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Seemingly Happy Movie Endings With Unhappy Consequences

Updated January 4, 2021 9.2k votes 1.9k voters 101.5k views15 items

List RulesVote up the "happy endings" that aren't really so happy after all.

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment who spends your days watching joyless films like Martyrs or Dancer in the Dark, you like your movies to have happy endings. A lot of successful films end on a positive note - even dark movies - to send the audience out of the theater smiling; however, just because your favorite movies have happy endings doesn’t mean they lack unsettling consequences. 

The unspoken consequences of seemingly happy movies are obvious once you think about them. Most Steven Spielberg plots would thrust their main characters into some much-needed therapy, and even action films that close with the main character overcoming adversity don’t deal with the collateral damage and reams of paper work to be dealt with by some hapless, beaurocratic pencil-pusher. Worst of all, romantic comedies surely lead to acrimonious breakups by the very couple that charmed you.

Life is quicksand, dragging us all down to a pit of despair, and even movies with happy endings can’t do anything about it. 

  • Something's Gotta Give tells the "opposites attract" tale of Erica Barry and Harry Sanborn. She's a divorced writer with two adult children, and he's a 60-something music mogul who specializes in dating women in their 20s - the two are clearly a match made in heaven. 

    By the end of the film, Harry has given up his rakish ways and apologized to the women he's hurt, and Erica has entered a serious relationship with hunky, sweet doctor Julian Mercer. When Harry arrives in Paris to confess his love to Erica, she immediately drops her relationship with Julian to pair up with him - an inadvisable decision to say the least. Just because Harry has gone on a six-month self-improvement kick doesn't mean that he's permanently changed for the better. 

    After the credits roll, Erica more than likely has serious buyer's remorse about her relationship. 

      Is this actually an unhappy ending?
    • As far as happy endings go, The Dark Knight Rises is happy-ish at best. The film ends with Batman diverting an atomic device away from Gotham and detonating it, saving the city at the apparent expense of his own life. Despite the thematic value of his heroics, his efforts were most likely in vain - the blast was probably still close enough to Gotham to cause adverse effects. 

      Additionally, when Alfred sees Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in France, his mind is likely manifesting the two out of thin air, unable to cope with his own grief. Since Bruce is one of the wealthiest people in the world, the chances of him appearing in public without a disguise are slim. Even slimmer are the chances that he survived the blast in the first place. 

        Is this actually an unhappy ending?
      • At the end of Pixar's Monsters, Inc., Sully and Mike discover that laughter provides 10 times the amount of power that screams do, which is great for kids but less so for the monster world. Not only does that mean the company won't need as many monsters, which will inevitably cause massive layoffs, but many hard-earned degrees from Monsters University will be rendered absolutely useless. 

        This is one of those endings where it looks like things are better for everyone, but when you think about it, how many funny monsters are out there? It's not like the Draculas and Wolfmen of the world are taking standup classes. Many of the monsters from the film are likely to end up working menial jobs and barely scraping by. 

          Is this actually an unhappy ending?
        • Depending on which version of Blade Runner you've seen, the end of the film sees Rick Deckard, a detective, and Rachael, a replicant, driving off into the country side to fall in love - and as pleasant as that may sound, in reality, it doesn't bode well for the characters. 

          Multiple characters in the film explicitly state that repilicants don't live for very long, so whatever life these two are driving off to is truncated at best. The worst part? Both Deckard and Rachael are aware of this fact. 

            Is this actually an unhappy ending?