The Most Devastating Movie Breakups

What are the most devastating movie breakups? When we go to the cinema, we often want to see a rose-tinted version of love. That's why many classic romantic films follow the same predictable formula: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, and so on. These movies usually end with the couple we've been rooting for confessing their feelings, falling into an embrace, and living happily ever after. 

While this rom-com model can be pretty satisfying, sometimes it can feel a little unrealistic. Just like in real life, the characters in our favorite movies aren't always meant to end up together. Cue the breakup scene. 

While movie breakups can be totally heart-wrenching, sometimes we love embracing the heartbreak and having a Bridget Jones-sequel, wine-soaked cry. If you're looking for some real tearjerkers, you're in luck. It turns out, Hollywood loves a good breakup almost as much as a romance scene. Here are the most devastating breakup scenes in movie history.

Tom and Summer's breakup in 500 Days of Summer was a shock

When 500 Days of Summer was released in 2009, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, moviegoers were shocked to discover that the movie turned the typical rom-com formula on its head; instead of ending with a happily ever after, the film ended with a breakup. 500 Days of Summer showed us the real heartbreak of a relationship that ends when one person doesn't want it to.

By the end of the film, it becomes clear that Summer was never the right woman for Tom. Then, after they breakup, Tom and Summer have a devastating final chat. "You know what sucks?" Tom says. "Realizing that everything you believe in is complete and utter bulls***." Summer then explains that true love can exist — she's now married to a guy she met by chance. She just wasn't ever meant for Tom.

So what really happened between these two? Gordon-Levitt stuck up for Deschanel's character on Twitter, writing, "It's mostly Tom's fault. He's projecting. He's not listening. He's selfish." 

While 500 Days of Summer shows us a devastating breakup, it also teaches some important lessons about what healthy relationships look like.

Mia and Sebastian broke out hearts in La La Land

The 2016 movie musical La La Land starred Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian. This was another film that pulled the rug out from under our feet with a not-so-happily-ever-after ending. After a touching, magical romance, Sebastian and Mia pursue their own careers and go their separate ways. At the end of the movie, Mia visits Sebastian's jazz club and we see a montage of how she imagines their life together if things had been different. Cue the waterworks!

Naturally, fans were seriously disappointed by this heartbreaking end. However, producer Fred Berger and director Damien Chazelle were convinced they made the right choice in keeping these characters apart. Berger told The Hollywood Reporter that the creative team "made a pact" that the characters wouldn't get back together. "The idea was to take the old musical, but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out," Chazelle explained.

What makes the ending to this movie so devastating is just how real their decision feels to part ways and wave goodbye to their future together.

Allie and Noah broke up for years in The Notebook

The Notebook tells the story of a young couple in the 1940s with disapproving parents. Allie and Noah (played by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling) end up together at the end of the film, but they first go through a super dramatic breakup. When Noah hears Allie's snobby mom insulting him, he runs out of her house. She chases him and breaks up with him during a heated argument.

What makes the breakup so devastating is the fact that Allie's family unexpectedly leaves town the next day, and the pair don't get the chance to see each other again for years; watching them go about their lives apart is totally depressing. When they finally reconnect, Allie is engaged — and Noah has literally built her a house!

Apparently, the dramatic gesture of love Noah makes for Allie even caused some real-life breakups. "One guy told me that he was engaged and [his fiancé] broke up with him after that movie," Gosling told IFC (via Vulture). Apparently, she was upset that her fiancé refused to build her a house. It's safe to say this love story sets some high standards.

Charlie and Nicole's breakup in Marriage Story felt super real

The 2020 film Marriage Story is all about a long, complicated divorce. Charlie, played by Adam Driver, is a theater director. His wife, Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, is an actress. After experiencing marital problems, the couple decide to separate. Nicole moves to Los Angeles with their young son while Driver remains in New York City for his job. Even though the couple hopes to divorce amicably, things quickly become complicated — especially when it comes to custody of their son.

What's so devastating about this messy breakup is watching how deeply upsetting it is for both Charlie and Nicole. As The Atlantic pointed out in a review of the film, "Nicole and Charlie's problems arise not just from conflicts in their careers and personal outlooks, but also from their inability to understand each other's state of mind." 

Watching a long-term relationship unravel is always hard — especially in this film, with its amazing performances and the heartbreaking sense that a resolution is simply impossible.

In Her, Theodore and Samantha's breakup was inevitable

Her is a fascinating film about a man who falls in love with his AI operating system after he and his wife split up. While the idea of a relationship between a man and Siri or Alexa may sound ridiculous, Her ends up being a seriously powerful and moving story. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, and Scarlett Johansson plays the voice of Samantha, his beloved OS.

Eventually, Samantha needs to end her "relationship" with Theodore. In a deeply touching scene, the voice of Samantha gently explains to Theodore that she needs to leave, and that she was never meant to exist in the human world. "I've never loved anyone like you," Theodore says, to which Samantha replies, "Me too. Now we know how." Perhaps this doomed relationship and devastating breakup was Theodore's way of learning how to love again after divorce.

As The Scotsman explained, the story has autobiographical links to the director's own real-life marriage to Sofia Coppola. "It's not hard to read [Jonze's] protagonist's anxieties about his inability to properly connect with his estranged the fictionalized musing of someone who's gone through something similar."

Dean and Cindy's breakup in Blue Valentine was hard to watch

The harrowing love story in Blue Valentine is certainly not an easy one to follow. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play a married couple, Cindy and Dean, whose marriage is under serious pressure. After struggling with money, alcohol problems, and general incompatibility, the pair finally go through a devastating breakup — but not before the audience gets to see the early, more romantic parts of their relationship. The scene that marks the crumbling of their marriage is raw, visceral, and pretty hard to watch.

As Gosling explained to The Wrap, the whole premise of the film was to explore, "What happens to love? Where does it go?" He went on to explain that sadly, he's seen his fair share of couples who go through a similarly devastating breakups. Gosling also shared that the filming conditions were pretty intense. "We shot 24/7 while we were shooting," he revealed. Sometimes, he and Williams would be fighting for hours and Gosling would get so tired he'd have to take a nap. No wonder the breakup scene felt so real!

Holly and Paul's breakup in Breakfast at Tiffany's is short but sad

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a total classic, and for good reason. While Audrey Hepburn's Holly and her iconic cigarette holder have gone down in history, the film tells the story of a troubled girl and her struggle to accept true love in the form of Paul (George Peppard) that really hits home. And even though we get a happy ending for Holly and Paul, it only happens after a devastating breakup.

During the fight, Holly insists that she will go to Brazil to find a wealthy husband. After trying to convince Holly to stay with him, Paul leaves the cab, telling her, "You're afraid to stick out your chin and say, 'Okay, life's a fact. People do fall in love, people do belong to each other because that's the only chance anybody's got for real happiness.'" He then throws a sentimental Cracker Jack ring at Holly. 

Luckily, this "breakup" doesn't last long, as Holly leaps out of the cab and chases Paul down the street in the rain. Still, it's clear that this couple's happy ending won't come easily.

Ennis and Jack's breakup in Brokeback Mountain is truly devastating

As one reviewer in The Guardian put it, "Brokeback Mountain is a film best appreciated by those familiar with heartbreak." It's a truly tragic tale of two lovers who decide to end their relationship because of society's lack of acceptance. When the pair break up, as the reviewer noted, "the two men are still in love."

The story of Brokeback Mountain is pretty painful to watch. It's about two cowboys — Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger –in 1960s Wyoming who strike up a taboo secret relationship. As Roger Ebert noted, their deep love is uncontrived and unconventional in the Hollywood sense — it feels real and complicated. This means that when the couple do break-up, it's absolutely devastating. 

Indeed the couple call it quits, but even as they do, Jack imagines a world where their love would be possible. "We could've had a real good life together," he says. "Had a place of our own." Needless to say, this unfair, devastating breakup is one of the saddest of all.

Distance is what tears Jacob and Anna apart in Like Crazy

The 2011 film Like Crazy follows the same formula as most rom-coms. Starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, Jacob is Anna's teaching assistant. The two strike up an adorable relationship that we watch in rose-tinted montage form. However, when Anna's visa runs out, she's forced to return to America. What follows is a harrowing look at what happens to young love when it's separated by an ocean.

As NPR noted, the most of the film is a "grueling" watch. Both Anna and Jacob clearly miss each other, but realize that the relationship is impossible. Nevertheless, they simply can't tear themselves away from the relationship. Essentially, the entire film is a long, drawn-out, devastating break-up.

According to Jones, the performances felt so devastatingly real thanks to a long rehearsal process. "It was like we were doing a play," she explained. She went on to explain that she and her co-star created all of the personal props for the film. "I wrote a poem and the letters," she revealed to Cinema Blend. "I think it's a great idea, because it means that you personally invest in the film." No wonder their love felt so real!

Carol and Therese's breakup in Carol was heartbreaking

Like Brokeback Mountain, the film Carol tells a love story in which the lovers can't make their relationship public due to social pressures. In the film, Rooney Mara plays Therese, a young photographer who falls in love with Cate Blanchett's Carol, an older, glamorous divorcee. After a whirlwind secret romance, the pair's relationship comes to an abrupt end when Carol has to fight for custody of her daughter. The devastating breakup scene consists of Therese reading a heart wrenching letter from Carol. "Dearest," the letter reads, "There are no accidents, and he would have found us one way or another." The letter goes on to gently cut off all ties between the pair, leaving Therese heartbroken.

At the end of the film, we see the couple meeting up again, suggesting that they might get back together. As Mara explained to Backstage, "If they were to get back together the hard part is sort of just beginning." Mara has a point — what makes this breakup so awful is the sense that the relationship was doomed from the start.

Rick and Ilsa's breakup in Casablanca was inevitable

One of the most famous love stories in cinematic history is told in the 1942 film Casablanca. This film follows Rick (Humphrey Bogart) as he rekindles a romance with an old love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Unfortunately, Ilsa is now married; plus, her husband is a fugitive on the run from the Nazis. 

Needless to say, Rick and Ilsa faced quite a few problems from the beginning. So when their devastating "breakup" occurs at the end of the film, it's not a surprise. Rick has arranged a flight out of the city for Ilsa's husband, telling Ilsa that he'll allow her to stay with him in Casablanca. But at the last moment, he forces her to board the plane, saying, "Nine chances out ten we'd both wind up in a concentration camp." It's completely devastating watching two people who could have been together in another lifetime forced to separate.

Mark and Erica have a vicious breakup in The Social Network

The Social Network is about the real-life story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenbern), who created Facebook and became one of the world's youngest billionaires. 

But before he struck gold with his social network concept, Zuckerberg was just another college student. His girlfriend, Erica (played by Rooney Mara), breaks up with him in the very first scene because of his obsession with final clubs. "You're going to go through a lot of thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd, and I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won't be true," Erica says. She then calls him a cruel name. Wow, talk about a vicious and devastating breakup!

As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explained to The Hollywood Reporter, director David Fincher forced the cast members to speak as quickly as they could to keep the dialogue snappy and the action moving. Based on how cutting and incisive the lines feel, it's clear that this breakup scene hits hard because of how fast the characters take their jabs at each other.

Rhett break's Scarlett heart in Gone with the Wind

Gone With The Wind is another classic film that knows how to its audience hard with a devastating breakup scene. The film takes place during the American Civil War, and follows the Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) and her turbulent love affairs with Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable). Scarlett and Rhett are the more passionate pairing — as Bustle pointed out, Rhett saw the bad and the good sides of Scarlett, but she was too busy pining for Ashley. It is only at the end of the movie that Scarlett realizes how much she loves Rhett — but she's too late, as Rhett has given up on her. He leaves with the famous line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

While the breakup is pretty hard to watch, Psychology Today pointed out that their entire relationship was seriously dysfunctional, filled with fights, drinking, and even assault. Plus, the communication between these two was pretty much non-existent. It's no surprise that the relationship eventually crumbled.

Alice and Dan in Closer break up thanks to infidelity

Closer is about two couples who end up cheating on their partners. Dan, played by Jude Law, is in a relationship with Alice, played by Natalie Portman — who's undergone a stunning transformation. The couple break up after Dan cheats on Alice with Anna, played by Julia Roberts. 

The breakup scene in Closer is incredibly painful — Dan tells Alice that he had an affair with Anna, and Alice asks him all the usual questions: where did it happen, how did it start, and so on. He tries to explain, saying, "I fell in love with her," to which Alice replies, through tears, "As if you had no choice. There's a moment, there's always a moment." At the end of the scene, Alice asks him, "Will you hold me?" and the pair embrace. It's a truly awful and truthful moment in which Alice needs the very person who has broken her heart.

Clive Owen spoke to The Guardian about playing Dan on stage. "Closer is such an honest examination of the pain from relationships and what it feels like to be bereft," he explained. He's got that right!