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12 Most Tragic Movie Characters Of All Time

As long as the art of storytelling has existed, there have been tragic characters — and film is no exception. Whether they are grief-stricken heroes or multi-faceted villains that elicit our sympathy, these figures play an important role in giving a plot more depth and complexity. Some of them might be people who try to do the right thing but have flaws that threaten to stand in the way, while others might be bad guys that the audience can relate to because of their sad or tragic origins. 

Some of the most famous characters in fictional history have an element of tragedy to them. In fact, it is a trait that is often essential for a narrative to be impactful — ensuring that protagonists and antagonists are not simply one-dimensional figures but that they have multiple sides to their personalities. These are characters that appeal to our intrinsic need to try and see the good in everyone, and they're incredibly effective at evoking our emotions and making us feel invested in their story.

All of these characters have some sort of dark side to them or a tragic backstory underpinning everything that they do. But that is what makes them memorable to viewers and helps them become such legendary individuals to audiences. Here are some of the best tragic movie characters of all time.


"The Lord of the Rings" is filled with tragic characters. From the immortal elves who have to see the world and their loved ones slowly die, to the likes of Denethor who falls into despair after losing his favorite son. But undoubtedly the most tragic of any of the figures from J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional world of Middle-earth is Gollum. A former Hobbit-like creature, he was originally known as Sméagol before being corrupted by the One Ring after he and his cousin Déagol found it in the River Anduin.

It is hard to say that Gollum is a good person. After all, he killed Déagol to take the One Ring for himself and constantly plotted to kill both Frodo and Sam to get his precious back. But his story is also incredibly sad. He was completely corrupted by the power of the ring and lost everything — becoming a shell of his former self while living in complete isolation. The One Ring's allure was so powerful that it was all that Gollum cherished, and it completely consumed him. 

Worst of all, the ring prolonged his life to unnatural proportions, stretching out his misery over hundreds of years and turning him into a grotesque individual by drastically altering his appearance. Gollum's obsession with the ring is ultimately his downfall, and it is a testament to the ring's extraordinary power that it could warp an individual to the extent that they become a monster.


"Jaws" is a 1975 thriller by director Steven Spielberg that has become a classic of the genre — setting a new standard for this type of film. From the famous soundtrack by John Williams to the great acting from a cast that included Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, its clear to see why "Jaws" is considered one of the all-time greats. The film tells the story of a rampaging shark in a coastal town that kills and maims beachgoers. This forces police chief Martin Brody and professional shark hunter Quint to team up to try and kill the creature before it can cause any more carnage.

Very little is known about Quint other than the fact that he is an experienced shark hunter who had once served in the navy during World War II. During a conversation on his boat — the Orca — while searching for the deadly great white it is revealed that he was aboard the USS Indianapolis when it sank, with many of the sailors being killed by numerous shark attacks (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Having watched the sharks kill hundreds of his comrades — and waiting in fear for the same fate — Quint is wracked with survivor's guilt and becomes bordeline obsessive in his quest to hunt and kill sharks. Everything he does in "Jaws" is a result of this tragic event, and sadly he meets the same end when the shark finally defeats him in the film's closing moments.

Frankenstein's Monster

Frankenstein's monster is one of the most famous characters in fictional history. Having first appeared in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, the figure has subsequently appeared in dozens of movie adaptations. Created by the scientist Victor Frankenstein using an unexplained scientific method to make life from non-living matter, the so-called monster is brought into the world but is immediately dismissed and abandoned.

As a tragic character, few can rival Frankenstein's monster. He is rejected even by his creator once he comes to life and is forced to live in the wilderness as a creature that everyone hates and lives in fear of. Other people cannot even stand the sight of him, causing him to understand that he will never truly find acceptance in society.

As a person, Frankenstein's monster doesn't actually want to be violent. All he desires is to find some sort of love and he demonstrates a clear ability to feel emotions. His obsession with revenge only comes after he is driven away from everyone he encounters — having realized that he is destined to be alone — and blaming Victor for bringing him into a world that despises him. While he could have followed the path of revenge and destruction, we see the monster's humanity after his creator dies and he is overcome with grief. Victor may have shunned him, but he was all the monster had and following his death, he is left totally alone without purpose or companionship.

Romeo Montague & Juliet Capulet

The story of "Romeo and Juliet" by English playwright William Shakespeare tells the tale of arguably the two most tragic lovers in fiction. The play has been adapted a number of times but the most well-known of these is the 1996 film "Romeo + Juliet." The two youngsters are portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, with the rest of the cast including the likes of Harold Perrineau, John Leguizamo, and Paul Rudd.

Like the original story, "Romeo + Juliet" follows the title characters as they fall in love. As heirs of two warring families — the Capulets and Montagues — they are forbidden from meeting, but they defy their parents in order to marry. Yet, their plans are thwarted by the heads of both families, forcing them to elope and wed in secret.

Their romance is a whirlwind from start to finish and filled with tragedy. Tybalt — Juliet's cousin — attempts to kill Romeo but the young man refuses to fight back and the confrontation eventually ends with the death of Romeo's friend, Mercutio. Meanwhile, Juliet is betrothed to Paris against her will. Unwilling to marry someone other than Romeo, she fakes her death, prompting Romeo to purchase poison so that he can take his own life. Upon waking to discover Romeo is dead, Juliet stabs herself, leaving both families in turmoil and engulfed in grief.

Scarlet Witch

Many superheroes go through terrible events as part of their journey to become the protectors of the innocent. Spider-Man witnessed the death of his beloved uncle for example, while Batman was orphaned at a young age when both of his parents were murdered. So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Wanda Maximoff has had a tumultuous and fraught life. As one of the stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlet Witch has faced more than her fair share of tragedy since making her debut in "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Born in Sokovia, Wanda and her brother were left without parents when a bomb hit their home when she was just 10 years old. They were later taken by HYDRA — a terrorist organization that tortured the pair and forced them to become assassins. Joining forces with Ultron, the twins were deceived by the villain and chose to work with the Avengers to defeat him and stop his plan to destroy humanity.

Her tribulations did not end there, however, with the events in Sokovia leading to the death of her brother, Pietro. Plagued with guilt, she shut herself away — a decision that led her to develop a close relationship with Vision. However, this romance would ultimately end in catastrophe as well, with Scarlet Witch forced to watch Vision being killed multiple times throughout "WandaVision" and "Avengers: Infinity War." The tragedy she experienced — particularly the loss of her children Tommy and Billy — escalated her descent into darkness and corruption and caused her apparent demise.

Sirius Black

It could be argued that half of the characters in the "Harry Potter" series are tragic in some way. The titular character is orphaned and spends his life being pursued by Voldemort, Snape loses the love of his life and is forced to live a double life, while innocent students such as Cedric Diggory are brutally killed. Yet, it is hard to argue that there is a more sorrowful character than Sirius Black.

Everything about his life is filled with sadness. He was brought up in a bigoted pure-blood family that stood for everything that Sirius hated, making him an outcast with those to who he should have been closest. He later fought in the war against Voldemort alongside his school friends Remus Lupin, James and Lily Potter, and Peter Pettigrew. When the dark wizard killed James and Lily, Sirius not only had to deal with the death of his best friends but the fact it was Peter who betrayed them.

Framed for the murder of Peter and blamed for the deaths of his friends, Sirius was sent to Azkaban Prison and subjected to the terrifying Dementors on a daily basis. When he was eventually able to escape and meet with his godson Harry, things still didn't get much better for him. Just as Sirius begins to bond with Harry, he is killed by Bellatrix Lestrange, putting an end to a life that was filled with constant grief.

Seth Brundle

Seth Brundle is the protagonist — and ultimate antagonist — of the 1986 film "The Fly." Directed by David Cronenberg, the character is portrayed by Jeff Goldblum and went on to be a box office success and a critical hit – thanks in large part to Goldblum's performance. A brilliant scientist and expert in molecular physics, Brundle invents a teleportation device that he hopes will revolutionize travel. At the same time, he meets Veronica — a reporter that he quickly falls in love with.

Unfortunately, during an experiment — in which he hopes to test his new invention by teleporting himself — his DNA is combined with that of a housefly that inadvertently enters the pod with him. This starts a process where Brundle begins to mutate, degenerating into a monstrous creature. He quickly loses much of his humanity — and Veronica — as the effects of the experiment take hold.

What is truly tragic about Brundle is that everything falls apart in his life just as things were beginning to look good. His scientific work was reaching a peak and his personal life was better than it had ever been. However, it went to pieces in an instant as his life's work betrayed him, leaving him to effectively plead with Veronica to end his tortured life by the end of the movie.

King Kong

Since making his first appearance on the big screen in 1933, "King Kong" — the titular giant ape — has become one of the most recognizable monsters in all of cinema. Over the years, the story of this huge gorilla-like creature has been retold, and still captivates audiences. Hailing from Skull Island, he is one of many oversized and prehistoric animals — including dinosaurs and giant spiders — that live in isolation from the rest of the world.

While it can't be said that Kong is a pleasant or even a kind creature, he poses no real threat to humanity without provocation. It is only when an American film crew comes to Skull Island that he responds with hostility. Determined to protect Ann — an actress who travels with the crew to the island — Kong does everything in his power to keep her safe but is captured and taken to New York as a slave to provide entertainment. Forcibly taken from his home, it is understandable why he might react with violence.

Yet, he only breaks free of his chains and attacks when he feels that he and Ann are under attack when being photographed. Climbing the Empire State Building to try and reach safety, the beast falls and dies after being attacked by aircraft, dying in an unfamiliar land where he was treated as an exhibit to make others money.


Officially designated Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class — but commonly known as WALL-E — this adorable robot has one of the saddest backstories of any Disney character. He stars in the 2008 film that carries his name and is the only inhabitant of Earth. The planet was abandoned by humanity in 2110 after it polluted the world so much that it became uninhabitable due to its sheer toxicity to life. WALL-E is one of tens of thousands of robots designed to clean up the planet while humans live on starships in space.

Having spent hundreds of years performing his duties as programmed, WALL-E is left completely alone as all of his fellow robots fail. To make matters worse, he also gains sentience, becomes self-aware, and develops a personality and emotions. This means that he understands he is isolated and feels lonely — seeking solace in an old television set where he watches the classic musical, "Hello, Dolly!"

When he does finally have a chance encounter with another robot in the form of EVE, he almost instantly falls in love with her. But a series of misunderstandings and events outside of their control mean that his new friend believes he is a thief who has stolen from her. Although the robots reconcile, they are hunted down and tortured by Auto, the onboard computer of the human starship the two were brought to. "WALL-E" does have a happy ending but the pain and isolation the heroic robot has to suffer are truly heartbreaking.

Randy Robinson

Randy Robinson is the subject of "The Wrestler" — a 2008 film that sees Mickey Rourke play the main character. His performance led to a best actor nomination at the Academy Awards in 2009 and the film itself received universal critical acclaim. Rourke's character is a professional wrestler who has long since passed his prime. Now forced to work in a store under a mocking manager, his only joy in life comes from wrestling in small independent productions at the weekend — activities that batter his aging body and leave him in constant pain.

That's the true tragedy of Randy "The Ram" Robinson's life. The thing that makes him happy is also killing him and preventing him from finding any meaning outside of his former vocation. Throughout the movie, he also attempts to reconcile with his daughter and start a romantic relationship with a stripper named Cassidy. Both reject his advances and the now old man is left with nothing other than his diminishing wrestling career — something that is also taken away from him when he suffers a near-fatal heart attack.

Forbidden by doctors from taking part in any more matches, Robinson decides to enter the ring once more to battle his archnemesis. Becoming unsteady on his feet during the fight and experiencing chest pain, the wrestler insists on performing his signature move. As he jumps from the top of the ropes the film ends, suggesting that this once-great fighter died in the ring doing the one thing that he truly loved.

Maggie Fitzgerald

Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Million Dollar Baby" stars the legendary actor as boxing trainer Frankie Dunn alongside Hilary Swank as an up-and-coming boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald. Released in 2004, it received widespread acclaim and was nominated for seven Oscars. The film tells the story of Maggie, the aspiring boxer who goes to Frankie and Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) for training in the hopes of making it as a star. Although he initially refuses, the aging trainer develops a fatherly affection for Maggie and decides to help her.

While Maggie has a successful career, her life up to that point has been anything but easy. Her mother is living on fraudulent welfare payments and her brother is incarcerated. Even as she tours Europe and wins numerous fights, her family wants nothing to do with her. When she finally gets the title fight she wants against a dirty fighter known as The Blue Bear, she ends up being seriously injured when she is hit with an illegal sucker punch after the end of a round.

Left paralyzed and needing a ventilator to breathe, Maggie also sees her leg amputated after suffering from bedsores and getting an infection. She begs Frankie to help her to die — with what she considers dignity — rather than continue to suffer when she is unable to do any of the things that she loves. It is a tragic ending to Maggie's story, as the pursuit of her dream ended up being the thing that cost her everything.

Anakin Skywalker

In some ways, it is hard to argue that Anakin Skywalker is a tragic character. After all, when the audience first encounters him he is the evil Sith Lord known as Darth Vader. Wearing a menacing black suit and mask, he is a terrifying villain who does everything in his power to destroy the Rebel Alliance — even going so far as to sanction the destruction of a planet and torturing Princess Leia.

Yet, the history of Vader is far more complex than that. When he was first discovered by Qui-Gon Jinn, he was living with his single mother as a slave on Tatooine. That was the only life he had known before he was taken away from his friends and mother to become a Jedi. When he was finally able to return to his home planet to reconnect with his family he was met only with tragedy, with his mother dying in his arms after being kidnapped and tortured by the Tusken Raiders.

In some ways, suffering such pain makes Anakin's descent into darkness all the more understandable. However, he was also manipulated by one of the most powerful Sith of all time in the form of Palpatine — who used Anakin's love for Padmé against him. Palpatine also managed to use Anakin's pride and fear to lure him to the dark side — ensuring he lost everything and everyone he loved, which turned him into a pained and embittered villain.