Death Is Dramatic

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Seriously? You fall on a grenade and you still have to muster up the strength to cough enough to let Chick make your death a cliche?"
Jr., Chick Dissections, "Holy War!!1"
"It takes some time for bad guys to die...regardless of physical damage. Even when the "Bad Guys" are killed so quickly they don’t even see it coming, it takes them a while to realize they are dead. This is attributed to the belief that being evil damages the Reality Lobe of the brain."

Basically, the spectacle involved in a character's death is proportional to the importance of the character to the story.

This is why the faceless Mooks and Red Shirt characters die in droves, while the Big Bad gets a second chance at redemption, or at least is taken out in the most spectacular blaze of glory the FX budget allows. Main characters get to go out with a bang instead of a whimper, complete with Heroic Sacrifice and final dying speech. (And then the reaction is proportional to the drama.) Unless someone was Distracted From Death, anyway.

Thus, if a main character dies in a decidedly undramatic or anti-climactic way, the creators are often accused of having Dropped a Bridge on Him, even if they were shooting for realism and trying to subvert the notion that Death Is Dramatic. Typically, "deaths" like that are a major clue that No One Could Survive That and that the hero will be back shortly. So when such a death turns out to be permanent, the fans feel cheated. This will generally cause a tidal wave of revisionist Fanfic.

Related to the Rule of Cool and Kill'Em All. Reactionary Fanfic will usually invoke He's Just Hiding.

Since this is such a common trope, most of the examples will be subversions. Works in which Anyone Can Die usually do away with this trope altogether, so there's no need to explicitly mention them here.

Naturally, this is Truth in Television; since death tends to impact us in direct proportion to how close we were to the deceased in real life.

As a Death Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.

Examples of Death Is Dramatic include:

Anime & Manga

  • Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, many. To name a few: on the protagonist's side there are Pisces Albafica, Virgo Asmita, Leo Regulus...and on the antagonist's side there are Wyvern Rhadamanthys, Behemoth Violate, Basilisk Sylphid....
  • Averted in the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist: In the penultimate episode, Edward dies an extremely quick and wholly undramatic death at the hands of Envy (despite being brought back in the next episode).
  • Death Note plays it straight with Light and Soichiro, while detective L's death is relatively peaceful (though still pretty dramatic). Mello's death, meanwhile, is significantly downplayed.
  • Mostly averted in MAR, where most villain deaths are quick and inglorious. Of course, with the exception of the offscreen-killed Luberia thieves guild, none of the heroes die. At least not permanently.
    • Played straight at most three times, with the deaths of Kannochi, Aqua, and Phantom. All three were sympathetic in some way, as the ones who don't die dramatically are either bloodthirsty sociopaths or cowards.
  • Gai Daigoji in Martian Successor Nadesico is an intentional subversion of this, to set up the show's philosophy on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Earlier in the episode in which he dies, he and Akito are seen watching (and crying over) an episode of Show Within a Show Gekiganger 3, in which Joe Umitsubame dies a dramatic and heroic death in battle, and Gai declares that he wants to die like that. At the end of the episode, he's shot by a military officer attempting to escape the ship, before he even realizes what's going on; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not heroic at all.
  • Kaiser Ryo's death via heart failure in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX starts with a failed Heroic Sacrifice, and as he lays dying, he finally manages to snap Protagonist Juudai out of his Heroic BSOD, something that three other separate Heroic Sacrifices had failed to do. He's given an amazing send-off in the duel beforehand.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yugi's Heroic Sacrifice in the Doma arc. It wasn't only depressing to the audience, but to the pharaoh as well. Which is why he immediately launched a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Weevil (whom they had been dueling at the time).
  • In Naruto, we have the Fourth Hokage and his wife, when sealing the Kyuubi within their son, Naruto, Zabuza, after Naruto knocked some sense into him, and the Third Hokage, after sealing away Orochimaru's arms and rendering his invasion unsuccessful.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Averted to magnificent effect. Mami's death in Episode 3 happens completely out of nowhere. (And she's killed by a Monster of the Day, no less!) The suddenness makes it all the more shocking, and subsequent character deaths are also usually sudden.

Comic Books

Films -- Live-Action

  • Final Destination 2 has the sole character who survived the previous film taken out quite swiftly and suddenly.
  • Why did Star Wars 3 kill off Christopher Lee so anticlimactically, when 2 had shown him to be almost as good as Yoda?
    • It's inevitably going to be anticlimactic no matter what if it happens at the start of the movie. It was plenty dramatic, though, especially for everyone who has seen Return of the Jedi and knows how Luke's scene echoes Anakin's scene, only Luke made the right choice that Anakin got wrong.
    • The death of General Grievous was also rather abrupt.
      • It seems that the minions of Sidious are weak to having their hands unceremoniously cut off, and it's not that hard to do! Every dead character seems to have been taking badass suppression drugs. Sorry Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, Ki-Adi-Mundi, and Plo Koon. You're awesome, but you're not important enough to the plot to get as prolonged a death scene as Padme.
    • Both Jango and his son/clone Boba are defeated almost embarrassingly quickly despite their hype, though in Boba's case, he survives.
  • The Lord of the Rings does the same thing again, to the same actor even, when Saruman, who had been the antagonist for the better part of the previous two movies, is disposed of rather unceremoniously at the beginning of the third. On the other hand, the entire point of the scene in the book, which is likely what the movie was trying to recreate in a somewhat briefer fashion, is that Saruman has been completely defeated by this point, and has no real power left except trying (and failing) to sow dissent among his foes (it's a bit more complicated than that in the book, but we are talking about a movie that was already over three hours long). I suspect it was sort of trying to show just how far he's fallen by that point.
    • Supposedly Christopher Lee insisted that Saruman's death not be overly dramatic, as he knew from WWII how the victim of a fatal backstab would behave...
    • Additionally, Saruman's death wasn't even present in the Theatrical Cut.
  • Brando's death in The Godfather is very anticlimactic. 8 shots in the back? No sweat. Playing hide and seek in a tomato garden? Deadly. They almost left that scene out of the movie, and were just going to skip on to his funeral.
  • Averted in National Treasure: After a distinct lack of frivolous deaths for the entire movie thus far, when one of the villain's mooks takes one wrong step and dies in the endgame, it has a lot more impact.
  • Jimmy Cagney in White Heat. "MADE IT, MA! TOP OF THE WORLD!"
  • Subverted by No Country for Old Men, which oddly kills off most of the numerous Red Shirts in a relatively graphic if unspectacular fashion onscreen without shying away but has all of the main characters, including the Decoy Protagonist, killed offscreen and in increasingly undramatic ways.
  • Averted with The Departed, which kills one of its three leading actors instantly with no warning whatsoever.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, Trinity and Neo both receive exaggerated death scenes. Trinity is impaled by metal beams after she crashes a ship into the Machine City, and spends more than five minutes saying her goodbyes to Neo before dying, and as for the title character himself, he is carried away on a metal platform, while other machines look on, because he finally managed to destroy the entire Agent Smith program.
    • Of course he got an overly dramatic death scene. He's Jesus.
  • Aversions are used to good effect in Final Fantasy the Spirits Within. Humans are totally defenseless against spirits, so all it takes for someone to die is a single swipe from a possibly invisible spirit for them to suddenly collapse in a lifeless heap.
  • Played straight and subverted in Serenity, with the deaths of Book & Wash, respectively.
  • The third live action Death Note movie L: Change the World has a virus that causes people to die extremely dramatically. Doubly so for the scientist that injects himself, it takes him like 5 minutes in completely agony to die!
  • Children of Men is disturbingly realistic. Averted Trope to the point of a Take That against the trope. Anybody can get shot at any time, no Final Speeches allowed, please fall down and stop moving, the remaining characters will be busy running for their lives. You realize how melodramatic, glamorized, fake most other movie violence is.
    • Add to it, that if you aren't paying attention, the protagonist's quiet death just as the credits roll, can slip by unnoticed.
  • The Thing averts this in a few cases: Bennings, for example, gets one hell of a death scene, while Copper and Windows' deaths are easily missed, what with all the Transformation Trauma going on simultaneously. We never find out what happens to Mac, Childs, and Nauls, but it's strongly implied that they all die. That is one ambiguous movie.
  • King Kong (1933) had epic death throws before his fall off the empire state building.
    • Many creatures in Harryhausen Movies get this (others die Mook Deaths). Ray tried to give most of his iconic, major characters a bit of pathos as they died, and it often worked.
  • Extremely clear at the end of The Road To Perdition: the main character is shot in the back by a rival assassin, multiple times. Despite the fact that both are supposed to be experts at dispatching people, he has the time to stay alive for several more minutes, during which he shoots his rival when he threatens his son who collapses instantly and has a little heart to heart with his son before succumbing.


  • In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo, this trope fits the final moments of Wang Sau-Ieyang, T'ang of City Africa
  • "El hombre muerto" by Horacio Quiroga plays this trope as straight as possible: the entire story is nothing but one man dying of a machete wound.
  • In Harry Potter, almost nobody dies dramatically. Voldemort has a Karmic Death (his own spell rebounds. Again.) and there's a big audience and a big build up, but the actual death itself is rather sudden. Sirius falls through a magic curtain, Dobby dies from a knife wound, Remus and Tonks just show up among the casualties without us even getting to see them die, and even the greatest wizard since forever (Dumbledore) dies from a single curse - though it is described in a suitably dramatic manner.
    • This was true as far back as Book Four, where Cedric Diggory was killed casually and quickly. It seems to be a theme of the series that death is sudden and undramatic.
      • Snape's death was pretty damn dramatic, though, dying whispers and lingering looks and all. Probably due to the fact that he was mauled by a giant poisonous snake, which would naturally lead to a few minutes of agony before death.
    • The movies, however, are a different story. Dumbledore, Sirius, Dobby, Hedwig, and Snape have the drama milked out of their deaths, much more so than the books. But with Snape being played by Alan Rickman, you can't expect it to be any other way. But the drama for Fred's death was cut entirely.
  • Subverted in Dragonlance when Flint Fireforge dies of a heart attack. Granted, Weis and Hickman never really let Flint save the day or actually do anything meaningful besides serve as the Butt Monkey all through the storyline, so maybe this isn't too surprising.
    • The writers claimed that this was done deliberately to prove that one did not have to die a heroic death in order to be remembered as a hero (to contrast the earlier, very dramatic death of Sturm Brightblade).
      • It's hard to see how Flint could be remembered as a hero anyway, given that he never actually got to do anything that was, you know, heroic during the course of the story, except complain about his health problems (which are pretty strange, considering he's supposed to have an 18 Constitution.)
        • The writers later fixed this by making him the finder of the Hammer of Kharas, which later was used to forge the titular Dragonlances, in a supporting novel; the details for finding the object were never specified in the original trilogy.
  • One of the more gut-wrenching aspects of the Gaunt's Ghosts series of novels is how easily and often important named characters get killed. One of the most shocking and out-of-left-field ones is Colm Corbec at the end of Sabbat Martyr. Then again, this series is about the Imperial Guard, who are the permanent underdogs of the setting.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Alcatraz and the Scrivener's Bones. In the parts where Alcatraz is writing from the narrator's point of view, he talks about why authors love to kill off important characters and mentions that a certain character will die. Then, just as it looks like said character is about to bite the dust at the climax, they end up just fine, aside from a broken rib and a bit tongue. He then comments (as himself) that if he writes his memoirs when he's older, that the story will "seem really boring because nobody was narratively dynamic enough to get themselves killed." The character is then killed on the last page of the book, but not really.
  • Fantastically averted in Mostly Harmless when it describes that, between the events of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless, Fenchurch died by way of a rather literal Critical Existence Failure—during a hyperspace jump, she simply vanished, mid-conversation, never to be heard from again.
    • It wasn't that she disappeared, it was that Arthur fell into another universe, as evidenced by how Earth wasn't even the same anymore and how there was no evidence of Fenchurch ever having existed at all.
  • Usually played straight in Warrior Cats, where Anyone Can Die, the villains get creative send-offs that combine Cruel and Unusual Death and Crowning Moment of Awesome, and the heroes always manage an emotional Final Speech before they expire, sometimes by Heroic Sacrifice. However, this was subverted by Hollyleaf, who after several chapters of a massive psychological breakdown is suddenly killed off by a rockslide. However, general fan consensus is that she is Not Quite Dead.
    • Another notable subversion occurs in Bluestar's Prophecy, where some important characters simply expire between chapters.
  • The Hunger Games has a balance of dramatic deaths and non-dramatic deaths. For instance, Rue's death was extremely dramatic, while Finnick just dies from a bite to the head. However, some of the non-dramatic deaths of the people that were extremely close to Katniss were made slightly more dramatic in narration, because Katniss is so close to them. It's Prim, by the way.

Live-Action TV

  • Lost has had a few dramatic main character deaths, some not so much. On the one hand, Boone, Charlie, Eko, and Charlotte had dramatic deaths, as did Nikki, and Paulo, although those were by bridge dropping. On the other hand, Shannon, Ana-Lucia, Libby, Rousseau, and Michael had rather sudden and shocking deaths.
  • There's a nice subversion in the Doctor Who story The Caves of Androzani where a major character is taken out like a third-rate extra.
    • Played straight in the new series episode "Amy's Choice". Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are trapped within two different worlds, one of which is real and one of which is fake, which they switch between at random. In one of these, parasitic aliens called the Eknodines have taken over a bunch of old people. The Eknodines can make people disintegrate by breathing some sort of poisonous gas on them. When they attack a random person, he dies instantly. When they attack Rory, he dies a slow and dramatic death in Amy's arms, which causes her to realize that that was the dream world, because she didn't want to live in a world without Rory. Of course, it turns out that both worlds were dreams.
    • The death of Ten. After expressing relief that he survived the return and banishment of the Time Lords, The Master's Crowning Moment of Awesome and a large explosion, the prophecy surrounding The Doctor's death comes true.

Carmen: He will knock four times.
The Doctor: I could do so much more!

  • In a nice Supernatural touch, none of Dean's onscreen deaths in Mystery Spot are dramatic/demonic-related. Especially his final death, where he gets shot by a mugger. No going out in a blaze of glory, it could have been easily prevented and nothing heroic about it whatsoever.
    • Played straight with many other deaths, most notably those of Jo and Ellen and Bobby Singer.
  • Played straight and subverted on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joyce and Tara's deaths come out of nowhere. Jenny Calendar's death scene left her fate in doubt until the last second. Buffy's Heroic Sacrifice, on the other hand, is much more dramatic - though even that has barely two minutes of buildup.
    • Played straight and subverted in the same episode even. In "Chosen" Spike gets a long, drawn out, dramatic death (which doesn't stick) while Anya gets a quick slice through the torso.
  • Averted in the Dollhouse finale, when Ballard takes a no-fuss, no-warning stray bullet in a gun battle.
  • In the Saturday Night Live short "Dear Sister," this trope is taken to its logical conMMMMWHATCHASAY, THATYOUONLYMEANTWELL
    • Which is apparently a parody of The OC.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles averts this. Derek Reese runs into a Terminator at close range with only a pistol. He is killed instantly, with zero warning. No drama, no build-up, just pow, and one of the show's leads is dead. It doesn't even linger. It's an action scene, so it happens, and then the scene switches to Sarah and John before you can say "What!?" And this from a show that is in so much love with slow motion. But no, nothing. Just bang. The only thing that could possibly be called foreshadowing is in an earlier episode, where John asks him how long he would last if he had nothing but his bare hands to fight Cameron with, to confirm for himself that Riley wasn't killed by any Terminator.
    • Derek's death was kind of a Viewer Punch, but it was supposed to be Handwaved with the Season Finale, where he shows up in the alternate future timeline John winds up in, obviously alive and well, and we're all supposed to get used to that version, since he acted exactly the same. Unfortunately, it was never meant to be.
  • Another aversion on The Wire, in season 5. Fan favourite Omar Little, the Baddest Ass (and Longest Coat) in Baltimore, has been in a guerrilla war with sociopathic druglord Marlo for most of a season, and gets killed by...The Mouthy Kid, Kenard, who shoots him in the back of the head while he's buying cigarettes. Even the killer is shocked by how anticlimactic it is.
  • Ultimately subverted on The League of Gentlemen with Edward and Tubbs, who get a properly dramatic death scene, but then it turns out that they're not dead. While leaving town, they are suddenly killed by a train.
    • Also averted with Harvey and Val. It's ambiguous whether they even die, although considering where they were left, suffocation seems likely.
    • Another aversion would be the death of Vinnie, which comes right out of nowhere. Mostly killed off so that the actor, Reece Shearsmith, could spend the rest of the episode playing Keith Drop, and another character...
  • Marian in Robin Hood: Guy of Gisbourne stabs her right through the stomach, but she holds on long enough to give a speech, get married to Robin Hood, yank out the sword, and die. The Merry Men are considerate enough to hold back and avoid spoiling the moment.
  • Averted pretty hard in Band of Brothers. Characters who are established beginning in the first installment are at times killed off abruptly and without ceremony. Although much of the drama of the miniseries centers on the effects these deaths have on the survivors, there is often little attention paid to the deaths as they happen because the other characters seldom have the time to dwell on them.
    • Played rather straight in its spirtual follow-up The Pacific, however, as the only main character killed (Basilone) has a prolonged slow-motion death scene.


  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: EVA and Big Boss both have dramatic death scenes. In EVA's case, it's trying to incinerate herself while saving the corpse she believes is Big Boss, then dying in Snake's arms. This is only after she was impaled by a spike in the exact same area she was punctured in during the third game. In Big Boss's case. it happens because of FOXDIE. Even though he's dying, he manages to tie up some of the game's plot points, sit down for a couple of minutes, stand back up, keep talking for a while longer, salutes his former master, collapses, then has time for a smoke break before he passes on. Not bad.
    • For the basic Utsuge of the event the death of Naomi is dramatically awesome. How often do videogame characters die of cancer?
    • The Metal Gear series has made a habit of these. MGS1 has an impressive series of dramatic boss deaths that manage to get one invested in the characters despite the fact that the plot sounds like it was sketched out by a 15 year old with a couple of books on conspiracy theories and a bad meth habit. When Meryl gets hit by Sniper Wolf, her last on-camera moments even get their own flashback for added drama.
  • This is basically the reason why most fans refuse to believe that April Ryan died in the end of Dreamfall. Getting stabbed in the stomach with a plain spear and drowning in a swamp? How is that supposed to be dramatic for a person who single-handedly saved two worlds?
  • Subverted in Clive Barker's Jericho. Your 7-man squad (each member of which is a fairly developed character) spends the entire game fighting through a nightmarish hell without any casualties. Just before the final battle, the Big Bad blows up two of your squad members without any fanfare or build-up. Plus, they were pretty much the only two squad members who weren't complete and utter JerkAsses.
  • Mass Effect 2 averts this with your entire crew. There are ten (possibly twelve) characters besides you and the fellow with Plot Armor, thus their deaths are very sudden and not dwelled upon at all, Justified Trope by the fact that you are up to thirteen foot-soldiers taking a single frigate to invade the enormous space station from which the designated Hero Killers launch attacks using a cruiser armed with a decidedly deadly laser cannon. There simply isn't time to mourn in this critical a mission. Commander Shepard is the only member of the crew who can receive a dramatic death, and that can only occur after the mission has been completed.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2: Despite the fact that Yeul has been seen dying in exactly the same ways (several times, in fact), Serah's death by visionary powers at the end of the game is played for as much drama as possible - complete with a Big No on Noel's part and a variation of Died in Your Arms Tonight occuring.


  • MAG-ISA—Eman Cruz loves to question the meaning of life in the TWO TIMES he's "died".
  • In Kid Radd, the death of Sheena's "little sister" was plenty dramatic, but the second Radd's death was barely acknowledged, poor guy.
  • In Homestuck, this is actually a requirement for players who have reached the god-tier. They become immortal - unless their death is either just or heroic. Essentially, they're only allowed to die if it's dramatic. Other than that though, this trope is often averted. Deaths are usually dramatic in context and In-Universe, but the deaths themselves are nearly always undignified and often even comical.

Web Original

  • In The Gamers Alliance, this is played straight with Belial, Hiroshi Hayabusa, Ismail and Leon among others but averted with Koryaksky who dies an undignified death in a back alley.
  • Used and averted/subverted in Survival of the Fittest, literally depending on the writer. Most people seem to think that in order to have a good character, their death post has to be milked for every last bit of drama and Angst they can get. While sometimes this is satisfying and can evoke excitement or sympathy, a lot of the time it falls flat, with the readers wanting the poster to just Get On With It Already. Conversely, inactive or fodder characters tend to be killed off like nothing.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender only gets to have a few deaths, but the show milks them for all its worth. Zhao, Jet and Yue all get dramatic death scenes, even if one of them was a bit vague. Roku fights an entire volcano before dying. And although we don't see the actual death, Kya- Katara and Sokka's mother- also gets quite a dramatic one as we see her sacrifice herself for her child.
  • "Future Tense", one of the more unnerving Gargoyles episodes, plays with this trope in just about every way possible. Some major characters like Hudson and Xanatos are already dead so we don't even get to see a death scene. Others are killed suddenly without a word like Matt, Bronx, Claw, Angela, and Brooklyn. The only ones who get dramatic deaths complete with last words are Alexander Xanatos, Broadway, Demona, and Face Heel Turn Lexington who reveals his Evil Plan and unleashes a Motive Rant before going down. Ultimately, the trope is subverted since the entire episode was All Just a Dream and nobody is actually dead.