Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Ten Most Horrific Superhero Movie Deaths

March 16, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

This week after three weeks of watching shows again to write about them, I thought I’d take a break from any topics that require any extraneous research. Not to pat myself on the back, but I put a lot of work into this thing because I enjoy doing it, but I still need a break. So this week I’m going to go outside the genre for this week, as I tend to do from time to time.

Don’t worry, we’re not going too far outside of it. We’re still going to talk about death.

Those deaths just happen to come from the world of superhero movies.

The title is a bit of a hyperbole in the sense that these deaths aren’t exactly “horrifying” in the sense they’ll give you nightmares, but thery’re the kind of deaths that given the suddeness, the brutality and the context, are disturbing if you give them some thought. But, you know, “Comic Book Movies That Are Horrifying Depending On The Context Of The Situation” is too long of a title, so here we are.

And there may be some of you who scoff. “Superhero movies can’t be horrifying,” this hypothetical you may suggest. “What does this moron think he’s doing?”

This moron thinks he’s making a fun column looking at death in movies that seemingly go out of their way not to be about that. Unless they’re Man of Steel, which had a body count about on the level of a Godzilla movie. Not complaining, just observing. I’m not going to start a Marvel vs. DC war on the comments section for the ten-thousandth time (exaggerating…maybe).

Instead, let’s just look at movies based exclusively on superheroes and the deaths that happen within them. But first, some ground rules.

1) This isn’t about comic book movies in general, but specifically those with superheroes. That’s because I could easily fill the list up with titles like 300 or 30 Days of Night, as both were rated-R and had plenty of nasty deaths.

2) This is about American superhero films only. It would be incredibly difficult for me to talk about films I haven’t seen, particularly the ever-growining tokusatsu superhero films like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. So we’re going to keep it simple.

3) The Toxic Avenger series and other Troma films are left out as a rule, because otherwise they’d dominate the list. I’ll do Troma deaths another day.

4) This will be, obviously, spoiler-heavy. If the movie came from a comic book and has a superhero of some kind in it, it’s fair game. It doesn’t matter if it was released just this year, there are spoilers. This is your last chance.

As usual, this is just a short break in between horror topics, which will resume next week. I know we have a lot of horror fans and a lot of comic book fans, so let’s let them merge in this macabre discussion. Again, SPOILERS FOLLOW THIS SENTENCE.

Honorable Mentions: It’s rare I do honorable mentions for anything, but these are specific cases of things I feel I have to mention, although I want to leave them off because they’d dominate.

Blade series: There’s a lot of grisly vampire deaths, particularly thanks to the Reapers in Blade II. It only doesn’t make the list because, well, it’s three movies with a lot of vampires in them. It would dominate by default. It would be generally terrifying to life in a world where vampires exist and use humans for cattle.

Constantine: The guy who is cursed with thinking he is dying of thirst and then drowns himself with liquid. What a disturbing way to go.

Super: Poor Ellen Page gets her face blown off. The movie is not great, but that was particularly unexpected and rough.

Dredd: Two words: hot shot. Awesome, but still messed up.

Man of Steel, Watchmen, X-Men: The Last Stand: Population-breaking deaths that seem more like apocalyptic films than superhero films. People are obliterated and that thought is horrifying, but none of them really seem to suffer all that much.

10. Ghost Rider (2007) – The Penance Stare

This one ranks low on the list only because you only have to worry about it if you’re a bad person. I thought Ghost Rider was okay overall, although I could have done with someone else in the lead role. Whether he likes Johnny Blaze or not, Nic Cage was way too corny in the role. The movie itself has that vibe. It’s not technically poor, not really, but it wants to play it serious and campy at the same time and fails at both. That said, I still thought parts of it were cool, like the Penance Stare.

If you didn’t see the movie, here’s how it works. Ghost Rider grabs someone he thinks is evil or “guilty”, forces them to look into his eyes and shows them every bad thing they’ve ever done in their life. I don’t know how it works in the comics, but here it appears to kill them. Their eyes are burned out, so it must have. Imagine what a horrible death that would be. You’re being burned out from the inside while being forced to see nothing but negativity and how your actions have hurt others. Again, it’s not something good people have to worry about but it would be terrible to experience.

#9: Superman III – Vera The Cyborg

Superman III is a mostly harmless and silly entry in a movie series that’s mostly harmless and often silly. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Superman IV and has its own charm to it, even if Richard Pryor was woefully miscast. In the middle of giving Mike Judge the idea for Office Space and Christopher Reeve beating himself up in a fight, we get this horrifying mess. It’s something that, as a kid, really messes you up because you’re not expecting it. For the longest time it was all I really remembered from this movie.

One of the villains, Vera, gets a little too close to the supercomputer they have set up and so it grabs her, pulls her in and transforms her into a cyborg. The process is clearly painful and for all intents and purposes she’s dead when she steps out. That’s probably why Superman had no problem blowing up the computer. You can’t come back from forcibly being turned into a half-machine abomination. Now it’s kind of harmless but as a kid this whole thing messed me up.

#8: Logan (2017) – SPOILER Dies

Okay, now that is your final spoiler warning. It’s kind of obvious there was going to be a lot of death in Logan. It’s an R-rated Wolverine movie and the guy has razor-sharp claws. Yet it’s the deaths with the emotional weight that stick with you. Maybe it’s just me but seeing Wolverine run his claws through bad people who were going to kill innocents doesn’t bother me. But seeing a character that we’ve come to care about die is something else.

So if you’ve seen the movie, you know that Charles Xavier dies. And compared to the decapitations, the face-stabs and everything else, you may wonder why his ranks. Once again, this list is about context. Xavier spends the whole movie in and out of senility. He has a real moment of clarity, where he remembers exactly what he did wrong. He’s baring his soul to what he thinks is Logan, only for it to be a clone of Logan that stabs him in the chest. But, of course, Xavier didn’t know that. So he dies thinking that Logan had enough of him and killed him.

So yeah, that’s a pretty horrific way to go out, I think. Looking up at someone who’s supposed to be caring for you but having them be the one who ends you. It’s happened a lot in real life, like those serial killers called “angels of death” who slowly kill off nursing home residents. It’s sad, it’s hard to watch and it’s one of many reasons Logan really bummed me out after watching it. It was good movie but man, I needed something uplifting after watching it.

#7: Spawn (1997) – Al Simmons dies and finds out Hell exists

I guess this can’t really be considered a spoiler when it’s Spawn’s origin story, can it? Also it’s twenty years old, so it’s on you if you haven’t seen it yet. Spawn is a failed movie for a cool her that sadly hasn’t had the chance for a proper reboot. Maybe with the success of Deadpool and Logan, we can finally get that big-budget, R-rated Spawn that we want, with the studios staying out of it.

Anyway, at the beginning of the movie we see that Al Simmons is a black ops solider but not necessarily a bad guy. However, that doesn’t seem to matter as he’s betrayed by his boss and set on fire. So as he burns to death and everything around him explodes…he finds out Hell exists after he’s dead. It’s not enough to burn to death, but he finds out that Hell is real and he’s in it. Just think about what that would be like for people who don’t get superpowers thanks to the devil. Some people in this universe just stay there forever and don’t get a magic cape that does everything.

#6: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – Shredder’s Death

A lot of people loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon as a kid. I did as well, even had several toys, but not as much as I loved the movie. The movie was darker than the cartoon, it was more serious and it was a movie I could watch where the hero said “damn.” That was a big deal when you’re only six or seven or whenever we got this on home video. So once again, it’s a matter of a death in a film bothering me more because I’m a kid with an active imagination.

Even without that, this is still a rough death scene for a PG rated movie. Sure, it happens to the villain and you could argue that makes it okay, but the guy is crushed to death in a garbage compactor. That’s a death that happens in Child’s Play 3 and is meant to be horrific. Here it’s played off as a joke but it’s still a man being crushed to death. This was a movie meant for children. You would never get away with that these days, even if we do live in a world where G-rated movies don’t exist anymore. But that’s a rant for another day.

#5: Batman Returns (1992) – Worst. Kiss. Ever.

There’s an electrocution scene in the first Batman and it’s also kind of unnerving (mostly because the Joker is giggling the whole time) but I don’t think it quite beats this one. Let me set the mood for you. Selina Kyle is fed up with her boss, Christopher Walken (I know he’s Max Shreck, but he’s Christopher Walken). After all, he’s tried to kill her multiple times, so maybe that’s a good reason for vengeance. Apparently she thinks she needs to go out as well.

So he proceeds to give him a french kiss…but not just any kiss. No, she shoves a taser between their mouths while grabbing a exposed live wire, just frying him into a charred skeleton. So not only is he electrocuted, but he’s burned too, and to the extent he doesn’t have any flesh left. It’s possible he died instantly but what if it took a while? What if he felt his flesh burning off until his organs finally gave out? He had a look of fear and pain on his face so maybe that happened.

#4: The Dark Knight (2008) – The Death You Didn’t See

Hey look, it’s another Batman movie. This time we have Heath Ledger’s Joker causing mayhem, and as you might expect from an PG-13 movie that gets as close to an R as humanly possible, a lot of people die. You might expect that Joker’s pencil trick would make this list, but then you’re talking to a guy who watches Fulci. I’ve seen far worse things done to the human eye in the process of the killing the eye’s owner.

The death I’m talking about isn’t even shown on screen. Because if they did show it, it would be a hard-R. I’ll let The Joker himself explain what he does. He says, “Why don’t we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches, hmm? And then we’ll see just how loyal a hungry dog REALLY is!”

So yeah, that death isn’t shown on screen, but it’s one of the more horrific lines in the movie. It’s The Joker. You know he did it exactly as he said it. That man had pieces cut off of him one by one while his dogs at them, eventually getting a taste for him and eating him alive. All because someone insulted him. Where’s the punchline there?

#3: X-Men (2000) – Senator Kelly’s slow, painful death

It’s hard to believe that the X-Men films as we know them are over. Sure, the franchise is going to continue but neither Patrick Stewart nor Hugh Jackman are returning. It’s probably a safe bet that none of the original cast will ever step into those roles again. It all goes back to this film, when it was still in that “slightly cheesy” phase of comic-book movies but had enough of a passion to it that it was paving the way for the more serious fare to come.

It did that by fundamentally changing a man’s DNA and forcing him to live in agony for several days before he disintegrated. Magneto unveils his plan to change everyone into mutants, starting with Senator Kelly. The side effect is that he gains some sort of water ability but it’s too much for him to take and his body liquifies entirely and falls apart. You can see it here. He’s in a lot of pain. From the looks of him when he steps out of the ocean, he was in pain from the moment he gained his new DNA.

#2: Unbreakable (2000) – The twist at the end

We spend most of Unbreakable with Bruce Willis, a man struggling with the fact that he can’t be hurt after he was the lone survivor in a train crash and didn’t have a scratch on him. He has issues at home, he tries to test out being a superhero and becomes sorta/kinda friends with Samuel L. Jackson, who has brittle bones but becomes something of a mentor to Willis. He guides him on his quest to explore what he is.

The problem is at the end of the movie, when we find out that not only did Samuel L. Jackson (revealing himself to be the villain “Mr. Glass”) cause the train accident at the beginning, he caused multiple mass murders in order to find the one person who was the opposite of him, someone who couldn’t be hurt. He killed unfathomable innocents just to prove a theory that he wasn’t sure would pan out. That’s scary, and the type of thing that could happen, at least once. There are a lot of crazy people out there.

#1: X2: X-Men United (2003) – Two nasty deaths for the price of one

With the except of The Last Stand, I’ve managed to catch all of the X-Men movies in theaters. Even Origins, which was a bad decision in several during my time of watching movies every weekend in college. But this is about the second and, depending on who you talk to, best movie in the series. It also features two gruesome deaths for a PG-13 that I’m surprised didn’t even get toned down a little.

The whole death is really violent. It’s The Dark Knight of the X-Men movies, going as far as it can to an R without actually hitting it. The first of these deaths happens early, when Magneto kills a guy who has too much iron in his blood…by ripping the blood out of his body. A cool effect but no doubt an extremely painful way to die. All his veins probably collapsed at the same time.

Finally, Lady Deathstryke gets it bad too. After a brutal fight with Wolverine (one can’t help but wonder how that would have looked with an R), she gets stabbed in the gut with a pump that fills her body with liquid hot adamantium. So the last time we see her, the metal burns up her insides, instantly hardens and her body hits the bottom of the tank with a thud that really gets under your skin.

How do these deaths stack up for you? Is there any I missed? Am I totally off base in thinking any of them are disturbing at all? Let me know in the comments.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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