My Thirty-three Favorite Film Finales

I named the worst endings, now let me list some of the climaxes that I feel are the best in cinema. I'll try not to give too much away. A terrible ending can destroy a film, so too a great one can elevate or even make a movie.
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Blade Runner (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator. (117 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
“ Depending on which of the forty-three versions you watch, it's a beautifully shot and scripted last ten minutes. Despite the overpraise for writer Philip K. Dick (he himself cited that editors did not rein in his impulses and this novel was not one of his best), the end was altered greatly from his novel by Blade Runner's screenwriters. But it turned out to have been a wise choice. The cryptic final scenes and quick jump to the Vangelis-scored closing credits is one of the most electric climaxes I've ever seen; even that choice of adjective seems hackneyed and cheap in describing the effectiveness of the last ten minutes, but so be it. The most memorable line was ad-libbed by Rutger Hauer; Ridley Scott was smart enough to leave it in the film. But don't ask me which version it is, I've seen them all and still can't even keep them straight. ” - Tin_ear
La Jetée (1962 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Time travel, still images, a past, present and future and the aftermath of World War III. The tale of a man... (28 mins.)
Director: Chris Marker
“ If there ever was a film dependent on its ending, it is this. Luckily enough, Chris Marker found a way to visually express his story in a unique way as to accentuate the cyclical theme without distracting from the base emotional power of that ending. As for the Gilliamized remake, don't waste your time. ” - Tin_ear
12 Angry Men (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence. (96 mins.)
Director: Sidney Lumet
“ The film is not done after the verdict is rendered, nevermind the not so subtle role of the seating arrangements and weather throughout the film. The final exchange between the two jurors highlights that division between the legal realm and the real world. It's easy to forget in the end amongst all the judicial babbling, heated discussions, contrived recreations, etc, that these people still have a life to lead in reality. The film may take place in a somewhat abstract, overly theatrical situation most people will never find themselves in but the end reminds us it could just as easily be us burdened with this responsibility. ” - Tin_ear
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York is portrayed while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on his crime syndicate stretching from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to pre-revolution 1958 Cuba. (202 mins.)
“ Shock endings usually ruin great movies or at least sensationalize them beyond the point of belief, but in this case it is the only ending that really makes any sense and should have concluded the series. Surpassing the original in many way, The Godfather no slouch itself when it comes to memorable finales, it is unforseeable and utterly devastating. The vignette added by Coppola from the cutting-room floor from Godfather 1 should have, by logic, amounted to little else than a spoiled director refusing to 'kill his darlings.' Instead the disjointed segment paints a subtle picture of the debasement of the Corleone family in the name of business. So effective partly because we were legitimately nostalgic for the characters and story that was now (assumedly) wrapping up. ” - Tin_ear
Chinatown (1974)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption and murder. (130 mins.)
Director: Roman Polanski
“ The ultimate Noir. The ultimate Noir ending. Chinatown defines and transcends the genre at the same time. ” - Tin_ear
The Third Man (1949)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime. (104 mins.)
Director: Carol Reed
“ The hospital scene, sewer scene, and final long shot are incredible; I'd try and explain it better but I can't really do it the justice it deserves. Years later I've come the shamefully obvious, symbolic conclusion that Graham Greene is essentially comparing his deceptively charming antagonist (Orson Welles) to piece of excrement, a disagreeable dinner, being flushed not just out of the 'body' of the city but the lives of everyone he is close to. ” - Tin_ear
The 400 Blows (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Moving story of a young boy who, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime. (99 mins.)
“ Never has a closing scene captured the exhilaration and panic that is childhood. Freedom is sometimes more frightening when you're on the outside of the fence. If childhood is anything, it's the freedom to make mistakes. ” - Tin_ear
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A professional assassin codenamed "Jackal" plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. (143 mins.)
Director: Fred Zinnemann
“ (Spoiler) One assassin's mission to rewrite history, and pull off the greatest murder of all time. You can guess there are necessary complications. ” - Tin_ear
Diabolique (1955)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
The wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women. (116 mins.)
Director: H.G. Clouzot
“ Creepiest climax I've ever seen. It was pretty much downhill for horror movies from here on out. ” - Tin_ear
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke. (124 mins.)
Director: Irvin Kershner
“ Easily the greatest moment of the franchise. ” - Tin_ear
Paths of Glory (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them. (88 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ Many people have stereotyped Kubrick a cold-hearted, overtly intellectual pessimist, perhaps even a nihilist. The last couple of minutes of this film might make one reconsider that pronouncement. ” - Tin_ear
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Two British soldiers in India decide to resign from the Army and set themselves up as deities in Kafiristan--a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander. (129 mins.)
Director: John Huston
“ Written by Kipling, directed by John Huston, and starring the two greatest British actors of their generation, somehow the film is more than the sum of its parts. ” - Tin_ear
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A scheming widow and her manipulative ex-lover make a bet regarding the corruption of a recently married woman. (119 mins.)
Director: Stephen Frears
“ Glenn Close manages to instill a spark of humanity in what is one of the least likeable characters imaginable. ” - Tin_ear
Chimes at Midnight (1965)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
The career of Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff as roistering companion to young Prince Hal, circa 1400-1413. (113 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles
“ Welles' last great film as director, and the last role he could really sink his teeth into. That's not a weight joke, I swear. ” - Tin_ear
The Wrong Man (1956)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
True story of an innocent man mistaken for a criminal. (105 mins.)
“ The type of powerful, stinging finish that was so often lacking from Hitchcock's body of work. In my view, he seemed to excel at either end of the spectrum, black comedies that didn't take themselves seriously (like The Trouble with Harry) or at the other end, films like The Wrong Man, which for Hitchcock, was disturbingly realistic and gritty. ” - Tin_ear
Fail-Safe (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
American planes are sent to deliver a nuclear attack on Moscow, but it's a mistake due to an electrical malfunction. Can all-out war be averted? (112 mins.)
Director: Sidney Lumet
“ You might recognize the plot from Dr Strangelove, but the two are essentially unrelated if you don't count plagiarism as being related. All kidding aside, Fail-Safe accurately depicts the reality of an accidential nuclear strike against the Soviet Union and its repercussions under the guidelines of Game Theory, though the actual mechanics of a 'go-ahead' nuclear launch confirmation, the key aspect of the film, are likely exaggerated. Critics seem to miss that whether procedural, human-based, or mechanical, all errors in the nuclear launch system are in the end human errors because we designed them. It is at its heart a story of free will, the onus of responsibility and power. ” - Tin_ear
The Color of Money (1986)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protégé the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback. (119 mins.)
Director: Martin Scorsese
“ A kind of character study one might expect sizing up the chalk-jockeys down at the local pool hall, the film ends because there's nothing left to say. While some people get distracted by the supposedly 'formulaic' plot of the movie, the film in actuality subverts the conventional 'formula' in the final ten minutes, quite contrary to the rigid mentor/protege relationship. This is not a definitive climax with a clear cut 'bad' and 'good' guy.

Of all the criticism of this film I can gather, it comes down to people misunderstanding the ending: either cynically assuming Martin Scorsese was setting up a sequel (which I'm sure sounded less stupid at the time), or that the film had no payoff (missing the point that the road-trip plot was secondary to character development),.... or in the case of Roger Ebert, that Paul Newman's character does not change, despite the fact the character's behavior, motivations, self-esteem, and morals are erratic through-out and we really only discover any reason to like the guy until the last thirty minutes when he shows vulnerability and discovers sincerity. The film works despite the fact the film is a sequel, not because of it; the ending shows how Scorsese avoided merely imitating and exaggerating the original. ” - Tin_ear
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner. (116 mins.)
“ Perhaps the spectacular and unpredictable finale of To Live and Die in L.A. makes up for the forced ending of Friedkin's previous film The Exorcist. ” - Tin_ear
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Fred Dobbs and Bob Curtin, two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. (126 mins.)
Director: John Huston
“ An end so great it would later be alluded to in homage in Kubrick's The Killing and the original Ocean's Eleven, to name a few. This is nothing; according to some sources, Bogart was the first choice to star in director John Huston's early version of The Man Who Would Be King. One of the great 'what if's?' in film history. ” - Tin_ear
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits. (95 mins.)
Director: George Miller
“ A chase and epilogue so intense and haunting they recycled it almost verbatim in the sequel, Thunderdome. ” - Tin_ear
The Wicker Man (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there. (88 mins.)
Director: Robin Hardy
“ I can't tell you anything without giving everything away. But if you've seen the remake and know the ending anyway, maybe you can still watch the original and get some of the bad taste of Nic Cage's acting out of your mouth. ” - Tin_ear
The Wild Bunch (1969)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the "traditional" American West is disappearing around them. (145 mins.)
Director: Sam Peckinpah
“ The Wild Bunch ruined the 'oversized shootout climax' for every movie that came after. It was so beautiful in its endless, ridiculous stream of bullets & eager, charging bodies, and elongated grimaces and strained doomed glances, that any flick that came after it would be accused of shamelessly imitating it or failing to surpass its gory majesty. It was a great Western that had an end that parodied and topped every over the top action film before it. Having 'jumped the shark' Sam Peckinpah would wisely move onto smaller set pieces and more stylized depictions of violence (though never really matching what he did in this film) in his later work. The action film genre was less astute, today we have a glut of pompous films like Inglorious Basterds and Avatar that are too dumb to realize they are just video games in comparison, because all their violence adds up to absolutely nothing. In 1969, it was legitimately controversial. ” - Tin_ear
Angel on My Shoulder (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
The Devil arranges for a deceased gangster to return to Earth as a well-respected judge to make up for his previous life. (100 mins.)
Director: Archie Mayo
“ (Spoilers) This movie is actually a remake for all intents and purposes but the end is much more poignant than the end scene of the film it is based upon, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, written by the same author just five years prior. I personally prefer the rip off, celestial justice and resurrection has got nothing on outsmarting the devil (played by Claude Rains, who also starred as the original Mr. Jordan) and revenge from beyond the grave. Paul Muni and Rains' final exchange is cheeky where as the end scene of Here Comes Mr. Jordan is just contrived and a little cheesy. ” - Tin_ear
The Omen (1976)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil's own son? (111 mins.)
Director: Richard Donner
“ As opposed to The Exorcist, an equally ambitious and intense film of that era, The Omen's ambiguous ending brought the film's themes of prophesy and guilt-tinged catastrophes full circle and elevated a merely good film into a great one (it is essentially a riff on Rosemary's Baby after all). Writer David Seltzer justifies his film's gore and humorlessness by presenting a protagonist who is prepared to do the unspeakable and would have us cheer him on doing it, whereas W.P. Blatty's Exorcist is content to let us off easy as if the whole ordeal was just a dream. In any case both films being a good example of the boldness and sophistication of Seventies horror, a contrast to the crass awfulness and predictability of the next four decades evident in the numerous remakes, sequels, and rip offs of both The Omen and The Exorcist. ” - Tin_ear
Pickpocket (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Michel is released from jail after serving a sentence for thievery. His mother dies and he resorts to pickpocketing as a means of survival. (75 mins.)
Director: Robert Bresson
“ This ending manages to redeem a merely average film into a good one. In all due justice, American Gigolo is a more entertaining, better acted movie, but it stole its ending from this Bresson film. ” - Tin_ear
Duck Soup (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. (68 mins.)
Director: Leo McCarey
“ Another example where a fantastic climax makes the movie. ” - Tin_ear
Manhattan (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
The life of a divorced television writer dating a teenage girl is further complicated when he falls in love with his best friend's mistress. (96 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ Stylistically and dramatically speaking, the peak of Woody Allen's career. ” - Tin_ear
The Dogs of War (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Mercenary James Shannon, on a reconnaissance job to the African nation of Zangaro, is tortured and deported. He returns to lead a coup. (118 mins.)
Director: John Irvin
“ A fairly average production until the final two or so minutes, the final reveal adds a much needed twist of conscience and justice to a plot filled with an otherwise callous and grim cast of protagonists (which was the entire point of the twist). A fitting commentary by Frederick Forsyth (the same mind behind The Day of the Jackal) on the perpetual political instability, and paternalistic tampering by ex-colonial nations in Africa; not surprisingly, a strikingly similar coup would breakout in real life years later in 2004 in Equatorial Guinea. By coincidence or inspiration, life had imitated art, albeit without Chris Walken's surreal pep talk. I can't help but compare TDoW's superb ending, plot, and rising sense of tension to the less than stimulating Live and Let Die. A striking parallel -- another occasion to ponder the Bond franchise's utter failure to hold its own against better films in the genre. ” - Tin_ear
The Passenger (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A frustrated war correspondent, unable to find the war he's been asked to cover, takes the risky path of co-opting the I.D. of a dead arms dealer acquaintance. (119 mins.)
“ Finally a Michelangelo Antonioni flick worthy of the pomp that is the Criterion Collection. The film plays off his previous efforts, L'avventura and Blow-Up, adding personality and urgency where the others seem trifling and obnoxiously opaque. The Passenger is a worthy thriller, all while exploring the idea of identity and the perception of truth far more convincingly than any of his earlier films. The climactic scene, a seven-minute, uninterrupted single shot, is a study in composition. (Spoiler) The dialogue of the actresses in this scene is crucial, revealing the alienation & banality surrounding his death, and his failure to see the larger picture. In trying to fulfill some fantasy in his mind or live someone else's life he has only negated his own self. ” - Tin_ear
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I. (136 mins.)
Director: Lewis Milestone
“ (Spoiler) Devastating coda, with a very effective superimposed shot after, and a long, empty blank screen to reinforce or subject the viewer to concentrate all the more on what they had just witnessed. Depending on your outlook you could potentially read the fate of the protagonist in any number of ways, for he at least received a quick death unlike so many others. I've come to the conclusion he lucked out. ” - Tin_ear
The Fire Within (1963)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Alain Leroy is having a course of treatment in a private hospital because of his problem with alcohol... (108 mins.)
Director: Louis Malle
“ As a first impression, the end seems suspiciously non-chalant. A figure worthy of perhaps both scorn and pity, Louis Malle's main character is the embodiment of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie that populated art-house movies throughout the Sixties and Seventies, a gamble on Malle's part. Seldom do alcoholics on screen appear so mundane and irredeemable. Oddly, his personal relationships give his life meaning but are the very source of his discomfort. For a guy so sociable and respected he inevitably always winds up holed up alone with only his thoughts, which renders the whole affair all the more realistic and uncomfortable (and so it should be). A man so bored extracting every ounce of pleasure out of life he is reduced to squandering the greatest oppurtunites for reasons known only to him. An Epicurean warning and an affront to those who would romanticize suffering or expect absolution or consoling denouement. Bunuel could not craft a better rebuke of the hollowness that constitutes bourgeois malaise and Catholic guilt. Malle's use of jump cuts in the dinner party finale unmatched by any of his fellow practitioners. ” - Tin_ear
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A young couple move into an apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life. (136 mins.)
Director: Roman Polanski
“ A perfect, unique combination of horror for mankind and relief for our heroine marks the conclusion of one of the best horror films ever made. I can only imagine the shock is threefold by those who were under the impression they were watching another psychodrama about a paranoid basket case, not unlike Roman Polanski's previous thriller Repulsion. The fact that the antagonists are so eager for Rosemary's participation in their project and her maternal instincts are so obliging that we the audience are compelled to take her side, makes this film so much creepier and unnerving than the goriest of slashers. ” - Tin_ear
Taxi Driver (1976)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process. (113 mins.)
Director: Martin Scorsese
“ A large part of the charm and genius of this film's ending is the controversy surrounding it, the media that got lost in questions of glorifying violence and the sociopaths who perpetrate said acts. I don't want to spell it out, but (in my judgement at least) the film and the subsequent deranged legion of imitators and guileless fans it inspired echoes precisely the deeply troubling comment about society Paul Schrader and Scorsese were attempting. The more I think about it the less the finale seems like a tragic comedy or a simple ironic twist than it does a farce or satirical revenge-fantasy. To exactly what degree or at what point the film slips into a figment of Travis' imagination we are only to guess. Or is he the just right perverted hero that our perverted time calls for? ” - Tin_ear