All things must come to an end, but the greatest finales leave a lasting impression. We’ve already explored the best opening scenes in cinema, and now it’s time to dig into a few of film’s greatest movie endings. Not all stories provide audiences with closure, happy resolutions, and loose ends neatly wrapped in a bow. Some of the best tales reveal jaw-dropping truths, narrative twists, and allow questions that go unanswered to linger in our minds. We’ve rounded up some of the most epic film endings past the break. There’s plenty of room to discuss your favorites in the comments, so chime in with your thoughts after clicking through our gallery for more memorable movie goodbyes. Oh, and consider this your big-time spoiler warning.
One of the earliest slasher films to chill audiences to the bone, John Carpenter’s Halloween painted a disturbing portrait of absolute evil with masked killer Michael Myers. There is so much to love about the 1978 film — just take your pick: the piercing and unforgettable synth score, an atmospheric Midwestern setting (on the spookiest day of the year), Jamie Lee Curtis’ brave final girl, and a grimacing Donald Pleasence as an unrelenting doctor hunting down the madman. The tension-filled final moments in the movie stand as one of the best in horror cinema. People were scared to leave the theaters when the movie premiered, and the ending quickly reminds us that the evil is still out there. Pleasence’s closing line to Curtis about the bogeyman — uttered with a sinking look on his face as he realizes the truth — is brilliant.
Roman Polanski’s Chinatown features an ending that devastates not only its audience, but also its noir protagonist J.J. Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson. We learn throughout the film that Chinatown is a nasty place, riddled with corruption. Joe Mantell’s famous line to the determined Gittes is a final act that denies him all power and heroic resolution. The case he built comes crumbling down around him. The final scenes prove that cynicism, apathy, and chaos will thrive. Everything else is futile.
Casablanca is the quintessential classic Hollywood film, right down to it’s famous closing line. The 1942 movie, however, doesn’t feature the typically happy ending that many expected of the sweeping and dramatic studio productions of its time. It’s not completely unexpected, either, but the emotional ambiguity and sacrifice makes the movie’s final act a bit more complex and ultimately more real for its viewers. Even star Ingrid Bergman later joked that she was unsure who she was supposed to be in love with half the time.
Michael’s soft-spoken family man turns into a dark, calculating monster in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. “Don’t ask me about my business!” he shouts at his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), before lying to her outright. It brilliantly foreshadows the tragedies that await us in the sequels (and some would teasingly say the tragedy that is Godfather III). It’s also a sad reminder that Kay should have known this is how the story would end. She walks away choosing to naively believe everything’s going to be ok, until she sees the family pay their respects to the new Don, signifying his disturbing transformation. There is no respectable place for women — or humanity — in this world.
After formulating a hilarious and strange plan to repopulate the earth while a devastating bomb barrels down to land, a wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove — the admirable Peter Sellers in one of three roles — excitedly rises and hobbles forward, shouting, “Mein Führer! I can walk!” A montage of mushroom clouds and the sentimental wartime song “We’ll Meet Again” begins to play, indicating that the Doomsday Machine has activated. Welcome to the supremely bizarre, but fitting end of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear satire. Read how the movie almost came to a close on Mental Floss. Hint: it would have involved dessert.
This spot was tied with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, but the abnormally large, prosthetic penis is still no match for the incredible talents of Daniel Day-Lewis and his ruthless oilman, Daniel Plainview. In a battle between church and big business, the film finds Paul Dano’s equally manipulative preacher — a slimy, “false prophet” who has made it his mission to humiliate Plainview at every turn — begging for a handout many years later. Plainview reveals that the land Eli wants to broker a deal for was drained of oil — a fitting turn after the tycoon humiliated his deaf son moments earlier. The famous “milkshake” line and a maniacal chase around a bowling alley ensues, concluding in a bloody end. Plainview brutally murders the only person left in his life that might actually understand him, completing his cycle of greed, ego, and self-destruction.
Can the director’s The Master just hurry up and get here already?
Ok, it’s hokey as hell, but think of it this way: Before Inception, Memento, and all the other “Was it all a dream?” movies that Christopher Nolan didn’t direct, The Wizard of Oz was representing for all those blurry fantasy films we’ve grown to love. Once Dorothy wakes up from her psychedelic trip to Oz, we discover that the characters we’ve been rooting for were drawn from her real-life. It’s infinitely more boring than walking, talking trash cans, witches, and flying monkeys, but there really is “no place like home.”
Skip the 1996 remake of this 1955 French cinema thriller and stick with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film, about the wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress who conspire to kill him. They become haunted by strange occurrences after the deadly deed is done. The suspenseful pacing and claustrophobic dread builds to an unbearable climax during the last several minutes. Many call this the greatest movie Hitchcock never made since the British director tried to option the screenplay and lost. We think that’s an unfair statement, since Clouzot is no hack. The film was a huge inspiration to Hitch, particularly when it came to his horror masterpiece, Psycho.
The aimless Benjamin Braddock, after an affair with the wife of his father’s law partner, makes an impulsive and seemingly romantic move by sweeping the vixen’s daughter off her feet at her own wedding. He professes love, and they escape their families by hopping onto a bus and heading into the sunset. Slowly their smiles become apprehensive, and realizations about their unpredictable future take hold. They have isolated themselves from a life they didn’t want, only to wander down another unknown path.
Charlie Chaplin starred in and directed this 1931 classic silent film, featuring Virginia Cherrill as the object of the Tramp’s affection. She’s a blind woman who sells flowers in the street, and through a comedic and dramatic turn of events, the Tramp raises enough money for her to have an operation that will restore her sight. Months later, they are reunited, her vision returned, and now the owner of her own flower shop. Prepare for the warm fuzzies when she realizes who the Tramp is and they make adorable goo-goo eyes.