I know you may specify to something like tragic, open end to describe actually what the end is like.

But do English critics/reviewer in movie magazines use a common term for movies with bad/evil endings or simply refer to them as no happy ending (as most movies have to have a happy ending) to classify such films? I mainly ask as I need some proper keywords to find those rare films.

  • @alenanno was happy end in the question title wrong/uncommon? In Germany you never say happy ending... – Hauser Aug 17 '11 at 15:36
  • The expression in English is "happy ending". There are some sources, like Wikipedia, where you can see it's the expression being used. – Alenanno Aug 17 '11 at 15:40
  • "The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means." (Tom Stoppard) – Peter Shor Aug 17 '11 at 19:17

There are some good answers here, but nothing quite on the nose, so I'll make my own humble contribution:

Does it at least have a happy ending?

Nope...it's pretty much a downer ending.

This is obviously much less formal than these other answers, but it's what I would use in normal American English speech.


You may say that a film or book has a tragic ending, and is therefore a tragedy.

  • thx and welcome here. But not every movie with a tragic end is a tragedy. Im mainly looking for scifi/fantasy movies without happy end. So they are mostly tagged as scifi and mostly never as tragedy (commonly playing more in past or present) – Hauser Aug 17 '11 at 15:36
  • "Tragic ending" is often used, even for works that are otherwise not tragedies. – DJClayworth Aug 17 '11 at 16:51

The reason it's relatively common to say a movie has a "happy ending" is because movies are often specifically designed to be like that. A large percentage of the audience want and expect things to end on a positive note, just as when we were children we liked our bedtime stories to end with "and they lived happily ever after".

The two main problems with looking for an "antonym" are, firstly, that there aren't so many cases where it could be applied. Secondly, alternative ending types may be quite varied, so there's no generally applicable term.

Endings can be tragic, inconclusive, disturbing, etc., but in general these terms would apply to the whole movie, not just the ending. Sometimes the ending is described as a cliff-hanger (perhaps the director plans a follow-up movie, and wants the audience to be curious about how things are going to be resolved).


(Is this too obvious?) How about "unhappy ending"?


Google hits are not a reliable indicator, but "bad ending" seems to be the most used. It's not the only one though, "tragic", "unhappy", "without happy" and "no happy" endings also have significant hit numbers. There doesn't seem to be a standard formula.

  • 2
    Movie companies generally like "happy endings" because they make the customers feel good when they leave the cinema. So sometimes the "happy ending" is simply there to meet that expectation, even if it's poorly-executed and doesn't make sense in the context of what came before. Personally I'd still call these "bad endings", even if they're superficially "happy". – FumbleFingers Aug 17 '11 at 17:49

You could try "ambiguous ending," "open-ended film," "open-ended storyline," or "unresolved plot" (or a combination of "unresolved" and other film keywords).

"Anticlimactic" has also been used to refer to films that don't satisfy the typical storytelling pattern, but it is also used in film reviews to describe films that are disappointing or deficient in other ways.

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