The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already dozens of films deep, and the franchise has certainly experienced its fair share of tragedy - though the close calls have been much more frequent than the actual demises. If there’s one thing Marvel Studios could be fairly critiqued for, it’s an overreliance on the “fake-out casualty” trope, and that’s not just because half the universe was resurrected at one point.
Most times an MCU character of any importance “perishes,” audiences can be almost certain that they’ll reappear in short order - and usually because “it turns out they didn’t actually kick the bucket!” That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a long list of sad MCU ends, it’s just that the vast majority of them are only sad the first time you watch the film.
The “Demise”: Agent Phil Coulson goes out like an absolute legend in The Avengers, blasting Loki with an experimental cannon before taking an Infinity Stone-powered scepter through the heart. The guy even manages to leave Nick Fury with an inspirational message before he expires.
How Believable It Was: Though Fury employs some blood-splattered-cards-related trickery to fully motivate The Avengers, it seems apparent to everyone that Coulson has really passed on - and it’s his sacrifice that inspires the assemblage.
How Long Did It Last?: As far as everyone on the film side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe knows, Coulson is still very much deceased - and he does remain so after The Avengers, for a time. But only until Fury puts him through the controversial T.A.H.I.T.I. resurrection program - powered by alien blood from his Captain Marvel days - leading to Coulson’s return for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a year later.1,14681Did you think they were done for?
The “Demise”: Shortly after being freed from captivity, and assumed genetic experimentation, at the hands of HYDRA in Captain America: The First Avenger, Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers go on a classic train-hijacking mission - only to have Bucky fall hundreds of feet into a ravine.
How Believable It Was: For anyone who hadn’t read "The Winter Soldier" comic book arc, Bucky’s demise looks about as clear-cut as it can get. He falls from a height that no human could reasonably survive, and Cap mourns him appropriately.
How Long Did It Last?: Technically, Bucky never perishes, he survives due to HYDRA’s experiments after being picked up by them to be put into cold storage - though it’s still several decades until anyone learns the true identity of the Winter Soldier. In the real world, of course, that revelation occurs in the sequel.882234Did you think they were done for?
The “Demise”: At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull’s hubris finally catches up with him as he dares to lay a hand on the Tesseract - and is seemingly disintegrated in the act.
How Believable It Was: Johann Schmidt’s demise is highly believable, both because he’s a villain and because it occurs during WWII - and the Red Skull is still thought to be long gone when Steve Rogers wakes up in the modern era.
How Long Did It Last?: The Red Skull isn’t seen again for decades - and for seven real-world years, making his surprise reappearance in Avengers: Infinity War, where it’s revealed that the Tesseract/Space Stone actually teleported him all the way to Vormir to serve as the guardian of the Soul Stone.771241Did you think they were done for?
J.A.R.V.I.S. Gets Absorbed
The “Demise”: When Ultron comes online in Age of Ultron, he has a brief conversation with Tony Stark’s favorite artificial intelligence, J.A.R.V.I.S. - then, he checks out the internet for a second, loses all faith in humanity, and terminates J.A.R.V.I.S. with extreme prejudice.
How Believable It Was: Even though J.A.R.V.I.S. was just a computer program with a smooth voice, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes seem to mourn him - and nobody really has any reason to suspect that Marvel Studios would pull a fake-out with an artificial being.
How Long Did It Last?: The J.A.R.V.I.S. program is revealed to have survived later in the film, conveniently right when the good guys need something to stick in the head of Ultron’s vibranium synthezoid. The resulting combination is known as The Vision - but he’s still powered by Paul Bettany’s pleasing pipes.509384Did you think they were done for?