Top 10 Most Dramatic On-Screen Breakups

As the old song goes… "breaking up is hard to do." We’ve all been through one, two or many in our day. We all know the waning emotions, the flaccidity where once there was passion, the tears, and more often than not, the harsh words you find yourself regretting.

However, when Hollywood spins a tragically painful yarn about one of life’s most aggravating and painful experiences, we get the cathartic joy of a screenplay writer’s creative storytelling. Movies have a way of letting us enjoy the thought “I could’ve done that” without the requirement of jail time, or “I wonder what would happen if I tried this” without the endless hours of crying and fighting.

That’s the nice thing about movies; we get to live a while in the characters’ shoes without all the regrets and ill-informed decisions. So try to learn a little something from all the movies on this list.

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10 The End of the Affair (1999)

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This movie is based on a famous novel and is as heart-wrenching a story (regardless of its moral questionability) as one will ever find. Sarah falls in love with novelist Bendrix even though she’s married to Henry, and they keep their torrid affair a secret until one day after a bizarre accident, Sarah suddenly ends it with the cryptic last words, “love doesn’t end just because you don’t see each other.” After several years, Bendrix meets Henry on the street and finds out that he’s a bit heartbroken himself because he thinks Sarah is cheating on him (though he never knew it was Bendrix), and Bendrix becomes obsessed with who she could be seeing now. After some investigating, Bendrix meets Sarah and finds out that she’s not having an affair at all but has been pining for him since they parted and that her promise to God to stop seeing him is why they separated, but she can no longer stand it and she misses him too much. They rekindle their romance with Henry hot on their heels, only to find the whole trio falling into despair when it’s revealed that Sarah is dying. You’ll cry, you’ll ache, and you’ll probably wonder if the person you’re with is the one you want to be with most if you were to die tomorrow…

9 Closer (2004)

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This bizarre movie takes the watcher on a long, tenuous journey through the love lives of a quartet of weird people who begin as one set of couples and then over the course of several years, switch it up between each other using strange and manipulative tactics. None of the characters are innocent, and rarely are they ever truthful with each other. Often times their individual issues with being passive aggressive cause themselves and each other to topple end over end like pucks in a Plinko game. The moral of the story is really just to be honest; if one relationship is over, end it before moving on to another and you will save yourself and others lots of therapy hours in the long run.

8 Heartburn (1986)

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What a gut-wrenching feeling it is to accidentally discover an indiscretion by one’s partner. Maybe you see a smudge of lipstick on his collar, or notice an odd charge on your bank account, or maybe your partner does something different or unexpected in the bedroom, or avoids the bedroom altogether. However one finds out, it always comes as a soul-crushing blow. In this 1986 movie, Meryl Streep plays a level-headed modern woman hesitant to marry the steamy Jack Nicholson, only to find out through the grapevine that once she’s finally given in to the happiness and meaning provided by their relationship, he’s been cheating on her! Unless you’re the type of person who violently flies off the handle like a testosterone junkie about the issues one might face in a marriage, you will no doubt find the performances in the movie incredibly relatable, probably painfully so. Meryl Streep keeps an even keel as she struggles to come to terms with the dissolution of her marriage, and even the awkwardness of trying to maintain external friendships during the breakdown is captured by secondary characters perfectly. Critics of the movie called the screenplay flat, but the situation is pretty flat (and very common) in real life, too. Watching the pain develop on screen is what makes this movie robust and dimensional. The important thing to take away from it is that if it walks like a duck… well, you know the rest. Plenty of people indicated to Streep that Nicholson was a philanderer, but she turned a blind eye for love to her own detriment.

7 The Break-Up (2006)

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Ughhhh, who hasn’t been through the countless hours of pointless arguments, each partner trying to express to the other his or her point of view, but inevitably slipping into verbal assaults or passive aggressiveness that just NEVER ENDS. Understanding rarely occurs and it can certainly feel like trying to talk to each other from two entirely different dimensions. The fast-talking Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston do a great job of representing the futility of constant arguments and trying to maintain courtesy throughout a breakup, especially when the partnership is unable to dissolve quickly due to extenuating circumstances like financial responsibilities, the splitting of assets…whatever the case may be. The on-screen duo also do a great job of portraying all the different ways in which the claws come out, little jabs to make the other person hurt. We’ve all done that. It just goes with the game, but perhaps keeping finances a little more separated is a good idea from the get-go.

6 Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)

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This movie follows a couple through a separation and into a painful custody battle with a final exposition that follows the archetypical Judgment of Solomon theme. After Meryl Streep leaves Dustin Hoffman and their child to “find herself”. Hoffman has to go through the long and awkward period of developing a liveable relationship with his son, which in the long term leads to him losing his very good job and having to make a career downgrade. Over a year after Streep leaves, she comes back into the picture and sues for custody. The battle exposes elements of both sides in what could be considered an unfair light, but in the end, like most judgments, custody is given to the mother. Even though Hoffman and his son are horrified, to continue the custody battle Hoffman would require that his son go on the stand, and instead of put his son through the difficulty of testifying, he concedes defeat. Watching Hoffman’s heartbreak is compelling, especially knowing all the sacrifice and compromise father and son have made as well as the amazing bond they’ve built, but don’t worry, things work out in the end. What is important to take away from this movie is obvious; the well-being of the children comes first.

5 Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)

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4 Blue Valentine (2010)

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Breaking up can often feel like some kind of a whirlwind; anxiety, sentimentality, anger, and bittersweet longing all swirling together like a sensory torture chamber. This movie captures the chaotic movement through this painful scenario by having a disjointed timeline, unexpectedly moving backward and forward enough to induce whiplash. Flashbacks show the couple as they came together to form this relationship and present-day vignettes show the breakdown in real time. The whirlwind effect mirrors the speed at which their relationship developed and then unravelled, like many relationships that move far too quickly. In the end, Michelle Williams asks Ryan Gosling for something almost all partners ask for before breaking up, “a little space”…and unlike most partners, Gosling acquiesces and the movie ends on the potential inherent in “a little space.”

3 High Fidelity (2000)

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Ermegerd, this movie is on literally every list ever about breakup movies, so it stands to reason that it should be on this one, too. It’s an indulgent trip through one man’s list of ex’s and is kind of like watching a survey of what he does wrong in every relationship so that he can better understand how to win back the girl that just dumped him. In the long run, he realizes his main issue (which is the main issue of MANY of us): he’s never fully committed to any one girl, unwilling to be totally emotionally vested in any one person, just in case someone better comes along. RE: Just About Everyone, you will never find the “right one” if you’re ALWAYS holding out for something that might be better. Not every relationship will work out, but they will all NOT work out if you hold back such a huge portion of yourself from the relationship…and that message is why so many people connect to this movie.

2 She-Devil (1989)

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This black comedy is a bizarre take on revenge and while it doesn’t really connect to anything or anyone on an emotional level, there is an element of madness that the movie does very well. The frumpy housewife played by Roseanne Barr does all that she can to cater to and care for handsome husband Ed Begley Jr., but after he meets beautiful, sensual, rich Meryl Streep, nothing Barr can do will keep him home. She then goes to extreme lengths to ruin Begley’s lovely new life. She blows up their home, ditches their children with he and his mistress, takes a job under a pseudonym at the old-age home where Streep’s mother is housed and gets her kicked out, which lands Streep’s mother back in Streep’s house. With the chaos ensuing in the home, Streep and Begley’s relationship falls off and with some very creative and sneaky business tactics, Barr gets Begley thrown into prison for embezzlement. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Barr’s character pulls no punches and goes ALL the way to exact the full measure of her revenge. Could you or your partner go the distance?

1 War of the Roses (1989)

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When you’ve experienced the dissolution of a relationship, there’s nothing worse than when one partner doesn’t want to let go. War of the Roses is a sickeningly dark comedy about a couple going through an angry, violent breakup. Kathleen Turner has fallen entirely out of love with Michael Douglas and is completely revolted by the very sight of him. Douglas is startled by this ferociousness and retaliates in response but never stops trying to find ways to reconcile. Even through all the violence and harassment (like destroying each other’s prized possessions) and subtle AND blatant tortures (like the killing of each other’s pets), Turner never softens. At the end, once both have fallen from a treacherous height and are lying broken and dying on the floor, Douglas reaches tenderly for Turner’s hand showing that even at the end, he still loves her, his reach is met with scorn and rejection. The movie is told as a cautionary tale and it would behove all to take its message to heart: if your partner is decidedly done, LET THEM GO!!!

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