Movies have always been an escape. For many fans, movies that don’t end happily aren’t even worth watching. We’ll never go that far. There are some movies that are meant to stay with you, and there’s nothing like an emotional or a bleak ending of a film to leave you feeling it long after the credits have rolled. Now, watching the movie twice? That’s a different story. Watching any of the movies on this list twice is akin to cruel and unusual punishment.
Watching a really powerful and sad movie ending is an odd experience to go through. These endings can leave you with an empty feeling in your stomach. Some make you feel sick or even angry. Some make you cry. This type of emotional response is obviously the end game for the filmmakers, but it’s not a game for the viewer. It’s awful. There are some films that use these feelings to inspire you to look differently at a topic or even to take action. Other filmmakers just use it to create a buzz. Whatever the reason is, endings like these hurt, and we remember them for that reason. So, whether we’re simply reminding you of the most traumatic movie endings or warning you of what films you probably want to stay away from, we’ve collected all the most painful endings in film. Here is a list we’re calling “Unhappy Endings: 15 Movie Endings That Ruined Our Lives.”
15. Marley & Me
As we hinted at above, some movies use their ending for no other reason than to make people sad. Marley & Me seems like it started with an ending and worked its way backward, trying to build up to one massive emotional outpouring. Some critics call this a family movie, a comedy, a feel-good film? What in the hell did they watch? This movie is a family movie for families who feel like having a really terrible day. Who in the world wants to put themselves through the loss of a family pet for entertainment? Sure, it may be better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but not in the case of a movie. You won’t enrich your life by watching this movie, but you can ruin it. This movie would greatly benefit from the Phoebe Buffay treatment of watching a sad movie. Just turn it off before the ending. Then, it’s a feel-good flick. Then, it’s a family movie.
14. Requiem For A Dream
There may be no other movie that elicits the feeling of dirtiness and emptiness from its audience like Requiem for a Dream. Darren Aronofsky‘s exploration of addiction and compulsion is one of the most captivating ever made, but it leaves you with a feeling like the world is going to end. After watching this movie, viewers are often compelled to throw on an episode of Barney or The Wiggles just to snap them back into a happy place. There is no happy ending here. This is not a movie you want to watch on a first date. This is something you flick on when you’re feeling bad about yourself and want to see other people feeling worse to make your terrible life seem amazing by comparison.
13. Bridge To Terabithia
For a children’s movie, Bridge to Terabithia is a kick in the teeth. The film is about a make-believe land that two young friends spend their days in. The two are inseparable and develop a great friendship in this magical place, Terabithia. At the end of the film, one of the children is invited to an art museum. He considers asking his friend to come along but decides against it and goes without her. When he returns, his parents deliver the horrible news that his best friend died while trying to get to their special place alone. The little boy then battles his own guilt wondering if things would have been different if he was there or if he had taken her with him. It’s just one of those endings that makes you feel sad and angry at the same time.
12. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father
There are so many documentaries that bring up deep-seated emotions—sadness, hate, rage. There are many that showcase horrible atrocities and terrible crimes. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is one that does all of these things, but the ending is powerful in so many different ways. The movie is a documentary dedicated to the son of a murdered man. The man, Andrew Bagby, was murdered by his psychopathic ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. After the murder, Turner disclosed that she was pregnant. The child, Zachary, was born. Turner was arrested and thrown in prison. The parents of Bagby took custody and raised the baby. While in prison, Turner received advice from a judge (which was against procedure) on how to appeal her arrest and imprisonment. She appealed successfully and was released on bail. She then sued the grandparents for joint custody. Again, she won. She then took that 13-month-old baby and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean, killing herself and the poor child. This reveal in the third act of the film, even if you knew it was coming, is shocking and watching the sweet grandparents’ extreme reaction is difficult to not be affected by. Then, the film takes an important turn. Rather than make the film a dedication to the deceased child, it becomes a dedication to these loving grandparents. It’s a sweet twist that really makes an already emotional film even more moving.
11. The Green Mile
We all know that The Green Mile is super sad. That’s what it’s about. The ending carries a massive impact. We have to watch John Coffey executed for a crime we know he didn’t commit, and his greatest admirers are forced to carry out the sentence. Now, we’re sad. We’re crying. Then, we learn that Mr. Jingles is still alive and it’s Niagara Falls, Frankie. The childlike attitude of John Coffey and the incredibly convincing performance by Michael Clarke Duncan make this finale all the more devastating.
10. Life Is Beautiful
Remember when Roberto Benigni stood on the chairs like a crazy person at the Academy Awards? Well, that was in celebration of Life is Beautiful winning Best Foreign Language Film. He would also win Best Actor that year. Although the film has been criticized in some circles for infusing too much humor into the Holocaust, the film is extremely touching, and the ending is its most powerful element. The film surrounds around a family who are held in a concentration camp. The father and child are separated from the mother. To keep the young child safe, the father creates a game. He tells the son that he will award him points for doing things like keeping out of sight from guards, not complaining, and not crying. The boy does well in this game and, in turn, stays safe. In the end, the father is taken by a guard and a captain decides to execute him before the Allied forces come to liberate them. The child, hiding in a box, watches as the father is taken away to his death. Soon after the boy is rescued, he learns of his father’s sacrifice.
9. Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station tells the true story of the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police officers in Oakland. Even though nearly everyone goes into the film knowing what happens, the ending is powerful because of the absolute randomness of the crime and the performances. We get to learn more about Grant, the man who was murdered by police, and it makes the senseless crime more accessible. Some have said that the film is too positive about the victim’s life and his actions, but there’s no doubt it will stick with you long after it’s ended.
8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
If there’s one major bone of contention fans have with A.I. Artificial Intelligence, it’s the ending. We understand that many people don’t love it, but we can’t deny how sad it is. We also believe it works, but that’s another story. After the boy robot, David, spends much of the film working his way to become a real boy, he is trapped beneath the waters for thousands of years. In the distant future, a mecha species revives David as he lived with the last humans and is special because of it. In a way, he is the realest boy around at this point. He then asks the mecha to bring his human mother back. They do, but the revival only lasts for a day. At the end of this final day, David climbs into bed with his mother, and she tells him she always loved him. It’s painfully sweet.
7. Toy Story 3
Part of the reason why Toy Story 3‘s ending hits its audience with so much emotional force is because it had an entire trilogy of buildup. We had grown to know and love the characters and developed a relationship with the toys. When that abandoner, Andy, gives up his toys, we are forced to give them up as well. It’s us saying goodbye to our childhoods, just as he is. This is a moving experience for an audience to live through. In comparison to the other two films, the third Toy Story entry is much darker and much sappier. It is meant to conjure up tears from its loyal fans. In this, the movie is very successful. But, because of this, Toy Story 3’s re-watchability suffers. Even though there is an inkling of happiness at the end, this film is a day-ruiner.
6. Grave Of The Fireflies
The Grave of the Fireflies is an animated film that takes place during WWII. It follows two siblings, a young boy and girl, as they struggle to survive starvation in Japan. During the Allied bombings of Japan, the children’s city is destroyed, and their mother is fatally burned. The children move in with an aunt, but soon, they are forced to leave when rations fade. They then live out their days in an abandoned bomb shelter and steal food to survive, both severely suffering from malnutrition. When the boy finally comes across a great store of food, he returns to find his sister in a grave state. While he hurriedly cooks a meal trying to feed her, she dies. The rest of the movie shows how this poor boy, too, succumbs to malnutrition and death. In the end, the spirits of the children are reunited but that doesn’t do much to cure the inconsolable sadness you get from this film.
5. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
Like many films on this list, the ending of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is really what makes the film what it is. At least, the ending is what makes the film memorable. The story is about a Nazi family who lives close to a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The young boy in the family befriends a Jewish boy who is imprisoned along with his family in the camp. We then see and learn about the various struggles within the two very different families, in a way that they mirror each other. At the end of the film, the Nazi child puts on a prisoner’s uniform and digs under the fence at the camp to help his friend search for his missing father. While on the other side, both boys are marched into a room and told they’re taking a shower. Soon, the realization hits the audience that both boys are being gassed. While many found the film to be problematic because it humanized those people committing such atrocities, others saw it as a moving tale of how the Holocaust impacted all those around it.
4. Schindler’s List
As a whole, Schindler’s List is one of the most moving pictures ever filmed. The ending takes it to an entirely different level. Watching a man being hailed as a savior for all the incredible work he did and all the many lives he saved feel regret that he couldn’t do even more causes us physical pain. Looking at all the things he still owns, Schindler wonders how many more lives he could have saved, “This car. Goeth would’ve bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people, right there, ten more I could’ve got. (looking around) This pin two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would’ve given me two for it. At least one. He would’ve given me one. One more. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. One more. I could’ve gotten one more person I didn’t.”
Atonement tells the incredible story of a young girl, Briony, who accused her sister’s lover of committing a s*xual assault that he never did in order to split the couple up. Even though Briony knows who really committed the assault on her cousin, she blames it on this other boy and he goes to jail because of it. Later, he is released from prison in order to fight in the war. We watch him get severely injured in the war as well, which adds to the rift. Near the end of the film, we see Briony as a woman. She visits her sister and this man, now together, to apologize to them. She owns up to her mistake and asks forgiveness. Even though she doesn’t quite get what she was seeking, things are left on better terms than they were. Then, we see Briony as an elderly woman. She has completed her final book, which is the story that we’ve just watched play out on screen. We learn that the apology scene never happened in real life. The two young lovers were never reunited after the arrest and never lived happily ever after. They both had died during the war.
2. Hachi: A Dogs Tale
Hachi: A Dogs Tale is the story of the most faithful dog in history, Hachikō (or Hachi). The film follows closely as a man finds a lost dog at a train station and plans to return him to its owner. They never do find the owner, so the man adopts the puppy, becoming very close with it. One day, Hachi follows the man to the train station when he leaves from work. Hachi then waits all day for the man to come back. This becomes a tradition. Every day after that, Hachi continues this routine, waiting at the station for his owner to return. The film takes a severely sad turn when the man dies. Unable to understand the situation, Hachi continues to wait at the train station. Even after the family comes to retrieve the dog, Hachi still returns to the train station and waits. Even after the family sells the house and moves away with Hachi, he escapes and returns to the train station to wait. Finally, they decide to let him wait after realizing how depressed leaving the station makes Hachi. He is fed by the station workers and he lives out his days in the station, waiting through rain and snow. For 10 years, the dog waited until he finally died.
1. The Mist
The ending of The Mist has become pretty infamous over the years. Known for its difference to the ending of the Stephen King novella of the same name, The Mist has one of the more shocking endings in film history. It’s also one of the bleakest and most harrowing endings out there. King, who usually doesn’t like people messing with his stories, heartily approved of the change, perhaps even preferring it to his own. While we don’t want to give it away, the statute of limitations for spoilers on this one has long since passed, so we will. Basically, the surviving group, who in the novella get a glimmer of hope of escaping the monsters in the mist, are beyond all hope in the film. With nothing left to live for and to save them from a much more painful and grisly death, the protagonist shoots the remaining members of the group after getting their consent, including his own son. With no bullets remaining to kill himself, he steps out of the car into the mist to await his death via monster. Just then, the mist recedes and the army shows up to save the day. Ugh. Cold-blooded.
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