The Most Heartbreaking DC Movie Moments

By Sean Thiessen | Published

DC films do not always hit the mark, but in many cases, they strike straight through the heart. Over the course of decades, fans have gotten so involved with these characters’ stories that they have been moved to tears, and we are here to reminisce about the DC’s most devastating chapters. This is our list of the most heartbreaking DC movie moments ever put to the screen.

Peacemaker kills Rick Flag – The Suicide Squad

Filmmaker James Gunn knows how to pull the heartstrings, and his first DC movie is a prime example of that skill. 

Peacemaker and Rick Flag are two characters dedicated to fighting for their country, but their ideals clash when the Suicide Squad acquires evidence that innocent people are being used as test subjects in brutal science experiments related to the alien Starro.

Flag wants to leak the information, while Peacemaker is under orders to contain the information. The conflict pits the two against each other in a brutal fight to the death that Peacemaker narrowly wins, killing perhaps the most heroic character in the entire film.

As Peacemaker drives a shard of glass into Flag’s heart, the pain in his eyes signals that neither man wanted their journey to end this way, making the scene one of the saddest in any DC movie.

Catwoman’s Rejection – Batman Returns

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is one of the most tragic characters in DC movie history. The neurotic and well-meaning Selina Kyle is nearly murdered by her boss, Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, triggering a psychological break that births her confident criminal persona, Catwoman.

Her unraveling culminates in the finale of Batman Returns. Batman unmasks himself and pleads with Selina to stop her quest for vengeance and come home with him. Initially swept up in his words, Selina then swipes her claws across Bruce’s cheek and commits to her path of violence.

She spends all but one of her proverbial nine lives to face down and kill Shreck by massive electrocution, disappearing from Batman’s life forever in the blaze.

Jonathan Kent’s Death – Man of Steel

No event in the history of Zack Snyder’s Superman shaped the character quite like the death of his Earth father, Jonathan Kent. Played by Kevin Costner, Jonathan was portrayed as a wise but cautious farmer. His love for his adopted son sowed the seeds of fear; he insisted that if the world found out who Clark Kent really was, they would reject him.

Jonathan dissuaded Clark from ever using his abilities, even to help people, in order to keep him safe. When Jonathan is caught in a tornado, he stops Clark from saving him so that Clark’s powers would remain a secret.

The debate created one of the most fascinating ethical dilemmas a DC movie has yet put forth. Jonathan’s sacrifice is one Clark would carry with him forever, adding complexity to his choice to reveal himself to the world for the good of humanity.

Superman’s Sacrifice – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It doesn’t get much sadder than the death of hope. The DC movie universe can get gloomy, but Superman is a beacon of light amidst the darkness. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman’s light goes out as he makes the ultimate sacrifice to stop Doomsday. 

Barely able to stand, Superman looks into Lois Lane’s eyes to tell her one last time that he loves her. She begs him not to go, but without hesitation, Superman does what he always does: the heroic thing.

He lifts a spear tipped with kryptonite and drives it into Doomsday’s heart. In order to keep it there, he leaves himself open to be stabbed himself. Locked in a mortal stalemate, Superman and Doomsday kill each other.

The sacrifice is exemplary of Superman’s character, but watching him die on screen is a heartbreaking DC movie moment that will stick with fans forever.

Rorschach’s Death – Watchmen

Though certainly not a typical DC movie, Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen tells a dazzling and philosophical story with a heartbreaking finale.

As the twisted Ozymandias executes a plan to kill millions in order to unite the world against a common enemy, Rorschach stands apart as the group’s only moral defector.

He goes to warn people of the disaster but is stopped by Dr. Manhattan, who supports the choice. Rorschach asserts that, while Manhattan purports infallibility, his moral compass is inconsistent, which is exactly what landed them in the situation they are in.

He removes his mask, forcing Manhattan to look him in the eye. Then Dr. Manhattan explodes Rorschach into a bloody splatter across the snow, crafting the most graphic heartbreaking DC movie moment on the list.

Steve Trevor’s Sacrifice – Wonder Woman
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Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor have one of the greatest romances in any DC movie, which makes Steve’s sacrifice at the end of Wonder Woman all the more heartbreaking. Played by Chris Pine, Trevor is a charming and brave soldier who introduces Diana to a whole new world.

Their love blossoms as they fight during World War I. They discover that a deadly gas developed by a German scientist is going to be released on the Western Front, but when they intervene, it is revealed that Ares, the god of war, has orchestrated humanity’s destruction by its own hand.

As Wonder Woman fights Ares in a physical and philosophical battle, Steve Trevor flies a plane filled with a chemical weapon high enough to detonate it without harming anyone but himself. Diana’s pain helps her overcome Ares, but her sorrow lives on for decades to come, shaping her path in every subsequent DC movie.

Death of Rachel Dawes – The Dark Knight
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Still considered by many as the greatest superhero film of all time, The Dark Knight is filled with pulse-pounding moments. While most of the movie makes the heart race, a few moments completely shatter it. None is more of a bombshell than the death of Rachel Dawes.

In an iconic sequence, the Joker sends Batman and the police to retrieve Rachel and Harvey Dent after they were kidnapped by the mob and tied up in rooms filled with oil drums. 

Batman loses the race against time, and Rachel is killed in a massive explosion that sends the film and its characters spiraling out of control. Dent is only half saved; massive burns and the loss of Rachel send him over the edge to become the villainous Two-Face.

For the rest of the trilogy, Bruce Wayne wrestles with Rachel’s death. He makes her out to be his only hope for a normal life, and in all his heroics, he fails to save the person he loves most. 

Alfred at Bruce Wayne’s Grave – The Dark Knight Rises
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In a brief but powerful moment, Alfred standing at Bruce Wayne’s grave is one of the most heartbreaking moments in any DC movie. Michael Caine weeps through a gut-wrenching scene as he laments his failure, believing he has fallen short of Bruce’s trust in him.

Across three films, Alfred is there for Bruce at every turn. As a surrogate father, he mentors Bruce with wisdom and critical aid, even saving Batman’s life several times. In The Dark Knight Rises, it seems that Bruce Wayne has finally punched his ticket, and Alfred cannot cope with the loss.

The film resolves with Bruce Wayne having faked his death, but in the moment at the grave, neither Alfred nor the audience knows that, and it is still one of the biggest tear-jerkers in any DC movie to date.