first posted January 27, 2017 - estimated read time: 9 minutes and 15 seconds
People have an interesting ability to empathize with almost anything, but some fictional universes have created characters whose death truly rocks our worlds. I’m talking about that character whose shoes we’ve spent so long walking in, that their loss has created an unfillable void in our lives. Here are the saddest deaths of fictional characters.
John Coffey – The Green Mile (1999)
Who and How? John Coffey is a black man who is falsely convicted then executed for raping and murdering two white girls.
I chose to list the 1999 movie instead of the original Steven King novel in large part due to the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s incredible performance. What makes this death so memorable is that John Coffey is a character who is just so innocent, yet meets his end due to the worst kind of injustice. The scene is magnified tenfold by the fact that all of the guards know that he is innocent of his accused crime, yet are unable to really intervene.
For those who knew John, accusing him of murder is like accusing water of being too dry. You can accuse anyone of anything, but some accusations just don’t hold any weight.
Little Foot’s mother – The Land Before Time (1988)
Who and How? Mama Longneck is Little Foot’s mother and a wonderful dinosaur. She meets her end fighting off Sharptooth (a T-Rex) to protect her only son.
I had to choose between this death and Bambi’s mom (one dead mom is enough for this article), and it was an easy choice to make – mainly because I loved this freaking movie as a kid, teenager, adult, and future senior, assuming I make it that far. Mama Longneck was a dino-saint and is responsible for more child-to-mom hugs than any other fictional character.
Old Dan and Little Ann – Where the Red Fern Grows (1961)
Who and How? Old Dan and Little Ann are two hounds owned by a young boy, Billy. Old Dan dies from injuries he receives defending his young master from a mountain lion. Little Ann dies of a broken heart. Without him, she no longer has the will to live. Uhg. I have emotions and I hate them.
Although the movie was very well made, I had to list the phenomenal 1961 source material. The loss of these two hounds was just devastating on such a primal level. In fact, are you seeing a particular trend in this article? Not a whole lot of humans are on this list. I mean, we all know that it’s “wrong” to care more about the life of a fictional animal than a fictional human, yet all of our heart strings tug when we see an animal suffer. I think it has to do with the main thread running through all of these characters, and that’s innocence.
Artax – The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Who and How? Artax is the young hero Atreyu’s companion horse. While navigating through the Swamp of Sadness, the swamp’s power proves too much for the valiant horse, and Artax becomes too sad to continue and sinks into the abyss.
Oh wow, this scene is so intensely sad. With Atreyu pulling on Artax’s reigns and begging, screaming for him to not give up and to keep moving forward, as Artax slowly sinks into sadness and swamp. Pretty sure this scene damaged an entire generation of children.
Iron Giant – The Iron Giant (1999)
Who and How? The Iron Giant is a robot from outer space sent to destroy Earth, but due to a malfunction is super docile and friendly. He “powers off” after flying to intercept a missile, stating “I’m Superman”.
It feels like The Iron Giant was made for this article. We have all of the ingredients needed for a sad death baked right in from the get-go. We have a giant and dangerous robot that was supposed to be evil but is one of the good guys instead. We have the same robot befriending a young and innocent child who shows it of the world. We have a militaristic shoot-first society wanting to destroy the robot before giving it a chance to prove how nice it is, and we have the demonized robot selflessly sacrificing itself to save mankind. We have crying now. Lots of it.
No one dies here,
I just wanted to give you a quick break to look at the cute bunny 🙂
Tadashi – Big Hero 6 (2014)
Who and How? Tadashi is the cool and level-headed big brother to protagonist Hiro. Tadashi is lost when he heroically (and stupidly) rushes back into a burning building to save his mentor who is still inside.
When I first watched this movie, older brother Tadashi’s death was so unexpected and jarring. It’s not until his untimely death that you as a viewer really appreciate just how awesome of a dude Tadashi was. It’s torture seeing how poorly Hiro takes his older brothers death, and the worst of it is that Tadashi died unknowingly trying to save the film’s villain. You know, just to rub salt into the wound.
Ellie – Up (2009)
Who and How? Ellie is the wife of Carl and dies of old age. Not so bad, right? Right??
Up sure did a fantastic job of building up its story of a happy couple, then hitting us over the head with the loss of Ellie. We first get to see Ellie and Carl as children who quickly become friends and bond over their shared love of adventure. We then get to see them fall in love and get married and even get to see them age gracefully into their senior years. Then she dies, and we see a broken and lonely Carl lose himself without her and what is the meaning of life and why do I exist and what is the point of ARHGHGHSHSHGH. And then the movie begins!
Hedwig – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
Who and How? Hedwig is Harry Potter’s pet Snowy Owl. She dies taking a killing curse aimed at Harry, her lifeless body spiraling down to the ground.
The Harry Potter books have so many deaths that could make this list. I could even dedicate an entire article to “The Harry Potter deaths that made me have to stop reading and take a walk before I can continue again or I’ll ruin the pages with my rugged and manly tears”, and maybe I will because I love those books. I could list Fred, Lupin, Sirius, Snape, Cedric, Dumbledore or the other 20 or so lost and beloved characters, but I instead went with the death that didn’t change the story.
I remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows first came out and other articles and pieces were coming out lamenting the loss of our favourite Snowy Owl and how unnecessary her death was. Most of these articles were very critical of J.K Rowling’s choice to kill off Hedwig, but I disagree. Her sudden loss was perfect because it was so unnecessary. Hedwig was the perfect embodiment of innocence and permanence for Harry, and this is why her death left readers reeling for weeks.
Mufasa – The Lion King (1994)
Who and How? Mufasa is King of the Pride Lands and father to protagonist Simba. His end comes when rescuing his son from a wildebeest stampede caused by his own brother.
Why did I decide to write this article? This has to be the most taxing and emotionally draining piece I’ve ever written, so I’ll leave you with something about The circle of life or whatever. Try not to look at the above image for too long.
Kutner – House (2004)
Who and How? Kutner is one of the lucky and truly talented few to earn a spot on Dr. House’s medical team. He takes his own life.
The real reason for Lawrence Kutner’s death was that his actor, Kal Penn, accepted a job at the White House as “a liaison connecting the Obama administration with arts and entertainment groups, as well as with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities”. The show certainly didn’t intend for Kutner to leave this way when they first wrote him, but wow did his departure have a lasting impact on House and his team.
House drove himself crazy trying to both understand why Kutner, a seemingly happy and healthy guy, committed suicide, and also how he – the brilliant Dr. House – completely missed any and all signs that this was even a possibility. Kutner’s loss was certainly sad for both the characters and fans of the show alike, and I think that what makes this death so lasting is that there is no answer.
Samantha – I Am Legend (2007)
Who and How? Sam is the German Shepherd companion to Will Smith’s Neville. She dies when she gets infected by the zombie-vampire disease, forcing Neville to put her down.
Even though the source material is empirically better in every way to this movie, it’s the movie’s death that stands out and is most known. When you care so much more about when the dog dies then when the main character dies, there’s something wrong with your movie. Still, Smith did a fantastic job at conveying how much this action hurt him and what it must have taken him to summon the willsmithpower to follow through with it.