Warning! Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame below.
Endgame is here and with it came the end of an era. These past 22 movies have shown plenty of eye-popping action, snappy dialogue, and game-changing twists. Amidst all this, character deaths have also massively factored into the overarching story. There is a common complaint regarding the lack of lasting deaths in the MCU, but, although that may be true, there have been more characters who have gone for good than one might think.
And even those false losses carry a large emotional impact that affects, not only the audience but the Marvel heroes themselves, regardless if they reappear later. Some flew under the radar, but others clearly stuck and may have even had life-changing effects on others. So, looking back on Marvel Studios' entire cinematic history, here are the 10 most heartbreaking deaths in the MCU.
10 Gamora - Avengers: Infinity War
Amongst hundreds of Soul Stone-related theories for Infinity War, nobody guessed its actual location. It turns out that it could be found in the unknown planet of Vormir, guarded by the missing Red Skull. There was a catch, though, one that Gamora failed to understand until it was too late. Thanos was prepared to do anything to accomplish his mission, including sacrificing what he loved for one of the Infinity Stones.
There was no escape for his daughter when Alan Silvestri's heartbreaking soundtrack roared as Thanos grabbed on to her tight and didn't let go. She was sent flailing for her life as she literally hit rock-bottom. Thanos cried and Star-Lord lost his mind, as the deadliest woman in the galaxy met her demise.
9 Groot - Guardians of the Galaxy
While some may scoff at this particular choice, there is a legitimate reason to include the death of Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. It may seem forgettable because we all know he then immediately started growing back into Baby Groot, and now Teenage Groot. Except he didn't. James Gunn, the movie's director, unfortunately, confirmed a very sad fact.
The sentient tree did, in fact, die when he sacrificed his life to save his fellow Guardians, by enveloping them with his body in a crashing spaceship. The Groot we’ve been following is actually the original one’s son. Rocket’s subsequent weeping as he holds on to a single twig, and Drax’s attempt to comfort the “raccoon” is still one of the Guardians’ most heartfelt moments.
8 Vision - Avengers: Infinity War
If there was one hero everyone thought would not make it through Thanos' Stone hunt, it was Vision. It took a while, but eventually, the Mind Stone was ripped from the android's head, permanently killing him. However, the actual heartbreaking death of Vision is the one that happens minutes prior to this. That would be confusing if there was a lack of Time Stone-wielding Titans who can reverse someone's death, only to immediately kill him afterward. Before Thanos got to him, it was the AI's true love who dealt the final blow.
In an excruciatingly long scene, Wanda Maximoff uses her powers to break the Stone in Vision's head, in between teary goodbyes. It's a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts, as they both pursue this agonizing choice to prevent Thanos from completing the Infinity Gauntlet. It's all the more heartbreaking when, after this tremendous sacrifice, the Mad Titan wins anyway.
7 Phil Coulson - The Avengers
There are few fans who haven't been informed of Phil Coulson's current five-year-long life on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D after his presumed death at the hands of Loki. But even though audiences might know this, the Avengers do not. Whether they found out later is up for debate, but all that matters is that they didn't know when it mattered the most. This was the first truly heartbreaking murder in the MCU.
Throughout his phase 1 adventures, Agent Coulson's joyful attitude, loyal behavior, and low-key sense of humor had made him into a fan-favorite character. Amongst all those super-heroes, Coulson was the Everyman. He sacrificed his life in his attempt to take on Loki alone, and Earth's Mightiest Heroes mourned him greatly. It was this death that gave them the motivation to take on Loki in New York, and what officially earned them the title of "Avengers".
6 Howard and Maria Stark – Captain America: Civil War
The Starks are a tragic family, aren’t they? No, this is not a Game of Thrones reference. This is all about the parents who gave birth to our very own Iron Man. In arguably one of the MCU’s most intense and horrific scenes, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Bucky Barnes find themselves in a Siberian Hydra facility. In that facility is a screen, and on that screen, a dark truth is revealed.
Both the audience and the Armored Avenger are forced to watch as footage from 1991 shows the Winter Soldier brutally murdering Howard Stark, before choking the life out of Maria Stark. This was an unusually dark moment in what is typically a joyful, colorful universe. And after New York, Sokovia, and his vision, this must not have helped to alleviate Tony’s trauma.
5 Spider-Man - Avengers: Infinity War
Until Endgame, this was arguably the most tear-inducing Marvel moment in history. The words "I don't want to go" became immortalized with Tom Holland's teary performance during the final minutes of Infinity War. When Thanos snapped his fingers, cinema's biggest cliffhanger started to take shape. Multiple heroes suddenly turned to dust as the survivors watched in horror.
Unfortunately for Peter Parker, his disappearance was the last and took the longest to complete. The terrified web-crawler stumbled his way towards his mentor and father-figure pleading for his life. But Tony Stark could do nothing to ease his pain and was forced to witness the death of the kid he had taken under his wing. Iron Man mourned and audiences wept.
4 Yondu - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Yondu was an interesting character in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was the sequel that really shone the spotlight on him. Introduced as Star-Lord's mischievous alien captor, the blue, arrow-wielding captain eventually ended up redeeming his villainous past by ceasing the hunt for the Guardians. This led him to be tortured and humiliated as Taserface took over his crew.
He was left in a disgraceful state and in a previously unseen emotional position, that resonated considerably with fans. In the final battle against Ego, Space Hawkeye completed his redemption arc by sacrificing his life for Peter Quill, the guy he considered to be his son. What made this death stand out from the rest, though, was the tear-inducing colorful space funeral, set to Cat Steven's "Father and Son".
3 Black Widow - Avengers: Endgame
The epic finale that everyone and their grandmother had been waiting for arrived. As expected, audiences laughed, yelled, and cried during those 3 hours. The question was, who would permanently bite the dust? Surprisingly, the first major death happened somewhere towards the middle of the movie, as a consequence of Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton's trip to Vormir.
As they learned what must be done to retrieve the Soul Stone, the two loving friends fought each other to determine who would leave that cliff with the Stone and without a buddy. In the end, the Black Widow fulfilled her wish of finally wiping the red of her ledger as she gave her life for the greater good. She might not be the most popular Avenger, but one must not forget that she was introduced very early on, and has remained an integral part of the team ever since.
2 Loki – Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War started off with a bang. In an opening scene that did not hold back, we got our first glimpse at Thanos' ruthless nature and unparalleled power, as he defeated the Hulk single-handedly and stabbed Heimdall through the heart. Poor Thor had to witness the entire thing from the sidelines, unable to step in and help. But the Mad Titan wasn't done yet.
The final, gut-wrenching move to truly demonstrate why Thanos is the ultimate villain begins as Loki finally refers to himself as Odinson and attempts to trick Thanos so he can get close enough to strike. Unfortunately, Thanos sees right through him and, lifting him up slowly, mercilessly breaks his neck. An end to everyone's favorite villain that leaves the God of Thunder a weeping, broken mess as he grabs on to his brother's cold, lifeless body.
1 Iron Man - Avengers: Endgame
Where to begin? The death of Tony Stark (it still feels weird to say that) could fill an entire book. Iron Man started what we now know as the highest grossing franchise in cinematic history. Since his film debut, the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist has amassed a total of 5 hours and 21 minutes of screentime. His character alone could provide scenes for nearly three entire movies. With that said, the emotional weight of this loss was something no MCU fan had yet experienced. It was a happy loss, nonetheless.
He raised a family and did the one thing he had ever wanted. To save the universe, and protect the ones he loved, once and for all. His funeral was what truly emphasized the tremendous impact Tony Stark on this universe, as the camera pans to every single hero of the last 22 movies all mourning the loss of the man who, in some way or another, shaped their heroic lives. At that moment, they were all Iron Man.