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Primarily a Film trope. So, you're a Hollywood producer who has found this great story that would make an even greater movie. It has everything you need: intriguing characters, an epic adventure, cool Fight Scenes, romance, even good pacing. There's just one problem -- it ends on a real downer. That just won't do. You don't want your audience leaving the theater in tears or anger; everyone knows that every great story ends with everyone living Happily Ever After.

So what do you do? You could just change the ending to what you think would be better. But, no, you're Genre Savvy enough to know how the loyal fans of the original would go online and tear you to shreds with complaints while blinded by dollar signs and launch a few petitions boycotting the project while they're at it. Besides, that would be dishonest.

But, hey, no one can get mad at you if you technically don't change anything, right? So instead of changing the ending, you just... won't film it! You can conclude the story at an earlier, happy point when everything is settled and resolved, before you reach the Snicket Warning Label. So what if the Love Interest dies afterwards, or The Hero makes a Heroic Sacrifice, or the story up until then has been more cynical, or it turns out the heroes' efforts only caused more grief than good? Having the ending cut short is what they deserve for being so bloody depressing anyway. That Didn't Happen. If there's a point where the characters are living happily, just not forever after, just don't tell what came after.

See, isn't it much better to end on a happy note?

What do you mean, "It sucks?"

... unless you omitted a Diabolus Ex Machina, which is logically a smart move. Not all tropes are bad, after all...

Unless it's a classic Diabolus like The Epic of Gilgamesh that everyone will be expecting, but, hey, who knows the classics anyway? Adaptations of myths that imply everyone lives Happily Ever After are probably the most common victims of this trope in its bad form. Adapting a series and ending each installment on a happier note usually receives approval.

Sometimes this trope is inverted to cut off the story before The Cavalry comes. Depending on taste, this can come off as a cheap way to make things Darker and Edgier, or a way to remove an Ass Pull that came Just in Time to conclude the original.

When adding examples, please avoid general examples that are not specifically choosing a happier or darker point to end the story at instead of completing it. Anything besides that falls under other Media Adaptation Tropes.

Please note: given this is an ending trope, spoilers are unavoidable. You have been warned.

Examples of happier endings:


Anime and Manga

  • The ending of the Fruits Basket anime. It gets darker in the manga... which then ends on an extremely idealistic note, with The Power of Love prevailing, and most of the cast getting into a stable relationship. They just had to do a little more to earn it, first.
  • The Narutaru anime. The only thing the audience got there was a half-assed Left Hanging "ending" -- which may still have been preferable to what the manga ended with.
  • The Suzuka anime ends with the Official Couple getting together. The manga ends with an unplanned pregnancy forcing the Official Couple to abandon the dreams that drove the Sports Story side of the plot.
  • While Elfen Lied doesn't end on an exactly happy note, it doesn't get worse.
  • The manga version of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch ends on a slightly more bittersweet note than the anime by explicitly stating that Hanon and Rina will eventually have to choose their kingdoms over their human boyfriends.
  • The anime version of Berserk provides the inversion of this trope, ending with Guts losing his hand and eye and Casca getting raped by Griffith as Femto and leaving out the two of them being saved by the Skull Knight in a Big Damn Heroes moment from the manga. This was mainly because, unlike the manga, the Skull Knight didn't appear at all in the anime as the anime's focus was the Golden Age arc and how Guts got from there to his circumstances in episode one, and having him and Casca saved like this would have been rightly viewed as a Deus Ex Machina. And as the Berserk example above shows, this is really a mix of both, since it just gets worse from there.
  • In Mai-Otome Sifr, Lena succeeds in rescuing Sifr from Schwarz and the Five Columns and comes to terms with being an Otome. Within a few years, she, Bruce and Sifr are killed during the attack on Windbloom Castle.


Film

  • Actually used to a brilliant effect in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: the last shot of the movie freeze-frames literally the instant before the two heroes are gunned down, leaving us with a final image of the two in which they are very much alive, and doing what they do best.
  • The Golden Compass -- Yes, it was a Diabolus Ex Machina, but it was also a little crucial to the rest of the trilogy happening at all. It might, however, be pasted at the start of the sequel... (Which they won't be making.)
    • The stage adaptations of the trilogy also go with the pasting option, so it's very likely that will happen with the film. Or at least it would if there was another film. Since The Golden Compass film didn't do too well, a sequel is unlikely.
    • The really, really irritating part is that the entire downer ending was actually filmed, but it was cut at the last minute. That footage is sitting on some editor's hard drive somewhere, but we'll probably never get to see it. What little of it appeared in the tie-in game actually looked pretty good.
  • In the Peter Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings:
    • In Return of the King the Scouring of the Shire is not included. In the books, the sequence shows that the Shire was far from untouched by the war. Saruman, who everyone thought was finished as a threat, has taken control of the Shire with his remaining human agents, despoiling it and imposing tyranny on the hobbits. The sequence was primarily cut because the films focused more on the War of the Ring, and by the time they would've got to it, the movie was already 3 1/2 hours long, and finished with its big climax.
    • A rare inversion occurs in The Fellowship of the Ring, when Boromir's death is moved from the beginning of the second book to the end of the first movie, making the already down ending even downer.
  • The Princess Bride ends with the heroes riding off into the sunset, leaving off the book's more ambiguous ending in which they are slowed down by various mishaps and the villain is shown to be on their trail. Then again, so did the book, kinda. (See the Literature section for details.)
  • Many a Biopic chooses to end the story at the height of the hero's success (or perhaps their comeback). They might briefly acknowledge sad events that happened afterward, up to and including death, but that's all.
    • Martin Scorsese's The Aviator somewhat averts this. It ends on a moment of total public triumph for Howard Hughes, but in the last scene Hughes suffers an obsessive-compulsive fit and is reduced to hiding away, helplessly staring into a darkened bathroom mirror and repeating "the way of the future."
    • Ed Wood is pretty bad about this, as it ends immediately after the premiere of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The alcoholism that destroyed Ed Wood's career and reduced him to filming pornography at the end isn't dramatized (brief text epilogues do reveal his and his colleagues' ultimate fates).
    • Averted hard in Pollock. The last half of the film chronicles Pollock's wife leaving him, his subsequent depression and the ultimate consequences of his alcoholism throughout the film: the final scene depicts the car wreck that kills him.
  • This almost happened with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with the original ending being Bond and Tracy driving off happily. When George Lazenby announced he would quit, Blofeld and Bunt killing Tracy was put in, rather than saved for the sequel.
  • While not an adaptation, Pan's Labyrinth has this. It ends with rebels victorious, but a quick look in history books shows that they were all wiped out later.
    • Similar situation with Braveheart.
      • ...But Scotland won in the end, and remained an independent country until King James the VI was invited to take the English crown as well, a little over 200 years later.
  • The film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. The book ends with the remaining Joads in a barn after a flood. The movie ends as the Joads are driving down the highway in a car and Ma offers some words of hope that were in the novel (right before things started to go down hill). Mind you, breast-feeding would've never been allowed under the Hays Code.
  • The film version of The Getaway omits the final chapter of the book.
  • The "Love Conquers All" ending of the American screening of Brazil is this, ending the movie right after a bizarre and trippy sequence that Sam discovers is All Just a Dream...but before the camera pulls away to show us that it was all just a dream because his mind had snapped due to his torture.
  • The Very Loosely Based on a True Story Pocahontas sequel, Journey to a New World, has a happy ending with Pocahontas setting sail back to the Americas -- in Real Life, Pocahontas died on that voyage.
  • The Man Who Laughs does this, ending with Gwynplaine and Dea declaring their love for each other and sailing off together into the sunset. In the book they both die shortly thereafter.
  • Peter O'Toole's Sherlock Holmes and the Valley of Fear cut the downer ending. Unsurprising, since a) the adaptation was written for children and b) there wasn't enough time provided to establish the ending as a legitimate downer. What is surprising is that all explicit reference to Moriarty was removed.
  • The 2010 film Conviction tells the true story of a single mother's 18-year struggle to get her brother released from a wrongful life imprisonment sentence, including going to law school to defend him herself. The movie has a Bittersweet Ending: the brother is released and the family receives a large settlement but the Dirty Cop Sergeant who fabricated evidence and coerced the other witnesses into testifying against him walks away due to the status of limitations. In real life not only did the latter happen but the brother died from a head injury after falling off a wall only six months after being released from prison. This is mentioned in the DVD extras but not the film itself.
  • The behind-the-scenes/rehearsal documentary Michael Jackson's This Is It never acknowledges that the actual This Is It concerts didn't take place because Jackson died of a prescription drug overdose before they were scheduled to begin.


Literature

  • A number of adaptations of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, especially the comics or animated versions, tend to end with the battle of Chi Bi, where Wei's army is resoundingly defeated by the alliance of Wu and Shu. It's the last time that things go so well, as Wu and Shu turn against each other almost immediately after, culminating in the deaths of a number of major characters. And of course, the movies have a tendency to focus solely on that same battle.
  • In the book Military Secret by A. Gaidar, a child, Al'ka, and his friends uncover a bandit conspiracy and help in getting the criminals arrested. But one of the criminals remains free, and kills Al'ka in the very end (before beng shot to death). The film adaptation, written by Gaidar himself, omits this.
  • The Princess Bride does this in story, with author William Goldman's fictional father, who's been reading only "the good parts" of the story-within-a-story, leaving off the over-the-top No Ending paragraph which states that as the heroes ride into the sunset, Inigo's wound reopens, Fezzik takes a wrong turn, Buttercup's horse throws a shoe, and Humperdink is hot on their trail.


Music

  • Most recordings and performances of the Irish folk song "The Rising of the Moon" these days cut the last verse, which describes how the rebels of the rebel song all meet a bitter end in the 1798 rebellion, leaving the song more upbeat and universal.


Western Animation

  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Hercules does not mention that Hercules eventually kills Megara and their children in a fit of madness set upon him by Hera. Of course, this Hercules is Hera's son, and she isn't even slightly antagonistic, and the whole thing's been thoroughly Disneyfied, so Herc and Meg are probably fine.
      • In the original myth, killing Meg is one of the first things Herc does as an adult. All of his heroic deeds involving lions and hydras are forms of atonement. It's really just an entirely different story.
      • Hercules' parentage apparently varies Depending on the Writer - some myths have him as Zeus' (naturally illegitimate) offspring (Hera, Goddess of marriage, was always faithful to her husband) and given the name "Heracles" - "Beloved of Hera" - to try and deflect some of the expected heat from the Goddess. It doesn't work.
    • The Jungle Book ends with Mowgli about to go to the human village. In the book, he goes to the village and is rejected there, too. It ends on a fairly depressing note, with Mowgli lamenting that there's nowhere he belongs. The sequel, however, does show Mowgli having trouble adjusting to village life.
    • The Sword in the Stone cuts off right after Arthur finds the sword and gets declared king, sparing kids the saga of his doomed love life and the dissolution of everything he ever worked for. T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone ends there as well, but the rest of The Once and Future King covers Arthur's reign and final fall, which never got animated. Trying to fit together all of the different parts of the King Arthur mythos into one coherent line would be frustrating, to say the least.
    • Sleeping Beauty ends with Prince Phillip slaying Maleficent and dancing with the awakened Princess Aurora, but not after all that business with Phillip's mother...
  • The Prince of Egypt ends just after the Hebrews cross the Red Sea and escape, with a Jump Cut to Moses bringing the Commandments down - skipping over that business with the calf, the wandering in the desert, and omitting the ending where Moses dies on the Promised Land's doorstep.
    • This sort of ending tends to occur in most adaptations of the Exodus story. It was even parodied in The Simpsons episode "Simpsons Bible Stories"

 Milhouse/Moses: Well, Lisa, we're out of Egypt. So, what's next for the Israelites? Land of milk and honey?

Lisa: [consulting a scroll] Hmm, well, actually it looks like we're in for forty years of wandering the desert.

Milhouse/Moses: Forty years? But after that, it's clear sailing for the Jews, right?

Lisa: [nervously] Uh-huh-hum, more or less -- hey, is that manna?

  • The Speculative Documentary The Future Is Wild, which is about what animals could eventually appear on our planet's surface in the distant future, apparantly begins with the start of a new ice age, and ends with the formation of a new supercontinent. The last episode apparantly ends with a closeup of the Sun in the sky, because it's going to play an important role after the series...

Examples of darker endings:

Film

  • Layer Cake: While the book ends with the protagonist recovered from being shot and living a tranquil life in the Caribbean, the movie ends with the shooting in a way that implies his death.
  • A Clockwork Orange initially ended with Alex eventually straightening up and walking the straight and narrow on his own. However, publishers saw it as a Downer Ending, seeing as how they missed the entire point of the book and had fun with Alex's antics, and dropped the final chapter from the initial American publication. This extended to the film adaptation which blatantly glorified Alex's anti-social behavior, something which famously annoyed author Anthony Burgess.
    • Though the old ending does have the rather Family-Unfriendly Aesop torture works, so there was no 'right' answer.
      • To this reader the extra chapter came off as the different but equally family-unfriendly "boys will be boys-- they'll grow out of it". After all, Pete didn't get the Ludovico treatment and he's a happily married bourgeois guy. Guess he didn't tell his wife about that little gang rape thing in his past.
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the book ended with the Pods picking up and leaving after realizing that humanity will never stop fighting them, and the town slowly returning to normal. The movie adaption has a bleaker ending (even with the semi-hopeful Framing Sequence placed by Executive Meddling), and the first and second remakes are bleaker still.
  • The classic noir, Kiss Me Deadly ends with a big explosion. The original release shows the protagonists escaping; later, that was removed, implying their deaths.
  • The Plague Dogs, which ends with the title characters swimming off to their inevitable death. The book almost ends like this, but then they get rescued by a boat.
  • Originally, the "Rite of Spring" segment of Fantasia was actually going to extend into the Cenozoic era after they show the dinosaurs going extinct, complete with appearances of different extinct mammals such as wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, before finally ending with the appearance of mankind and their discovery of fire. However, due to Executive Meddling, all of this was actually cut from the final version of the film, and as a result, all of this was replaced by a scene where the entire Earth gets lashed by earthquakes before finally being flooded by a massive tidal wave caused by a solar eclipse.
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