So after Marvel’s Avengers and now X-Men have retconned certain events that have led to the resurrection of characters previously thought deceased, I thought I’d pay tribute to actual comic book movie characters that stayed dead, whose deaths both sent a shockwave through the movie-going community and had real consequences for our heroes. I know it’s very easy to bring a fan favorite character back to life in the logically flexible comic book universe, but personally speaking I applaud the filmmakers and writers who have the courage to take the plunge into darkness and have that mean something. So without further ado, here is my tribute to five comic book movie characters whose deaths will forever mean something to pop culture.
*WARNING – MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!*
Uncle Ben (Spider-Man/Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Actor(s) Who Played Him: Cliff Robertson and Martin Sheen
Relationship to Spider-Man: Uncle by blood but raised Peter Parker alongside Aunt May after his parents died.
How He Died: In both Spider-Man films, Uncle Ben is killed by a common thief who Spider-Man lets walk free after angrily refusing to partake in crime-fighting in that instance.
The Consequence of Death: Uncle Ben’s advice that “with great power comes great responsibility” finally registers with Spider-Man/Peter Parker after his uncle is killed. Spider-Man knows that his powers give him the unique ability to prevent crime before it happens, and thus he must make the most of the random gift bestowed upon him. Uncle Ben’s death is also the first time Spidey learns that every choice has a consequence, some for the better and some for the absolute worst.
Jonathan Kent (Man of Steel)
Actor Who Played Him: Kevin Costner
Relationship to Superman: Adoptive father of Superman, who raised him as a son alongside wife Martha after discovering baby Kal-El in an alien space vessel near their farm.
How He Died: During a drive across town, The Kents are forced to stop their car alongside the hundreds of others on the road due to a tornado that is quickly approaching the traffic. After getting Clark and Martha to safety, Jonathan realizes his dog is still trapped in their vehicle and bravely goes back to free him. Jonathan is successful in his rescue attempt but at the awful cost of his life. Before dying, Jonathan gives a hand signal to Clark, indicating not to rescue him out of fear of outing Clark as a supernatural being who’d be labeled as a freak and ostracized from society.
The Consequence of Death: Superman/Clark realizes that although his adoptive father’s intentions were pure and good, his advice to shield his powers was ultimately wrong. Sooner or later, humanity would have to come face to face with Superman and his God-like strength that could save mankind from both itself and extraterrestrial beings who wanted to harm Earth and its inhabitants. Had Superman disobeyed Jonathan, he most certainly would have saved his life and may have better prepared humanity for the realization that there is life far beyond the safe confines of Earth. One other possible consequence of Jonathan Kent’s death is that it might be the one thing Superman and Batman bond over, potentially ending their apparent hostilities in the next sequel, seeing as how both loved ones died hoping that their sons would live to pave a better tomorrow.
Frigga (Thor: The Dark World)
Actress Who Played Her: Rene Russo
Relationship to Thor: Frigga is the Norse mother of Thor, wife of King Odin and Queen of Asgard. She is also the adoptive mother of Loki, a former member of the Frost Giants who was rescued by both Frigga and Odin when he was just a baby.
How She Died: Frigga died in combat while fighting the evil Dark Elf Malekith and his henchman Algrim. Frigga gave her life to protect Thor’s human lover, Dr. Jane Foster, who was infected by an ancient weapon known as the Aether.
The Consequence of Death: Although he wants to grieve for his mother, Thor knows he must act quickly if he wants to avenge her death and stop the Aether from being unleashed by Malekith. Thus, Thor uses Frigga’s death to his advantage, coaxing the imprisoned Loki into assisting Thor with the promise that Loki will get the revenge he desires against his mother’s murderer. Grieving over Frigga’s death is the only time we ever see Loki truly break down, and in that moment we see the goodness that Loki might have had if he just had been loved and respected a little more by Thor and Odin. Angry that Thor left his mother to die while Loki was trapped behind bars, unable to prevent her eventual death, Loki once again silently vows to bring down Thor and Odin in the harshest of manners after Malekith is dealt with.
Gwen Stacy (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Actress Who Played Her: Emma Stone
Relationship to Spider-Man: Gwen Stacy is Peter Parker’s first real love, and pretty early on in their relationship she becomes aware of his alter-ego as the enforcer of justice in New York City, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
How She Died: Disobeying Spider-Man’s orders to stay out of his fight with Electro, Gwen instead uses her knowledge of the Osborn power grid to shut it down completely, allowing Spidey to gain the upper hand against Electro and eventually defeat him. Immediately after Electro is dealt with, Harry Osborn, transformed into The Green Goblin, kidnaps Gwen and takes her to the top of the clock tower in an effort to force Spidey to engage in a showdown. Gwen falls during the chaos inside the clock tower, and although Spider-Man shoots his web to save her, Gwen hits her head on the concrete floor before she can be roped back up to safety.
The Consequence of Death: Spider-Man/Peter Parker immediately shuts down after Gwen’s death, unable to have the strength to go out into the world and be the man who he thought could protect everyone at all times. Peter also feels guilty for betraying the promise he made to Gwen’s father that he would honor his dying wishes by staying away from Gwen so she would be out of harm’s way. Spider-Man also realizes the disastrous consequences of mixing Peter Parker’s reality with Spider-Man’s, and that it really is all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. However, thanks to Gwen’s valedictorian speech and Aunt May’s words of encouragement, Peter Parker is able to move on and continue the good fight for his city. His broken heart could potentially be mended by an encounter with a certain Mary Jane Watson in the near future.
Rachel Dawes (The Dark Knight)
Actress Who Plays Her: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Relationship to Batman: Childhood friend and former lover of Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s identity is revealed to Rachel at the end of Batman Begins, but she realizes that the man she loved is gone and this new Dark Knight of Gotham needs to stay in order for the city to have a chance at survival.
How She Died: Rachel is kidnapped by the Joker and held in a room with oil drums and a bomb ticking down to zero. Rachel believes Bruce is coming to rescue her instead of the important political figure, Harvey Dent, but then realizes Joker has played another one of his cruel tricks, for which Rachel pays the ultimate price.
The Consequence of Death: Batman learns that every decision he makes from now on won’t be based on emotion, but instead based on his sworn duty as protector of Gotham. Rachel’s death could have been prevented had Batman stayed the course and gone to rescue the more important contributor to Gotham’s future, Harvey Dent. Instead, Harvey’s survival has turned him into a monster, his face half-burnt and the death of girlfriend Rachel Dawes sending him into a blind rage that will unleash itself on Gotham indiscriminately. Two-Face is born, Gotham’s White Knight is dead, and Batman must be seen as a vigilante killer if he wants the good image of Harvey Dent, and the ideals Rachel stood for, to live on without scandal and as a symbol of hope.
Share your thoughts and memories of these characters in the comments section!