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.
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 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.
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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.
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At the end of Dirty Dancing, everyone is mad at each other. Baby's father thinks Johnny got one of the girls pregnant, and everyone at the camp thinks Johnny has been stealing from the guests. But things are settled when Johnny and Baby dance like they've never danced before to the anachronistic "I've Had The Time Of My Life."
It's all very heartwarming, but what happens immediately after the credits roll? At best, Baby's father can talk to the staff of the summer camp and get Johnny his job back, but would he even want to? This is guy who spent the summer hooking up with his daughter while giving her "dance lessons."
And what's going to happen to Baby and Johnny? Presumably, they'll never make it work. Baby's a teenager and Johnny seems to be a full adult. If they do try to stick it out, will she live with him in his abandoned dance studio? Or is he going to move to Mount Holyoke to try and keep up with his gal? No matter how you look at it, this relationship is doomed.
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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.
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