Superhero Movie Villains Die

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.

Discussed in this MTV Geek article by Alex Zalben.

This is a DEATH TROPE! Unmarked spoilers ahoy.

Straight Examples

  • 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.
    • In Batman & Robin, Jason Woodrue dies, but Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy both survive. Bane's fate is ambiguous (he's alive, but severely weakened when we last see him, and the building around him is collapsing).
  • 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 theatrical release of Superman II, a depowered General Zod and his similarly depowered Kryptonian henchmen are killed by being thrown into a crevice, although a deleted scene reinstated for some versions had them surviving.
  • In the Animated Batman Movies:
    • 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. The post credits scene reveals that Harley survived her fall and went on to have a family.
  • In the Iron Man 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 comicbook storyline, in the movie he's a Composite Character of Killian and the Mandarin, who wasn't dead.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: Red Skull is seemingly killed when he tries to use the cosmic cube and gets disintegrated by it. HYDRA seemingly falls with him, but turns out to have survived in secret in the sequel. As for his scientist Dr. Zola, he is captured and trades information for his life.
    • Likewise in Captain America (1990), Cap kills the Red Skull in the climax.
    • In 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 Crossbones is alive but horribly burnt after a Helicarrier crashed into him. Arnim Zola gets blown up (after cheating death through Brain Uploading).
  • Malekith and his Dragon Kurse are killed in Thor: The Dark World. 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.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser is disintegrated by one of the Infinity Stones, while Korath the Pursuer is seemingly killed after Drax rips out one of his cybernetic implants. Nebula manages to survive by killing a Nova Corps pilot and hijacking his ship.
  • 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 had 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 upcoming Sinister Six spin-off.
  • 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 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the Surfer nearly sacrifices himself to stop Galactus. It's uncertain whether that ended the planet-eater for good, but chances are that it stalled him. Both versions avert this when it comes to Doctor Doom who is alive, but defeated, by the end of both films.
  • In Green Lantern, Hector Hammond and Parallax are dead by the end. Sinestro never even becomes a villain until the stinger.
  • In Punisher: War Zone, Jigsaw dies. The villains of the other movies don't count, as they are original characters.
  • While Magneto, Pyro and Mystique have a 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 the animated Doctor Strange film, Dormammu and Baron Mordo both die.
  • In the first The Crow movie, Eric Draven kills all of the gang members responsible for his and his girlfriend's deaths. This is actually in keeping with the original comic. Later movies were original stories, not based on any comics.
  • The Bowser equivalent from Super Mario Bros. is reduced to a pile of goo.
  • 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 and Harold Attinger are both killed at the end of the fourth film, but Galvatron escapes and lives to fight another day.
  • 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.
  • Although The Incredibles is an original superhero movie, Syndrome dying at the end is likely a nod to this trope.

Subversions, Aversions and Zigzags

  • Lex Luthor survives all the Superman movies. Killing him would be awkward since Superman is so powerful that he'd either have to intentionally refuse to save him or there's need to be some contrived reason why he couldn't.
  • Unicron in the Transformers: The Movie dies, although he later returns in the TV show.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Blonsky aka The Abomination is spared by Betty stopping Hulk from strangling him in The Incredible Hulk. 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.
  • In Iron Man 3, the Mandarin is exposed as an actor in Killian's employ and arrested. A followup short film reveals that a real Mandarin in fact exists and intends to kill the fake personally for identity theft.
  • 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 (and survives) the sequel.
  • 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 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 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.
    • In fact, every incarnation of the Shredder is an example, as he's a Starter Villain in the comic but the Big Bad in every other version ever.
    • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), Shredder falls from a great height after being kicked off by April O'Neal, but he is shown taking some of the mutagen as he is being arrested by the police.
  • Averted in The Amazing Spider-Man, where "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.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is zigzagging all around this; Graviton, Blizzard, Lorelei, and Deathlok all survived season 1 (though Graviton and Blizzard haven't taken their supervillain identities yet) whereas Scorch and the Clairvoyant were killed. The agents tried to take Blackout in alive but he overpowered their weapons, forcing Coulson to Shoot the Dog to keep him from killing an innocent.
  • 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.