[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers]Every story deserves a happy ending, but we all know that’s not how life works. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for its vibrant, cheerful stories and characters—you expect to leave an MCU property with a smile on your face and a skip in your step. While many MCU films and shows like the Guardians of the Galaxy films and Thor: Ragnarok to name a few, capture this tone, on occasion the franchise has been known to switch things up a bit.
At the risk of being a downer, let’s take a look at the saddest endings in the franchise, across films and shows. These are heartbreaking, melancholic moments that continue to haunt us through the closing credits. The ranking is based on the final scenes and not the mid-/post-credit scenes since those scenes are often tied to other properties. Get your tissues ready.
Thor was a Shakespearean look at a superhero origin story, and it included all the tragicomedy that comes with the Bard’s style of storytelling. In the third act of the film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes head-to-head with his resentful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) which ends with the latter seemingly falling to his death. On top of that, Thor’s access to Earth—the Bifrost—has been destroyed in the battle, cutting him off from his newfound love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Despite Thor and his family attending a celebratory meal at the end of the film, the scene is tinged with a sense of melancholy. Nothing will be the same for Thor again. He has evolved from being an impulsive young warrior at the start of the film to a mellow and responsible prince. He’s learned some hard truths about his family along the way and over the course of Thor’s solo trilogy, he will deal with these revelations and so much more. The film still ends on a hopeful note, though. Thor’s family may be irreparably fractured, but his return to Earth won’t be. The Bifrost is slowly repairing itself and Jane, an astrophysicist, is searching for the God of Thunder. There is hope in despair for Thor.
6. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s still hard to fathom how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a happy ending and still feels like such a downer. Throughout the spin-off show’s final season, the team is aware of a disconcerting prophecy that this will be their last mission together. They’ve stuck together through thick and thin, through betrayals and resurrections, through trips to the past and the future. The agents make a great go of it, and in the end, they survive and they save the timeline from the Chronicoms. Each of the agents get individual happy endings—Alphonso ‘Mack’ Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) remains director of S.H.I.E.L.D. with his partner Elena ‘Yo-Yo’ Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), his top agent; Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) retire to raise their daughter; Daisy Johnson/Quake (Chloe Bennet) becomes a space traveller alongside her long-lost sister and boyfriend; Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) becomes an academy instructor, while Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) embraces his new life as a Life Model Decoy, and gets an upgraded version of his beloved car Lola. And yet, when they meet—via VR—the former professional family are awkward with each other; out of touch and uncomfortable. The final reunion plays out like the worst school reunion you’ve attended—these people were part of each other’s lives for a long time, but now they’ve moved on. It was a surprisingly depressing way to bid farewell to a group that was once so tight. Saddest happy ending ever.
5. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) deserved a happy ending. In the series, she goes through hell and back and struggles because of it. Every time it seems Jessica is getting her life back on track, something—or someone— comes along and derails her plans. In the final season, serial killer Gregory Salinger (Jeremy Bobb) keeps trying to defame Jessica’s heroism, but the real villain turns out to be Jessica’s adoptive sister Trish (Rachael Taylor). Trish, who’d coveted superpowers after seeing what a hero Jessica had turned into, epitomizes the phrase, ‘the path to hell is paved with good intentions’. She transforms into a violent vigilante after the murder of her mother and Jessica has to stop Trish herself. Jessica then has to watch her best friend imprisoned in the underwater prison, the Raft. This leads to Jessica giving up on being a superhero and a private investigator. Worse, in the final moments of the show, Jessica hears the voice of the supposedly dead mind-controlling villain Kilgrave (David Tennant). Even supporting characters like Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville) have to face up to harsh truths about themselves. Jessica Jones was always a bold show, and it didn’t pull any punches in ending on a memorable, if an extremely low, note.
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Not many people had a sad ending in Spider-Man: No Way Home on their bingo cards. After battling villains from across the multiverse, one would have expected Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to return home triumphant. But that wasn’t to be. Despite the MCU Spider-Man trilogy’s upbeat tone, the threequel takes a darker turn. Peter, in an effort to reverse the damage done after all of his interruptions to Dr. Steven Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) spell, asks Strange to make everyone forget Peter has ever existed. In the final scene in No Way Home, Peter looks for his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) to keep his promise and remind them of who he is—instead, Peter sees that the two of them are incredibly happy and on their way to realizing their dream of attending MIT and so, Peter drops the idea. Peter is a teenager and his entire solo arc revolves around how his life is intertwined with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his friends. For someone like Peter to end up completely alone in a different city and away from his beloved ecosystem, on the heels of losing May, is a crushing blow to the character, and the audience who have loved Peter’s effervescent optimism.
One of the Avengers who’s really had it rough is Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Wanda loses her parents in childhood, then her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and her boyfriend Vision (Paul Bettany) are both killed in different battles. The woman deserves a break, and gives herself one in WandaVision. Whether one knew the recent history of the character in the MCU, or her long-standing comic book arc, it is obvious from the start of the show that Wanda’s idyllic life in Westview is destined for disaster. But it still hurts to see her lose everything all over again. In the final moments of the Disney+ show, Wanda has to reckon with the fact that, in her grief, she had mind-controlled all the residents of Westview and effectively held them hostage. Wanda has become a villain, someone she herself would have hated. And her confrontation with the denizens of Westview comes after Wanda removes her Hex and erases her version of Vision and their twin children—the last modicum of a family she had. Wanda and Vision’s goodbye is moving and effective but tinged with a little bit of hope. The two have indeed said goodbye before, so here’s hoping another hello is on the horizon.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
Set during the Second World War, audiences watching Captain America: The First Avenger were aware that Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) would be brought to the present-day somehow, but we didn’t expect it to be so heartbreaking. After receiving the supersoldier serum, Steve spends two years fighting in the war alongside the Howling Commandos and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), all the while Steve and Peggy silently develop a crush on each other. Just when Peggy makes her feelings for Steve clear, he has to sacrifice himself to save the world. Peggy and Steve’s final scene together echoes how brave both are as they come to terms with Steve’s decision. Their respect for each other is as obvious as the promise of their future that could never be (or so we thought at the time!). The film’s heartbreaking finale is two-fold—Peggy putting on a brave face as the war ends and she looks on wistfully at a picture of ‘skinny Steve’, and later when Steve wakes up in the present and realizes he’s lost Peggy, and his friends, forever. We can all admit, unrequited love stories are fantastic tear-jerkers and Peggy and Steve’s film-long pining for one another is a tragic way to conclude Steve’s MCU introduction.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
The ending of Avengers: Infinity War was a shock. Who in the audience wasn’t left wondering, ‘Did Marvel just do that?’ Did half the MCU, including the majority of the Avengers, actually get dusted by Thanos? Yes, they did. The build-up to the final moments is distressing and brilliantly reflects the despair that enveloped fans through the end credits. Each character’s death is crushing in its own way. Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier’s (Sebastian Stan) voice cracking as he is the first to be dusted; Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) disappearing alone just as James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) comes looking for him; T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) vanishing before a shocked Okoye (Danai Gurira); Wanda Maximoff looking almost relieved as she joins her recently dead beloved Vision; even the usually bubbly Guardians of the Galaxy look despondent that they are dying, especially Groot (Vin Diesel) who finally calls Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) ‘dad’. Of course, the horror is brought home by young Peter Parker’s agonizing death scene, played brilliantly by Tom Holland. The remaining Avengers, as well as the audience, are left with the realization that for the first time Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have lost, and the consequences are devastating. The ending of Infinity War was a gut-punch few MCU fans saw coming.