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Top 10 Tragic Movie Endings

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Niki Neptune. Get those handkerchiefs ready and those tear-ducts under control. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 tragic movie endings. For this list, we’re looking at those movie endings that really dialed up our tolerance for heartache. While some of these movie endings seemed likely at the beginning of the film, we still weren’t emotionally prepared for the soul-wrenching pain at the conclusion. Obviously, spoiler alerts all around. Special thanks to our users offbeat08, sven van de riet, Chris Ashton, JIM Garcia 8, Dancing Bear, Graham Burdick, itsnick21, Jonathan Orr, sven van de riet and Adrian Rystad for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Niki Neptune.

Top 10 Tragic Movie Endings


Get those handkerchiefs ready and those tear-ducts under control. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 tragic movie endings.

For this list, we’re looking at those movie endings that really dialed up our tolerance for heartache. While some of these movie endings seemed likely at the beginning of the film, we still weren’t emotionally prepared for the soul-wrenching pain at the conclusion. Obviously, spoiler alerts all around.

#10: “American History X” (1998)

Even though it’s a movie littered with Nazis and white supremacist rhetoric, deep down most of us were still rooting for a happy ending. We could see glimpses of one in the reformation of Edward Norton’s character, as a former neo-Nazi who sees the error of his ways after a stint in prison for a hate crime. Derek Vinyard witnesses his little brother following in his woefully misguided footsteps so he attempts to intervene. And just when it seems like he might have broken through to Danny, a bullet breaks through his brother’s chest and sends us all reeling.

#9: “Requiem for a Dream” (2000)

It’s pretty obvious that a movie about addiction is likely going to subject viewers to harsh realities about the negative impact of dependence. However, moviegoers are usually offered a reprieve by the end of such films – for example, with a protagonist that’s turned the corner and changed his or her life for the better. But in “Requiem for a Dream,” not so much. By the end of Darren Aronofsky’s psychological drama, each of the four central characters has been consumed by their vices; you get a true sense of how destructive their addictions have become.

#8: “Philadelphia” (1993)

Take a film starring both Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks and you already have a pretty good idea that your emotions are going to be brutally manipulated for the next two hours. In “Philadelphia,” Hanks plays a lawyer that’s fired after his employer discovers he has AIDS and is gay. As Andrew Beckett grows increasingly ill over the course of the film, audiences may have been privy to his impending fate, but that still doesn’t dull the blow when he finally succumbs. His court victory ends up being bittersweet, as he dies and is remembered by his family and friends in a gut-wrenching closing funeral.

#7: “Se7en” (1995)

This well-constructed thriller was chock full of surprises, mainly of the gruesome variety. There was a man that had been force-fed to death, a guy in a bed that we all thought was long past dead, and a young lady that met a really painful end with a really painful sex toy. In spite of all of this, audiences still weren’t expecting the horrible twist director David Fincher saved for us at the end. In “Se7en,” Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives that have finally captured an elusive serial killer and are being led to the conclusion of his crimes, only to find out that he was still one step a-head of them.

#6: “Life Is Beautiful” (1997)

The words “Holocaust” and “heartwarming” don’t exactly go together, and yet, for a moment, audiences were charmed by the story of a man who was trying to protect his son from the horrors of a concentration camp. In this tragicomedy-drama, writer-director-star Roberto Benigni plays a Jewish-Italian bookshop owner whose family has been placed in one such camp. He attempts to convince his son that it’s all an elaborate game with a prize at the end. So after the Allied forces arrive to shut down the camp, we’re given hope that they’ll all be reunited and escape the ordeal together. But Guido’s encounter with a guard cut that dream brutally short.

#5: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

In this ‘70s classic, Jack Nicholson plays an inmate at a mental institution named Randle ‘Mac’ McMurphy who manages to inject a sense of life and spirit of rebellion into a group of his fellow patients. Throughout the course of the film, he butts heads with the remarkably unlikeable Nurse Ratched on multiple occasions, undermining her authority whenever he gets the opportunity. One night of hard partying is followed by a violent confrontation between Mac and Ratched, and ultimately leads to Mac being lobotomized. He’s then euthanized by one of the inmates he’d inspired to seek his own freedom.

#4: “The Green Mile” (1999)

This is another one of those films where you hoped for the best in spite of your better instincts. Michael Clarke Duncan plays John Coffey, a man wrongfully convicted of the sexual assault and murder of two girls and facing execution. The guards of the jail soon come to realize that Duncan’s character is actually a gentle soul with an immense gift, and that he will likely die for someone else’s crimes. When Coffey finally meets his fate – at his own request – we see how the destruction of his potential due to the world’s evil and prejudices is truly the greatest tragedy.

#3: “The Mist” (2007)

While this Stephen King horror adaptation may be a complete deviation from “The Green Mile,” and King’s original ending, it definitely doesn’t skimp in the tragedy department. When a dangerous mist traps a group of townspeople in a local grocery store, they are beset by unearthly creatures and forced to fight for their lives. After lasting the night, a small number of survivors, including the film’s protagonist and his son, decide to make a run for it and drive to safety. But when their vehicle runs out of gas, they decide that it’d be best to just end it all. After killing his son and the rest of the group, David Drayton emerges to find out that help was literally right outside their door the whole time.

#2: “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995)

Back before moviegoers were introduced to Nic Cage’s wackier roles, he turned in this Oscar-winning performance as an alcoholic with a death wish. As Ben Sanderson, a screenwriter who has decided to drink himself to death in Las Vegas, he befriends and falls in love with a prostitute named Sera, played by Elizabeth Shue. The two bond while Ben slowly delves deeper into the pits of his alcoholism. As a final farewell, Ben and Sera share moments of a romance never fully realized, after which he eventually succumbs to his disease.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Titanic” (1997)
- “The Wrestler” (2008)
- “Soylent Green” (1973)
- “Black Swan” (2010)

#1: “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)

In this sports drama, Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, an ambitious waitress who convinces a crotchety but skilled trainer to aid her in her dream of becoming a professional boxer. As Maggie quickly moves up the ranks in her division, the two develop a bond similar to that of father and daughter, and everything seems to go swimmingly for the most part. That is, until a sucker punch in the ring leads to her paralysis. It’s not a fate Maggie can accept and she pleads with Frankie to put her out of her misery, which he eventually does.

Do you agree with our list? What do you think is the most tragic movie ending? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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