Top 10 Deaths in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Today, we’re making a different sort of count- a body count. As Avengers: Endgame barrels towards us, we thought we’d take a step back and compile our list of the Top 10 Deaths in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the ever-changing world of superheroes, many characters may come and go (and even come back!), but these powerful plot moments left a major impact on audiences everywhere for their emotional weight, story significance, and downright dramatic outcomes.

Read along to find out which heroes, villains, and civilians of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be forever memorialized in our countdown for shuffling off their mortal (or superhuman) coil on screen.

(This podcast contains spoilers for MCU films up through Captain Marvel.)

Honorable Mention: The Snap Victims

We wanted to give a shoutout to all the characters that did not survive the ‘snap’, also known as the Decimation.  Countless characters were lost to the wind as Mantis, Drax, T’Challa, Bucky, Sam, Hank, Janet, Hope, Peter Quill, Shuri, Doctor Strange, Wanda Maximoff, Groot, and Peter Parker turned to dust before our very eyes.

Half of life in the universe was wiped out by Thanos‘s scheme, and while we can only hope that a number of these casualties will be reversed in Avengers: Endgame, these characters did very much die in one of the most haunting scenes in the MCU.

10. Phil Coulson

Nick Fury’s right-hand man Phil Coulson was one of the binding threads in the earliest phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- he appeared not only in most of the Phase One films leading up to The Avengers, but also in the Marvel One-Shots The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer.

Though many fans know that Coulson continued to have a presence in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, his MCU death was a poignant sacrifice that helped to truly unite Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into one common goal- stopping Loki and the Chitauri invasion. Coulson was stabbed through the chest by Loki’s scepter, managing to land one final attack on Loki with the Destroyer gun before expiring in the Helicarrier. His last words to Nick Fury were, “This was never going to work if they didn’t have something to…”

9. The Ancient One

The former Sorcerer Supreme lived for an unknown period of time, protecting our dimension from untold mystical aberrations.  She trained both Baron Mordo and Stephen Strange, thinking that she was leaving behind a balance of power to maintain the order in the world.  However, the revelation that she drew powers from the Dark Dimension in order to keep herself alive broke Mordo’s faith in her instruction, leaving Doctor Strange alone to protect the Sanctum.

She accepted her death as an inevitability, unable to be pierced by her own mystical knowledge.  The Ancient One’s death also functions as the clear “death of the mentor” that gave Doctor Strange the push he needed to step up and fully become the next Sorcerer Supreme in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

8. Mar-Vell

Though her death was a recent one in terms of the MCU, Mar-Vell, aka Dr. Wendy Lawson, was an important casualty of the Kree-Skrull conflict. She was shot and killed by Starforce commander Yon-Rogg, as she attempted to destroy her lightspeed engine technology after learning that the Kree were unjust aggressors in the conflict. Her sacrifice was not in vain, however, as it inspired Carol Danvers to finish what Mar-Vell set out to do, destroying the engine and absorbing a blast of tesseract-based energy that turned her into Captain Marvel.

This death was not only significant in the creation of a hero, but it also represented a creative MCU twist on the classic Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers relationship. The way in which Carol received her powers in some ways mirrored her comics encounter with the psyche-magnitron, and Mar-Vell’s sacrifice enabled Carol to take control of her own agency and make a choice that resulted in her rise to superhero status.

7. Peggy Carter

One of the few characters on this list to live a full life and die of old age, Peggy Carter was a colleague of Steve Rogers in World War 2 and a founder of SHIELD alongside Howard Stark.  She was a prominent figure of strength throughout her time in the Marvel Universe, serving as a moral leader and an active member of the governing bodies that shaped much of the MCU as we know it.

After Steve was unfrozen, he visited Peggy in her care facility, as she had continued to age while Captain America was in stasis.  When she passed away, Steve was a pallbearer at her funeral.  Peggy Carter was an instrumental part of SHIELD’s foundation and she represented many of the values that Captain America continues to fight for.  We only hope that in Endgame, the two might finally get their dance.

6. Odin

Odin Borson, former Allfather of Asgard, had one of the more peaceful MCU deaths, though it ushered in a great danger to his sons. After the events of Thor: The Dark World, Loki tricked the Allfather and usurped his position on the throne, banishing Odin to Earth and casting a glamor on him that left him dazed as he lived out some of his final days at the Shady Acres Care Home. He eventually overcame the enchantment and traveled to Norway to live out the end of his long life. When Loki and Thor found him, with the help of Doctor Strange, Odin admitted that Ragnarok was coming because, upon his death, his oldest daughter Hela would no longer be banished. His spirit then finally moved on to Valhalla.

This death was extremely emotional, as it left the former Viking lord as a tired man with some regrets about how he ruled his kingdom. More significantly, his death left the throne of Asgard open once more and allowed Hela to break free of her interdimensional prison and seize her birthright. After her defeat, Thor was more or less forced to become the King of Asgard, although the realm eternal was no more.

5. Vision

We don’t trade lives, Captain.

The death of Vision in Infinity War was a heartbreaking moment- especially because we had to watch him die through the eyes of the person he loved (and who loved him) the most.  To make it even worse, we then had to watch him die twice, as Thanos rendered his initial sacrifice useless with a quick use of the Time Stone.

As the Mad Titan drew closer to collecting all the stones in Wakanda, Vision implored Scarlet Witch to use her immense powers to destroy the Mind Stone embedded in his forehead- an endeavor which was successful if only for a few brief moments.  The double-death of Vision proved Thanos’s ruthlessness and truly let fans know the Avengers at this point were powerless to stop the Decimation from arriving just shortly thereafter.

4. Erik Killmonger

N’Jadaka, also known as Erik Stevens or Killmonger, was an extremely challenging and powerful villain who laid claim to the throne of Wakanda in Black Panther. Combating his cousin T’Challa, Killmonger was stabbed by a spear in the vibranium mines of the Great Mound. Killmonger removed his suit mask and asked to look out on the sunset of Wakanda, which his father had promised to show him someday.

T’Challa carried him to a cliff, where Killmonger delivered an impassioned speech about preferring to die like his ancestors than be kept alive, imprisoned in Wakanda. He removed the spear from his wound and bled out, dying peacefully overlooking the sunset. His death was a powerful moment of agency, as Killmonger was a profoundly tragic villain who left many fans debating if he was truly in the wrong, as a wounded soul with an overly idealized idea of radical revolution.

3. Yondu

He might not have been Star Lord’s father, but he was his daddy!  The character arc of Yondu Udonta in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is short but impactful. Yondu’s death shocked many fans who had seen the snarky ravager as a guaranteed fixture as a foil to Star Lord’s pseudo-suave and heroic antics.  After all, it was Yondu (or Mary Poppins) who made the boy into the scoundrel he was.

Yondu sacrifices his own life so that Peter Quill can go on living, after the Guardians defeated Ego- Star Lord’s biological but entirely absent father.  Obviously, the sacrifice was part of Yondu’s own redemption as a morally grey character, but it’s mainly a touching act from a father figure passing on his own legacy and ensuring the child he cares deeply about can survive.  Rooker’s performance is heart-wrenchingly real, and let’s be honest, only he can get away with saying, “He wasn’t your daddy.” in a superhero film such as this.

2. Howard and Maria Stark

The assassination of Howard and Maria Stark is one of the most impactful deaths in the Marvel Cinematic Universe based on how many things and people it affected. The hit mission was orchestrated by HYDRA as an attempt to get access to the Super Soldier Serum, partially due to Howard Stark’s involvement with Project Rebirth. In 1991, Stark managed to recreate the Super Soldier Serum from a sample of Steve Rogers’s blood, and by December 16th of that same year, the Winter Soldier staged an accident to cover up the successful murder.

This sudden death resulted in Anthony Stark being raised by Edwin Jarvis, and the Starks’ passing was blamed on a car accident. However, this incident had even farther-reaching consequences, as Tony Stark learned that Steve Rogers had kept Bucky’s association with the murder secret from him. Five other super-soldiers were created in the Winter Soldier program, though they were deemed too dangerous and were kept in suspended animation. The fight between Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Bucky Barnes was an extremely intense moment in the MCU, and the secret truth of the assassination was a very strong payoff for the shared cinematic universe.

1. Loki

This may be an unusual pick for our number one choice, given Loki’s propensity to ‘die’ and appear again later to menace Thor, or the Avengers, or Odin. Loki has served as a major part of not only Thor’s character growth, but the uniting of the Avengers themselves, among many other things. Technically, this trickster isn’t even allowed on Earth, as explained by the Sorcerer Supreme!

Loki has been around since the beginning, so to see this visceral and brutal death was actually quite shocking. As far as fans saw, Loki had no way out of being strangled by Thanos until he bled and then breathed his last. Will he return in Endgame? We have no way of knowing, but it wouldn’t be the first or last time Loki cheats death- however, it seemed pretty serious, so we can’t imagine he has an easy way out of this one.

One of the last things Thor says to him is, “You really are the worst brother.”  Or it could possibly be, “You really are the worst, brother.” The comma totally changes Thor’s sentiment!

So, was our list a proper tribute to these fallen favorites? Or was this countdown a little lifeless? If we missed someone that you think should be on the list, be sure to check out our blog and send us your opinions at [email protected].

Did you miss any of our previous episodes, including the Top 10 Comic Book Captains and the Top 10 Marvel Comics Costume Changes?  You can check out the full Geek Culture Countdown podcast on iTunesPippa, Spotify, and more.

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