25 Most Memorable Tragic/Heroic Popculture Sacrifices Of The Last Decade

A heroic sacrifice is always memorable.

25 Most Memorable Tragic/Heroic Popculture Sacrifices Of The Last Decade
Tony Stark sacrificed his life to defeat Thanos. Credit: Disney.

A new decade is almost upon us, and as such, we have come to a time when we all look back at some of our favourite movie and television moments from the past ten years.

Everyone loves a good tragic sacrifice in a television show or on film. An emotional gut-punch in which a favourite character sacrifices themselves for the good of others. Often, but not always, this leads to the character's death. Sometimes, they simply happen with an understanding that things will never be the same.

Here are some of the best heroic sacrifices from the last decade.

1. Cap goes into the ice (Captain America: The First Avenger)

After defeating the villainous Red Skull, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, finds himself trapped in a plane full of missiles hurtling towards the city of New York. After a heartbreaking goodbye to Peggy Carter, the woman he loves, Steve crashes the plane into icy water, sacrificing himself to protect the city.

As fans will know, the crash doesn't kill Steve. The Super Soldier serum keeps him alive, but frozen in the ice. He wakes seventy years later with the world he knew entirely changed, making this as big a sacrifice as if he had actually died.

2. Stoick saves Hiccup (How To Train Your Dragon 2)

In How To Train Your Dragon 2, the second film of the much-loved How To Train Your Dragon trilogy, Hiccup and company are faced with the wicked Dragon hunter Drago Bludvist. Drago possesses a powerful Bewilderbeast, an 'Alpha Dragon' that can exert control over others.

Drago uses the Bewilderbeast to force Hiccup's loyal Night Fury to turn on him. Toothless is about to kill Hiccup, but Hiccup's Father Stoick races across the battlefield to push him out of the way just in time, taking the blast himself.

Stoick's sacrifice is made even more heartbreaking by the fact that he had just reunited with his long-lost Wife, Valka.

3. Dobby (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1)

For one brief, wonderful moment, Harry Potter believes that he and his friends have escaped the Malfoy Manor unscathed. Unfortunately, he then realises that Dobby the House Elf was struck in the gut by a knife thrown by Bellatrix Lestrange. The elf soon dies from his wounds.

While Dobby did not go to the Malfoy Manor with the intent of sacrificing himself, he was fully aware of the danger he was getting into, but went anyway to save his friends. He also willingly returned to a place where he'd been abused, a great sacrifice in itself.

4. Amy Pond allows herself to be taken by the angels (Doctor Who, 'The Angels Take Manhattan')

Just when the Eleventh Doctor thought he had freed his beloved companions from the grasp of the terrifying Weeping Angels, Rory Williams accidentally reads his name on a tombstone and is zapped into the past. Amy, unwilling to live without Rory, says a tearful goodbye to The Doctor and lets the Angel take her, in the hope that she and Rory will be reunited.

Despite receiving a message to let him know she and Rory were happy in the past, The Doctor is left heartbroken by Amy's loss. While we aren't told exactly how much time passes for the Doctor between 'Angels Take Manhattan' and the following episode, 'The Snowmen', it is heavily implied that The Doctor has not been travelling for a while.

5. Groot (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

With the newly formed Guardians Of The Galaxy team trapped aboard a crashing ship after a failed attack on Ronan, Groot creates a protective cocoon around the rest of the group to protect them from the impact of the crash. As a distraught Rocket Raccoon questions why Groot would sacrifice himself, Groot simply and touchingly replies:

"We are Groot."

Thereby using his final moments to officially claim the Guardians as his family.

This sacrifice is even more tragic with the reveal that the Baby Groot who sprouts at the end of the film and has been a fixture on the team ever since is not Groot reborn, but Groot's son. The original Groot is gone.

6. Pietro Maximoff (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Throughout Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the audience is subtly nudged towards believing Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, may not survive the events of the film. As it turns out, this was all misdirection in order to surprise us with a different death. Just as Clint is gearing up to shield a lost child from a hail of gunfire, the pair are saved by new Avenger Pietro Maximoff, pushing an overturned car between them and the bullets. Sadly, Pietro did not have time to avoid the gunfire himself.

"You didn't see that coming?"

The true tragedy of Pietro's death is in his lost potential. Pietro will never get the chance to truly redeem himself the way his sister Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, does in later films.

7. Bing Bong (Inside Out)

Towards the end of Inside Out, Joy finds herself trapped in the Memory Dump, a place where memories are sent to be forgotten, with Riley's old imaginary friend, Bing Bong. Fortunately, the experience helps Joy understand the importance of Sadness in letting Riley's friends and family know when she is in trouble.

Joy and Bing Bong then use Riley's old imaginary rocket ship to try and escape the Memory Dump so Joy can find Sadness and get her back to Headquarters. After a few failed attempts, Bing Bong realises the ship is too heavy with both of them on board, and leaps back into the Memory Dump, allowing himself to be permanently forgotten to ensure Joy can escape.

"Take her to the Moon for me"- Bing Bong.

Bing Bong's death is heartbreaking, as it represents a loss of innocence for Riley.

8. The Crew of Rogue One (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

While Star Wars fans entered the theatre for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a fair idea that most of the characters weren't going to make it out of the film alive, their sacrifices were no-less tragic or heroic when the time came.

Rogue One successfully pulled off their supposedly impossible mission, getting the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance and stamping their names on Star Wars history forever.

9. Stephen Strange chooses not to heal his hands. (Doctor Strange)

When Doctor Stephen Strange first uncovers the world of Sorcery, his only goal is to heal his hands and return to his life as a talented Neurosurgeon. Not because of the good that he did, but his own ego. Throughout the film, the Ancient One encourages Strange to look beyond himself, to all the good he could do with sorcery. Stephen eventually learns that he could heal his hands at anytime if he constantly focuses on sending magical energy through them.

In the final shots of the film, we see Strange glance at his shaking, scarred hands after he takes guardianship over the New York Sanctum. He has made a conscious decision not to heal them, looking beyond himself in favour of what must be done for the good of all.

10. Hodor (Game Of Thrones)

Like many questions in Game Of Thrones, the question of why the lovable Hodor can only say 'Hodor' is solved in the most tragic way possible. Bran Stark is experiencing a vision of the past including the young Hodor then named Wylis. In the present, the Cave in which Bran and his friends are hiding comes under attack by White Walkers and their undead wight army. As Meera Reed flees with Bran, whose mind is still trapped in the past, she instructs Hodor to hold the cave door shut behind them so the wights cannot follow, unintentionally sentencing Hodor to death as the wights begin stab him through the door.

This would be tragic enough, but then Bran accidentally wargs into the mind of young Wylis, causing him to experience a vision of his future self's grizzly death. The traumatic event damages Wylis's mind, leaving him as the mentally handicapped Hodor.

11. Melody Pond/River Song gives up her remaining regenerations. (Doctor Who)

After being raised by the Order of the Silence as an assassin destined to kill The Doctor, Melody Pond almost accomplishes her goal after she poisons him with a kiss. After the dying Doctor gives her a message for River Song, the woman Melody is destined to become, she instead decides to save him, giving up all her remaining regeneration energy to do so.

River's sacrifice is extra tragic considering the fact that she does not understand exactly what she has given up until much later in life, after she has truly fallen in love with The Doctor. As a Human/Time Lord hybrid, River Song could have spent multiple lifetimes with The Doctor. Unfortunately, since River gave up her remaining regenerations to save The Doctor's life, their time together is left drastically shortened.

12. Yondu Udonta (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2)

Trapped among the crumbling remains of his biological Father Ego The Living Planet, Peter Quill is rescued just in time by Yondu Udonta. In a moment that is heartwarming and tragic in equal measure, Yondu claims Peter as his own son, before giving Peter their only space suit. Yondu willingly gives his life for his adopted son, freezing to death in the vacuum of space as a distraught Peter screams his name.

This moment is even more heartbreaking for the fact that Peter only realises what Yondu was to him after his death.

13. Logan (Logan)

Hugh Jackman's record-breaking 17-year stint as Wolverine came to a tear-jerking end in Logan.

Logan is mortally wounded fighting X-24, an evil clone of himself, while trying to give a group of young mutants, including his clone/daughter Laura, time to escape to safety over the Canadian border. Laura kills X-24 with an adamantium bullet, but it was too late to save Logan. He holds Laura's hand as he passes away, delivering one last piece of Fatherly advice.

"Don't be what They made you."

This ending is bittersweet. While the age of the X-Men ends with Logan's death, his sacrifice secures the future for a new generation of Mutants.

14. Anna saves Elsa from Hans (Frozen)

Seconds away from death after Elsa accidentally froze her heart earlier in the film, Anna gives up the opportunity to kiss Kristoff and save herself in favour of saving Elsa from Hans. Anna reaches Elsa in time to shield her from Hans's sword, but is left as a statue when her heart freezes completely.

Fortunately, this one has a happy ending. Anna's act of love in sacrificing herself for her sister is enough to thaw Anna's frozen heart, reviving her. It also teaches Elsa the important lesson that 'Love will thaw', therefore allowing her to end Arendelle's eternal Winter.

15. Team Cap stays behind. (Captain America: Civil War)

Towards the end of the epic airport battle sequence in Captain America: Civil War, the other members of Cap's team make a joint decision to stay behind and keep Team Iron Man distracted so Cap and Bucky Barnes can escape and prove Bucky's innocence.

The decision results in the 'former' heroes being locked up in the brutal super-human prison, The Raft, leading even Tony Stark to doubt whether he's been doing the right thing. Thankfully, Cap returns to rescue his friends in the film's closing scene.

16. Eleven battles the Demogorgon (Stranger Things)

After days of fleeing the Lab where she grew up, a lab that also released the monstrous Demogorgon from the creepy Upside Down, the super-powered Eleven makes a final stand against the monster. Bidding Mike a tearful farewell, Eleven supposedly sacrifices herself to defeat the Demogorgon.

Although Eleven is not actually dead, this was still an impressive sacrifice considering she was only a child.

17. Clara Oswald leaps into The Doctor's Time Stream (Doctor Who, 'The Name Of The Doctor')

The Great Intelligence has entered The Doctor's Time Stream, beginning to undo all the good he has done over his many lives. To the reverse the damage, The Doctor's companion Clara Oswald leaps into the time stream herself, with the result that she is torn into hundreds of different versions of herself scattered across The Doctor's timeline. Echoes that are like Clara, but are not truly her, meaning that Clara effectively sacrificed her life for The Doctor.

The Doctor ultimately does rescue Clara, but she had no way of knowing this was possible at the time, so her rescue in no way lessens her sacrifice.

18. Captain Hector Barbossa (Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)

Captain Hector Barbossa spends much of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise as a villain, or in later films, an anti-hero. This changes in the fifth instalment, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Just moments after his long-lost daughter, Carina, realises that he is her Father, Barbossa gives his life to ensure that Carina, Henry Turner, and Jack Sparrow escape the evil Captain Salazar.

"What am I, to you?"

"Treasure."

Thus, the man who began the series as it's greatest villain instead became one of it's greatest heroes. Carina honours Hector's sacrifice by officially taking Barbossa as her last name.

19. Loki (Avengers: Infinity War)

After giving up the Tesseract to save Thor's life, Loki makes a brave but probably foolish attempt to assassinate Thanos. Sadly, the attempt ends in Loki's death when Thanos breaks his neck.

Loki's death is heartbreaking because it shows how far he had come in even a short amount of time. Just one film earlier, Loki may not have made the sacrifice that he made in Infinity War.

And although we will see Loki again in the upcoming series on Disney Plus, it will not be the same Loki. The original Loki, all his character development, everything he could have been.. is gone, probably for good.

20. Wanda destroys Vision (Avengers: Infinity War)

After spending most of Avengers: Infinity War trying to remove the Mind Stone without killing him, Wanda and Vision come to the heartbreaking conclusion that Vision must be destroyed to keep the stone out of Thanos's hands. Even worse, Wanda herself is the only one with the power to destroy the Stone.

This particular sacrifice is especially tragic due to the fact that it is ultimately pointless. With the Time Stone at his disposal, Thanos simply rewinds time to take the Mind Stone from Vision, and Wanda is forced to watch her beloved die a second time.

21. Leta Lestrange (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindlewald)

After a lifetime of secretly struggling with guilt over the death of her baby brother, Corvus, and being ostracised by most of her fellow wizards, one might forgive Leta Lestrange if she'd chosen to join the dark wizard Grindelwald. For a moment, it looks like she is going to do just that.. Until she takes on Grindelwald in what she knows is a horribly mismatched duel, giving her life so that the Scamander brothers can escape.

Leta's sacrifice is a reminder that things are not always what they seem in J.K Rowling's Wizarding World. Leta is both a Lestrange and a Slytherin, leading some fans to mark her as a potential traitor before we'd even officially met her onscreen. Instead, she performed one of the most selfless acts in the entire franchise.

22. Theon Greyjoy (Game Of Thrones)

After rescuing his sister, Yara, from the clutches of their psychotic Uncle Euron, Theon Greyjoy has the chance to return to the Iron Islands and wait out winter in relative safety. Instead, he chooses to return to Winterfell and join the battle against the Night King, hoping to atone for the horrific acts he once perpetrated against his adoptive family, the Starks.

Commanding a small group of soldiers tasked with protecting the new Three-Eyed-Raven, Bran Stark, Theon is the last man standing when the real enemy arrives. Theon charges at the Night King, knowing he can't possibly win. However, his sacrifice likely delayed the Night King long enough for Arya Stark to arrive and save the day. While it was a long, winding road, Theon Greyjoy died a hero.

23. Billy Hargrove (Stranger Things)

Billy Hargrove spends the second season of Stranger Things bullying and tormenting the main cast, and most of the third season possessed by the Mind-Flayer, so he's generally a pain in the butt for everyone whenever he's onscreen. However, when Eleven takes a quick trip into Billy's past memories, we get a glimpse at some of the experiences that make Billy the way he is. While it doesn't excuse his past behaviour, it does explain it.

Billy manages to break free of the Mind-Flayer's control just long enough to keep it from consuming Eleven. The monster kills him almost immediately, devastating his Stepsister, Max. Once again, the tragedy of Billy's sacrifice is one of lost potential. He never got the chance to atone for his past mistakes.

24. Natasha Romanoff (Avengers: Endgame)

When movie-goers realised exactly who had gone to Vormir in Avengers: Endgame, they knew immediately to prepare for heartbreak. The Soul Stone cannot be obtained without a sacrifice. A soul for a soul.

In the end, Natasha Romanoff takes the fall so that her best friend, Clint Barton, doesn't have to. And in giving her life for the team that became her family, the Black Widow wipes the red from her ledger once and for all.

25. Tony Stark (Avengers: Endgame)

As Doctor Strange discovered in Avengers: Infinity War, there was only one way the Avengers could win. Sadly, that one way resulted in the death of Tony Stark, the impact of using the Infinity Stones destroying his fragile human body.

In death, Iron Man negates many of the criticisms levelled against him by other characters in previous films. Tony is the guy to make the sacrifice play, willingly giving his own life for the good of the world.

Sacrifices, whether they be heroic, tragic, or both, can result in some of the most iconic moments in Pop Culture. We can't wait to see what the next decade holds.

entertainment
Kristy Anderson
Kristy Anderson
Read next: Best Customizable Games
Kristy Anderson

Passionate About all things Entertainment!

See all posts by Kristy Anderson