Warning: Here there be spoilers.
1. Taserface (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
I have to start with this poor schmuck because watching his big death scene caused the exact opposite feeling of sadness in me. I’m totally with the golden lady on this one; if he had called me up in his final moments and said the same thing to me, I would have laughed in his face, too. Which probably makes me an asshole, sure, but let’s be honest here. The guy calls himself “Taserface.” He’s totally asking for it.
2-3. Loki (Thor: The Dark World) / Nick Fury (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
These two are hard to rank. I mean, both characters hit every right note in their death scenes, but… come on, people. We’re talking about a literal god of lies and the Marvel universe’s top super-spy here. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly convinced this was the end for either of them. And honestly, anyone who got taken in by their masterfully acted death scenes was, to be kind, a bit naive.
4-6. Ben Parker (Spider-Man) / Jack Murdock (Daredevil) / Nikolas Natchios (Daredevil)
Okay, it’s not like I have a heart of stone or I was actively rooting for these father figure types to die or anything, but let’s face it — without these fellows shuffling off their mortal coils and kick-starting their children’s origin stories, the Spider-Man, Daredevil and Elektra franchises would never have gotten off the ground. (Which might have been a good thing in the case of Elektra, but still.) Bottom line: it’s hard to get misty-eyed over deaths that even someone who hasn’t read a single comic book could have seen coming a mile away.
7-8. Abraham Erskine (Captain America: The First Avenger)/ Ho Yinsen (Iron Man)
Without Yinsen, Tony Stark never leaves that cave; without Erskine, Steve Rogers is stuck in 1941 muttering about bullies. Both characters were created for the comics specifically to die in their respective heroes’ origin tales, and yet Stanley Tucci and Shaun Toub did such a good job playing the hell out of their roles it still hurt a little to see them go.
9. James Wesley (Daredevil on Netflix)
Oh, Mr. Wesley. As Wilson Fisk’s right-hand man, Wesley was tasked with doing what was needed to keep Fisk’s empire running: murder, extortion, a little light bribery, you name it. Not a pleasant dude, to put it mildly, though you have to admit he took pride in his work. Sadly, his overconfidence proved to be his downfall when he underestimated a certain secretary. True, he did terrible things, but you can’t deny the fellow knew how to get shit done. Those of us who appreciate the lost art of efficiency mourn his passing.
10. Norman Osborn (Spider-Man)
For me, Willem DeFoe’s Norman Osborn was just the right amount of menacing and playful, something that’s lacking in a lot of super-villains. And walking into a Sam Raimi Spider-Man film for the first time, I didn’t know if we were going to get a re-enactment of the famous Green Goblin death scene from the comics or a “he lost his bad-guy memories” happy ending that might have set us up for a sequel. Either way would have been fine with me, but seeing him slumped over his glider and saying “Don’t tell Harry” to Spidey made me feel a little bad for the guy. That and realizing where his evil glider impaled him. Ouch.
11. The Ancient One (Doctor Strange)
The woman who mentored Stephen Strange had to step aside if he was going to on the title of Sorcerer Supreme, and while it might have shocking to her adherents to see the seemingly ageless mage die, it wasn’t that shocking to those of us in the audience who knew the fate of her comic-book counterpart. Still, her final moments — slowing down time as her soul left her body to enjoy watching raindrops and lightning bolts before departing this plane of existence — were touching ones, and bound to draw a tear from anyone who ever wished they could have had a few final moments to speak with a dying loved one.
12. Peggy Carter (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
For my money, Hayley Atwell is the underrated superstar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She stole Captain America’s heart in his first movie, headlined her own show for two seasons, and appeared in The Winter Soldier as her much older self to remind Steve there’s a downside to taking a 70-year nap. Unlike most of the deaths listed here, Carter’s passing happened off-screen, which didn’t make it any less sad, particularly when her final moments with Steve hinted at the shared life that was stolen from them. On the other hand, she led a long life of heroic deeds and passed away peacefully in her bed; it’s how most of us would want to go if given the choice.
13. Frigga (Thor: The Dark World)
The death of Thor’s and Loki’s mother in The Dark World wasn’t so much tragic as it was infuriating. Rene Russo never had a chance to do much with her role in two Thor movies before one of Malekith’s grunts stabbed her in her own home during an invasion of Asgard. Was it supposed to give Thor another reason to keep fighting? Add a new layer of tragedy to the rivalry between brothers? Who can say. What I do know is it was hard to get worked up over her demise considering how little we saw of her before her death scene. Farewell, Frigga — we hardly knew ye.
14. Garthan Saal (Guardians of the Galaxy)
“Peter Quill, this is Denarian Saal of the Nova Corps. For the record, I advised against trusting you here. Prove me wrong.” Awwww, right back at you, Saal. He was barely onscreen for most of the film, and when we did see him he was busy locking up Quill and the gang or making his disdain for criminals in general crystal clear. But he was a dutiful soldier who had the Guardians’ backs when it counted and gave his life to protect his home planet, and that’s enough to make us mourn his hero’s death.
15. Agent Antoine Triplett
Shows with Joss Whedon’s stamp on them like to mess with audience expectations, sometimes by killing off likeable characters. And with an ensemble cast like the one on Agents of SHIELD, you had to figure someone was going to bite the big one sooner or later. But when it happened… man, it was still hard to take. In Season 2’s “What They Become,” Tripp dies heroically while destroyed an alien artifact, with the last thing Tripp seeing is his friend and teammate Skye turning into stone. It was a hard death to take — especially given how, from his perspective, it looked like he failed to save his friend — but there’s no question his death had a huge impact on the rest of the team, and it drove the story forward for the rest of the series.
16. Roger Dooley (Agent Carter)
“Attagirl.” With that final word, the SSR’s no-nonsense chief made us all realize just how much we would miss the sexist goat, even after all the times he ignored Peggy in the office. Dedicated to the end, he probably didn’t imagine his final moments involving him trapped inside an exploding suicide vest, but he went out like the leader he was: sacrificing himself to save his team after getting Carter to promise to “get the son of a bitch” who did this. Sniff.
17. Ben Urich (Netflix’s Daredevil)
No fooling, this one straight up hurt. In a city of compromised souls, Ben Urich was one of the last good guys, someone who believed in justice and accountability. Plus he was an important supporting character in the Daredevil and Spider-Man comics, and he was played by a great actor (Courtney Vance) who classed up the joint. So why did they off him? As one of Daredevil’s showrunners explained, Urich’s death was more about showing the monstrous side of Fisk; Urich drew the short straw because “he committed the unforgivable sin in Fisk’s mind: he went to Fisk’s mother. The last thing you want to do with Fisk is at all involve, insult, drag through the mud the women in his life he loves.” So sure, from a storytelling standpoint it made sense, but still… that was hard to watch.
18. Quicksilver (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Speaking of hard to watch. It’s one thing to kill off a supporting character to move the hero’s story forward, but killing off one of the heroes? When he’s just starting out in the hero business? That’s harsh. Quicksilver’s death came when he sacrificed his life to save his fellow Avenger and a child from a hail of bullets. He said his final words — “You didn’t see that coming” — to fellow Avenger Hawkeye, but he could just as easily have been talking to the audience. There’s talk this might not be the end for the speedster’s film career, but future resurrection or not this is one death that hurt. Not as much as it did him, but… (Too soon?)
19. Phil Coulson (The Avengers)
Oh sure, now it seems silly to sob over the death of a guy who’s gearing up for a fifth season of headlining his own TV show. But back then, before we had any idea what Marvel had in mind for our man Phil and we saw him impaled like that on a magic staff? That was heartbreaking. As I’ve said before, Whedon is notorious for killing off fan favorites, and Clark Gregg’s unflappable company man gained a lot of admirers from his brief cameos as the mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. agent popping up in early Marvel movies. His death was a rallying moment that gave the Avengers someone to, well, avenge, so at least it served the story — but it still sucked to see one of the coolest “norms” in the movie go down like that.
20. Gwen Stacy (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Ugh. I have to confess, I had a really hard time getting through that second Amazing Spider-Man film, and at some point after Electro’s dive into the super-eel tank I just fast-forwarded to the scene I knew was coming: Gwen Stacy’s tragic death. Because for all the things Marc Webb’s movies got wrong about Spider-Man, Emma Stone’s Gwen was a smart and confident gal who had real chemistry with Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, and I wanted to see if she would live to see the end of the film. Not so much, it turned out. For all the gripes I had about the film’s plot, pacing and Schumacher-esque antics, Gwen’s quiet, slow-motion final scenes gave the film a grim finale, and I was actually moved watching a live-action version of a scene I had seen in the comics dozens of times before. So… kudos, people.
21. Otto Octavius (Spider-Man 2)
It’s easy to not get too emotional about the villains who die in superhero movies; they’ve all done nasty things and a lot of times they’re killed while trying to hurt someone else. But Dr. Octavius was a different cat; driven mad with grief by his wife’s death, his criminal actions were in part driven by the growing influence of his cybernetic arms over his fragile mind. In the film’s climax, he re-asserts control of himself and dies to prevent his fusion reactor from destroying New York City. It doesn’t erase all the bad things he did during his super-villain phase, sure, but it makes him a much more sympathetic character, and all the more tragic when he meets his end.
22. Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Yes, it’s a total fakeout. Yes, they didn’t even wait until the next movie to show us he’s alive and well (or at least a part of him is) but I don’t care because WE ARE GROOT and goddamn I’m sniffling again just thinking about his noble sacrifice to save his friends.
23. Meredith Quill (Guardian of the Galaxy)
*choke* *sob* *sniffle* Dammit, Guardians, you’re supposed to be the funny one. And yet here we are, not two minutes into the film and you’re giving us a child screaming in pain after watching his cancer-ridden mother die in front of him. It’s going to take a lot of Jackson 5 tunes to recover from this one.
24. Charles Xavier (Logan)
Professor X has died plenty of times — even once before in a movie filled with questionable storytelling choices — but his final moments in Logan are perhaps the most depressing of any comic-book character. When his advancing age led to him losing control of his telepathic powers, he lived a life on the run with Logan in an increasingly dystopian world where mutants are all but wiped out. In his final moments, he looked into the face of Logan’s feral clone and felt his claws plunge into his chest, not quite sure if the man with Logan’s face was Logan or not. Just as his own powers betrayed him and destroyed his dreams of peace, Xavier felt a similar betrayal before dying in his friend’s arms. That… really sucks.
25. Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
The first Guardians film presented Michael Rooker’s Yondu as a ruthless space pirate who kidnapped young Peter from Earth and adopted him as his own. Despite his… unique parenting style (“You said you were gonna eat me.” “That was being funny.” “Not to me!”), Peter did turn out to be a lovable rogue who stood by his friends, so maybe Yondu didn’t do so bad after all. At the end of the Guardians’ second film, Yondu sacrifices himself to save Peter’s life when they’re both floating in space, in a way that only a real parent would. What’s really sad about this death is that Peter only realized shortly before Yondu’s death how much he meant to the old space pirate, and how much of a father figure Yondu really was to him. But better late than never, right?
26. Logan (Logan)
Speaking of unlikely fathers. If this film really was Hugh Jackman’s final curtain call as Wolverine, then it was a hell of a way to go out. Shortly after losing his surrogate father, Logan dies saving his surrogate daughter (and a whole bunch of other young mutants on the run) from evil corporation types, including a younger, more vicious clone of himself. You couldn’t ask for a more literal representation of the constant battle waged between Logan’s civilized and bestial sides than the final battle between Logan and his clone, and in his final moments he showed his daughter there was a better way in life than giving in to the beast within her. While I’m pretty sure there aren’t any murderous clones of me out there, I can only hope I’m just as brave and self-sacrificing if I ever have to save my own children. Hopefully with claws.