Breakups are hard, and these ten movies capture the whirlwind of emotions that come from it and what comes after.
Breakups are hard. Sometimes they can be amicable, while other times they can be complicated, messy, and emotionally devastating. There are a lot of emotions to sit through in a breakup, and sometimes it is difficult to sit with oneself, all alone with the thoughts. There is a reason people gravitate toward breakup songs, as they can give words to the emotions which a heavy heart feels that need to be expressed.
Movies can do the same, as they offer a window into the lives of others. While seeing stories about breakups might not seem like an ideal way to deal with the pain, they can also be cathartic. They can help provide lessons and guidance to someone. They can even hold up a mirror and allow one to see their own breakup through another perspective and maybe help heal with it.
With Valentine's Day approaching, there is a slew of traditional romantic movies that will be filling up recommendation queues across streaming platforms. Yet for anyone who is going through a breakup, or even if anyone has ever experienced the difficulties of one before, these are some alternatives for the Valentine's Day season. These are the best movies about breakups.
The title is a pretty self-explanatory one — The Break-Up tracks the fallout of a long-term romantic relationship. Yet while many romantic comedies would have the two characters reconcile, The Break-Up swerves and sticks to its premise. The two characters realize their relationship just isn't working, and while they may still care for one another they can't keep going on like this.
By the end of the movie, the two remain broken up, and while they still have memories together they will treasure forever they must walk their own paths apart. It is a difficult lesson and a truth that is hard to embrace, but it is an emotionally satisfying conclusion and one many hope to achieve.
Casablanca is a movie about heartbreak. The film begins with Rick (Humprey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) already apart, and Rick has become a bitter cynical figure. Over the course of the film, Rick must decide what is more important: his own happiness or Ilsa's, as he can save her husband so that he can continue to fight against the Nazis in World War II.
Rick lets Ilsa go because he loves her, and as everyone knows by now, "If you love something so much, let it go," according to Albert Schweitzer. He puts her needs and the needs of the world before his own, saying that he knows if she doesn't get on the plane she will regret it someday. Casablanca ends with the couple apart, but the hope of a better tomorrow, and bettwer world, is high for both of them.
(500) Days of Summer often gets misread as villainizing the character of Summer due to the film being from the character of Tom's point of view and his perspective shapes the narrative. Yet that emotional mindset that Tom falls into is a classic human one, but one that is also not fair to the other person in the relationship.
(500) Days of Summer tracks a relationship from beginning to end to what comes after, and it is in that final stretch that the film illuminates its great truth. Summer was important to Tom, and he was important to her, but they just didn't work out. It doesn't make sense, it might not be fair, and it will hurt, but there is always a new chapter just on the horizon.
Michel Gondry's debut film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a breathtakingly beautiful visual wonder and an incredibly acted piece from stand-out stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Joel (Carrey) decides to have his memories of his past relationship with Clementine (Winslet) wiped away after he discovers she had the same procedure.
He is so overwhelmed with heartbreak he can only focus on the pain, but as his memories are taken away while he goes further into his subconscious, he starts to remember great memories he does not want to let go of and begins fighting back. Through a transcendent act of love, he and Clementine instinctively meet up again after their memories of one another have been erased and begin to fall for one another: only to discover they've been through this before and must decide how to proceed moving forward.
The film's ending can be interpreted in a number of ways: is this relationship doomed, and will they fall back into their old habits and repeat the cycle over again? Or now, knowing what they know, can they start over fresh and form a new relationship? It is a hopeful ending but one that still grapples with the complex nature of relationships and breakups. Even if they now no longer have memories together, they have shaped each other and what drew them to one another in the first place is still there.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall digs into the heartbreaking feeling of a breakup, specifically if one's ex is with another partner. The movie plays it for both absurd comedy but also some genuine sadness. The character of Peter (Jason Segel) does have to go on a real journey to get over his past relationship and the movie does span a certain amount of time for him to get to that point. He eventually does move on when he opens himself up to new possibilities and realizes the relationship he has held up for so long may not have been exactly what he imagined.
2019's Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Marriage Story shows the slow and brutal process of a marriage falling apart through a messy divorce. Marriage Story is a complex emotional roller coaster and tracks the complex feelings between two individuals who have a long shared history and how that impacts the other in their failing relationship. They have a certain rhythm of speaking with one another, and do care for one another but also have a lot of built-up anger and resentment.
By the end of the film, the two partners can go on with their lives and are still a part of each other's. Despite fighting to make it work, their overall relationship and their long-term happiness (and the happiness of those around them) is better with them apart. Noah Baumbach's film, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, is a sad but beautifully honest depiction of marriage and divorce.
40 years before Marriage Story, there was Kramer vs. Kramer, which won five Academy Awards including Best Picture. The movie follows a divorce, the impact it has on the couple's kid, and how their relationship evolves following their divorce. The movie serves as an interesting deconstruction of the marriage, showcasing both sides of the divorce case while also showing how a romantic breakup affects not only the party involved but those around them.
For a more fun and comedic spin on a break-up, the hilarious I Want You Back features two leads to make an agreement to work together to sabotage their ex's new relationship in order to get them back only to slowly discover they have feelings for one another.
I Want You Back taps into the feeling of depression one gets after a breakup, so badly wanting a partner back even when they have moved on, and how zeroing in on that makes you fail to notice what is right in front of you. It was one of the most underrated movies of 2022 and worth checking out for a good laugh.
While not a romantic break-up, The Banshees of Inisherin is about a break in a relationship and is a universal reflection of platonic and romantic relationships. The story of two best friends where one loses interest in another and cuts him out of his life can be applied to the death of any kind of relationship. At its core, the movie is about two people who were very close, where something shifts in one party's mind, and he begins to grow apart from the relationship while another is caught off guard.
There is a sort of randomness to it, where one person's feelings change to something else almost overnight with no explanation, and it comes as a shock to the other, with that individual is left to pick up the pieces. From the perspective of the person being broken up with, there is seemingly no reason, and Martin McDonagh's film hones in on the feeling of being left and the helplessness which follows. The Banshees of Inisherin for all intents and purposes is a breakup movie.
La La Land is positioned in many ways as a classic Hollywood musical romance, even pairing frequent romantic co-stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone together. While the movie is a romance, it is a tragic one. Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) do not end up together in the end. They are at a point in their lives where they love one another and are on two different paths.
The film's epilogue, taking place five years after the majority of the film, sees Mia with her new husband attending the club owned by Sebastian and him playing a song on the piano that translates to what their life could have been had they ended up together is one of beautifully heartbreaking. The movie ends with the two sharing a glance, as they have grown into the people they want to be sadly their relationship just came along at the wrong time, but they still helped each other grow.
La La Land's conclusion is not the Hollywood happy ending, but a more naturalistic real one. Sometimes a relationship can have a big impact on a person, but that does not always mean it is meant to last. You can love someone deeply, but that does not always lead to being together. Yet that does not make the love any less real and that person wasn't any less special.
Richard Fink is a writer who graduated from Arizona State University in 2016 with a degree in Film and Media Production. He loves the finer things in life, like cold Diet Coke on a hot summer day. Richard is a fan of all things Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Film History.