Often times character deaths are a tough pill to swallow because they carry an emotional resonance with the viewer. There are memories of these characters that fill the collective fictitious annals of whatever piece of pop culture we so ravenously consume. At the time of their demise, we, as an audience, reflect on the time spent with these foregone characters. There were characters we loved. Characters we’ve spent time with and watched grow and in some capacity regarded as a friend even if that relationship is not a two way street.
And in the case of superheroes getting the ax on screen, that notion of loss and pensive sorrow is double fold. When a hero dies, we’re not just watching the mouthpiece of some screenwriter take their final bow. No. When superheroes die in films and televisions shows, we watch the death of the idea that we can be more than the sum of our parts, since that notion is generally what superheroes represent. They are supposed to be our best attributes manifested as a person with whom we can relate. We see ourselves in heroes. More importantly, we see our better selves. And to cull members of the caped herd is disheartening, to say the very least.
The body count in the bleak future presenting in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is pretty steep. Sure there is a levity to each mutant death due to the notion of time travel making things right again (thanks Bishop and Kitty!), but this doesn’t make watching some of our favorite X-Men get torn apart my increasingly terrifying versions of the mutant-hunting Sentinels.
Of all the casualties, the one we were most heartbroken over was Bobby Drake. Iceman had been a mainstay in the main X-Men film franchise, giving us some great moments like his “coming out” scene from X2: X-Men United. Watching some biomechanical mutant murder machine crush his head was an unpleasant experience for everyone involved (except maybe for the Sentinel that did it).
14. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
For many fans Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno will always be their Incredible Hulk. Despite their dated campiness, the original television series, The Incredible Hulk (which ran from 1978 to 1982) and its subsequence trilogy of made-for-TV movies captured the dichotomy between Bruce David Banner and the Hulk beyond just “don’t make me angry; you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” better than any on-screen version of the character since then.
Watching the amazing relationship between two actors who never meet despite the fact they play the same character end is as cathartic as it is tragic for the audience. The final film, aptly named, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, makes good on its promise and end the life (and curse) of Banner and the Hulk.
Scott Glen’s blind, butt-kicking sensei did not get a lot of screen time in the first two seasons of Netflix’s Daredevil or the followup miniseries, The Defenders but boy was he awesome. Watching a seemingly frail, old man kick the crap out of two of the most dangerous hand-to-hand fighters in the Marvel MCU made Stick instantly on the most likable characters.
However, Stick’s truncated run was cut shorter at the hands of one of his former pupils. With the audience already pissed at anti-hero turned lackey for The Hand, Elektra had to go and kill one of the most charismatic characters in the MCU. Even if Stick’s death further develops Matt Murdock’s journey in future seasons of Daredevil, the show won’t be the same without Stick.
The number of cinematic sins within the 104 minute runtime of X-Men: The Last Stand are myriad, but none are as unforgivable as the callous and unceremonious means in which X-Men team leader, Scott Summers is ushered out into the great beyond. The biggest issue here being that there was no closure is his departure.
Despite the fact that Cyclops was never truly treated with the gravitas and respect the character deserved in previous X-Men films, it was still difficult to see him go. James Marsden played the character with enough earnest Boy Scout charm to make audiences enjoy his limited screen presence. And while Cyclops’ death was intrinsic to the bastardized version of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, The Last Stand was trying to tell, good ol’ Slim deserved a more respectful farewell.
Pietro and Wanda Maximoff played integral roles in Avengers: Age of Ultron that could have only been facilitated by characters that were unknown to the already established MCU. They work well together thematically and within the story beats, making their relationship to each other (and the viewer) something worth investing in.
With Quicksilver, we are introduced to a young man who has seen the maw of hell swallow his loved ones and will do anything in his power to protect the last vestige of his family. When he sacrifices himself to save Hawkeye, someone who had no scruples with subduing the sister Pietro so desperately wanted to protect, we see a new side of his character, one that shows the makings of a true Avenger.
10. BIG DADDY
Who knew that one of the more recent performances from Nicolas Cage that didn’t feel like it was a total paycheck gig to fund his collection of dinosaur femurs or whatever insane thing he’s into would be his role as the masked vigilante, Big Daddy in the 2010 film adaption of Mark Millar’s hit superhero deconstruction tale Kick-Ass? Well, we sure didn’t.
Cage isn’t given much screen time to establish his character, but he’s so bizarrely charming he creates a version of Big Daddy that is more likable and sympathetic than the version in the popular comic book. The fact that his preteen daughter, Mindy (aka Hit-Girl) has to watch her father suffer at the hands of the people they swore to destroy is also pretty damn soul-crushing.
Okay, this one is a little bit of a cheat seeing as how Batman didn’t actually kick the bucket at the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s mostly great Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. However, the final sacrifice the Caped Crusader commits to brings his character arc full circle in the cycle of the Nolan films.
Despite that fact the audience discovers Batsy did not go kaboom over Gotham Harbor in the epilogue of The Dark Knight Rises, his survival does not diminish the impact of the gut-wrenching eulogy delivered by Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth during a very sparse funeral service. Even if the audience knew Batman was alive in those moments, those who loved him sure as hell didn’t.
8. PROFESSOR X
The film Logan is filled with gut-punches, and despite its titular character meeting his maker, the real tragedy in its 137 minute runtime is the loss of Professor Charles Xavier, the very first X-Man. We meet Charles in a rather rough state, living in a grain silo and slowing losing his mind to a brutal degenerative brain disorder. It’s a terrible sight to see, like watching a childhood pet slowly lose its mobility and waste away.
And even though Charles is afforded a moment of levity before his eventual tragic passing, his death is so unceremonious and deceptive it makes you question if there is any real justice in this world (spoiler alert: there isn’t). Professor X dies in a bed, confused and practically alone…
7. BLACK CANARY
Somewhere, in the back of our collective geek brains, we all kind of knew who was in that grave Oliver Queen was pining over in the flash-forward segment on CW’s Arrow. However, that inkling does not make the death of Laurel Lance any less impactful when we actually see how she met her demise.
After seasons of being put through the proverbial wringer, the character arc of Laurel was quickly building to a close when she was offered the position of district attorney, a job she wanted before donning the moniker of the costumed hero, Black Canary. The decision for Laurel to take “one last job” was the final nail in the coffin, pretty solidifying her fate, thus proving that the punch still hurts like hell even when you see it coming.
So how does one kill the seemingly immortal mutant known as James Howlett? Too much adamantium and time, we suppose… Oh, and a really sharp stick. You’re gonna need that. The leading factors in the death of everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero (sorry, Deadpool) are somewhat of a hodgepodge of best-guesses in the fantastic neo-western disguised as a comic book film, Logan.
One thing is certain, however, is that The Wolverine meets his demise in surrounded by terrible circumstances and pulp melodrama. Seeing a character, we’ve spent the better part of two decades with, finally meet his end is a painful watch. And even if it is somewhat of a sneaky heartstring-tugging tactic, having him die in front of his genetic daughter was icing on the sad cake.
Everyone’s favorite sentient tree person, Groot was as delightful as the mental image of Vin Diesel repeating the character’s name (and sole uttered phrase) over and over in a sound studio while atop a pair of stilts. To dislike Groot is to dislike the very essence of being human. For a slew of reasons, be it his adorable inability to articulate dialogue, or his genuine kindness, veracity and belligerence (when necessary), Groot struck a chord with audiences in Guardians of the Galaxy.
We all wanted a Groot, just as much as we all did not want to lose a Groot. The latter of which did occur in a self-sacrificial act that solidified Groot’s commitment to his team and the depth of his love for his best friend. It was heartbreaking. Almost as heartbreaking as watching a talking raccoon cry.
The character of Caliban has taken many forms in films, comics and cartoons. Sometimes he’s presented as a villain and other times as a sympathetic bystander who wants nothing to do with the ongoing struggle between mutants and the uncompassionate humans they have sworn to protect. But the most memorable version of the alabaster mutant-finder is Stephen Merchant’s portrayal in Logan.
Merchant brings warmth to Caliban, making him as loveable as a hunched-over, cowardly, agoraphobic character can be. Caliban does eventually break the mold held together by his aesthetic characteristic in an act of suicidal subterfuge to allow Logan (aka Wolverine) and Laura Kinney (aka also Wolverine) escape to fight another day. It’s a harrowing sacrifice that elevates Caliban from sideline player to outright hero.
3. JEAN GREY
As mentioned before, there were a ton of problems with X-Men: The Last Stand, one of them being how the movie decided to change the origins of The Phoenix, making it some sort of deeply repressed ability that’s been dormant within Jean Grey instead of an ancient entity of pure psionic power that possesses her (hey, comics are strange, especially Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men) after a trip to space.
But even with this grounded version of The Phoenix, there is no denying the power of watching her not-so-secret admirer, Wolverine, delivery a gut of claws to Jean as she battles the unbridled destructive force she emits. The moment Jean dies, she looks just as relieved as Logan looks horrified. It’s a powerful moment in a sub-par X-Men film.
2. ISAAC MENDEZ
Not all superheroes wear capes (most of the ones on this list don’t). Sometimes they wear street clothes, have a heroin addiction, and paint like Tim Sale. Isaac Mendez from the NBC series Heroes is one of the more unorthodox superheroes you’ll encounter (after all, he meets the mentioned, cape-less criteria), but that doesn’t mean his demise is any less hard to watch.
Mendez was one of the more interesting characters in the first (and best) season of the runaway hit series. The man who literally painted a picture of the infectious catch phrase “Save the cheerleader, save the world” being murdered by who a man who would become one of the most complex villains (and then dumb villains) superhero television has ever seen resonates with viewers even a decade later.
Queue up the Cat Stevens and grab your box of tissues because this one’s a real tearjerker. Sometimes, the loss of a hero comes out of the blue because you didn’t realize the character was really a hero to begin with. Such is the case with the passing of Yondu Udonta in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
After spending most of two films being a money-hungry, artifact-stealing jerk, Yondu shows his true colors after losing everything. But before the fates of the universe also abscond with the life of his adoptive son, Peter Quill, that beautiful Mohawk-sporting, blue-faced Ravager makes the ultimate sacrifice. Michael Rooker owns the role and radiates the sorrow and repressed love that fills Yondu. That’s why this one hurt the most.
Which of these deaths was the most heartbreaking to you? Let us know in the comments!
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