Can a good movie be ruined by a bad ending? While not all of these movies are “good” per se, a good number of them really test out this theory. While some movies are truly made by their endings, others are neither destroyed by them. With a balance of bad, decent and near masterpieces, this list takes a look at some of the worst movie endings of all time.
A bad ending has the power to leave a bad taste in your mouth. A movie can build a lot of goodwill only to throw it all away with one wrong move. Whether it’s a twist that really doesn’t make any sense at all, or a cliffhanger with no sense of closure, there are more ways than one to mess up your conclusion. Some movies are so good aside from their ending that we try to make excuses for how they wrap things up but with this list, we’re here to call some of the greatest movies of all time for their dumb and ill-thought out end-scenes and finales. We should note that it should go without saying that you read this at your own risk, there will be SPOILERS! What are your choices for the worst movie endings?
15. No Country For Old Men
The ultimate non-ending, the Coen brothers create an amazing thriller and let it peter off with a weird dream. While some claim it as art, we all know deep down inside that the Coen bros really have no sense in how to properly close a movie. Ambiguous dreams, foreboding environmental disasters and unresolved narrative threads are only accepted because the Coen brothers have won awards at French film festivals. While no one wants to admit they don’t really understand what the Coens are getting at, we’re here to put truth on the line and say what needs to be said: The Coens are copping out and need to figure out how to end a movie. Just because it’s how the book ended doesn’t mean it works on film.
14. The Village
When The Village came out, people hadn’t turned on M. Night Shyamalan yet. He was already abusing our good will but we had hope he could recover, there was still more good than bad in his filmmaking and The Sixth Sense was so good, we assumed he was just in a sophomore slump. The Village seemed like a return to form for the director, and the film’s slow buildup seemed to be working towards something really great. But oh boy, it was not. It was really really not great. When it turns out this was a small society of people escaping from the violence of the real world (by creating a cult… where they used monsters to keep people from leaving, OKAY?). As usual, whenever Shyamalan tries to inject politics into his work (remember The Happening?), he fails spectacularly, coming across as absolutely childish.
When we heard they were rebooting Alien, we had hope. The initial run of viral marketing seemed incredibly promising, with Michael Fassbender as a cyborg called David setting the tone and the rules of this futuristic world. Then we saw the movie, and let’s be real, it’s an alien film in name only. There are a lot of things wrong with the final act, starting with the fact that apparently some of the smartest people on earth only know how to run in a straight line. And as the film finally winds down, the sort of epilog where we FINALLY see a xenomorph feels so painfully tact on we just wish they didn’t include it at all.
13. Fifty Shades Of Grey
If you got dragged to see Fifty Shades of Grey, you truly know suffering. It doesn’t matter if the film’s direction wasn’t half bad, the Koo Koo for cocoa puffs writer did everything in her power to make sure the studio and director were as true as possible to her awful vision as possible. With high tensions behind the scene (the director seemed to have the good sense that telling this as a straightforward love story is a recipe for sh!+), the writer finally won out and what we got was a pretty faithful adaptation of one of the worst written best sellers in decades (probably ever). Adding insult to injury, the film’s finale offers absolutely no closure and is pulled off with all the grace of a one-legged rhino. The most shameless grab for a sequel ever, while we all knew the film was being set up to lead into a trilogy, the ending is not self-contained, it offers no real sense of stakes or drama. It’s awful, pure and simple.
Love him or hate him, you gotta give it to Kevin Smith, he isn’t afraid of taking risks. While he’s finding a bit of a career renaissance working in TV, his film career has long been divorced from the major studios. Self-financed and self-distributed, he has taken full control over his projects for better and for worse. With Tusk, Smith writes one of the most bizarre films ever made – echoing some of the seedier and darker corners of the exploitation and creature horror genres. Doing his own riff on torture horror, he writes the story of a podcaster who gets kidnapped and surgically transformed into a walrus. While we kinda understand what Smith is trying to do with the ending, it makes absolutely no sense at all that any kind of animal refuge would accept a man in a Frankenstein walrus suit live in an enclosure eating raw fish all day. It’s a little too ridiculous.
Lars Von Trier is a provocateur and mind-disturber. Many of his films have entirely unsatisfying endings that are meant to leave the audiences incensed or confused, but none is more frustrating than the ending of his two-parter Nymphomaniac. Already the film was abusing our trust by being the most unsexy film about a s*x addict ever made, with Shia LaBeouf stomping around with an American-Scottish accent that seemed to shift from one line to the next. Structured as a story within a story, as the nymphomaniac of the title describes her life story to a man who seems to be asexual, in the film’s final moments his desires are awakened by her story and he tries to r*pe her, only to be shot as the screen goes to black. There are certainly some critics who have done some pretty impressive writing gymnastics to explain the thematic and artistic reasons for Trier’s choices, but if we’re going to be honest, we all know Trier was just messing with us.
10. World War Z
With a pretty rocky behind the scenes production, it’s no real surprise that all the elements of World War Z failed to come together as a cohesive whole. Part action film, part investigative drama, World War Z is based on a best-selling novel and completely mangles everything that makes the book so worthwhile. The film actually had two different endings, the original saw a huge zombie battle take place in Russia, which was replaced by something a lot more quiet and a lot more boring. The final sequence that was transplanted to a more intimate zombie face off in a World Health Organization clinic may have had “stakes” but it was also terribly derivative of much better zombie flicks, taking the wind out of the sails of the film’s buildup.
We really wanted to love Sunshine. Danny Boyle has made some of our favorite movies up until this point and him tackling a science fiction adventure film seemed like a perfect fit. Everything was going well too, until the final act and a man (or monster, *gasp*) made out of sunshine starts killing off the crew. As cool as that sounds, it’s really not, and it doesn’t really work. It also completely contradicts the slow-boil tension that Boyle was building too, and the film transforms from an Alien-like suspense thriller to full on slasher flick. Nearly ten years later and we still don’t know what Boyle was thinking
Chef isn’t a great movie, but it’s a charming smaller project from Jon Favreau who had been relying a little too much on huge blockbusters. With an amazing cast featuring some of the hottest actresses in the world, there is a lot to like about Chef. The ending though doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the film and feels abrupt and underexplained. Having Carl reunite with his ex-wife would have made way more sense if we had a better understanding of what led to their split in the first place. Clearly the high-speed lifestyle of working in a high-end kitchen created a pretty negative environment and bled into his home life, but him shifting gears and getting a food truck seems like a bit of a silly reason to suddenly have your ex take you back. Underdeveloped and cloying.
We kinda liked Savages, which saw crazed Oliver Stone borrowing from Tony Scott’s legacy in style and tone. While up until the last few moments the movie is a gripping and sexy story about the drug trade, in those final moments, the sunniest possible happy ending does a lot to ruin everything that came before. Also a huge departure from the book, which had a far darker conclusion, we’re not quite sure what Stone was trying to achieve with his changes. Was the theme of “love conquering all” so important to him that he was willing to forego any and all narrative logic? Apparently. We’re still excited for Snowden.
6. Lady In The Water
It seems a little unfair to beat on M. Night Shyamalan, but he doesn’t know how to end a movie. The Sixth Sense is such an anomaly in the context of the rest of his trainwreck of a career, that we’ve long doubted that he actually wrote that first script. There are a lot of things wrong with Lady in the Water, but the ending takes the cake. Let’s ignore the fact that we can’t keep track of the Narfs, Tartutics, and Scrunts, the weird creatures in general made for an off tone story interpretation. The effects looked awful and contrasted poorly with the saccharine sentimentality at work. With absolutely no stakes and logic, it felt like an alien’s point of view of what human feelings were like.
5. Man Of Steel
The movie that launched the new Warner Brothers universe has a LOT of problems, but the film’s finale is especially awful. Man of Steel might not have been a truly awful film if it wasn’t a Superman film, but in completely rewriting the mythology of the character and the universe, Zack Snyder and company messed around with something that didn’t need to be fixed. Having Superman destroy the city (at least with that you can maybe argue that it wasn’t willful) was one thing, but having him become a cold-blooded killer is another. A lot of the problems with this ending bled into Batman V. Superman, and it seems unlikely that they will be able to write themselves out of the mess they created.
4. High Tension
Before Alexandre Aja was remaking Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes, his career began in France. High Tension is what brought him international recognition as the next “it” director of the horror scene, and for most of the running time, the movie is fantastic. Tense, disturbing and haunting, the movie is a no breaks chase film with a villainous monster in pursuit. Then the ending comes, and it turns out this was all a schizophrenic vision and it literally ruins the entire movie. As Aja retraces the steps through a bizarre flashback where you see what REALLY happened, the movie stops making sense at all.
3. Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
The ending to Lord of the Rings might not have been so bad if it didn’t go on and on and on and on. Trying to sum up Tolkien’s appendix in a series of soft-focus vignettes of slow motion hobbits reunited in ecstatic bliss is some pretty cringe stuff. It’s such a shame since Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest epics of all time, the ending doesn’t necessarily ruin the whole thing but it doesn’t help. At least with this one, you can just shut off the Blu ray once the “first” ending pops up and the movie is as perfect as it could have been.
2. Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi
Sorry Star Wars fans, Return of the Jedi has an awful ending. If you’re watching the George Lucas tinkered version where Anakin has been CGI’d in with the other Force ghosts, the ending is about ten times worse than the already bad ending, too. What we sometimes forget is that Lucas had always intended the Star Wars trilogy to be kids’ films, and if you needed any more proof it’s the bizarre, off tone, slap stick, awkward bid to sell Ewok toys which are the final musical sequence. More at home with early 90s Saturday morning cartoons than a Star Wars trilogy, this ending should have been proof enough that George Lucas should never have been allowed near the prequels.
James Cameron might have changed the landscape of the modern Blockbuster with Titanic, but let’s be real, outside of the great effects there just isn’t much at work here. The love story is more than a little silly, and for it to be called one of the greatest love stories of all time ignores the fact that Rose totally completely had room for Jack on the floating piece of floor. This has bugged us since we saw it in theaters, and we feel absolutely vindicated that Kate Winslet admitted recently what we all knew to be true, “Jack could have fit” in a late night interview with Jimmy Kimmel. It’s amazing how one little detail can completely ruin what might otherwise have been a romantic ending.