The 10 Saddest Movie Endings Ever

These 10 movies have the saddest endings known to cinema.

By Britta DeVore | Updated

The world of cinema is packed with some soul-crushing stories of love, injustice, and the unfair hands that the world sometimes deals us all. Even though the most heartfelt films are always packed with devastating plots, they’ve also helped bring some of the best performances from the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Morgan Freeman – just to name a few. If you’re in for a tear-jerker, grab a box of tissues and take notes on GFR’s top 10 saddest movies

10. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

A classic piece of Japanese animation, this 1988 feature from Isao Takahata is the perfect crossover of war epic and drama. In the film, audiences are transported to the colorful world of Kobe Japan in June 1945 – but the vibrance of life stops there. During Grave of the Fireflies, the spirits of two orphaned children take audiences through how they relied on one another during the final days of the bloodshed and how their souls reunited in the afterlife. One of the saddest movies of its kind, the title has been long acclaimed for its very real and dark portrayal of the horrors of war. 

9. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

In 2014, Josh Boone dropped The Fault in Our Stars, one of the saddest teen movies of the last few decades. Led by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, the film tells the story of two teens, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley) and Gus Waters (Elgort) who are both struggling with cancer diagnoses at a support group.

The duo forms an unshakeable bond over their love of books and, when Gus gets the opportunity to meet Hazel Grace’s favorite author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), he takes her along for the ride to celebrate the beauty of life. A massive success at the box office, the film boasted an A-list call sheet that included the likes of Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, and Sam Trammell, making it a slam dunk for audiences and critics alike.

8. Old Yeller (1957)

Is there anything sadder than a movie about a pet? When it comes to films about a man’s best friend, there’s almost a guaranteed sad ending lurking around the corner for the viewer. Perhaps the most legendary example of this would be in the iconic 1957 film, Old Yeller, a title that certainly takes the cake as one of the saddest movies that scarred many of us during our childhoods.

Based on Fred Gipson’s 1956 novel of the same name, the Walt Disney-produced film centers around an American family living in Texas. The Civil War has just torn the country apart and a boy and a stray dog that his family takes in have their lives changed forever by their tight-knit bond. 

7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Signing on for two career-making roles, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger may have not known what they were getting into when they joined the cast of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Not only is this one of the saddest movies out there but it features some incredible performances from its leading cast, which also includes Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, leading to a slew of Academy Award nominations.

The feature centers around a rodeo cowboy named Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and a ranch hand named Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) who meet in 1963 when doing work as sheepherders in Wyoming. The two men fall for one another on top of Brokeback Mountain and thus a heart-wrenching love affair begins between the two men over 20 years.

6. A Walk to Remember (2002)

If you’re of a certain age, there’s no doubt that you’ll remember rushing to the movie theater with your friends to see a romance play out between Mandy Moore and Shane West. Mandy Moore was in the middle of her popstar phase when she landed the leading role in A Walk to Remember in which she played a teenager afflicted with cancer.

When she catches the eye and wins the affections of the local bad boy (West), a star-crossed romance takes off that leads to the number 6 saddest movie on our list. The Adam Shankman-directed film not only featured the blossoming pop star in one of her first film roles but also gave her a platform to show off her singing skills.

5. The Book Thief  (2013)

saddest movies

Coming in at the number 5 spot on our list of the saddest movies is Brian Percival’s 2013 drama, The Book Thief. Unfortunately, the tragedy of war makes for devastating storylines filled with complex characters and deep feelings of loss and sadness, something that can certainly be said for the film adaptation of the 2005 novel of the same name.

Taking place in Nazi Germany, the film centers around a young girl who shares her books with a Jewish refugee hiding out by her foster parents. The only thing to make the performances of legendary names like Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse better is that the film contains music from celebrated composer John Williams.

4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Million Dollar Baby on Netflix

While Clint Eastwood has directed and starred in an uncountable amount of productions, Million Dollar Baby is the only one to show up on our list of the saddest movies for good reason. Along with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, the Hollywood icon starred in a movie about a boxing trainer in Los Angeles who has had enough of his career in the sport until he meets a young boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank).

Grumpy and checked out, training Maggie reinvigorates Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn and the duo forms a tight-knight bond that will forever change their lives. The film went on to rake in seven Academy Award nominations with Swank and Freeman winning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, and Eastwood taking home the title of Best Director and Best Picture.  

3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

saddest movies

Another film about the atrocities of war – specifically those of WWII, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas takes home the coveted third-place position on our list of the saddest movies. A piece of historical drama, based on a novel of the same name, the Mark Herman feature follows the bond between two young boys living in Nazi-occupied Poland.

While one is the son of an SS officer, the other is a Holocaust prisoner of the same age. Displaying the humanity that unites us all, the film is an absolute tearjerker with touching performances from Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, Amber Beattie, and Rupert Friend.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

saddest movies

Leave it to Stephen King to land the top two titles on our list of the saddest movies. Coming in at number two is 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. A story of injustice, perseverance, and redemption, the film follows Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a man who has been sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the murders of his wife and her lover.

But, there’s a catch – Andy didn’t commit the crimes he’s been charged with. Upon arriving at the penitentiary, he makes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman) and the duo form a close and life-changing bond that will carry them over 19 years within the walls of the facility. 

1. The Green Mile (1999)

saddest movies

So, we kind of spoiled the top film on our list of the saddest movies in the previous paragraph where we gave away that iconic horror novelist Stephen King had two of his works on our roundup. Coming in at the number one spot is Frank Darabont’s 1999 four-time Academy Award-nominated film, The Green Mile. Another introspective look at the bonds of humanity, the film centers around Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), an officer assigned to death row duties at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary.

Though he’s met a lot of folks waiting in line for death, he never met someone quite like John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a massively built man who was convicted of killing two young sisters. While his size may have made him the prime suspect, his gentle attitude gave off nothing of the sort which in turn made Paul question the likelihood of this man truly being the monster he was made out to be.