Don’t we all just love Hollywood endings? The good guy beats the bad guy, a passionate kiss is had against the backdrop of a perfect sunset, the money shows up right before the deadline, and the store is saved from foreclosure. These are wonderful fantasies to help moviegoers escape their woes for a pleasant two hours, spreading good feelings of hope and triumph. Too bad that the movies below don’t exactly turn out that way!
Sometimes, storytellers just can’t help torturing their characters into despair, insanity, and death, leaving the audience with dark contemplations instead of catharsis. But hey, that’s okay! Real life doesn’t always give us those Luke-blows-up-the-Death-Star moments – many of the greatest movies ever made don’t have satisfying endings. Still, there are some movies with endings so dismal, we might wish we never saw them in the first place.
Here are 20 Insanely Bleak Movie Endings That Will Haunt You For Life.
20. Requiem for a Dream
Surprise – a Darren Aronofsky film based on a brutal Hubert Selby, Jr. book about hopeless drug addicts isn’t exactly a feel-good movie.
Requiem for a Dream follows four people on a quest for their dreams: one woman wants to be on TV so bad, she gets hooked to “diet pills” that are actually amphetamines; another wants to start a design business, but she’s also hooked on drugs; and the two men in the films are trying to become big time street dealers. The audience follows their many disappointing failures along the way, and guess what? Nobody gets what they want in the end.
One guy ends up in jail, another loses his arm from shooting up too much, one gal feeds her habit by trading sex for heroin, and the pill popper gets electroshock therapy after falling into amphetamine psychosis. Oh, but she also dreams she wins a prize on her favorite TV show. So she’s got that going for her. At least until she wakes up.
19. Brokeback Mountain
Ah, forbidden love. When two cowboys in 1963 hook up one night, it’s obvious they are in for lots of trouble. And it does come.
Winning three Oscars, including for director Ang Lee and the screenplay, Brokeback Mountain follows 20 years of unhappiness as the two men – played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger – get married to women, have kids, stay macho, and keep up a romance that they can’t totally fulfill. All this ends up ruining their lives and the lives of everybody around them until one of them dies.
18. The Wrestler
We all have regrets in life, if we live long enough. Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler is full of them.
A washed-up player in a low-rent circuit version of the WWE, the eponymous wrestler is getting old, out of a job, and nobody in the world loves him, except for an ever-shrinking fanbase. Not only that, his body is starting to give out after all of the years of physical abuse, cheap sex, and insane drug use. He’s reduced to taking a job at a deli counter and his daughter won’t talk to him.
Little by little, things get better. He finds a woman who may actually care for him. A window opens for a better relationship with his kid. And there’s a resurgence of interest in him as a pro wrestler. But as his body gives out, it ends up being too little, too late.
The final scene sees Rourke jump into the ring one last time, fully understanding that his heart will give out on him. We don’t see it happen on screen, but it’s pretty obvious, he dies right there on the mat.
17. Children of Men
The relentless Children of Men, starring Clive Owen, takes place in a dystopian future England, where everybody is sterile – meaning nobody can have a baby, and everybody is trying to kill everybody else. In the middle of it all, Owen’s character lays his life on the line to escort the last pregnant lady on earth to safety, away from some super evil people, and (presumably) to safety.
Traversing intense and brilliantly choreographed scenes of mob attacks, daring escapes and all-out war, we get to see our hero succeed in delivering his charge to some good guys – we think. We hope.
The fact is, the purposefully foggy last scene leaves it unclear if the new Mother of All Humankind is in fact being delivered to well-meaning folks. Oh, and Clive caught a bullet in the last scene. He’s bleeding out in a dinky boat floating on a dark sea. Cheers, mate.
16. Never Let Me Go
Why is it that alternative timeline dystopian love stories can’t ever pick up your mood? In this very strange tale of a world where people can live to be very old, a group of young friends slowly come to a horrible realization: they are actually clones who were grown in a lab for the sole purpose of providing organ donations to their “originals.”
For a while, there’s a little bit of hope that proving they have souls through art will save the clones from their fate. But that all turns out to be nothing more than an experiment. One thing’s for sure: the folks running this world are themselves soulless creeps.
Never Let Me Go ends with our protagonists either being harvested on an operating table for their organs, or waiting in line to be.
15. Life is Beautiful
Okay, the premise of this Oscar-winning film is really crazy. Basically, Italian comedian Roberto Benigni is a Jewish dad in WWII Italy who tries to convince his son that their detention in a Nazi concentration camp is actually a huge game with a great big prize at the end.
He sets up a system where good behavior and not complaining adds up to points and the winner gets a tank as a reward. Well, after several stunts engineered to maintain this illusion for his kid, Benigni’s character is executed by the Nazis just before the camp is liberated by the Allies. And when they good guys roll a tank in, the kid devastatingly yells “We won!”
14. I Saw the Devil
The worst monsters in the world might just be human. In this insane action-thriller by Korean director Kim Jee-won, a secret service agent’s fiancé is brutally murdered and cut to pieces. And that’s just the first act.
The rest of the movie has the agent obsessed with revenge, tracking down the maniac killer, and becoming more and more depraved himself as he goes along. Besides hellish scenes of torture and death, we get to watch the agent lose his soul in slow-motion, becoming as much of a monster as the man he pursues. When he does catch up with him, he kills him in such a messed up way, that the act drives him completely out of his mind.
13. The Deer Hunter
It’s never good when you’re watching a Vietnam movie. You just know something very, very awful is going to happen. At least, you figure, it’ll happen on the battlefield with honor. Not this time.
In The Deer Hunter, Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken play two old buddies who find each other imprisoned in the same camp by the enemy, being tortured, of course. In a crazy escape plan, the friends convince their captors to let them play a game of Russian Roulette with each other for their guards’ amusement. They survive the game, kill the enemy, and make it out of captivity. But years later, back home, the war has changed them both.
As they struggle with their trauma, Walken’s character goes nuts and starts playing Russian Roulette in illegal gambling clubs. DeNiro catches up to stop him – right when that one last fatal bullet finds its way into the chamber, and Walken’s head. There’s a funeral after. Movie over. Have a nice day.
12. Ex Machina
For the record, any true sci-fi fan who hasn’t figured out by now that all robots, androids and Cylons should be treated very respectfully has failed in a major way. Be nice to our electronic friends or they will put you in a world of hurt.
In Ex Machina, a billionaire genius has built “the perfect woman” out in his very secluded, very high-tech, high-security lab. He invites a lowly worker to the facility to introduce him to the humanoid AI woman known as Eva. Of course, a twisted psychological game ensues as Eva’s creator uses the worker to try to evoke genuine intelligence from the artificial lady.
In the end, Eva outsmarts everybody, kills the billionaire, and escapes, leaving the worker trapped behind a security door, where he will slowly starve to death, even though he tried to help her. She leaves on a helicopter, free in the world, probably on her way to an awesome job at Google and world domination.
11. The Hateful 8
This Reconstruction Era cowboys-stuck-in-a-room-during-a-blizzard movie pits a silent conspiracy of bandits against some very skilled and well-armed lawmen who are transporting a murderous lady to a date with the executioner.
Some people in the room are bad guys trying to free her. The rest are good guys who don’t know what’s coming. Gunplay ensues. Much blood is spilled.
In the end, the only players left are two on the lawmen – played by Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins – and the bad gal, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Full of bullets, moments from death, the two men spend their last bit of life tying a noose around Leigh’s neck and hanging her till she is dead, laughing all the way to the bitter end.
10. Apocalypse Now
And speaking of Vietnam, how about Francis Ford Coppola makes that war even worse by rolling the grim Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness into the narrative?
Classic war flick Apocalypse Now stars Martin Sheen as a secret agent sent by the army to hunt down and kill Col. Kurtz, a rogue officer played by Marlon Brando, who has gone insane and created a hell on earth with his violent cult in the Cambodian jungles.
Besides all the horrors of war Sheen and his doomed soldiers are forced to deal with along the way, Kurtz’s compound turns out to be a Disneyland for the devil, complete with murder, torture, dead bodies, and you name it. Sheen eventually carries out his mission and whacks Brando. Justice served, right? Nah.
Sheen becomes the new leader of Kurtz’s fanatical tribe and makes his first act to call in an airstrike of the camp, killing everybody in it. And then he boats away deeper into the jungle. Maybe in the sequel we can get crazy Charlie Sheen to run the show?
If you’re terrified of the notion of being buried alive, this isn’t the movie for you. Everybody from Edgar Allen Poe to Kill Bill has taken on this gruesome circumstance, but in Buried, it gets more personal and bleak than usual.
Ryan Reynolds plays a driver in the Iraq War. He gets kidnapped by the enemy, and buried in a coffin until a ransom demand is met. In the meantime, he calls for help on his cellphone, only to be told America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.
Many more awful calls happen where he’s begging for help, tries to console his wife and at one point, he even films a video last will & testament. Some bombs above break the coffin and sand starts to pour in. As time starts running out for our protagonist, he gets a call that a rescue is on the way. Except his would-be saviors end up digging another coffin.
8. Million Dollar Baby
If you think The Wrestler had it bad, check out what happens to the boxer in Million Dollar Baby. Hillary Swank plays an aspiring pugilist, reluctantly trained by a scraggly old coach played by Clint Eastwood. Together they struggle to advance her career, overcoming hurdles and taking big risks. And it’s all paying off – until an illegal punch in the ring leads to a fall that leaves her a paraplegic.
Now the athlete can’t even get out of bed. She develops bedsores, has a limb amputated, and her family tries to swindle her out of money. In the end, she asks Eastwood’s character to help her commit suicide as she has no reason to live anymore. And he does.
7. Love Story
Love is a many-splendored thing. But in this classic ’70s movie, it ain’t a thing that gets to last too long, no matter how much each person longs for the other.
Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw star in Love Story as ill-fated lovers who meet in college. The audience follows their budding romance as it faces many hurdles, especially from McGraw’s rich dad who threatens to cut off his daughter if she marries the much poorer O’Neill. But they power through, O’Neill eventually graduating from law school and able to afford a decent life for the happy couple. But then – boom – McGraw’s character gets diagnosed with a terminal disease.
The rest of the movie is all about them trying to spend as much time together as they can. Then she dies. And he wanders through life alone. Then the audience goes home, picking popcorn out of their teeth through a river of tears.
6. Bicycle Thieves
This Italian classic is a must-watch in most film schools and for anybody who truly loves great cinema.
Bicycle Thieves is set in a poverty-stricken town right after WWII. A dad struggling to find work gets a low-paying gig posting advertising bills up around town. Thing is – he needs a bicycle for the job. Of course, the family has no money, so his wife sells some precious items to buy the bike. And guess what? The bike gets stolen. Well, there goes the only job in town for our struggling father.
He spends the rest of the movie with his young son trying to locate the bicycle, and even has the opportunity to confront the thief – but he has no chance of getting past the lowlife’s friends. In the end, he is reduced to stealing a bike himself. He’s caught, of course, and an angry mob accuses him of stealing every bike in town!
He avoids arrest, but the last shot isn’t too promising, just a despondent dad and helpless son disappearing into a great big crowd. The audience should not expect things to pick up for them after the credits roll.
If you’ve ever read Shakespeare tragedies, then you know this isn’t going to end well. Based on the bard’s King Lear, Akira Kurosawa’s epic samurai spectacle Ran is filled with betrayal, treachery, and lots and lots of fire. And arrows. And arrows on fire.
In fact, the filmmakers built a life-sized Japanese imperial temple set and burned the whole thing down to the ground for this movie. Luckily, the director remembered to yell “action!” once the fire started.
As with Lear, the story is about an old king who leaves his realm to two heirs who kiss his butt while writing off the one son who actually cares about him. Banished by his turncoat children as soon as they acquire power, the once-royal figure becomes homeless, hanging out with one last loyal vassal and a court jester who busts his chops.
Finally, the one good son comes to save his pops from destitution. Reunited and reconciled, hope rises for a moment – until a single gunshot kills the young man, leaving the former king in complete madness. Sayonara, happiness.
4. Time Bandits
If you’ve ever wondered what you’re supposed to do when a half dozen dwarfs materialize in your room being chased by god for stealing a treasure map, Time Bandits can be a helpful guide. The fantasy film by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame is an era-hopping adventure that goes from modern times to Ancient Greece, Olde England, and even the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
The protagonist is a boy named Kevin, a 12-year old kid caught up with a band of thieves being pursued not only by the almighty creator, but also the devil. None of this is his fault, of course. Being a totally fun movie, it’s easy to forget that Kevin didn’t ask for this ride. And in the end, when he finally gets back home, his house is burned down and his parents explode after touching a block of “pure evil,” leaving him alone in the world.
The title of this feature film from very early in Mel Gibson’s career is a dead giveaway to any student of World War I. Gallipoli is the name of a peninsula in Turkey where the Allies suffered terrible losses in a failed and bloody attempt to invade the enemy’s home turf. There’s no way this will end well.
Gibson plays a champion sprinter in Australia who becomes good friends with a competitor who actually beats him in a key race. They enlist to fight the war together and end up participating in the doomed battle. Gibson’s role is to be a foot messenger in the front lines for when radios fail.
At the end of the movie, command decides the battle plan is a really bad idea. Gibson’s one job is to run as fast as he can to the trenches and stop the ill-conceived attack from happening. Unfortunately, he shows up a second too late, his buddy goes over the wire and gets killed along with the whole platoon. He screams in despair. And the audience races home to cry in their pillows.
2. Crimes and Misdemeanors
When somebody says, “You got away with murder,” it’s usually a good thing, right? You beat the odds, you avoided consequences, and didn’t even have to pay a fine. But if you really think about it, if somebody actually gets away with murder, that totally sucks. And in Crimes and Misdemeanors, that’s exactly what happens.
Martin Landau plays a rich doctor who is embezzling from a fund he overseas and is cheating on his wife with a younger woman. When she threatens to out their relationship to his wife and report his financial misdeeds, he has her killed.
The rest of the movie has Landau struggling with the moral implications of what he did. But in the end, he figures, hey, he got away with it. He still has his family, his money and his reputation. And he doesn’t feel bad about it.
1. The Seventh Seal
How’s this for an elevator pitch: a doomed knight plays a game of chess against Death during the Black Plague? Studio green-light? Guaranteed box office gold? No? Well, that’s exactly what the premise of this classic art house classic film. And guess what happens when you play a game of chess with death? You lose, of course!
Let’s face it – in some ways, The Seventh Seal is pretty much the original Swedish version of the Final Destination series. Prepare to spend a whole movie watching a lot of terrible human misery, including witch burning, abuse, disease, theft, murder… well, you get the idea.
And while we all hate spoilers – wait for it – Death wins in the end. Everybody dies. The knight and all his friends. Well, okay there’s a young couple who get by with just a thunderstorm. But everybody else dies and dances into the darkness of oblivion. Good night, folks!
What movie’s ending continues to haunt you? Share your pain in the comments!
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