There's nothing quite like a good, wholesome family movie to help you unwind after a long day. Luckily, Hollywood cranks out an endless stream of films designed to fill audience's hearts and CEO's wallets. With so many movies coming out, its easy for film executives to miss the occasional understated plot point, which results in a ton of classic movies that are full of tragedy, even though they're marketed as family-friendly.
Even if you're a certified film buff, there are still probably a few films you never realized are super sad. On the surface, these movies often appear pleasantly light-hearted, but a closer look proves that they're chock-full of murder, abuse, and mayhem. Sometimes the misery unfolds on-screen, but other films simply leave plot threads hanging that spell doom for their plucky protagonists.
Hollywood movies sometimes get criticized for focusing too much on "happily ever afters," but in reality, they're pumping out all sorts of secretly depressing family movies
While there's a lot of obviously dark stuff happening in The Lion King (a certain father being trampled to death springs to mind), in the end, the rightful king reclaims his throne and restores balance to the circle of life. The finale is set to some kickin' Elton John music, and it's absolutely uplifting.
While it's not entirely clear how long Simba was gone, no other male lions appear to have been born during his absence. Scar is the only male lion in a sea of lady lions, and yet it doesn't appear that any new cubs were born. Was he practicing celibacy, or was he killing them before they became a threat? See, in real life, lions are known to routinely kill their young, so its highly possible that Scar eliminated all his future competition.
Actors: Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Rowan Atkinson, + more
Initial Release: 1994
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers
#32 on The Most Rewatchable Movies
#33 on The Best Movies for Tweens
In the Shrek films, the titular ogre departs from his isolated swamp and learns to accept himself and others for who they are. By the time the third film ends, he's gotten married, made a few close friends, and regularly pitches in to help his kingdom.
That's all wonderful, but why was he in that swamp in the first place? Well, in Shrek the Third, we learn that his parents were horribly abusive. At one point, Shrek tells Artie that his dad tried to eat him, and that he's afraid of repeating the cycle of abuse with his own children. That's some heavy stuff for a movie with a talking donkey that loves waffles.
Actors: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Julie Andrews, + more
Initial Release: 2007
Directed by: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
The Sound of Music is a timeless musical that showcases some of the best songs Richard Rodgers ever wrote. In the film, the Von Trapp family learns to love each other by accepting Maria Rainer (Julie Andrews) into their fold, then works together to escape the Nazi onslaught.
While the majority of the film wraps up nicely, Rolf (Daniel Truhitte) — the lovable postman — ends up becoming a Nazi. After the credits roll, that cute boy who's seen dancing around a water fountain with Liesl (Charmian Carr) presumably goes on to kill and oppress Jewish people and Allied troops. If he survives the war, he'll surely be tried for crimes against humanity.
Actors: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Nicholas Hammond, Heather Menzies, + more
Initial Release: 1965
Directed by: Robert Wise
#53 on The Best Movies for Tweens
In the first Santa Clause film, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) learns that a person becomes Kris Kringle by killing the previous Santa and taking his clothes. None of Santa's tiny employees bat an eyelash when a new Father Christmas is crowned; they're perfectly comfortable never mentioning their former employer again. If that isn't depressing enough, the second film explains that in order to remain Santa Claus, Calvin needs to find a Mrs. Claus.
While this might not initially come off as dark, the rule implies that the previous Santa Claus must have also been married to a Mrs. Claus. After Calvin inadvertently causes Santa's untimely death, what in the world happens to that Santa's wife? Is she forced out of the workshop and made to wander the arctic tundra of the North Pole? Does she die too? Clearly, this entire series is structured around familial tragedy, and serves to document a centuries-old tradition of murdering Claus couples.
Actors: Tim Allen, Frank Welker, Peter Boyle, David Krumholtz, Mary Gross, + more
Initial Release: 1994
Directed by: John Pasquin
#62 on The Best Movies for Tweens
#84 on The Funniest '90s Movies
#31 on The Best Movies of 1994