14 heartbreaking superhero movie deaths that hit us where it hurts

If superhero movies have taught us anything it’s that no one is safe from the Grim Reaper’s grasp. A traumatic loss for a comic book character is never far away, whether it’s the hero themselves paying the ultimate price, or the death of someone close to them like Peter Parker’s doomed Uncle Ben. Get ready to fight back the tears as we revisit the most heartbreaking deaths in superhero movies. And be warned: big spoilers lie ahead for some recent movies - including Hugh Jackman’s emotionally-charged Wolverine swansong, Logan.

14. Quicksilver

The movie: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The death: Speedy Sokovian Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) spends the bulk of Joss Whedon’s sequel bickering with Hawkeye, but when the action-packed finale arrives he ends up throwing himself in front of gunfire to save his fellow Avenger and a young boy from certain doom. At least we still have him in the X-Men movies.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Scarlet Witch screaming and unleashing her telekinetic powers in anger as she senses her brother’s death.

13. Rorschach

The movie: Watchmen (2009)

The death: After learning of Ozymandias harnessing Dr Manhattan’s power to obliterate the world’s biggest cities and unite humanity, masked vigilante Rorschach threatens to expose the conspiracy. Knowing that the truth would destroy the peace, the blue-skinned god vapourises Rorschach with a mere flick of his fingers. “What are you waiting for? Do it!” he says, goading Dr Manhattan into blowing him to bits.

Why it’s heartbreaking: All that remains of the anti-hero is blood stains in the snow, shaped to look just like Rorschach test inkblots.

12. Rachel Dawes

The movie: The Dark Knight (2008)

The death: Batman and Commissioner Gordon race against the clock to save Harvey Dent and Rachel, who are being held in separate buildings the Joker has rigged with explosives. Both bombs go off, leaving Harvey gruesomely scarred and killing Rachel before the rescue teams arrive. 

Why it’s heartbreaking: Batman rushes to save Rachel, but thanks to the Joker’s scheming he’s tricked into rescuing Harvey instead. Brutal.

11. Meredith Quill

The movie: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The death: James Gunn breaks hearts right from the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy, showing a young Peter Quill watching his mother pass away from cancer. But not before she’s able to hand him over a present, the significance of which we don’t discover until later. By then Peter has found a new family with misfit pals Gamora, Groot, Rocket, and Drax, but we’re still yet to find out exactly why he calls himself Star-Lord.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Peter unwrapping his gift end of the film to reveal his mother’s goodbye letter to ‘Star-Lord’ and an Awesome Mix Vol. 2 cassette tape. Admit it, you cried.

10. The Waynes

The movie: Batman Begins (2005)

The death: A night at the opera gets the better of a young Bruce Wayne as his fear of bats forces him and parents Thomas and Martha to make an early exit. Unfortunately they head straight into the path of trigger-happy mugger Joe Chill. We’ve seen the Waynes die on-screen before, but in Batman Begins Thomas and Martha get more screentime than any previous movie, making their deaths here all the more tragic.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Thomas telling his son not to be afraid as he lies bleeding in the alleyway is the defining moment that shapes the rest of Bruce’s life.

9. Big Daddy

The movie: Kick-Ass (2010)

The death: Captured by gangster Frank D'Amico’s goons, Kick-Ass and Big Daddy find themselves bound and broadcast across the internet ready for a live unmasking. Pint-sized badass Hit-Girl comes to the rescue, but not before the villains set her dad on fire for a painful death she can’t prevent. The loss of Big Daddy leaves Hit-Girl a tragic, lonely orphan like Batman, Spider-Man, and so many of her superhero movie predecessors.

Why it’s heartbreaking: As the flames engulf Big Daddy, he still manages to yell out coded messages and guide his daughter through the gun battle (“now switch to kryptoniiiite!”).

8. Uncle Ben

The movie: Spider-Man (2002)

The death: Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker uses his superhuman powers to make cash from an underground wrestling tournament, but when the promoter swindles him out of money he lets a robbery play out as a way of getting revenge. Karma hits back hard, though, as the same crook ends up carjacking and shooting Peter’s Uncle Ben. Suddenly Ben’s “with great power comes great responsibility” motto becomes crystal clear to Peter.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Commence crying when Peter grabs Ben’s hand as his loving uncle takes his last breath.

7. Peggy Carter 

The movie: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The death: Well into her 90s when the events of Captain America: Civil War take place, Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter sees her World War 2 beau Steve Rogers one last time before passing away in her sleep. Peggy was the lynchpin that held the MCU’s entire history together - she’s appeared across multiple movies, short films, and a TV series that stretches from the 40s right through to the present day.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Peggy’s parting words leave Cap crestfallen. “I have lived a life. My only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours,” she says.

6. Gwen Stacy

The movie: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The death: Harry Osborn’s plummet into supervillainy peaks when he discovers Spider-Man’s secret identity and kidnaps Gwen Stacy. In the heat of Spidey and Green Goblin’s battle, the webbing holding Gwen snaps and she falls to the ground, dying as Peter arrives too late to catch her. In an instant Peter has lost the love of his life and the only person he could ever trust with his superhero secret. 

Why it’s heartbreaking: A tearful Spidey holding Gwen’s body as blood trickles from her nose. It’s the classic comic story The Night Gwen Stacy Died brought to the big screen.

5. Jean Grey

The movie: X-Men 2 (2003)

The death: Jean Grey heroically sacrificing herself as Alkali Lake’s dam collapses is the first major character death in the X-Men movies. It’s also one of the most emotionally-charged. With the X-Jet damaged and unable to to take off, Jean uses her telekinetic powers to hoist the vehicle away from danger. She rescues her fellow X-Men but it’s too late to save herself - the onrushing water sweeps her away leaving boyfriend Cyclops (and the rest of the X-Men) inconsolable.

Why it’s heartbreaking: Jean has to forge a telepathic link with Professor X to relay her last words to the X-Men. “It’s the only way,” she says, before delivering a final “goodbye”.

Simon Reynolds

Simon is a film and entertainment writer with a love for The Simpsons, Bruce Springsteen, and a long-standing delusion that he’ll one day play for Nottingham Forest. He's also written for publications including Digital Spy, the Press Association, The Guardian, The New York Times, MSN, the LA Times, and Rotten Tomatoes, among others.