10 Endings To Be Grateful For . . .

It’s depressing, isn’t it, when you get to the end of anything you love — a book, a television show, a movie — and the conclusion sucks so hard it ruins everything that came before it?

I can write whole ESSAYS about how much I hate this series finale.

Well, today is a glass half-full kind of day, so instead of dwelling on the infinite sadness that was the finale of BSG, we’re going to pay tribute to the mashed potato and pumpkin pie eating season by being grateful for some of the most awesome movie endings out there.

DISCLAIMER:

In case there was any confusion, this list is about movies that I like — and thus it will, perhaps, not feature all of the classic films that you might be expecting. Which isn’t to say that I can’t appreciate movies that end up on AFI lists . . . just . . . don’t be surprised if you don’t see me waxing poetic about Rosebud here, okay?

Also, considering this whole list is about endings . . . do I really need to give you a spoiler warning? Really?

10. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

While the very last scene in this movie isn’t anything, like, amazing, I sometimes like to imagine the people watching Empire for the very first time in theater having a fucking conniption fit when they realized they had to wait a couple of more years to see how Han Solo escapes from the deep freeze. Unfortunately, I’m too young to have had that particular experience myself — I’m pretty sure I saw all the original Star Wars movies for the first time in a USA marathon — but I have to give credit where credit’s due: it’s a pretty bold ending. You really don’t see a lot of cliffhangers in movies. I kind of wish there were more of them.

9. Death Proof

I liked Death Proof the first time I watched it, although I found it a bit slow. On subsequent viewings, however, I have enjoyed it more and more, and that ending — that is an awesome ending. The intended victims turning around, chasing evil Kurt Russell down, and kicking the shit out of him one by one? Yeah, that’s called payoff. I enjoy me some violent, vengeful payoff, and I love that Death Proof is just so joyous about it — kiss off, Confucius, and your two graves nonsense. Sometimes, a motherfucker just needs to be killed.

8. Smokin’ Aces

Smokin’ Aces has problems. Smokin’ Aces has many problems. But its ending isn’t one of them. In fact, I think it was the strength of that ending that made me give the film a second chance. (And I did like it better on a repeat viewing.)

I very much like Big Choice moments in movies, particularly when they are fueled by grief and rage and especially when they are scored by Clint Mansell. There is just something about this ending where Ryan Reynolds, disillusioned over the needless death of his partner, takes a stand against the government by slowly, precisely murdering the two people they need to keep alive. I just love the whole scene. It’s an unusual ending for a shoot-em up action movie, but it helps give the film actual depth, and Reynolds is just great in it.

7. Poltergeist

So many horror movies feel the need to end on one last, final scare — which was okay idea back in 1976 when Carrie did it, but 35 years later, it’d be nice if Hollywood would come to the realization that instead of using that big, final jump moment that everybody and their dog knows is coming, they ended their horror movie with actual resolution.

And there could be no better resolution for Poltergeist than that last shot of the television being thrown out the door. It is simplicity in itself, and it is beautiful.

6. El Orfanato

Speaking of horror movies who end it right — El Orfanato is part ghost story, part fairy tale, and it ends on a perfect bittersweet note that fits the tone of the film to a T. Laura killing herself is, of course, a touch depressing, but the scene of her reuniting with her son and all of her childhood friends is actually quite lovely and tends to make me cry every time I watch it. (Yeah, I’m a sap. At least I don’t cry because of commercials.) Besides, the fact that she wins the game and gets her wish — as horrible as her wish is — well, that just ties the movie together so neatly. And the whole likening her to Grown Up Wendy? Perfection.

If the movie ended exactly on this scene (and didn’t give us the last four seconds with Carlos, which I don’t feel like we really need), it would be even higher on the list.

5. Iron Man

Not every superhero has a secret identity, but it’s sort of a staple that the genre is known for. Reclusive billionaire by day, dark avenger by night. Timid, bespectacled journalist one minute, manly superhero with 20/20 (plus x-ray) vision the next. Now, I’ve never read the Iron Man comics, and there wasn’t an Iron Man cartoon when I was growing up, so I didn’t know much about the story before going to theater, and I just assumed that Iron Man’s alter ego would remain mysterious to the public.

So it was kind of a thrill when Tony Stark looks directly at the camera, ignores his cue cards — as is his wont — and just tells the world that he is Iron Man. It was a great way to end the movie. Not only does it set up for a sequel — in a way that makes sense, even — it’s a great character moment and it feels like a fresh turn in the genre. This is one superhero who’s not hiding in the shadows.

4. Let the Right One In

I actually like this ending for a lot of the same reasons I like the ending of El Orfanato — it ties in well with the movie, gives the story a great sense of shape, and fits the overall tone of the piece really well. We’re all suckers for certain types of stories, and one of the kind I tend to like are about kids who either rebel against or otherwise abandon their shitty home lives in search of something better on their own. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to Oskar — will he eventually become a vampire; will he grow old and pathetic like Hakan — but you want to hope that he and Eli will go on magical, blood-filled adventures together and be happy.

Oh, and the knocking? The knocking is what really makes this ending as gold as it is. It’s a great conclusion to a really great vampire story.

3. The Cabin in the Woods

There are a lot of horror movies out there about dumb kids who get slaughtered in remote cabins, but most of those movies don’t end with the imminent destruction of the entire world. Actually, most movies of any kind don’t end with the imminent destruction of the entire world.

The Cabin in the Woods, however, is not most movies, and I absolutely the adore the last scene. Honestly, I adore the whole third act — which is a hard trick to pull, actually, considering how badly so many third acts flop — but I specifically love the last few minutes with the two friends who decide that humanity really isn’t worth saving. I’m also kind of a sucker for “friends sitting on the edge of the world” stories, and this is an especially awesome and original conclusion to a very smart horror comedy.

2. Memento

Memento is an extremely clever, wildly ambitious movie that depends heavily on the ending. Some movies still work even if the ending isn’t all you hoped for. Memento could never be one of those movies. The whole story depends on it. And that’s a big risk, but boy, does it pay off here. Seeing how Leonard deliberately forgot the truth because he didn’t want to remember it, how he set himself up to kill Teddy . . . that is fucking genius.

Also, “Now . . . . where was I?” One of my favorite last lines. Ever. Christ, Nolan is a damn master of structure. So, so much envy over here.

1. The Usual Suspects

You have to understand why this ending is such a hard sell– not only does most of the cast get killed off, not only does the girl die, not only does the bad guy win, but most of what you’ve been watching for the past two hours never actually happened. Willing suspension of disbelief is often attributed to science fiction and fantasy, but we really suspend our disbelief every time we watch a movie, pretending that these characters are real people with real problems that we should care about. If a movie breaks that suspension of disbelief by telling you that everything you’ve watched is a lie, well, it can be awfully hard to stay invested in that story.

So for that ending to work and not be a cheat, to successfully tell a story through an unreliable narrator . . . that is mastery of craft. Many try the Big Twist, but so few actually manage it. Bryan Singer does with The Usual Suspects. This is probably one of the most iconic film endings of all time, and in this particular case, there will be no blasphemy from me — it is, as far as I can tell, one of the best film endings ever.

Feel free to post some of your own favorite endings in the Comments . . . but if I don’t comment back, don’t think I hate you. I probably just haven’t seen the movie in question and am trying to avoid spoilers.

(Or, possibly, I hate you. You’ll never know, will you? Bwahaha.)

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11 Responses to 10 Endings To Be Grateful For . . .

  1. fatpie42 says:

    I have a big problem with a lot of ghost stories and one of my issues is when it turns out that ghosts are just like people, only they’re dead. One problem with this is the inconsistency in tone when the film has spent most of its running time convincing the audience to be afraid of ghosts and then all of a sudden “oh, yeah being a ghost’s just like being an ordinary person”.

    Another problem, however, is the way it undermines the tragedy of death. It’s an issue I have with afterlife beliefs in general. If the afterlife is lovely and rosey, what the hell is the point in getting upset over death, ever?

    Another issue is the inconsistency in what ghosts seemingly can and can’t do. Like when they can hide little items all around the house, but they can’t do something simple like let someone out of a room.

    And I detest the whole “unfinished business” idea (particularly when that particular phrase is used). The idea that the tragedy of someone’s death can be put right by simply sending their killer to prison or seeing their descendants are happily married just really annoys me.

    Now “El Orphanto” doesn’t do ALL of these things, but it does enough of them to really get to me. So perhaps that’s why the sweet little “Never Never Land” ending left me groaning.

    Of course, there’s any number of films with wonderful endings:
    Psycho – with the camera closing in on the central figure and seriously creeping us out with the voiceover of his inner monologue.
    Open Your Eyes – with the eyes opening, but what do they see?
    The Matrix – A smooth exit from the phone booth and then…. flying! *ZOMG! Cue RATM music!*
    Total Recall – Everything’s tying up just like a typical action movie and you just get enough time to think “hey wait, that’s all exactly what the guys at Recall were promising to show you!” before credits roll.
    The Others – “This house is ours, this house is ours, this house is ours” Yeah sure, I guess I’m contradicting myself, but I think the creepiness in “The Others” lies in discovering that things aren’t normal for these people and there’s certainly no suggestion of any resolution to unfinished business. The ending properly ties up what has come before rather than seeming like an unearned cheat (and with a less skilled filmmaker that could easily have been the feeling at the end).

    • I don’t know that a belief in the afterlife undermines the tragedy of death, but I guess you could say it lessens it somewhat — assuming you believe that you and your loved ones are all going to the same place. But I think you can still feel grief for those who have died even if you believe you’ll see them again. You still don’t know when you’re going to see them again or talk to them or hold them, and your life is that much sadder and darker without them physically in it.

      Psycho has a good ending. The Matrix is enjoyable, but I don’t know that the ending is anything that special. I mean, it’s not bad, and I like the shot of Neo flying and all, but it’s nothing that really stands out to me.

      • Jim King says:

        I liked the ending of the first Matrix but the flying bit was gratuitious. We already knew by then that he was the One – same reason we didn’t sequels. Make a few cuts to that movie, like removing any mention of humans being used as the universe’s least efficient power source, and it would be really kickass.

  2. Susan says:

    You freaking nailed it with this list.

  3. Teacups says:

    I like that Let The Right One In took out Hakan’s backstory, which was in the book, leaving viewers free to interpret that he was he was once another little boy who Eli had befriended. It subtly nudges us to see that whether Eli eats Oskar or not, their happy ending is only temporary. Although if you take that interpretation, Hakan should have several decades of serial killing experience, so it does make it weird that he keeps fucking it up now. I still love that ending though, it’s one of my favourites too.

    Okay, he’s my tentative list, with LTROI or any others you listed not allowed.
    1.The Signal. I was very surprised at how moving this ending was. In the first scene, one of the leads is imagining he and his girlfriend escaping to find a better life, only for them to have to come back to reality and the tenuous, uncertain circumstances they have. And after a lot of violence and black comedy, with the entire city (possibly the world, and including the entire cast) being driven insane, it basically ends the same way.
    2. The Descent (original ending). I love how bleak this was, while apparently being Sarah’s happiest possible ending at that point. I mean, as far as I can see, she imagined the prospect of escaping, and having to live with her guilt (not to mention all the other shit that’s happened to her during this movie) and her mind was like “Yeah, fuck that. I’ll just hallucinate something nice and stay here ’til I’m eaten.”
    3. May. Sort of similar to The Descent’s ending, I guess, in that it’s a sad ending that makes the crazypants protagonist as happy as she can be. With hallucinations, probably. Anyway, I also love that she was so dedicated to finding a true friend that she most likely killed herself just for a few seconds of that companionship she so desired.
    4. Dance Of The Dead. This was my favourite scene in the movie, and it’s my favourite sequel hook. The way the mission to go to the nuclear power plant and prevent a zombie apocalypse is set up to resemble an unusually awesome field trip (school bus full of students with the school coach in charge) just makes me laugh so damn hard, especially with the coach insisting they make a breakfast stop at the Pancake House on the way there. And if they ever do make that sequel, I strongly hope the first scene is of them at Pancake House, with their weapons.
    5. In The Mouth Of Madness. This isn’t a perfect movie, but I love how far this movie journeys up it’s own crazy ass in order to mindfuck the audience, and nowhere is that more apparent than the last scene.
    6. 127 Hours. I thought the movie overall was a 7/10, but that last scene is fantastic. It’s so energetic and joyful, and the decision to take such a strongly celebratory tone (because although he went through hell and cut off his arm, he lived) was unusual, but I think it really worked for the movie.
    7. Millions. I think the ending means that the characters donated the leftover money to the depicted charity, and then Damien was imagining they were there to see the good it would do. It just makes me very happy to see him finally being able to help someone like he wanted, and them all getting such joy out of it.
    8. Synecdoche, New York. It’s disappointing that the protagonist didn’t come close to accomplishing his dream before he died, and it’s depressing, yet so inevitable and there’s a real sense of relief there too. Which is what death-of-old-age mostly seems to be like in real life too, but I can’t think of any movie that captures that nearly so well.
    9. Martyrs. I reckon that whatever the answer to Madame’s question was (if there even was one) she realised that, having completed this lifelong quest she’s done horrible, horrible things for, what the fuck has she got left here? She can either bum around and wait to die, or go and see what Anna was talking about for herself.
    10. In Bruges. Ray deciding that he wants to live to make it out of Bruge – even if it’s just to face his fate as decreed by the boy’s family – really got to me. As did the line about a Christmas tree with all the presents beneath that’ll never be opened by that little boy.

    I don’t know that this is my ten favourite endings – I bet I’ll think of some that should have been on here, or realise I should have switched out one for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? or something. And I probably would’ve listed Triangle, except I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling the ending massively, and I don’t want to do that because it was a particularly great movie to watch unspoiled.

    • I will, at some point, actually read Let the Right One In. I’ve come close to picking it up half a dozen times and always end up picking something else.

      As far as the endings (of movies I’ve actually seen):

      2. I need to give The Descent another go. I really liked a lot about it, but the fact that I hated the main girl so much made the film difficult for me. I’ve since talked to a few people about it, and I’m willing to concede that I could possibly get over this on a second viewing. Maybe. Either way, The Descent is a creepy damn film.

      3. Agreed. May is a good movie with a pretty awesome ending. I think I was waiting the whole movie to see Sisto lose those hands.

      4. I actually own Dance of the Dead, but I’ve only watched it once — even though I really did enjoy it the first time. I don’t actually remember much about it anymore, so I’ll have to watch it again to see how I’d judge the ending.

      10. In Bruges was actually on the shortlist. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, even though it wasn’t quite the movie I was expecting when I popped it in the DVD player. One of the few open endings that really works for me.

  4. Macabre says:

    Some of my favorite endings include:
    The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Westerns often lend themselves to very strong endings because of the slow build-up to a climactic showdown, and this is the grand daddy of them all. The music, the quick editing, the shots of each character’s hand hovering above their holstered gun, waiting for that right moment to draw. I’m not a fan of the word “epic,” but it’s the perfect word to describe this scene.)
    The Mist
    Chinatown
    Some Like It Hot, although that has more to do with the closing lines of dialogue than the ending itself.
    Sunset Blvd
    Seven
    The Devil’s Rejects (I can’t listen to “Freebird” anymore without automatically picturing the last few minutes of this movie.)
    The Prestige
    Mulholland Drive
    Five Easy Pieces
    There Will Be Blood (“I’m finished!”)

    • The Mist is the strange exception to the rule that Hollywood always changes the story to have a happy ending. Stephen King’s actual novella ended on a WAY more upbeat note than this movie.

      I will, at some point in my life, try Chinatown again, but it’s not going to be anytime soon. I might just sort of been having a Day, but the ending of the movie hugely affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I haven’t entirely made up my mind about it, despite the fact that you seem to be legally required to love Chinatown if you love movies. Seriously, I’m concerned that particular blasphemy might come with actual jail time.

      I love Some Like it Hot. I just love it. Was definitely on the shortlist.

      Seven: WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

      Yeah, gotta love that one too.

  5. Jim King says:

    There’s a continuation of Let the Right One In, a short story in a collection called Let the Old Dreams Die but I haven’t read it and, in my opinion, this is a rare example of a movie that’s better than the book.

  6. Kirsten says:

    Really great list! I’m with you on all the ones I have also seen.

    I just want to say that Iron Man is the first movie I watched where, the second after it ended, I yelled out, “HOLY SHIT YES!!! PERFECT ENDING!” Superheroes are so secretive and blah blah blah, but Tony Stark IS Iron Man. FUCKING. PERIOD. 😀

    I’ll throw a few more into the mix:

    The Commitments – because it ended like it should. Bands can be great, but how many make it to the big time? How many clashing egos can you put into one room without violence? So we end with our dreamer – a man who spent the movie trying to achieve more than he should in his lower-class, over-crowded Dublin life, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “oh well.” In his own bemused way, of course.

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch ends with Hansel/Hedwig, who has gone through hell, identity crises, divorce, betrayal, and emerges anew… a whole person, starting again. It’s an open ending. Some people think Hansel died. Some people think Hedwig died. Some people think they just became the one whole person they were supposed to be and started life over.

    And how about a funny ending? Because a lot of comedies REALLY let you down in the end!

    A Fish Called Wanda – ends with Otto falling off a plane yelling “Asshoooooollllllllle!” Brilliant.

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