There may be no better feeling than when a movie ends and you’re too stunned to move; you just sit there processing what you’ve just seen. Endings are tough as a movie depends on it for what the audience walks away with. Not all movies have great endings, but some movies go above and beyond when sticking the landing. There’s no formula to follow for a great ending, but that is what makes an ending memorable, they’re all so different. Some of the best endings of all time are ambiguous and ask us, the audience, to form our own opinion on what happened while other endings can rely on a huge plot twist. These are some of the best movie endings of all time. Oh, uh spoiler alerts ahead?
The Fountain (2006)
I’ll start this by acknowledging this movie isn’t for everyone like most of Darren Aronofsky’s filmography, but it works for me and my love for this movie is only made stronger by its powerful ending. The movie has three separate stories to follow throughout the film, but when they come together at the end, it just knocks me out. The Fountain doesn’t get into details of how or why we get to the ending of the film, we’re left to decide for ourselves if it was all predetermined or if the entire movie was in the novel being written.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
I know most people think of Slim Pickens riding the bomb like a rodeo clown as the ending of this movie, but the movie does continue on after this. Dr. Strangelove getting out of his wheelchair and walking in the War Room to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again” as a nuclear bomb explodes is outrageous, but only certifies the movie as a masterpiece (I know, overused word, but Kubrick is worthy).
The Social Network (2010)
Listen, if I make a list about best anything related to a movie, this movie will always be on it. By the time we get to the end of The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is the ultra-rich and powerful tycoon we all know. Yet, the film ends by Mark sending a Facebook friend request to his ex-girlfriend, played by the incredible Rooney Mara, and him just refreshing the page waiting for her to accept. We’re left to feel that Mark may have all the money in the world, but at what cost to his personal life?
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
We can’t talk about great endings without talking about The Silence of the Lambs. The ending has so much packed into it, but it works: the look of terror on Clarice’s face when she realizes it’s Hannibal Lecter on the phone for her, the camera shot widening as Lecter strolls off after Chilton. And there is no better last line than “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
I will talk about this movie perhaps until I’m in the basement of a government building that brings horror movies to life? The Cabin in the Woods is not at all what it appears to be. I’m not sure if a horror movie has ever been as self-aware as this one. The bigger twist of this ending being a commentary on the horror genre itself and us as an audience makes it all the better.
Little Women (2019)
Some people didn’t love Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women last year, but boy did it work for me, specifically the ending! The latest film adaptation of Little Women presents us with two options for the ending. One is the ending directly from the book where Jo March marries her housemate and has children. The other ending we’re offered in Greta’s film is closely based on the ending for the author of the novel, Louisa May Alcott. We see Jo finish her novel, keep the copyright to her book and not marry. Louisa May Alcott tried to end the novel this way, but was told it wouldn’t sell if Jo ended up a “spinster” so in the novel, we see Jo marry and have children. Greta’s film gives us both endings, so we have the true novel’s ending as well as some justice for the author.
La La Land (2016)
I don’t think I could make a list regarding movie endings without including La La Land. When the film jumps forward to an epilogue and our leading duo are no longer together, my heart actually hurts. Even more so that you come to see both characters have had their biggest dreams come true professionally since they’ve gone their separate ways. But the master writer/director Damien Chazelle cuts to a “happy” ending where we can see our duo back together and how their lives would have gone on if they had stayed together. Yes, I’m getting a little teary eyed now thinking about these emotional last few moments.
I tried to limit myself to one David Fincher movie, but I couldn’t. The mystery of the Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area for years throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, has inspired tons of speculation, but no firm conclusions as the killer was never found and case has never been closed. David Fincher’s Zodiac is an incredible film recounting the case and the search for answers. I won’t get into deep spoilers (as this is a must watch if you haven’t seen; currently on Netflix), but the film ends the way the case has ended, just more questions and no answers. The pace of the film is constructed the way the case felt, with twists and turns at every step and almost grasping an answer to only be let down.
There Will Be Blood (2008)
I have so many Paul Thomas Anderson movies I want to include on this list, but I think There Will Be Blood is the most deserving to shout out. The entire movie is spent on learning what makes Daniel Plainview tick and how he works. The end flashes forward to Daniel wealthy, but alone. He gets a visit from Eli Sunday and their tension comes to a bloody, bloody end.
There’s obviously so many incredible endings not listed above. A few to shout out would be Prisoners, The Blair Witch Project, Batman Begins, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Truman Show, Scream, The Godfather, Goodfellas and definitely the master of all endings, Citizen Kane.