Collateral Beauty – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to describe something good that comes out of a bad situation? You could say that it is the “collateral beauty” of a terrible outcome. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “collateral beauty” means that you find beauty in a bad outcome. It’s another way of saying, “every cloud has a silver lining.” However, with “collateral beauty,” the event involved in the expression has a much more tragic outcome.

Someone could lose their parents in an accident but find the love of their life at the treatment center while recovering from their injuries. It’s a way of saying finding the meaning behind something after experiencing tragic events, like learning the lesson in the tragedy.

It can also refer to instances of selflessness and kindness, where a person puts themselves at risk to save another person. For example, a firefighter saved people from the rubble on 9/11, only to die from toxic exposure two decades later.

Example Usage

“That girl has been through so much in her life, and she manages to stay friendly and upbeat. That’s a great example of collateral beauty in a person.”

“My son wrote off the Ferrari, but I got a McLaren with the insurance claim, and I’d say it’s a collateral beauty because I love it.”

“The country underwent a period of unrest after its liberation. Now it’s a fully-fledged democracy and a real collateral beauty.”

“The collateral beauty in the situation is that he found the love of his life after his first wife died of cancer.”

“Collateral beauty is finding the beauty in something that’s messed up. But there’s nothing beautiful about this tragedy.”

“The town flooded badly last year, and everyone experienced property damage to their homes. However, this year, the town is back better than ever, and they have protection against future floods. You could say it’s a collateral beauty how the town bounced back so well.”


The expression “collateral beauty” originates from the title of a 2016 Hollywood blockbuster fantasy drama. David Frankel directed the film, and Allan Loeb wrote it, with the movie hailing a star-studded cast. The cast is a lineup of Hollywood A-listers, including Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Will Smith, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, and others.

The plot follows a successful New York advertising exec who experiences a great life tragedy and retreats with his behavior. He asks the universe to answer his questions on life by writing letters to “Time, Love, and death.”

He receives unexpected responses and begins to understand how loss can reveal meaning and beauty, even in tragic circumstances. The film debuted at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2016, premiering in the US in mid-December 2016.

Critics didn’t think much of the film, but it managed to gross over $88-million at the global box office, despite its small $36-million budget.

Phrases Similar to Collateral Beauty

  • Silver lining.
  • Light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Calm after the storm.

Phrases Opposite to Collateral Beauty

  • No shelter.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Collateral beauty.

Ways People May Say Collateral Beauty Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with collateral, and it doesn’t have any financial reference. It’s a way of describing a surprising or beautiful outcome after a bad life event. Using this phrase as another way of saying “collateral damage” is incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Collateral Beauty

You can use the phrase collateral beauty to describe any situation where you’re looking for the silver lining in the outcome. It’s a way of describing something good coming out of a terrible situation. The phrase suits professional and social use.

You could use it to describe how a company failed but merged with a larger company to become a success story. You could use it as a way of helping someone see the beauty behind a band event in their life.

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