film The Best Movies Where The Main Characters Don't Live Happily Ever After  

Alexandra Plesa
47 votes 15 voters 14 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the greatest movies where the main couple splits up.

Great movies about couples that break up are rare treats. After all, few viewers are willing to invest two hours rooting for a fictional relationship and then be disappointed when the two main characters can’t work things out. Accordingly, happy endings in romantic comedies are pretty much guaranteed. The couple falls in love, overcomes some sort of obstacle, and eventually walks off into the sunset.  

It can be incredibly refreshing, then, to stumble upon a movie that does not completely follow the normal formula. Indeed, realistic love stories are rare but welcome; they teach great lessons. You even learn something about your own relationships if you watch. Maybe happily-ever-afters aren't so important after all.


La La Land

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Given Sebastian and Mia’s amazing chemistry and the general upbeat tone of the movie, viewers expect a happy ending. Surprisingly, however, La La Land decides to let each character follow their respective dreams. Sebastian and Mia find success in their chosen fields, but the relationship suffers. It’s like Hollywood finally understands that, sometimes, you just can’t have it all.   

Actors: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

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One of the most beloved American films of all time, Casablanca ends with the two star-crossed lovers parting ways. And while it may not be the happiest of conclusions, it makes a lot of sense. Ilsa and Rick have great chemistry, but they can't make things work in the long run. As Rick points out, she would eventually regret choosing him over her husband. Rick lets Ilsa go for the greater good. It's sad but incredibly poignant. 

Actors: Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, + more

Initial Release: 1942

Directed by: Michael Curtiz

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#7 on The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies

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In Edward Scissorhands, a gentle man with scissor hands is brought into a new community after living in isolation. Of course, he falls for a lovely girl. Even better, the girl looks past his disability and cares for him. And yet, their sweet romance must end. After a series of unfortunate events, they realize they can’t make it work and call it quits. Because let’s be real, dating a man with scissors instead of hands is incredibly impractical.

Actors: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Vincent Price, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Arkin, + more

Initial Release: 1990

Directed by: Tim Burton

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(500) Days of Summer is a funny, refreshing, and honest portrayal of a doomed relationship. The narrator says: 

“This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.” 

And yet, when viewers meet the two protagonists, it's hard not to root for them. Unfortunately, a similar taste in music isn’t a solid foundation for a long-lasting relationship, especially when one member of the couple isn’t really keen on falling in love at the moment. This happens all the time in real life.

Actors: Zooey Deschanel, Minka Kelly, Chloë Grace Moretz, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Gray Gubler, + more

Initial Release: 2009

Directed by: Marc Webb

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