12 Movies That Tricked You Into Thinking They Had Happy Endings –

Who doesn’t love a happy ending? Some will say theres something to a bit recollective depression, but few screen moments can rival George Bailey wanting to live again or Carl Fredricksen finding a new lease of life. A good dose of optimism in the cinema is the ideal antidote to the crushing depression of the real world (seriously, have you seen how bleak it is out there). Heck, end happy and you can even get away with (on-screen) murder.

Slumdog Millionaire’s full-cast Bollywood dance at the end, made up for two hours chock full of eye gouging and gangster killings. This coloured the feeling of the film so much the film posters even bore a review claim feel-good film of the year. Some films are so desperate to add in a happy ending they’ll do it at the expense of narrative coherence.

Ending the film before disaster sets in? Totally misrepresenting events? Just ignoring the nasty bits? As long as it’s nice and cheery these twelve films don€™t really care.


12. Avatar – Jake Has Doomed Humanity

20th Century Fox

The Allegedly Happy Ending: A film about environmentalism that made stupid people want to commit suicide because they found a CGI construct more inviting than the Earth, Avatar is the biggest film of all time. Amazing what the possibility of alien boob will do to people.

The story is deviously simple. Bad men are desecrating natural beauty. In space. At the end, Jake John Dunbar Sulley manages to send the humans packing, saving the luscious Pandora from deforestation.

The Depressing Truth: Why are humans on Pandora in the first place? To get unobtanium, which sells at extortionately high prices for some reason (maybe it gives screenwriters creativity). Now the implication (and it really is an implication given the five seconds the film spends on it) is that Earth is dying and humanity need this magic rock to survive. So when Jake sends all the humans away he’s actually dooming his homeworld. But hey, they were being mean, there was no other choice, right?

Hell yeah there was another choice; that was the whole point of the avatars. Its easy to forget after that arse-numbing run time, but the whole reason military action took over was because Jake started diverging from his mission. Which was to negotiate with the natives as to avoid conflict. Damn it Jake.

11. (500) Days Of Summer – Tom’s Stuck In A Cycle

Fox Searchlight

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Chronicling Joseph Gordon Levitts Tom’s obsession with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer, (500) Days Of Summer busts open a lot of the myths Hollywood pumps out about modern relationships. At times brutally honest, it purports to show Tom’s formative relationship, with the character slowly becoming aware of the misrepresentations about love he€™s been fed throughout his life.

At the end of the year and four months, Tom is fully reformed and on a brighter life path, topped off by him meeting the beautiful, ironically-named Autumn.

The Depressing Truth: Although the Autumn reveal is kinda cute, it undoes all the progress the character has been through in the previous ninety minutes. As the film literally shows (the day counter goes back to zero) he’s right back where he started.

Maybe it’s a little naive of us to expect one experience to totally change a lifetime and certainly a little conceited to find fault in human emotion, but isn€™t it a little against the flow? You feel like director Marc Webb knew this when making the film, but the endings dressed in such optimism its lost in all that Smiths.

10. Looper – Cid Is Still Going To Be Mentally Scarred By All This

TriStar Pictures/FilmDistrict

The Allegedly Happy Ending: If you have ever fancied seeing Bruce Willis running around killing kids then Looper is the movie to you. A film brimming with high concepts, it really expands over multiple viewings; the time-assassins the marketing leaned on aren’t totally essential to the story.

The plot can be distilled down to a Terminator-esque conceit; Old Joe (Bruce Willis) travels back in time to kill big gangster The Rainmaker as a child. Realising these events will actually lead to the villain’s creation, Young Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) rewrites Willis out of time by killing himself. Self sacrifice to save the future and all that.

The Depressing Truth: You know little about the future beyond Bruce Willis’ family life, with next to no light shed on The Rainmaker himself. What little information you do have comes from the diner scene; he has a synthetic jaw and saw his Mom die, which the ending supposedly averts. But aren’t those moments events that have happened to Cid in this new timeline too?

You know from a few references that his TK abilities (oh yeah, theres telekinesis in this film too) killed his (adoptive) mother and even though Willis couldn’t kill him he still shot a hole in his cheek. So Young Joes sacrifice may not have changed anything. And if it did Cid is still going to be pretty messed up (as if he wasn’t already).

9. The Jungle Book – Mowgli Will Be Completely Unable To Integrate


The Allegedly Happy Ending: The Jungle Book (incidentally the final feature Walt actively worked on) shows that putting off something you really should do but can’t be bothered to isn’t just a human trait.

When Bagheera the panther cant give up the time to take newly discovered man cub to a human village, he just leaves him with wolves for ten years. He finally gets around to dragging Mowgli to the nearest settlement only when Shere Khan the tiger returns to the jungle and the situation becomes life and death.

Through bear-necessities and singing monkeys, the initially-reluctant Mowgli makes his way to the man village after becoming smitten with one of the young girls.

The Depressing Truth: Maybe you shouldn’t take this too literally, but given Rudyard Kipling’s source dealt with the implications, it needs to be said. Mowgli is a feral child raised by wolves (for some reason they don’t eat him) whose best friend is a bear.

It’s impossible this he will just suddenly snap into civilisation after ten years of being an animal and very unlikely he’ll be anything more than an outcast. Guess it’s yet another Disney movie that’s really depressing.

8. Gravity – Spaceflight Is Now Impossible

Warner Bros.

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Ryan Stone is, without a doubt, one of the unluckiest people to ever grace a movie screen. So-named because her father wanted a boy and losing her young daughter before the movie even begins, she spends the run-time of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity moving from one vacuum-set disaster to the next.

After ninety minutes of weightless, oxygen-lite hell, Stone finally makes it back to Earth, rising out of the primordial ooze ready for whatever other trials the universe wants to throw at her.

The Depressing Truth: You hope Stone enjoyed her time in space because there’s no chance her, nor anyone else, will go up there for at least a hundred years. The cascade of space debris that drives the plot is part of a scenario known as the Kessler syndrome, which theorises that high satellite density will lead to an unstoppable, ever growing rain of space parts. And in such an eventuality the speeding debris would make space travel and even using satellites impossible.

It goes against the individualist view of the movie, but by being so grounded in its special effects its events need to be treated like that too. Ultimately Stone’€™s survival distracts from the irreversible damage the film has wrought.

7. Inception – Cobb Just Destroyed A Business Empire With No Moral Motivation

Warner Bros.

The Allegedly Happy Ending: After the longest spell of dreams not involving sex ever, Leonardo DiCaprio makes it home to his estranged kids. Unable to see them after his crazy wife did crazy stuff, One Last Job (registered trademark) allows him to wipe his criminal history clean and live happily ever after.

Maybe; after melting out minds with the films multiple dream levels, the ending teases that this world hes in may not actually be reality. But it doesnt matter that much; Leo’s happy.

The Depressing Truth: There’s actually a much more ambiguous element of Inception’s ending that no one ever comments on. What was that one last job that allowed Cobb to swing away a murder charge? The motivations are brushed over, but essential C.E.O. Saito wants his rival Fischer to be tricked into disbanding his business empire. And given Saito is a man with no qualms about killing, it doesn’t seem like he’s the most moral guy.

Still, without a thought the team, through a series of shared dreams, completely mind-fudge a neglected young man, destroying his one positive relationship and convincing him to throw away his fortune, they could actually be doing something with utterly irreversible damage on the world. But ooh, look at the top spin.

6. The Woman In Black – It Doesn’t Matter If He’s With His Wife, He’s Still Dead

CBS Films

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Each version of The Woman In Black ends differently. The original book has the main character€™s family killed, which is amped up in the 1989 TV by having the hero die too. The West End stage play has an final scene so chilling it’d be a disservice to spoil it here, so let’s just say it’s haunting.

Wanting something a little more audience friendly for the Daniel Radcliffe-fronted version a couple of years ago, director James Watkins twisted the tale, with widower Arthur Kipps touchingly reunited with his wife at the film’s climax.

The Depressing Truth: Aw, he gets a happy ending. Shame he’s frickin dead. This film, which tenderly had the family walk into the mist together, essentially ends with the ghost winning, but that’s painted over with a unsettlingly happy colour on it.

It was a nice touch to make Radcliffe (who just a year before had been playing a boy wizard) as a grieving single father, but you feel the dead wife element was only put in to allow this tone-muddling ending.

5. Life Of Pi – The Second Story Has To Be True

20th Century Fox

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Stating earlier on its ambitions to make you believe in God, Life Of Pi weaves a tale of a young Indian boy stranded on a boat with a tiger that’s full of bright colours, CGI animals and personal discovery. Then at the end you get an alternative tale full of murder, tears and desperate cannibalism, with the suggestion being the previous story is a fantasy Pi has created to hide the darker truth.

But instead of leaving it open to interpretation, the film then leads you to the ending; the writer “prefers” the one with the tiger.

The Depressing Ending: Life Of Pi presents two versions of what happened between the ship sinking and the lifeboat landing on the beach, but dismisses the more rational one lest the audience start to believe it.

Ang Lee was so desperate the film be believed he recast the writer from Tobey Maguire to Rafe Spall, lest a famous actor reminded audiences they’re watching a film. And it’s also why the possibility the visual splendour you spent the past two hours watching was a lie is skirted over; power of God and all that.

4. Star Wars Episode IV: Return Of The Jedi – The Empire Isn’t Defeated


The Allegedly Happy Ending: As the end of Anakin Skywalker’s journey, Return Of The Jedi is the culmination of the whole Star Wars saga (good luck dealing with that Episode VII). There’s a sense of finality to proceedings; after two films of lurking in the shadows both Jabba the Hutt and the Emperor rear their wrinkly heads, ripe for defeat, while Vader begins to regain his humanity.

Say what you want about the Ewoks, it’s a high tension final chapter of a story. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final scenes. The second Death Star destroyed and the Emperor with it, all the Rebels gather for the Endor stage of a galaxy wide celebration of the Empire€™s fall. Yub nub indeed.

The Depressing Truth: It’s all nice that Anakin’s gone a lovely shade of blue, but the war is far from over. Put simply, the Empire won’t have been destroyed with the Emperor. The first two films had sufficient threat without the presence Palpatine, so he’s clearly not the sole force behind the machine; there’s a galaxy worth of fleets to defeat. And that’s ignoring that in the Expanded Universe the Imperial Remnant still exists over forty years after the end of Jedi.

But what about the celebrations across the galaxy, you ask? Well look where the celebrations are. Coruscant aside (included just for greater links to the prequels), they’re fringe places where the Empire likely had little of a foothold.

3. Total Recall – Dream Or Real, Quaid’s F**ked

TriStar Pictures

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Total Recall is what would be made if you back engineered Inception with Arnold instead of Leo and blood replacing exposition. In a condensed manner it€™s the story of a quarry worker who, following an implanted memory gone wrong, travels to Mars, where he gets the girl, kills the bad guys and saves the entire planet.

The ending is ambiguous as to whether what you’re seeing is actually real or a crazed hallucination (which would result in Schwarzenegger’s Quaid being lobotomised). Either way, Quaid (like Cobb) happily chooses it as his reality.

The Depressing Truth: Obviously if it’s a dream things can’t go well, but the reality option isn’t all that cheery either. The background conflict in the film is between a greedy air tycoon and rebels fighting to survive. In the end Quaid kills the tycoon and makes Mars hospitable, but all this does is open up a new power struggle; who will rule Mars.

The previous powers are all dead, so the militant rebels are going to assume control, no doubt clashing with Earth forces sent up to assess the situation. It’s substituting one problem for another.

2. Watchmen – Rorschach Revealing Everything Dooms The World

Warner Bros.

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s era-defining graphic novel may have compressed a lot of the themes to bring it to the screen but at the least the implication of the ending (if not the method itself) made it through unscathed.

Industrialist and former costume hero Adrian Veidt has successfully ended the Cold War by tricking the Americans and Russians into uniting against a larger threat (here superman Dr. Manhattan, in the book an exploding squid alien) and those aware of the plot have been forced to keep quiet.

However, before his death Rorschach sent his journal detailing the whole plot to the New Frontiersman, with the film ending just before it’s discovered.

The Depressing Truth: The conspiracy is actually the better outcome. Of course an honest resolution would be preferred, but once Manhattan’s been framed there’s nothing advantageous about revealing the truth.

This is why Nite Owl and Silk Spectre go along with it; it’s the lesser of two evils. In a world where conspiracy theories and suspected cover-ups are rife, it’€™s somewhat gratifying to see one unearthed, but (and it is a real moral conundrum) the reveal of the truth would do a lot more damage than good.

1. Life Of Brian – Theyre Still Being F**kin Crucified

Warner Bros.

The Allegedly Happy Ending: Monty Pythons third (and arguably best) feature film, Life Of Brian stirred up a lot of controversy upon release, with Christian groups taking umbrage at the mocking view the film took of religion. Good thing they toned it down from the original (joke) concept, Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory.

The titular Brian is an everyman who finds himself mistaken for a prophet and must contend with all the celebrity that comes with it. Arrested by Romans on unrelated terms (he’s a member of the inept People’s Front of Judea), the film ends with him and a group of criminals crucified. But don’t be too down; at least they go out singing one of the catchiest song ever.

The slow zoom out from the crosses scored to Eric Idle’s Always Looks On The Bright Side Of Life is one of the funniest (if slightly darkly so) movie moments of all time.

The Depressing Truth: OK, you probably twigged the cheery song was hiding the in-your-face spectre of death, but that doesn’t take away from the fact it’s a pretty happy ending from an audience perspective.

One of the most blatant faux-happy endings out there, The Bright Side Of Life keeps Life Of Brian’s ending from slipping into dourness. No doubt you left the film invigorated with a spring in your step and a memorable tune to hum.


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