Sometimes the difference between a serious action film and one that's for fun are movies with a hero that dies at or near the end. Movies with a hero that dies leave moviegoers thinking differently than had the hero lived, and often the death is, in and of itself, a sort of victory. Here are some of the best movies with a hero that dies at or near the end of the film. They couldn't end any other way. Warning: spoilers abound.

  1. "Braveheart." Mel Gibson's rebellious Scotsman William Wallace needs to die to become the martyr his cause needs in this medieval adventure film full of gory battles and anti-British royal sentiment. As he is executed, his death inspires the Earl of Bruce to finally take up the cause of his people and lead the Scottish commoners against their British oppressors, so the ending, though sad in that it fits in with movies with a hero that dies, is bright as well. This is similar to a movie classic which has a hero that dies; "Spartacus" is about a similar figure during the ancient Roman times.

  2. "LA Confidential." Curtis Hanson's retro-noir film about corruption in 1950s Hollywood has three heroes, each with a dark side. One of those heroes, Detective "Trashcan" Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey, is killed at the hands of the villainous crooked cop Dudley Smith, played by James Cromwell. His dying words, though, send Smith on the wrong track and alert the other heroes of who the real bad guy is, so like in our previous instance of movies with a hero that dies, Jack's death goes for good.

  3. "Titanic." In perhaps the most romantic modern example of movies with a hero that dies, Leonardo DiCaprio's lower-class love-interest to Kate Winslet perishes as the titular ship sinks. It is his death that gives the film its power, and turns it from action disaster movie spectacle into a romantic story for the ages.

  4.  "Gladiator." Russell Crowe's titular figure, a disgraced Roman general who must fight for the amusement of the nobility and the people, perishes at the end of the Oscar-winning spectacle. Like many movies with a hero that dies, there was a proposed sequel that would bring his character back, even from beyond the grave, because Crowe was so linked to the film's title and themes in the mind of moviegoers. This sequel never made it to the screen.

  5. "Return of the Jedi." Though at first it seems like it is the villains who die at the end of the final "Star Wars" film, Darth Vader is truly the tragic hero of the series. He dies to save his son and return balance to the force, stopping the Emperor, in this final example of movies with a hero that dies. This becomes clearer upon the release of the prequels, where Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader, is the hero of the films.

- Travis Petersen