Happily ever after, or a sad closing chapter?

TV Editor Sophie Hicks strays from her section to speak about her favourite romantic movies that don't end in an "I do!"

Sophie Hicks
3rd February 2020
Image: IMDB
As Valentine's Day emerges, many of us edge towards watching romantic movies (as either comfort with a loved one, or to be comforted by snacks). However, not all of us want that 'happily ever after ending', or maybe we do but it doesn't quite happen. Either way, in my completely biased opinion, here are the best romantic films without a happy ending. Oh, and obviously, this is absolutely going to have spoilers so if you just want to scroll and see the names of the films then that's cool, but if you've watched them and want to see my descent into a breakdown, then this could be a fun read.
Brokeback Mountain

I was first introduced to this film quite randomly when my old GCSE Media Studies teacher kept mentioning it briefly in passing conversation, and all that I knew about it was that it featured "gay cowboys" and it was "sad" and OH BOY. Everything about it is so beautiful and so very, very harrowing. I'm not entirely sure where to begin with this film. Jack and Ennis can never truly be themselves because they live in a homophobic world, scared to love each other because they know of the consequences; Ennis haunted by memories of men being murdered for their sexuality, scared of the same fate. You root for them the entire time to be together, to leave their wives and run away on a ranch somewhere. However, it isn't as simple as that. They have families to protect and take care of, they're conflicted by their own emotions and ultimately ends in tragedy. Both Ledger and Gyllenhaal perform the hell out of the roles, and the collection of the words "I wish I knew how to quit you" never stop stinging after watching this movie. If there's a movie ending that is guaranteed to crush me, it's the final scene of Brokeback Mountain (and when Ennis buttons up the shirt...I literally cannot stop sobbing). I cannot recommend this film enough if you want to feel warm and fuzzy followed by the absolute carnage of all your vital organs.

West Side Story

Okay, okay, okay I know this was a musical first (and still is a musical movie) but this is MY list and therefore it is staying in the film list. Also, everyone knows it from the iconic film. If you aren't aware of the plot to West Side Story, it has everything you want. It's basically New York Romeo and Juliet with the gang rivalry, high stakes and saucy romance. But instead of a weird suicide-pact thing, it's much more emotional as Maria has to continue her life without the love of her life. The rift between the Jets and the Sharks (the gangs) eventually causes the tragic death of Tony as the gangs refuse to end their hatred. The scene where Maria holds him as he dies is honestly heart breaking to watch because you can see the utter pain in both their eyes at the realisation of what's to come. When Tony's dying and Maria starts singing 'Someday' I CAN'T STOP CRYING EVERY SINGLE TIME. So yeah, if you want a fun-filled two and a half hours of timeless songs, love, feud and utter misery then West Side Story would be a happy lil' Valentines watch.


Casablanca is a classic for a reason, and honestly what's not to like when it has Nazis and romance? Despite it being made in 1942 it's still seen as one of the best movies of all time. The plot revolves around Rick who owns a popular nightclub in Casablanca, where refugees seek help whilst trying to escape Europe in WW2 by acquiring letters of transit so they can go through the borders to America. However, one day Rick's old love Ilsa and her husband come and he needs to decide if he should help them escape, whilst Ilsa and Rick begin to fall in love again. It's about war and loss, and ultimately, sacrifice for the greater good. Although Rick and Ilsa don't end up together, Rick knows she and her husband need to escape before the Nazis find them and if that isn't romantic, then what is honestly? Oh, and 'As Time Goes By' is literally such a gorgeous song and reason enough to watch the film. It's a classic for a reason and although it may have a bittersweet end, "We'll always have Paris."

Call Me by Your Name

This film utterly destroyed me when I saw it in the cinema, to the point where I just sat in the toilets for about 15 minutes after just trying to compose myself. Firstly, THE SOUNDTRACK. The soundtrack itself is so sad and beautiful and sets the tone perfectly, Sufjan Stevens really outdid himself with 'Mystery of Love' which is one of the most magical songs I've ever heard, sounding like sitting by a river with the warmth of sunshine on your face and daisies between your fingers. But anyway, back to the film. Elio and Oliver spend a summer in Italy together when Elio's dad takes Oliver on to help with his research, and the two share a bond like no other. The film deals with them coming to terms with their sexuality and is visually breath-taking in every way of the word. It doesn't feel like a film, you feel literally transported to Italy and everything feels so intimate, like you're listening in to conversations that good friends share. But what's heart wrenching is that it is only a summer romance, Oliver has to leave and gets married to someone else. The final scene of this film completely destroys me and honestly, Timotheé Chalamet's acting is superb as he cries THROUGH THE CREDIT ROLL, the true heartbreak-pain silent-sob where you don't want people to hear. He's completely broken as the song 'Visions of Gideon' plays and crushes your soul, repeating "I have loved you for the last time, Is it a video? Is it a video?"

La La Land

Surprise surprise, another musical. This one also happens to be one of my favourite films. La La Land follows the aspiring actress Mia and jazz-enthusiast Sebastian in their LA love story, realising if their dreams can co-exist whilst one another are still in their lives. It's the perfect "Will they, won't they?" film whilst being completely whimsical and wonderful. The film goes through the seasons of the year and conveys where they are in their lives and the relationship, and when things start to change. It isn't a sad ending as such, it's a bittersweet one because they're both living their dreams, but just not with each other. And I think that's what's so great about the film, it realises that some people are important in your life to help you grow and change, but ultimately sometimes those people don't stay in our lives, nor should they. Yes, they have a fun whirlwind romance and bring out the best in each other, but their aspirations take them in different directions, and they both realise this through their own self-discoveries during their relationship. The epilogue shows us what could have been, but ultimately it isn't and they both accept it because that's life, they've moved on. Honestly, this film has everything. A stunning soundtrack and at the hands of the wonderful director Damien Chazelle, it's art.

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AUTHOR: Sophie Hicks
Former TV Sub-Editor for The Courier and BA Media Communication and Cultural Studies graduate

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