Ran. Influenced by King Lear, made his film incredibly depressing. Nearly everyone dies or is pointlessly killed. The father, Hidetora, lord over a great clan, plans to divide his kingdom between his three sons, expecting them to be loyal even though most of his power came through bloodshed, war, and treachery. He ends up banishing the third and youngest brother, who warns him of the stupidity of such a plan. He stays with his first son, at the First Castle. Through a large chain of events, Hidetora loses everything, and we mean EVERYTHING. He is left insane, and his only hope is his youngest son. When the father manages to reunite with his youngest son, he dies due to an arrow from an enemy soldier, and the father dies of a heart attack. The ending scene is bleak, as the blind brother of Lady Sue, wife of one of the other brothers, is left alone, as his sister was killed. He ends up dropping the gift his sister gave him, and is left to die in the ruins of his father's castle, forgotten.
The Bad Sleep Well, his (very loose) adaptation of Hamlet. Toshiro Mifune spends the entire movie building up The Plan to get his ultimate revenge on the corporate grifters who drove his father to suicide, but he ends up falling in love with the daughter of his primary target, leading the evil executive to drug his own daughter and arrange for him to be killed. You don't see him die—the daughter and her brother return to his hideout, only to be told by his badly beaten best friend that he, too was drugged and then sent on the road, where he was killed by a train.
Alejandro Jodorowskyloves to do this. Fando&Lis ends with Fando killing Lis, whom he was taking to the mythical City of Tar in order to cure her paralysis. El Topo has the people the title character spent the entire third act helping mercilessly gunned down, rendering all his efforts worthless. The Holy Mountain ends just before the climax, with a major character proclaiming the movie over and the shot panning back to reveal the film crew shooting the scene.
The Coen Brothers LOVE this trope. There are a few exceptions, but the vast majority of their films end with most of the characters dead and their accomplishments (if any) negated. Specific examples:
Fargo. Even lampshaded in Marge Gunderson's speech to Gaear Grimsrud as they drive off in her police cruiser. Sure, Grimsrud gets his, but the cops are unable to save any of his victims.note Of course, if he hadn't had any victims, he wouldn't have been a criminal, and the cops wouldn't have been after him in the first place.
Dancer in the Dark - subverted. It might appear as the most depressing movie ever, anywhere, and ultimately pointless and ends with the execution of the blind main character. As is typical of Lars von Trier, it's a Heroic Sacrifice on part of a female heroine. She accomplishes her goal of preventing her son from going blind by getting him the operation he needs, which is all she wanted anyway.
In Dogville, the protagonist is running away from The Mafia, which is alsoher home, and seeks shelter in a tiny American village during the Great Depression. She ends up discovering that poor people can be just as evil. They do some pretty terrible things to her, for their own benefit, throughout the entire movie. After nearly two and a half hours of this, The Mafia shows up and Grace participates with them in killing everyone in the village. YMMV on how to take that, but it's made clear that Humans Are Bastards, and she has earned nothing for the pain she went through. It's also argued that they all deserved it, including her, making this a trope subversion.
Melancholia, Part one: a woman is completely undone by depression and is abandoned by everyone, save for her sister (who really hates her sometimes) and nephew. Part two: she kind of starts to get better and then a giant planet destroys the Earth which was "evil anyway", so no biggie. Naturally, it's considered to be one of his most uplifting films.
Alien³ starts out by killing off the characters that Ripley saved (including Newt, a little girl), stranding her on a prison colony, and showing that for all the pyrotechnics of the second film, the alien menace is still at large. Then Ripley herself dies.
This also extends to the comic adaptation, Newt's Tale, which tells Aliens' events from the perspective of the eponymous girl of the same nickname. Not only does it spoil her eventual fate in the third film, but it makes the extended backstory (where she narrowly escapes after her mother and brother are massacred by the xenomorphs during the colonists' last stand) more pointless than her appearance in the sequel. The comic book adaptation of the third film goes one step further and makes a point of showing her death by drowning.
American History X: Derek spends time in prison, becomes accepting of other races and cultures, and learns to turn his back on his past as a Neo-Nazi. After he leaves prison, he works to teach his younger brother Danny not to go down the same path of hatred that Derek went through beforehand. Eventually, Danny learns his lessons and leaves the Neo-Nazis. However, he gets gunned down by the black student he antagonized earlier in the film. The original ending, cut from the film, makes this more clear, as after his younger brother gets killed, Derek shaves his head and gives a Nazi salute, undoing everything that he tried to accomplish earlier in the film.
Angel Heart: It turns out that Harry Angel has been hired by the devil to condemn himself to hell.
Apocalypse Now, if you stop to think about it. The entire purpose of the mission was for Willard to kill Colonel Kurtz so that the presence of American activity in countries other than Vietnam wouldn't be known. Ultimately killing the Colonel did absolutely nothing to affect the outcome of the Vietnam War, so Willard's trip, and all the suffering of his crew, was completely meaningless in the long run.
Arlington Road tells the story of Michael Faraday, a university professor who is an expert on domestic terrorism, and whose wife died in a failed FBI mission some years earlier. He has a young son named Grant, a girlfriend, Brooke Wolfe, and keeps in touch with his wife's former FBI partner, Whit Carver. One day he begins to suspect his next-door neighbors, Oliver and Cheryl Lang, to be terrorists, based on a number of incidents that have occurred around them, including their son being hospitalized after an accident involving a firecracker. Nobody will believe him though, finding his ideas crazy and paranoid, pointing the finger at his being unable to recover from the trauma he experienced when his wife died in the manner she did. Things only get worse for Michael when Brooke ends up being murdered by Cheryl right after she starts to believe in Faraday's suspicions. Her death is subsequently covered up as a car accident. Not one to be let down, Michael continues to go after the terrorist couple, when Grant is taken hostage by them. He goes after them, following a van he is led to believe to contain Grant to the FBI Headquarters' parking garage, with Carver tagging along. He arrives at the garage, but finds out that he was following the wrong van. After that, he opens the trunk of his car, only for a bomb that had been carefully planted inside to go off, destroying the building he had been baited to, killing Michael, Carver, and hundreds of other people. How can things get any worse than that? Well, Michael is posthumously framed for blowing up the building, and now is forever demonized as a terrorist/suicide bomber; Oliver/William and Cheryl get away scot-free, having accomplished what they set out to do; and Grant lives now fatherless and motherless with relatives, never knowing of his father's innocence. And it's implied that the alleged terrorist Michael talked about early in the film, who he was never convinced was guilty, had a similar stunt pulled on him by the couple. Many people, including renowned movie critic Roger Ebert, were highly critical of the way this movie ends, due to the ridiculous contrivances and complications involved that led up to this point, not to mention the fact that, in order for this plan to be successfully carried out in real life, you'd need to practically be Born Lucky or have Psychic Powers, your target acting in every exact way you want them to, moving in on the right locations at exactly the right time. In short, the shaggy dog was shot by a Gambit Roulette.
Atonement: Only hours after he finally confessed (and consummated) his love to the beautiful Cecilia, Robbie Turner gets falsely accused of having raped a 15-year old girl and is sent to prison. He's given the choice to join the army and invade WWII Europe. Cecilia promises to wait for him. He makes it through the battles and half of the French countryside, back to the beaches, and finally reunites with Cecilia. Except not. Robbie actually died of septicemia the night before the evacuation, and Cecilia was killed during the air raids of London. The happy ending is just a false one told by his repentant accuser. Hence the title "Atonement".
Barry Lyndon tells you with the opening title card that Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon's going to amass a fortune and then lose it all. He does. Then there's the final epilogue. It was in the reign of King George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.
Black Swan: Nina goes progressively more insane over the course of the movie, and seems on the verge of some kind of breakthrough at the end, only to die from a self-inflicted wound after her first performance. Of course, given the aforementioned insanity, it's impossible to know how much of the movie is real and how much is only in Nina's head, thus making the story potentially even more pointless.
Blind Faith: Charlie tells what really happened, that the murder he's accused of really was in self-defense. It shows the judge receiving and considering his testimony on the events and his father finally deciding to help him. However, it was all pointless since Charlie hung himself with his shirt in his cell anyway as one of the guards freaked him out with a story about the electric chair, which he would be headed to, burning the flesh off of one inmate. This was pretty much the end.
Bereavement: Allison's uncle and boyfriend are both killed trying to save her, neither getting any closer to doing so in the process. Allison manages to escape the serial killers's clutches, with his hostage/protege/kidnap victim, and make it back to her uncle's house. The killer beats her there and kills her aunt, then sets the house on fire. Allison defends her cousin from the killer, then is killed by the little boy, who then goes and kills the serial killer. The house burns down with Allison and her little cousin inside, and the boy setting up a new murder room for his own use.
Brazil ends with the revelation that the film's "happy ending" was a hallucination and the main character was tortured into insanity.
The Brest Fortress: Subverted in the Based on a True StoryWorld War II film. The whole garrison is killed (with exception of a few captured soldiers) and the enemy continues to advance into USSR. However, during the time of siege (first week of the war) they manage to kill more enemy soldiers then the rest of their whole army group did in this time, and this sets an important example to the demoralised Red Army, prompting it to stand ground and thus contributing to the ultimate victory.
One word: Bulworth. Five words: Rapping politician, meet sniper bullet. Yes, in a comedy.
In the horror film The Burrowers, Coffey's love interest and the other missing women are discovered to have died, most likely at the beginning of the film thus rendering the entire heroic quest meaningless. Every named character dies except for Fergus Coffey and the utterly psychotic Henry Victor...who, by the way, is responsible for the deaths of two Indians (execution) and Callahan (by botching an attempt to amputate a leg that likely didn't need it). Worse, with the two Indians dead, their secret method for killing the Burrowers seems to have been lost forever. It's deeply implied that the Burrower's attacks will continue and nothing has really changed.
The Cabin in the Woods: The good news is that two of the five students survived. The bad news is that, since one of them had to die in a sacrifice to appease the Ancient Ones and the rituals all over the world have failed as well, everyone in the world dies.
The Cave, where the parasitic evil that they spent the whole film trying to defeat has just infected a new host.
Circle: The people in the circle resort to killing off various people to buy themselves more time, hoping they'll eventually figure out a way to stop the mechanism, but they never do. Also, in the second half of the film a group of altruists goes through a massive effort to prevent either the Little Girl or the Pregnant Woman from being voted out by an opposing group of egoists, only for the guy who led the charge to protect them then tricking them into killing themselves off anyway.
The Collector: Miranda has a chance to escape from Freddie, but she's too weakened by pneumonia to do so. Of course, she dies. And Freddie buries Miranda in his yard. At the end of the movie, he is seen stalking his next victim at a nursing school.
Cloverfield: The reason everyone stayed in NYC was to help Rob save Beth. And then Beth and Rob get nuked after everyone else had already died. So much for that, then.
The Russian War MovieThe Crossing (not to be confused with the USA film) depicts a Soviet anti-tank platoon retreating towards the eponymous crossing, where the Soviet troops are regrouping. They travel one whole day towards the crossing, then on the dawn of the next day they are attacked by German tanks and are wiped out without managing to inflict any serious damage to the enemy. A tragic and pointless end.
In the original Cube, characters are repeatedly set up as heroes in an escape for their lives from a mechanical maze, but they all die or are killed by another character, except for the autistic Idiot Savant Kazan. He would be the only person who could sound the alarm or summon help, but would not be able to communicate the situation, assuming he understood it at all. Additionally, The Cube itself is an utterly pointless product of bureaucratic inertia. It's not testing a theory, advancing human knowledge or passing moral judgement. It's just a case of: Something needed to be done. The Cube is Something. So it gets done.
The sequel Cube 2: Hypercube is even worse. After many perils, Kate manages to escape the maze...but once her superior has received what she was sent in to find, he has her unceremoniously executed. Her facial expressions indicate that she knows what's coming, but she does not try to resist or escape.
Cube Zero, a prequel to Cube shown from the point of view of the maze operators, reveals that Kazan was in all likelihood killed by the operators moments after the first film's ambiguous ending due to a cryptic line near the start of the movie. It also turns out that Rains manages to escape, but will continue to be pursued until recaptured. Wynn is lobotomized and thrown back in the Cube like many Cube "Operators" before him. Everybody else dies except for the villains.
Dead Men Walking features every single person in the film dying except the main protagonist, Samantha. As she gets outside, she starts running toward the gate to escape. Freedom and safety are in her sights. And then she's gunned down by an FBI sniper from the roof of the prison. Who then gives a resounding, triumphant fistpump. The end.
Dead Mine: A group of mercenaries and explorers searching for the fabled Yamashita's Gold in an Indonesian island find themselves trapped in an old mine after being ambushed by some militia. Said mine leads into a seemingly abandoned (if rather worse for wear) Japanese research facility left over from World War II...which happens to be full of Allied POWs-turned-mutant-monstocities and even an elderly IJA soldier still following his orders. And that's not counting unwittingly waking up an army of super-soldier samurai who are Immune to Bullets. Needless to say, they had it coming.
The Descent: The last half hour or so is an extended version of this trope, as it's implied that if you can't stay together as a cooperating pack [they can't] the only way to be badass enough to get out of the cave is to go crazy and become as vicious as the crawlers. Also, in the UK ending, everyone dies. At least Sarah regains her humanity at the last minute... by choosing to stay with the hallucination of her dead daughter and apparently accept death. Hooray!
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry: The eponymous couple and their friend Deke spend the entire film planning and executing a daring heist. They evade the cops because Larry is a skilled driver and Deke is his mechanic, and they switch cars and hide from aerial pursuit in a walnut grove. Finally having left the cops behind, they're driving along a country road, whooping and laughing it up... and then they come around a corner and crash into a freight train and their car blows up and they're all killed. Roll credits.
Drag Me to Hell: The old gypsy dies (but of natural causes), the demon escapes, and our heroine, is dragged to Hell.The medium who waited 40 years for a chance of redeeming her failure to save a young boy by meeting the Lamia again and killing it. Her assistant screws up the plan due to having a lousy aim, she fails to break the protagonist's curse and she ends up dead for her efforts.
The Draughtsman's Contract: Mr. Neville is killed, his drawings are destroyed, and he never even found out who killed Mr. Herbert.
Dresden: British pilot Robert Newman manages to live through the bombing of Dresden with serious injuries and escapes back to England. After the war, he flies back to see his true love... when his plane crashes. He dies. They don't give him a death scene - he dies in the voice-over at the end.
Easy Rider ends when Billy and Wyatt are blown off their bikes by two rednecks in a pickup, for fun. George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) meets a similarly pointless end in a redneck attack about halfway through the film. How was this missed, etc. It was during a scenery / music / driving montage, no less! And... Boom Up and out over the burning heap of motorcycle on the banks of the Mississippi to Roger McGuinn singin' about flowin' rivers and star-spangled deltas.
Elysium: The Earth civilians that manage to land (after sacrificing quite a bit just to even try) only for some of them to get shot down before even getting there.
Employee Of The Month (2004) is a Black Comedy about a man who breaks up with his fiancee after getting fired from his dream job at a major bank chain, and cheats on her with his coworker, Wendy. After a night of hard drinking, chatting with his estranged friend Jack (a coroner), and multiple attempts to mend his relationship, the protagonist (David Walsh) walks back into his workplace with a pistol, insults his former coworkers, puts a gun to his former boss's head (but doesn't kill him), and promptly walks out of his office directly into a bank heist. Dave manages to foil the robbery, at the apparent cost of his own life. This turns into a quintuple twist; the robbery was part of a two-year plan to erase David's identity and leave him and his friends filthy rich. Dave, Jack, and Wendy meet up in a motel room, prepared to divide their earnings and part ways. Dave kills Jack. Wendy kills Dave and runs off with Dave's ex-fiancee (Sarah) with whom she's involved in a lesbian relationship. All of this sex and mayhem is finally rendered moot after the credits, when Sarah and Wendy's car is hit by a bus, killing them both.
Epic Movie ends with the four lead characters being inexplicably flattened by a runaway water wheel, making the whole movie even more pointless.
Fallen: Denzel Washington plays a police detective, Hobbes, who spends the whole film trying to figure out a way to stop Azazel, a demon that can possess people just by having his host touch them, and move on to a new body within a few hundred feet if his host is killed. At one point in the movie, Azazel murders Hobbes' brother using poison. Eventually, Hobbes lures Azazel out to an isolated cabin, and smokes cigarettes laced with the poison his brother was killed with, before shooting Azazel (who is currently possessing his friend and partner). Azazel then possesses Hobbes and stumbles around in the snow for a bit, before Hobbes dies. The camera then pans out as Azazel narrates how pathetic and pointless Hobbes was, before it's revealed that he manages to survive by possessing a cat underneath the cabin. What's worse is how pointless the whole thing was: Azazel was only antagonising Hobbes for his own twisted amusement, and nothing is ultimately accomplished, except Hobbes' name being besmirched, and his nephew being left without any family. Even worse is that this is all lampshaded in the movie, first at the very beginning of the movie when Azazel as the narrator tells you that he is going to tell you the story when he almost died, and then with the story of another cop who had killed himself at the cabin, apparently in a (failed) attempt at the same thing. Bastards.
The Final Destination series of films is about a group of people who see a premonition of their own death, and escape it with this knowledge. However, Death does not give up on claiming them and looks for other ways to kill the protagonists. The protagonists then spend the rest of the movie trying to escape dying again and again, only to fail and die, making all their efforts till that point fruitless. Anyone that escapes a movie experiences Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome.
First Blood (the first Rambo film), averted before release. The ending, as originally taken from the novel (yes, there was a novel), scripted and filmed, has John Rambo dying in the closing scenes by indirect Suicide by Cop. He pulls a gun out of Trautman's jacket, places it in Trautman's hand, moves the hand to point the gun at him, and presses Trautman's finger against the trigger. Test audiences hated it, so the ending was reshot with Trautman convincing Rambo to turn himself in (paving the way for the sequels).
Gallipoli deliberately invokes this trope in order to deliver an anti-war Aesop. In it, two young Australian men go to great lengths to join the army during World War 1, go through some training that doesn't take the war seriously (for example, their drill sergeant gives them a lecture on contraception), and, in the final three minutes of the film, the characters go to war and are promptly killed. Roll credits. In the original script, the main character was meant to be shot and killed within a minute of him stepping onto Gallipoli beach. The worst part is that the film is closer to what actually happened than most war films.
The Ghostwriter, one of Polanski's films, ends with the eponymous ghostwriter run over by CIA agents after not exposing that the CIA controlled post-September 11th British policy via the Prime Minister's wife. Then again we're only told his "accident" was "really nasty" and the PM published his memoirs before he was killed and if anyone else notices that each chapter's opening sentence sounds a bit weird before they're recalled and burned....
The Great Gatsby. Any version of this story usually is this, but the 2013 film version in particular. Gatsby takes the blame for a fatal accident and is killed for it by the husband of the woman who died. Daisy, who caused the accident, stays with her husband and leaves before Gatsby's funeral. The only person to show up to the funeral at all is Nick, and for all his troubles, Nick ends up in an asylum. Both the two decent main characters are killed, but neither character that could be an antagonist gets off scot free.
The Great Silence is a borderline example. The film sets up a pretty standard story of an antihero out for vengeance and protecting some townsfolk from cruel bounty hunters. And then the bounty hunters kill the sheriff, kill the townsfolk, kill the hero's girl, and kill the hero. It is a total and unqualified victory for the villains. And yet the closing title card stated that the whole thing was so shocking for the public opinion that it resulted in a ban on bounty hunting, thus ultimately subverting the trope.
The Grey Zone: The Sonderkommando rescue the Jewish girl who survived the gas chambers from the piles of corpses in the hopes of saving her so she'll be able to tell their story. Dr. Nyiszli almost manages to strike a deal for the girl's life with the Nazi officer in charge of the section, but it all ends up being for naught. Even at the end it briefly seems like the girl will run away to freedom, then the officer calmly shoots her in the back of the head and orders her body to be burned with the others.
Happy Times uses this trope. After the main character spends the entire movie unsuccessfully trying to start a relationship, he is left in a coma after being hit by a garbage truck. The hope that he might have at least helped someone else is destroyed since she runs away because she feels like a burden. Neither character knows what has happened to the other character and neither will obtain their dream.
Hold the Dark: Our hero Russell ultimately achieves nothing, and suspects that his own intended purpose was simply to witness the Slones' story. Medora summons him to kill the wolf who carried away her child, but he decides not to kill any of the local wolves, and she reveals that she killed her son. Then he tries to track her down to prevent her murderous husband Vernon from killing her in revenge. He fails to stop Vernon from finding her in a cave, and Vernon shoots him with an arrow as he tries to get Medora to flee with him. Vernon and Medora reconcile and have sex only a few yards away from where Russell is bleeding out, and they ultimately leave him critically wounded with barely a word.
House of the Dead, in both movies. The first, after battling across an island and a castle and some tunnels, they finally fight the Big Bad, the girl gets impaled with a sword and they get picked up by a helicopter immediately afterward. The second movie, a much crueler plot, where a team of special ops goes into a college campus which is infected with the undead. After losing all but three members, they get the McGuffin, only for it to be lost in the process of escaping. So they have to go back and get it again. After its secured, only one member makes it back. He's then stopped by a now crazy member who was forced to cut off his own hand and the McGuffin is lost again when he blows up their escape vehicle with a grenade after the female lead shoots and kills him. Now that this is over, they head toward Los Angeles, which is now smoking with destruction.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus features a rare upbeat version of this. Ostensibly, Dr. Parnassus and Tony go through Hell and (in Dr. Parnassus' case) back (literally) to protect Lily from Mr. Nick, but in the end, Tony's a con artist who gets killed, and Mr. Nick wins the bet and gets Lily's soul. Even Mr. Nick is surprised at the outcome. But not really, because then we learn that Mr. Nick claims not to know where Lily is, and we later learn she ends up Happily Married to Anton and living a happy life in the real world. To make it all even more upbeat, the final shot is Dr. Parnassus smiling at Mr. Nick, proving all of this is just their little game, and there are no real, lasting consequences for any innocent characters, really.
The Inaccessible Pinnacle has Angus go all the way up the titular pinnacle to find a rare flower to save his love, only for her to die mere seconds before consuming the life saving antidote.
Impostor ends this way in literally the last few minutes of the movie, with the main character spending the movie on the run and trying to prove that he's not an alien-created replicant bomb. Except that it turns out he is, at which point he promptly explodes and takes every surviving character in the movie with him, save two characters who weren't anywhere near the explosion.
The Incredible Melting Man: The eponymous character, Colonel Steve West, is an astronaut who has been irradiated on his way back from Saturn and who is slowly melting to death. There is no cure whatsoever. Only killing and consuming people stops his pain, even briefly. In the end, during a confrontation at a power plant, his best friend Nelson is endangered and Steve regains a bit of humanity and saves his life - only for Nelson to be shot to death by a pair of random security guards. Steve kills the guards, collapses and expires. A janitor cleans him up what's left of him the next day and throws him in the garbage. Oh, also? More astronauts are headed to Saturn.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). These four people spend the whole movie running and are picked off, one by one. We think one might escape (albeit without the woman he loves) but no, he gets caught, and at the end his doppelganger catches out the last known human. Nothing is accomplished. Everybody dies.
The Jammed is about a woman who tries to help three illegal prostitutes in Melbourne. Then end up (mostly) worse than when she found them. One commits suicide, one runs off and one ends up in immigration detention. This is an attempt at Truth in Television.
Jedda focuses on the eponymouscharacter, an orphaned Aboriginal woman raised by white farmers, being kidnapped by a tribal Aborigine, and the efforts of her love interest to track her down and bring her home. At the end of the film, Marbuck pulls her over a cliff, killing them both.
Jeremiah Johnson: "The only thing that's changed[...] is that a few ineffectual people have died." That just about sums it up.
Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (AKA Doppelgänger). Turns out it's a mirror Earth. Literally; the exact same things happen, the exact same people are there, all of the writing is just backwards. Colonel Glenn Ross is thought to have aborted his mission to the mysterious planet on the other side of the sun; instead, he's arrived on it, but since the mirror Earth sent an identical astronaut to our Earth, both Earths believe their own astronaut has chickened out and returned home. Glenn spends most of the film trying to prove he's not crazy, finds the evidence in orbit (his spacecraft with right-sided lettering- all other evidence was destroyed when his landing craft explodes), loses radio contact before he can tell anyone else of his evidence, crashes and dies immediately thereafter, and the only person who semi-believes him falls out a window to his death at the very end. Glenn is dead, never vindicated, still no one knows what the planet on the other side of the sun is, and due to the inextricable mirroring of events, this happens on BOTH Earths.
The Killer: The protagonists bring down the Triad boss Hay Wong Hoi, but the protagonist Ah Jong dies before he can reach his goal, to raise enough money for the eye transplant of the singer Jennie, who he blinded in the movie's first shootout. Not only that, his Plan B of having her use his eyes falls flat when that's where Wong Hoi shoots him. And in a sense of Pyrrhic Victory, the other protagonist, the Cowboy Cop Li Ying, is arrested by his fellow officers when he finally guns down Wong Hoi to avenge his friend and keep the villain from getting away with it all because he had done so right in front of them in cold blood after Wong Hoi had surrendered to them, so he can't use the money to have Jennie's eyes fixed either. When John Woo piles on the tragedy, he piles it on.
Knowing: John's (Cage) obsession with the numerical code, and later, his attempts to save his son and Abby. Further, Diane, Abby's mother, dies while attempting to rescue the children from the Strangers who are actually able to save them, and who were planning on doing so without the interference of either parent. Also, the Earth is burned to a crisp.
Legends of the Fall. Several ineffectual people end up dying, including most of the Ludlow family and the tragic heroine Susannah Fincannon. The protagonist, Tristan Ludlow, goes down fighting a bear at the end in exile and old age. "It was a good death."
Night of the Living Dead (1968): Despite his valiant efforts, Ben fails to protect any of his fellow survivors from the Zombie Apocalypse. In the morning, as the sole survivor, Ben is unceremoniously shot by a ragtag band of zombie hunters that doesn't bother to look very closely at their targets.
Dawn of the Dead (2004): At the end of the movie, it appears that the few remaining protagonists' struggles have paid off, and they're finally able to sail into the sunset to find an island they can start a new life on. Guess what? Island zombies, is what. How do you like them coconuts? (Although the characters aren't actually shown dying.) This ending was tacked on after test-audiences griped about the original, far more ambiguous, version.
Mad City (starring John Travolta) has an ending like this. Sam Baily spends the whole film trying a desperate (but admittedly stupid) move to get his job back. In the end, it not only doesn't work, but he commits suicide to boot.
Memento: Leonard's wife already died years ago from an insulin overdose administered by Leonard himself. His quest for revenge is based on a lie that has left numerous innocent (if not necessarily 'clean') people dead. Teddy, the only person who still had some hold over Leonard and who revealed all of this to him, ends up getting a bullet to the head for his troubles by Leonard using himself as a hitman.
The Mist has an extreme example. Near the end, David kills everyone in his car, including his young son Billy, to keep them from being killed by the monsters of the mist before turning the gun on himself and discovering that it's empty. To make matters even worse, the military step in to clear the mist and the monsters, rendering everything David just did absolutely pointless. The original short story by Stephen King ended with a Bolivian Army Ending, leaving it likely they would die since the mist had spread all the way across New England, but allowing room for optimism.
Monty Python's Life of Brian: Brian starts out as immature and misguided, but after various tribulations, at the end of the film he has grown up a lot and also managed to hook up with his love interest. Then he's arrested and summarily crucified, nearly rescued but... no. There's somewhat of a Pet the Dog moment at the very end to brighten it up.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a slight variation. Several characters die throughout the film, and while a few protagonists do live, they are arrested literally seconds before the climactic battle can occur, without ever getting particularly close to their goal of attaining the Holy Grail.
More Dead Than Alive fits very nicely into this trope. The entire movie focuses on a guy known as "Killer Cain" trying to settle down with an honest living after spending 18 years in jail for a string of murders he committed prior to the movie. Being an ex-criminal, it's hard for him to find work. The only job he can keep is one at a shooting show. However there, he has to put up with an insolent young co-worker of his. To make things worse, he's made plenty of enemies in the past. By the end of the movie, he not only gets the ranch he wants, but he gets to marry the woman he loves in a classic Western movie fashion. But then one of his old enemies (apparently the guy's father was one of Cain's victims) shows up and guns him down.
Munich. "In the end, did we really accomplish anything?"
Open Water is two hours of people stranded at sea waiting for a rescue that will never come.
The Parallax View ends with not only the protagonist, Frady, failing to publicly unmask the true nature of the Parallax Corporation and also failing to stop another assassination of a senator carried out by them, but is also killed at the scene trying, and on top of that is falsely accused of being the assassin solely responsible by the official investigation committee for the senator's death. The protagonist in all his efforts essentially accomplished nothing but getting himself and those associated with him killed, with his memory tarnished by the committee, and the Parallax Corporation able to continue its murderous operations unscathed.
Prison Song paints such a grim, hopeless picture of inner city life for black males, it makes The Wire look relatively cheery in comparison. The protagonist, Elijah Butler, loses his father to police brutality prior to the film's opening, then gets an extended Humiliation Conga - his step-dad gets arrested by police harassing him over his photography business not being licensed, he and his childhood friend get arrested when they fool around with a laser pointer near police, and his mother was declared insane (and then heavily sedated) after she tried to break him out of prison. He gets a brief Hope Spot due to getting admitted to a good college, but has to drop it when he can't pay off the tuition. He then gets accused of murder because (in self-defense) he pushed a man attacking him onto subway tracks, thus electrocuting him. Elijah gets twenty-five years to life as a result, and ends up having to deal with a prison with corrupt guards and abuses, only to attempt a prison break...where he fails miserably, and gets blown away by the guards after the getaway car leaves without him.
[REC]: Nobody survives the mysterious virus. And Angela gets dragged into darkness at the end to be either infected or feasted on, or even BOTH.
Attack of the Clones had a deleted scene where Anakin Skywalker, while visiting Padme's parents, comes across a photograph of Padme doing intergalactic community service. She tells him about the Shadda-Bi-Boran, a race she was helping to save from their own home planet whose sun was dying, and she says they "were" wonderful. When Anakin asks "Were?", Padme tells him that the Shadda-Bi-Boran couldn't survive off their planet, and eventually the species became extinct, rendering her work All for Nothing.
The Force Awakens reveals that, despite successfully resisting the Dark Side of the Force in Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker's efforts at restarting the Jedi Order were undone when his student and nephew Ben Solosuccumbed to the Dark Side and murdered his fellow Jedi, leaving Luke so heartbroken that he went into hiding. It also shows that in spite of the efforts of the Rebel Alliance, another extremely powerful adversary filled the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Galactic Empire, leaving Anakin Skywalker's redemption as the only accomplishment of the heroes that actually stuck.
Rogue One comes very close to this trope when the efforts to retrieve the Death Star plans, which had already cost hundreds of Rebel Alliance lives (including every single main character) are nearly foiled at the end of the film by a single jammed door. Fortunately, it's pretty much a Foregone Conclusion that they'll succeed in the end, because otherwise the events of Star Wars: A New Hope couldn't happen.
Rosemary's Baby: All of Rosemary's attempts to escape her husband and the Satanic cult he's allied with before she gives birth fail completely, and she gives birth in their clutches. Not that it would've made the slightest bit of difference if any of her escape attempts had succeeded since her baby is Satan's child, the Anti Christ. For all the difference it made, Rosemary might as well've wolfed down the entire chocolate mousse the night before her baby's conception, and been a blindly trusting idiot afterwards (not that she really is a blindly trusting idiot, mind you, it just would've made no difference if she was). Ira Levin eventually wrote a sequel, Son of Rosemary, which averts this when Rosemary's now grown son, in order to prevent the apocalypse, sacrifices himself to perform a Cosmic Retcon that sends Rosemary back to before she and her husband had moved into the building the cult is based out of, with her memories of what happened intact and allowing her to avoid falling into the cult's hands in the first place.
Rocket Attack USA, a 1960s propaganda piece featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The heroes manage to infiltrate a Soviet missile base, but the missile launches anyway (with hilariously awful special effects) and wipes out New York. "We cannot let this be... THE END."
The Ruins. One of the Americans, Amy, survives, makes it to the jeep and presumably gets back to society... while being infected of the same malevolent vine that has killed all her friends (you can see the spores growing on her clothes), and now is poised to do the same to the world at large. Meanwhile, the friends of the Greek associate of the Americans happen upon the eponymous location, presumably doomed to the same fate. The book didn't have this problem, as everyone died and the vine was contained. An alternate ending makes this even more explicit, showing Amy's eye filling with blood and the vine appearing under her skin, and then the flowers of it growing on her grave.
Minor example in Saving Private Ryan. During the bloody Omaha Beach assault, some medics expend a lot of effort and medical supplies to stabilise a badly injured soldier, only for a single random bullet to ping through the poor sod's helmet and extinguish his life immediately. They react... poorly.
Wade: "We stopped the bleeding! We stopped the- *ding* ... FUCK!! JUST GIVE US A FUCKING CHANCE, YOU SONS OF BITCHES!!"
The Saw franchise always ends with the protagonist dying, whether or not they actually learned anything. They never actually accomplish whatever their goal was and always fail, hard. Saw VI has the worst case of this in that the main character clearly learns the lesson, develops as a character, and is going to go out into the world and make a difference with his newfound appreciation for life. Then he melts into a puddle of goo.
Se7en comes pretty close. Detectives David Mills and William Summerset achieve exactly nothing, and indeed are an essential part of the serial killer's master plan. John Doe kills Mills's wife, prompting Mills to kill him, leading to Mills being arrested.And yet there's a ray of hope: "Ernest Hemingway said: 'The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."
Shaft (2000) has the eponymous character spending most of the movie trying to put a killer in prison, only to have the victim's mother shoot the killer in public on the day of the killer's trial. Since he gets Off on a Technicalitytwice, first by escaping to Switzerland after posting bail, and then is allowed to re-post bail upon returning despite being a proven flight risk, it's quite likely he was about to get off scot-free. Vigilante Execution was likely the only way he was going down.
Sha Po Lang (Killzone in the US) is a Hong Kong police movie that ends with all of the cops dying. Including the badass and The Captain.
The Shining spends several scenes following Dick Hallorann who, following a psychic premonition of the peril at the hotel, travels all the way from Florida, making his way through the storm of the century until, after against all odds finally reaching the remote, snowed-in hotel...where he gets about ten feet past the front door before taking an ax to the back and being instantly killed. This differs from the book, where Hallorann manages to rescue a seriously-wounded Wendy and Danny and escape the hotel.
Of course, it wasn't completely pointless, as Dick did in fact provide Wendy and Danny a means of escaping the hotel by bringing his snowcat along.
A Simple Plan, along with a Crapsack World and a Diabolus ex Machina, literally shoots the helpless underdog, when Hank Mitchell finally shoots Jacob, his unwitting, lower-functioning brother. It's made even worse by the fact that the plot is rendered meaningless in the film's final frames, where it turns out the money that all of the movie revolved around is marked, and has to be burned.
Sintel spends the entire film searching for her pet baby dragon Scales, who was taken from her by an adult dragon. After finding her way to a dragon's lair and slaying the owner, Sintel sees an identifying scar on the dragon's wing, revealing that she'd just killed Scales.
Son of Saul: After all the trouble Saul goes through to escape from Auschwitz and to give his son a proper Jewish funeral, the rabbi he finds is revealed to be a fraud, he loses the corpse as he swims down a river, and then is captured and killed by the SS.
Sorry Wrong Number and the radio play it's based on. In the end, and after a few Idiot Plot scenes (between the protagonist's mistakes and the depiction of the police), Leona fails to prevent her own murder. And this is based on an episode of a radio show where the rule was almost always to make sure the bad guy loses. (Oddly enough, it was also their most popular production...)
In Alexei Balabanov's The Stoker, the protagonist desperately tries to construct an ethical system of good and bad in chaotic Crapsack World of The New Russia, fails horribly, and his following of morals ruins his life. He ends up commiting suicide.
The Strangers: The eponymous villains overpower and kill the lead characters. The opening of the film states that it is based on actual events, and that the "brutal events that took place are still not entirely known." They imply in the beginning that the protagonists will all die!
Then again, the ending at least implies the wife could survive.
The Terminator films are really indecisive on this.
The entire Aesop of Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the change to the idea that we can change the future. Then the third film decides that maybe it was right the first time. An exercise in indecision, rendering a whole movie series pointless beyond the pretty explosions?
The original script for Terminator Salvation not only does this to John Connor, but to the entire point of the character and all three preceding movies in the first place. Basically, Connor was supposed to have been killed, and then have his skin and face grafted onto the cyborg Marcus, who assumes the identity of John Connor and leads the Resistance. This ending was leaked, and the fandom was not happy, forcing a rewrite. If they'd gone ahead with it, it would have meant that Skynet would go on a wild goose chase across the entire franchise, since the John Connor we know wouldn't have been the "real" John Connor. It wouldn't have mattered if Skynet had terminated him or Sarah, since he was nearly that easily replaceable. There are those who wish they stuck with that ending anyway, though.
Terminator Genisys brings this to a new levels. The point where Kyle Reese is sent to the past is reached...only for him to arrive in another timeline, where a Terminator has trained Sarah Connor into an Action Girl since childhood. Timey-Wimey Ball to the max.
Thirteen Days: Robert Kennedy discusses this once the United States announces its blockade (er, quarantine) of Cuba. He is talking with O'Donnell about the evacuation plans for high-ranking government officials and their families from Washington should missile launch be detected from Cuba. It's quite a lengthy and detailed procedure, with officials being given passes and pre-set arrangements for their families to meet at designated locations before being flown by helicopter to Mount Weather. Then Bobby ends with this:
"Of course, that's for morale. Missiles only take five minutes to get here."
The film Utøya: July 22 is a reenactment of the Breivik Massacre (which happened on the island Utøya on July 22, 2011) from the perspective of the victims. The main heroine, Kaja, attempts not just to survive but also to help others. Unfortunately, the film doesn't give her a single success, as all her heroic attempts are for nothing. She stops to help a wounded girl and bandages her wound - but the internal bleeding continues and the girl dies. She directs a small boy into the forest - but near the end she finds out he's been murdered. Finally, she leaves her hiding place to search for her sister, then hesitates when there is an opportunity to escape the island by boat - and is shot and killed mere moments before the boat arrives and her sister is there. The only result of her selfless actions is getting herself uselessly killed. To top it off, even the POV camera betrays her in the end - rather than concentrate on her in her last moments (as was the case with every other victim before), we switch over to the Plucky Comic Relief character who safely escapes by boat, with the film showing no more consideration for her.
The Warlords. The three main characters (and a woman that two of them fought over) die in vain, as it is revealed they were only being used as pawns by corrupt politicians to do their dirty work.Truth in Television, considering it is based on historical figures.
The Woman in Black: So, we watched Arthur have death and misery follow him around for a few hours, only to have him and his child die horribly. So what if he's with his dead wife now? He's dead. And the woman in black is still killing kids, even though she's now got hers. What the hell was the point of this movie again?
Z's ending narration reveals that a military coup led to all the conspirators being released from prison and their sentences being canceled, wiping out all the work the prosecutor (who has also been removed from the case) did to get those convictions.