Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS.
Science fiction is remarkable in so many ways, but one of the things it does – and that gets overlooked by some who give side-eye when you say you're a fan – is that it has the power to touch our lives and show us the power of life and death in unexpected ways. Grab the tissues as we walk down memory lane and dab our eyes at some of the greatest examples. Again, spoilers.
The End of Arrival
Love is a circle, some say. That’s what wedding bands are used to symbolize. Some also say time is a circle, turning over again and again. In Arrival, both of these things are true, especially for Louise, who realizes the visions she’s having of her daughter dying are actually premonitions of the future. It’s a gift from the aliens who have landed on our world, knowledge for the person who helped crack their code that language is the tool that will help their kind. It can be a blessing and a curse to know the future, and know that you might repeat the mistakes you see your future-self making. But in the end, love is the circle that wins out as Louise reunites with her love, Ian, and agrees to move forward, even though it means the daughter they have will suffer the same fate.
Colossus is Alive (tears of joy!) - Astonishing X-Men
One of the most beloved and long-missed members of the X-Men made his unexpected and glorious returns in Joss Whedon and John Cassiday’s Astonishing X-Men 4. As Kitty came face to face with her long-thought-dead first love, all thoughts of the aliens shooting at (through) her left her mind. She was still phasing as the Colossus charged through her to defeat her foes, and we are treated to a panel in which Kitty echoed the reader: she puts her hand over her heart to see if its still beating and she’s not imagining things. It was a glorious and incredibly fitting (well-timed, too) return.
Death of President Roslin - Battlestar Galactica
She fought Cylons, attempted coups, a successful ouster as President, and all odds to fulfill her promise to lead the colonists to Earth, but the one thing Laura Roslin couldn’t escape was death in the form of cancer. It plagued her from the first episode, but she lasted through until the end, in no small part thanks to the gruff love of her life, William Adama. Upon finally reaching Earth, she agrees to a “sightseeing” trip with Adama across the wild plains of their new home. Her final words “So much life,” are made even more poignant as she breaths the last breath of her life. She left us, Adama, and pretty much every colonist devastated that the prophesy of “the leader who shall lead them to the promised land but shall not enter” came true.
Anya's Speech from "The Body" - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
You don’t have to have even seen a single episode of the magnificence that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer to appreciate the brutal honesty and emotion in this scene. Vengeance demon turned human Anya was usually used as comic relief and for saying things at the wrong time due to not “getting” humans. But when Buffy’s mom is found dead, it’s that quest to understand “why” and the confusion as to who death chooses (and what comes after) that hits us all in the heart. If you’ve ever lost someone, this speech will echo the big things we all ask ourselves about life and death. “Why” and wondering “how we all go through this.” For a show that deals with the supernatural, it’s the human moments that keep Buffy a perennial classic.
Vincent Van Gogh - Doctor Who
Imagine the worst day you’ve had, where you feel worthless and can’t do what you feel you’re supposed to do. It could be writer’s block, or in this case, painter’s block. Then, you get the chance to jump ahead in time and find out that not only did you eventually overcome it, but you became known as the one of the world’s greatest artists and contributors to culture. How do you take that in? With tears, in the case of Vincent van Gogh when he is brought forward in time to a gallery of his works and overhears what an impression he truly left. While The Doctor and Amy’s attempt to show van Gogh his true worth didn’t end up changing his fate in life, it did inspire him to become the man he was meant to be. And in return, he got the chance to leave a little sun(flower) in Amy’s life.
Dex-Starr's Origin - DC Comics
In a world where cats rule the Internet (and most hashtags), try to not shed a tear at the origin of Dex-Starr, who we first met as a ruthless Red Lantern. His backstory was tragic: he was a rescue kitty brought into the loving home of a woman that adored him. After she was killed in a home invasion, a homeless Dexter (Dex-starr to the multi-syllabic cat) was thrown off a bridge by some hooligans but was spared with a red power ring. To see something so angry born of something so sweet is tragic, and things are always sadder if they involve a cat getting hurt.
Leelo discovers war - The Fifth Element
Luc Benson’s masterpiece, The Fifth Element, is remembered for so many mind-blowing scenes and characters (who can forget the Opera?). But when Leeloo, a Supreme Being destined to save mankind, types in the word “war” and sees the atrocities humans have committed against one another, it is enough to nearly break her. War is senseless, so why should she save a race bent on destroying itself, anyway? The answer? Love. Fortunately she can see beyond the horrors we have inflicted and believe we can be better. It’s that very human message that transcends the visual brilliance created in The Fifth Element.
Buffy realizes she has to kill Angel - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Being in love with the very thing you’re supposed to kill really complicates a relationship. Add to that the fact that, if your boyfriend experiences a moment of true happiness, he will lose his soul and turn into a ruthless killer….and the key to opening a portal that will destroy the world. Buffy and Angel thought they could get around those rather impossible obstacles and give it a go. They can’t say they weren’t warned. But then the kicker comes when Angel gets his soul back. What’s a girl to do when faced with the man she loves and a portal that’s still opening, threatening to devour the world? Kiss him, tell him to close his eyes, and then run him through with a magical sword that will send him to a hellish dimension but save the world. It’s enough to make a girl move away, change her name, and sling some pie in a diner (Which is exactly what she does).
Aerith's death - Final Fantasy VII
In a game like Final Fantasy, characters are supposed to live and move on to the next phase, especially if they are popular. But Final Fantasy VII threw everyone for a curve when Sephiroth descended from the rafters and impaled the praying Aerith on an altar as Cloud watched helplessly. Her death became Cloud’s driving force to destroy his enemy, but fans still couldn’t believe a major, and instantly beloved, character like Aerith was gone for good. Petitions floated around and protests were made, but all for naught. In the minds of the game’s creators, the fact that her death elicited such a strong outpouring of emotions means they did the right thing. In this case, dead really meant dead.
Han Solo's death - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It was the crack-hiss heard around the galaxy when Han Solo, agreeing to his son’s wishes to help, found himself on the receiving end of a lightsaber. It was not the family reunion nor kind of help we (nor Han) imagined Kylo Ren was looking for, and the moment was felt immediately. Our hearts sank as sci-fi’s greatest smuggler-turned-hero met his his demise in the depths of the Starkiller base.
Hodor's death - Game of Thrones
“Hold the door.” It was the only thing Hodor could say ever since his childhood self was warged by Bran and he was given a sense of what was to come. As young Hodor convulsed on the ground repeating the phrase over and over until the words merged together to simply “Hodor,” we watched in horror, realizing Hodor in the present was fulfilling his life’s mission: holding the door to allow Bran to escape the Night King and make it through The Wall. Game of Thrones has seen its fair share of death, but this was probably the most tragic.
Yondu's Funeral - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
One of the galaxy’s most ruthless Captains turned out to be the galaxy’s Mary Poppins when he revealed he did his best to take Ego’s place in raising Star-Lord. He may not have been our hero’s father, but he proved to be more of a daddy to Peter Quill than Peter ever realized. His sacrifice to allow the Guardians to escape Ego’s destruction was the ultimate show of love, and the rest of the Ravagers – the group who had just recently abandoned him – recognized this and gave him the greatest space-light-show-funeral ever seen as the colors of Ogord flashed over his grave.
Cortana sacrificing herself - Halo 4
Who says a hologram can’t love? Cortana had been by Master Chief’s side as support, savior, and supervisor when his worse instincts threaten to take over. But thanks to her programming, she could only stay for so long. In Halo 4, she literally began to overthink to the brink of death. It was revealed that her programming only allowed her seven years for sentient “life.” In order to help Master Chief destroy the Composer and defeat the Didact, she sacrificed herself by forming a shield around him after he detonated the nuclear bomb that would end the battle. She left enough of herself to take on physical form and did the one thing she’d waited to do: she finally touched Master Chief. With that, she welcomed him home and disappeared. Although she had vanished, a part of her would always remain in the hardened Master Chief’s heart.
Death of Sirius Black - Harry Potter
There’s been a lot of discussion and debate around this death. Some feel it was one death too far for Harry to lose the only family he had left in the form of his godfather (although the same could be said about Dumbledore’s death, adding insult to injury). Others wonder if it could be reversed since he fell through a magic Veil as Bellatrix Lestrange’s curse hits her cousin square in the chest (in the books, it wasn’t a specifically named curse, unlike in the movies, where it is clearly the Avada Kedavra death curse, adding fuel to the debate). Could he have returned? No one has gone into the Veil and come back, so there was some hope for readers until a vision of Sirius from beyond the grave to Harry sealed the deal. The fact that Bellatrix incessantly bragged about killing Sirius Black didn't help much, but at least his name was cleared and he found some peace in death.
The Iron Giant sacrifices himself - The Iron Giant
A sort of Cold War-meets-Frankenstein tale of a boy and his massive robot, The Iron Giant brought out the feels in everyone with its messages of love, friendship, and destiny. At the climax of the film, military paranoia nearly wins out until Hogarth is returned safely to his parents by the Iron Giant, who then flies into space to intercept a missile that would destroy him and anything he’s near, including the people in town. Hogarth’s words (ones we can all learn from) - “You are who you choose to be” - ring in the Giant’s ears and he responds with “Superman” before colliding with the missile in space, saving the day. We could all choose to be a little like the Iron Giant every once in a while and become our own Supermen/women.
Sam's speech to Frodo - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
It was the moment the entire journey led up to: Frodo and the One Ring at the base of Mount Doom. He was to be the hero of the story, but in many ways, it was Samwise, the Hobbit who had never been farther outside the Shire than a patch of corn in a field, who rose up and took that mantle. Showing the love and devotion he had for his best friend, Samwise lifted his friend who could travel no more thanks to the effects of the ring, and carried him to his destiny. He couldn't carry the ring, but he could carry his friend. Everyone needs a Sam in their life.
Nora and Matt write Nora's obituary - The Leftovers
There were a lot of moments in The Leftovers that conjured tears, but when characters decided to chase their loved ones to the other side/dimension/heaven/wherever they disappeared to - things got particularly hairy. The long-suffering and insane sibling relationship between Nora Durst and Matt Jamison stayed so complicated throughout that we were desperate them to find peace by the end of season three. Their story came to a brilliant conclusion just before her departure with the two of them writing her obituary in a parking lot, mad-Lib style. His confession about his faith is the moment we knew was coming, but watching him breakdown and say it, we felt the sibling bond; and the moment where you can't make the world make sense to someone you've known your entire life.
Sun and Jin die together - Lost
If you shed a tear at the sight of the elderly couple holding each other as the Titanic sank, then this moment will surely make you want to bawl your eyes out. Forget Jack/Sawyer/Kate, the true love story in LOST was Jin and Sun. As they are trapped in a sinking submarine, Sun’s leg caught in wreckage, Jin tries to save her. When it’s clear that he can’t, rather than save himself, he tells the love of his life that he won’t leave her, never again. A couple that started the show careening toward a breakup -- ends fittingly, holding each other in death. Take that, Titanic.
Agro's death - Shadow of the Colossus
It wouldn’t be a “cry” list if there wasn’t at least one animal death. In Shadow of the Colossus, Agro is the faithful steed to the hero, Wander. She manages to get her master to safety against all odds, even when all hope seems lost. This is proven beyond a doubt as Wander and Agro set off to face the final colossus. To reach it, they must cross an unstable bridge. Running at full speed, Agro nearly gets them to the other side when the bridge begins to collapse. In a final act of loyalty to her master, Agro bucks Wander off her back and he lands on the edge, only to see his trusted companion fall to her death in the mists below. Agro joins the likes of Old Yeller, Shane, and Bambi’s mom in the Selfless Animal Hall of Fame.
"Mr. Stark? I don't feel so good..." - Avengers: Infinity War
We were already emotional wrecks during this sequence, watching, helpless, as so many of our favorite characters started blowing away after Thanos snapped his damn fingers. This moment put us over the edge, though. We never thought they’d actually dust Peter Parker, but when he tells his mentor (and surrogate father figure) Tony Stark that he doesn’t feel too good, we were done. Tom Holland’s performance (especially his adlibs of “I don’t want to go”) kills us, and Spidey blows away. The scene is played somewhat in reverse in Avengers: Endgame, and that had us weeping too.
Andy giving away his toys - Toy Story 3
How often do you think about the toys that are probably still in your parents’ attic? Or that you’ve carried around from place to place, but not played with the way those special, childhood toys deserve? We spent three movies not just watching the adventures of Sherriff Andy, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang, but also the journey of their beloved owner, Andy, as he grows up and eventually leaves for college. You can’t help but cry at the thought of them being separated from Andy after all of that, but leave it to Andy to do something that makes you want to cry even more: he passes them on to Bonnie – effectively, the next generation – to love and play with. As he drives off, anyone who has ever owned a toy they truly loved can’t help but shed a tear when Andy whispers “Thanks, guys.”
Steve Trevor dies - Wonder Woman
It’s a near perfect arc when it comes to the story of Diana of Themyscira and Steve Trevor. The first man she meets becomes the first man she loves and the first man to fully give his life for her. As he says, he may be able to save the day, but she can save the world. Seeing him do his part by dying in the plane explosion that removed the bombs from harm’s way is epic. His death gives Wonder Woman the motivation she needs at the moment to break free of Ares and defeat the God of War. She’ll always carry a part of Steve with her in her heart, and maybe she’ll hold him again in the sequel. For a woman born of magical clay, stranger things have happened.
The Doctor says goodbye to Rose
Technically, this happened twice, but both bring tears to our eyes. Rose Tyler is high up on people’s lists of the Doctor’s companions, and we think it’s safe to say she’s high up there on his list, as well. After saving the day but being stuck in a parallel Earth, The Doctor manages to get a message to Rose, where she confesses her love to him. Just as The Doctor is about to (presumably) return those three little words, his transmission is cut off, leaving them both in tears. Some time later, however, Rose and the Tenth Doctor get the chance to live out a life together, and he assumingly finishes the message and declares his love…although in a Who-vian twist. It’s still the Tenth Doctor, but it’s a second one, regenerated from a hand and only possessing one heart, therefore only having one life. But when you truly love someone, isn’t one heart and one life enough, in the end?
Eve reactivates Wall-E
One of PIXAR’s most stunningly beautiful films to date remains 2008’s WALL-E, about a musical-loving, rusted, and forgotten little robot – WALL-E – who, with the help of a shiny new model of droids – EVE – manages to save Earth, and humanity in the process. The number of words the two exchange can be counted on one hand, but the love they develop transcends language. So when, near the end of the movie, after WALL-E has been reset and has had his memories seemingly wiped, EVE tries everything to get him to remember her. At the end of her rope, she places her head on his, making a spark. With that connection, WALL-E remembers her and calls out her name as we all say ,“I’m not crying, you’re crying!” As the song in the background of the scene says, “It only takes a moment.” Hello, WALL-E! (musical pun absolutely intended)
Agent 355's Death - Y: The Last Man
You can’t be held at fault for screaming when reading Y: The Last Man #58. Thinking t hey were finally safe and with the end of their journey nearly complete, Yoric and 355 have a moment to themselves. Like them, we thought these star-crossed lovebirds were finally going to make it. She even whispered her real name – the identity she had kept secret from years during their travels around the world – in Yorick’s ear. He finds it “perfect”, and they have what we think will be their final coming together…until a sniper shot to the head takes her out. Whatever her name was, we may never know, but the tears Yorick and the audience shed at the passing of the baton-wielding spy, we will carry with us.
Those were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which tear-jerking moments of the last 25 years you’d put on your list? And check out our complete "25 Greatest" lists here.