Some superhero movies are light and jovial, while others are dark and gritty. Not every superhero movie needs to be the same. Some movies can be dramas, while others can be comedies. We all know which ones are which; but no matter the superhero, and no matter the superhero movie, there are always a select few scenes reserved for character reflection and overall profoundness, especially when dealing with the heroes in tights.
Unfortunately for superheroes, when it comes to emotion and sadness, it’s usually a consequence of a fellow character’s death — and there are a lot of them, even though no one really stays dead in the comics. Sure, superhero movies are meant to be fun, above all else; however, that does not bar the movie’s creatives from expanding on the deeper parts of the characters’ mythologies. Sometimes the movies can be as tragic as the characters themselves. With that in mind, get the tissues ready, because here’s Screen Rant’s take on the 20 Most Heartbreaking Scenes In Superhero Movies.
20. Superman Loses His Powers (Superman II)
To many people, Christopher Reeve is the definitive Superman. He not only perfectly embodied the Kryptonian hero, but he also represented the human side of the character. In the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, Superman chooses to live the rest of his life with the woman he loves, Lois Lane; and after conferring with his father, Jor-El, he gives up everything he knows.
In Jor-El’s eyes, the inhabitants of Earth took in and sheltered his son, Kal-El aka Clark Kent, and in return, Clark is asked to serve and protect humanity. However, in the name of love, Clark chooses to give up his powers and become human, so that he may live happily ever after with Lois Lane — which is something his father sees as selfish.
Although he loved his adoptive parents, Clark spent his entire life wondering what his birth parents were like, and being seen as somewhat of a disappointment in Jor-El’s eyes (even if he is merely a construct of the long-dead Kryptonian) is heartbreaking, especially after all that Superman has given to protect Earth.
19. Superman’s Reaction To Killing Zod (Man of Steel)
Perhaps one of the most controversial scenes in a superhero movie in recent history is when Superman snaps General Zod’s neck in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in order to save the lives of a nearby family. Superman lives by a code, specifically choosing never to kill (cough, cough); however, when faced with a considerably stronger foe, Superman is left with no choice but to put an end to the Kryptonian invader. After all, just as Zod said moments before, either Superman dies, or he does.
Before killing the Kryptonian general, Superman begs Zod to stop, but Zod would not do so. In fact, he coldly solidifies his commitment to destroying the human race when he replies, “never,” to Superman’s call to end their battle. But killing Zod wasn’t the pivotal moment in the scene, it was Superman’s reaction. Ending a life with his bare hands ruptured his soul, involuntarily forcing him to scream out in remorse. It was in that moment that we saw a glimpse into Henry Cavill’s acting range.
18. Frigga’s Sacrifice (Thor: The Dark World)
In Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster becomes infected with the Aether, one of the universe’s primordial singularities, otherwise referred to as an Infinity Stone. Consumed by its dark powers, Jane is taken to Asgard seeking help, where Odin instantly recognizes the affliction as being the work of the Aether. Although his son’s true love is on the verge of death, Odin is preoccupied with fear of the return of an ancient enemy (the Dark Elf Malekith) as well as the prophetic apocalypse he brings with him.
When Malekith and his elves attack Asgard, Thor and Odin are caught up in the battle, so Thor’s mother, Frigga, takes it upon herself to protect Jane. Little did audiences know Frigga would die protecting Jane from Malekith and the Kursed. While Thor and Loki are brimming with fury, it’s Odin’s pensive reaction that is most affecting, especially how he cradles Frigga in his arms and how he remains composed during her beautiful funeral.
17. Wayne Murder (Batman Begins)
Although various parts of Batman’s story have undergone several revisions over the ages, one thing has remained (almost always) constant: the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. We all know how it happens: Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne are mugged leaving the theater, at which point the would-be thief kills Bruce’s parents with Martha’s pearls spread across the ground. It’s an iconic and defining moment in the Batman mythos, without which Bruce Wayne would never have had reason to become The Dark Knight.
We’ve seen the Waynes murdered countless times in the comics, on television, in film, and in video games, but none of them are quite as poignant and well represented as the scene in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Perhaps that is because, unlike most of the other adaptations, Batman Begins lets audiences spend a little time getting to know Thomas and Martha Wayne before killing them off. Rather than knowing them through the thoughts and memories of Bruce Wayne, we see who they are and what they’re like first hand.
16. Cap Asks For A Raincheck (Captain America: The First Avenger)
It may not seem like it at first, but Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger is actually quite a despairing movie for Steve Rogers. He not only is rejected multiple times by the United States Army, but he also loses his best friend in combat, his own life, and misses his chance to go on a date with Agent Peggy Carter.
At the end of the movie, Captain America gives Ms. Carter a goodbye kiss as he boards the Red Skull’s aircraft, which is carrying weapons of mass destruction and is headed towards Cap’s hometown of New York City, amongst other major US cities. In the midst of fighting the Red Skull, the Tesseract’s container was damaged, leaving the repulsive villain to handle the stone with his hands. When the Red Skull picks up the Tesseract (one of the universes Infinity Stones that power the Infinity Gauntlet), he is consequently absorbed by the device and essentially shot up into the sky, never to be seen or heard from again.
Despite defeating his arch-nemesis, Captain America still had the plane to deal with, which wasn’t far from its destination. In order to keep the plane (and therefore, its device) intact, the good Captain sacrificed himself by plunging the aircraft into the Artic, where he remained until he was recovered by S.H.I.E.L.D. decades later. Peggy’s reaction to Steve dying left her overwhelmed her with emotion, but the truly heartbreaking moment comes when Cap realizes he’s in the future and crushingly tells Nick Fury that he’d missed their date.
15. Tony Finds Out How His Parents Died (Captain America: Civil War)
Throughout Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, the villain Baron Zemo probes and interrogates former Hydra agents seeking the mission report from December 16, 1991. He finally gets his answer when he questions the Winter Soldier, but not until Bucky Barnes was ready to comply. Viewers don’t find out what happened on said day until the end of the film, when the Winter Soldier, Captain America, and Iron Man storm the abandoned Hydra facility in Siberia where Zemo was held up with the remaining Winter Soldier subjects. But since years have gone by without any supervision, the subjects had long passed.
Zemo, who was consumed by the death of his family during the Battle of Sokovia, wanted to make the Avengers pay, but he didn’t want to destroy them physically. No, he wanted to break them apart from within — and in that measure, he succeeded. All he needed was a little push, and the mission report showing the Winter Soldier murdering Tony Stark’s parents was the catalyst. Tony’s reaction to discovering how his parents died 25 years prior is heartbreaking, to say the least. So it’s understandable why he then wanted to kill the Winter Soldier, despite his friend, Captain America, standing in his way.
14. Rachel Dawes Dies (The Dark Knight)
Perhaps the greatest superhero film ever made, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight flawlessly embodied the characteristics and ideologies of Gotham‘s titular hero and villain, Batman, and the Joker, respectively. The film correctly depicted Bruce Wayne’s solitude, and his love for no one other than Alfred, and in this case, his childhood friend, Rachel Dawes.
Following the presumed death of Lieutenant Gordon, the Joker’s men kidnap Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes and trap them in a room full of oil drums and explosives. During a rather intense interrogation, Batman learns of Rachel and Harvey’s locations, though he ends up being tricked by the Clown Prince of Crime and saves Harvey instead of Rachel. Despite mounting the curb, Gotham’s finest aren’t quick enough to save Rachel, and she consequently dies in an explosion.
Losing his best friend and the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life in an explosion reduced Bruce Wayne to his absolute lowest point, reminiscent of the way Jason Todd dies in the comic series Batman: A Death in the Family. Rachel Dawes dying itself is tragic, but the effect that it had on Bruce was even harder to watch.
13. Jonathan Kent Dies (Man of Steel)
In comics, teh death of loved ones (especially father figures) is what often sets our heroes on the path to become superheroes. Many characters from the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, such as Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, all experienced great loss, which defined who they are and the moral code they live by. For instance, Superman chose not to become a superhero at first, because that is what his (adoptive) father wanted.
Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, wanted to hide his son’s powers, so that Clark would be safe from the world. It’s a recurring theme throughout Snyder’s Man of Steel, especially when Clark tells Lois Lane, “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… out of fear.”
Clark then recalls when his father died in the middle of the tornado: “I let my father die because I trusted him. Because he was convinced that I had to wait, that the world was not ready.” No matter what your opinions were on the movie itself, the moment Jonathan put his hand up, signaling Clark not to save him, was enough to bring a tear to your eye.
12. Rorschach Dies (Watchmen)
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is considered one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. It’s expertly written and brimming with symbolism, ideological conflict, and above all, questionable morality. In the story, in order to save the world from an impending nuclear doomsday of their own making, Ozymandias detonates an energy reactor infused with Doctor Manhattan’s energy in New York City, killing millions of people.
By framing Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias ensures world peace, with the planet’s two greatest superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union — choosing to band together to defeat a common enemy rather than fight each other. And, “without condoning or condemning,” Doctor Manhattan understands what Ozymandias was trying to accomplish. But Rorschach does not. He cannot, not while preserving his morality.
Knowing full well he couldn’t live with the lie, Rorschach chose to die, telling Doctor Manhattan, “Of course you must protect Veidt’s new utopia; what’s one more body amongst the foundations? Well, what are you waiting for? Do it. DO IT!” Jackie Earle Hailey’s acting in this scene is nothing short of superb, and coupled with the grim tale, audiences couldn’t help but shed or tear or two.
11. Big-Daddy Dies (Kick-Ass)
Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is the only movie on this list not produced by Marvel Studios or DC Entertainment. Centering on a ragtag group of costumed heroes, Kick-Ass gets in over his head and puts the team in danger, eventually leading to him and Big Daddy being captured.
With their impending death being live-streamed on the internet, the mobsters attempt to set Big Daddy and Kick-Ass on fire, but not before Hit-Girl intervenes and saves the day. Unfortunately, she’s not quick enough to prevent the mobsters from starting the fire beneath Big Daddy. Big Daddy knows he’s dying — quite literally burning alive — but instead of trying to save himself, he cares more for the safety of his daughter, Hit-Girl, and offers her as much advice as possible to see that she makes it out of the situation alive.
Offering her instructions related to comic book moments, he yells, “Now switch to Kryptonite,” as well as, “Go to Robin’s Revenge” — two codes for using a strobe light to blind the enemy and then using it as misdirection, thus allowing her to flank them from the left-side. It’s a touching moment between father and daughter, and Nicholas Cage’s screams perfectly encapsulate both his physical and emotional pain.
10. Professor X Dies (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Jean Grey is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. She is also one of the few characters who fails to utilize her true potential, but when she does, she has enough power to wreak havoc, as is seen in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse. However, if she capitulates to the primordial Phoenix Force, she will become something else entirely and not have any control over her universe-altering powers.
In Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, we learn that Professor Xavier spent years suppressing Jean Grey’s powers, making sure she would never succumb to the Phoenix Force. But due to the events of the movie’s precursor, X2: X-Men United, Jean had no other choice but to utilize the Phoenix Force in order to save her friends. In doing so, she became the Phoenix.
When Professor X and Magneto visited Jean Grey at her old home and attempted to contain her powers, she lost control and killed the Professor. To this day, Professor X’s death remains the saddest (and possibly the most devisive) moment in the X-Men franchise. Before both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe, comic book fans had the X-Men. Many of us grew up with these characters on the big screen, and seeing their leader perish instantaneously left us heartbroken. But, of course, no one really stays dead in the X-Men universe.
9. Gwen Stacy Dies (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Ever since Emma Stone was cast as Gwen Stacy in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, comic book fans knew that she could eventually bite the dust. And then when it was announced Shailene Woodley would appear as Mary Jane Watson (Peter Parker’s girlfriend and future wife) in the movie’s sequel, fans knew what that meant.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was littered with new characters and supervillains, and while many of them did not adhere to the source material, some scenes remained relatively true to the comic books. And leading up to the movie’s release, set photos showed Emma Stone dressed in virtually the same outfit her character wears the day she dies in the comics. All the signs pointed to her character dying at some point in the movie.
The casting announcements and set photos had Spider-Man fans waiting with bated breath the scene in which the Green Goblin would kill Peter Parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy. Despite the overall uninspired feeling carried throughout the movie, Gwen’s death was particularly striking, and driven home by the impassioned performance by Andrew Garfield, who played Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
8. Peter Doesn’t Take His Mother’s Hand (Guardians of the Galaxy)
The opening scene for Guardians of the Galaxy is perhaps the most heartbreaking opening scene in a superhero movie ever. In the comics, Peter Quill loses his mother at a young age to Badoon soldiers, who came to Earth looking to kill Peter and end his father’s bloodline. When Peter grows up, he joins NASA and heads into space where he becomes stranded and is subsequently rescued by Yondu and his Ravagers. Of course in the movie, Peter was given a relatively different origin story.
Guardians of the Galaxy begins on Earth, in 1988, with Peter sitting outside his mother’s hospital room, mere moments before she passes. When Peter sees her for the last time, she gives him a gift (which doesn’t open until the end of the movie) and asks him to take her hand, but he does not. Overwhelmed by his mother’s death, Peter storms out of the hospital and is kidnapped by the Ravagers, who were hired by Peter’s as-of-yet-unknown father to find him. Not taking his mother’s hand is a decision that would haunt Peter for the rest of his life, and is something was truly heart-rendering.
7. Agent Coulson Dies (The Avengers)
Although he wasn’t the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet, Agent Phil Coulson was considered by many to be the glue of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having made his debut appearance in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008, Clark Gregg went on to appear as Agent Coulson in Favreau’s Iron Man 2 and Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. Unfortunately, in order to band Earth’s mightiest heroes together, Joss Whedon killed off Agent Coulson in The Avengers movie.
Afte apprehending Loki and placing him in a capsule designed to contain Hulk, a fight broke out and, in the chaos, the God of Mischief and Magic plunged his scepter through Agent Coulson’s heart. It was one of the toughest moments to get through in the MCU thus far, something felt by each and every Avenger. Not long after The Avengers released, fans began to miss Coulson so much that Whedon decided to not only revive the character but also to give him the title role in Marvel’s new TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is currently filming its fourth season.
6.We Are Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy)
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the biggest surprise hits in recent years, rocketing to the top of the box office while shining some light on some classic ’80s music. It was truly a win across the board. And one of the characters audiences fell in love with instantly is the sentient, tree-like humanoid creature Groot, played by Vin Diesel. Unfortunately, he doesn’t say much. Rocket Raccoon described it best when he told Star-Lord, Groot “don’t know talkin’ good like me and you, so his vocabulistics is limited to ‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot,’ exclusively in that order.”
Towards the end of the movie, as the Dark Aster comes crashing down over Xandar, Groot extends his branches around the rest of the Guardians and, in a beautiful sacrifice, saves Rocket Raccoon and his newfound friends Drax, Gamora, and Peter Quill. And in his final act, he alters the only pronoun and verb he knows, saying, “We are Groot.” Thankfully, a part of him survives and, until Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 releases, we have Baby Groot to think about.
5. Alfred’s Goodbye (The Dark Knight Rises)
Anyone who has read a Batman comic book or seen a Batman movie knows of Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight’s confidant and butler of his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. When Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed on that fateful night leaving the theater, Alfred assumed the role of Bruce’s guardian. Ever since that day, Alfred and Bruce have been inseparable. However, that all changed in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
“I’ve sown you up, I’ve set your bones. But I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family,” Alfred tells Bruce at one point in the film. And when questioned, Alfred believes the only way to make Bruce understand the flaw in his judgement is to leave, even if it’s the hardest thing for him to do. As long as Bruce is alive, Alfred is happy. And after Alfred’s emotional monologue, all Bruce has to say in response is, “Goodbye Alfred.” Those two words — it was like a stake was being driven through fans’ hearts.
4. Uncle Ben Dies (Spider-Man)
Everyone has heard of the oft-quoted Spider-Man phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility,” often attributed to Peter Parker’s lamented Uncle Ben. Unfortunately, Uncle Ben doesn’t live long enough to see the troublesome Peter assume the superhero identity of Spider-Man and take on all that responsibility.
In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Uncle Ben, played by legendary actor Cliff Robertson, is killed by a thief who Peter allowed to leave a crime scene just moments before. But what really propels the emotional factor of Uncle Ben’s death is Tobey Maguire’s reaction — which has since become a relentless meme on the internet. Although Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man featured its own Uncle Ben death scene, it was nowhere near as tender and hard-hitting as Raimi’s.
By the time Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming rolls around, we have to imagine that fans (and Peter Parker himself) will likely be granted a reprieve from another tragic depiction of the superhero-creating death; twice was more than enough. After all, no one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben, right?
3. Heath Ledger’s Final Scene (The Dark Knight)
The scene in which Batman apprehends the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight itself is not heartbreaking, but it was the meta factor about the scene that drove audiences to tear-up a little bit (or a lot, in some cases). It was Heath Ledger’s final scene in the movie (and one of his final scenes of his entire career). The final lines he delivers to Batman — considering that Ledger passed away mere months before The Dark Knight released in theaters — are as haunting as they are heart-wrenching.
You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
2. Alfred’s Speech (The Dark Knight Rises)
As is evident with the many entries on this list, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is littered with emotional, poignant, and sometimes heartbreaking, scenes. The most piercing of them all comes towards the end of The Dark Knight Rises, when Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth speaks at Bruce Wayne’s intimate funeral, with only those who knew of Bruce’s alter-ego Batman in attendance.
In Batman Begins, Alfred tells Bruce that his father, Thomas Wayne, once made him responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world: Bruce. And as previously mentioned, Alfred abandoned Bruce in the middle of The Dark Knight Rises when he realized Bruce could not be helped — and when he returned, Bruce (and Batman) had sacrificed himself to save Gotham.
At Bruce’s funeral, Alfred breaks down and confesses to Thomas Wayne, saying, “I’m sorry. I failed you. You trusted me, and I failed you.” But he didn’t. Bruce Wayne was not only still alive, but he was with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman living happily ever after. Alfred didn’t fail, he succeeded, and thankfully, he was able to catch a glimpse of that success a few scenes later.
1. Baymax’s Sacrifice (Big Hero 6)
Of all the scenes in all of the superhero movies, nothing quite lives up to Baymax sacrificing himself in Disney Animation’s Big Hero 6. Based off the team of the same name from Marvel Comics, Big Hero 6 centers on Hiro Hamada, a robotics prodigy who creates microbots that act based on nueral commands, and his quest to defeat the man in the kabuki mask, Professor Callaghan. To do this, Hiro enlists the help of Baymax, an inflatable robot created by his older brother, Tadashi.
Throughout the movie, Hiro and Baymax develop an unshakable bond, since Baymax will do anything Hiro asks him to as long as the end result is Hiro’s happiness. Towards the end of the movie, as Hiro and Baymax attempt to rescue Callaghan’s daughter, Abigail, from the portal Callaghan opened, Baymax sees no other option than to sacrifice himself. But he couldn’t do so until Hiro says he is satisfied with his care (seeing as Baymax is a robotic medical assistant). It is without doubt the most heartbreaking scene in a superhero movie, rivaling the human-robot bond from The Iron Giant.
Did we forget any heart-wrenching moments from the big-screen superhero world? Let us know in the comments.