SERIOUS SPOILERS AND VIDEOS ARE AHEAD DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED? LEAVE NOW!
Superheros have been a staple of TV and films for nearly three quarters of a century now and their appeal shows no signs of ever dying,
When superheroes first hit the screen, it was rare to ever see a fatality however. The bad guys would live to fight another day and the hero would rarely face personal loss, other than those which created their persona.
In the comic world however, there often were fatal situations involving beloved and hated characters. Spider-Man at Marvel was never shy about killing off characters and both Captain Stacy and his daughter's deaths set about major repercussions for the history of the comic world. Soon it was the turn of Tim Drake's Robin to meet his fate at the hands of The Joker, and most recently in the Arkham Knight game...
Oracle/Barbara Gordon meets her grisly demise at the hands of the eponymous villain early in the proceedings.
Character deaths can be the most emotional and tense parts of any good Superhero flick, but they can also be the death of them. Recently David Rodemark wrote about 5 particularly bad ones in his article https://moviepilot.com/posts/4159154 and it's hard to disagree, particularly with Marion Colitard's unfairly ridiculed death scene in The Dark Knight Rises.
One of the biggest issues these kind of movies face is that often, people just don't stay dead or there is expected to be a "way back" for them, so often times there is little resonance in them as some simple deus ex machina writing can bring them back.
Here are 10 movie deaths that evoke a sense of real stakes, draw real emotion and a real sense of loss. Some are driven by the performance of the actors, others the staging and cinematography and others just the sheer "WHAT?" factor.
LAST CHANCE TO LEAVE AS SPOILERS ARE AHEAD!
You Didn't See That Coming?
So far, we have seen a fair amount of death and destruction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but while the villain deaths have often been underwhelming, when a hero buys it... it's invariably a cracking scene. Thor's sacrifice was the best part of his first movie, winning him not only his power back but the hearts of fans and Jane Foster, while Tony Stark's near death experience in The Avengers showed that it really could happen to anyone.
For Age Of Ultron, it was threatened early in production that someone would check out from the team and one of the parts of the film that worked well on first viewing was the ominous threat that it was going to be...Hawkeye.
Jeremy Renner seemed on paper most likely to go, he had his Mission Impossible and Bourne movies and hadn't really been used well first time around. Early in the movie he got hurt badly, and it seemed like a shocking way to start the movie... Then the Russo's shocked us again at the halfway point by giving Clint Barton a secret family and happy life away from the group.... They may as well have given him a red shirt!.
As we reached the final battle, Hawkeye became the defacto leader of the group on the ground, marshaling Wanda into becoming the Scarlet Witch, becoming somewhat of a mentor to Pietro through their banter and using his extensive combat experience to guide the strategy, as he had in New York. SHIELD arrived thanks to someone else on this list and it was over... then he saw the boy.
That moment was gut wrenching as it played out in no small part due to Renner's spot on performance. Barton would rather do ANYTHING than go out there again, but he had to, knowing his luck is quickly running out. As Ultron approaches, crazed, desperate, cannons blazing, Hawkeye realizes it's his time and like a true hero tries to shield the young boy from the inevitable.
Except he's OK... It's Pietro/Quicksilver who moves him out of the way and takes the full force of the assault. A stunned Barton can only look on as the "You didn't see that coming..." banter that had seen them go from enemies to allies became Pietro's last words. Wanda instinctively falls to her knees and finally unleashes her full power, knowing that her twin is gone and it wasn't Tony Stark who killed him.
This scene uses the talents of 3 of the more underrated members of the cast to the full. It's easy to forget Renner is a two time Oscar nominee, one of them unusually for an action movie, but that quality shows throughout the whole sequence in Sokovia.
Both Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen have been on the cusp of major awards over the years and in particular Taylor-Johnson here nails it. Arguably he was hired for this one moment but in the run up (pun intended) to it he made Pietro a character you not only liked, but felt cheated you wouldn't now see more of. Olsen, with a simple scream gave Wanda all the depth we needed to buy her as a major character going forward. The nice touch of part naming his new son after Pietro helped to show the importance the scene had to the MCU, people will be born and people will die in it... not every hero is around yet, and not everyone will get out alive!
The movie itself gets a bad rap, especially since DC's trick of releasing 2 cuts has become the norm. Marvel made their cuts and stuck to their guns. However much we'd love to see the longer version of Age Of Ultron, I doubt it would be better than this death scene.
Alles Ist Gut...
Over the years the X-Men series has shown a large number of deaths, from the ropey like Senator Jelly in the first movie to the overwraught, like Jean Grey's deaths and even some you were GLAD to see... John Wraith, in Origins... I wanted to snap Will I Am's spine myself!
When the series rebooted with X-Men First Class, it very much started as it meant to go on. No more was death a "silly" thing or done for effect. Death was very real and very grim and there are few deaths more grim than that of Erik Lensherr's mother at the hands of Sebastian Shaw.
The scene follows on directly from the beginning of the first movie and we see where Erik's rage and sadistic streak comes from. As part of Shaw's experiments, he attempts to coerce the boy into moving a coin with his powers for a piece of chocolate. When that fails,more direct persuasion. Erik of course cannot yet control his powers, yet his mother, knowing she will die either way soothes him by repeating "All is well". It's in part defiance of Shaw, but also reassure Erik that he is not a freak, he is still her son and worth dying for.
Shaw murders her in cold blood and unlocks Erik's power once and for all, leading him to kill and thus set the pattern for Magneto. Shaw's only mistake was telling the boy that rage must have unlocked his power. Erik now knows the key and uses this throughout his life. Using that inner rage to kill with the same sadistic streak he inherited from his new "father"Shaw.
Whenever Magneto kills or torments someone who has wronged him it is in that same sadistic way that Shaw murdered his mother. Shaw's slow death with the same coin through his skull, while frozen but aware is the height of this cruelty, even if it is "poetic justice".
Kevin Bacon gives arguably his creepiest performance, made more remarkable by it being in German. It evokes the worst parts of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and Schindler's List. Erik's mother is a memorable cameo and helped give valuable context to both Fassbender and McKellen's portrayal of Magneto, with those words... "Alles ist gut..."
Leave Gwen Out Of It...
The Amazing Spiderman 2 for many was a miss, but it was the one that finally brought us the iconic Death Of Gwen Stacy to live action. Like the comics, Peter had promised her dying father he would protect Gwen and had done his best to do so, but fatefully she had been drawn into his conflicts one last time.
This is one of the more telegraphed death scenes out there, it was only ever ending one way but what makes it work so well on film is the chemistry between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, who were a real life couple at the time... and a sound effect.
Whoever came up with that "thunk" as Gwen's head smacks off the floor is one sick puppy. As someone who suffered a bad head injury, I can tell you it's horrifically accurate.
The death scene plays out almost exactly to the comics, with the only difference being which Osborn is involved. It's one of the few times that a comic book movie has stayed that close to the source. Raimi's movies teased similar scenes with MJ, but they never led to her death. Marc Webb followed through and arguably killed his franchise. Once word got out that Emma Stone was out and died in a nasty way a lot of casual fans stayed away, the movie didn't do well enough to avoid the reboot at Marvel as a result.
Garfield deserves a lot of credit for the scene his performance during Ben's death was somewhat ropey but he made up for it here and that was way better than Tobey's "screwface" that launched a thousand memes. It was a shame we never saw Tobey face Aunt May's death, the comic scene of them at the Empire State Building where she reveals she always knew he was Spidey would have had us bawling.
Sidekicks Are Expendable?
Super is one of the most pleasant surprises of recent years, directed by James Gunn of Guardians Of The Galaxy fame, it is arguably more realistic than it's direct competitor KickAss. Rainn Wilson stars as Frank, a perennial loser whose wife leaves him for a drug baron (this is our second death to involve Kevin Bacon) who fuels her addiction to entrap her.
Out of a misguided sense of justice and vengeance he becomes The Crimson Bolt and quickly finds a hanger on in Libby (Ellen Page) who gets off on the whole Superhero thing. After a few "crimefighting" runs and a very icky scene were Libby/Boltie basically rapes Frank/Crimson Bolt they finally decide to rescue his wife.
SPOILER... NO FURTHER WARNINGS, THIS WILL RUIN THE FILM!
Wthin seconds it goes horribly wrong and a gunshot literally removes half of Libby's head, which is now barely a few feet from Frank's!
This scene is powerful because of the shock value, What had been an oddball comedy in the vein of KickAss quickly becomes something far darker. This young girl who was basically bored and a bit messed up is now dead because Frank decided to "play" at being a superhero. Not just dead but HORRIBLY, gross dead, to the point where her family couldn't ID the body. Frank is still under fire and probably facing charges if he does manage to succeed!
It's a great moment in Superhero movies, when the reality of it all hits. We see sidekicks like Bucky and Robin "die" heroic deaths but the reality is their deaths would be like this, sudden, jarring and violent. Batman would be broken too if he saw half of Barbara Gordon's head removed cos she joined him as Batgirl. That it's Ellen Page, who we know as Kitty Pride makes it worse, cos if Kitty got shot like that, she'd be gone too.
Super has had a massive influence on the genre, it directly led to the success of Guardians Of The Galaxy, which in turn fed the MCU in general, shows like The Punisher are happening because James Gunn made a violent flick and then a family friendly one that made enough money to allow risks.
Video has not been included for this one as it's pretty nasty, but you get the idea!
So That's What It Does...
Phil Coulson was the surprise package of the MCU, starting with a long-winded title and an annoying if not charming need to debrief Tony Stark in Iron Man, through one shots like The Consultant and bit parts in Thor and Iron Man 2, he grew to being Nick Fury's most trusted ally by the time The Avengers rolled around.
Clark Gregg had created a character that worked as the glue of the series in those early stages. He'd made friends with Pepper Potts, met a cellist and won the respect of Tony Stark and an alien god. Phil even got to meet his hero and ask him to sign his trading cards, vintage of course and design a new uniform for him.
Then he met Loki...
Coulson's death scene was brilliant in it's simplicity and how for a split second it seemed Phil had saved the day and taken Loki down. Of course WE all knew his tricks, having seen him just ask his brother if he'd ever not fall for it. Poor Phil hadn't seen it and he paid the price, with Loki's scepter running him through.
This was unbelievably graphic for the audience of the movie and quite shocking to be included, along with the quim line, to the point cuts were made. For a kids movie, to see someone not only die but die THAT violently was a risk that could have backfired.
Fans were indeed horrified, not at the violence but that their beloved Coulson, the first "original" character to "belong" to this generation of fans had been taken away. The theater I saw it in the first time cheered when he gave his final line and of course it made perfect sense. "It's OK boss, it wouldn't work otherwise..." and Fury took him at his word, albeit deceitfully... he gave earth's mightiest heroes someone to avenge!
Coulson's death was important in that he was a friend to Tony Stark (how was Tony gonna tell Pepper they lost him? an omelette wouldn't help), Thor saw him as a warrior while he had become close with, Widow, Hawkeye AND Cap by that stage. Indeed only Banner was yet to have any real interaction with him. Phil's death scene was the birth of the true Avengers franchise and gave birth to its own!
The popularity of the character meant he didn't stay dead and Clark Gregg is still the lead on Agents Of SHIELD, now well into its 4th season. The character took on a life of its own and fans eagerly anticipate his return to the MCU proper, and to see how the others are gonna react!
Tonight...A Comedian Died...
Zack Snyder has received a lot of stick over the years for his movies, particularly in the DC canon. Killing Zod (great band name) didn't work for many fans of the Man Of Steel and his treatment of Jonathan Kent also didn't please them.
However in Watchmen, he proved he really CAN get it not only right, but perfect on two occasions!
The opening of the movie sees Eddie "The Comedian" Blake taking on an unknown assailant at his property. He seems to know who his attacker is, he seems to know his time is up and with his advancing years, he is overmatched despite putting up a hell of a fight.
This is BRUTAL to watch, as a fight scene and a death. We see more of Eddie Blake in flashback to almost make you glad the man is dead but Jeffrey Dean Morgan showed in that three and a half minutes all you needed to know and love Eddie Blake even with his flaws. It also launched Morgan's career into the stratosphere, to the point he was the most talked about actor of this year with his debut as Negan on The Walking Dead.
This scene was the perfect comic book opening/death scene and the funeral sequence/use of Sounds Of Silence put it over the top.
Snyder's Watchmen produced some other great death scenes involving Rorshach, his sadistic warpath in the prison, culminating with the off screen murder of Big Figure is a close contender but in the end it is his own tragic, if not fitting demise that takes the prize, and lets the movie start AND end with almost perfect movie death scenes.
As Ozymandias'/Adrian Veidt's plan has come to fruition, Rorschach finally loses what little hope he had. He cannot accept the twisted sanity of Veidt's logic or that his teammates would acquiesce to it, however reluctantly. His motto of "never compromise" is finally tested and he begs his omnipotent friend Doctor Manhattan to put him out of the world's misery.
This is the gold standard, mainly due to the chemistry and rapport the cast have all built over the film, and the performance of Jackie Earl Haley. Rorschach was a misanthropic psychopath, but had grown closer to his team mates. He had forged a strong bond with NiteOwl/Dan Drieberg in particular. Dan's outrage at his friends death on top of everyone else who perished to create the "new world" mirrors our own. He is forced to accept it or be destroyed in the same way. Patrick Wilson also nails that scene, making it clear someone DID care about Rorschach, even if he never knew it while he was alive.
Of course it appears very wasteful and futile, but of course Rorschach had the ace up his sleeve. He knew he'd already sent his journal to the media and the truth was going to come out. By "going now" he avoids the inevitable manhunt that is coming for all the others once the world finds out the truth and Doctor Manhattan isn't there to protect them. Think of Haley's performance in those terms and it's a masterpiece.
I Kill The Bus Driver...
The Dark Knight has several deaths that could be seen as special, Jim Gordon's apparent death at the hands of the Joker's rifle, the pencil trick and the deaths of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. The best however opens the film and it is still one of the best establishing scenes for any movie character, hero or villain.
As a bank robbery proceeds, involving a team of clown masked thieves we see each taken down by a colleague as they complete their tasks. Each death is more calculated than the last until the inevitable point where one guy works out whats going on and gets ideas about killing someone else.
He challenges one of his foes as to his fate and comes the immortal response. "no..no... I kill the bus driver..."
For a split second you share the guy's confusion and then... BOOM! the bus blasts through the wall and takes him out.
The last man standing is revealed of course to be The Joker but the biggest clue to his craziness is that he DOESN'T kill William Fichtner's mob bank manager, revealing the grenade in his mouth to be little more than a practical joke. He happily took out 4 of his own men, but not a "civilian", even one who fired at him with a shotgun. Why? Because THAT is chaos. It also lends some credence to the theory that Joker is a war veteran, he doesn't tend to kill civilians lightly, but once they step into his "war", they are fair game.
While Heath Ledger's work as a whole won him the Oscar, it was this scene that not only dispelled any misgivings about his casting but hooked you into this movie.
Futures Passed Away...
We're back to the X-Men saga and in particular Days Of Future's Past... this is actually two scenes but they are VERY well done.
The movie starts and ends with sequences in the future, where the Sentinels are taking apart our beloved X-Men. First to go is Colossus who is battered to death with one vicious punch, then Iceman who is decapitated, some of the others are new... we don't care as much but later in the film we get to see it all again.. starting with Storm!
Whatever your views of Halle Berry's performances in the X-Men movies, she was a BIG reason sequels got made at all. The first X-Men didn't do quite as well as hoped, however Halle Berry won Best Actress that year for Monster's Ball. This helped grease the wheels when coupled with the surprise popularity of second pick for Wolverine, Hugh Jackman. Suddenly new audiences would be engaged by having another female Oscar winner in the fold with Anna Paquin and the studio could capitalize on the casual fans who would be curious to see what Berry could do in a hero flick now she'd been "recognised" for her work.
Storm was given a prominent role in X-2 and The Last Stand due to Berry's new found standing and this was reflected in the comics themselves. So the moment we see a Sentinel stab her through the heart and hurled off the castle ramparts like a rag doll is not only shocking, but one of the better death scenes of the whole series.
You might not have liked Storm too much, but you got the feels when she died that way.
Don't You Dare Be Late/She's Gone
Captain America: The First Avenger had a number of deaths that could have made the list. Abraham Erskine was handled well, and Stanley Tucci's fun turn made you feel gutted the character had to die. Bucky Barnes' apparent demise didn't have impact as like our hero Steve Rogers, it was inevitable he'd be back.
This led Joe Johnston to have a bit of a problem, how could he make Cap's "death" meaningful when we know he's already been found alive at the start of the movie?
He used Hayley Attwell and Chris Evan's chemistry to make it work!
Everything about Cap's descent into the ice fits the bond he and Peggy had built throughout the movie. Both were reserved, stiff upper lip, maybe even repressed people who clearly loved each other deeply, but couldn't tell each other. Everyone from Howard Stark to General Phillips knew they were made for each other, but there was a war on and their love had to wait with just a fleeting kiss.
Rather than collapsing or fleeing the pain as it becomes clear Steve can't come back, Peggy does what she does best and takes charge. She agrees to a date and warns him not to be late, or he'll blow his chance.
It's one of the more emotional scenes of the MCU and it makes their reunion all the more poignant in The Winter Soldier. There's an especially painful moment where a now 95 year old Peggy allows herself to rue their missed opportunity in front of him, despite leading a full life and having a family. The Peggy Carter of old would be furious with herself for doing that, but it's the first time either of them are honest with each other about their feelings. That the Russo's framed around the cruelty of Alzheimer's disease is a choker!
In some ways it's a shame that we don't actually see Peggy's death but it's important Steve doesn't get to "guide" Peggy down except in her head. Peggy's jarring death, at the lowest moment of Steve's life as the Avengers implode and his life of service is apparently ending was a real gut punch in no small part because Evans and Attwell created a really special partnership.
Make no mistake, Evans and Attwell with those death scenes helped fuel the MCU.
Peggy became a cornerstone of it, gaining her own show and in many ways being a more important character than Nick Fury or even Black Widow. More than any other comic characters so far Steve and Peggy's "deaths" show the human cost of being a hero in the MCU and Superhero movies in general.