Movies that end on a comfortless note are also the ones that tend to stay with you the longest. Even movies that seem hopeful and reassure the viewer throughout quickly strike dread with a well-placed bleak finale. Here are 15 such movies that are heavy watches primarily because of their gloomy endings. Warning: Spoilers below!
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
In 1963, two high school dropouts, Jack and Ennis, find work as shepherds working at a ranch. They develop an intimate relationship that they sporadically continue throughout the next twenty years while living their own lives. Their relationship gets more complicated over time as both partners get married to their girlfriends and have trouble concealing their affair.
The finale involves Ennis finding out about Jack's accidental death on a returned postcard stamped “DECEASED.” Ennis is overwhelmed with grief and loneliness as he regrets never openly embracing his relationship with Jack.
2. Blue Valentine (2010)
Dean, a painter, is married to Cindy, a nurse, and together they raise their young daughter Frankie. Their relationship is considered healthy at first glance. However, a closer look shows deep-rooted issues. Dean's absence of professional ambition and Cindy's past relationship trauma seeps into their marriage, forcing them to try and revive their spark.
The final scene is gut-wrenching and involves Dean leaving their house with Frankie following close behind. Dean redirects Frankie back towards their house to Cindy as both partners, after several emotional confrontations, realize their marriage is over.
3. Boys Don't Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena is a young transgender person who has trouble with the law and has been ostracized by family in his hometown. He moves to Falls City, where he initially has a content life, makes many friends, and falls in love with an ambitious singer, Lana. However, he starts encountering problems when he has trouble hiding his past.
The ending is nothing short of heartbreaking. Brandon's identity is discovered by two of Lana's ex-convict friends, who take his life and the life of his best friend, Candace. Lana, unable to remain in Falls City, leaves.
4. Melancholia (2011)
I love Sci-Fi movies, especially when they integrate somber endings that linger in your thoughts for longer, and Melancholia is just that. The movie begins with Justine suffering from bouts of depression at her wedding and her sister Claire trying to ease her mind. Alongside the wedding, both sisters discover that a gigantic blue planet is hurling toward Earth and deal with that realization differently.
The movie ends with Justine unable to function anymore and peacefully coming to terms with their doom. In contrast, Claire, the rational one, is distraught and severely panicking as Earth is destroyed.
5. Dancer in The Dark (2000)
In 1964, Selma, an immigrant, lives with her son Gene and works as a factory worker in a small town in America. Her primary motivation for work is to earn enough money to cure the degenerative blindness that she and Gene suffer from. She races to secure enough money for Gene's operation while encountering several neighborhood problems.
The film ends with Selma attacking Sherrif Bill, who had previously stolen her hard-earned money. She then quickly spends that money to cure Gene's blindness instead of securing a lawyer. The film's final seconds involve Selma singing a musical as she is sentenced to death.
6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
A gym owner, Frankie is considered the best boxing coach in Los Angeles. He is known for being irritable and only has a few close friends, including Scrap, his associate, who also narrates the entire story. Maggie, an up-and-coming boxer, is determined to be his trainee and soon convinces him with her resolve.
The ending is talked about as being both shocking and joyless. We learn that the entire narration throughout the movie is a letter Scrap sent to Frankie's daughter. Frankie reluctantly fulfills Maggie's wish to take her own life after a severe injury in her final championship match. The movie ends with Frankie, now retired from boxing and the gym, eating at Maggie's favorite diner.
7. The Day After (1983)
The entirety of The Day After is severely distressing, and the ending only reinforces those themes. Set in the 1980s, America is nearing a nuclear war as tensions are rising. The film focuses on the everyday people of a small town as their worst fears come true and bombs are dropped.
The movie does a great job of portraying the horrors and harsh conditions of a Nuclear Winter. The ending involves the demise of most ordinary people living in Kansas, the survivors succumbing to radiation, and families torn apart.
8. The Salton Sea (2002)
In Los Angeles, Tom, a jazz trumpeter, has his life turned upside down after the murder of his wife. He assumes the role of an alternate personality, Danny Parker, and gets heavily involved with drug dealers and narcotics officers. Danny befriends his neighbor Collete, and more problems arise as he gets deeper into trouble.
Towards the film's end, Danny spirals out of control, partaking in criminal activities and losing sight of who he was as Tom. His neighbor, Collete's boyfriend, finds out about his involvement with the cops and shoots him. Danny, seconds away from dying, is saved by his buddy Jimmy. The final few seconds of the film show Danny entirely out of touch with his past as he throws his trumpet into The Salton Sea.
9. Hereditary (2018)
Hereditary is one of my favorite horror flicks that many describe as unsettling due to its depressing themes. The movie begins with Annie mourning the death of her mother. In the days after, Annie and her family go through increasingly sinister and unnatural experiences.
The ending of the movie is the very definition of disturbing. It is revealed that Annie's mother was involved with a cult plotting the murder of the entire family. In the end, Peter, Annie's son, realizes that the cult has taken the lives of his entire family, and he is to be the host to their king.
10. Threads (1984)
Ruth and Jimmy are a young couple in Sheffield who decide to get married because of an unforeseen pregnancy. During this, America and the Soviet Union go to war that also reaches neighboring nations. Sheffield reaches a state of anarchy as the bombings get nearer, and Ruth is separated from Jimmy, forcing her to fend for herself.
The events in the film span several years, showcasing the brutal effects of life after bombings and radiation. Ruth gives birth to a girl named Jane; however, Ruth and Jimmy later succumb to radiation. The rest of the film is shown from Jane's point of view. It shows the hopeless descent of society as people become more primitive and chaotic.
11. Atonement (2007)
Set in 1939, Cecilia and Robbie are youthful romantics discovering their feelings for one another. Cecelia's younger sister, Briony, also has a crush on Robbie. Upon reading a letter sent by Robbie meant for Cecelia, she plants a lie that has him imprisoned. Four years later, Robbie is in the British Army fighting in World War 2 and encounters Briony, who wishes to atone for her previous actions.
Atonement's ending incorporates a twist that can only be described as highly unnerving. While viewers are initially led to believe Cecilia and Robbie get back together, Briony reveals that is untrue. In reality, Cecelia and Robbie had died during the war and never even met after Briony's accusations.
12. Christine (2016)
Christine is a journalist in 1970s Florida, highly dedicated to her career and driven towards success. Having trouble getting a promotion at work, Christine shifts her attention to the world of crime in the hope of securing a more prevalent story. However, she soon realizes she might not be up to the task and has trouble keeping her sanity.
I audibly gasped during the final act because of how abrupt and revolting it was. Towards the end, Christine is much more willing to work on the stories she's being assigned and is friendlier with coworkers. However, during the final few moments, she takes her own life live on air, shocking viewers, friends, and family.
13. Eden Lake (2008)
Eden Lake is considered by many to be a cult classic and a staple in the realm of horror due to how believable it is. The film starts with Steve taking his girlfriend Jenny to spend the weekend at a scenic lake, where he plans to propose to her. Unfortunately, his plans are short-lived as a gang of teenagers harass them and plant increasingly violent pranks.
Throughout the film, Steve and several of the gang member's lives are ended by each other. Jenny finds herself at a neighborhood party at Brett's house, the gang's leader. While Jenny pleads for help, Brett convinces his and the other member's parents that Steve and Jenny attacked them. The movie ends with the parents believing Brett and about to attack Jenny.
14. Arlington Road (1999)
Michael is a college professor struck with grief as his wife Leah's life is ended by an extremist group, and he is forced to raise his son alone. Over time, things look up for him as he befriends his new neighbors and enters a relationship. However, as his neighbors start acting suspiciously, he gets consumed with whether or not they are who they claim to be.
In the film's final act, Michael's suspicions are confirmed when his neighbor Oliver lies about his identity and is caught planning to attack FBI headquarters. Michael's son is kidnapped, but he races toward the FBI headquarters before he can get to him, hoping to stop an armed van. Upon reaching his destination, Michael realizes there was no explosive on the van. Instead, his vehicle had been armed, ending the lives of him and everyone near him.
15. Buried (2010)
Apart from being a claustrophobic nightmare, Buried integrates a super grim ending that stays with you long after the credits roll. The movie starts with Paul, a US Truck Driver, being captured by insurgents in Iraq. Paul wakes up hours later, underground, trapped in a coffin with limited lighting and a cell phone.
Paul contacts Dan, an official in the State Department who wishes to save him. Over time, the insurgent demands a blood sacrifice from Paul, after which his location will be given to Dan. The film's final few moments are nothing short of gripping as Dan and his team dig furiously to get to Paul's coffin before it gets filled with sand.
However, it is revealed that Dan was given false info and dug up the wrong coffin. Paul is left alone and comes to terms with his imminent death.