What is a supervillain without a great death? Watching a person who’s hell-bent on achieving nefarious goals come to meet their fate can be one of the most cathartic experiences in cinema.
Supervillain stories can range from complex moral tales to classic battles between good and evil, but when the villain has a sense of grandeur and purpose, it often takes a titanic fight to bring them down.
Only the best and most dangerous villains can keep audiences on the edge of their seats, and only the best of those can deserve to be called supervillains. That’s why all great superhero films strive to include a worthy supervillain that challenges both hero and audience.
Here are our picks for the best supervillain deaths in cinema history, where the bad guys meet their fated dooms.
8. Faora Ul (Man of Steel)
A good death is its own reward. Faora Ul’s final moments in Man of Steel had her up against the human soldier she’d engaged in battle before—one who showed immense courage in fighting her.
Because of his bravery against her overwhelming power, there was a level of respect afforded between them. Then, as she infiltrates a ship to wipe it out of the sky, he pulls the controls into a crash, thus opening the Phantom Zone that has her sucked into it.
Being sucked into the Phantom Zone isn’t quite dying, but because no other technology can open it back up, Faora is now trapped there for eternity. That’s basically a death sentence, anyway. So, Faora met her end in stunning fashion: fighting a meager human.
7. Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins)
Liam Neeson’s performance in Batman Begins as Ra’s Al Ghul has often gone overlooked in favor of the two main antagonists in the subsequent Dark Knight sequels. However, as a challenge for Bruce Wayne, he’s a wise and devoted opponent.
After using the microwave-emitter to disperse a hallucinogenic gas in the water supply, Ra’s waits aboard a subway train to hit Gotham’s hub and destroy the city—but then Batman comes into the picture and engages him in a fearsome battle.
Their fight is a skillful affair, with Ra’s proving to be a cunning warrior. However, when Batman gets the upper hand, he knows he can’t kill Ra’s himself. Instead, because the tracks are demolished ahead, he leaves the train without Ra’s and leaves him to his fate.
R’as knows that he’s immortal in some form—as proven in The Dark Knight Rises—so he faces his end with a dignity beyond most villains.
6. Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)
Seeing Harvey Dent rise through The Dark Knight before he falls into darkness is one of the movie’s best arcs. He’s a warrior who’s committed to seeing justice fulfilled at any cost, but when Rachel dies because of the Joker’s schemes, Harvey loses his sanity.
After he becomes the iconic Two-Face, Harvey seeks to bring justice on those responsible for her death. He kidnaps Jim Gordon’s family to lure Gordon to the warehouse where Rachel died to make his point known.
However, before he can mete out justice to Jim Gordon during his coin flip, Harvey is pushed from the building by Batman. The death of Harvey Dent has a massive impact on the franchise, and his evil acts are hidden by Batman and Gordon.
5. The Penguin (Batman Returns)
Danny DeVito’s role as The Penguin in Batman Returns has come to be one of cinema’s greatest examples of a potent villain who has a mind for terrible acts despite posing minor physical threat.
When his initial plan to become Mayor of Gotham fails due to Bruce Wayne, he straps missiles onto penguins and sends them out as suicide animals. Then, when Batman foils this plan, the pair are tangled up and Penguin falls into the sewer water below.
However, he doesn’t die yet. Later, when a de-masked Batman searches the rubble for Selina’s body, Penguin resurfaces.
The haunting nature of his appearance as he comes out of the sewer is grotesque, and he tries to shoot Batman with his umbrella gun—but chooses the wrong one before dying of his wounds.
It’s almost profound as he passes away and the penguins push his body into the water, showing that they care for him as he did for them.
4. Doc Ock (Spider-Man 2)
When the corrupted Dr. Otto Octavius is attempting to rebuild his energy machine in the docks and Spider-Man arrives to stop him, the ensuing fight is seemingly to the death of one or the other.
However, if there’s one thing that audiences like to see, it’s a villain who’s redeemed from their past misgivings.
During that battle, Peter manages to get through to Otto and the scientist realizes all that he’s done to build his unstable machine. After he regains his sanity, Otto volunteers to drown his creation—determined not to “die a monster”—and leaves Spider-Man to escape with Mary Jane.
Of course, he returns in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and his reunion with Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker is a sweet moment for the pair as a proud Octavius sees that Peter is now a grown man.
3. The Joker (Batman)
As Jack Nicholson’s Joker parades along the ledge, trying to kick Batman and Vicky Vale from it, his helicopter arrives to take him away. Batman refuses to let him go. He ties him to a stone gargoyle while the helicopter tries to take off.
Struggling under the weight of the gargoyle and the ascending helicopter, Joker falls to his death—and, upon inspection by Gordon, the audience sees there’s a joke bag still laughing in his pocket.
Long before the era of Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Joaquin Phoenix, Jack Nicholson’s rendition of the clown was cinema’s real introduction to the character —and it’s crazy how brilliant he was in the role.
2. Erik Killmonger (Black Panther)
Michael B. Jordan’s transformation into Erik Killmonger in Black Panther was a performance filled with depth and layering. T’Chaka, the son of N’Jobu, neglects to bring Killmonger to Wakanda for killing N’Jobu. Instead, Erik is left to fend for himself in Oakland.
Erik’s bitterness toward the royal lineage after what happened to him as a child ends up with him taking over Wakanda’s throne in a plan that took decades to unfold. And, upon finding out that T’Challa survived their battle for the crown, he’s forced to engage him again.
T’Challa kills Erik with a well-placed blade to the chest, which finishes Erik and leaves him dying. Feeling pity for his cousin’s losses, T’Challa takes Erik to see the sunset in Wakanda and asks if he’d like to be healed.
Erik refuses, telling T’Challa to bury him at sea because he’d rather die than live in prison. The scene is insightful and poignant, making Black Panther a film that goes beyond its superhero leanings to a level that asks questions of modern society and culture.
1. Thanos (Avengers: Endgame)
Is there a better movie supervillain than Thanos? Well, there’s certainly no other comic book bad guy who can boast the sheer presence of the Mad Titan as he destroys half the universe.
Because the stakes had built up to fever pitch by the time Thanos arrived to collect the Infinity Stones, his death had to be a truly special moment for the audience to witness.
That’s where Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark stepped in, giving Thanos the death he deserved and the film the finale it needed.
With the Nano Gauntlet at hand and poised to snap his fingers again, Thanos is pulled forward by Stark, who rips the Stones from the glove and soaks them into his suit, assembling them in the armor.
Knowing that he’s defeated, Thanos watches Stark snap his fingers and wipe him from existence. He sits down to rest as his army turns to dust around him. A most perfect ending for a badass supervillain.