These Are the Most Heartbreaking Deaths to Ever Occur in Military Movies

Photo Credit: 1. johndoey / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB 2. lisakenobi / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB 3. andrewz / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: 1. johndoey / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB 2. lisakenobi / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB 3. andrewz / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB

Military and war films have long been some of the most popular forms of cinema. Unfortunately, war is hell, and that means there are often deaths that occur in these features. If you’re like us, these events hit you pretty hard and have a way of sticking with you, even after a film has come to its end. The following are just a handful of the most heartbreaking deaths to occur in the war movie genre.

*WARNING: There are spoilers ahead.*

Benjamin Buford ‘Bubba’ Blue – Forrest Gump (1994)

Mykelti Williamson as Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue in 'Forest Gump'
Forrest Gump, 1994. (Photo Credit: eliks / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Due to his inherent kindness and empathy, moviegoers almost immediately fell in love with Forrest Gump. They rooted for the character, who was brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hanks. When he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, Gump became best friends with fellow soldier and kindred spirit, Benjamin Buford Blue (Mykelti Williamson) – better known as Bubba.

Sadly, Bubba dies in his comrade’s arms after he and the rest of the unit are ambushed, resulting in him suffering a gunshot to the chest. After his death, Gump laments, “He was my best good friend… Bubba was gonna be a shrimping boat captain, but, instead, he died right there by that river in Vietnam.”

Capt. John Miller – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Still from 'Saving Private Ryan'
Saving Private Ryan, 1998. (Photo Credit: andrewz / Dreamworks Pictures / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

After learning that Pvt. James Ryan’s (Matt Damon) three brothers died during the Second World War, the US government aims to bring him home at all costs. The man tasked with leading the rescue group is Capt. John H. Miller, portrayed by Tom Hanks.

During the course of the rescue, Miller is critically wounded by German fire while defending Ramelle’s Bridge during the fictional Battle of Ramelle. While sad in and of itself, what made this part of the movie worse was Miller was shot by the German soldier he had freed earlier, “Steamboat Willie.”

With his last dying words, Miller tells Ryan not to squander the sacrifice of those who gave their lives rescuing him, with the brave leading saying, “James… Earn this. Earn it.”

Bruno and Ralf – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

Jack Scanlon and Asa Butterfield as Schmuel and Bruno in 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, 2008. (Photo Credit: richard3rd / MovieStillsDB)

Based on the book of the same name, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) follows Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of an SS officer, who befriends Schmuel (Jack Sconlon), a Jewish boy who’s imprisoned at a concentration camp near the family’s home. As both children are merely eight years old, they don’t understand the true gravity of Schmuel’s predicament.

Toward the end of the film, Schmuel’s father goes missing, prompting Bruno to offer to help locate him. After the former collects a spare prisoner uniform and cap for his friend, the pair start searching the premises, but are quickly rounded up by the guards and sent to the gas chamber with other prisoners. As Bruno’s family searches for him, he perishes with Schmuel and the others.

Lance Cpl. Blake – 1917 (2019)

Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Cpl. Thomas "Tom" Blake in '1917'
1917, 2019. (Photo Credit: andrewz / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

In the World War I-era drama 1917 (2019), Lance Cpl. Thomas “Tom” Blake and fellow soldier William “Will” Schofield (George MacKay) are on a mission to let a garrison know they need to call off an impending attack. Blake is especially excited about the task, since his older brother serves in this particular force.

On their way there, the pair encounter an unconscious German soldier in a burning aircraft. They opt to not kill him and, instead, Blake helps revive him. However, once the man is awake, he stabs Blake, fatally wounding him. Schofield shoots the enemy troop away in retaliation and comforts his friend and comrade as he passes.

LTJG. Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw – Top Gun (1986)

Anthony Edwards as LTJG. Nick "Goose" Bradshaw in 'Top Gun'
Top Gun, 1986. (Photo Credit: Moviefan2 / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

In Top Gun (1986), Tom Cruise‘s Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is a rebel, while his radar intercept officer, LTJG. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), is the complete opposite. While he loves to joke around, he also cares deeply about his family.

While competing in the US Navy’s TOPGUN school, Maverick and Goose’s aircraft is destroyed and the men are forced to eject. When the latter ejects, however, he slams into the canopy head first and is killed. Despite being noticeably shaken by his friend’s sudden passing, Maverick continues on with the program.

Stanislaus ‘Kat’ Katczinsky – All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

Albrecht Schuch as Stanislas "Kat" Katczinsky in 'All Quiet on the Western Front'
All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022. (Photo Credit: michaella92 / Netflix / MovieStillsDB)

Based on the famed World War I-era book by Erich Maria Remarque, the Netflix adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) brings the horrors of the conflict to the small screen. It stars Felix Krammerer as main character Paul Bäumer, a young German who enlists in the military. While serving, he befriends Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky, who shares his idealistic views of battle – that is, until they’re met with the harsh realities of trench warfare.

Given their age difference, Kat can be viewed as a sort-of father figure or older brother for Paul, which makes his death toward the end of the film all the more difficult to watch. After stealing from a farm they’d visited prior, the former is shot by the farmer’s son and dies before Paul is able to get him to the infirmary.

What makes All Quiet on the Western Front all the more sad is that Paul, too, ends up dying at the end of the film.

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman – Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Still from 'Full Metal Jacket'
Full Metal Jacket, 1987. (Photo Credit: Pineapples101 / MovieStillsDB)

It’s not easy for any American to go through basic training; entering combat is an intense experience and recruits need someone to prepare them for what’s to come. In 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, the person in charge of this is Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, portrayed by real-life US Marine Corps veteran, R. Lee Ermey.

During the first half of the movie, Hartman gives Pvt. Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), a difficult time. Lawrence takes the criticism to heart and becomes an expert marksman, passing basic training. However, he eventually has a mental breakdown, which causes him to shoot and kill Hartman.

Pvt. Silas Trip – Glory (1989)

Denzel Washington as Pvt. Silas Trip in 'Glory'
Glory, 1989. (Photo Credit: movienutt / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

1989’s Glory is one of the few films where both main characters are killed: Col. Robert Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, and Denzel Washington‘s Pvt. Silas Trip. Shaw is shown to be a great leader and is caring toward his men. Trip, however, is seen as a rebellious private, regularly flouting the rules.

As a result of Shaw’s leadership, Trip begins to change his tune and becomes a better soldier. When the latter is killed, he carries the American flag and leads the men into battle, during which he is killed by a musket ball to the heart.

Maximus Decimus Meridius – Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius in 'Gladiator'
Gladiator, 2000. (Photo Credit: CaptainOT / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic Gladiator follows Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), who is betrayed by Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and reduced to slavery. Wanting to avenge his family, he becomes a gladiator and participates in battle after battle, with his skill evident in each victory he clinches.

Maximus’ final fight is with none other than Commodus, who knows he doesn’t have the strength to defeat the gladiator in the arena and, instead, goes to him the night before and fatally stabs him in the lung. While Maximus is able to defeat this rival, in spite of his injury, he does ultimately perish. While he’s dying, he pictures his wife and son waiting for him on their farm.

Sgt. Elias – Platoon (1986)

Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias in 'Platoon'
Platoon, 1986. (Photo Credit: Carlito / MovieStillsDB)

Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone heavily based 1986’s Platoon on his own experiences. In his eyes, there was both light and dark in the conflict. The light was represented by Willem Dafoe’s Sgt. Elias, while the dark was shown through Tom Berenger’s Sgt. Bob Barnes.

More from us: Leading the Way: The Greatest Military Leaders in Historical War Movies

Elias is empathetic and concerned about the people living in Vietnam, and treats his subordinates kindly. He’s also outspoken over Barnes’ treatment of captives during interrogations, leading to an intense rivalry. Following a brawl, he’s secretly killed by Barnes, along with a number of Viet Cong.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in,, and He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.