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The Saddest Movies In Which No One Actually Dies

Updated February 10, 2020 2.2k votes 470 voters 10.4k views18 items

List RulesVote up the non-tragic movies that still make you cry.

There are moments during In the Mood for Love when you're convinced the platonic friends who are clearly in love with each other are finally going to succumb to their passion, instead of just acting out their spouses' affairs. But they never do, and that's why the Hong Kong classic is one of the saddest movies ever made, especially among those in which no one actually perishes.

Some of these films feature heart-wrenching goodbyes, others center on true love that just isn't enough to conquer all, and others are about the painful realization that not all dreams come true. We've been so conditioned by films filled with happy endings that when they don't happen, it makes them especially painful.

Vote up the sad films that made you cry the most. Was it Katie and Hubbell's final encounter in The Way We Were? Was it when E.T. said goodbye to Elliot on his way back home? Did one of these other tear-jerkers pull at your heartstrings? Check out all the sad films which, despite everyone surviving, are still devastating to watch.

  • Based on the novel of the same name, Darren Aronofsky's sophomore effort Requiem for a Dream is a story of dependency that takes on a particularly profound sadness. For the young trio at the center of it - lovers Harry (Jared Leto) and Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and their friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) - their substance of choice is heroin. They're young, attractive, aimless, and - seemingly, at least when they've got their fix - happy.

    As for Harry's lonely mother, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), she finds her own possible path to happiness - here defined as "being on TV" - when she's invited to be considered as a contestant for the very game show that's always blaring through her living room. Hoping to look camera-ready, she starts on diet pills, a choice that quickly spiral into a teeth-grinding, hallucination-generating dependency.

    Requiem is unforgiving and unrelenting; Aronofsky's visual and editing style reflects the experience of the characters' substance use. It's horrifying to watch each character, scene after scene, dig their way to the bottom. There is no redemption, nor happy endings. They may live to the end, but these four souls are entirely fractured, sent to hell by the time the end credits roll.

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  • Steven Spielberg opted to film E.T. in chronological order because he wanted the kids at the end of the movie to actually be sad that the experience was going to end. Young Elliott (Henry Thomas) has such an incredible bond with the alien hiding out in his house that when E.T. has a couple of beers, Elliott feels drunk. When E.T. falls sick, Elliott also gets sick.

    Elliott, his sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) have to get their friend home, where he belongs. He will perish if he stays on Earth. We know that, yet when the spaceship is about to take him away, the farewell is nearly unbearable. Elliott and E.T. embrace one last time, and E.T. assures him, "I'll be right here," the glowing tip of his finger pointing affectionately at Elliott's head. It's one of the most heart-wrenching goodbyes in film history.

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  • Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) could not be more different, but they fall in love anyway. Their breakup is so horribly painful that Clementine opts to have her memory of Joel entirely erased. When Joel finds out, he decides to do the same. In the middle of the procedure, however, he changes his mind. Joel decides he wants to keep their memories despite the pain they bring, but by that point it's too late.

    With their memories of each other - their entire relationship, every moment they shared together - wiped out, Joel and Clementine are left as strangers none the wiser. And yet, remnants of the connection they shared remain, unbeknownst to them. And so, as if by fate, they meet again. They discover, to their surprise, that they used to be in love - the details of the procedure, and of their relationship, sent to them by a disgruntled employee of the company responsible for the memory-wipe.

    They know how badly it ended... and yet, pulled toward each other by mysterious fragments of memory they can't perceive nor understand, they consider ignoring the facts and getting "back" together. The eternal optimist may believe the two will make it, but for everyone else, their relationship seems destined to result in more heartbreak.

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  • Some love stories don't have happy endings. In Blue Valentine, the spectator sees alternating timelines in Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy's (Michelle Williams) relationship. We see their courtship and love story, the laughs and affection. We also see, years afterward, the fighting - so raw it's almost too real, too hard to watch at times. Dean and Cindy can both fight dirty; they seemingly want to hurt the other.

    Dean struggles with alcohol, which only exacerbates the situation. They try to stay together for their daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka), and there is still love between them. However, the pairing is too tumultuous, no matter how much we want to root for their partnership - having seen it in its beautiful early optimism.

    Even before the searing image of Frankie crying in her mother's arms after tearfully running after her father, begging him not to leave, the film has already left quite a mark. What strikes at the heart of the film's effect is its perpetual juxtaposition of the relationship's rapturous beginning and its devastating end - on one end, an entire bright future ahead of Dean and Cindy; on the other end, their best days long behind them, replaced by shattered hopes.

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