Above: Samantha Baker's birthday ended happily in , but overall was a classic mess.The EverybodyfieldsOf Montreal
Charlie's in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) The gift of a Wonka bar was a huge splurge for Charlie's dirt-poor family, but it was more than just a piece of candy: It was a chance for something better, something great, to happen in his life, and Grandpa Joe was sure there was a much-coveted Golden Ticket tucked inside. There wasn't, but Charlie pretended for a moment that there was, and the rapid shift from his family's utter jubilation to crushing disappointment as he quickly reveals the truth is heartbreaking-- and makes his eventual triumph that much more sweet. (Skip to 4:02 in the clip above to see that part.)
Martin's 7th in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
It was bad enough that young Martin contracted a rare disease and had to be cryogenically frozen until a treatment was developed and he could be returned to his family, but even worse that he was meanwhile replaced with David, a robo-child that developed a freaky Oedipo-bot thing with his mom and kept hanging around even after Martin was cured and returned home. But that was all before he was tackled by his cyborg-brother at his birthday party, knocked into a pool and nearly drowned. That's almost a fate worse than having to watch this movie.
Cathy's 11th in The Birds (1963)
Lots can go wrong at a birthday party: Balloons can pop, streamers can sag, cakes can be dropped, roving packs of maniacal birds can descend upon your town, attack your friends and peck your neighbors to death. Better luck next year! (Maybe it'll be puppies.)
Sara's 11th in A Little Princess (1995)
There's nothing like learning your dad's been killed in World War I and being summarily banished to the servant's quarters of your draconian Victorian girls' boarding school to usher you into adolescence! My friends and I watched Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel on VHS at my own 11th birthday sleep-over. Bawlfest alert. (Skip to 6:02 in the trailer above for a huge cake, even bigger hairbows and the bad news. Fun fact: The chubby little girl in glasses is the bee girl from Blind Melon's “No Rain” video!)
Margo's 11th in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Margo Tenenbaum's semi-illustrious career as a playwright got off to a rough start with her estranged, adoptive father outright panning her first theatrical opus, which she debuted at her 11th birthday party. Etheline blowing out the candles as Margo storms out of the room is one of my favorite moments of the film.
Samantha's 16th in Sixteen Candles (1984)
No one does unfettered teen angst better than John Hughes, and no one in cinematic history had a more sublimely crappy birthday than Molly Ringwald's Samantha Baker. Thank god for Jake Ryan!
Maude's 80th in Harold & Maude (1971)
Harold went all out in preparation for Maude's big day, but unfortunately, she had a different plan for how to end the night. Honestly, though, hers (committing peaceful, carefully plotted suicide) was only slightly more unusual than his (proposing marriage to an octogenarian he'd only known a few days). At least Cat Stevens was there to sing Harold, and us, through our grief.