The Saddest Movie Breakup Scenes, Ranked
Sad breakup movies, while difficult to watch, are more than a little cathartic. Unlike romcoms that tie everything up in a neat and tidy bow, breakup movies have a talent for accurately depicting the sometimes nasty ups and downs of relationships. Happily ever after isn't in the cards for every couple. Even if it is, the best romances usually face a few obstacles before couples find their way back to one another.
Breakup scenes tug at your heartstrings, especially if you're invested in the fictional separating couple. At times, the scenes feel too close to real life to watch without shedding a tear. Other times, the circumstances that led to the couple's split feel entirely unimportant next to the power of their love. Still, there are some movie breakups that may have been necessary. It's like a car crash - you can't look away, even though you know the two people are better off alone.
Whatever the case may be, the saddest movie breakups always manage to stick with you.
- 196 VOTESPhoto: New Line Cinema
Although The Notebook ultimately ends in a happily ever after, it takes quite the tear-filled path to get there. While Noah and Allie have plenty of heartbreaking ups and downs during the course of the film, nothing is quite as sad as their first breakup scene. While the couple has spent a magical summer together, Noah is starting to catch on to the fact that this might not be a forever thing. He tries to be realistic and tells Allie that they should finish out the summer and figure out what to do after that.
Allie doesn't take the news well. She freaks out and starts an argument, telling Noah that if he wants to break up with her, he should just do it right now. While the entire scene is entrenched in emotion, the difficult feelings of hurt quickly turn into anger. Allie doesn't react the way Noah thought she would, but her heartbreak at potentially losing someone she loves is very apparent. She doesn't know what to do, which is made more obvious by the fact that she tells Noah to leave and then immediately panics and looks for reassurance that they're not really breaking up.
The feeling Allie emotes is almost too real and too genuine. She's desperate to hold on to someone she loves, even when she knows it has little chance of working out. Her anger, frustration, and sadness make the scene incredibly difficult to watch.
- Actors: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling
- Released: 2004
- Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
In Cruel Intentions, Sebastian decides to seduce pure Annette after making a bet with his stepsister, Kathryn. Although their flirtation begins with malintent, Sebastian starts to truly fall for Annette. Although Annette knows about his reputation as a playboy, she falls for him as well. Their relationship should end in a happily ever after, but Kathryn steps in and causes trouble.
After learning that Annette consummated her relationship with Sebastian, Kathryn offers herself to Sebastian, holding up her side of the deal. Sebastian refuses her, as he now only wants Annette. Kathryn doesn't appreciate his rejection and tells him that she'll ruin Annette's "good girl" reputation if Sebastian doesn't break up with her.
Sebastian agrees, and he goes to find a happy Annette. Without any emotion, Sebastian tells her that their relationship isn't working out anymore. He coldly tells her that he never really loved her and that he simply wanted to see what she was like in bed. Throughout the entire conversation, Annette can tell that he's lying. Both Sebastian and Annette know that the breakup isn't right, but there's nothing either of them will do to stop it. The result is a tear-inducing scene that feels wrong from beginning to end.
- Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe
- Released: 1999
- Directed by: Roger Kumble
- Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
In Call Me By Your Name, Elio and Oliver are two young Jewish men struggling between the expectations of their community and their feelings for one another. They engage in a passionate romance, but their affair is short-lived. Oliver is set to return to the States after a summer spent in Italy with Elio. The two spend three romantic days alone together before Oliver's train departs.
At the train station, the two share a long, close hug. When Oliver tries to pull away, Elio holds him closer. When they finally part, both men are visibly upset, but they say nothing. They know that their relationship can't go anywhere and that Oliver must return home. Their circumstances are too much for them to overcome, and words won't change anything. Oliver gets on the train, leaving a distraught Elio behind.
Without any words, Elio and Oliver both communicate a heartbreaking depth of emotion. It's a breakup entirely based on circumstance rather than anything truly wrong with their relationship, which makes the entire situation painfully unfair.
- Actors: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet
- Released: 2017
- Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
- 442 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
Rick Blaine is an American living in Casablanca, where he owns and operates a successful nightclub. One day, however, his life is turned on its head when former lover Ilsa Lund walks into his bar. Ilsa is accompanied by her husband, Victor Laszlo, a Czech Resistance leader. The pair desperately need papers that allow them to travel freely around Germany and Portugal, and Rick is rumored to have them.
Rick and Isla met early in WWII when Ilsa believed that her husband died in a concentration camp. When she learned that Victor was still alive, she abandoned Rick without an explanation and returned to Victor. While asking Rick for the papers, Ilsa confesses that she still loves him. Rick agrees to help Victor, and Ilsa states that she'll stay with Rick when Victor leaves.
Rick coordinates an escape for Victor and, at the last minute, tells Ilsa she must go with him. He explains that Ilsa would eventually regret leaving her husband, and he doesn't want to put that kind of pressure on her. Although it's difficult for Rick to give up the love of his life, he chooses to do the best thing for Ilsa. His assured decision leaves no room for argument, which makes the pain of their breakup all the more acute.
- Actors: Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart
- Released: 1942
- Directed by: Michael Curtiz
- 524 VOTESPhoto: Columbia Pictures
Closer follows the rise and fall of Dan and Alice's relationship. Although the pair are supposedly in love, Dan meets a woman named Anna and almost immediately tries to cheat on Alice. Anna resists him for a while, but she eventually gives in to his seduction. The pair sleep together for a year while they're both in other relationships. After the affair carries on so long, Anna and Dan each confesses to their partners that they're in love with someone else.
The ensuing conversation between Alice and Dan is heartbreaking. Without any prelude, Dan admits everything to Alice, who can hardly bear the pain. She packs up her things and starts to leave, all the while asking questions about Dan's affair. The longer they talk, the more distraught Alice becomes. Like most instances of cheating, Alice simply can't understand why someone she loves would do this to her.
Eventually, Alice just dissolves into tears and asks Dan to hold her. The moment perfectly captures the dichotomy between being incredibly angry at someone, but still wanting to turn to them for support. The scene feels desperate and sad at the same time, which is so often how breakups seem to go.
- Actors: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Nick Hobbs
- Released: 2004
- Directed by: Mike Nichols
- 670 VOTESPhoto: Lionsgate
La La Land follows two struggling artists trying to make it big in Los Angeles. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actor, while Sebastian Wilder is a serious jazz musician. The two meet and fall in love, but their careers interfere in their relationship. Since Sebastian is struggling to get his music off the ground, he joins a new band with an old friend. The music, however, has a distinct pop feel that loses some of the magic Sebastian relishes in jazz. Despite not being the music Sebastian wants to perform, the band grows in popularity quickly and soon takes over Sebastian's life.
Mia, on the other hand, is still struggling to make her dream a reality. With Sebastian's prodding, she writes and stars in a one-woman play. On the night of her performance, however, Sebastian doesn't show up because he's at a photo shoot for his band.
When Sebastian finally does arrive at the theater, Mia is completely done. The band was already a sore point in their relationship, and this last mistake, coupled with her unsuccessful play, is the last straw for Mia. Sebastian is desperate for Mia to forgive him, but it's too late. Her complete despair at the state of her life and relationship is painfully apparent.
The first breakup scene is punctuated by a later conversation between the couple after Sebastian picks Mia up and drives her to an important audition. Although the couple clearly loves each other and supports one another's dreams, they also recognize that their aspirations are no longer leading them along the same path. They choose to pursue their careers, ending their relationship in the process. It's a realistic and difficult decision, which makes their breakup scene truly heartbreaking.
- Actors: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
- Released: 2016
- Directed by: Damien Chazelle