Thanks to its devastating cliffhanger ending, Avengers: Infinity War has one of the highest death counts of any superhero movie. Arguably the most iconic downer ending to a blockbuster sequel since The Empire Strikes Back, Infinity War’s infamous dusting sequence wiped out such beloved heroes as Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the blink of an eye.
But there are plenty of heartbreaking character deaths before Thanos completes his Infinity Stone collection and snaps his fingers, from the Mad Titan’s reluctant sacrifice of his adopted daughter Gamora to Vision having the consciousness obliterated out of him, not once, but twice.
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5 The Black Order
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fail to stop Thanos in time for the end credits of Infinity War, but they do manage to defeat all of his lackeys. The Black Order, also known as the Children of Thanos, is a group of sycophantic henchmen committed to doing the Mad Titan’s bidding. By the end of Infinity War, they all meet a grim fate at the hands of the Avengers. Ebony Maw is ejected into space in a plan inspired by the movie Alien; Proxima Midnight is tossed into the blades of a giant rolling drill after a fight with Black Widow, Okoye, and the Scarlet Witch; Bruce Banner sends Cull Obsidian flying up into Wakanda’s forcefield with a detached Hulkbuster gauntlet; and Corvus Glaive is impaled on his own scythe by Vision.
There are plenty of tragic death scenes in Infinity War, but these deaths aren’t sad at all; they’re a glorious victory. The sadness that fans feel when their favorite heroes are killed by villains is equaled by the triumph they feel when villains are killed by their favorite heroes.
Thor’s best friend, Heimdall, the commander of the Bifrost, is taken out along with most of the Asgardian population in the disturbing opening scene that establishes the threat posed by Thanos. Since Heimdall was massively underutilized throughout his whole MCU arc, often sidelined into subplots and bit parts, he’s less endeared to audiences than characters like Loki and Gamora, so his death doesn’t hit as hard as theirs.
Still, he died a noble death. In his final moments, Heimdall summoned the Bifrost one last time to send the Hulk to Earth so he could warn the Avengers about Thanos. Without Heimdall, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes wouldn’t have even been prepared for their inevitable defeat.
Vision is killed twice at the end of Infinity War. Wanda reluctantly kills him so that Thanos can’t extract the Mind Stone from his forehead, then Thanos reverses the flow of time with the Time Stone, making the whole heartbreaking sacrifice totally moot, and kills him all over again.
Elizabeth Olsen sells the heartache of having to sacrifice the love of her life, then watching him die a second time as that sacrifice is effortlessly undone by a heartless galactic overlord. Paul Bettany sells the look of horror in Vision’s eyes as he’s resurrected for just long enough to realize his original death was meaningless before he dies once more.
The God of Mischief can never resist a betrayal. On the heels of his redemption arc in Thor: Ragnarok, Loki seems to go back to his old ways at the beginning of Infinity War as he offers to act as a guide for Thanos and his minions when they head to Earth. Thor is bitterly disappointed when Loki seems to turn his back on the Asgardians: “You really are the worst, brother.” But, as it turns out, Loki has a trick up his sleeve. He conjures up a blade and tries to stab Thanos in the neck to liberate the universe from his wrath and save his brother.
Unfortunately, as usual, the Mad Titan is one step ahead of Loki. He prevents the stabbing, grabs the trickster god by the neck, and callously chokes him to death. The most heart-wrenching thing about this death scene – aside from losing a fan-favorite antihero – is the look of anguish in Thor’s eyes as he’s forced to watch his brother die. It recalls the harrowing cornfield scene from Martin Scorsese’s Casino.
When Thanos arrives on Vormir to acquire the Soul Stone, the Red Skull tells him about the “soul for a soul” trade required to collect it. Whoever wants the Soul Stone has to sacrifice the person they love the most to get it. Gamora jokes about the irony that Thanos can never acquire the Soul Stone because he doesn’t love anyone. She thinks the “soul for a soul” exchange means that Thanos’ evil master plan has reached a dead end. Then, tragically, he reveals that he does love somebody.
He grabs Gamora, yanks her over to the edge of the cliff, and throws her to her death. This is one of the most powerful scenes in Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the Mad Titan. Thanos is so narrow-minded in his quest to fill the Infinity Gauntlet that he’s willing to do anything for it, including killing the adopted daughter he raised as his own – but he clearly doesn’t feel good about it.
NEXT: Avengers: Infinity War – 5 Ways It Sticks To The Marvel Formula (& 5 Ways It Deviates From It)