Friday, September 4, 2009

Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite film endings?

I Haven't done one of these in awhile so I thought it would be a good way to head into the weekend. Oddly enough I was thinking about this question the other night when I popped in Superbad due to there being nothing on TV. I forgot how much I really liked this movie, but I don't think it's as good as I remember it being. In fact, Jonah Hill kind of gets on my nerves, and Michael Cera's act gets old pretty quick. However, it's still better than 90% of the comedies released today, and it has one of the most genuinely touching "rite of passage" endings I've seen in a film about teenagers. This got me thinking...what endings do I absolutely love (Superbad being one of them as that shot of them being pulled apart by the camera going down the escalator is truly moving)? A small list, with comments for a select few, follows the jump:

This leans more towards the modern because I did it off the top of my head. Sorry.

Superbad -- See above

City Lights

No Country For Old Men
-- There will be a lot of Coen Brothers movies on here. I just love the balls they had to end their film with such ambiguity. The final relaying of a dream by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is the perfect coda to a perfect film.

8 ½
-- Fellini’s wonderfully entertaining take on the absurdity of life with his “what the hell…let’s enjoy it” philosophy providing the perfect ending: a total flip of Bergman’s dance of death. Fellini gathers figures from Guido’s (Marcello Mastroianni) past and present, circus performers, film critics, and an assortment of other types for a final scene of pure elation. Fellini’s dance of life, followed by a young Guido alone in a spotlight, is one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever seen in a film.

-- I love the final image of Melora Waters smiling into the camera as John C. Reilly tells her he’s not going to give up on her, all while Aimee Mann’s perfect music plays in the background… a perfect ending to a perfect movie. It warms me to no end whenever I see that ending.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

The Godfather

Raging Bull

-- Has such a nihilistic ending ever been so quoted or remembered? The perfect (and most necessary) ending to Roman Polanski’s stylish neo-noir.

Raising Arizona
-- Listening H.I. (Nicolas Cage) talk about how everything – despite the troubles of married life (and stealing a kid) – will be alright between he and his wife Ed (Holly Hunter). The glimpse into the future, accompanied by the great musical score, always gets me chocked up. And then in typical Coen fashion they end the touching scene with a joke (“or maybe it was Utah.”).

The Sweet Hereafter
-- The ending of this shattering film is chilling in how it puts the final, haunting stamp on already unnerving film experience. Sarah Polley’s narration, relaying the story of the Pied Piper is a perfect metaphor for what happens to her, and others, in the film. This is director Atom Egoyan’s masterpiece, and then ending provides the perfect closing to the film.

You Can Count on Me


The Beyond
-- Lucio Fulci’s ethereal horror opus is far from the subtitles of some the other films mentioned on this list…but it has a kick ass ending, that’s for sure. When the main characters frantically make their way to a door (avoiding zombies along the way) thinking it will lead them to safety, and then realize they’ve entered hell…well it’s one of the best moments in Italian horror that elicits genuine uneasiness. Fabio Frizzi’s score certainly adds a little something special to that eerie ending.

Brokeback Mountain

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The Third Man
-- Of course this has to be on the list. Carol Reed’s ending to the seminal film noir is the perfect final moment as we think (read: audiences were conditioned to believe) the happy ending is on the horizon for Holly Martin (Joseph Cotton). However, his actions, as ethical as they may be, don’t land him the girl (there’s no way in hell this ending gets made in America) and as she walks by in that famous shot with that famous zither score in the background, all Holly can do is smile and smoke – all alone like the pulp cowboy characters he pens for a living. I would say that this specific shot – a static camera, a singular image walking towards the screen surrounded by trees on both sides, Holly off to the left waiting causally – is one of the five best shots in film history. It’s a perfect example of a director mastering mise-en-scene. Martin Scorsese would homage this scene in The Departed to a lesser effect.


The Blair Witch Project

A History of Violence
-- After the dirty secret of his past has come out, small town everyman Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is revealed to be somebody different than the person his wife (Maria Bello) married and is raising a family with. At the end of the film Tom and his wife stare at each other at the dinner table…an understood silence that tells us they both know, despite its difficulties, they must continue to live the lie. Cronenberg’s film is a masterpiece, and it’s one of the best endings he’s ever pulled off.

The Searchers

Planet of the Apes

The Shawshank Redemption
-- One of my favorite endings as we have Red’s (Morgan Freeman) wonderful narration guiding us through the final moments of the film (with the classic line “I hope…”) and a reunion on the Mexican coast that tugs at the heart strings. It’s funny to think that Darabont didn’t want the ending in the film (King didn’t have the ending in his short story), but the producers told him he was crazy, that people just sat through two-and-half hours of dark prison drama, and you cannot deprive them of that ending. Darabont acquiesced, and really, either decision would have been good. I’m glad he caved, though, because despite its schmaltz, it’s a perfect ending.



Michael Clayton
-- The speech Michael (George Clooney) gives at the end is pretty awesome, but what I love about the end to Tony Gillroy’s call back to adult thrillers (and no I don’t mean the Animal Instincts kind of adult thriller) is that he just ends his film (credits and all) with a shot of Michael in a cab. It’s perfectly fitting that a film entitled Michael Clayton, a contemplative and quiet thriller, end with a subtle musical score and the camera just sitting on the character's face as he thinks about what he’s done and what his future holds…and the audience thinks with him. It’s a great, subdued ending that you usually don’t get in modern thrillers.

Don’t Look Now

Fail Safe

Citizen Kane

-- Benicio Del Toro’s cop works, unknowingly, for a drug kingpin who he thinks is a good person wanting to bring down the cartels in Mexico – the truth is his new boss just wants to eliminate the competition. Del Toro’s cop decides to cut a deal with the American’s to bring down his boss as long as he gets baseball lights for the kids in Mexico so they can play baseball at night. It’s a great moment where Del Toro’s cop realizes that the war on drugs is unwinnable, but he’ll play along as long as it makes his city a better place to live. The final moments of the film, a static shot of Del Toro watching kids play baseball, is one of the best in modern years. Like the end of Michael Clayton, the ending of Traffic just allows us to watch this character (a stoic cop) enjoy the fruits of what he’s negotiated as a sense of freedom from the whole ordeal is clearly evident in his face; there’s even a brief moment where you swear a smile creeps across his face. Again, as is the case with most of these endings, the subtle music (a component of film that is far too overlooked) that accompanies the scene is perfect.

Soooo...what are some of your favorite all-time endings? Oh, and try not to use the word perfect as much as I do, hehe.


  1. You have a great list there Kevin, and if I was making this list from scratch it would have a lot of overlap. I especially liked your inclusion of the ending of A History of Violence, which is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had in the theater.
    Here are some of the first to come to mind:
    Bride of Frankenstein
    Dead Man
    Gold Diggers of 1933/42nd Street
    How Green Was My Valley
    Masculine, Feminine
    La Roue
    Touch of Evil
    The Immortal Story
    All That Jazz
    Edward Scissorhands
    The Incredible Shrinking Man
    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    Night of the Living Dead

    I'd like to write something about them but that would take ages, I might fill in the details as the comment thread moves along if there's any interest

  2. Thanks for the fine list there, Krauthammer. I love some of your older choices like Gold Diggers, Bride of Frankenstein, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. For some reason my mind never wanders towards the classics at first...I usually have to think long and hard about it, but like I said, this was off the top of my head...hence the more modern choices.

    I totally forgot about Dead Man (great, underrated Jarmusch) and Blow-Up. Both great choices.

    Hopefully this comment threat evolves a bit...because I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks again for this great response.

  3. Good question. I was thinking of the ending of The Third Man until I saw you had included it.

    I really like the ending of Say Anything.

    Other movies that come to mind: Out of the Past, Ace in the Hole, and Some Like It Hot.

  4. FilmDr:

    D'oh! How could I forget the famous ending from Some Like It Hot? Nice call. Also, I love that you include another one of my favorite Billy Wilder movies Ace in the Hole. Good choices.

  5. I agree with all of the ones you list (that I have seen). Of those, Chinatown is likely my favorite.

    The rest of these are probably some of the standard fare, but they all came to mind:

    The Birds
    Gone With The Wind
    Sleepaway Camp (yeah, why not)
    The Devil's Rejects
    The Conversation
    Resevoir Dogs
    There Will Be Blood
    Night Of The Living Dead
    Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia
    It’s A Wonderful Life

  6. Troy:

    I expected a lot of Hitch on your list. Good call with Vertigo. I remember the first time seeing that and truly being shocked that Hitch ended the movie that way.

    Also, There Will Be Blood is another good modern example of an unforgettable ending.

    Good list.

  7. If I may add:

    Beneath the Planet of the Apes
    Cutter's Way
    The French Connection
    The Godfather, Part II
    The Long Goodbye
    McCabe and Mrs. Miller
    North by Northwest
    The Pledge
    To Live and Die in L.A.
    The Wicker Man (1973)

  8. Tony:

    Nice additions. The Godfather, Part II has an ending that's just as iconic as the original. Great choice.

    I also love the additions of Cutter's Way and Thief. Two great films.

    I don't remember much about To Live and Die in L.A. (except the famous car chase), but I remember really liking that movie. I think it's time I revisited it.

    Finally, great call on The Wicker Man, one of the truly last great horror movies with a genuinely horrifying ending.

    Thanks for the contributions.

  9. Well, I guess that since you mentioned History of Violence, Brokeback Mountain and Citizen Kane, I no longer need to mention them anymore. So, here is my list of favourite endings:

    1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (my all-time favourite)
    2. eXistenZ
    3. Flower and Garnet
    4. J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)
    5. Atonement
    6. Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game)
    7. Mystic River
    8. Rain Man
    9. The Killer
    10. Monsieur Batignole

  10. Anh Khoi Do:

    Great list. I love the inclusion of The's one of my favorite action films, and it probably contains one of the best endings to any action film ever made.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Not much time tonight, but since I just saw it, I gotta throw out Truffaut's "The 400 Blows". That freeze-frame on the beach: so abrupt, so ambiguous, so marvelous it its way.

    Which makes me think of another closing moment on a beach, last year's "The Edge of Heaven"! As languid and anticipatory as Truffaut's was sudden and stark. Nejat sitting on that Black Sea, waiting to make things right with his father. Perfect.

  12. The Caustic Ignostic:

    I thought I had put The 400 Blows on here...but I guess I didn't! What a huge omission on my part. Great call, though. And I love love loved The Edge of Heaven. That ending is perfect with nothing but the sound of the breakers. Reminds me of the endings to two films I mentioned on here: Michael Clayton and Traffic where the audience is asked to just sit and watch the characters sit and think. These filmmakers let the experience that just occurred wash over its audience. Great stuff.

    And since we're talking classic foreign film endings, how about the neo-realist classic Bicycle Thieves. A movie that hasn't really aged well with me, but still contains a powerful punch at the end.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave two great film endings.

  13. And while we're still on classic foreign film endings, My Life to Live's ending sticks with me like few others. It would be hard to explain it without giving something away, but suffice to say, if you haven't seen it by now you really should.

  14. The most shattering ending for me in the history of the cinema is the final scene in Mizoguchi's SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954), when the blind mother recognizes her long lost son.

    But here are several more I found unforgettable:

    A Star is Born (1954)
    "Hello everybody...This is MRS. Norman Maine."

    Mouchette (Bresson)
    ...the shocking suicide...

    The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
    .."There's no place like home..."

    The Red Balloon (1956)
    ...all the balloons of Paris carry boy into the sky...

    A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick)

    ...I was cured all right....

    Dead Poets Society (Weir)

    ...oh Captain, my Captain....

    Wuthering Heights (1939)
    ...Cathy and Heathcliff reunited...

    Empire of the Sun (Spielberg)

    ...Bale reunited with parents with Suo Gan being heard on the soundtrack...

  15. Actually the A STAR IS BORN version i really meant was the original 1937 directed by George Cukor.

    I will also add the shattering butterfly sequence at the end of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT(1930) to this list.

  16. The 30's Star is Born is Wellman, isn't it? The 50's is Cukor.

    I haven/t seen the original, but the 50's ending is really unbelieveable. And I can't believe that I didn't mention AQOTWF, it's an ending the eliminates any flaws that the film may have.

  17. Sam:

    Great list. I knew you would throw some stuff in there I hadn't seen yet! Haha.
    Thanks for contributing.

  18. Krauthammer:

    I haven't seen My Life to Live. I will have to rectify that. Also, I think you're right about Cukor doing the 50's version of A Star is Born.

  19. Correct Krauthammer. I am 55 years odl and becoming senile I'm afraid.

    Of course one of your own choices there Kevin, CITY LIGHTS challenges for the top spot. That blind girl recognition scene maqy well be my favorite scene of all time.

  20. Yes, Sam. I am not ashamed to admit that the ending to City Lights made me ball like a baby when I first saw when I was in 7th grade. And that's a time in one's life where you try to avoid things like that, hehe.

  21. Good topic. But I suck at remembering things like this off the top of my head. If you ask me how a movie ends, I can often tell you. But ask me to think of endings and I draw a blank ... at least beyond the ones that you and others have mentioned above.

    However ...

    I wrote about this, but I'm very fond of the conclusion to Before Sunrise, which I think actually redefines (and saves) the movie. (For that matter, the end to Before Sunset is good too.)

    One more comment...

    At some point I'll give it another chance, but seeing as how I loathed, loathed, loathed A History of Violence, your inclusion of that closing scene made me laugh. I agree, it's a good closing scene. And I liked it, too, though I came at it from a different angle than everyone else above, presuming that everyone above liked the film.

    In my case, as that dinner table scene unfolded, I thought to myself: "This is going to be a disaster! There's no line of dialogue that can possibly work right now!" And, given that this is true, the scene is blissfully without dialogue. So great scene...but (in a conversation for another time), an absurd movie.

  22. Jason:

    I loved your piece on Before Sunrise. I agree with everything you say there about that closing montage. "Scrapbook" is a perfect word for it. I was also thinking about endings to movies that totally changed your perspective on the film. I couldn't really think of any off the top of my head, so I abandoned that sub-question. However, if anyone can think of some endings that were really good, but were attached to poor films, I would love to hear some titles.

    Also, do you have anything written about your experience with A History of Violence, Jason? I would love for you to further explain your problems with the film. I know plenty of people who thought the whole film was laughable. I, however, found the film to be quite good. And I just love the execution of that ending.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

  23. Nothing posted on Violence. I probably wrote something when it came out, but at this point I need to revisit it and write it from that perspective. A goal for this fall.

    Love the questions!

  24. Two memorable endings come immediately to mind: FIGHT CLUB ends on one hell of a doozy as Edward Norton and Helen Bonham Carter watch several buildings explode and collapse on themselves to the strains of "Where is My Mind?" by Pixies.

    Also, the last shot, last word spoken in EYES WIDE SHUT gets me every time. Great stuff. In fact, several of Kubrick's films feature great endings, like the soldiers singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song at the end of FULL METAL JACKET.

    Honorable mention: I love how THE INSIDER ends. With Bergman leaving CBS offices triumphant yet sad because of the compromises made and the damage done.

  25. J.D.:

    Great additions. I also thought of the ending to Eyes Wide Shut and that hilarious final line. And good call on The Insider. I always like the way Mann ends his films. Specifically his recent endings in Miami Vice and Collateral.