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Superhero Movie Villains Die

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"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 (especially since popular comics can run for decades, and the publisher generally doesn't want to have to introduce a new batch of villains every few years to replace the killed off ones), whereas even the fastest movie productions take years, and are usually adapted from material that has an established Rogues Gallery; plenty more bad guys to choose from for the sequel. Also, the villain's death leaves the story at a natural conclusion, to the point that it's the standard ending for an action movie (which superhero films usually are).

Another reason for this is that it attracts big name actors to the films without any strings attached. Maybe big name actor Bob just wants a good paying gig without devoting the next ten years of his life to being in the same franchise. Maybe he already has another franchise and therefore can't commit to being in multiple movies but wants to work within the franchise or with the specific director. If you're a villain that will die anyway, things become less complicated.

Another issue are trademark rights. If a character is not used for a number of years, the trademark rights may expire and someone else may claim them. As comic books are published regularly, they don't want to lose the rights of their characters, and that means that any given one has to be used every now and then to prevent it. The film industry, on the other hand, is more used to release a film, perhaps some sequels if the film is successful enough, and then move on to some other story with a completely new set of characters; nobody may care if the trademark rights over some 1940s forgotten western have expired. And in the case of superheroes, it is not a problem for films anyway because they don't have the full rights, just a license, and comics still keep the trademark alive while a character takes a long absence from the screens. Comic books, however, have no safety net: if they cease to write about one of their characters forever, it is likely that nobody else will do so.

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, reform, or return as the Big Bad in the sequel. Usually a case of Self-Disposing Villain when the hero has a strict no-killing policy.

A Sub-Trope of Death by Adaptation. May be a form of Adaptational Karma. Contrast with Joker Immunity. This is liable to lead to He's Just Hiding on the part of 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. 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 Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, 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 may or may not have died as well. The movie ends with Deadshot aiming at Amanda Waller, but DLC that takes places after the movie in Batman Arkham Underworld revealed Batman shot Lawton before he could kill her.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aaron Davis/Prowler is killed by the Kingpin. Although Aaron Davis is a relatively recent character, his death in Ultimate Spider-Man was already reversed by the time Into the Spider-Verse was released.
  • 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.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem: Baxter Stockman, a regular reoccurring foe for the heroes in other continuities, dies in the opening scene, long before the turtles are even mutated.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Tim Burton Batman movies:
  • In the Joel Schumacher movies:
    • In Batman Forever, Two-Face is killed via Disney Villain Death by Batman tossing coins to him and falling from high distance. The Riddler survives but has his brain fried and is interred to Arkham Asylum.
    • In Batman & Robin, Jason Woodrue is killed by transformed Pamela Isley. 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 alive and condems a Heel–Face Turn when he gives Batman a cure for MacGregor's Syndrome so the latter can help Alfred. In exchange, Batman promises to have Nora moved to Arkham so Victor can continue his research legitimately.
  • Though the Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler, and 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 Trilogy) 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, to save Gordon’s son, kills Harvey Dent/Two-Face by pushing him off the edge of a building, falling to his death. Sal Maroni is also killed by Two-Face earlier in the film. 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. The novelization for The Dark Knight Rises reveals that the Joker was incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, but nobody outside of Arkham knows if he’s truly still there or escaped.
    • Both Talia al Ghul and Bane are killed in the course of the final battle in The Dark Knight Rises.
  • In Blade (1998), Deacon Frost dies. In Blade: Trinity, Dracula (a.k.a. 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 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. A credits scene with the surfboard hinted at the potential survival of the Surfer in a planned third film, but it was never made.
  • Fantastic Four (2015) has Doom's death as a plot point, since his death is the only thing that will stop Planet Zero.
  • Ghost Rider Duology:
  • In Green Lantern (2011), 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 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, many of Spidey's foes end up dying.
    • 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 also dies earlier in the film after tripping and falling out of the building where Peter Parker was confronting him.
    • 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 pumpkin bomb 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 (though behind-the-scenes shots show his head is kept in a jar a la Futurama), 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.
  • While based on a video game, Koopa from Super Mario Bros. (1993) is reduced to a single-celled organism that splatters over the city streets.
  • 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 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. Both Megatron and Quintessa survive the fifth film.
  • While Magneto, Pyro and Mystique have Joker Immunity on full force in the X-Men Film Series, 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 (possibly, the new films have yet to leave the 20th century) 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 before X-Men: 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.
    • In Deadpool (2016), 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.
    • Logan kills Zander Rice, Donald Pierce and X-24 in succession. Then again, most of the good guys also die.
    • In Dark Phoenix, Vuk is obliterated by Jean using the full power of the Phoenix.
    • In The New Mutants, Cecelia Reyes is eaten by the Demon Bear.
  • Sony's Spider-Man Universe:
    • In Venom (2018), the yellow and blue symbiotes are killed by the Life Foundation's staff letting them suffocate, and both Carlton Drake and the Riot Symbiote are blown up in the Life Foundation's probe.
    • In Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Shriek is crushed by a falling church bell, and both the Carnage symbiote and Cletus Kasady are eaten by Venom.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe plays with this trope a lot, but there are a few straight examples.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron kills off Ultron at the end. 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.
    • 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. Arnim Zola, who had become a Virtual Ghost, has the base housing his mainframe explode attempting to kill Cap and Black Widow along with him.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Ronan the Accuser is spectacularly destroyed by the Guardians of the Galaxy 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.
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ego is killed as he's head of a Keystone Army of sorts and it was the only way to stop the extensions of himself from consuming other planets.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, Hela is smashed to pieces by Surtur’s enormous sword, which then proceeds to destroy Asgard, her source of power, thus preventing her from regenerating. Skurge is also killed by Hela after his Heel–Face Turn.
    • In Black Panther (2018), Ulysses Klaue, who first appeared in and survived Age of Ultron, serves as an antagonist for the first act, but is killed by Erik Killmonger so that he can enter Wakanda. Erik himself dies from a wound inflicted by Black Panther, choosing to let himself bleed out rather than face life imprisonment.
    • In Avengers: Endgame, Thanos is killed twice. The version of him in the present day timeline gets beheaded by Thor when the Avengers track him down, and his past self from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie gets disintegrated when Tony uses the Infinity Gauntlet against him and his forces. His Children are also killed a second time; Cull Obsidian is stepped on by Giant-Man and the rest are vaporized alongside Thanos. The then-still-evil Guardians-era Nebula is killed as well; shot by her Anti-Hero present-day self.
    • Mysterio is killed by a misfiring gun in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Mysterio is notorious for faking his death in the comics, and Peter even asks EDITH if what he's seeing is real. Given the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home however, it's almost certain that he really did die.
    • Black Widow (2021): General Dreykov, the Big Bad, is killed when Yelena Belova blows up his helicopter during his attempted escape from the collapsing Red Room.
    • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Wenwu has his soul stolen by the Dweller-in-Darkness, and Shang-Chi uses the Ten Rings (the artifacts, not the organization, although the latter does help out) to kill the Dweller-in-Darkness in turn.
    • Eternals: While Arishem survives the entire film, the other villains all die - Tiamut the Dreaming Celestial is Taken for Granite by Sersi before it can fully wake up, Kro is killed by Thena, and Ikaris ultimately commits suicide by flying into the Sun.
    • Thor: Love and Thunder: Gorr the God Butcher dies after having a Redemption Equals Death moment after being freed from the Necrosword's influence and choosing to resurrect his daughter.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: Ayesha, the High Priestess of the Sovereign, returns from the second film, but is Demoted to Dragon, with the High Evolutionary (revealed to be her creator) acting as the Big Bad. While Ayesha survived her first appearance (as she and the Sovereign only acted via drones), she dies in her second outing when the High Evolutionary blows up Counter-Earth.

    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 (1990) with the exception of the Trickster all villains die in the episode they are in. The most notable may be Captain Cold, presented as a cruel hitman who dies when his freeze ray is reflected by a mirror.
  • In The Flash (2014):
    • 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. The Season 2 Big Bad, Zoom, is dragged off to a Fate Worse than Death. Both return in Legends of Tomorrow, where Reverse-Flash's messing with time has begun to catch up with him and he's now being hunted by Zoom, who has been turned into a particularly nasty Clock Roach called the Black Flash. He fails and the Black Flash does him in.
    • In Season 3, Savitar fails to close a Stable Time Loop that would ensure his own creation, and is Ret-Gone like the Reverse-Flash was as a result. And he's shot fatally for good measure.
    • As of Season 4, the Reverse-Flash officially has Joker Immunity, having survived his second erasure and reappeared in another dimension (even he's not sure how). He blames the Timey-Wimey Ball.
    • Clifford DeVoe/The Thinker escapes his impending death via ALS by body surfing through the bodies of various metahumans, including Ralph Dibny. Ralph eventually takes his body back, destroying the Thinker's consciousness in the process. The Thinker is able to stave off death a little longer by creating a digital copy of himself on his Cool Chair, but Marlize pulls the plug on him to kill him off for good.
    • The original Cicada, Future David Hersch, is erased from existence when XS helps Barry destroy the Thinker's satellite. He is replaced by Orlin Dwyer, who is fatally impaled near the end of Season Five by Future Grace Gibbons, who is in turn subject to a Ret-Gone when Barry destroys the Cicada dagger.
  • In Gotham, Sal Maroni is killed by Fish Mooney at the end of the first season, long before he can throw acid on Harvey Dent's face - indeed, Dent does not become Two-Face during the show, although he already uses a double-headed coin.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe television shows:
    • In Jessica Jones (2015) 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. Though he returns as a hallucination in season 2, when Jessica is going through a Heroic BSoD.
    • In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Karli and Batroc are both shot by Sharon Carter with the rest of the Flag Smashers save Diego being killed in an explosion, arranged on Zemo's behalf by his butler.
    • Moon Knight (2022) has a Double Subversion; after Ammit is sealed inside of Arthur Harrow, Khonshu tells Marc Spector to kill Harrow, only for Marc and his alter, Steven Grant, to rebuff Khonshu and instead place Harrow in a mental institution. However, Khonshu has another trick up his sleeve; he made an additional deal with Marc's other alter, identified in The Stinger as Jake Lockley, who is all too happy to gun down Harrow.
  • This isn't just a western comics trope either. Guyver: Dark Hero has the Chronos Corporation and Mad Scientist Hamilcar Barcas destroyed permanently at the end of the first movie.
  • Peacemaker (2022): Auggie Smith/White Dragon is shot in the head, although he stays around as a hallucination to taunt Peacemaker. Also, Detective Sophie Song gets possessed by Eek Stack Ik Ik and is for all intents and purposes dead, and just in case there was any doubt her body is killed in the last episode.

    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 
  • In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Malekith, Wonder Man, and Ultron are killed. Enchantress does in the Grey Gargoyle, Chemistro, and possibly Arnim Zola in "Acts of Vengeance." Blizzard, Radioactive Man, and Whirlwind are killed in the episode "Assault on 42" where they fight off the army of Annihilus.
  • DC Animated Universe
    • In Superman: The Animated Series, Jax-Ur, who is basically Zod but with an unrelated character's name, ends up sucked into a black hole. Bruno Mannheim tried to escape an explosion, but was too late and caught in it.
    • Batman Beyond, Mr. Freeze, Falseface, Ra's Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul all die.
    • In Justice League, many villains are killed, most prominently in the penultimate episode "Alive" where Gorilla Grodd's attempted coup resulted in Lex shooting him out the airlock and Killer Frost unceremoniously murdering everyone else who sided with Grodd to save herself.
    • Lex Luthor and Darkseid disappeared in a flashing light upon both touching the Anti-Life Equation. While Batman may suspect otherwise, Word of God says they're permanently part of the Source Wall and won't be coming back.
  • In Harley Quinn (2019), many of the villains the crew comes across meet their end, including Queen of Fables, Scarecrow, and Penguin.
  • In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Mysterio dies.
  • In Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Electro and Lizard die.
  • Being a Multiversal anthology series, Marvel Studios' What If? features many examples of this.
    • Episode 1's Red Skull is crushed to death by the Kraken that he summoned with the Tesseract.
    • The fate of Episode 2's Collector is mostly left ambiguous. His minions of the Black Order on the other hand, not so much.
      • Corvus Glaive is shot in the chest by Nebula.
      • Similarly, Ebony Maw is shot in the back by Karina.
      • Cull Obsidian suffers a rather horrific death when he explodes into a giant mass of vines after accidentally swallowing seeds from the Embers of Genesis.
      • Proxima Midnight is seemingly impaled when one of the aforementioned vines suddenly sprouts from underneath her.
    • Most of the zombified heroes in Episode 5 meet grisly ends, and Vision ends up committing suicide in order to atone for feeding innocent survivors to the zombified Scarlet Witch.
    • Infinity Ultron himself meets his end in Episode 9, when the Arnim Zola from Episode 8 is uploaded into his body.

Subversions, Aversions and Zigzags

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends with Kingpin alive and in police custody. This is arguably a case of Spared By Adaptation, as the movie is mostly based on Ultimate Spider-Man, where Kingpin had died and remained dead for nearly a decade. If Doc Ock, or Scorpion survived the final battle (and ensuing explosion) is not clear.

    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 Adam West Batman movie, Joker Immunity is in full effect, as it was the movie of the series and the villains needed to return. (As noted above, Penguin's "hang together or hang separately" suggests the possibility that they might be executed for their crimes, but there is no indication that they suffered anything worse than the usual visit to Cardboard Prison.)
  • In The Batman (2022), Carmine Falcone is the only villain to die. He's killed by the Riddler, the main villain, right before the climax. Riddler himself is arrested shortly thereafter and the film ends with him in Arkham. The Penguin also survives the film.
  • 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 end-credits stinger.
  • In Deadpool 2 Russel is saved from going down the path of villainy by Wade's Taking the Bullet and The Juggernaut spends the climax convulsing in an electrified pool but, true to the trope that shares his name, walks out unscathed after the protagonists have left the scene. Indeed, the only antagonists to be killed are the unnamed humans running the Orphanage of Fear.
  • In Fantastic Four (2005), 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.
  • Zigzagged overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as some villains die and some don't:
    • 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).
    • 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: 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 Tesseract and gets disintegrated by it. In Avengers: Infinity War, it's revealed that the Tesseract actually teleported the Red Skull to Vormir, where he ended up surviving to the present day and was forced to act as the keeper for the Soul Stone. As for his scientist minion Dr. Arnim Zola, he is captured and trades information for his life.
    • 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. He finally works his way through a Heel–Face Turn in Thor: Ragnarok, and only then gets killed in Avengers: Infinity War when he tries to pull a fast one on Thanos. (and that's not counting how confusing time travel mechanics in Avengers: Endgame allow the Loki that had just been captured in The Avengers to instead escape...)
    • Iron Man 3: The Mandarin is exposed as an actor in Aldrich Killian's employ and arrested. Killian himself is killed when Pepper blows him up with with a missile and repulsor blast; and 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 comics Mandarin, who wasn't dead. The vice president is also arrested for working for Killian. The follow-up,All Hail the King, later explains that the identity of the Mandarin was taken from an actual warlord, who is angered at the actor's identity theft and wants the fake brought before him; we never learn whether the actor is killed or something else. The aforementioned "real Mandarin," in the long run, inverts the "main hero survives while the main villain dies" formula by not only outliving Tony Stark, but instead challenges Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The titular Winter Soldier finally regains his senses, if not his memories, and saves Captain America from drowning before leaving. Batroc, the Starter Villain, is captured after the beginning fight, allowing him to return in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where he does die.
    • Ant-Man has the villain Darren Cross/Yellowjacket apparently dying at the end of his movie. It's left more or less ambiguous, but his "death" was incredibly graphic and he ended up at the very least in a Fate Worse than Death (best case scenario, he's shrinking piece by piece, uncontrollably and painfully, forever). Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania reveals that he did survive, but is massively deformed and has become the MCU version of M.O.D.O.K.. Cross' ally Mitchell Carson also manages to escape alive.
    • 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.) Zemo subsequently returns in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Rumlow dies by suicide bombing at the beginning (though his actor has suggested that He's Just Hiding).
    • In Doctor Strange (2016), 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.
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming is almost a complete aversion. Spider-Man saves Adrian Toomes/the Vulture's life and leaves him for the authorities. Herman Schultz/Shocker #2 is similarly defeated and left webbed up for the cops, while Tinkerer and the rest of Toomes' gang are outright Karma Houdinis. However, Jackson Brice/Shocker #1 is killed by Toomes after jeopardizing their operation (though Toomes thought he was using a non-lethal weapon at the time).
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Sovereign are able to get away cleanly since they don't dirty their hands with combat personally in the first place.
    • The Grandmaster survives the events of Thor: Ragnarok, but his planet is still in the middle of a coup, so things aren't looking good for him. The existence of a deleted scene with him shot for the subsequent Thor: Love and Thunder seemingly confirms he's still around, though it was never released.
    • Thanos not only manages to survive the events of Avengers: Infinity War (after previous cameos in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron), he actually manages to defeat the heroes, though he pays a heavy price for his victory, as the remaining Children of Thanos all die painful deaths: Ebony Maw is sucked into space by Iron Man and Spider-Man, to save Doctor Strange. Cull Obsidian is dragged across Wakanda's force field by a Hulkbuster-wearing Bruce Banner. Proxima Midnight is ripped to shreds by being thrown into spinning wheels by Scarlet Witch. Corvus Glaive is impaled by The Vision to protect Captain America.
    • Completely averted in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The Ghost's entire goal was mere survival, so she gets her happy ending and is cured of her condition. Sonny Burch and his gang haven't been shown committing any crimes worthy of death either, so they're only captured and humiliated.
    • Most of the villains survive Captain Marvel (2019): The Supreme Intelligence is offworld, Ronan retreats when his fleet takes a beating, and Yon-Rogg is sent back as a warning. The fate of the rest of the Kree Starforce isn't addressed, though Korath (along with Ronan) is Saved by Canon by appearing in the chronologically-later Guardians of the Galaxy. The only mostly-confirmed kill is of Minn-Erva, as her ship is blown up.
    • Mysterio dies in Spider-Man: Far From Home after getting unintentionally shot by his own drones. However, as a Master of Illusion, there's an unspoken chance he may have faked his death, aided by the subsequent release of a video made to frame Spider-Man as his villainous killer (though it's equally likely his crew may have created it themselves). As of No Way Home, however, he still appears to be dead.
    • Black Widow (2021): While General Dreykov is a straight example, Taskmaster survives and is cured of her mind control, before being taken with the newly-liberated Widows, possibly setting up future appearances. Melina, Alexei, and Yelena, despite all being antagonists in the comics, receive heavy doses of Adaptational Heroism which remove them from this trope entirely (although The Stinger hints that Yelena is heading down a more antagonistic path, courtesy of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine's influence).
    • Against all odds, all of the universe-displaced villains survive Spider-Man: No Way Home, and (in the case of the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro) manage to avert their fated deaths. The only villain to "die" is the Green Goblin personality, which is wiped from Norman Osborn's mind after he's Brought Down to Normal. The film also deconstructs this trope as Peter was horrified to learn how they died, and does everything in his power to save them.
    • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has an ambiguous case; Wanda, after having her Heel Realization, collapses the tomb of the Darkhold with herself inside it, but her body is never seen, keeping a door open for her to return. "Gargantos", who is very obviously supposed to be Shuma-Gorath, meanwhile, is very casually killed off despite being an immortal Eldritch Abomination in canon.
    • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: Driven by vengeance, Shuri, after the plan to capture Namor goes awry, flat-out tries to kill him as the Black Panther in a pitched fight on the beach, even slashing off one of his ankle-wings. When she finally has him at her mercy and prepares to deliver a killing strike, she pulls back, realizing that executing him would mean sentencing her kingdom to eternal war with Talokan and giving in to the same hatred that fueled Killmonger in the previous film. She instead offers Namor mercy, and Wakanda's help in maintaining Talokan's secrecy in exchange for Namor calling off both the war with Wakanda and his planned war with the entire surface world. Namor accepts, and together they stop the fighting. However, it's clear that Namor hasn't quite pulled a Heel–Face Turn.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: After Rocket refuses to waste a bullet on the thoroughly beaten-down High Evolutionary, Drax can be seen in a Freeze-Frame Bonus carrying him out of his exploding ship. Director James Gunn confirmed on Twitter that the High Evolutionary survived, but is currently imprisoned on Knowhere for his many, many, many crimes.
  • Superman:
    • 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 Richard Donner's cut of Superman II, Zod, Non and Ursa are locked again in the Phantom Zone. This isn't shown in Richard Lester's original version.
    • In Superman III all the villains except the super-computer make it out alive in the film. Again, just like in Luthor's case, they had no super-powers, which would make their deaths jarring if Superman had left them to their fate.
    • Once again in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the normal human villains (Luthor among them) live to see another day. Only Nuclear Man may have perhaps died, although this is not explicit and even if he did, it falls within the What Measure Is a Non-Human? territory.
  • 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.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • 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.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • In Man of Steel, Zod's crew was resealed inside the Phantom Zone, though since their ship was breaking apart it's unclear if they could survive in it.
    • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor survives and gets arrested.
    • In Suicide Squad, the Joker survives a helicopter crash. Unsurprisingly.
    • In Wonder Woman, Doctor Poison seemingly survives. That said, since the film takes place in the 1910s, she's more than likely dead from old age in the present-day films.
    • In Justice League, Steppenwolf is swarmed by his own Parademons after getting pummeled by Superman and getting his axe shattered by Wonder Woman, and then gets beamed back on Apokolips through a Boom Tube. He most probably survives. Subverted in the Snyder cut, where Wonder Woman cuts off his head and the Justice League sends his body back to Darkseid.
    • In Aquaman, Orm surrenders and is imprisoned after Arthur defeats him in the climactic battle. Black Manta survives albeit badly injured and is last seen offering a partnership with disgraced marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin.
    • In SHAZAM! (2019), Doctor Sivana is depowered and arrested.
    • Both Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva survive Wonder Woman 1984. They recant their wishes and lose their powers. However, given that they’d be in their seventies in the present day, it’s unlikely they’ll come back for the third film.

    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. The only recurring bad guys to truly escape this fate include Cal Johnson, who voluntarily submitted to a memory wipe; Carl Creel and James, who only helped their respective Big Bads in the first place because they were brainwashed (Carl is rehabilitated and becomes a sometimes-ally to SHIELD until another villain does him in, while James returns in a later episode as a willing bad guy with another group, but gets knocked out and taken in alive). Ian Quinn was thought to have escaped and gone underground after Season One, but a flashback scene shown years later in Season Five revealed that he too had been killed shortly after his final on-screen appearance.
  • 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.
  • El Chapulín Colorado never ever kills, thus all his villains always survive. He even saves one of his enemies, gunslinger Matonsísimo Kid, of hanging (probably a case of Author on Board as Chespirito was a death penalty objector).
  • The Trickster (played by Mark Hamill) survives his first appearance in The Flash (1990), unlike other villains, and he's the only one appearing in more than one episode.
  • Peacemaker (2022): Surprisingly averted for Goff/Eek Stack Ik Ik, who is shown hanging out with Peacemaker in the season 1 finale, having at least made a Hazy-Feel Turn since she's neither in a jar nor possessing anyone. However, she will eventually starve to death along with the other butterflies without the Cow. Judomaster also (somehow) doesn't die.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe Netflix shows:
    • Daredevil (2015)
      • 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 Iron Fist; though the second season reveals that Nobu has Resurrective Immortality and thus 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 permanently killed via Decapitation. On the other hand, Fisk and Madame Gao also make appearances and are shown to be alive and well.
      • Averted in the third season, with both Fisk and Benjamin Poindexter (Bullseye) surviving.
    • Jessica Jones (2015) largely plays the trope straight:
      • Kilgrave is killed at the end of Season 1, but Will Simpson seemingly survived, though he is killed by Alisa in Season 2.
      • Both Dr. Karl Malus and Alisa Jones are dead at the end of Season 2.
      • Averted in Season 3, as Gregory Salinger is killed in the penultimate episode, while Trish is arrested and taken to the Raft to be imprisoned.
    • Zig-zagged in Luke Cage (2016):
    • In Iron Fist (2017):
      • For Season 1, Harold Meachum is killed, and cremated to ensure he can't resurrect as Nobu did (again). Bakuto is also killed, but his body vanishes afterwards and it is presumed that he will resurrect soon (which The Defenders confirms). Madame Gao gets away scot-free as she did in Daredevil.
      • For Season 2, Davos is arrested after being depowered, while Joy Meachum and Mary Walker both go through Heel-Face Turns.
    • Played straight in The Defenders (2017), where it's a plot point that the Hand have run out of their resurrection serum and need to procure more raw materials for it. Three of the five leaders (Alexandra, Sowande, and Bakuto) are decapitated onscreen, rendering resurrection impossible. The other two (Murakami and Madame Gao) plus Elektra were implied to have been killed in a building collapse - but then again, Daredevil was caught in the same collapse but survived. (It should be noted that Murakami's chances of survival are lower, since he was critically injured before the collapse.)
    • In The Punisher (2017), this is largely played straight:
      • In Season One, William Rawlins is killed by the Punisher, while Billy Russo gets a Fate Worse than Death as an act of Cruel Mercy.
      • In Season Two, Billy is shot dead by Frank, John Pilgrim gets to escape with his sons, while Pilgrim's bosses Anderson and Eliza Schultz meet their ends at the hands of the Punisher, with Eliza being shot in the head by Frank, and Anderson then Ate His Gun, which was given to him by the Punisher for that very purpose.
  • In the 1990's Swamp Thing Dr. Arcane survives all the seasons (albeit some minor villains and mooks are killed).
  • In Inhumans, Black Bolt lets Maximus live in an act of Cruel Mercy, sealing him away in a bunker where he will live out the rest of his life abandoned and alone.
  • In Cloak & Dagger (2018):
  • In Runaways (2017):
    • Jonah/The Magistrate and all the teenagers' parents are still alive by the end of Season 2.
    • Jonah and his family of Gibborim aliens meet an uncertain fate partway through Season 3 after Nico casts a spell that separates Jonah and his family from their hosts.
    • Morgan le Fay, the main antagonist of the second half of Season 3, is ultimately re-sealed in her prison in the Dark Dimension.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe Disney+ shows:
    • WandaVision: None of the villains die in the finale.
    • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: The villains that form the direct threat are all killed off but of the other antagonistic forces:
      • Walker redeems himself, finally letting go of the Captain America mantle.
      • Baron Zemo is back in prison having been able to achieve his goals without ever directly betraying the heroes.
      • The Greater-Scope Villain, the Power Broker is still at large, and is revealed to be Sharon Carter, now using the pardon promised by Sam to expand her operations.
    • Played With in regards to He Who Remains from Loki (2021). While he ended up dying, alternate universe versions of him ended up appearing because of his death, meaning that series will not be the last appearance of any version of him - and indeed, a hostile version of him has apparently taken over the TVA when Loki gets back there.note  Aside from that, Judge Renslayer undergoes a Heel–Face Turn and leaves the TVA in search of free will.
    • Hawkeye (2021):
      • Maya survives, having discovered that her father's murder was set up by Kazi and Kingpin. She ends the series begining her Heel–Face Turn to setup for her own spinoff show.
      • Zig-zagged for both of the aforementioned villains, who are implied to be killed but it's left ambiguous enough that they could come back. Kazi is seemingly fatally injured by Maya, but doesn't die on screen. Likewise, Kingpin is shot by her, but the camera doesn't show where he was hit.note  Given her upcoming series, it would make sense to bring those characters back.
      • Clint manages to convince Yelena that Natasha sacrificed her life to save the world, and that he had nothing to do with her death. The two leave each other on relatively friendly terms.

  • In Justice League: Mortal, Batman kills Maxwell Lord by snapping his neck to break his mental control over Superman. It turns out that Maxwell had planned on this from the beginning and used his death as an opportunity to upload his consciousness to Brother Eye. He ends up dying for real when the Flash sacrifices himself to drag him into the Speed Barrier. Talia al Ghul dies as well when Batman tries to disconnect her from Brother Eye.

    Video Games 
  • In Injustice: Gods Among Us, the Injustice universe Joker dies before the start of the story, having successfully managed to drive Superman to murderous rage. However, the main universe Joker remains alive and well. Stranger is Injustice 2; despite taking place entirely in the Injustice universe, the Joker is a character in the roster. In Story Mode, he appears only as a fear gas hallucination, while in his fight banter in non-story matches, he is gleefully inconsistent in explaining his return.

    Western Animation 
  • Unicron in The Transformers: The Movie dies, although he later returns in the TV show. However, his powers are rather limited due to being a disembodied head in orbit around Cybertron, and when left alone is considered harmless.
  • Marvel Studios' What If? features several of these across the different universes that are visited.
    • The fate of Episode 1's Arnim Zola is left ambiguous, as the last we see of him is just before Captain Carter interrogates him for information on HYDRA's plan.
    • Episode 2's Collector is mobbed by his escaped exhibits, but whether or not he dies is left a mystery.
    • Episode 3's Hank Pym is last seen being taken away by the Asgardian army, but their ultimate fate is not shown. The episode then ends with Loki conquering Earth.
    • Episode 5 ends with several of the zombified characters still active, including Hope and Janet Van Dyne, Hank Pym, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, and Thanos.
    • Villain Protagonist Erik Killmonger from Episode 6 survives to the end of the episode, successfully infiltrating Wakanda and becoming the next Black Panther. Obadiah Stane also survives by way of getting arrested after Killmonger exposes the hit he put out on Tony Stark.
    • Episode 8 ends with Ultron preparing to wreak havoc upon the Multiverse after successfully killing every last living thing in his own universe.
    • The Season 1 finale features some villainous characters from the universes of previous episodes.
      • The Batroc from Episode 1's universe is incapacitated by Black Widow, but otherwise lives.
      • Similarly, Ego from Episode 2 gets his human body destroyed by Star-Lord T'Challa, but is still alive thanks to his core being intact back on his planet.
      • The Loki from Episode 3 is knocked out by the Black Widow from Episode 8, but isn't killed off.
      • Episode 6's Killmonger and Episode 8's Arnim Zola are frozen in an eternal tug-of-war over the Infinity Stones by Doctor Strange Supreme.


Video Example(s):


"He's the one with issues."

Superman tries to talk with Black Adam about how he shouldn't kill people, only for Batman to bring up how throughout the DCEU, they've done nothing BUT kill people, prompting Black Adam to give a not so different remark.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / NotSoDifferentRemark

Media sources: