The ending of a film is meant to tie things up into a neat little package. But when you look at the “life affirming” and “happy” endings of most major motion pictures, you start to realize that there are a lot of sad endings to happy movies. Many misunderstood movies are childhood favorites that revolve around a young person going through tough times and coming out the other end changed for the better. When that involves body switching, animal cruelty, and violent fantasy adventures, though, it's clear that even beloved classics secretly depressing conclusions.
That's not to say movies can't have bleak endings. Horror movies are built on shocking endings, and some of the best thrillers have big twists. But what about so-called upbeat movie endings you didn't realize are super dark? Which seemingly cheery date night movies are actually depressing? Those can really blindside you if you're just trying to enjoy some popcorn and couch time.
It's sad, but most of the characters in your favorite films are left with unspeakable trauma buzzing in the back of their heads. When you watch a film in that context it makes for some very depressing movie endings.
This epic tale ends as it begins: with a symbolic feather symbolically floating on invisible currents, much as Forrest himself has bobbed, twirled, and run through life, almost entirely without agency to decide his fate. It's been quite a ride, and the hero is now the father of adorable little boy. Given that the film strongly implies that Forrest Jr.'s mother died from AIDS, there's a decent chance the kid was born HIV-positive.
Setting aside that kind of speculation, though, Forrest still lost the love of his life and little Forrest Jr. lost his mother, leaving him in the care of a good-hearted and kind man who nonetheless presents issues as a parent. He is, after all, a feather on the breeze.
The crowdpleaser Big ends with Josh Baskin back to his natural state as a 12-year-old boy, ready to return to freewheeling days of pining after girls, messing around with his sidekick, and waiting in line for carnival rides he's not quite tall enough to ride. The autumn leaves all over the suburban street in the closing shots suggest some bittersweetness to the resolution of Josh's' time as a 30-year-old Tom Hanks, sure, but those leaves only hint at the damage Josh has done.
Susan Lawrence, the go-go '80s businesswoman Josh romanced, has to live with the fact that, yes, she slept with a 12-year-old, the same 12-year-old with whom she had the most fulfilling romantic relationship of her life, and who may have also damaged her career by abandoning an important meeting on a huge project. As if the quiet horror of her relationship weren't already enough, she actually watches as her boyfriend transforms into a child. Josh's experience pales in comparison, but just imagine the years of therapy ahead of him after peaking as a pre-teen.
For horror movies, the hero simply surviving qualifies as a happy ending. Generally. John Carpenter upends that notion with the conclusion of The Thing, though, as the two survivors are still stranded in Antarctica with food, shelter, supplies, or hope of rescue.
That's already not ideal, but considering that one of them is almost certainly host to a malevolent shape-shifting alien, it's downright grim.
Throughout the Kill Bill movies, Beatrix crisscrosses the world to get revenge on her old gang, who stole her baby and left her behind. The finale of Vol. 2 is an almost anti-climactic showdown between Beatrix and Bill: she uses the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique to fulfill the title, and whisks B.B. off to a new life.
While the audience may see this as a win over the biggest of big bads, B.B. has just been robbed of the only parent she ever knew and taken away from her home. There's no way she's not going to have huge questions or lingering trauma after meeting her mother this way.