As filmmaker Martin Scorsese once said, “Movies touch our hearts.” Sure, we are well aware that they are fundamentally a form of entertainment featuring stories that, in most cases, are fictional. Still, we can’t help but engage with them, grow fond of the characters they introduce us to, and be moved as we follow them on their journeys, no matter how many times we watch and rewatch their movies. Perhaps that’s why so many character deaths have managed to move audiences, catching them off-guard, almost as much as if those tragedies were real.
Over the years, the list of heartbreaking movie deaths has grown longer and longer. Watching your favorite movie character die on-screen can be truly heartbreaking, and, oftentimes, the only comfort lies in finding out later that said character wasn’t actually dead in the first place. Whether a character faked their death for a purpose, or was miraculously spared, these 10 fake movie deaths still hurt even years after their first screening.
10 James Gordon — The Dark Knight (2008)
In the second film of Christopher Nolan’s superhero trilogy, The Dark Knight, Batman, James Gordon, and Harvey Dent join forces to keep Gotham City safe from one of its greatest threats, the Joker. While attending the funeral of Commissioner Loeb, who was poisoned by The Joker, he sets out to shoot his next target, Major Anthony Garcia. His attempts are thwarted by Gordon, who foresees his ploy and takes the bullet for the Mayor. It is eventually revealed that Gordon seized that situation to fake his death in order to protect his family, but even so, the scene and, in particular, his wife and children’s reaction to the news still devastate with every watch. Stream The Dark Knight on Max
9 Juliet Capulet — Romeo + Juliet (1996)
This fake death may be the least surprising among those on this list, especially considering that William Shakespeare’s tragedy is well-known worldwide. In Romeo + Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play two teenagers who are madly in love, but can’t pursue a romance since they belong to rival families. Willing to try anything to be with her sweetheart, Juliet takes a potion designed to deceive people into thinking she is dead, only to run away with Romeo, whom she informs of her plan in a letter.
Unfortunately, the young man does not get the letter, and upon discovering the alleged tragedy, he enters the church in which Juliet lies and drinks poison to die with his lover, only for her to wake up seconds before his demise. The truly devastating thing here is not the fake death itself, but Romeo’s gut-wrenching reaction as he figures out what is happening, aware that it is too late to retrace his steps. Stream Romeo + Juliet on Paramount+
8 Dr. James Harvey — Casper (1995)
In Brad Silberling’s 1995 film Casper, Dr. James Harvey and his daughter Kat move into Whipstaff Manor on a mission: to rid the place of its haunting ghosts. There, they meet a friendly ghost named Casper and the Ghostly Trio, his not-so-friendly uncles. Harvey’s relationship with the trio doesn’t start off well, and at one point, they even consider killing him to become a quartet.
Once they discover that his feelings towards Harvey have changed, they decide to back out of their plan, but it’s too late: the man gets drunk and, on his way out of a bar, falls down to his death, returning to the mansion as a ghost. Realizing how grief-stricken Kat is, Casper decides to sacrifice his only chance to come back to life and allows Harvey to use a machine created by his father to bring back the dead, which is how the man manages to reunite with his daughter in the land of the living. Stream Casper on Netflix
7 Sherlock Holmes — Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has its fair share of twists and turns, and one of the biggest comes near its conclusion. After spending some time trying to thwart the malicious plans of Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock confronts his enemy one last time, as he now threatens to kill Watson and his wife. Realizing that it is impossible to overcome him in a physical fight, and determined to save his friend, Holmes clings to him and jumps off the balcony straight into Reichenbach Falls, dispatching both of them to their certain death while Watson watches from afar.
The loss of the detective leaves everyone devastated, though fortunately, not for long: after his funeral, we get to see Sherlock burst into Watson’s office and, after reading his friend and collaborator’s memoirs, he adds a question mark next to the words “The End” — clearly stating that his adventure has not yet reached its conclusion. In fact, earlier this year, Sherlock Holmes producer provided a positive update regarding a third installment, revealing “it is a priority” for the team. Rent on AppleTV
6 Bucky Barnes — Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The MCU featured many heartbreaking moments throughout its franchise, and Bucky Barnes’ fake death is among those that shocked audiences the most. 2011 marked the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, the first film to showcase Chris Evans as the eponymous superhero, as he fights against Hydra.
The movie also features Bucky, Steve Rogers’ best friend, who falls to his death from a moving train in a tension-filled fight scene, leaving Captain America devastated and the audience in shock. Unlike other entries on this list, Barnes’ alleged death had fans grieving for years, as it was only revealed that the character survived in the film’s sequel, The Winter Soldier, released three years later. Stream The First Avenger on Disney+
5 Nick Fury — Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
When it comes to heartbreaking fake deaths in the MCU, we can’t overlook Nick Fury’s, which takes place just before the big reveal that Bucky Barnes survived his downfall in Captain America: The First Avenger. In 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Fury has his reasons for thinking that S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, and as he breaks into Steve’s apartment to inform him, he is shot by the Winter Soldier.
Despite doctors intervening almost immediately, Fury’s body is too weak and does not survive the surgery, which leaves Steve, Natasha Romanoff, and Maria Hill devastated. However, by the end of the film, it is revealed that he staged his death from the beginning, with the sole purpose of supporting the war against Hydra while remaining untargeted, since, in his words, “they can’t kill you if you’re already dead” — a badass moment from the MCU character. Stream The Winter Soldier on Disney+
4 Flynn Rider — Tangled (2010)
Historically, the crushes of official Disney Princesses never quite caught on with audiences, as fans tend to gravitate to the heroines of the studio’s animated films. That all changed when 2010’s Tangled introduced Flynn Rider, who endeared himself to the whole world with his humor and good looks. Perhaps that’s why his apparent death at the end of the film earns a place among the most painful ones in animated cinema.
When Rapunzel discovers her true origin, Mother Gothel loses her mind and does everything in her power to keep her close in order to exploit her hair’s magic. As such, she does not hesitate to stab Flynn in the back as he climbs the tower to rescue the princess. Resigned and heartbroken, Rapunzel promises to stay with Gothel if she allows her to use her magic one more time to heal Flynn.
However, he, aware that this tiny gesture will condemn her to a life of captivity, cuts off her hair with a piece of glass. Thus, Rapunzel loses her magic and, deprived of it, Gothel ages to ashes. Fortunately, things end well for this couple, as Rapunzel manages to revive her lover just before the magic abandons her body. Stream Tangled on Disney+
3 Baymax — Big Hero 6
It goes without saying that Baymax is a robot and not a living creature, so technically, he can’t die. That doesn’t make his fake death in Disney’s Big Hero 6 any less heartbreaking. In this 2014 film by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Hiro and the inflatable healthcare robot his late brother Tadashi created work together to unmask the conspiracy that killed the young man.
In a dangerous mission that threatens Hiro’s life, Baymax sacrifices himself to save his patient, and the two are forced to part ways, leading to one of the film’s most emotional scenes. Fortunately, that was not the end of this wonderful friendship: a few months later, Hiro finds Baymax’s healthcare chip and builds him from scratch, and from then on, they both devote themselves to protecting their city from potential threats. Stream Big Hero 6 on Disney+
2 Aragorn — The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Frodo Baggins’ journey to destroy the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is full of dangerous twists and turns, and although the hobbit has some truly powerful allies, not all of them survive this difficult mission.
The 2002 film The Two Towers features one of the most heartbreaking deaths in the entire trilogy: Aragorn, who falls from a cliff while riding a warg after being violently dragged off by it. Given the height from which he fell, no one expected to see him return, but fortunately he managed to survive to continue fighting alongside the Fellowship of the Ring until the very end. Stream The Two Towers on Max
1 Harry Potter — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
For years, fans around the world nervously followed Harry Potter’s ongoing war against Voldemort, knowing that, in the end, only one of them would ultimately survive. Thus, with each book and movie that came out, discussions were sparked as to which of the two would be strong enough to outlive the other in the battle that was to come. This mystery was solved in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, although not before shocking the crowd that had not read the book.
In this scene, Voldemort casts an Avada Kedavra curse on Harry, killing him. However, we later learn that he didn’t actually die, but was sent to an in-between place. There, the young wizard gets to see Dumbledore again before returning to his body for one last epic battle against his enemy, whom he takes by surprise and manages to defeat once and for all.
Although Harry’s fake death is short-lived, the scene where Hagrid carries his presumed dead body is among the most devastating ones in the entire film series. Stream The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 on Max