If you’re one of the many folks who flocked to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3, you no doubt wiped away a tear or ten when you watched Rocket Raccoon’s tragic backstory play out. But, is his origin the most traffic MCU Original of them all? Indeed, the MCU has dominated cinema for the past decade and a half and has given audiences some of the most memorable on-screen moments in history. Fans have developed close personal relationships with the heroes and characters to the point that they feel as if they’re real people existing in the real world. While that may not be true, it’s still a testament to how emotionally powerful the MCU has become that it allows audiences to empathize and care about completely fictional beings.
In that light, part of being a hero (and part of what we love and empathize the most with them) is that it inherently comes with sacrifice, and because of this some heroes end up having rougher upbringings than others. That reality especially holds true for the heroes of the MCU as the majority of them have all suffered through hardships in order to become the heroes that fans love. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at which of our beloved MCU heroes have had the hardest journeys right from the very beginning.
As mentioned, the vast majority of MCU heroes all have some sort of tragic origin story – again, being a hero inherently comes with sacrifice. Remarkably, nearly all of these tragic origin stories can be broken down into four specific categories – captured/kidnapped, tortured/experienced on, loved ones dead/killed, and mind-controlled. Because of this system, we’ll be breaking down the worst scenarios of these categories that have happened to MCU heroes rather than covering every last one of them.
Spiderman – everyone’s favorite web-slinger may be the epitome of “being a hero requires sacrifice” due to his being an orphan and the inevitable death of Uncle Ben, and it absolutely is a tragic origin story. But the reality of the MCU is that there are several other characters who have for more tragic beginnings than Peter Parker, a child genius who was given access to Stark tech at age 15.
America Chávez – the multiverse jumper could have also potentially made the list, but unfortunately we still don’t know a whole lot about her origins – all we know is that she got stung by a bee and it scared her so much that she blasted her parents through a multiverse-portal. However, if her parents turn out to be alive and well, her origins become far less tragic.
Eternals- super-powered beings that were created for the sole purpose of protecting planets that were ultimately doomed in order for more Celestials to be born. Say what you will, but being created and forced to live for thousands upon thousands of years, making countless relationships with people you protect on a daily basis, all for the sake of that planet being destroyed because of your efforts, is indeed tragic.
Tony Stark- to be fair, Tony could have easily made this list. He was captured and tortured and forced to build the very first Iron Man suit from a box of scraps while he watched Yinsen die while aiding his escape. That being said, he was also a playboy genius who was born into a well-off family and sold weapons that made it into the hands of terrorists and was initially only motivated by atoning for said mistake so…
Silvia – the Loki variant who is arguably the most responsible for the multiverse being completely out of whack is somehow almost justified. Sylvie may have plunged her dagger into He Who Remains’ chest, but she was also kidnapped as a child by the TVA with absolutely no explanation as to why, followed by her entire timeline (and everyone she knew and loved) getting pruned. Screwing up the entire multiverse may have been taking her revenge a step too far, but again, we get it.
Natasha & Yelena – Anyone who knows anything about the Red Room and the Black Widow Program knows exactly how horrific and tragic Natasha and Yelena’s origins truly are. Add the bonus of Natasha and Yelena living the first several years of their lives acting like a happy family before being thrust into the program, and the only silver lining is that the two became the most bad-ass assassins in MCU history.
Peter Quill- the most tragic honorable mention undoubtedly goes to Star-Lord who honestly could make the official list. He watched his mother die from cancer as a child, only to be immediately kidnapped by Yondu and the Ravagers. The worst part is that Quill’s story has only gotten more tragic as he had to kill his father for killing his mother, followed by watching Yondu and Gamora die. At least Qull is finally trying to spend some family time with his Grandpa.
The true first on our list of the most tragic origin stories shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch has been a fan-favorite character in the MCU since her very first appearance. Unfortunately, one of the reasons she became an instant fan-favorite was because audiences could empathize with the pain and suffering that she had already endured at such a young age. She and her twin brother, Pietro, were forced to watch their parents die in a firebombing that ultimately almost cost them their own lives.
Of course the tragedy doesn’t end there as Wanda and Pietro then sacrificed themselves to become weapons of HYDRA in order to stop Tony Stark and the Avengers (the ones they held responsible for their parents deaths). They were tortured and experimented on using the Mind Stone, and while they did ultimately obtain super powers, it eventually came at the cost of Pietro’s life when they chose to ally with the Avengers and stop Ultron. Wanda’s story has only gotten harder since her earliest days, but it’s easy to understand how her origin story is one of the most tragic in the MCU.
Bucky/The Winter Soldier
A list of MCU tragedies couldn’t exist without including the Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes was Steve Rogers best friend and second-in-command during World War II, and seemingly met his end during their missions together when he plummeted to his death in a frozen tundra. Miraculously, Bucky survived the fall, but sadly fell into the hands of HYDRA and was tortured/experimented on by Arnim Zola. These experiments did conclude with Bucky becoming a super soldier in his own right, equipped with a nearly indestructible metal arm, but came at a hefty price.
Still held captive by HYDRA, Bucky was turned into the world’s greatest ghost-assassin, responsible for countless murders since the 1940s and obtaining the alias as The Winter Soldier in the process. In order for this process to continue, Bucky routinely had his brain turned into mush so that he would be easier to control and manipulate. Horrifically this went on all the way until Bucky was finally cured from the mind-control thanks to Shuri and the Wakandans, finally allowing Bucky to shed his murderous past. While The Winter Soldier may arguably have the greatest redemption arc in the MCU, it’s unquestionable that his origin story is a tragic one.
Nebula & Gamora
Picture Natasha and Yelena, and then make it way worse. While the Black Widow sisters were close to making this list, the daughters of Thanos completely blow them out of the water when it comes to tragic backstories. Most of Nebula’s origin story hasn’t been officially shown on the big screen, but audiences got to see exactly what Gamora went through during a flashback scene in Infinity War. In essence, Thanos was carrying out his plan of wiping out half of existing life when he came across Gamora’s home planet – he took her away from her parents, made her his adoptive daughter, and then proceeded to slaughter half the population (most likely including Gamora’s parents). Unfortunately, Gamora’s origins only become worse when she ultimately is killed by Thanos for the Soul Stone, simply because she was the only thing he ever loved. Kidnapped, turned into a weapon, then killed for it – that’s tragic.
Nebula’s origins may not have appeared on screen yet, but that doesn’t mean that fans haven’t been told how graphic and horrific her upbringing was. Just like Gamora, Nebula was taken by Thanos and became his adoptive daughter. Unfortunately, Nebula didn’t make Thanos as proud as Gamora did and he eventually replaced her entire organic body with machinery to try and make her a more deadly weapon. Technically it worked, as Nebula is an incredibly formidable foe, but that doesn’t make the origin story of being kidnapped and turned into a machine any less tragic.
The Guardians of the Galaxy can’t catch a break when it comes to how they became heroes. By far the most tragic origin story of the MCU (and arguably any other movie in history) is that of Rocket Raccoon. Beginning life as a defenseless fury creature on Earth, Rocket was captured by the High Evolutionary, along with a surplus of other creatures, and had torturous experiments done on him repeatedly. The process evolved Rocket from a simple raccoon into one of the smartest beings in the entire universe, but obviously came at the price of being torn apart and put back together over and over again.
Not only were these procedures graphic and inhumane, but salt was just added to the wound when Rocket became friends with the other creatures the High Evolutionary was experimenting on and learned that all of them were marked for death. In an attempt to escape, Rocket nearly freed himself and his friends (Lyla, Teefs and Floor), only to watch them all die at the hands of their creator. Again, all of these MCU heroes have had rough roads to travel and their origins are all far from happy, but there’s just something about capturing, experimenting on, and torturing a poor defenseless animal that makes Rocket’s origins story the most tragic in the entire MCU .