Romance movies are a beloved genre worldwide. But unfortunately, romance often comes hand in hand with tragedy. Some of the most legendary love stories in the world end in tragedy, starting right from “Romeo and Juliet”.
From classics like Gone With The Wind to the more recent La La Land, movie couples, beautiful as they are, don’t always end up together. Here’s a list of romantic films that end in heartbreak and tragedy – perfect for those times where you want to watch some romance… without the happy ever after.
Updated on March 21st, 2021 by Mark Birrell: The trope is that Hollywood will change anything around at the last minute for the sake of tacking on a happy ending to a story that was intended to be more serious. But, truthfully, there are quite a lot of movies out there with downright sad, gutwrenching, or even depressing endings, and the romance genre is no different than any other in this respect. There are tons of movies to choose from when talking about tragic endings in romantic movies and we’ve added an extra 5 that we feel deserve to have the spotlight shone on them.
15 Never Let Me Go (2010)
Adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go features a science-fiction concept that’s been featured in even a Michael Bay action-thriller but it’s handled in a very minimalist way, mostly focussing on the drama generated by the lead performances from Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, and Carey Mulligan.
The movie revolves around a group of young clones who were created specifically for organ donation to prolong the lives of others. It isn’t the kind of environment where love can thrive and its appearance ultimately spells nothing but heartbreak, with the hopeful characters discovering that the world around them not only doesn’t care about their love but doesn’t even consider them to be human.
14 Seven Pounds (2007)
A strange dramatic turn from Will Smith, Seven Pounds is an interesting take on similar subject matter to Never Let Me Go and revolves around a good samaritan motivated by a mysterious and all-consuming sense of guilt.
When he begins to fall in love with one of the people that he’s helping, the audience can’t help but hope that some kind of redemption or forgiveness is on the horizon. But, however, the ending of the movie reveals that the main character’s endgame has to been to end their own life to become an organ donor to the people that he has been interacting with throughout the story. While not a critically well-received movie, Seven Pounds is very highly rated by fans on IMDb and it’s clearly cultivated a strong following over the years for its memorably tragic ending.
13 Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke’s unflinching drama about love in very old age is a frank and convincing portrait of a romance that has been undimmed by time but cannot survive forever against the changes that it brings.
With his wife’s health seriously deteriorating after complications from a stroke, Jean-Louis Trintignant’s loving husband smothers her in their bed as an act of mercy. The act clearly breaks him emotionally and is seen behaving delusionally in his final scene. The honesty of the performances and the subject matter make Amour a very real experience for the audience and its subject matter is something that most people inevitably have to face in some way or another in their lives.
12 The English Patient (1996)
This sweeping World War 2 romance adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s novel of the same name swept the Oscars with nine wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for writer and director Anthony Minghella.
The movie begins with a severely burned man recounting the story of he came to be so, the ending revealing that he was involved in an intense affair with a married woman, leading to her husband attempting to kill all three of them in a murder-suicide. He fails, leaving the protagonist and his lover alive, though she is gravely injured. He leaves her to get help, but the circumstances of the war around him result in him not making it back in time. The tragedy is certainly beautiful and satisfying but it’s one of the most heartbreaking endings in movie history.
11 The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Many famously sad movie endings are in some way emotionally uplifting but few are as effectively bittersweet as the ending of The Bridges of Madison County. The classic weepy centers on a brief love affair between a traveling photographer and a secluded rural housewife.
The decision of Meryl Streep’s unfulfilled war bride to stay with her husband and raise their children rather than leave with the man that she loves is a revelation to her children, who uncover the story after her death as a framing device. It’s emotionally cathartic for them to still be taught about love and life by their mother from beyond the grave but it’s heartbreaking for the audience.
10 Moulin Rouge (2001)
This Baz Luhrmann musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor was one of a kind when it released in 2001. The film took inspiration from Bollywood style music and dance and told the heartfelt story of love between Satine and Christian.
For a film that is so much about glamor and glitter, Moulin Rouge has a tragic ending, with Satine dying in the end from tuberculosis. It’s unexpected and heartbreaking to watch her and Christian express their love for one another and then meet with such a harsh reality.
9 Message In A Bottle (1999)
The Nicholas Sparks classic is deeply moving and ends with a shocking tragedy, instead of a happy forever after. The story is as much about the relationship between Garret (Kevin Costner) and Theresa (Robin Wright) as it is about Garret and his late wife.
Imagine being sent love letters after one died! Sappy as that sounds, that is exactly what Garret did after his wife passed away and he failed to come to terms with it for a very long time. When he finally let himself move on, he decided to bid his dead wife goodbye, sending her one last letter. Only this time, on the eve of getting together officially with Theresa, he was unable to make it back in time and drowned tragically during a storm in the sea.
8 A Walk To Remember (2002)
Another Nicholas Sparks romance, this film was an adaptation of his novel of the same name. Jamie (Mandy Moore) and Landon (Shane West) are both in high school and although he dismisses the idea of ever being in love with her at first, the two soon fall desperately in love. However, as is typical of a Sparks novel, the lovers get thrown a major curveball, as Jamie informs Landon that she is a leukemia patient.
In a film that has a tone of aching melancholia throughout, Jamie and Landon get married in a hurry and the two get to spend a little bit of time together before Jamie passes away. The film remains a sweet high school romance that ends in heartwrenching tragedy.
7 One Day (2011)
A romance that appears light, for the most part, takes a shocking turn when Emma (Anne Hathaway) is killed tragically in a road accident, hit by a rogue truck. The incident happens right after she finally hooks up with Dexter (Jim Sturgess) after years of each of them going their own way, although the chemistry between them is obvious from the start.
The shocking ending leaves one questioning the sheer randomness of life and death. Emma’s death naturally leaves Dexter devastated. And it makes one wonder if fate would have played the same cruel game had they got together before.
6 The Notebook (2004)
Nicholas Sparks’ novels are known for being tear-jerking. The Notebook has cemented its place as one of the most popular romance movies of the 21st century so far. For those who don’t know the story, Noah and Ally had one beautiful summer together before class and social status pulled them apart.
They finally united after several years, but in one shocking discovery, the audience realizes that the older Ally is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and cannot even recognize the man she loved so deeply. In the very last scene, the elderly couple is seen lying side by side, dead. Although the ending implies a certain sense of hope, there is something emotionally wrought about the two dying together.
5 Titanic (1997)
The film that catapulted Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet to superstardom, Titanic made quite the sensation and became one of the biggest blockbusters in film history. The love story of Rose and Jack is one for the ages.
The film ends with heartbreaking tragedy when not only does the so-called unsinkable ship go down with almost all the menfolk but the young couple was brutally torn apart when Jack died from the freezing cold of the North Atlantic waters leaving Rose heartbroken and alone.
4 Brokeback Mountain (2005)
One of the most moving romantic dramas ever, Brokeback Mountain told the tale of two men in the 1960s whose feelings for each other are ignited during one passionate, stolen summer. Both Ennis and Jack go on to marry women and have their own families although they continue to meet clandestinely from time to time, never publicly coming out with their true sexuality, from fear of being killed or ostracized.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal delivered power-packed performances in this Ang Lee classic that ends with a knawing heartache as the couple fails to get together and finally Jack dies, leaving Ennis alone with their secret.
3 The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
The Fault In Our Stars gets an underlining sense of tragedy from the beginning when young Hazel tells the audience about her life as a terminal cancer patient. She then meets the cheerful Gus who is now in remission and with whom she experiences love and the kind of attachment that she had given up on.
However, the full extent of the tragedy unravels when Gus relapses and succumbs to his sickness before the two had barely spent enough time together. Based on John Green’s novel, the film became an instant hit, especially among younger audiences.
2 Atonement (2007)
Joe Wright’s intense romantic period drama is based on the unfulfilled love of Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecelia (Keira Knightley) who fail to ever unite because of a lie told by Cecelia’s younger sister. Robbie then goes off to war and dies from sickness while Cecelia is killed in a bombing incident.
For some time the viewer is led to believe that maybe Briony’s lie had not destroyed everything, but then the older Briony reveals the tragedy that really befell the lovers, leaving the audience with a desperate heartache.
1 Love Story (1970)
Eric Segal’s epic love story that ends in a devastating tragedy is timeless. Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny (Ally McGraw) are from very different social backgrounds but that doesn’t prevent them from falling in love. But their relationship is doomed from the beginning when Jenny is diagnosed with cancer.
In a story that has been told and retold many times ever since Jenny and Oliver’s tragic love story makes even those with the coldest hearts reach out for hankies. The film itself was not as popular as the novel on which it was based, but the story itself has gone on to become a classic.
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