There are melancholy movies, and then there are some films that are so utterly devastating that they bring tears to your eyes years after you’ve first seen them.
The movies on this list contain endings so sad that you probably won’t forget them and may just be angry at yourself for watching them. However, if you need a good cry, why not release your emotions by watching one of these good films that just so happen to have endings sure to break your heart?
Life is Beautiful
Life is beautiful, and Roberto Benigni’s 1997 masterpiece shows the best and worst of humanity. Life Is Beautiful is a poignant story of a father’s love for his child set in the middle of unfathomable horrors. Although the movie starts out as a comedy, it is set during the Holocaust so the audience can guess what’s coming, but that doesn’t make it less painful.
At the ending of Life Is Beautiful, it’s revealed that the narrator of the story is the grown-up Joshua, the character we’ve seen as a little boy throughout the film. He tells of the great sacrifice his father made for him to make the concentration camps bearable and to save his life.
James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic captured the imagination of audiences and critics and the tragic romance at the heart of the film inspired young girls to come back for repeated viewings. First class passenger Rose is suicidal when she meets the happier third-class passenger Jack, and the two form a fast bond on the ill-fated ship.
Somehow, although everyone goes into the movie knowing that the boat’s going to sink and most of the people on the ship are going to die, it inspires hope along the way. That makes the ending heart-wrenching. Cameron really brought to life so much beauty and pain as the ship goes down. No matter where you stand on the debate whether Rose could have moved over and made room for Jack, his tragic passing is a heartbreaking part of cinematic history.
My Girl starts out with Veda Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) addressing the camera, then talking directly to her father. Two things are revealed in the opening scene. This 11-year-old girl is a hypochondriac, and her father isn’t paying much attention to her. We soon learn that her mother is deceased, and she lives in a funeral parlor.
Life is complicated for Veda. At one point she declares, “I’m going to Hollywood to live with The Brady Bunch!” One thing that’s stable in her life, however, is her close friendship with Thomas Jay (Macaulay Culkin). Given the trauma Veda has already survived, it’s especially heartbreaking when Thomas Jay dies, yet somehow the movie feels hopeful even with its tragic ending.
The Lovely Bones
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz portray parents whose lives are shattered in The Lovely Bones. This unusual 2009 supernatural drama somehow weaves in a lot of beauty into the story that’s narrated by a young teen who has been brutally attacked and murdered. She can still see her family even after she is gone, and she sees their love for her.
Saoirse Ronan gives a breathtaking performance as the young high school freshman named Susie Salmon who’s still wide-eyed with wonder. Like many young girls, she’s close to her family but a little embarrassed by them. She’s interested in romance and photography. These little details of her life become fascinating within the way the story is set up, and it really tells more of the story of the victims than the evil villain. Tragically, there are many victims, but Susie is the last.
Brokeback Mountain was often called the “gay cowboy movie” when it was released, and it was truly a groundbreaking work of cinematic art. It tells the story of an unbreakable love between two men who knew being gay wasn’t accepted in the world of the American West where they lived.
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist could have seemingly had a happy life if they’d chosen to stay with each other, yet the dangers of this choice are revealed in the ending of the film when Jack is violently murdered for being gay. It’s just human nature to want to truly believe that love can conquer all, so the audience is still rooting for love to win out the whole time.
Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. This isn’t the agonizing ending of Rabbit Hole, but rather the premise that’s established at the start of the film. This is a quiet, deep movie that’s directed by James Cameron, yet quite a departure from the more lavish productions he is best known for directing.
Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Wiest all deserved the critical acclaim they received for their performances in the film. As Becca (Nicole Kidman) tries to cope with the loss of her four-year-old son, she befriends the teen driver who killed him. Their complicated relationship somehow releases her pain, yet the sadness of this ending isn’t in any great reveal. It’s in her slow realization that grief is forever and just the “new normal”. That’s an all-too-real and hard part of reality that’s rarely showcased on film, and it is very moving.
Dancer in the Dark
Bjork’s incredible song “I’ve Seen It All” sets the bittersweet tone of Dancer in the Dark. The song itself seems to be a sort of suicide note, expressing an appreciation of the world while revealing a dark perspective that seems to lack hope for a future. No song could be more perfect for this musical melodrama.
Directed by Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark tells the story of Selma, a long-suffering immigrant factory worker who is losing her eyesight while trying to save enough money to prevent her son from also losing his eyesight. She is betrayed in terrible ways, and she ultimately is given the death penalty. The audience isn’t spared from seeing her heartbreaking last moments when she still finds beauty in the world.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Perhaps this is the more light-hearted of heartbreaking endings, but anybody who has ever been in unrequited love knows that it’s a pain as deep as nearly any other. Don’t worry, though. Along the way, you’re in for a lot of sparkly treats in this movie, including impromptu musical performances and hilarious bits of comedy.
Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) is madly in love with her best friend Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney). However, when she comes to her senses and realizes this, it’s too late. He is getting married to a new girl he recently met named Kimmy (Cameron Diaz). This love triangle twists in many ways until we ultimately see a woman in love who realizes her love is so pure that her biggest wish is for happiness for Michael.
Most kids make some foolish choices when they are just 13 years old. The world still feels brand new, and it’s easy to do things you regret without life experience to help you know better. However, in Atonement, 13-year-old Briony finds that one bad decision she makes derails the lives of the people she loves the most.
She makes a false accusation that lands her sister’s lover in jail and then in a war where he dies. Her sister later dies as an indirect result of her actions, too, and they never got the happiness they deserved. As an author, Briony gave it to them in fiction, and for a while in the movie, the audience think it is true until the cruel truth is revealed.
La La Land
True love conquers all. That’s one theory. Another is that you cannot truly have everything your heart desires. Some dreams come true, while others don’t. It would be impossible for one person to have all their dreams come true. Would it be better to have luck in love with your soulmate or have a much-coveted career as a movie star?
La La Land appears to be a homage to great movie musicals of years’ past, but it doesn’t give the audience the satisfaction of a traditional happy ending. There is a lot of happiness in the ending. Although the two main characters don’t end up together, their wildest career aspirations come true. A poignant scene at the end where they imagine what their life would have been like together will bring tears to anyone who has ever loved deeply and lost that love.
My Life Without Me
Sarah Polley is a creative genius whether she’s in front of the camera as an actress or behind it as a screenwriter and director. In My Life Without Me, Sarah portrays Ann, a young, hard-working janitor who is raising two little girls with her husband. She lives in a trailer on her mother’s property, and life seems to be going by uneventfully.
When Ann is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 23, you don’t see the stereotypical melodramatic devastation that is usually shown on screen when something that maudlin occurs. Instead, Ann accepts the news and makes some selfless and selfish choices for how she wants the rest of her life to play out. The new passions she discovers makes the ending all that much harder to take.
Nobody is going to rush out looking for love after watching Blue Valentine. The stark, dark mood of the movie allows little room for any of the positive aspects of love to shine through. A more fitting title for Blue Valentine would be Depressing-As-Hell Love Turns to Hate. Somehow that doesn’t have as good a ring to it, though.
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling give stirring performances in their roles as a husband and wife who have really come to loathe one another. Since the movie goes back and forth between the early days of their relationship and the terrible way it’s ending, it’s especially painful to see how love can fade when it once burned so bright.
Boys Don’t Cry
Hate and intolerance are perhaps as visible in modern society as they ever were, and that makes Boys Don’t Cry an especially important movie to see now. This 1999 Oscar-winning movie was based on the tragic true story of the life of Brandon Teena, a trans man who was murdered in a grisly hate crime.
Hilary Swank won the Oscar and stardom for her remarkable portrayal of Brandon Teena. Brandon receives death threats when ignorant, prejudiced men learn that he is transgender. In a horrific end to the film, not only is Brandon killed but so is the sweet friend who is trying to hide and protect Brandon.
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green has developed a huge following for his compelling young adult fiction, and The Fault in Our Stars has been called the strongest film adaptation of his work. It tells the story of an ordinary teen girl who finds herself in tragic circumstances, yet she still finds a way to have a great life during the time she has. Like John Green himself, Hazel is a devout vegetarian.
Sixteen-year-old Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is battling thyroid cancer and reluctantly goes to a support group that seems as depressing as it may be helpful. She doesn’t expect to find love there, but romance blossoms for Hazel, adding a whole new dimension to life as she knew it before. When the love of her life Augustus (Ansel Elgort) dies at the end of the film, it’s all the more heartbreaking.
Musical lovers tend to think Baz Luhrmann achieved his masterpiece with the entertaining spectacle that Moulin Rouge! is. Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, the 2001 movie is full of fun entertainment and covers of some of the biggest hit songs of the 20th century. It also concludes on a note of heartbreak.
Moulin Rouge! is truly about the love between Satine, a courtesan, and an English poet named Christian. However, the star-crossed lovers have a story that ends tragically. Behind the glitz and glamour of a spectacular stage production, Satine finds out she is dying, and she keeps it a secret until the tearjerker of an ending.
Revolutionary Road is perhaps the only film that paints a starker picture of married suburban life than Blue Valentine. Starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in their first film together since Titanic, most people were probably not expecting such a grim movie. Sam Mendes had delivered a dark image of suburbia before with American Beauty, but even that had a lighter touch.
Although Revolutionary Road isn’t a barrel of laughs, it is a good drama, and the characters are fascinating. Although you kind of want to hate the simpering, self-centered husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), you really can’t because the actor infuses him with such heart and a pitifulness that makes one feel for him.
Kate Winslet’s character dies after performing an abortion on herself because she won’t have her husband’s baby, and the movie does not end on any kind of hopeful note.
Harold and Maude
Harold and Maude is a cult classic for many good reasons. Maude is a mysterious older woman who enjoys going to funerals despite a very vivacious nature. Harold is a heartbroken teen who seems obsessed with death and staging scenes of his own suicide. Somehow life starts to look a lot less bleak for Harold when he spends time with Maude after they meet at a funeral.
In the last act of the film, Maude commits suicide on her birthday. As Dawson observed in the finale of Dawson’s Creek as his little sister cries her eyes out about the end of Harold and Maude, Harold and Maude is actually a movie about soulmates. In the end, Harold feels less alone in the world because he found Maude. She was his soulmate, and their love gives him the strength to live life in a new way.
A Star is Born
Susan Batson is an acting coach who has worked with many film stars who have won Oscars and other accolades after they started working with her. She worked with Lady Gaga on A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga is known for her over-the-top personality and pop music, but not everyone had faith in her as an actress. However, nobody could deny the power of her performance in A Star is Born when it was released.
Lady Gaga’s powerful performance makes A Star Is Born stand out. So does its gripping story. (After all, this is third remake of the tragic tale of love and loss in the middle of the excitement of stardom and the heady world of show business.) However, nobody was prepared for the gut-wrenching, tragic ending of this film.
Steel Magnolias is truly an ensemble film if ever there was one, and all of its many stars shine brightly in this movie. At its heart, though, is the character Shelby (Julia Roberts). Shelby has type 1 diabetes, and she has a variety of complications from the disease. That doesn’t stop her from living life to the fullest and going for what she wants.
Based on the writer’s real-life tragedy, Herbert Ross wrote the character of Shelby based on his sister who died from complications of type 1 diabetes. Although Shelby is warned by her doctor that she should not have children, she does anyway, and her body ultimately gives out from the strain of her disease. The scene where Sally Field, who portrays Shelby’s mother, expresses her grief is painful to watch but also beautiful.
Perhaps because he started as a sitcom star, Will Smith doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his strength as a dramatic actor. His performance in Seven Pounds is captivating. Smith plays a man who has set out to do good in the world to, in some ways, make up for the bad he did in the past. Who can’t relate to that to some extent?
The protagonist calls 911 to report his own suicide because it is the only way that he has found to help the woman he loves. It is his final act and the last goal he set out to achieve with the seven good deeds he set out to do. The problem is that, by the time you get to the end of the film, you love this character and don’t want to see him meet such a tragic fate even if he chose it.
Susan Sarandon plays devoted mom Jackie who makes it a point to always act in the best interests of her children. Even her strength and goodwill is tested when her ex-husband Luke (Ed Harris) is living with his new love Isabel (Julia Roberts). The kids hate Isabel at first, which gives Jackie some satisfaction.
Unfortunately, Jackie soon realizes that the cancer she’d previously fought has come back, and she keeps it a secret from everyone for as long as she can. She soon realizes that it’s her responsibility to help her children adapt to a world without her in which they will have Isabel as a primary caretaker. Her selfless love for her kids makes it a beautiful but bittersweet movie.
My Sister’s Keeper
Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper is a tale about sisterhood in extraordinary circumstances. It’s also about life and deep issues we all need to consider such as how important quality of life will be at the end of our lives and how much power we should have over when and how we die if we have a disease.
Anna (Abigail Breslin) was brought into the world to save her older sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). Anna’s expected to donate blood, tissue, and even an organ to help her sister battle leukemia. When she stands up to her parents on this issue, audiences think she is standing up for herself, yet we learn the painful truth that she is risking the fiery anger of her mother out of respect for her older sister’s wishes.
Million Dollar Baby
Some people are born into the families that love them, while others find and choose families who will love and accept them when they’re adults. Sometimes the bond between a coach and a special student can be a stronger, more familial bond than the one that exists between blood relatives. That’s what happens in Million Dollar Baby.
Clint Eastwood plays a tough boxing trainer who is reluctant to take on a female boxer named Maggie (Hilary Swank). He ultimately does, and the two form a deep, lasting, and special friendship. The audience sees how important that is to her when her own mother and sister show they don’t care about her at all. When Maggie becomes paralyzed from the neck down and cannot take the misery of her life, it is her coach who helps her commit suicide out of love for her.
A Walk to Remember
Teen dramas sometimes take on some pretty heavy material, and that is the case with A Walk To Remember. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, Mandy Moore portrays Jamie, a misfit teenager who walks to the beat of her own drum. She isn’t popular, and she is hurt when a popular teen boy shows an interest in her but wants to keep the relationship a secret.
When Landon (Shane West) realizes how special Jamie is, the two grow closer. Jamie tries to prevent Landon from falling in love her with her because she harbors a very sad secret. She is dying. He does, of course, fall in love with her, but she dies at the end of the film. She always wanted a miracle, and Jamie’s father reveals at the end of the film that her miracle was Landon and their love.
Alex, The Life of a Child
Gennie James gives the performance of her fabulous career as a child actress in Alex, the Life of a Child. This touching made-for-television filmed surely scarred all the kids of the 1980s whose parents let them watch it. It is based on the true story of Alex Deford, a child who lived in a remarkable way while battling cystic fibrosis.
Alex Deford was only eight years old when she died from cystic fibrosis, and the heartbreaking film shows how she battled with the disease to the end. However, it also captures something very important. It shows how she lived. She was a little girl full of hope and compassion. She was concerned about hurting her parents, and the relationship between Alex and her dad will make you cry multiple times, especially at the end.
Imitation of Life
The 1959 drama Imitation of Life was the second adaptation of the novel by Fannie Hurst. The Oscar-nominated film tells the complex story of love, life, and how choices cannot be taken back once they’re made. Lana Turner plays Lora Meredith, a white woman who dreams up becoming a famous actress. Juanita Moore plays Annie Johnson, a black woman who is working hard to raise her young daughter as a single parent.
The two women become fast friends. Annie’s young daughter has fair skin like her father, and she can pass for white. Annie and her daughter Sarah Jane come to live with Lora. Sarah Jane starts passing herself off as white and denying her connection to her mother. In the tragic ending, Annie dies without her daughter, and Sarah Jane regrets it far too late to reconnect with her mother.
Life as a House
In Life as a House, George Monroe (Kevin Kline) is a man whose life is quickly spiraling out of control. He loses his job, the focus of a career he has built for many years, on the same day that he finds out he has cancer. He finds out quickly that his old priorities have quickly fallen by the wayside, and now he has to decide what to do with the time he has left.
It’s easy for parent-child relationships to get difficult when the “child” reaches their teen years. For George and his son Sam (Hayden Christensen), things are especially tense. Sam does not want to spend the summer with George, but he does so without knowing his dad has cancer. That makes the ending the movie spirals towards that much more heartbreaking.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson delivers a devastating performance as Randie McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Randie is a new patient in a mental institution that’s ruled by the cruel and controlling Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). She takes extreme revenge on patients for the smallest offenses, and viewers can’t help but wonder if she isn’t more disturbed than the patients.
Randie has come to live in the mental institution because he’s faked a mental illness to get out of prison time. He thought it would be easier than the hard labor, but he eventually discovers that his time in the mental ward isn’t fixed like his time in prison would have been. Things get worse from there, and the ending is devastating for Randie and several other key characters.
One note of this movie’s theme song can reduce many people to sobs. While devoted fans of Beaches know the waterworks will flow, they come back to watch it again and again for all the fun and friendship that’s plentiful throughout much of the movie. At its heart, Beaches is about the powerful, pure love between friends.
Mayim Bialik makes her screen debut in the film as a young Bette Midler, and she is unforgettable in the role. The entire cast is strong, so you get very invested in each character. So, it’s an especially harsh punch when Hillary (Barbara Hershey) dies and leaves her young daughter in the care of C.C. (Bette Midler).
It’s My Party
Oh, what could go wrong in a movie with such a happy title? After all, It’s My Party is directed by Randal Kleiser, the man who is best known for directing the cheerful, beloved 1978 musical Grease. Well, this star-studded film is actually about the last party that a man will ever have, but that’s just its first layer.
Like Grease, the movie includes a great performance from Olivia Newton-John. She’s not playing for laughs here, though. It’s My Party is difficult to watch because the tragic ending. Based on the true story of a farewell party held by Kleiser’s ex-lover, the movie follows a two-day party Nick Stark is having. The catch: he plans to kill himself at the end of the party because he has a disease that will otherwise take over his life.
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