Obviously, if you’re on our site, you enjoy movies and the myriad of emotions they can make you feel. Like our lives, movies have ups and downs—bringing us great joy one moment and tearing at our heartstrings the next. Movie deaths, in particular, can leave a lasting impact on us long after the credits have rolled and we’ve left the theater (or turned off our TVs).
Seeing a favorite character snuffed out is never easy, but the way in which they die usually determines how broken up about it we get. Sometimes, we saw these deaths coming—either because of foreshadowing or familiarity with the source material—but even then, seeing it played out on screen has a much different effect than reading it in a comic book or novel. However, it’s the deaths that seem the most undeserved or unexpected that we have the hardest time accepting. These are the real tearjerkers.
We’ve compiled a list of the most heartbreaking movie deaths that we still can’t seem to get over. So grab some tissues and get your excuses ready, because it’s about to rain on your face.
— Warning: Obviously, major SPOILERS lie ahead —
15. Professor X and Wolverine – Logan
Even though it only came out two months ago, Logan bears mentioning for delivering not one but two brutal deaths that make repeat watches seem masochistic. Apologies to anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet, but you might have guessed that this was the ending the series would opt for when both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart announced that this would be their final time playing these characters.
Seeing one of the most powerful X-Men alive bedridden and barely able to take care of himself was hard enough. But Charles Xavier was so much to so many: friend, teacher, mentor, and, in Logan’s case, father figure. It’s what made Professor X’s final monologue so gut-wrenching. There he was, drifting off to sleep after a perfect day, thinking that Logan was standing over him, only to be brutally murdered by his longtime companion’s clone, X-24.
Then, if that wasn’t enough of a day-ruiner for you, Logan meets the same fate while trying to save Laura — who by this point in the film has come to think of him as a father figure. He knew his days were numbered from the adamantium leaking into his bloodstream, but he used his last bit of strength to ensure that X-23 and her new generation of mutants survive. So this is what it feels like, indeed.
14. Artax – The NeverEnding Story
To the uninitiated, The NeverEnding Story may seem like just another cheesy ’80s fantasy film full of puppets, but in fact, it has one of the most devastating death scenes in children’s movie history. Anyone who watched it as a kid was undoubtedly traumatized by Atreyu and Artax’s journey through The Swamp of Sadness. Even as Bastian’s narration warns that anyone who lets the sadness overtake them will surely sink into the swamp, it still doesn’t prepare you for what follows.
What could have made a horse so miserably sad that it couldn’t even pull itself out of the muck for its best friend? No amount of screaming at the TV could help Atreyu as he pulled and pleaded with his hooved pal. And just like that, Artax is dead, and we’re all left weeping silently with Atreyu and Bastian, cursing Hollywood for another senseless animal death. At least there was some consolation after Bastian recreates Fantasia, reuniting Atreyu and Artax much to our relief.
13. Boba Fett – Return of the Jedi
While not a sad movie death in the typical sense, Boba Fett fans have never truly gotten over how he met his end in Return of the Jedi. How could George Lucas create such a badass character only to have him die in what was essentially an accident? A dangerous and deadly bounty hunter who has a freakin’ jetpack gets knocked into the Snarlaac pit by a disoriented Han Solo? Really?
According to George Lucas, had he known how popular the character would become, he would have made Boba Fett’s death more exciting. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? As a result, he has been portrayed as being very much alive in the Expanded Universe, but the canonical acceptance of those stories vary. If the rumors are true, however, we may finally see a standalone Star Wars film starring Boba Fett in the very near future, finally settling the debate on his true fate once and for all.
12. Jack – Titanic
Say what you will about James Cameron, but the man knows how to craft a generally well-liked and highly profitable film. Even though Titanic has been consistently mocked and parodied since its 1997 release, the fact remains that it’s the second highest grossing film of all time. Aside from the inevitable disaster sequences in a movie about a doomed cruise ship, audiences fell in love with the star-crossed lovers story of Jack and Rose.
After seeing their love story unfold, you can’t help but root for Jack and Rose when it becomes obvious that he cares more for her than Cal (Billy Zane) does. The real tragedy here is that despite their efforts to remain together, fate had other plans for them. Ever the selfless hero, Jack sacrifices himself so that Rose may live. It’s excruciating to watch a beautiful young Leonardo DiCaprio sink into the ocean as a nearly frozen Kate Winslet pledges to never let go. Despite seeing this film a million times, we still don’t see how he couldn’t have fit on that piece of wood with her. They could have kept each other warm, for God’s sake!
11. Gwen Stacy – the Amazing Spider-man 2
While avid readers of the comics may have seen it coming a mile away, Gwen Stacy’s death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was an unexpected blow to everyone else. Peter and Gwen seemed perfect for each other despite the constant danger he put her in as both Peter and Spider-Man. Whether it was Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s real life chemistry (Emdrew, anybody?), or just the characters’ well-established history from the comics, even after they broke up, you couldn’t help but root for them to get back together. The two TASM films were far from spectacular, but pretty much everyone was pulling for these two.
That’s why it was so hard to watch Gwen fall from that clock tower. Spidey’s web breaks and we see the fear in her eyes as she falls to her death. He tries desperately to save her in time, but to no avail. While his web does catch her before her body hits the ground, it’s either an extreme case of whiplash (breaking her neck) or the impact of her head hitting the ground that kills her instantly — and brutally. It’s pretty heartbreaking to watch Andrew Garfield sob over the body of his (then) real-life girlfriend, and just as tough to say goodbye to the one aspect of the Amazing movies that indisputably worked.
10. Wilson – Cast Away
Who knew that a story about a man stranded on a deserted island could be so engaging? Moreover, who knew that a man could become so invested in an inanimate object when it’s the only company he has? Even though both Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) and the audience knows that Wilson is just a volleyball, somehow, giving him a face and hair make it completely acceptable to talk to him like a person.
Noland made Wilson with his own blood; he’s a part of him. They were together for four years on that island as every aspect of Nolan’s life and personality was put to the test. Sure, they had their fights (however one-sided they may have been), but they always stuck together. When Wilson becomes detached from the raft, we can’t help feeling a sense of panic alongside Noland as he struggles to reach him. Without Wilson, he is completely alone and he knows it. It’s a devastating all-hope-is-lost moment that hits you right in the feels.
9. Marley – Marley & Me
Marley & Me was a surprisingly heartwarming story of how one family’s decision to adopt a dog changed their lives. Even as a puppy, Marley showed an independence and disregard for authority that made him a troublemaker at home and in public. Although John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) do their best to train the young pup, his unruly personality becomes a source of entertainment and material for John’s newspaper column.
But as most pet owners come to realize, all good things must come to an end, and this end was a particularly brutal one. After watching Marley grow up alongside the family and become an integral part of it, we also have to witness his failing health and ultimately, his death. It’s never easy to let go of a pet, even when you know it’s sick. Making the decision to put a dog or cat down brings up a lot of conflicting emotions, which the film portrays beautifully. Marley’s death scene serves as a reminder that despite everything our animals put us through, they enrich our lives and we love them just as much (if not more than) their human counterparts.
8. Captain Kirk – Star Trek: Generations
Here’s a movie death that was more heartbreaking for its treatment of a well-loved character than its overall bummer-ness. Although Star Trek: Generations was a part of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film franchise, Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov appear in order to pass the figurative torch to their small screen sci-fi replacements. Conveniently, they are trapped in a time ribbon called the Nexus, which is where the El-Aurian villain Soran (Malcolm McDowell) is trying to get to.
Picard and Kirk manage to stop Soran from blowing up Veridian III’s sun, but Kirk falls in the explosion and is crushed under the debris. For many Star Trek fans, he was ‘their Captain’ and should have gone out in a blaze of glory, or not at all even. Sure, he died helping another captain, saving millions of lives in the process, but his inclusion in the story made it seem like it was his last chance to prove his usefulness as a new Starfleet generation takes over. Couldn’t they have at least have given him some better last words?
7. Jenny – Forrest Gump
Jenny gets a lot of flack for coming in and out of Forrest’s life whenever it’s convenient for her. You can’t really blame her though, since she had such a messed up childhood and Forrest probably reminded her of that past, despite the close friendship they shared. Plus, part of what made Forrest so innocent and good was that he could see the goodness in others, especially Jenny. He loved Jenny completely and unselfishly, even when she sometimes didn’t deserve it.
Even when Jenny finally got sick and was dying, Forrest was just glad to have her back in his life. All he wanted to do was love her and care for her the best way he knew how. That scene under the tree was heartbreaking because he recounts to Jenny not only when she died, but everything that’s happened since then, in case she’s listening. It’s hard not to tear up as he leaves the letter from Forrest Jr. on her grave and hearing him tell her that he misses her. That man went through so much, God bless him.
6. Rue – The Hunger Games
Whether you read The Hunger Games and knew it was coming or you viewed the film with fresh eyes, in a series defined by death, Rue’s death was one of the hardest to watch. Rue is twelve when she enters the Hunger Games, the youngest of the tributes and the same age as Katniss’s sister, Prim. Rue reminds Katniss of her kid sister, and how it could have been Prim there in the arena if Katniss had not volunteered as tribute in her place. They build a bond of trust in a short amount of time and help each other stay alive for as long as possible. Unfortunately for Rue, Katniss’s protection isn’t enough.
After Katniss saves her from a trap, the District 11 tribute dies anyway after getting speared by another competitor. Everything happens so quickly, you can’t help but gasp in surprise at how unfair it all is. Pretty soon, tears are streaming down your face as Katniss sings Rue to her eternal sleep. It’s an incredibly moving scene as Katniss surrounds Rue in flowers; she looks so beautiful and peaceful, you almost forget about the Hunger Games for a second. But then Katniss turns around and gives the Three Finger Salute to Rue’s district, and there’s just no holding back after that.
5. Dobby – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
There are quite a few gut-wrenching deaths in the Harry Potter series which warrant mentioning: Dumbledore, Snape, Fred, Lupin, and Tonks. But in terms of the films, Dobby’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was definitely one of the most heartbreaking, especially if you never read the books. All Dobby ever wanted to do was keep Harry safe from harm, and he risked his life in order to ensure that the Boy Who Lived kept on doing so.
At Malfoy Manor, Dobby helped Luna and Ollivander escape, tried to maim (or seriously injure) Bellatrix, disarmed Mrs. Malfoy, and told them all what’s what before disapparating with Harry and his friends. When Bellatrix threw that knife at them, there’s a moment of sheer panic, one that’s alleviated when we see that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all safe. But then you hear that tiny voice say “Harry Potter,” and your ticket to the heartbreak hotel has officially been punched. Dobby died a free elf, with friends and in a beautiful place, but it was a senseless murder that seems awfully cruel amid all the other crap Harry has to deal with.
4. Mufasa – The Lion King
Of all the awful Disney deaths, Mufasa’s demise in The Lion King was by far one of the worst. For those of us who saw the film in the theater as kids, the experience was positively traumatic. There we were, just watching a cute kiddie film about a lion cub who can’t roar that well yet, when all of a sudden — stampede! All you can do is just sit there and watch with nail-biting anxiety as Mufasa attempts to rescue his son Simba from being trampled. Then, just when it looks like everyone’s out of the woods (or the wildebeests, as it were), Mufasa’s treacherous brother, Scar, throws the king to his death.
Watching Simba try to wake up his dead father has to be one of the saddest scenes in cinematic history, animated or not. What is it about Disney films and absentee parents? The Lion King hurt like hell because they had established a close relationship between Simba and Mufasa. And the best part? We’ll get to see it all over again in 2019, when Jon Favreau’s live-action remake hits the big screen. Hurray!
3. Ellie – Up
Speaking of sad Disney moments, let’s not forget how Pixar destroyed us all within the first ten minutes of their 2009 animated feature, Up. We’re immediately introduced to Ellie and Carl, a couple of kids who grow up together and eventually fall in love and get married. We see their whole happy life played out — buying a house, cloud watching, working at the zoo, reading together — and then things start to get depressing.
They try and fail to have children. All of their dreams of wild adventures and moving to Paradise Falls keep getting postponed as life gets in the way. Then, before you know it, they’ve become old and gray, and that’s when Pixar goes right for the jugular. Just when Carl takes a leap of faith and finally buys them plane tickets, Ellie falls ill and can’t make it up the hill anymore. All of their hopes and dreams turn to dust when Ellie dies. Her funeral is even held in the same church they were married in. How’s that for depressing?
2. Wash – Serenity
Fans of Joss Whedon’s spaghetti space western, Firefly, still hold a grudge against Fox for canceling the show prematurely. Two years after the series was canned, Firefly fans thought they were getting the closure they deserved with the release of Serenity, the big screen follow-up to the show. However, not being one for happy endings, Whedon decided to kill off not one but two central characters from the show: Shepard and Wash.
While Shepard’s death was tragic, it was nothing in comparison to the senseless brutality of Wash’s death. Just after safely landing the Serenity amid a sickening tailspin, Wash delivers one of his most famous lines, “I’m a leaf on the wind,” before getting impaled by a reaver harpoon. The speed at which things go from “that was a relief,” to “OMG noooooooo!” is mind boggling. Whedon doesn’t even give you time to breathe, let alone emotionally process everything that just unfolded. You’re either numb with shock or shaking with sobs as Zoe herself struggles to make sense of what in the hell just happened. Joss Whedon loves to remind us that death gives life meaning, doesn’t he?
1. Han Solo – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When Harrison Ford signed on for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were delighted, yet surprised by the news. Ford hasn’t always responded with the warm and fuzzies about his time playing Han Solo in the original trilogy. In fact, in a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine’s Peter Travers, he called the character uninteresting and reiterated his belief that Han should have been killed off in Return of the Jedi.
Despite Ford’s death wish for Han, it was still pretty shocking to have it finally happen, and by his own son’s hand, no less. The confrontation between Han and Kylo-Ren was already steeped with intensity after we consistently saw examples of Kylo’s unbridled rage and contempt for his father. But nothing could have truly prepared a nearly forty-year-old fandom for the death of one of the most beloved characters in the franchise. Han’s death struck a nerve with so many Star Wars fans because it marked the end of an era. Now, with the real life death of Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher, the future remains uncertain for our old favorites, except that we have to be prepared for loss and remain open to future re-imaginings like the upcoming Han Solo anthology film.
What other movie deaths have you struggled to accept over the years? Let us know in the comments — it helps to talk about these things.
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