This article contains major MCU spoilers
If the Marvel Cinematic Universe does one thing particularly well, it’s deliver family-friendly outings for us all to enjoy. It’s in stark contrast to Warner Bros.’ typical DC output, which has been called out for its bloody and brooding aesthetic that puts the dark in Dark Knight. Although there have been talks about a more mature MCU, we’re still yet to get an R-rated outing – that honour will soon go to Deadpool 3.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of death and destruction in the MCU, with movies like Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being about as dark as they come. Across four phases, a mountain of movies, and a multiverse of series, it’s not all been happy times sharing a shawarma or twerking with Megan Thee Stallion. Here are 10 of the darkest moments to grace the MCU.
10. The Fate of the Widows
For all its faults, the long-awaited Black Widow at least has the privilege of introducing Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova to the MCU. Despite being a hardened Widow just like Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Yelena tugged at our heartstrings by still yearning for her fabricated family.
There were some strained family reunions, and when rescuing their “father” from the Seventh Circle Prison, director Cate Shortland reiterated a harrowing reveal in a seemingly throwaway line. When David Harbour’s Red Guardian joked about the stereotype of women being moody when on their period, Nat and Yelena explained why that would be impossible.
When trafficked to the Red Room by Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the wannabe Widows are given an involuntary hysterectomy and robbed of ever being able to have biological children. It’s a follow on from Nat’s chat with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but hits home here with the women finding some dark humor in it.
9. Tony’s Age of Ultron Vision
Back when Joss Whedon was still a figurehead of the MCU, Avengers: Age of Ultron was supposed to put the pieces in place for the rest of the Infinity Saga. Instead, it’s a largely forgotten entry that’s remembered for Elizabeth Olsen’s bizarre Wanda accent. In the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World giving us a taste of the Infinity Stones, Age of Ultron hammered home their importance.
One of the movie’s darkest moments saw Tony Stark get a glimpse of the future when under the influence of Wanda’s powers. Seeing the Earth decimated and his teammates dying, an injured Cap says, “You could’ve saved us.” This spurs Mr. Stark into making Ultron as a weapon of mass protection, but we all know how that ends.
Olsen said it wasn’t foreshadowing Avengers: Infinity War, but with a dead Romanoff, hints like Captain America’s shield smashed in half, and a Chitauri resurgence, it’s pretty accurate for Avengers: Endgame’s final act. Knowing all we know now about the Multiverse, it’s likely that this fate of the Avengers happened in some reality.
8. Werewolf By Night’s Bloody Introduction
Despite being a newcomer to the “pack,” Werewolf by Night has the honor of being the MCU’s first Marvel Studios Special Presentation, and has already carved itself a bloody legacy. Even if it feels like it’s set during the heights of the Universal Classic Monsters movies, Werewolf by Night is far more graphic than anything Boris Karloff would’ve starred in.
We’re still dodging that elusive R-rating in the MCU, however, Werewolf by Night gets us closer than ever with a blood-soaked rampage from the lead. There are plenty of gory moments in the gothic horror, but one sticks out more than most.
Michael Giacchino doesn’t skimp on the gore when Gael Garcia Bernal’s imprisoned Jack Russell transforms into the titular werewolf and slices his way through the Bloodstone guards. The shots are beautifully framed against a closing door, while blood spatters hitting the screen immerse viewers in the carnage in this horror take on Daredevil’s iconic hallway scene.
7. Zombie Strange’s Cape of Souls
Let’s be honest, you know what you’re getting from a Sam Raimi movie. With news that the Evil Dead and Spider-Man director was taking over from Scott Derrickson to helm the MCU’s “first” horror movie, we always knew Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was going to be a macabre affair.
Away from THAT Illuminati scene where Reed Richards (John Krasinski) was shredded like courgetti, the movie’s climax featured some of the darkest moments to grace the MCU. Going full Raimi, a rotting Defender Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was brought back from the grave and launched an assault on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – while she went full Scarlet Witch on Mt. Wundagore.
If seeing zombie Doc wasn’t enough, his usual Cloak of Levitation was replaced with one made from the screaming souls of the damned. Using the power of the Darkhold, a dreamwalking Doctor Strange bound these sounds to his undead marionette. You can’t help but think of the Evil Dead movies when Wanda tries to bat off these souls with her chaos magic.
6. John Walker’s Revenge
Even when locked in mortal combat, Chris Evans’ Captain America has a surprisingly squeaky-clean record in the MCU when it comes to his kill count. Wyatt Russell’s John Walker has only been on the scene for a matter of moments, and he’s already got a bloody reputation.
The divisive addition to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is already set to return for Thunderbolts, where we expect this Suicide Squad of anti-heroes to rack up the kills. Back in Walker’s debut, few expected the red mist to descend on him and result in him mashing someone’s skull into the floor with Cap’s iconic shield.
When Lamar “Battlestar” Hoskins (Clé Bennett) was killed in action, Walker wrongly assumed that a Flag-Smasher called Nico was responsible. Although it was Flag-Smasher leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) who accidentally killed Battlestar – and Nico pleaded his case – a Super-Soldier Serum-jacked Walker brutally executed him with the shield in a public square.
5. Loki’s Infinity War Demise
Avengers: Infinity War moved at breakneck speed, and when it came to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, that was quite literal in the opening scene. The God of Mischief looked like he had one more trick up his sleeve, but having run out of his many lives, was taken out when he tried to double-cross Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Loki finally got the redemptive arc he deserved, but unlike his fake-out death in Thor: The Dark World, this was out of his hands. A helpless Thor watched on as his slippery half-brother had his neck snapped. Then there’s that devastating shot of Loki’s corpse lying on the floor with blood seeping out of his nose.
Although deaths like Heimdall have stuck, the timeline trickery of Avengers: Endgame means goodbyes like Loki and Gamora aren’t quite the same. That’s probably for the best, because without 2012 Loki grabbing the Tesseract, we wouldn’t have the Loki series.
4. Zombie Iron Man
Peter Parker loves a tragic father figure, and even though the death of Uncle Ben happens before we get to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the wall-crawling hero soon found a new one in the form of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.
By the time we get to Spider-Man: Far From Home, the billionaire playboy has sadly passed away. However, the ghost (or zombie) of Iron Man lives on in the form of a horrifying vision from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
During the movie’s most imaginative scene, Peter is bombarded with trippy illusions, including a decaying Iron Man rising from the ground. With half his mask missing, we see the hollowed skull of Tony. It’s far darker than anyone expected, but hey, it seems like a pretty good test for a live-action Marvel Zombies movie.
3. Thanos’ Sacrifice
There’s a strong debate on both sides about whether Thanos is the ultimate villain or just a guy trying to stop the universe from annihilating itself. We can go along with some of his plan up until the point he sacrifices his own daughter to get the Soul Stone.
We get the gut-wrenching moment Gamora taunts her adoptive father saying that he couldn’t possibly sacrifice anything because he loves nothing. With a single tear, it dawns that he loves Gamora and that she’ll be his offering to Red Skull.
Even though we know Zoe Saldaña will be back as Gamora for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, that doesn’t take away from that slow panning shot of Gamora’s corpse at the bottom of the cliffs on Vormir. Making things even worse, the TVA has a whole drawer full of Infinity Stones – adding another layer of misery to Gamora’s demise.
2. Ego’s Children
Don’t let the boppy soundtracks of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies fool you, they boast some of the most harrowing moments the MCU has to offer. If seeing the Ravager mutiny blasting Yondu’s loyal followers out of an airlock wasn’t enough, how about a mass grave of Ego’s children in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?
Giving the Living Planet a major revamp from the comics made Kurt Russell’s Celestial into Star-Lord’s father – though he stayed true to the comics by being a villain. During a climactic fight scene between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), the warring sisters put their differences aside when they stumbled into a cavern full of Ego’s murdered offspring.
If Ego killing his kids in the quest of galactical dominance turned your stomach, you should also remember he gave Meredith Quill terminal cancer. There’s an equally dark theory that Mantis (Pom Klementieff), is also one of Ego’s kids, but was spared this grim end because she proved useful to the conniving Celestial.
1. Vision’s Return
The death of Vision (Paul Bettany) in Avengers: Infinity War is almost worthy of an entry on its own – having the Mind Stone ripped from his head and his pale body lying on the Wakandan battlefield. However, in terms of shock factor, Vis’ corpse popping up in WandaVision just clinches it.
From the moment Wanda and Vis stepped into Westview for the I Love Lucy-inspired premiere, it was clear something was wrong in WandaVision. As things slowly started to unravel, it was episode four that really sped things up. After Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) mentioned Ultron and was thrown out of the Hex by Wanda, Maximoff saw Vision in his dead form from Infinity War.
As well as being a heartbreaking throwback to Vision’s death, it’s the start of Wanda’s descent into becoming Multiverse of Madness’ big bad. Three years after we first saw dead Vision, WandaVision still managed to give us a jump scare.