A good ending is hard to come by. It’s also one of the most important aspects of a perfectly executed story. If everything else is compelling but the ending drops the ball, it knocks the whole experience down. The movies below fall into a certain special category.
On the surface, these endings are earth-shattering in one way or another. Ultimately, though, they’re perhaps the most perfect ending the movie could have. Anything different would have made the movie less special. They all make you think or arouse an unexpected emotion. Some even change the way viewers watch it for the second time.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Frank Darabont’s 2009 horror film follows a group of people surviving an attack by strange monsters emerging from a city-covering fog. Eventually, the main characters leave together in a car. When the car runs out of gas, the patriarch makes the painful decision to kill everyone in the vehicle, including his son, instead of letting them become monster food.
The real kick comes when the army arrives just a minute later to disperse the mist and save everyone. The ending wasn’t in Stephen King’s original story, and the writer praised the director for making it up. As heartbreaking as it is, it’s a good lesson for viewers to never give up hope.
Terry Gillam’s dystopian sci-fi masterpiece is endlessly imaginative. The protagonist, Sam, is accused of treason and is about to be tortured just before he is rescued by rebels and can find his love again. Unfortunately, this is all a lie and Sam is still tied to the chair under torture.
His mind is still clearly in fantasy land where he can live happily ever after. It’s dark, but the director doesn’t consider it that way. For him, Sam is still free because the government didn’t corrupt and steal his mind, despite his captivity.
5 The day will come
Chris Morris’ politically charged dark comedy is about the CIA intentionally driving a clearly unstable man to attempt an act of terrorism. The ending is so heartbreaking because it ends exactly where the movie says it always goes.
The protagonist gets into trouble and ends up behind bars despite being driven and deceived by the authorities the entire time. It would be funnier if the movie wasn’t inspired by true stories. Such dark and political themes mixed with comedy are nothing new to Chris Morris, also known for four lions and the BBC news parody brass eye.
4 come and see
This 1985 grizzly war movie from Belarus was made in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. It is, however, hardly patriotic and focuses only on the horrors of war and the suffering suffered by Belarus. The ending sees the main character shoot a portrait of Hitler on the ground as archival footage of the Third Reich passes backwards, gradually accelerating.
Gunshots ring out until the archival footage stops at a photo of baby Hitler and the gun runs out of ammunition. The hero is then called back into formation and continues his march. It feels unsatisfying but leaves viewers with a powerful message. Time cannot be reversed and damage cannot be repaired. The best thing to do is to remember it and make sure it never happens again.
3 bad lieutenant
Abel Ferrara’s crime drama follows an incredibly corrupt cop played by Harvey Keitel. The film follows him as he indulges in his lusts, addictions, and other various crimes. At the same time, he investigates the sexual assault of a nun.
In the end, the attackers are identified, but the nun chooses to forgive them. The protagonist lets them go, has a nervous breakdown in a church where he sees a vision of Jesus Christ, and then is presumably killed by the people to whom he owes misplaced bets.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic ends with a confusing series of images and effects that seem to indicate something is going on.
The director originally intended for there to be a narration explaining what was happening on screen, but decided to leave it out in favor of something more ambiguous. Fortunately, there is a novelization that clearly explains the events. Once viewers realize the process shown is the merging of a human and another extraterrestrial life form, it makes more sense.
1 night of the living dead
In the mid-1960s, heartbreaking and unfair endings weren’t yet commonplace for horror movies. night of the living dead is certainly one of the first. After enduring the horrible night and surviving the zombie attacks, the main character emerges and is shot by humans who dispose of the remaining zombies.
The film fully captures the 1960s nihilistic vibe some felt with growing distrust of government, heightened racial tensions, and the assassination of public figures such as JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.
MORE: Best TV Shows With Ambiguous Endings