Every step of the journey you take when watching a film makes a difference, but the ending is essential. With a good finish, your experience is complete. It doesn’t matter what the conclusion is; it just caps off the entire experience for the audience.
At a popular Internet forum, members took the time to discuss and debate their favorite endings to some of the world’s greatest films. This discussion was about the love of cinema and a few mentions of other media types, but the spotlight was on the best endings ever.
1. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
This heartwarming ending is guaranteed to make you cry happy tears. There’s no denying that seeing beloved pets return to their home is a genuinely emotional experience. It’s not overly sentimental. It is just right. The animals’ personalities are at the forefront, and the narration by Michael J. Fox is perfection.
In the scene, the family is outside and hears a dog barking. The children recognize the bark as the bulldog Chance runs over the hill into his boy’s arms. Sassy, the cat, follows and is hugged tightly by the daughter, and the cat responds to the hug by saying, “Sassy can’t breathe.” I’ll leave you to discover the last part of the ending. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is just that. As one user observed, “An incredible journey indeed, with an ending that manages to break your heart and add years to your lifespan.”
2. The Planet of the Apes (1968)
Some endings could be happier but are still awesome, though. The conclusion of the Charlton Heston science fiction film, The Planet Of The Apes, is a classic twist ending before twist endings became a thing, and Rod Serling was one of the film’s writers.
As part of a crew of astronauts, George Taylor (Heston) emerges from cryosleep into a distant future in another star system. When their ship crash lands, they find that apes rule the planet and humans are no more than mute servants to the ape overlords.
Heston is released, warned not to look for answers, and rides into the desolate forbidden zone after the apes see evidence of ancient human society. As he and a human woman Nova ride along the beach, Taylor makes a discovery that tells him exactly where he is. The shattering moment when Taylor screams one of the film’s classic lines in despair. It’s a total late 60s-shattering moment.
3. The Sting (1973)
The Sting is a classic film of con men running a complicated scam that tricks the audience. Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw, the complex scam or the titular sting is full of twists and turns, and you can never be sure who is who and who the enemy is.
In the scene where the sting takes place, Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), the crime boss, watches as the FBI storms the parlor, and “Shaw” and “Kelly” are seemingly killed. Lonnegan reluctantly flees without his money and has officially been fleeced. Perfection! He will never know what happened.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Jack Finney’s horror story of space pods stealing humans’ identities and creating an emotionless society has been adapted from his novel four times. It is also the basis for two other films, The Faculty and Assimilate. While the book has a much more hopeful ending, the film versions have given us some of the darkest versions of Finney’s vision.
The 1978 version, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright, has moments of hope that usually devolve into a terrifying scenario. Humans learn to act without emotion to avoid detection. In the end, Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) sees Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and goes to greet him.
She breaks her emotionless act and smiles, and Matthew lifts his arm, points at her, and gives an unearthly scream. As Nancy backs away in terror, the audience realizes Matthew has become one of them. It is an utterly chilling moment.
5. The Game (1997)
One of director David Fincher’s most underrated films is The Game. A film filled with intricate fake-outs and genuine tension, it makes the viewer feel as confused as the central character Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas). The Game strongly influenced real life, giving rise to immersive theatre and escape room games where groups of actors within a scenario devised by the event’s creators messed with the guests’ minds in many different ways, tricking them into believing incredible events were real.
The Game‘s ending is the best conclusion the film could have. An increasingly paranoid Nicholas gets a gun and takes Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) hostage. As the situation gets bleaker and Christine becomes terrified as they flee to the roof, Nicholas shoots the first person who walks through the door.
Realizing what he’s done, Nicholas leaps off the side of the building and lands on an air cushion. It’s all been one big, very realistic game, and facing his fears has cleared the way for Nicholas to reconnect with his emotions. No one saw it coming.
6. Constantine (2005)
Keanu Reeves stars as John Constantine, an exorcist and occult detective. Constantine is a film adaptation of the graphic novel Hellblazer. In the film, demons conspire to use the Spear Of Destiny to bring Mammon, the antichrist and the Devil’s son, to Earth using the body of detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz). This conspiracy begins a fight and a race against time for Constantine to foil their plans.
As a last-ditch attempt to save Angela, Constantine cuts his wrists because he knows Satan himself will come to claim his soul. Sure enough, Satan does, and after gloating about Constantine’s imminent demise, John tells him about the plot and his son’s attempt to upset the balance between Heaven and Hell and create the Apocalypse on Earth. Satan deals with the crisis, punishes those involved, and offers to restore Constantine to life as a reward.
Constantine instead asks that Angela’s twin sister, who took her own life, be released to go to Heaven, and Satan grants the wish and gloats over Constantine’s fate. Suddenly, Constantine starts ascending to Heaven, and an enraged Satan realizes that his selfless sacrifice resulted in a heavenly reward.
Satan removes cancer from Constantine’s body, restoring him to life and telling him there is plenty of time to earn another ticket to Hell. As a commenter stated, the film is an “epic tug of war between God and Satan.”
7. Psycho (1960)
While it seems like the biggest surprise in the film happened twenty minutes into the story, Psycho still has some surprises left in it. The psychological horror masterpiece, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the book written by Robert Bloch, starred Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and Vera Miles as Lila Crane.
In the ending, which people initially called an anticlimax, Norman Bates runs towards Lila Crane in the basement of the Bates home, where she finds the mummified remains of his mother with an upraised knife. Norman is revealed as Mother, having taken to wearing his mother’s clothes and killing unwary guests at the motel who excite his desires. It’s two of cinema’s most shocking moments, one after the other.
8. The Lost Boys (1987)
This strangely heartwarming tale of vampires in Santa Carla, California, follows a family with a rebellious son, Michael Emerson (Jason Patric), Sam (Corey Haim), and their mother, Lucy (Dianne Weist), who go to live with their odd grandfather (Barnard Hughes).
The brothers meet the town’s inhabitants, the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), who insist that the city is infested with vampires, the mysterious Star (Jami Gertz), and a gang of motorcycle hoods led by David (Keifer Sutherland).
After the head vampire is revealed and defeated, their grandfather plows into the house with his car. He announces that Santa Clara is an excellent place to live, except for all the vampires, revealing that he knew about the vampire menace the whole time.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
This film is the backstory behind the original Star Wars: A New Hope‘s central plot device, the plans Princess Leia needed to get to The Rebel Alliance to defeat The Empire and destroy The Death Star. It is a film filled with tragedy as multiple rebels give their lives to ensure the plans get out. Gareth Edwards directed the film and starred Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor.
It is a film where the entire cast dies in a valiant attempt to transmit the schematics of the Death Star to Princess Leia Organa, which succeeds. Darth Vader boards The Rebel Alliance command ship and kills many rebels, but they manage, giving their lives to do so, to get the disc with the information to the Princess, who escapes in a smaller ship.
It is a series of people nobly sacrificing themselves for the greater good and a great telling of the story behind Star Wars: A New Hope.
10. Shane (1953)
Shane is a quintessential western directed by legendary director George Stevens. It stars Alan Ladd as the title character, a gunslinger who rides into a Wyoming Territory town and does honest work for a local family. The families in town are being squeezed out and terrorized by a cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emilie Meyer), who wants to claim all the land for himself.
When Shane starts fighting on the side of the homesteaders, one of Ryker’s men Calloway (Ben Johnson), defects and warns Shane of Ryker’s intended double cross ambush, where he plans to kill Starrett, Shane’s boss and the father of the young boy who has taken a liking to the gunfighter.
Shane defeats Ryker and his thugs but is injured. He rides away while Starrett’s son Joey yells, “Shane, come back,” but Shane never responds. The scene is one of the most famous open-ended endings. It never tells you explicitly what happens to Shane, but it is an iconic moment in cinema because people have never stopped discussing it.
11. The Northman (2022)
Robert Eggars directed this epic Viking tale should have been more appreciated when it was released. It is the historically accurate story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), son of a slain Norse king, who becomes a berserker warrior among a band of reckless Vikings.
When Amleth is reminded of his oath to avenge his father, he regrets his actions and finds his uncle’s home in Iceland disguised as an enslaved servant. He meets a self-proclaimed witch Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), among the other prisoners, and they become lovers.
When Amleth confronts his mother, Gudrun (Nicole Kidman), she reveals that she never loved his father, that he raped her, and that she masterminded his father’s death and the takeover of his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). He kills Gudrun, Gunnar, her other son, and Fjölnir challenges him to a duel next to the volcano Hekla.
So the film’s ending is a magnificent sword duel between two men who are entirely naked next to an erupting volcano. Read the sentence over again and watch it. It is one of the most thrilling endings of a film ever and one of the best scenes in the movie, which is already filled with great scenes.
12. The Thing (1982)
The Thing is another film that was not befittingly appreciated when released but has matured into a horror genre classic. It is a monumental portrait of paranoia and distrust among the scientists and crew at a scientific research station in Antarctica.
It is another story about an outer space creature that imitates living beings, but it is even more horrific as you see it first replacing the sled dogs and then the humans at the station in its gruesome glory.
Kurt Russell stars as MacCready, the no-nonsense helicopter pilot who begins to believe that something horrible is happening. The cast is stacked with some of the best character actors of the 1980s, with Wilford Brimley as Blair, Keith David as Childs, Richard Dysart as Dr. Copper, Richard Masur as Clark, Joel Polis as Fuchs, Thomas Waites as Windows, and Donald Moffat as Gary, the station commander.
After they destroy the station with dynamite and seemingly defeat the creature, MacCready and Childs, who disappeared during the final confrontation, meet up in the burning wreckage.
Neither one of them has long to live once the fire dies down. The ending is hauntingly ambiguous. You’re curious to know if either one of the characters is still human. Finally, MacCready says, “Why don’t we wait here a while? See what happens.”
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