Some love stories never get their happily ever after. Other movies have the climax of the story be a first kiss, the first ‘I love you’ or even a proposal. Or they detail how a once-thriving relationship falls apart through breakup or divorce.
With some tears ugly, bountiful boxes of tissues and heavy spoilers ahead, these are some of cinema’s most tragic romances. Considering movies where the death of one or both of the leads is inevitable, whether audiences saw it coming or when it’s only obvious in hindsight.
Jack and Rose – ‘Titanic’
James Cameron’s epic disaster movie spends its entire runtime tempting fate with several cheeky lines about the world’s first unsinkable ship. Leonardo DiCaprios Jack Dawson is an impoverished artist who won his way into a ticket aboard Titanic at the very last second. Kate Winslet’s Rose DeWitt Bukater sails with her future husband-to-be, rich and snooty Cale Hockley (Billy Zane).
Though they only have a few days together, the romance between Jack and Rose blooms quickly, spurned on by Rose’s looming marriage. Jack represents the freedom Rose has yearned for and after Titanic sinks and the few survivors are rescued, she takes his name and finds herself finally free.
Ally and Jackson – ‘A Star is Born’
Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson’s (Bradley Cooper) relationship falls apart almost as fast as it comes together. In this fourth retelling of the A Star is Born story, Ally is an unknown talent stumbled upon by Jackson, a seasoned, well known country rock star. He takes her under his wing, and they form a relationship. Then Ally’s fame explodes, quickly overshadowing Jackson’s as she comes into her own.
Jackson, all the while, has been fighting an alcohol and drug addiction that eventually leads to some embarrassing public appearances. Ally’s reputation starts being dragged down by her association with him and their relationship suffers. Jackson, suffering relapse, hangs himself after being convinced he’s holding her back, leaving much life and music unwritten.
Christian and Satine – ‘Moulin Rouge’
Within the first few lines of the movie, Satine’s death is no secret. Set in one of Paris’ most famous cabarets, Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a penniless writer enraptured by the star of the show, Satine (Nicole Kidman) in this jukebox musical. In order to gain the patronage of the Duke (Richard Roxburgh), Christian and Satine improvise a stage musical to win over new customers and revitalize the Moulin Rouge.
Satine is caught in a love triangle between the Duke who only wants to own her, and Christian who’s fallen in love with her, all while she suffers severe symptoms of a fatal sickness. The show must go on, and Satine, in the end, has Christian only for a moment. As the curtains fall on the Moulin Rouge’s successful performance, she dies in his arms having fulfilled her dream of becoming ‘a real actress’.
Jack and Ennis – ‘Brokeback Mountain’
Brokeback Mountain has tragedy looming over the characters for the entire story that deserved every Oscar it didn’t get. Set in the 1960s, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) are stuck taking bitter work herding sheep around the titular mountain in Wyoming. The two begin and intimate, although not particularly romantic, relationship immediately discovered by their boss.
The rest of the movie spans years of stolen nights up on Brokeback as both men marry and start families neither are wholly satisfied with, wondering ‘what if’ things had been different. The crumb of a happy ending is still on the horizon until Ennis finds out Jack’s been murdered, having been discovered. It ends with a tearful question of ‘what could have been’ and Ennis’ declaration to keep living.
Romeo and Juliet – ‘Romeo + Juliet’
No love story is more iconic a tragedy than that of Juliet and her dear Romeo. In Baz Luhrmann‘s 1991 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play, the Montagues and Capulets are rival gangs instead of rival families, with the titular characters played by DiCaprio and Claire Danes who meets at a masquerade.
With some minor changes to the setting of the play and character names, the adaptation is mostly faithful to Shakespeare’s original work, particularly where it concerns the titular characters. Romeo, believing Juliet has died, kills himself in despair. When Juliet wakes and sees that Romeo has died, she shoots herself, the two becoming costly casualties in the feud between the families.
Maria and Tony – ‘West Side Story’
Another Romeo and Juliet between rival gangs has a major discrepancy from the traditional tragedy that sets it apart from the many derivative adaptations. 1961’s West Side Stories rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, are pitted against each other by class and cultural differences. At the center of it all are Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer).
The two fall in love despite their loyalties to their gangs and the social divides between them, but tragedy inevitably strikes. Instead of a fatefully ill-timed miscommunication, Tony’s fate is sealed by a frustrated lie, that Maria’s been killed. Tony, in despair, seeks out Maria’s supposed killer, and right as the two reunite, Tony’s shot and dies in her arms.
Hazel and Gus – ‘The Fault in Our Stars’
A book and its movie adaptation about kids with cancer could really only end one way. hazel (Shailene Woodley) is sent to a cancer support group and while there, meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), in remission for his own cancer. The two share their favorite books, Hazel’s being a stark reflection of her own situation left with an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. On a quest for answers and a better ending, Hazel and Gus seek out the book’s author in Amsterdam.
The author, a surly and bitter man, has no satisfying conclusion for her, but the two try to make the best of their trip and Gus reveals that his cancer’s returned, and is terminal. Gus succumbs soon after, having accepted his fate in a tear-jerking, bittersweet ending that makes no miracles for short lots drawn in life.
Gatsby and Daisy – ‘The Great Gatsby’
Baz Luhrmann’s third tragic romance, and DiCaprio’s third tragic character on this list, Gatsby (DiCaprio/Robert Redford) and Daisy’s (Carey Mulligan/Mia Farrow) relationship is far less a romance than the titular Gatsby believes it to be. Both the 1974 and 2013 adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic are mostly faithful to the book’s story. Gatsby, after returning from World War I and making a fortune for himself, is determined to rekindle his relationship with Daisy, already married with a daughter.
Gatsby throws magnificent parties on the hopes that she’ll wander in and bought his house solely because it sits across the bay from Daisy’s, stuck living in the past and convinced his wealth will be enough to win her over. The two reunite and Daisy is won over by Gatsby’s success – only his success. After an accident with Daisy’s reckless driving, Gatsby is shot and killed and is quickly abandoned by both Daisy and all his lavish party guests who never gave a single thought to their host.
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