Superhero Movie Villains Die

"Mai never dies in the series, but evil always has to be punished in a movie".

In the world of comics, no one is really dead, but in Hollywood, things work differently. In the end, there needs to be a climactic confrontation between hero and villain, and one of them will die. Guess who.

There are several reasons for this. Comic books have to come out on a monthly basis so they can't afford to lose villains, whereas even the fastest movie productions take years, and are usually adapted from material that has an established Rogues Gallery; plenty more to choose from for the sequel. Also, the villain's death leaves the story at a natural conclusion. In movies with more than one supervillain, it's usually only the villain that acts as the Big Bad that perishes; the lesser ones either are captured or reform. Usually a case of Self-Disposing Villain when the hero has a strict no-killing policy.

A Sub-Trope of Death by Adaptation. Contrast with Joker Immunity. This is liable to lead to He's Just Hiding on the part of comics fans who like the character.

This is a DEATH TROPE! Unmarked spoilers ahoy.

Straight Examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Joker in the past is killed by Tim Drake who had been Mind Raped at his hands and in the future Terry destroys the chip brainwashing the adult Tim Drake, thus killing the Joker for good. Harley Quinn also supposedly dies in the same flashback that the Joker was, but a scene at the end of the film reveals that she survived and is now the grandma of the Dee-Dees.
  • In the animated Doctor Strange film, Dormammu and Baron Mordo both die.
  • In Batman: Assault on Arkham KGBeast is killed within the first ten minutes. Killer Shark and the Black Spider are also killed by the end, and Killer Frost and Amanda Waller may or may not have died as well.
  • In Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Metallo is killed under Lex Luthor's orders.
  • In The Invincible Iron Man, a very In-Name-Only version of the Mandarin (here some sort of ancient Chinese ghost-wizard) is effectively "killed" when his last living descendant rejects him and dies, meaning that he has no one to summon him forth again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Tim Burton Batman movies:
  • In the Joel Schumacher movies:
    • In Batman Forever, Two-Face is killed. The Riddler survives, but has his brain fried and is interred to Arkham Asylum.
    • In Batman & Robin, Jason Woodrue dies. Poison Ivy is heavily implied to be set for death (they leave her in the same cell with Mr. Freeze, after having realized that she was the one who attempted to kill his wife). Bane's fate is a little more ambiguous than that (he's alive but severely weakened by venom withdrawal when we last see him, and the building around him is collapsing — although nothing else is actually shown happening to him afterward, but we see some rubble laying on top of the pool of venom around him when he was devenomized, indicating he was crushed). Mr. Freeze is definitely alive.
  • Though the Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler, and the Catwoman are arrested at the end of Batman: The Movie, it is slightly hinted that they may be executed for attempted world domination based on the Penguin's quote:
    The Penguin: We must hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.
  • In the Christopher Nolan Batman (The Dark Knight Saga) movies:
    • Batman Begins: Ra's al Ghul is killed when Batman refuses to save him, letting him crash in the train he's in. Scarecrow survives and cameos in the two other movies. More minor villains like Victor Zsasz and Carmine Falcone are also alive by the end but locked up and driven mad in Arkham.
    • The "major villain dies, minor villain lives" sub-clause is inverted in The Dark Knight when Batman captures the Joker alive but is unable to prevent Harvey Dent aka Two-Face from falling to his death. Sadly, Nolan did this because he had plans to use Joker in future installments (he thought the original Batman movie should have let Joker live) but Heath Ledger died after the movie was completed, leaving no chance for him to appear in the sequels.
    • Both Talia al Ghul and Bane are killed in the course of the final battle in The Dark Knight Rises. Catwoman joins the fight against the League of Shadows and is seen with Bruce in a romantic relationship in the end. Granted, Catwoman is more of an Anti-Villain than a straight-up villain.
  • In the first Blade film, Deacon Frost dies. In Blade: Trinity, Dracula (aka Drake) dies, although Dracula is a Public-Domain Character. As it is, Drake had little in common with Marvel Comics' Dracula. The other villains whom Blade killed were created for the films; although there was a team of vampires called the Blood Pack, they had different members from their Blade II counterparts.
  • In Captain America (1990), Cap kills the Red Skull in the climax.
  • In Deadpool Colossus attempts to talk Deadpool out of killing Ajax. He's having none of it and shoots the villain in the head. Ajax's enforcer Angel Dust is KO'd by Nega Sonic Teenage Warhead but survives.
  • In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the Surfer nearly sacrifices himself to stop Galactus, completely obliterating him in a cosmic shockwave. Doom is seemingly killed at the end of the first film, but returns alive in this film, only to presumably drown when Ben knocks him into the water with a crane.
  • Fantastic Four (2015) has Doom's death as a plot point, since his death is the only thing that will stop Planet Zero.
  • In Ghost Rider, Blackheart is able to be killed (or given a Fate Worse Than Death) by Ghost Rider's Penance Stare after Blackheart absorbs the souls of San Venganza.
  • In Green Lantern, Hector Hammond and Parallax are dead by the end. Sinestro never even becomes a villain until The Stinger.
  • In Hulk, David Banner / Absorbing Man is destroyed in the climax. General Ross survives, but his right-hand man Major Talbot is blown up by his own grenade.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe films:
    • Iron Man: Obadiah Stane is killed when Tony gets Pepper to overload the Arc Reactor, blowing Tony aside and frying Stane in his much heavier suit. While Stane also died in the comics after facing Iron Man as Iron Monger, his death was way different (a suicide due to not accepting defeat).
    • Iron Man 2: After being defeated by Tony and Rhodey, Vanko self-destructs the Crimson Dynamo/Whiplash armor in an attempted Taking You with Me move. Justin Hammer lives but is arrested with his reputation in tatters. According to Word of God, Vanko was supposed to explicitly die onscreen, but this was deliberately changed to a Never Found the Body situation in case Marvel ever wanted to bring him back in a future movie.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: Red Skull is seemingly killed when he tries to use the cosmic cube and gets disintegrated by it. As for his scientist minion Dr. Zola, he is captured and trades information for his life.
    • Iron Man 3: Aldrich Killian is killed when Pepper blows him up with with a missile and repulsor blast. His henchmen Eric Savin and Ellen Brandt are killed earlier on by Tony. While Killian died in the comic at the beginning of the comic book storyline, in the movie he's a Composite Character of Killian and the Mandarin, who wasn't dead.
    • Thor: The Dark World: Malekith and his Dragon Kurse. Kurse is killed when Loki sets off Kurse's own Black Hole Grenade on his belt and Malekith is killed by his arms being Portal Cut and his ship being dropped on him.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: the main villain Alexander Pierce is killed after Nick Fury shoots him twice. The titular Winter Soldier finally regains his senses, if not his memories, and saves Captain America from drowning before leaving. Minor villain Batroc survives but is captured, and Rumlow is alive but horribly burnt after a Helicarrier crashed into him. Arnim Zola gets blown up (after cheating death through Brain Uploading).
    • ''Guardians of the Galaxy: Ronan the Accuser is spectacularly destroyed by the Guardians of the Galaxy (minus Groot) using the Infinity Stone of Power. He also kills Thanos's servant The Other in the middle of the film, and his henchman Korath is killed by Drax.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron kills off Ultron at the end. While there's always going to be the question of his survival thanks to being a computer consciousness, the movie was thorough in asserting that his internet connection was cut off and that the Avengers destroyed every single host body. Baron Strucker is also killed offscreen at the end of the first act, before he could even get the chance to shine as a main villain.
    • Ant-Man has the villain Darren Cross/Yellowjacket apparently dying at the end of his movie. Like for Red Skull above, it's left more or less ambiguous, but considering his "death" was much more graphic (it's implied he was crushed because his suit was shrinking while he wasn't due to Ant-Man's sabotage), and he ended up at the very least in a Fate Worse Than Death, it's unlikely we'll see more of him.
    • Rumlow dies by suicide bombing at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War (though his actor has suggested that He's Just Hiding).
  • In Punisher: War Zone, Jigsaw dies. The villains of the other movies don't count, as they are original characters.
  • In the original Spider-Man Trilogy films there are many villain deaths.
    • In Spider-Man, the Green Goblin is killed by his glider impaling him. This happened to him in the comic books as well, though he came back from that decades later. The mugger who killed Uncle Ben (but not really) also dies earlier in the film.
    • In Spider-Man 2, Doctor Octopus is killed by either drowning or the heat when he tears apart the base of the fusion reactor, sending the miniature sun (along with himself) into the river in a Redemption Equals Death moment.
    • In Spider-Man 3, the post-Heel–Face Turn New Goblin is killed by Venom, and Eddie Brock and the symbiote both die when Brock tries to get back to the symbiote after Spidey has thrown a Goblin Grenade at it. Sandman survives, however, and Peter is able to forgive him for killing Uncle Ben. It should be noted that Harry, like his father, also died under similar circumstances in the comics and was brought back.
  • Electro is seemingly killed in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Norman Osborn is presumed dead much earlier, while both the Green Goblin (Harry Osborn) and the Rhino survive as part of a Sequel Hook for the then upcoming Sinister Six spin-off.
  • The Bowser equivalent from Super Mario Bros. is reduced to a pile of goo.
  • In the theatrical release of Superman II, a depowered General Zod and his similarly depowered Kryptonian henchmen are killed by being thrown into a crevice (Zod by Superman, Ursa by Lois, and Non while trying to fly), although a deleted scene reinstated for some versions had them surviving.
    • A less definite instance in Superman Returns, when Lex Luthor is last seen stranded on a desert island, with only six coconuts and a dog to eat; it is presumed that he will die of starvation, or possibly dehydration, after all are gone. He obviously won't return, since the franchise was rebooted for the DC Extended Universe.
  • In the DC Extended Universe films:
  • In the first live action Transformers film, all Decepticons in the climatic battle including Megatron die except Starscream and Barricade (the latter probably would have, but they forgot to film the scene). Megatron is brought back to life and survives the sequel, but the The Fallen dies. In the third film all major Decepticons and Sentinel Prime are killed. Lockdown is killed at the end of the fourth film, but Megatron, rebuilt as Galvatron, escapes and lives to fight another day.
  • While Magneto, Pyro and Mystique have Joker Immunity on full force in the X-Men movies, plenty of bad guys bite the dust.
    • X-Men has Toad fried by lightning. Sabretooth doesn't return except for a prequel, but that is more Put on a Bus.
    • In X2: X-Men United, Colonel Stryker, Lady Deathstrike, and Jason Stryker are killed.
    • In X-Men: The Last Stand Jean Grey/Phoenix is killed along with a few Brotherhood members.
      • Although all of these are undone when the timeline is altered; as of Apocalypse, William Stryker is currently alive.
    • In X-Men: First Class, Sebastian Shaw is killed by Magneto forcing a coin through his brain. Shaw's minions join Magneto, but are killed offscreen between First Class and Days of Future Past.
    • Silver Samurai and Viper are killed in the climax of The Wolverine. Shingen Yashida is killed by Wolverine in the second act.
    • Apocalypse is disintegrated by Jean at the climax of X-Men: Apocalypse. Angel may or may not have been killed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the season 3 finale of Arrow, Ra's Al Ghul is killed in a fight to the death with Oliver. Due to an embargo created because of the Suicide Squad (2016) film, Deadshot and Amanda Waller were both killed as well.
  • In The Flash (2014) many villains are killed in the episode they are introduced. However the majority of them are Rogues Gallery Transplants from lesser known heroes while the actual Rogue's Gallery live and most of the time get away. The Big Bad of Season 1, the Reverse-Flash, is erased from time when his ancestor pulls a Heroic Suicide to ensure he's never born... but thanks to a Timey-Wimey Ball his past self is still around to threaten the heroes occasionally. In Season 2, Zoom is dragged off to a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • In Gotham, Sal Maroni dies.
  • In Jessica Jones Jessica kills Kilgrave via Neck Snap, having decided that letting him live is more dangerous than any safeguards he might have in case of his death. Fortunately it appears that dying cancels his commands.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
    • Batman: Arkham City famously killed the Joker during the climax. Hugo Strange, Ra's Al Ghul, and Talia also die by the end, although Death Is Cheap is a core aspect of the latter two's characters. The DLC missions in Arkham Knight confirm that Talia was Killed Off for Real, while Ra's was brought back to life, though there are hints Talia may return some day as well.
    • Batman: Arkham Knight sees Poison Ivy pull a Heel–Face Turn and eventually going through a Heroic Sacrifice.
      • In the "Season of Infamy" DLC, Mr. Freeze decides to die alongside his revived wife and depending on the player's choice, Batman can let Ra's al Ghul die or cure him and let him kill his daughter Nyassa.
  • In Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Venom dies after either performing a Heroic Sacrifice of his own will or getting forced into it by a symbiote-corrupted Spider-Man.
  • In Deadpool the Merc with a Mouth succeeds in killing Mr. Sinister during the climax, having previously ended up killing his clones instead.
  • In the video games based off the Spider-Man Trilogy in addition to featuring the deaths from their film counterparts, the Kingpin also ends up (potentially) biting it in the adaptation of Spider-Man 3.
  • In The Punisher, both Bushwacker and Jigsaw are killed by Castle.

    Western Animation 

Subversions, Aversions and Zigzags

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in The Amazing Spider-Man Series. Producer Avi Arad stated flat-out that Peter will not kill his enemies. Setting up for a villain-based Sinister Six movie was also a factor.
    • In The Amazing Spider-Man, "The Lizard" Curt Connors is arrested instead of killed, which leads to a post-credits Stinger in his jail cell.
    • Harry Osborn/Green Goblin survives The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as does Rhino, although the latter doesn't show up until the end of the movie. Electro, however, doesn't. Maybe since it's shown that he can reform particles and was shown doing it several times beforehand.
  • In the Adam West Batman movie, Joker Immunity is in full effect, as it was the movie of the series and the villains needed to return.
  • In the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman series:
    • In Batman Returns, Catwoman survives with one of her nine lives left, but she is more of an Anti-Villain.
    • In Batman Forever, the Riddler is mentally incapacitated and committed to Arkham Asylum, believing himself to be Batman.
    • In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are both committed to Arkham Asylum, Mr. Freeze after his Heel–Face Turn which allows him to keep his suit and torment Poison Ivy as her cell mate while continuing his research to find a cure for McGregor Syndrome.
  • In Daredevil, Bullseye and Kingpin both survive, though in Bullseye's case, you don't know that unless you stayed for the in-credits stinger.
  • In Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom isn't killed; rather, he's frozen in place after his superheated metal body is quickly chilled. He returns in the sequel.
  • At the end of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Cobra Commander and Destro are both captured by Duke, but in the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Cobra Commander escapes on a helicopter at the end of the movie. Destro's fate is unknown. Also in The Rise of Cobra, Storm Shadow seemingly falls to his death after a fight with Snake Eyes, but in Retaliation, Storm Shadow survives and eventually makes a Heel–Face Turn near the end of the movie. The trope is played straight with Firefly and Zartan, though.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki in Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World lives, though he attempts suicide at the end of the former, surrenders after a Metronome Beatdown from the Hulk in the second, and experiences one Disney Death before faking a second death in the third.
    • Thanos, seen in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, still lives as well, although he has yet to actually take the role of main villain, which he will in Avengers: Infinity War, but given his immense power and Phase 3's penchant for averting this trope, his survival is very likely.
    • The Incredible Hulk: Blonsky aka The Abomination is spared by Betty stopping Hulk from strangling him. General Ross also survives, with Samuel Stern / The Leader alive for a Sequel Hook. For someone with a reputation for destruction, the Hulk causes surprisingly few deaths.
    • Iron Man 2: Though Ivan Vanko is killed, the other main villain of the movie, Justin Hammer, is arrested.
    • Iron Man 3: The Mandarin is exposed as an actor in Killian's employ and arrested. Having usurped the identity of the real Mandarin identified in a followup short film, Killian serves as the main villain of 3. After his death at the hands of Pepper Potts, the true Mandarin intends to have the fake personally brought before him for identity theft, either to kill the fake or do something else. The vice president is also working for Killian and is also arrested.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy: Nebula is last seen hijacking a Ravager ship and flying it away after her near Disney Villain Death.
    • Though every Big Bad of the Phase 2 movies has died (not counting Loki and Thanos, who aren't strictly main villains in the two Phase 2 movies they appeared in, instead taken by Malekith and Ronan), this trope is averted in every Phase 3 film so far:
      • Captain America: Civil War: The main villain, Helmut Zemo, is not only not killed by the heroes but Black Panther even stops him from committing suicide, insisting that he stand trial for his crimes. (This is a bit of Character Development for Panther, who had spent most of the movie willing to kill in revenge.)
      • In Doctor Strange, Dormammu, who is more menacing and possibly more powerful than Thanos, is forced to leave Earth, and gives Kaecilius a Fate Worse Than Death by trapping him in the Dark Dimension forever. However, Strange kills Kaecilius's henchman Lucian.
  • Lex Luthor survives all the Superman movies. Killing him would be awkward since Superman is so powerful that he'd have to intentionally refuse to save him without a contrived reason why he couldn't. However, it's debatable as to whether he survived being stranded on a desert island in Superman Returns with very little food, as this ends the original film series.
  • In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic The Shredder was killed at the end of the first story. So the trope is subverted as Shredder is a more formidable opponent before his death — and inverted as he revives in the next movie, The Secret of the Ooze. At the end of that film, after a One-Winged Angel transformation, he is killed off for good.
  • Magneto, the X-Men's Arch-Enemy, survived all the films, along with Mystique. The villains of individual movies were killed, however with the possible exception of Juggernaut who was rendered unconscious but was on the island when Phoenix started blasting everything into atoms. Since in the second film Magneto is referred to as one of the mutants captured after the first film, it's probable that at least one of Sabretooth or Toad also survived, but neither was ever seen again.
    • Likewise Stryker, Sabertooth and Deadpool all survived X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Though that mostly because it was a prequel and Stryker and Sabertooth were already established to have appeared later down the road. Deadpool is only shown to have survived in a Stinger that only played in certain versions.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past is a rare inversion where the entire premise of the movie involves the heroes trying to actively prevent the death of a member of the Big Bad Ensemble. As such, Bolivar Trask survives the film, and is sent to jail for his crimes. Professor X also allows Magneto to escape after Magneto tells him that the government will assuredly execute him for his crimes.
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has the Joker taken away by the Phantasm presumably to be killed, and that's the last we ever see of him in it. As he later appears in episodes of the animated series and the DCAU it can be presumed that he escaped somehow. One tie-in comic released a few years after the film ultimately confirms it as well as shows how he did it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Completely averted in Agent Carter, where all the major villains have survived. In Season One, Doctor Faustus is captured and a Black Widow agent escapes. In Season Two, Whitney Frost is depowered and committed to an insane asylum, Joseph Manfredi is allowed to go free since he helped the heroes in stopping Whitney, and Black Widow escapes again. Some members of the Council of Nine are killed (by Whitney); but one, Vernon Masters, is a deliberately ambiguous case of Never Found the Body because the writers thought they might have wanted to use him again.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., one-shot villains are a 50-50 tossup whether they survive or not, but for recurring threats:
    • The first two seasons generally used the "major villains die, minor villains live" version, with "the Clairvoyant" and Daniel Whitehall being offed while their subordinates such as Raina, Ian Quinn, Deathlok, Ward, Bakshi, Agent 33, and Cal escaped their original story arc and came back later (or in Deathlok's case, he reformed since he was always a good guy Trapped in Villainy).
    • The end of season 2 started playing things straight, and from then on nearly all the recurring villains would be killed off eventually. Even if a lesser villain survived the season, they'd likely return next season as a bigger threat only to get killed there. So far, the only bad guys to truly escape this fate include Ian Quinn, who ran and hasn't been seen since Season One; Cal, who voluntarily submitted to mindwiping; and James, who only helped the Big Bad in the first place because he was brainwashed (he returns in a later episode as a willing bad guy with another group, but gets taken in alive).
  • Daredevil
    • The first season zig-zags it, inverting the "majors die, minors survive" version. The Kingpin survives and is taken into custody after being dealt a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown; but Leland Owlsley, Wesley, Nobu, Vladimir, Anatoly, and a number of others end up dead by the time the first season is finished (However, with the exception of Owlsley all are Canon Foreigners). The only main villain other than Fisk to make it out alive is Madame Gao, undoubtedly to be used in the upcoming Iron Fist show; though the second season reveals that Nobu is immortal and he survived as well.
    • Played straight in the second season. The Punisher kills all the bad guys involved in his storyline (he wouldn't be the Punisher otherwise). In the Hand storyline, Nobu is decapitated with the implication that his death is permanent this time. On the other hand, Fisk and Madame Gao also make appearances and are shown to be alive and well.
  • Zig-Zagged in Arrow.
    • In Season 1 when Oliver had no scruples against killing he'd mow down mooks but leave the actual targets alive to send a message.
    • Both Deadshot and The Dark Archer came back after being seemingly killed.
    • Deathstroke is depowered and imprisoned at the end of Season 2.
  • Generally averted in Luke Cage. Cottonmouth is killed by Mariah in her Start of Darkness from Corrupt Politician into something worse, but Mariah gets herself and Shades out from facing any consequences for their actions. Diamondback is badly beaten, but survives and is taken into custody.

    Western Animation