Ten Best Endings. Ten Worst Endings

Mar 29, 2001

The Bottom Line Some movies suck and have great endings. Some movies are great and have bad endings. And some movies just suck. What am I talking about?

Have you ever seen a really bad movie, but it ended on a terrifically brilliant note? Have you ever seen a really great movie, and the ending just sucked? Well, I have. Here's my list of the most astonishing. Casablanca? Forget Casablanca!


HONORABLE MENTION- Magnolia. This film was spectacularly deep, and the ending built to a most unusual finale. It's something I've never seen before, and it was effective. The scene with Macy and Reilly, after the storm and outside Solomon & Solomon, tugs at your heart. The scene with Tom Cruise, bedside by his dying father, is exceptional. And the last shot of Melora Walters is the perfect final note.

HONORABLE MENTION- The Shawshank Redemption. This movie was just a little overdone, don't you think? Everything was just a little too perfect? The good guys were a little too good, the bad guys a little too bad, the background guys an eclectic mixture of background diversity? But still, the ending is something to marvel at. Not since The Graduate has such an astonishing montage been put together. You watch it twice, and then again, and it still hits you just as hard. Robbins in the rain is classic. Get the Kleenex.

HONORABLE MENTION- Seven. This movie was something else. Everyone I've talked to has loved it. I think the ending to this film hit me harder than anything ever before (because your mind is racing to figure out what's in the box!). Spacey is so cool, and the audience is ready to explode. Everything in the film works, and it leads to this perfectly executed ending. I was literally shaking when I left the theatre.

HONORABLE MENTION- Hard Eight. This little-seen 1996 picture is about a card-game shark who takes a poor, heartbroken man under his wing and teaches him an adequate way to make a living in the casinos. Sydney, this mastermind, finally has his dark secret revealed in the film's final 9/10. The secret is mind-numbing and very, very sad, and then the ending really packs home a punch. Really gives you something to think about. The scene with Sydney and John (his apprentice) at the end, on the phone, is the film's most powerful scene.

HONORABLE MENTION- The Usual Suspects. I don't know. This film didn't hit me as hard as it did others. I mean, for one thing, the protagonist, Verbal Kint, essentially made up the whole movie! None of it essentially happened. Director Bryan Singer tricks us, and it's a dirty trick. Because of this, all my emotional involvement was dropped. I felt cheated. But Spacey's transformation from character-to-character is acting perfection. Check it out for yourself.

HONORABLE MENTION- The Straight Story. David Lynch making a G-rated movie? Well, whatever. It works. Alvin Straight is a man who drives across two states in his lawnmower to see his dying brother, a brother he hasn't talked to in more than a decade because of a vicious falling out. What's going to happen when they finally see each other again? Is it gonna be overdone? Is not enough gonna be shown? Director Lynch gets it just right.

HONORABLE MENTION- Glory. The ending to this film explodes onto its audience. This film is about the first black soldiers fighting for the North during the Civil War. They were usually put on suicide missions. First we get the great march down that long beach, the flags waving, the guns cocked, the James Newton Howard music rolling, and the Kleenex is out already. Then they go in for battle, the suicide mission. An emotionally-compelling final three minutes. Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman all hit just the right notes in these last scenes.

HONORABLE MENTION- Witness. The bad guys are coming after the kid, who's the witness. The bad guys are wearing expensive suits and have black sunglasses and they're carrying automatic pistols, and everyone in the Amish town is scared to death. One of the head bad guys blares over the phone to cop Harrison Ford, "You hear me?! We're coming after you!" Ford, basically helpless in the town, snarls into the phone, his eyes putting chills down my spine. "No, no, I'm coming after YOU." You get a lump in your throat. And then we get the long shootouts.

HONORABLE MENTION- Thief. A dark film about James Caan, an ex-felon who decides to make some money stealing professionally, and then get out of the business and settle down with his new wife. But things aren't that easy when you're tied to the mafia. Things go bad for Caan, and you just want him to explode. You have to wait an hour before he does, and oh boy does he! A vicious, violent, very unpretty ending, and at first you're rooting for Caan, but then you become horrified about the situation he's in and just want the film to stop. It's amazing what film can do. It has a great effect on the audience.

HONORABLE MENTION- The Limey. Stamp's a lifelong inmate who finally is released from his British prison. Years past, his daughter had been killed in a car accident in L.A. Things sound fishy to Stamp, so he's off to find out the truth. The audience is in for quite a treat. Outstanding direction by Steven Soderbergh. The film's denouement unveils an epiphany that hits the audience so hard it leaves them numb. It's emotionally devastating, and oh man does it work. Soderbergh's best picture (better than Traffic or Out of Sight or Brockovich).

HONORABLE MENTION- Rocky. I wanted to put this film so badly into my top ten. What a terrific ending. The film follows the sports formula so closely until that bout with Apollo Creed. Because you have so much emotion invested in Balboa, your heart is his heart. After the fight, his face looks like your mood; you feel for the guy. Oh man, such promise from a young Sylvester Stallone.

HONORABLE MENTION- Nighthawks. A stunning action film from 1979. Stunning action sequences, stunning dialogue between Stallone (cop) and Hauer (bad, bad guy), stunning finale to their ongoing feud. You don't really see the twist coming. You're expecting something, but not what happens. I dunno. I got me good, and films rarely do that. I suppose many will find this film, and its ending, average. Judge for yourself.

10 Leaving Las Vegas. One of the most compelling films of the 90s. Hollywood screenwriter is now unemployed screenwriter. He loses his family, too, so what's the solution? Go to Vegas and drink your life away. The movie's long, and we follow Cage through this excrutiating process right to the end. It's devastating; it's like watching a family member wither away with cancer. Cage is so believable, and so likable, and we so much want Shue, his temporary prostitute/girlfriend to save him...

9 The French Connection. Dynamic action all over the place. From beginning to end, that's the word of the day. We get the subway chase, the sniper scene, the race under the train scene (the best chase sequence on film), and the final warehouse shootout. This film keeps on building and building. It's very realistic. Hackman's Popeye Boyle is a man we don't like, but we admire him, and just watch what he does during the film's conclusion. It ends on a superb final shot and use of the soundtrack.

8 City Lights. I saw this movie when I was 12, and I cried, and I'm a guy. This comedy isn't really a comedy once you think about it. The Little Tramp is shunned by everyone, except his drunk, wealthy friend, and half the time he's even shunned by him. Near the end, the Tramp gives money (that was hard for him to get) to the blind flower girl he admires so she can get her vision back. The last shot is emotionally overwhelming. It's beautiful, one of a kind. Rarely do we ever get close-ups of the ugly tramp, and watch him try and smile as the radiant young woman stares at him. I'm getting chills right now typing this. Go rent it.

7 Field of Dreams. This movie may have been a bit too much Hollywood, but goddamn, it worked so well. Just when you think the movie was ending (If you build it he will come), the audience is tricked, and it's a beautiful trick. I would have loved to see this one in the theatres to hear the OOhs and AAhs from everyone around me. Your breath is literally sucked from you because you're in awe, and then we pull back to its final, uplifting shot.

6 The Fugitive. This movie was flawless. The scene when Harrison Ford goes to visit the guy in the county jail is one of my favorite scenes in any movie. Tommy Lee Jones notices him on the stairs, and finally catches up to him in the crowded hall, and Ford books off and Jones is in pursuit and Ford gets his foot caught in the closing glass doors, and he turns and Jones is firing one, two, three shots, and the bullets slam into the glass, and Ford is feeling up his chest. The glass is bulletproof and Ford finally slips through the closing doors. The timing couldn't be better; Jones and Ford are great together like this. It's heart-pounding entertainment. I had so much emotional investment in this film and after everything they went through, when Jones takes the handcuffs off Ford in the squad car, I was deeply affected. I dunno. I'm sure not everyone felt that way.

5 The Road Warrior. I wonder how long it took George Miller to film the final twenty minutes to this cult hit. The movie was already jam-packed with action and car chases (and I mean JAM-PACKED) that I was very surprised that Miller would throw even more on us for his thrilling denouement, and it works so well. It's not overdone. The viewers are rooting for Mad Max, and there's so many bad guys everywhere, in all these vehicles, trying to stop the rig at any cost. Some very thrilling sequences here. Perhaps the greatest montage of shots ever put together in an action film. It never seems to end, this tenacious chase, and we never get bored.

4 Jaws. This is one of the top-ten films of the 70s. For the first hour of the film, we never see the shark. In fact, we never really see it that well until the final fifteen minutes, and man is it scary. Quint's boat is so small; they look so helpless! The shark truly overwhelms us. When Quint goes down, it's a little funny, because he was so over-the-top, but it gets very serious again when Brody lines up his rifle. Very difficult but effective shooting on the ocean. It couldn't look more real. It scared the hell out of everyone. Ahead of its time.

3 The Last Detail. Little-seen Jack Nicholson film from 1973 where he's a life-long seamen and he and his big friend have to take a young recruit to prison in Virginia. It's quite a long journey, taking entertaining side adventures into NYC, and it's entertaining right to the end. The ending, though, is shattering. Will Nicholson put the kid in prison, like he was directed to, or will he let him go, jeopardizing his own life? The film hits you like a train, and then ends. I loved it. Others felt it left you hanging. Nicholson's Buddusky should've won him the Academy Award that year for Best Actor. But the Academy just sucks.

2 Unforgiven. Oh God. Clint Eastwood's film hit a note in me, and I didn't know why. Was I identifying with his character? Did I hate Gene Hackman so much I wanted to see him dead? Eastwood plays William Munny, a retired hired murderer, but when a prostitute is beaten mercilessly, he's back in business. A powerful tale about regret and retribution. The films builds to a very violent ending. Is Eastwood going to resort back to his cold ways, when he used to kill women and children, or is the town of Big Whiskey going to eat him up? That scene in the saloon on that rainy night, with the thoughts of the previous scene already in your head, have you hairs on their ends. Not overdone, not unrealistic. Eastwood's greatest film couldn't have a better finale. And the final shot brings out all the emotion. So eloquent.

1 The Conversation. Gene Hackman's Harry Caul, to me, is one of the greatest characters of all-time. He's a surveillance expert, the best wire-tapper on the West Coast. Years back, while still in NY, he did a job and, because of it, two people were murdered. This seems to haunt him throughout the film because the plot parellels this guilty theme. He's got the task of recording a couple walking around a crowded San Francisco courtyard. And he figures out that if he hands the tapes in, they'll get murdered. And, of course, someone breaks into his lab and steals the tapes... Gripping right to the last note. The shock ending is something you'd never anticipate, and it actually hits you so hard you're relieved. Francis Ford Coppola, the director, is an unmatched genius. This great picture is a great character study (just look at how Hackman stammers through his words, the restraint on his face-- brilliant!), but it also has a plot with characters and energy that I've never quite seen before. The best film of all time. A MUST see.


The Untouchables: Great movie, great action sequences, but did we need that ending? What a display of machoism by Elliot Ness during the climax when he chases Frank Nitti to the roof. And this never really happened! It spoiled all those good things about the film (the fluid direction, Ennio Morricone's brisk score, that carriage scene at the train station).

Saving Private Ryan: The movie hit all the right notes until the end. The scene with an alone Tom Hanks and his shaking hands, when he breaks down unwillingly and cries, is drama at its best. What a great scene. And then we get that cliched ending with the big gun battles and the main characters getting killed. And what's with the weakling American guy killing the German at the end? Would he really do that? Would he really kill someone? Is that what he learned for the war? I don't think so.

L.A. Confidential: The film, so good, the ending, so crappy. Way overdone. Is it believable to watch Crowe get shot five, six, seven, eight times all over his body and still be able to get up? I felt the last scenes were just a little out of place... I dunno. Check it out and tell me.

Platoon: Everything was so good until the final five minutes. Would Charlie Sheen, a completely believable character, so emotionally drained and lost in the war, really do what he does? It's an awful way to end a truly great film. Oliver Stone, what were you thinking? You should know better.

As Good As It Gets: Quite simply, the character of Martin Yudall was not meant to live out his life with someone. He donesn't need anybody! So when he gives that brief monologue to Helen Hunt outside her apartment (in the middle of Manhatten, no less, in the middle of the night, no less), I didn't buy it, and it gave me very sour thoughts to an otherwise superb film.

Chinatown: My favorite film, and, in my opinion, could have been the greatest film of all time if not for the awful ending. Was their any need for that? On the flip side, the ending is fitting because it parallels Jake Gittes' history, but it was such a downer, right? The film itself was a downer, and just when you think Nicholson is going to get us some light, there's director Polanski (who actually rewrote the ending, completely changing it) to end with "his gargoyle grin" (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker).

The Color of Money: 1961's The Hustler may have been Paul Newman's best role. The Color of Money, an update of that character in the mid-80s, is just not that same character. Would Newman really fall for a scam and get hustled by a kid in a pool hall? C'mon! Never, ever, not in a million billion trillion years! Newman is the master! He hustled MINNESOTA FATS! And then The Color of Money builds and builds, and then amounts to nothing. There is no climax. We just remember Newman getting hustled by Forest Whitaker, and that would never happen. Newman's character is just too smart.

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