Nicholas Sparks is really good at killing people. No one is safe in his books and the movies made from them. In fact, if you’ve gotten close to any of the characters, it’s a fair chance that they will develop a terminal illness, reveal that they’ve been hiding a terminal illness or be struck with a terminal disease called drowning. Sparks is an angry god, and he shuffles off mortal coils aplenty in order to pretend that he writes Greek tragedy and tug despotically at heartstrings.
The murdering mastermind has struck again with Safe Haven, capitalizing on the fact that people love crying violently at movies on Valentine’s Day, and like many have done before with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface, it seems only appropriate that we tally up all the bodies lying at Sparks’ feet. Maybe someone can even make a memorial video set to Sarah McLachlan or something.
As expected, Spoilers for all Sparks movies abound.
Message in a Bottle
In the very first Sparks adaptation, Kevin Costner plays a guy with some emotional baggage named Garret who can’t get past his wife’s death. He starts a strange friendship with Robin Wright‘s character Theresa, a reporter who finds his love letters to his dead wife and decides to do some investigating without letting him know she’s been stealing the letter-filled bottles he throws out.
Their relationships grows more intimate, but then Garret finds the letters, and they get in a big fight. A year later, Garret’s dad finds Theresa to tel her that poor Garret drowned while trying to save someone else in the water. Fortunately, there was one last message found on the boat where Garret apologizes to his still dead wife and explains that he’s found a love in Theresa that’s so worth fighting for that he hasn’t talked to her in a year.
Body Count: 1
A Walk to Remember
Jamie Elizabeth Sullivan (Mandy Moore) and Landon Carter (Shane West) don’t hang out in school. She’s bookish and shy; he’s popular and a little bit of a dickbag. When a love of teenage theater and an inability to memorize even the most basic of sentences brings them together, they develop a love that’s fierce and real. They’ll have to face the prying eyes of their high school’s cliques, but everything else is sunshine and rainbows. Except, just kidding, Jamie has had secret cancer all along and tells Landon (and the audience) this more than halfway through the movie in a totally not manipulative way.
They take care of stuff on her bucket list, but the secret cancer is too strong, and Jamie eventually succumbs, leaving Landon and everyone else involved with platitudes and a sense of gratefulness that Jamie was able to turn a creepy douchebag into a somewhat decent human being before she perished.
Body Count: 1
Perhaps the only Sparks movie that non-horror fans can stomach, this is the thrilling tale of a lengthy love affair being hobbled by Alzheimer’s. Young Allison (Rachel McAdams) and young Noah (Ryan Gosling) are from different sides of the tracks, but their flaming passion cannot be denied. Except that it’s denied for a really long time by a mother who hides love letters, a fiance who loves Allison even after she cheats on him and by some truly crushing illnesses. Just as the movie should be closing out for a nice happy ending where old Noah (James Garner) has revived old Allison’s (Gena Rowlands) memories by reading to her, she relapses, throws a chair at him and he has a heart attack.
Fortunately, he recovers. And then promptly dies. In bed with Allison. Who also dies. Because nothing is happy forever.
Body County: 2
Nights in Rodanthe
Paul (Richard Gere) is visiting a beachside community during hurricane season because he accidentally killed someone on his operating table. Since all doctors have to visit everyone who brings a lawsuit against them personally, that is. He stays at a quaint bed and breakfast where Adrienne (Diane Lane) is running things for a friend. The two bond over cleaning Spam out of the pantry and watching wild horses run free, but instead of sticking around to see how far their new romance can go, Paul runs off to South America to re-connect with his son while the two love birds stay connected through letters (the kind that don’t require bottles). When Paul doesn’t return to Adrienne, she grows frantic, and soon Paul’s son shows up on her doorstep to tell her with a straight face that his father (her lover) died in a freak, flash mudslide.
Which may be a good thing, because he’s apparently a pretty terrible surgeon. In the end, there are just enough dissimilarities to avoid calling it Message in a Bottle 2.
Body Count: 2
When can death be just the thing two sweethearts need to find their way into each other’s arms? When Nicholas Sparks is diabolically plotting his most sinister romance yet. In it, John (Channing Tatum) is a soldier who falls in love with Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) while on leave, but when 9/11 happens, John makes the excruciating decision to re-enlist in the military and leave the girl he just met, like, five minutes ago behind. They continue their relationship through letters, of course, but one day he gets a Dear John from Savannah who is engaged to someone else (and apparently writing love letters to him all the while…).
Then, John’s father (Richard Jenkins) has a stroke, and John returns to his bedside in time to tell him how much he means before the poor man dies. When he takes the opportunity to visit Savannah, he finds her married to her old neighbor whose son has Autism. John gets so angry that he sells his father’s treasured coin collection in order to help pay for Savannah’s husband’s treatment. Oh, right. He’s had secret cancer for a while now, and it totally just slipped my mind. But, yeah, he’s got it, and John is going to help out for some reason.
Despite John selling off the thing his father handed down to him that meant the most, Savannah’s husband dies anyway. Fortunately, Savannah can now be with the guy she wanted all along and hints to John in her letter informing him of her husband’s death that he should come scoop her up to live happily ever after. Ah, young love. So inspiring.
Body Count: 2
The Last Song
Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) is super rebellious, but she finds out halfway through the movie that her father (Greg Kinnear) has secret cancer (and hasn’t told anyone because…he’s probably going to start making meth or something).
If you’ve done the math on your own, you know at this point that secret cancer is the leading cause of death amongst Nicholas Sparks movie characters.
Body Count: 1
The Lucky One
A lot of Marines die in a mortar attack, but Logan (Zac Efron) survives because he leaves the area pre-attack to pick up a mysterious picture of a young woman (Taylor Schilling). After he explains that the picture saved him, his vehicle is hit by a roadside bomb, and Logan is again the sole survivor. When he returns stateside, he decides to walk from Colorado to Louisiana in search of the woman in the picture (whose name is Beth), and he finds her, but doesn’t tell her why he’s there.
Surprise! They develop a relationship, but her ex is a real pain in the ass. Fortunately, he drowns during a storm while saving Beth’s son from the same fate. Now Logan and Beth can be together as soon as he reveals that he’s figured out that he knew of her brother in the war, and that he died valiantly. It’s essentially the feel-good version of Message in a Bottle, complete with a fortuitous drowning.
Body Count: At least 2, closer to 20 counting military casualties
Showing incredible restraint, Sparks finally delivers a movie where exactly zero people have secret cancer or drown in unavoidable mudslides. The story focuses on Erin (Julianne Hough) who adopts a new identity in order to escape her abusive husband. She builds a friendship with her neighbor Jo (Cobie Smulders) starts to fall for a grocery owner named Alex in her new town (Josh Duhamel) whose wife died of non-secret cancer years ago, but who he still holds onto by keeping the letters she wrote him. Luckily, his wife wrote a letter to the woman who he’d eventually fall in love with, and upon reading it, Erin is excited to find out that her new best friend Jo is actually Alex’s dead wife’s ghost. Because if there are not going to be manipulative third act deaths, there’s got to be a ghost.
Oh, and her dangerous husband tracks her down and ends up accidentally killing himself while trying to kill Erin.
Body Count: 1
Be safe out there, people. Nicholas Sparks will kill again.