Romantic comedies are, for the most part, feel good films that reaffirm the audience’s belief in love. There’s a certain kind of formula that most romantic comedies follow. The couple meets in a cute, unique way, like maybe clumsily bumping into each other, only to finally lock eyes through the spilt coffee and fallen papers and realizing that this person is hot and, perhaps, their soul mate.
After meeting, the pair usually engages in a witty, charming courtship. During the course of this courtship, karaoke may be sung, live lobsters may be cooked, Julia Roberts may laugh when a jewelry box is closed on her fingertips; it will all play out in some grand, specific way until the other shoe drops and the boy loses the girl, which is almost a mandatory part of the equation. This loss can be dealt with by getting drunk, watching an old romantic movie and crying or talking to the “friend” character, whose sole purpose in this film is to give advice.
Romantic comedies will then end with the grand romantic gesture, a mad dash in an airport or through traffic. I love yous are exchanged, kisses are had. Roll credits. An audience member will have their faith in love restored while watching these two very attractive actors find, lose and get love back.
However, there are a few romantic comedies that “zig” when the formula says “zag.” They say “to hell with tradition!” The endings are real, brutal and well, not very happy. Sometimes the couple, like in real life, doesn’t end up together. Sometimes, lessons are learned and separate paths are taken. It can be unsatisfying as hell if you were hoping for the chase and the kiss, but sometimes these films, looking more like real life without a contrived happy ending, can make you feel good in their own odd way. Here are 10 romantic comedies that don’t have “happy endings.”
10. Annie Hall (1977)
Annie Hall is the romantic comedy of all romantic comedies. Woody Allen’s masterpiece is daring in many ways, like its breaking of the forth wall, non-linear structure and use of cartoons in one scene.
The film is about the relationship between Alvy Singer, portrayed by Woody Allen, and Annie Hall, portrayed by Diane Keaton. The courtship, which includes an iconic scene of the pair cooking live lobsters together, is wonderfully charming but soon the relationship falls apart. In an attempt to win back Annie Hall, Alvy Singer travels all the way from New York to Los Angeles, only to find that she is happy in a new relationship.
Later, they have lunch as friends and seem at peace. That’s it. That’s how their story ends – as friends. Woody Allen’s character later writes a play based on their relationship but in his play, the couple ends up together. The film ends with Alvy Singer delivering a monologue in which he says relationships are insane but, maybe, we need them.
9. Roman Holiday (1953)
Roman Holiday was the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star, winning her an Oscar for her portrayal of Princess Ann. In this film, Hepburn’s character is visiting Rome for press and media engagements. She has a breakdown due to anxiety and runs away. Gregory Peck’s character finds her roaming the streets and brings her back to his small apartment.
It just so happens that he’s a journalist and recognizes her as the princess. He thinks this will the story of a life time: the princess’ escapades in Rome. The pair have a grand time in Rome, riding vespas and falling in love. In the end, the princess returns to her duties, kissing the journalist goodbye as tears stream down her face.
This film is the ultimate Old Hollywood romantic comedy without the Hollywood ending.
8. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
So, the premise of this film is that Julia Roberts’ character, Julianne Potter, realizes that she loves her best friend only after he calls her to tell her that he’s engaged.
Julianne, like any rational woman, decides to attend the wedding so she can break it up. Makes sense, right? Yet, she wins over the audience because it’s Julia Roberts so everyone is totally down with Julianne breaking up the wedding so she can marry her BFF.
Everyone agrees with Julia Roberts’ plan, everyone that is except for Demot Mulroney’s character, Julianne’s BFF and love interest. Even after her flirting, embarrassing the soon-to-be bride and a few well orchestrated schemes, Mulroney stays with his bride and Roberts is left dancing on the dance floor with her gay best friend.
7. Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Considering the couple in question is already married and divorced by the time the film begins, it shouldn’t give the audience much hope for a happy ending, but we are only human and so, we cling to the idea of love.
After the divorce, the pair stays close – too close. In fact, Jesse, played by Andy Samberg, still stays at Celeste’s, played by Rashida Jones, house. Neither of them are really moving on as they still hang out every day and have inside jokes. It is to the point that another couple has an intervention and tells them that their behavior is weird and it’s time to move on.
Move on is exactly what Jesse does when he gets another girl pregnant. He leaps into a fully committed relationship with this other woman, leaving Celeste, who isn’t ready to move on, behind. In the end, the pair remain good friends, but Celeste is alone.
6. The Break Up (2006)
This is yet another romantic comedy that focuses on a couple who has loved and broken up.
During the first act of this film, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn’s characters get into a fight about trivial things like lemons and doing the dishes. The fight rapidly flies out of control and ends in them breaking up. Each unwilling to give up their amazing apartment, both parties continue to live there through the break up, obviously still harboring feelings for each other but hurting each other all the while.
In the end, they sell the apartment and move on, having both learned their lessons. In the last scene, they bump into each other on the street, having changed for the best physically, professionally and emotionally. They continue walking in opposite directions, sharing one more glance back at each other, letting the audience hope for a make up that could perhaps happen after the credits roll, but the movie does indeed end with them broken up.
5. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
In this superbly stylish film, Anne Hathaway plays a driven, college grad who lands her first gig working as an assistant for Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar for this role.
In order to maintain her demanding job, she loses herself, her friends, and her relationship with Nate, played by Adrian Grenier. After realizing all she has lost, she quits the job and seeks a job at a newspaper, which is what she always wanted to do.
It’s a great coming of age story about a girl who almost lost herself to Manhattan. Before an interview, she meets with her ex Nate to talk. Apparently, he’s moving away to pursue his own cooking dreams. That’s how their story ends, with them going their separate ways – him to cook and her to write.
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie based in a world where particular unpleasant memories can be erased from one’s mind. Amazing, right? Well, sort of.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play a couple who has broken up. Winslet’s character, Clementine, has erased Joel, Carrey’s character, from her mind. When Joel finds out that she erased him, he plans to do the same, as some sort of revenge. After both of them have completed having their memories erased, they meet and fall for each other all over again.
They find out what exactly has happened and decide to stay together, even though they did not work the first time. While this film ends with the couple staying together, it is not necessarily a happy ending, as the relationship didn’t work the first time and may not work the second time.
3. Little Black Book (2004)
Little Black Book is a movie based around the 2004 equivalent of going through someone’s texts. In this film, Stacy Holt, portrayed by Brittany Murphy, goes through her boyfriend’s Palm Pilot to find out more about his exes. Stacy believes that her boyfriend is the right guy for her, but his tight lips about his past relationships have made her curious enough to invade his privacy. Suffice to say, the whole thing doesn’t go as planned and basically blows up in her face, causing her to realize that her boyfriend is not the right one for her. After letting him go, she goes on to land her dream job. So it’s a happy ending for her, but not the couple.
2. The Graduate (1967)
The Graduate is kind of a romantic comedy. There’s romance. There’s comedy. There’s drama. There’s a lot of Simon and Garfunkel.
This film put Dustin Hoffman on the map for his portrayal of Ben Braddock, a very lost college grad. He spends most of his summer floating around his parent’s pool and seemingly floating through life. He finally decides to take life by the balls and lose his virginity by starting up an affair with ol’ Mrs. Robinson, his parents’ friend.
The plot thickens when Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, returns home and Ben has the hots for her, too. Basically, Ben cannot get enough of those Robinsons. He starts up a relationship with Elaine, and, as you can imagine, it doesn’t go well. In the end of this sorted affair, Ben crashes Elaine’s wedding to another man in an iconic film scene.
Though the pair ride off on a bus together, the camera lingers on their WTF faces, proving that a couple ending up together doesn’t equate a happy ending, especially if you have to harbor the knowledge that your boyfriend slept with your mom for the rest of your life.
1. 500 Days of Summer (2009)
How did this not have a happy ending? There was a goddamn musical number, yet the couple didn’t end up together.
Tom loves Summer and believes that they are soul mates because they share the same taste in music. They engage in a charming courtship that includes running through an Ikea store, something that looks cute on screen but would be straight up annoying in real life.
Tom loses Summer, as all boys must lose their girls in romantic comedies. However, she finds her “one” and marries him, leaving Tom wondering why not me. That’s how their story ends. At the end of the film, Tom does meet a beautiful girl named Autumn, who will likely be his next Summer. This leaves the audience with warm feelings, even if the main couple didn’t work out.