Movies with not-happy endings (When Art meets Life)

What is the point of watching a movie?

What is the point of watching a movie with a happy ending?

Does life have a happy ending?

Is cosmos full of light and laughter?

WARNING: This page has spoilers for all the movies mentioned. Stop here if you do not want spoilers.

Movies to-day have a tendency to show things from a happy point of view. Everything is OK at the end. Everyone is happy. Everything is put in place. And the viewer is of course happy as well and all is all-right.


The cosmos is a dark place. Life is full of pain and cries.

Below there is a Harmonia Philosophica selection of movies with not-happy endings. Most of them were also huge box-office failures, something that just adds up to their value. (Always seek gold in the garbage, as an alchemist would say)

There is no filtering as to the type of movies – some are deeply philosophical and artistic, others are just adventurous Hollywood movies. They all have one thing in common though: After you have watched them, you will not feel better.

And that is something rare for a viewer these days. And Harmonia Philosophica is an advocate of rare. As an ancient Greek wise man once said, we need sour in our life. Especially because it is sour.

1. The Fountain (2006)

A loyal husband tries to keep his dying wife alive while searching for the elixir of life. The story unfolds in three different timelines with each one having its own philosophical context and meaning. At the end she dies. And he cries. And the viewers are left with the feeling that there is something more in death than just the end of life…

2. Black Hawk Down (2001)

What would you do if you had to go and fight to support your comrades in battle, knowing that you will all die in the effort? War story. Real story. With a real ending. Where everyone dies. That only adds up to the bravery of the men involved.

3. Easy Rider (1969)

Two friends ride their bikes in a road trip to the edge of America. Nostalgic movie where the hope and innocence of two young men is being shattered by the cruelty of the reality we are used to to-day.

4. Lions for Lambs (2007)

Two students of a political sciences professor decide to enlist to US army so as to fight and make a difference. Their death is portrayed tragically as the story of everyday politics unfolds thousands of miles away. At the end everyone feels safe. And those who made a difference ended up dead in a void terrain…

5. Runaway Train (1985)

A convict escapes from prison and rides a train. The driver dies and the convict… Well… You know what happens. He dies. (Free…)

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6. Watchmen (2009)

Superheroes and modern civilization providing a mix that can only make one sad. The good ones die only because they were actually bad. The bad ones were good but at the end they die too. At the end all will be well. Until the journal is read again…

7. Sin City (2005)

A comic-movie that shows a world not too much different than ours. Well, actually too different since in this world there is some hope. After all is dead, after the heroes have been wrongfully accused and put to prison, after revenge and vengeance have taken their toll on all, death seems more like a blessing…

8. V for Vendetta (2005)

In a dystopian future, hope can only be born at a personal cost. V is now dead. V was me. He was you. He was all of us…

9. Margin Call (2009)

How is money made? If not by walking on the (financial) corpses of other people? A day at a stock exchange company goes wild as the stakes for survival are higher than ever. At the end, all is dead. Financially. And psychologically. Oh, yes. The dog is dead as well.

10. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Society vs. humans. The end can only be brutal. Because everyone must be happy. And everyone must comply. Until we are safe. And sound. And the deafening silence of happiness makes us go crazy.

11. Blackadder (1983-1989)

A comedy series is a weird item to see in such a list. Yet, the ending of the series is epic and unhappy in every sense of the word. After the viewer has had many laughs with the gang of the series, he sees them all going to the front of World War I for a last attack on the German enemies. Laughter turns into tears. Joy into fear. And in one last assault the tragedy of life becomes even more unbearable after all those good time you had…

So that was it.

For now.

The list is surely incomplete and will be updated as new movies come into existence. or as I remember movies that I have seen but forgot.

In a world where we are all so much concerned with being happy, movies with unhappy endings provide a crucial signpost for someone who wishes to successfully navigate through the darkness of existence.

For one can never be happy without first crying.

And at the end you may realize that happiness is not about being happy…

As a wise Dolly Parton once said…

Everybody wants happiness nobody wants pain, but there can’t be a rainbow without a little rain…

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