Death continues to be a core aspect of the horror genre, as it has long been among humanity’s greatest fears. But in the many cinematic battles against unspeakable terrors, there have been heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defeat their enemies and protect their loved ones.
So in honor of these fallen heroes, here is the list of the seven most valiant deaths in horror movies. Of course, there are major spoilers below, so read at your own risk!
Helen Lyle in Candyman (1992)
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In this ’90s horror classic, the fate of grad student Helen Lyle becomes intertwined with the titular boogeyman as she investigates the urban “myth” behind him. After inadvertently summoning his specter to wreak havoc on the Cabrini-Green housing projects, Helen offers her soul to Candyman in exchange for the life of Anne-Marie’s infant son, Anthony.
But when Candyman tries to kill them both anyway, Helen fights back and rescues Anthony from a massive pyre. Though she suffers fatal burns, Helen dies having given Anthony the chance to live free of the Candyman’s influence (at least temporarily).
Ellen Hutter in Nosferatu (1922)
After the vampire Count Orlok moves to Wisborg, many townspeople die off as this demonic traveler feeds on their blood. Fortunately, Ellen Hutter learns he can be destroyed by offering her blood and distracting him until sunrise.
Welcoming Orlok into her home, Ellen waits as he climbs to her room to drink the life out of her. Though she meets her end, so does Orlok when the daylight touches him, causing him to vanish and ending his reign of terror once and for all.
Ludwig Dieter in Army of the Dead (2021)
Dieter is hands-down the most memorable character in Zack Snyder’s zombie movie, Army of the Dead. This quirky, wide-eyed safecracker opened the door to everyone’s hearts, and his bromance with Vanderhoe helped forge one of the most dynamic duos in recent memory.
But when they both come face-to-face with the zombie king Zeus, Dieter pushes Vanderhoe into a safe and locks it behind him. What’s even more heartbreaking is that Zeus already bit Vanderhoe, so Dieter inadvertently unleashed the zombie plague on the rest of the world by saving his friend.
Lee Abbott in A Quiet Place (2018)
When one of the killer Death Angels corners Regan and Marcus in a truck, Lee realizes he must speak up and lure the blind alien to him to save his kids. But with Regan watching, Lee gives her one last declaration of love before letting out a primal roar.
Audiences can feel the sheer sadness in his voice, as well as a hint of relief at knowing that his children have been spared from a grisly fate. His sacrifice is made more impactful by the fact that Regan later discovered how to kill the Death Angels, which may very well help her save the world.
Dan Torrance in Doctor Sleep (2019)
In the climax of this underrated Stephen King adaptation, Dan becomes possessed by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel and nearly kills young Abra. However, Abra reminds him that he left the boiler running, which threatens to destroy the hotel. Though the ghosts try to make Dan turn it off, he regains control of himself and lets the building burn down.
Though it’s a sad fate for such a tragic character, Dan has an endearing vision of his mother before his death, and he still mentors Abra from the afterlife, just as Dick Halloran did. His sacrifice also mirrors his father’s in King’s version of The Shininggiving fans the ending they wanted to see in the original film.
Ellen Ripley in Alien 3 (1992)
In the third Alien movie, Ripley discovers she is carrying the embryo of an Alien Queen inside her and that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation plans to harvest and weaponize the creature. Instead of relinquishing herself and the alien to the Corporation, Ripley throws herself into a molten furnace to end the Xenomorphs.
Though this film has been panned for very good reasons, Ripley’s sacrifice is an undeniable highlight due to its Biblical symbolism and the fact that she has finally destroyed the alien threat that has tormented her again and again, regaining control of her fate.
Damien Karras in The Exorcist (1973)
When Father Merrin dies trying to exorcise the demon Pazuzu from young Regan, Father Karras lashes out at the possessed girl to try and force the demon out. He then allows Pazuzu to enter his body, freeing Regan from its control. But before the demon can use him to kill Regan, Karras uses the last of his strength to jump out the window, tumbling down a long flight of stairs to his death.
Karras’s brave sacrifice in The Exorcist remains one of the most shocking and iconic deaths in cinema history. And with him regaining his faith in God after his mother’s death, his demise makes for a bittersweet act of redemption in defiance of evil itself.