10-List: Movies with Downer Endings

I reviewed the video game Far Cry 5 and complained about its “downer” ending. Seriously, it bummed me out so much that I stopped playing the game after I finished the campaign when I was well on my way to another platinum trophy.

Humble brag: I have five platinum tropies to date. Sure, it’s a pointless achievement, but it’s mine.

This made me think of other things with similarly negative endings. I won’t say “bad” endings, because sometimes it seems to be the only way to wrap up a story. Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff (what was the name of that movie? I just can’t remember) may be considered a negative ending by some people, but I don’t think it was a “bad” ending at all. In some ways, it was oddly inspirational. Same thing about Butch and Sundance.

There’s no way to post this list without major spoilers.

What follows are ten movie I think exemplify the “downer” ending. They are not the only examples out there, of course. Feel free to add your favorites in the comment section.

Even as big a nerd as I am, I won’t include Empire Strikes Back on this list, because it was the middle portion of a trilogy. It should have ended on a downbeat. It’s not the end of the story.

The Mist — adapted from a Stephen King novella, this movie does something that King chose not to do: It gives the story an ending. A depressing ending, to be sure, as Thomas Jane’s David Drayton shoots the other survivors in his car after they run out of gas to keep them from having to face death from the horrors in the mist. Right after he commits this largely selfless act (he didn’t even have a bullet for himself), the mist clears, making his actions pointless. Since the victims included his son, that’s the definition of true horror.

Se7en — Oh, you know what’s in the box.

Vanishing Point — In the antihero 1970s, Kowalski was a superhero, especially among car aficionados. He plays chicken with bulldozers at the end of the movie and doesn’t come out on top.

Bonnie and Clyde — If you knew anything about the story of Bonnie and Clyde, the end of this movie was no surprise. I once got to see their car with all of its bullet holes at a shopping center in Lancaster, South Carolina. Still, when watching the movie, it was shockingly graphic and depressing.

Night of the Living Dead — True, I could put a lot of horror movies on this list. They tend to love the last-minute shocker ending. Carrie, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, etc. Duane Jones, as Ben, is the hero of the movie. Casting a black actor in the lead role of a horror movie was groundbreaking in 1968. Although the script never specified the race of the character, Ben’s death at the end of the movie had overtones it wouldn’t have if the actor had been white. It seemed, intended or not, like a political commentary.

Silent Running — Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, who is an overachiever when it comes to protecting and preserving the greenhouse freighters in orbit around a now-barren Earth. This 1972 movie featured cute ambulatory robots five years before Star Wars was a thing. Dern has always had a talent for playing unhinged characters. In spite of the movie’s explosive downer ending, it is ecologically hopeful as well.

The Professional — Original title of this 1994 movie was Léon. Now known as Léon: The Professional, but I think it was just The Professional when I saw it. My first time seeing Jean Reno and a very young Natalie Portman. The Jean Reno character is a professional assassin who takes a 12-year-old girl under his wing after her family is murdered. There will be no sequel for the title character.

Planet of the Apes — The 2001 Tim Burton remake was a downer for a different reason. The movie I’m talking about here is the 1968 original, starring Charlton Heston, with a script co-written by Rod Serling. When Heston’s George Taylor sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty at the end and realizes he’s been on future-Earth all along, it’s a huge downer ending and a pessimistic view of human nature.

Easy Rider — This 1969 movie is certainly a reflection of the time it was made. Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, hippies, drugs, choppers, shotgun-toting Alabama rednecks. Plus, all the major characters are dead at the end of the movie.

Arlington Road — This 1999 Jeff Bridges/Tim Robbins/Joan Cusack movie made my list for one reason only: I didn’t see the downer ending coming. I should have. All the evidence was there. But, I was naively certain that Bridges’ Michael Faraday character would end up saving the day, ensuring the happy ending we’re accustomed to getting. Nope. I liked this movie a lot, but have never watched it again.

These are all good movies. So, take this as a recommendation or a warning. Watch something on the Lifetime channel if you’re looking for feel-good vibes.

2 thoughts on “10-List: Movies with Downer Endings

    1. Sometimes, I like being reminded that characters I love could possibly die. I mean, we know the various redshirts can die at any time, or the wacky best friend who appears only once in the first act. But, one of the main characters. I like a little uncertainty in television series as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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