12 Most Heroic Movie Character Deaths Of All Time, Ranked

Summary

  • Heroic deaths in movies are often the most memorable, especially when beloved characters sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
  • Movie characters who redeem themselves with a heroic death are viewed more favorably, even if they were initially portrayed as evil.
  • Whether it’s through self-sacrifice or protecting others, noble departures from the mortal coil are respected and leave a lasting impact on audiences.

Characters die in movies all the time, and while many deaths are conveyed as meaningless, some characters die heroic deaths by sacrificing themselves for the greater good. It’s those heroic deaths that are the most memorable, especially when the characters who suffer them are beloved. That scenario has played out frequently over the years, and it never gets any easier to watch.

Whether movie characters die in battle or perish saving others from a dangerous situation, everyone respects a noble departure from the mortal coil. Even characters who are initially evil are viewed more favorably if they redeem themselves with a heroic death. Such scenarios make up some of the most heroic movie deaths, but others see genuine heroes falling to achieve their ends.

RELATED: 10 Movie Characters Who Actually Got To Die Happy


12 Darth Vader – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Dies After Killing Emperor Palpatine

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Release Date
May 25, 1983

Director
Richard Marquand

Cast
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Frank Oz, Sebastian Shaw, Alec Guinness

Rating
PG

Genres
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

After it’s revealed that he’s Luke Skywalker’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader seems irredeemable. His only interest in a relationship with his son involves Luke joining him on the Dark Side. However, he redeems himself in the best way possible in Return of the Jedi. When Emperor Palpatine blasts Luke with Force lightning, Vader steps in. He throws the emperor down a reactor shaft, killing him. Unfortunately, he gets mortally wounded by the lightning in the process. He then removes his mask to look at Luke with his own eyes. Redeemed, Vader dies bringing balance to the Force, at least temporarily.

11 Eddie Carr – The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Dies Saving Ian Malcolm And Sarah Harding

Eddie Carr The Lost World Jurassic Park

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Release Date
May 19, 1997

Director
Steven Speilberg

Cast
Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite

Rating
pg-13

Genres
Sci-Fi, Adventure

In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm and Julianne Moore’s Sarah Harding find themselves in a precarious situation. When two T-rexes attack their trailer, believing them to be a threat to their infant, the trailer is pushed over the edge of a cliff, where they find themselves clinging on for dear life. Field tech expert Eddie Carr, played by Richard Schiff, turns up and tries to help. He attaches his car to the trailer and attempts to pull it up. He attracts the dinosaurs’ attention in the process. They devour him, but his heroic sacrifice allows Malcolm and Harding to escape.

10 The T-800 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Self-Terminates To Prevent Future Problems

The_T-800_gives_a_thumbs_up_in_Terminator_2

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Release Date
July 3, 1991

Director
James Cameron

Cast
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong

Rating
R

Genres
Action, Sci-Fi

Whether a machine can do something heroic is a debate for another day, but it certainly feels that way during Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s climax. Having first seen the terrifying T-800 in The Terminator, audiences are introduced to a reprogrammed version in Terminator 2. Assigned to protect Sarah and John Connor in this film, it successfully fends off the more advanced T-1000 before explaining it needs to self-terminate to prevent it from being used for nefarious purposes in the future. It lowers itself into a vat of molten steel, looking genuinely solemn at having to leave the Connors behind, and ends its life with a thumbs up before it “dies.”

Related: 9 Movie Villain Deaths That Were Actually Really Sad

9 Ellen Ripley – Alien 3

Dies To Prevent The Alien Queen From Being Born

Ripley death Alien3

Alien 3

Release Date
May 22, 1992

Director
David Fincher

Cast
Charles Dance, Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen

Rating
r

Genres
Sci-Fi, Horror

In Alien 3, it’s revealed that Ellen Ripley was impregnated with the embryo of an Alien Queen during cryostasis. In the movie’s climax, after Ripley helps defeat another Xenomorph in her dying state, she’s confronted by a Weyland-Yutani team that insists they can safely extract the embryo from her — and that they’ll destroy it afterward. She doesn’t believe them and is deeply concerned by their actual plans for the creature. To prevent it from causing future damage, she dives into a gigantic furnace, ending any chance of her survival to ensure the Alien Queen — which bursts out of her chest at this point — never lives.

8 Father Karras – The Exorcist

Dies Saving Regan & Killing A Demon

Father Karras exorcist

The Exorcist

Release Date
December 26, 1973

Director
William Friedkin

Cast
Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran

Rating
R

Genres
Horror, Supernatural

The Exorcist chronicles the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, Regan MacNeil, and the attempts of two Catholic priests, Fathers Lankester Merrin and Damien Karras, to exorcise the demon from her body. During the movie’s dramatic climax, Merrin dies from a heart attack, leaving only Karras to complete the exorcism. Karras desperately beats Regan’s possessed body and demands the demon spare her and take him instead, which prompts it to jump into his body. At that point, to ensure its demise, Karras jumps from the bedroom window to his death, sacrificing his own life to kill the beastly creature.

7 Boromir – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Dies Protecting The Hobbits

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy

Run Time
11 hrs 21 mins

Rating
PG-13

Studio
Warner Bros

Director
Peter Jackson

After succumbing to the temptation of the One Ring, the noble warrior Boromir knows he has to make amends, and he does so at the cost of his life. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship comes under attack from a horde of Uruk-hai. Boromir fights them single-handedly to protect Merry and Pippin and receives several arrows to his torso for his troubles. Even mortally wounded, he continues to fight, and it’s that last stand that saves Frodo and Sam from capture, enabling them to continue their journey to Mordor.

6 Russell Casse – Independence Day

Dies Taking Down The Mothership

Russell in a cockpit in Independence Day pic

Independence Day

Release Date
June 24, 2016

Director
Roland Emmerich

Cast
Bill Pullman, Sela Ward, Vivica A. Fox, Jessie Usher, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, William Fichtner, Jeff Goldblum, Joey King

Rating
PG-13

Genres
Adventure, Sci-Fi, Action

In Independence Day, the United States rounds up anyone with flying experience to recruit volunteers in the fight against the invading extraterrestrials. One such volunteer is Randy Quaid’s Russell Casse, an alcoholic former fighter pilot and crop duster who claims to have been abducted by aliens years earlier. Looking for revenge, he takes to the skies to battle the invaders. When a computer virus is implemented to deactivate the aliens’ energy shields, Casse is within range to fire a shot at the mothership’s core. However, his missile jams, and he decides to kamikaze into it instead. He quickly goes from a gag character to the movie’s ultimate hero.

5 King Leonidas – 300

Refuses To Submit To Xerxes

Leonidas screaming in 300.

300

Release Date
March 9, 2007

Director
Zack Snyder

Cast
Vincent Regan, Giovanni Cimmino, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Gerard Butler, Dominic West

Rating
R

Genres
Drama, Action

The 300 Spartans are some of history’s bravest warriors, daring to take on armies of thousands against the odds. However, in 300, they finally find themselves at the mercy of their opponents — but their king remains unmoved. Appearing to kneel before Xerxes, the God-King, Leonidas plans to prove his opposite number can bleed and refuses to submit. He positions himself and throws his spear at his cheek, drawing blood. He knows it will result in his death, but he does it anyway and fights defiantly until a barrage of thousands of arrows ends his life.

4 William Wallace – Braveheart

Killed Fighting For Freedom

A closeup of William Wallace in Braveheart

Braveheart

Release Date
May 24, 1995

Director
Mel Gibson

Cast
Angus Macfadyen, Catherine McCormack, Patrick McGoohan, Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau

Rating
R

Genres
War, Biography, Drama, History

William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, sees his people, the Scottish, suffering and repressed under English rule for too long. He leads an uprising against the English and wins several battles against them. However, doing so ultimately costs him his life. Even still, Wallace gets a heroic death, and he’s defiant and brave until his gruesome demise. Sentenced to torture and death by an English magistrate, Wallace is offered the option of a quick death if he simply says the word “mercy.” Instead, he loudly shouts, “freedom,” and is hanged, drawn, and quartered without relenting until he’s ultimately decapitated.

Related: 10 Most Brutal Gangster Movie Deaths Of All Time, Ranked

3 Maximus Decimus Meridius – Gladiator

Perishes After Fighting Commodus

Maximus Decimus Meridius looking solemn in Gladiator

Gladiator

Release Date
May 5, 2000

Director
Ridley Scott

Cast
Russell Crowe, Derek Jacobi, Oliver Reed, Connie Nielsen, Joaquin Phoenix, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris

Rating
R

Genres
Action, Drama, Epic, History

In Gladiator, Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius is forced into gladiatorial slavery after refusing to pledge loyalty to the despicable Commodus. Commodus hates Maximus and puts him through the wringer, but Maximus retains his popularity as a gladiator champion. Wanting the same admiration from his people, Commodus challenges Maximus in the arena. However, he weakens his foe by stabbing him beforehand. Maximus still wins the fight, freeing Rome from Commodus’ reign, but succumbs to the wounds Commodus inflicts pre-combat. His heroic dying wish is for his fellow slaves to be granted freedom and that the true Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, had his dying wishes honored.

2 Tony Stark – Avengers: Endgame

Sacrifices His Life For The Universe

Avengers: Endgame

Release Date
April 26, 2019

Director
Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Cast
Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Evangeline Lilly, Sebastian Stan, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Brie Larson, Paul Bettany, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman

Rating
PG-13

Genres
Fantasy, Adventure, Action

Tony Stark’s decade-long character arc in the MCU sees him transforming from a selfish, womanizing playboy to a superhero. His journey comes to a decidedly heroic end in Avengers: Endgame. Stark sacrifices his life to save the universe from Thanos, who plans to shred it down to its last atom using the Infinity Stones. During the final battle, Stark wrestles the stones from Thanos’ possession without him knowing. Stark then snaps his fingers to erase Thanos and his army from existence. The power of the stones is too much for his body to take, and he succumbs to the horrific injuries they inflict.

1 Harry Stamper – Armageddon

Dies To Destroy An Astroid & Save Millions

Armageddon

Release Date
July 1, 1998

Director
Michael Bay

Cast
Liv Tyler, Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Will Patton

Rating
PG-13

Genres
Thriller, Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Armageddon follows a group of blue-collar deep-core oil drillers recruited by NASA on a mission to prevent an asteroid from destroying Earth. When the planned remote detonation of the bomb used to destroy the asteroid fails due to the remote detonator not working, the drillers draw straws to decide who will detonate it manually — a task that will kill them. Although Bruce Willis’ Harry Stamper doesn’t lose the draw, as the group leader, he stands up and does it anyway, sacrificing his life to save billions.

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