The saddest screen deaths of all time have often occurred in summer blockbusters and hero-centric films where the good guy is always supposed to win. Well, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. Here are the eight saddest we’ve ever witnessed. SPOILERS after this point; ready the tissues!
8. The Iron Giant
When the Iron Giant flies up and away from his human friend and pretends to be Superman in order to stop a missile that would destroy the entire town, it just really tugs at the heartstrings. The big hunk of metal has grown a heart in his relationship with the young boy, and he relies on their games and memories in order to make the ultimate sacrifice.
7. Star Trek
George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) faces an impossible situation at the beginning of the film. As he sacrifices himself for his crew and his pregnant wife, he helps her name the child — James T. Kirk — and hears his son’s first cries just before exploding.
Maximus rushes to save his wife and child from execution as ordered by the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). He’s too late. Not only does this entry on our list of saddest screen deaths rip your guts out, it singlehandedly turns Commodus into one of the most vile movie villains of all time.
5. Rocky III
Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) was the Rock’s rock in I and II, and by the time he has a heart attack on the way to Rocky’s first match with Clubber Lang, he’s become one of the family. Watching Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) cry as he kneels over the body of Mick after lying to him about winning the fight remains one of the most traumatic movie experiences of my youth.
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Keep in mind that when Spock (Leonard Nimoy) bought the farm at the end of part two, there was no guarantee a “Search For Spock” would ever happen. The filmmakers went big in killing off the lovable Vulcan, and they give him a moving sendoff, partitioned on the radioactive side of a sheet of glass as he says goodbye to a helpless James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Even knowing that Spock comes back in the next film doesn’t make this one any easier.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron’s action masterpiece pits the T-100 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) against almost impossible odds in dealing with a liquid metal and seemingly indestructible newer model. After somehow finding a way to vanquish his foe, he knows that John Connor, the teenage boy he’s befriended throughout the film, will never be safe as long as the last remaining chip exists. It just so happens that it’s the one powering him. In the next to last scene of the film, John and his mother watch as the T-100 is lowered into the molten steel, giving them a thumbs-up to the very end.
2. Return Of The Jedi
In the 1977 film Star Wars, there was no question who the villain was: Darth Vader. Same held true for most of The Empire Strikes Back. So imagine child-me’s surprise when Vader turns on his Master at the end of the film and saves son Luke’s life. The farewell scene where Luke urges Vader to get on the ship and escape — “I’ve got to save you,” to which Vader replies, “You already have” — is chill-inducing even today.
Carl and Ellie’s romance is documented in a brilliant opening montage from the time they meet as children, through all the ups and downs of married life, and finally, with Ellie’s death and Carl’s widowed loneliness. It’s 15 minutes of the most gut-wrenching cinema ever produced, and it’s in a Pixar movie.
Now that you’ve checked out our saddest screen deaths, make sure you take a look at our list of the 7 Surprising Movies That Should Have Sucked But Didn’t for more movie listicle fun.
And while you’re here, tell us: what are some of the saddest screen deaths you remember?