14 Of The Most Debatable Film Endings Of All Time

Warning: The following contains spoilers for some of the most classic, iconic and greatest movies ever made. First of all, if you have not seen any of these, shame on you. Okay, that’s a bit harsh and unnecessary. If you haven’t seen these classic films turn around and run to your local video store. Do those even still exist?

Sometimes, the final scene in a movie can make or break it. The last few moments of a film are just as crucial as the entire 120 minutes, or more depending on the director. Sometimes an ending is exactly what you wanted and other times, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Then there are the times when viewers leave a theater in a state of shock and can only utter the phrase, “Holy Cannoli!” Some films end on a highly ambiguous note, leaving viewers with more questions. Often it can create controversy because of the scene itself or because of interference by the studio. Some of the films on the list didn't create any controversy but are very memorable. They had such a shocking plot twist or the final scene is so iconic that the films found a place on the list. Here is a look at 14 of the most controversial/memorable film endings.

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14 Seven - September 22, 1995


Seven followed detectives, David Millis (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they investigate a sick, sadistic serial killer. The murders are planned out to every minor detail and correspond with the seven deadly sins. In the end, Mills and Somerset take serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) out to a remote area on his orders. A delivery van shows up and they’re delivered a small box that has tragic contents. It’s revealed the John Doe kidnapped and killed Mills pregnant wife and put her head in the box. In a fit of rage, Mills kills Doe and in the process, completes the final sin, wrath, in John Doe’s plan. The studio did not like this ending and had it rewritten to be more “Hollywood”. However, they accidentally sent the original script to director David Fincher, who would only direct the film with the head in the box ending. Initially, the studio resisted and insisted on the changes. However, Fincher would not budge was able to film the “head in a box” ending.

13 Man Of Steel - June 14, 2013


Man Of Steel tells the origin story of Superman/Clark Kent. It starred Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon and Kevin Costner. The film did very well at the box office but received mixed reviews from critics. Some critics praised the film for it’s visual effects, acting and action sequences. However, controversy erupted over the film's ending. At the end, Superman has an epic battle with the evil General Zod. Superman snaps the neck of Zod and kills him. Many fans and critics argue that this is not true to the character of Superman. They feel that he’s the ultimate hero and would never do anything like that. The writer, Daivd S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder, defend their choice as they feel it’s a reinvention of the character.

12 The Descent - August 4, 2006


The Descent followed six women who become trapped in an un-mapped cave system. While trapped, they are hunted by flesh-eating monsters. Two versions of the film exist. The U.S theatrical release ends with Sarah, the only survivor, escaping the clutches of the flesh-eating humanoids. She gets back to her car and speeds off. She pulls over to vomit and then sees a bloody Juno sitting in the passenger seat, although she had left Juno for dead at the cave. Sarah screams and the film ends. The original U.K version, released in 2005, goes on for two minutes longer. It reveals that after seeing Juno in the passenger seat and screaming, Sarah wakes up and is actually still in the cave. She sees her daughter but it’s then revealed that she was just hallucinating and never escaped. She is unaware that the flesh-eating monsters are slowly stalking her and the film ends.

11 Brazil - February 22, 1985


Brazil is a cult classic that takes place in a dystopian world that is ruled by a totalitarian government. The plot follows Sam Lowry who lives in a small apartment and works a mind-numbing job. The ending of the film has Sam captured by the government and restrained to a chair. He is about to be tortured when he is suddenly saved and escapes with the girl of his dreams. They drive off together in a sweet and happy ending. It’s then revealed that the “happy ending” is all in Sam’s mind and he is still strapped to the chair. The studio felt that the darker ending tested poorly with audiences. The studio heavily re-edited the film to omit the big reveal and end on the “happy ending”. Director Terry Gilliam was against this and even took out an ad in Variety, urging the studio the release the film as is. A modified version of Gilliam’s original with the dark ending was finally released.

10 Donnie Darko - October 28, 2001


Donnie Darko is a cult classic that follows a troubled teenager, who (one night) is lured away by a mysterious force in a rabbit costume known as Frank. He tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days. The night he is lured away, a jet engine crashes through the roof of his bedroom, destroying the room. It is a very dark film with a highly complex and ambiguous plot. On the 28th day, Donnie apparently is able to go back in time to the night he first met Frank. By doing so, he changes events of the film and is able to save the life of his girlfriend, Gretchen. He returns to his bedroom, at that point the jet engine crashes through the roof and this time, kills Donnie. The final scene shows Gretchen, waving at Donnie’s mother, who is mourning the loss of her son. Due to the change of events, they realize that they know each other from somewhere, but don’t know how.

9 Citizen Kane - September 5, 1941


Citizen Kane revolved around a reporter, who’s trying to uncover the mystery of the famous last word of media tycoon, Charles Foster Kane. The mysterious last word he utters is “Rosebud”. It’s considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, if not the greatest. It’s revealed that Kane grew up in poverty and was sent to live with a rich banker. His mother wanted him to get a proper education but Kane just wanted to play with his sled. He grows up to become a ruthless businessman, media mogul and politician. In the end of the film, the reporter gives up on finding out the meaning of “Rosebud”. In the iconic final scene, Kane’s former staff is shown burning his remaining items, considered to be junk. The staff is unaware that amongst the items being burned is his cherished, childhood sled, which is named, “Rosebud”.

8 The Shining - May 23, 1980


The Shining is a classic horror film that followed writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). Jack becomes the winter custodian of the Over Look Hotel and moves with his family into the hotel. His son, Danny, has psychic abilities that let him see ghosts. Jack is driven into madness after being influenced by a supernatural force; he then tries to kill his family. At the end, Jack freezes to death and his family escapes. The final scene is of a photograph taken at the hotel in 1921. The photo features Jack at a party, smiling and laughing. Some critics believe that there were never any ghosts and that Jack and Danny are just insane right from the start. Although, other critics feel that the hotel was haunted. Most puzzling is the 1921 photograph that features Jack. Was he a ghost? Did he time travel? Was he crazy? Was it cabin fever? Director Stanley Kubrick purposely left it ambiguous and it's open to interpretations. The film is cited as one of the greatest films ever made.

7 The Blair Witch Project - July 30, 1999


The Blair Witch Project was a found footage film that followed three student filmmakers, Heather Donahue, Mike Williams and Josh Leonard. They’re making a documentary, investigating the legend and myth of the Blair Witch. The film was a massive success and is one of the highest grossing independent films of all time. The three filmmakers are being hunted throughout the film by an unseen force, presumably the Blair Witch. Heather and Mike search an old broken down house for Josh, who was missing. The scare factor then kicks into high gear, with Mike and Heather running from something in fear. The film ends with Mike’s back to Heather’s camera. Suddenly, Heather falls and the footage ends.

6 Inception - July 16, 2010


Inception revolved around Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a professional thief that commits corporate espionage by entering the subconscious of his targets through their dreams. Critics praised the film for its visual effects, originality and score. The film contains a very ambiguous ending that still has fans debating. At the end of the film, Cobb is finally reunited with his children. The iconic final scene is of a totem spinning and slowly starts to wobble, then cuts to black. The ambiguous ending left viewers wondering if Cobb was still in a dream or if he was awake. Many fans and critics pointed out that the top was not Cobb’s totem but his wife’s. His totem was his wedding ring, which he has on while in dreams, but doesn't have on when awake. Christopher Nolan has noted that he purposely left the ending ambiguous.

5 Blade Runner - June 25, 1982


Blade Runner is a cult classic science fiction film that revolved around Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a special police operative known as, “Blade Runners”. The film is set in a dystopian future where a company created genetically engineered replicants. Replicants are indistinguishable from humans and their use on Earth is banned. It’s the duty of the Blade Runners to hunt down the replicants and “retire” them. Ridley Scott was the director and five versions of the film exist. The studio felt that the original did not test well with audiences. The U.S theatrical version was heavily re-edited by the studio and contains a happy ending. In this version, Rick and his replicant lover drive off to paradise. The Directors and Final cut contain two very important elements. First, a dream sequence featuring a unicorn intercut with Deckard playing the piano. This indicates the possibility that Deckard might be a replicant himself. The final scene is of the elevator doors slamming shut with Deckard’s future uncertain. This ambiguous and much darker ending leaves the film open to interpretations.

4 Sixth Sense - August 6, 1999


Sixth Sense is an iconic film that followed Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychiatrist who begins to help a troubled young boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Cole is able to see and speak to the dead, who he claims are unaware they've died. This causes him to be an outcast at school and from other kids. Malcolm’s life isn't any better, as he and his wife have grown distant from each other after a former patient breaks into their home. The film is best remembered for the iconic twist ending. It’s revealed in the end of the film that Malcolm has been dead the entire time. He was shot by his former patient and is unaware that he died. He helps Cole come to terms with his ability, while Cole helps Malcolm come to terms with his fate.

3 Taxi Driver - February 8, 1976


Taxi Driver followed Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an unstable Vietnam War veteran who becomes a New York City cab driver to deal with his chronic insomnia. After an aborted attempt to assassinate a senator, Travis goes to a brothel to rescue a teen prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster). Travis engages in a bloody and violent shootout at the brothel and rescues Iris. In the end, Travis is hailed a hero by the media and people of New York. Many critics believe that the end scene, depicting Travis as a hero, is actually Travis’s dying thoughts. The assumption being that he dies during the shootout. Paul Schrader, the writer, noted that the ending is not to be taken as a dream. His intention was to make the last scene feel like the beginning. The iconic final scene is Travis glancing in the mirror and adjusting it frantically, which according to director Martin Scorsese, suggests that he might fall back into “rage”. It’s considered one of the greatest films ever made.

2 2001: A Space Odyssey - April 3, 1968


2001: A Space Odyssey is often cited as one of the greatest movies of all time. It revolved around a mysterious entity known as the black monoliths and their encounters with humans. A crew is sent to Jupiter, tracking a signal that a monolith is sending out. The last surviving astronaut, Dave Bowman, investigates a monolith that is orbiting around Jupiter. As he approaches, he is pulled into a vortex and goes on a strange journey, which includes, seeing older versions of himself. It finally ends with him as an old man on his deathbed. A monolith appears before him and he touches it. He is transformed into a fetus enclosed in an orb of light, known as the Starchild. The film ends with the Starchild floating next to Earth and stares at it in wonderment. The ending is purposely ambiguous and left open to interpretations, as is much of the film. Director Stanley Kubrick encouraged viewers to make their own interpretations. He said, “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning-and such speculation is one indication that it succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level…”

1 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - May 21, 1980


The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to the 1977 iconic film, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It is the 2nd film in the series and the 5th chronologically. The plot followed Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire in their search of Luke Skywalker and The Rebel Alliance. The film is best remembered for the shocking plot twist towards the end of the film. In the climatic light saber battle, Luke Skywalker fights the evil Darth Vader. Luke believes that Vader is responsible for his father’s death. Vader utters one of the most famous line in cinema, “No, I am your father”, often misquoted as, “Luke, I am your father”. Either way, it sent chills up the spines of critics and fans. This revelation that Darth Vader, real name Anakin Skywalker, is Luke (And Leia’s) father, completely changed the course of Star Wars. It’s considered one of the most shocking reveals of all time.

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