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Esoteric Happy Ending / Live-Action Films

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  • 2012 ends with the arks receiving news that the global floodwaters are receding and they're heading to start a new colony on the African continent. Only then you remember that the entire world had just experienced a huge mess of geological disasters- continent-cracking earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (including Yellowstone), gargantuan tsunamis that drown most of the world, the entire Earth's crust shifting by 23 degrees, the magnetic fields reversing, etc. In all likelihood, the majority of the Earth's ecosystems have been destroyed and nearly all species wiped out, either from the disasters themselves or the resulting pollution from natural and man-made sources. The Earth is also due for a volcanic winter of hellish proportions with the ash and sulfur dioxide from all the eruptions. To make matters worse, most of the people on the arks are the wealthy elite and are probably not equipped with the skills needed to rebuild all of civilization. Not to mention the actions by those onboard showcase that most of them are pretty damn arrogant and will likely be squabbling over who gets to be in charge. There's also the Unfortunate Implications at play in a group of affluent, mostly white and Asian people settling en masse in Africa.
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  • In The Apple, the music-Mega-Corp BIM pretty much takes over the world, with only a small hippie commune being the last refuge of truth and individuality. At very end God/Mr. Topps comes and raptures all the good guys, but the bad guys and the rest of humanity are just left alone. So essentially God took away the last chance for the freedom of Earth. And since it's implied BIM's CEO is the Devil himself, it pretty much means God let Satan win.
  • The ending of Avatar sees all but a few humans expelled from Pandora. The entire reason they were sent there was to both help expand humanity into space to escape the dying Earth and to get enough Unobtanium to put an end to the ongoing energy crisis. Without either of those, Jake and friends have pretty much guaranteed humanity is doomed to a slow, painful extinction if they don't find another habitable planet. Which they probably can't without said Unobtanium. Even worse, the threat of human extinction means there's incentive for humanity to return with even more forces who are far better equipped and have zero interest in diplomacy this time to seize Pandora, and the Na'vi barely win against Quaritch's small security force. But hey, Jake is permanently part of his Avatar now, so it's all good.
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  • Avengers: Infinity War: Interestingly, this example is an EHE done on purpose. From Thanos' perspective, the ending is exactly what he wanted — he completes his Badass Fingersnap, gets to safety and despite the heavy cost of his success, he gets to sit down and relax on a peaceful, scenic planet, content that he has accomplished his long-sought goal, proved his people wrong for rejecting his plans and saved the universe from a potential Overpopulation Crisis. Everyone else, on the other hand, is left to make sense of what's happening to their friends and family who are Reduced to Dust in front of them, including the heroes, as literally half the universe dies, and several more in the resulting carnage. Several people fall into a Heroic BSoD, and the Avengers are left standing or sitting around looking sad, signalling to the audience that this is truly their Darkest Hour. The only glimmer of hope is that just before he dies, Nick Fury is able to send a call for help to an old friend.
  • The sequel Avengers: Endgame, ends on a bittersweet note. But thinking about it, it can seem merely bitter.
    • The heroes undo the snap and wipe out Thanos' army, but they stop at only undoing the snap, and the way it works essentially results in all those wiped out just suddenly appearing, five years after disappearing, having not aged. Ignoring the long-term psychological effects for people who lost five years, the damage their time missing would have on their loved ones, and the dissonance that will arise from trying to fit back into their old lives, this indicates that anyone who died indirectly from the snap, either beforehand as a result of Thanos' conquest (e.g. Loki, the Asgardians, the original Gamora, Vision), or after as a result of those people disappearing (e.g. passengers on planes whose pilots were snapped away, people in medical crisis after doctors are snapped away, people who couldn't handle the loss and committed suicide, etc), wouldn't be returned. Also, any person who remarried or found new love after their old one ended is going to be in a very traumatic position.
    • The conclusion to Steve's arc, in the minds of some. After years of trying to build a new life for himself, getting Bucky back and forming new friendships with Sam and the other Avengers, he decides to go back in time and live out his life with Peggy. While the directors eventually confirmed that Steve did in fact go to an alternate timeline instead of simply living in the background of the "main" one, thus side-stepping a multitude of issues like him not trying to save Bucky before the events of The Winter Soldier, this still comes with some baggage, like Steve knowing Sharon since she was a baby, knowing his past self would go on and be romantically involved with her, having another Steve frozen in the Arctic while he stays with Peggy, and the fact that he comes back to Peggy with a metric ton of emotional baggage and trauma.
    • There's also the other damage unintentionally done to the alternate timelines as well. While all the Infinity Stones are indeed returned to their rightful, respective timelines and locations, other things go wrong as a result. These things include, but are not limited to: Loki escaping with the Tesseract, Crossbones and Sitwell targeting Cap when the other one made them believe he was HYDRA and got the staff from them, the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility going into a panic with the Tesseract disappearing there too, Cap having questions about Bucky as well as how or if Loki knocked him out while disguised as him, Mjolnir going missing at a time Thor may have needed it, whatever crazy (but probably very comedic) thing might have happened when Jane had the ether pulled out of her by Rocket, and so on. Just one of these things alone is sure to bring about even more problems as well. Sure, Steve from the first timeline could provide information about HYDRA and Bucky to Alternate Timeline Steve, but that doesn't fix the first and last problems.
    • In the main timeline, the Time Stone was destroyed by Thanos and the borrowed version returned to its original timeline. Those who saw Doctor Strange (2016) will recall that the Time Stone was the only thing stopping Dormammu from consuming our dimension and now it's gone. We'll just have to hope he's forgotten about us...
  • Invoked by Jean Cocteau in Beauty and the Beast (1946) who deliberately made the Beast's transformation into a handsome prince feel oddly unsatisfying with Belle reacting to the transformation with not unbridled joy but a pensive "I'll have to get used to it." In Cocteau's own words:
    "My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: 'And they had many children.'"
  • Bio-Dome ends with the eponymous Bio-Dome facility being destroyed and the scientists praising the main heroes Bud and Doyle for their actions, thinking it was a giant success. Thing is, however, Bud and Doyle actually ruined everything that the crew of the Bio-Dome tried to accomplish, and the lead scientist, Dr. Noah Faulkner, who was the only one against Bud and Doyle's actions, slowly went insane over the course of the film. There's also the fact that the two slackers got away scot-free with everything they've done to disrupt the project, including attempting to rape two female scientists.
  • The Book of Masters makes the mistakes of a) floating somewhere in-between a classical fairytale, a parody of a fairytale, and a Grey-and-Gray Morality fantasy, and b) miscasting The Hero. The ending has all of the official couples getting a formal happy ending and the Wicked Witch making a Heel–Face Turn (or rather getting a face-heel-brainwashing curse lifted). However, the main heroine (a somewhat naive but clever and responsible girl) marries an infantile idiot, while the Anti-Villain who would have been much more suitable for her is not only rejected, but gets turned to stone to save her life – and no one even remembers him in the end. On top of it all, the fates of many Ensemble Dark Horse minor characters aren't specified at all.
    • To make it worse, if you stick with the realistic fantasy interpretation, the main heroine is now doomed to serfdom, as marrying a serf in the feudalism era made you one as well, even if you were a princess.
  • According to Terry Gilliam, the idea for Brazil came from him wondering whether or not an ending where the main character goes insane could be happy. On one hand, the lead character is tortured into insanity, on the other, well, he's no longer aware of it.
  • Dredd: The title character and Anderson manage to kill Ma-Ma and escape from Peach Trees... however, the movie stated that Ma-Ma made her way to become the criminal kingpin of that structure by killing all rival gangs, and now that she's gone, there's a huge power vacuum in Peach Trees, meaning that all its inhabitants will likely have to endure many, many gang wars between criminals that want to take Ma-Ma's place. Then again, Dredd established early on how much crapsack Mega City One is by stating that the Judges can only respond to 6% of all the emergency calls they receive every single day.
  • Elysium already ends on a bittersweet note with the protagonist dying to provide free access to Elysium's medical technology to the earth. Unfortunately fridge logic dictates that the problems that led the world to become so poor and destitute are going to become a lot worse. It's explicitly stated everything is so bad because of poor population but at the end everyone now has technology that can stave off death for hundreds of years if not forever. Overpopulation is now going to happen a lot faster and the Earth is simply going to run out of resources entirely. On top of that, the crippling poverty isn't really solved, so even in a best case scenario, all the surviving characters can only look forward to are long and miserable lives.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) ends with Klaatu agreeing to spare the Earth and humanity, but only after he generates an EMP so powerful that it stops all technology on Earth. Assuming that it really is an EMP, and that the technology that is currently in existence is affected, then millions will die initially and then we will swiftly reconstruct the technology we had already designed. We will likely achieve world peace, which was his aim in the original, but we will only be at peace with each other in order to better prepare to wreak vengeance on the aliens that caused this cataclysm. We may become more concerned with the environment, or simply not care about it anymore, in our rush to achieve sustainable civilisation outside of Earth's atmosphere. If it was something more than an EMP and that isn't possible, billions will die and human civilization will collapse into a bloody age of barbarism. But at least Jacob finally called Helen "Mom", right?
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ends with the good guys murdering a child, because they fear his destructive capabilities, despite the whole movie up to this point showing us why this attitude is wrong; the fantastic beasts also have terrible destructive capabilities, but Newt demonstrates that they only need a little bit of understanding and then they can be managed safely. Amazingly, Newt and co. actually try to do this first (and even so does the villain!) before the Magical Congress arrives and promptly obliterate him. RIP mistreated child. They also force Jacob to forget all his adventures, notably his romance with Queenie, which is not happy at all. Not to mention the entire city forgetting an evening – just think of all the other romances broken, jobs lost, crimes unseen, etc. And in the end, Newt leaves and the Magical Congress makes no changes to how they operate, despite their procedures repeatedly causing disaster. Hooray? It's no surprise that the sequel undoes several of these issues.
  • Fight Club is supposed to have a Bittersweet Ending: The unnamed protagonist has eliminated Tyler Durden and has earned Marla's respect and love, but Tyler's Project Mayhem succeeds in destroying the headquarters of several large companies and banks. For some anti-establishment viewers, however, they see it as a complete happy ending, as they actually like what Project Mayhem intended to do and are glad that it accomplished a global financial crash.
  • Gravity: While Stone more than earns her happy endings, surviving all those near-fatal encounters and making it back to Earth alive, the planet's orbit is now undergoing the Kessler syndrome. Basically, all that debris is going to be zooming around and making it highly impractical to send anything into orbit for decades, possibly even centuries. Nobody is leaving the planet anytime soon.
  • Hancock: The eponymous hero has found out that he and Mary are the two last survivors of a group of near-immortal beings of enormous power and older than Genghis Khan himself who cannot be together without losing their powers and becoming mortal. The film ends with them having to give up on their romance to prevent each other's deaths and to keep the world safe. Problem is (other than Hancock having his heart broken), this means Mary is fated to see her husband Ray, their son and all the people she'll ever call "loved ones" grow old and die, so her dreams of living a normal life are all but fated to go down the drain. Same goes for Hancock, and if a certain deleted scene is to be believed, he can't even have sex without causing serious damages or death to those he has sex with, so procreation might be out of the question for him. Or, maybe he can reproduce and could potentially bring more demigods to the world who may end sharing his same burden...or becoming supervillains. Also, since Hancock is so drawn to help others that he can't end his life the same way the other immortals did, this means he's fated to keep helping those in need for perhaps all of eternity, even if they end up treating him like crap later on. Finally, if Mary's story is to be believed, Hancock and her have gone through the same on-and-off relationship for a long time and will probably end up doing the same thing again.
  • House on Haunted Hill (1999): The movie ends with the final two survivors escaping the evil ghosts of the house by climbing the tower and leaving through a window. Cue the sunshine and "we're alive!" hugs. They're still both stranded on top of a haunted house which is itself alive and will devour them the moment they go back inside, with no way down except a 200 foot drop off a cliff and no one coming to their rescue. How are they getting out of there again?
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man: While Scott may have come to terms with the fact of what's happening to him as he shrinks to nothing (he states in the voiceover that "To God there is no zero"), this is at best bittersweet. He faces almost certain death; plus, his wife and his brother are convinced that he died a horrible death: being torn apart and eaten by the Careys' own cat. Matheson created a sequel where Scott's wife realizes she's shrinking too, reasons that he's not dead and that the antitoxin has a delayed effect, seeks him out and brings him back, but this was never produced.
  • The Internship ends with the main characters winning the competition, in which their rewards are nothing more than jobs at Google. This article discusses why some people who watched the film at the time of its release might not consider it a very uplifting story.
    Was a movie like this ever made during any previous bad economy? The Great Depression equivalent might be the story of a pair of unemployed guys competing against hundreds to go work on Henry Ford's assembly line. But no, such a movie was never made — and could not exist — because in no previous America would turning yourself into a cog in somebody else's machine be considered an achievement worthy of celebration.
    And in no previous America would it be considered a victory if 95 percent of your fellows were still left on the street. Rather, the Great Depression cinema made heroes of gangsters, con men and fast talking individualists, guys who chose survival by not fitting in.
  • Juno: A good number of viewers have expressed skepticism that Juno's son would be better off with the nervous, flighty, and recently divorced Vanessa than with Juno herself, who despite being only 16 is very smart and rational for her age and by all appearances has a better support network than Vanessa does. An earlier draft of the script was even worse as it showed Juno as absolutely miserable over giving up her baby.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service ends with Gary stopping a device that can turn everyone in the planet into mass-murdering psychos Just in Time and saving the day. Except, "Just in Time" here means "just five minutes after the device was activated", meaning that for five full minutes, every person on the planet without a special microchip turned into a bloodthirsty beast for enough time to murder any person nearby (including, of course, loved ones, the elderly, and kids). That could easily mean millions, or even billions have died and/or caused countless destruction all over the world; imagine the physical, psychological or economic damage resulting from that. At the same time, many corrupt leaders and businessmen explode into a gory mess, and while this is certainly what they deserved, that also means that dozens of important leaders have died, leaving their badly damaged countries with a sudden power vacuum.
  • Knowing. Almost everybody is killed as the entire planet is incinerated, but some 30-odd kids survived and went to a wonderful Garden of Eden-esque place! And they're gonna repopulate the human race!
  • Law Abiding Citizen goes to great lengths to show us how the justice system is not actually interested in justice, how the legal process actively prevents justice from taking place, and how those involved in the system all share responsibility for this. The violent prologue really hammers home how Clyde Shelton is quite justified in his revenge against his family's killers, and his subsequent crusade against the justice system itself. Everyone he murders is depicted as sympathetic but also responsible for (at least a little) injustice being carried out against others. In the end, the system defeats Clyde. The only one other person who has any idea why this is all happening, Nick Rice, escapes completely unscathed and the only lesson he seems to learn is to spend more quality time with his family. The movie ends without any discussion of how Rice decided to murder Clyde, does not refute any of the points Clyde brings up about the flaws of the justice system, and makes no changes to the status quo.
  • The Ledge: The director states that the ending was meant to be a Bittersweet Ending as even though Gavin dies at the end, Hollis at least has reconciled with his family, Shana has outgrown the silly superstitions of religion and the dangerous maniac Joe is now in jail where he belongs. But Shana herself is now emotionally broken and all alone in the world, with her marriage destroyed, her husband in jail and her lover Gavin dead. It will be a damn miracle if she doesn't end up going back to her previous life of prostitution and drug abuse.
  • This may or may not be the point of Let the Right One In. There are two possible outcomes of the ending: one is that Oskar takes on the role of The Renfield for Eli and procures blood for her for the rest of his life, the other (endorsed by Word Of God) is that she turns him into a vampire, forcing him to kill for survival as well.
  • Live Wire: The film ends with Danny O'Neil defeating the villains and getting his ex-wife back. Great! Unfortunately, his actual mission was to protect three Senators who had been targeted for assassination by said villains, and all of them die, two killed by the baddies, and the last being accidentally impaled on a spike AFTER being rescued... but he was Danny's wife's new boyfriend and also a jerk, so his life obviously doesn't matter.
  • Midsommar, like Brazil, features a deliberate Mind Screw example. The film ends with the much-beleaguered heroine Dani grinning from ear to ear, as she's finally free of all the toxic influences in her life and has found a group of people who accept her... who happen to be a dangerous cult who got rid of the aforementioned toxic people by ritually murdering them. Plus Dani is grinning ear to ear not in relief, but in madness, as the cult has been brainwashing her all along, breaking her for good by manipulating her into choosing to sacrifice Christian.
  • Mission to Mars: It's bad enough that the tragic, "benevolent" Martian precursors have killed a team of innocent astronauts by building a horrifying security system and the protagonists (including a surviving member of the murdered team) seem to gloss over that detail. But in the end, Jim decides to leave on an ancient spacecraft that will take him to the new home of the Martians, who left Mars after an asteroid made it inhospitable and seeded a young Earth with life before leaving. Eons have passed since that happened... what assures us that there's even a culture left at the place this spaceship is taking Jim to?!
  • The Next Three Days: They do escape to Venezuela, which is certainly preferable to the alternative...but now what? They'll have to find a way to make a living in a country where they don't have working rights and they probably don't speak the language (the movie never says they don't speak Spanish, but there's also no indication that either of them does). For good measure, back in Pittsburgh we see the last piece of evidence that might have cleared Lara is literally washed down the drain, so there's no chance at all they'll ever be able to go home.
  • The Brazilian movie O Auto Da Compadecida ends with hero being resurrected and getting a second chance in life and his best friend getting together with his love interest at last. The problem is that the girl ran off from home and was disowned by her father and the trio are now living by themselves in the harsh Brazilian Northeast deserts. It doesn't help that most of the cast also got killed off over the course of the movie too.
  • Word of God describes Oldboy (2003) as having a happy ending that's sad or a sad ending that's happy. Either way, the implication is that the protagonist continues to carry on an incestuous relationship with his own unwitting daughter, and that he may or may not know himself.
  • The Lassie film, The Painted Hills: Shep (Lassie) managed to avenge the death of her owner by driving his killer, Taylor, off a cliff. And rather than simply give up and die, she decides to live on with Tommy, the son of Jonathan's late partner. But Taylor had killed Jonathan in order to steal their gold claim for himself. The site of Jonathan's claim died with the two of them, and Taylor had hidden the gold dust he and Jonathan had already gathered: a fortune lost to Tommy and his mother.
  • The Player is a deliberate example that deconstructs the Focus Group Ending: the obligatory happy ending simply doesn't work when the hero not only gets away with murder, but steals everything his victim had.
  • Resident Evil: The Final Chapter ends with the heroes defeating Umbrella and developing a cure for the T-Virus. It seems like the day is saved-except for the fact that the human race has dwindled down to slightly over 4,000 people, way too few to sustain any kind of civilization above Iron Age-level. Combine that with the devastation of Earth's biosphere caused by the infection of fauna, and humanity's future is looking very bleak.
  • Rocky V. Rocky kicks Tommy's ass in a street fight, but he's still broke, and Tommy is still the champion. No wonder Sylvester Stallone declared it Canon Discontinuity, though Rocky Balboa still opens with Rocky back in his old neighborhood, though thankfully no longer broke as he now runs his own restaurant.
  • Seven Pounds which tries to make Tim's obsessive self-flagellation and ultimate suicide a morally uplifting Heroic Sacrifice. Also, his preferred method of suicide is box jellyfish. Which kills via a neurotoxin that will render the organs he wants to donate useless.
  • Showgirls: The film ends with Nomi Malone leaving Vegas scot-free, having learned valuable lessons about the price of fame on her own identity (and after beating the hell out of the man who raped her best friend, to boot). However, Molly is still in a coma, neither Nomi nor Cristal (the latter of which was pushed down a flight of stairs by the former) are available to helm the Stardust's signature show just days before its opening, and Andrew Carver is presumably still a predator at-large (once his face heals up, anyway). That's not even touching on how Nomi doesn't seem to have really learned anything from her experience.
  • The indie drama Sleepwalking tries to make its ending seem like a happy and uplifting one: The mother finally returns realizing that she does love her daughter and her brother has realized how he is not enjoying life and decides to take charge, ending with the optimistic line "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well OK except for the fact that the mother is still unemployed, now homeless along with her daughter, and is probably going to get charged with abandonment and not be allowed to keep custody of her daughter who'll be forced back to her hated foster care and probably won't end up well. Meanwhile her brother will have to spend the rest of his life as a fugitive for the murder of his father. Not all that uplifting after all.
  • Source Code: Colter finally creates an Alternate Universe where the train disaster is averted and he gets to live Happily Ever After with his new girlfriend... in the body of her old boyfriend Sean, who is now essentially dead since his consciousness has been overwritten. Colter will now have to adjust to living a life that is not his, with a family and career which are utterly unknown to him. He also has to try and very carefully pick the right time to tell his new girlfriend that he met her that day and has almost no idea who she is. Oh, and this reality also has a version of his brain in a box, so it's not like his suffering has actually ended at all. And apparently there's one alternate reality where Sean's friend remembers his last actions as irrationally attacking a random guy because he looks Middle Eastern, before falling onto a railroad track.
  • Teen Beach 2: Lela takes Mack's advice to change the movie and make it what she wants it to be for when she and Tanner get back. As a result, the fear that Brady and Mack each have of having never met comes true. Wet Side Story becomes Lela, Queen of the Beach and it becomes Mack's all time favorite movie, not Brady's. Mack's personality is very likely changed as a result of the movie's transformation too. Brady and Mack still meet and fall for each other, but it's under similar but different circumstances at the Save the Beach event. Fate had to intervene to eradicate them of their problems rather than let them figure it out for themselves and because of it, they've lost all the time that they had together before. It's nice that they're meant to be together no matter what, but it makes it that what happened in the first movie and this one no longer exist as well as form a paradox where Wet Side Story should have never changed at all if Brady and Mack were never there. Plus, Mack does't remember her entire friendship with Lela, only knowing her as a character in a movie.
  • Time Bandits. The boy's house is a smoking ruin and his parents are dead... but his parents were neglectful bastards to start with, and Agamemnon is now a firefighter, implying that he has a good future ahead of him. According to director Terry Gilliam (on the Criterion DVD Commentary), parents in the test audiences were upset with this ending, but their children liked it!
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Our happy ending is that the Pearls have survived the destruction of their home planet and moved to a ship that recreates their lost paradise, but it's little better than a Lotus-Eater Machine. It's not a sustainable lifestyle, its space is limited, and they will still need to learn how to maintain the ship and keep it running for as long as their supplies last. They're really just clinging to the illusion of their lost paradise and delaying the inevitable.
  • Virus: Day of Resurrection ends on an uplifting note as the hero Yoshizumi walks from D.C. to Tierra del Fuego, collapsing into the arms of the woman he loves, intoning that "life is wonderful." This is after the aforementioned virus has wiped out the human race, and a nuclear assault has destroyed most of the ecosystem. The survivors are literally the only people left alive, and most them are already resigned to starving to death.
  • In Why Him?, Stephanie doesn't marry Laird, choosing instead to go back to college. However, she continues dating him, he remains an unapologetic foulmouthed pervert, and he has successfully integrated into the Fleming family mostly by dazzling them with expensive gifts. This is presented as a good thing, because his shortcomings don't matter if he's a "nice guy" (as the film keeps telling us he is).


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