Though it’s more than a little morbid, there’s something elementally satisfying about a well-executed death scene. From the offscreen death of Bambi’s mother to the grotesque bloodbath of the Red Wedding, portrayals of sudden death and dying have provided audiences with a curious mixture of shock, grief, and catharsis. These are often the scenes that stay with viewers long after the projector has stopped spinning.
Superheroes have never been strangers to death (Batman’s first appearance ended with an evildoer getting dropped into a vat of acid, for instance), but it wasn’t until recent decades that caped champions began to get killed off in greater numbers. As the superhero genre doesn’t look to be relinquishing its stranglehold on the box office any time soon, we at Screen Rant have decided to gather up 15 examples of superhero deaths that we want to see in movies and TV.
Yes, we know – they got better. In superhero comic books, death has become such a revolving door that the phenomenon of frequent resurrection has been treated by some writers as a running gag. These days, the death of any superhero – from big-name headliners to even one-off supporting characters – is almost always accompanied by the appropriate fandom rolling its eyes and beginning the countdown until the inevitable “Return of [Dead Hero]” story arc.
All this said, the following entries are ones that we at Screen Rant feel could translate well into film or television. Though they were likely later reversed by science or sorcery, each of the scenes could play out powerfully when translated for a wider audience.
Also, keep in mind that this list will contain SPOILERS for many comic book storylines – most of which are more than a decade old. Nonetheless, tread lightly if you truly want to be surprised by the Big Moments in several recent comics and graphic novels.
Cause of Death: Murdered by Bastion
Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner has been a favorite member of the X-Men since he first debuted in Giant-Size X-Men in 1975. As both a grinning swashbuckler and one of the few religiously devout characters in comics, Nightcrawler has developed a well-deserved fan following. When it came time to depict the blue elf onscreen, Alan Cummings’ turn as the character in X2: X-Men United provided one of the unalloyed highlights in the film.
This made it all the more shocking when Nightcrawler was abruptly killed during the 2010 X-Men crossover Second Coming. Leaping to the aid of the “Mutant Messiah” Hope Summers, Nightcrawler was mortally wounded by Bastion, a hyper-advanced Sentinel. With the appearance of the “Mark X” Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s very possible that we could see a variation on this scene play out onscreen sooner rather than later.
Cause of Death: Killed by Doomsday
Perhaps the most famous (and certainly the most hyped) example on this list, Superman’s death in 1992 was emblematic of its era. After several issues of super-powered fistfights and wanton property damage, Superman finally stopped the berserker horror known as Doomsday – only to drop dead at the end of the fight.
Twenty years on, “The Death of Superman” is not terribly well-regarded by many comic book fans. However, the storyline remains an iconic moment in pop cultural history, pulling much newspaper ink and newscast minutes at the time. There have already been attempts to translate the story to the silver screen – most notably with Tim Burton’s abortive Superman Lives project. With rumors of Doomsday in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman, will general audiences finally see the Man of Steel fall (temporarily, of course – there is Justice League to think about)?
3. The Flash (Barry Allen)
Cause of Death: Died saving the universe
1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was intended to sweep up DC Comics’ complicated, overlapping storylines and universes and usher in a cleaner, more streamlined continuity. Apparently, this meant blowing up entire universes and causing the deaths of more than a few DC stalwarts.
The most notable of these was Barry Allen, the man who had worn the lightning bolt of The Flash since 1956. Knowing full well that it was suicide mission, The Flash took it upon himself to destroy a reality-ending superweapon. Aging into oblivion in the heart of the device, Allen went out a true hero.
It’s doubtful that the upcoming The Flash show will tackle the kind of multiverse-destroying storyline that killed Barry Allen. However, if the show is successful enough, who’s to know what material The Flash will cover?
Cause of Death: Disintegrated by Sentinels in a dystopian future
One of the better hooks for the character of Wolverine comes from the fact that he’s effectively immortal, but also quite destructible. Bullets and blades may not be able to stop Logan, but they can definitely put him out of commission for a while.
In the original, classic “Days of Future Past” storyline, an older Wolverine learned this the hard way when he tried to take on a cadre of advanced, well-prepared Sentinels. As it turns out, being able to rapidly heal means nothing when all of one’s flesh is instantly vaporized.
Though it was never meant to be “real,” Wolverine’s violent end is so sudden and brutal that its power to shock still hasn’t abated 30 years after its initial publication. With Wolverine taking such a central role in X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s unlikely that we will see an exact recreation. However, the image is so famous that we will be surprised if it doesn’t at least see a shout-out of some sort.
5. The Punisher (MAX)
Cause of Death: Died from multiple wounds, but not before taking care of all loose ends
The Punisher MAX series (created by Hellblazer and Preacher scribe Garth Ennis) is probably the most influential version of the character ever produced. Featuring a much older, grizzled version of Frank Castle, the series gets routine praise for its hyper-violent, noir-flavored storytelling.
After being handed off to writer Jason Aaron and artist Steve Dillon, Punisher MAX put Frank through quite the ringer before killing him outright. Nonetheless, Frank managed to cut off all the dangling threads of his grisly work before expiring – including killing villains Bullseye, Elektra, and the Kingpin.
The box office failure of three Punisher movies guarantees that we will likely not see Frank on the big screen again any time soon. That said, now that Marvel once again holds the media rights to the character, it’s possible that the Punisher may end up appearing in the street-level stories of the upcoming Luke Cage or Iron Fist miniseries set to debut on Netflix.
Cause of Death: Conquered his ultimate challenge, only to be cursed to Hell
Though the Hellboy movies are fun and enjoyable fantasy-adventure romps, they only scratch the surface of the kind of pulp-tinged, gothic insanity of the titular comic book (not to mention its sister book, BPRD).
One of the best examples of this appeared in the Hellboy storylines “The Storm” and “The Fury,” in which our favorite monster hunter had to face off against Nimue, an ageless sorceress. When Nimue was possessed by the alien gods of the Ogdru Jahad, Hellboy took her down in a battle that devastated England – only to find himself too weak and exhausted to resist being thrown straight into Hell.
The likelihood of any new Hellboy movie is slim at best – much less one in which the title character has his heart pulled out by an immortal witch-queen. At this point, fans of the Dark Horse Comics property might have better luck with new animated films, or perhaps an eventual televised adaptation of the series.
7. Robin (Jason Todd)
Cause of Death: Beaten with a crowbar and left to die
The death of the second boy to wear the Robin costume remains controversial almost three decades after it occurred. Initially decided by readers voting at a telephone hotline, Jason Todd’s fate was sealed by the fact that fans simply didn’t like him much. Thus, the “Death in the Family” storyline saw him beaten to a pulp by the Joker and left to die in an explosion.
Technically, Todd’s demise has already gotten the small-screen treatment via the well-regarded direct-to-DVD movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. Still, the infamous initial storyline is ripe for further film or TV exploration. Perhaps Ben Affleck’s version of the Batcave will include a glass case containing a tattered Robin costume . . .
8. Robin (Damian Wayne)
Cause of Death: Killed by his own clone
Just barely known outside of current comics fandom, Damian Wayne has been something of a divisive figure since his creation by Grant Morrison in 2006. The son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, Damian was a child trained to be an assassin and a conqueror – only to reject his mother and embrace the position of Robin.
Just as it seemed Damian was settling into his role in the greater DC Comics universe, he met an especially violent end. In a 2013 issue of Batman, Inc., Damian had to face off against the Heretic, a clone artificially aged in the belly of a whale (seriously). While Robin put up a mighty struggle, his genetically engineered brother managed to get in the final blow.
Despite his death, Damian will soon be introduced to a wider audience via the animated Son of Batman. Does this mean we will eventually see adaptations of some of Damian’s many adventures – including his ghastly murder?
9. Spider-Man (Ultimate)
Cause of Death: Died saving his friends and family from his greatest foes
There won’t be a dry eye in the house with this one.
At once lauded and reviled by fans, the death of the Ultimate Universe’s Peter Parker is one of the best-executed recent examples of a big-name superhero meeting his end. Faced with a resurgent Sinister Six determined to kill his friends and family, Parker took on a punishing gauntlet of battles across New York City. Finally, after taking down Norman Osborne once and for all, Peter succumbed to his many wounds.
Considering the number of cues the Amazing Spider-Man franchise seems to be taking from the Ultimate version of the character, one has to wonder whether director Marc Webb is casting an eye forward to a dramatic shift in the Spider-Man movieverse. After all, Peter Parker’s death paved the way for a new Spider-Man: fan-favorite Miles Morales.
10. Starman (Ted Knight)
Cause of Death: Dying of radiation poisoning, sacrificed himself to save Opal City
One of the genuine jewels of DC Comics’ publication history, Starman is a great example of the fact that – contrary to popular belief – not all superhero comic books published in the ’90s were awful. Written by James Robinson, the series dealt with Gen X slacker Jack Knight as he was forced to take up the mantle of Starman – a name once sported by his father, Ted. The generational conflict between the aging Ted and his cantankerous son fueled a good deal of drama over Starman‘s 70-plus issues.
In Starman‘s final arc, Ted discovered that he had developed radiation poisoning during a showdown with the villain Doctor Phosphorous. Using the super-science that made him a hero, Ted managed to save his native Opal City from a nuclear weapon – though at the cost of his life.
Starman‘s well-drawn characters, complex backstory, and ultra-detailed setting of Opal City make it an ideal property for a television adaptation. If the current crop of planned DC television shows does as well as Arrow, we may yet see this cult title get a proper screen translation.
11. The Human Torch
Cause of Death: Killed in a desperate one-man stand against the armies of the Negative Zone
Writer Jonathan Hickman’s stint writing Fantastic Four brought many changes to Marvel’s first family. Perhaps most dramatically, the Human Torch died protecting his family from an endless wave of horrors from the Negative Zone.
Admittedly, not many readers believed that Johnny Storm was dead for good. Later in Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, it was revealed that Johnny had in fact been killed during the encounter, only to be resurrected over and over again for the amusement of villain Annihilus.
Given the fact that the Fantastic Four reboot hasn’t even begun shooting, it’s unlikely that we will see the Human Torch stand against the Annihilation Wave in the near future. Still, it may be something for director Josh Trank to eventually shoot for. After all, watching Michael B. Jordan roar, “FLAME ON!” and take on ten-thousand aliens at once could be legitimately awesome.
Cause of Death: Killed by the Anti-Monitor
Though Barry Allen was probably the most popular character to meet his maker during Crisis on Infinite Earths, he wasn’t the most famous. Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl, also got her ticket punched during the crossover when she attempted to go toe-to-toe with the universe-eating archvillain the Anti-Monitor.
Of all the comic book deaths on this list, Supergirl’s is easily the most visually iconic. The image of Superman cradling his cousin’s lifeless body has been copied, remixed, and given homage so many times, it’s almost become something of an industry in-joke.
Though there are no indications so far that Supergirl will figure into the harder edges of the world created by Man of Steel, anything is yet possible. Given the lingering power of that aforementioned image, would director Zach Snyder (or whoever is steering the series at that point) resist killing Supergirl off on the big screen?
13. Hitman (Tommy Monaghan)
Cause of Death: Went out in a blaze of glory
Before he created Preacher, writer Garth Ennis teamed with artist John McCrea on Hitman, an off-kilter DC comic book about a super-powered contract killer out to make ends meet in the slums of Gotham City. Despite being a cold-blooded assassin, Tommy Monaghan was an amiable guy who rambled through a world populated by gonzo “super-guys.”
Though quirky and often parodic, Hitman sometimes veered into darker territory, spinning storylines about pathological guilt, war crimes, and the slow mental decay inherent to being a murderer. Thus, it made perfect sense when the final issue of the book ended with Tommy falling to a storm of gunfire.
Really, we just want to see a screen adaptation – of any sort – of Monaghan’s anti-heroic adventures. If Dexter could pull eight seasons out of a the life of a serial killer, surely DC and Warner Bros. can spin a series from Hitman . . . but only if it sticks to Tommy’s final, irrevocable fate.
Cause of Death: Heart ripped out by Drax the Destroyer
We’re fudging a bit with this entry, as Thanos is a villain – and supervillains drop dead far more often than their justice-minded counterparts. Yet: as the supposed Big Bad of the Marvel film universe, it’s only a matter of time before movie audiences see Thanos come to some final destiny.
The Mad Titan has actually died several times on the comics page. As is natural for an acolyte of Death, Thanos has managed to spring back every time. Thanos’s fate at the climax of the thrilling Annihilation crossover series deserves closer attention. As he attempted to undo a mistake and save the universe from Annihilus, Thanos was at long last outmaneuvered by Drax the Destroyer. In the culmination of almost 30 years of stories, Drax finally took his revenge in the most savage way possible.
For our money, Annihilation contained the most shocking and dramatically resonant of Thanos’s many ends. Depending on how well Drax’s plight is sold in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, it could also eventually be the end the Titan faces in the movie universe as well.
15. Captain America
Cause of Death: Assassinated by a conspiracy headed by the Red Skull
The 2006 Marvel Comics Civil War storyline was especially hard on Steve Rogers. Not only did the leader of The Avengers have to take up arms against comrade Tony Stark, he eventually decided to surrender to authorities rather than continue a destructive inter-superhero conflict. Soon after, a broken and exhausted Cap was assassinated on the steps of a New York City courthouse by agents of the Red Skull.
At the time, Captain America’s death made headlines for its brutality, willingness to kill an icon, and the assassination’s possible political subtext. Since the Civil War lead-in to Rogers’ death is probably not necessary for a movie adaptation, one gets the sense that the Marvel movie universe could already be setting itself up for the climactic scene. Indeed, Captain America: The Winter Soldier reintroduces Rogers’ eventual replacement: Bucky Barnes.
For superheroes, death is never really the end. Captain America’s consciousness turned out to be unstuck in time. Barry Allen simply decided to return to life when his skills were needed again, though he was also being manipulated by Professor Zoom. Superman wasn’t really dead – he was just in a Kryptonian coma. Some heroes (such as Supergirl) simply returned via reboot, appearing again as if nothing ever happened. Such is the course with characters that aren’t just characters – they’re multibillion dollar intellectual properties.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t negate the previously mentioned stopping power of the characters’ individual death scenes. Harnessed properly for movies and television, these storylines could kick a newer, wider audience square in the teeth – emotionally-speaking, of course.
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