James Cameron, who told reporters that he invited Leo to watch Titanic at the 3-D premiere in 2012, and Leo “couldn’t believe it,” said James. “He said to me, ‘I’m such a young punk. Look at me.’ Leo was practically crawling under the seat. It was a good moment.” Baz Luhrmann, who directed Leo in Romeo + Juliet, put his plight thusly: “Leo will be a little sensitive about this. He’s so focused and he’s such a great actor. He’s got such a vast range, but he’s gifted and burdened with being an attractive screen presence. He’s got that star quality. It’s a gift and a burden.” A burden that Leo decided to shrug off by dying in a troubling number of gun duels onscreen.
Let’s break down the evidence.
Critters 3: Leo’s cinematic debut. Too young to be legally considered hot. He lives.
Poison Ivy: Leo is in this movie for five seconds total. Too short of a time to be hot. Since we do not see him again, we can safely assume that he survives and his character, “Guy,” continues to live on within the Poison Ivy universe.
This Boy’s Life: Leo’s insane military haircut keeps him from being truly hot in this film. He survives.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: This movie is not centered around the erotic visage of Leonardo DiCaprio in any sense. He subsequently lives through it.
The Basketball Diaries: There is certainly an argument to be made that Leo is hot in this movie, where he plays a young opioid addict. I won’t be making that argument. Leo (barely) survives this film.
The Quick and the Dead: Leo is approaching peak hotness in this movie. He dies in a gun duel.
Total Eclipse: In this erotic gay romance, Leo is hot and, did I mention, gay. He dies of cancer.
Romeo + Juliet: In this perfect film, Leo plays painfully hot, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, blond-hair-flicking, sex demon Romeo, who — spoiler alert — kills himself at the end via poison.
Titanic: Plays a hot rapscallion with a penchant for car-fucking. Dies in an iceberg attack that could have been prevented if it weren’t for said car-fucking.
Marvin’s Room: Leo is not really Working It, per se, in this film. He’s attractive in an understated way, but certainly nothing electric is going on. He lives.
The Man in the Iron Mask: Leo really said, “I am so tired of my face that I am going to wear a freaking iron mask on it.” Even in the scenes where he is not wearing an iron mask, Leo is again really not working it in this film, from a hotness perspective. He lives.
Celebrity: At this point in his career, Leo was so fed up with being hot that he had to make a movie about how hard it was to be hot. His insane hair, combined with his own self-flagellation, ultimately holds him back from hotness, and thusly, he survives.
The Beach: This is one of maybe three films that do not entirely fit my theory. However, even Einstein’s theories had holes. So please grant me a bit of slack here. Leo is hot in this movie, and he lives. I’m sorry. But remember: Science is always evolving, changing, adapting to new information. By 2020 standards, Leo in The Beach is hot. But in 100 years, teens may watch The Beach and say, “No. This is not a hot man.”
Don’s Plum: This odd duck of a film went unreleased for a long time and when it came out, we all (100 percent of the world’s population, in a mail survey) agreed that Leo was not that hot in it. As such, he does not die.
Gangs of New York: By this point, Leo had finally proven himself a serious actor, one who would never let himself get too hot without getting shot in the process. Scorsese rewarded him by making him not at all hot in this film. He is one of the few characters to survive the film.
Catch Me If You Can: Leo is kinda hot in this, but not really. Certainly not in any androgynous capacity. He left that behind in The Beach. It’s not coming back. Anyway, he lives.
The Aviator: Above, I mentioned that Leo is famously not hot in The Aviator. Despite the fact that aviation is a dangerous game, Leo does not die.
The Departed: This one is arguable. Some people think otherwise but I believe that in The Departed, Leo is hot in a sort of filthy way. He dies in a gun duel.
Blood Diamond: Plays a hot guy who wants blood diamonds, but he feels bad about it. He dies in a gun duel.
Body of Lies: Leo, as a CIA agent, is not hot. He lives and quits the CIA. Confusingly, that’s hot!
Revolutionary Road: The scariest horror film of all time sees a not-hot Leo incidentally contribute to the death of his wife, Kate Winslet. But … you guessed it … he lives.
Shutter Island: As a man who loves wasting everyone’s time, Leo is not at all hot in Shutter Island, and nobody violently murders him. He does receive a lobotomy, though. Perhaps this is payback for surviving while hot in The Beach.
Inception: If you do think Leo is hot in Inception, then at the end, he’s still dreaming, meaning he’s dying a slow and horrible death back up in reality. If you don’t think he’s hot, then he’s not dreaming, and he goes on to live a great life with his kids and Michael Caine. Everyone wins with Inception.
J. Edgar: Leo is not hot in this movie. But, okay, he dies of heart disease. It’s not a violent death, however, so it still fits my theory. And again I remind you that scientists have still not figured out what dark matter is.
Django Unchained: I promise this is the last of the three movies that doesn’t fit my important academic theory. I hate this movie, and Leo isn’t really hot in it, unless you’re into profligate, murderous racists. However, he dies in a gun duel.
The Great Gatsby: Leo is a hot Gatsby. Look at those highlights! He dies in a gun duel.
The Wolf of Wall Street: The only hot person in this film is Margot Robbie. Leo makes it through the film alive, despite doing enough quaaludes to kill 190 horses.
The Revenant: This film is the apex of Leo Wanting to Be Taken Seriously, the whole reason he started dying while hot in the first place. Absolutely wrecked, he sleeps inside the carcass of a horse while everyone around him tries to kill him 1 million times. But he lives, and that’s the whole point of the movie.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Having won an Oscar after dying in half a dozen gun duels for the honor, Leo finally allows himself to do comedy here. However, despite a few well-placed leather jackets, Leo is purposefully not bringing it in this one, and he survives despite a dramatic attempt on his life.
In the interest of remembering Young Hot Leo and embarrassing Old, Non-Hot Leo further, let’s all enjoy Leonardo DiCaprio, the eternal young hot, dead punk, in Romeo + Juliet this Friday evening.
Romeo + Juliet is available to stream with a Starz subscription on Hulu or Prime Video, and is available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Prime Video, and iTunes.