We’ve all watched good or even great movies that left us with a terrible ending and a bad taste in our mouths. Whether it is a confusing ending, an ending that is too cute, a surprise twist that is not surprising at all, or an ending that is just lazy and seems tacked on to end the film at the appointed time. Whatever the reason, many movies that people really enjoy have endings that don’t do justice to everything that has happened in the film up to that point. So with that in mind, here is a list of 10 great movies that were ruined by terrible endings.
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
We were reluctant to put this movie on the list given its influence and appeal. But few films can claim to have a more ambiguous or confusing ending than the 1968 Stanley Kubrick directed movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film is broken into chapters that are connected by the appearance throughout of the strange black obelisk. And the movie seems to reach its peak when astronaut Dave Bowman, played by actor Keir Dullea, flies into the obelisk and audiences are treated to the mind tripping laser light show that is known as the “star gate scene.” But then we have an ending that is both opaque and left up to interpretation as astronaut Dave Bowman is seen living in a comfortable bedroom, wearing pajamas and slippers and eating gourmet meals served on silverware, before he dies and is reborn as a gigantic baby free-floating in space and referred to as the “star child.” This ending has perplexed moviegoers for nearly 50 years and been interpreted hundreds of different ways by film critics and scholars. Likely only the late Stanley Kubrick himself knows what the ending means.
9. Blade Runner (1982)
The film Blade Runner has the same ending interpreted two different ways, neither of which are very satisfying. In the movie, the main character Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, and his replicant (android) love interest Rachel, played by actress Sean Young, return to Deckard’s apartment to find a tiny origami unicorn at the front entrance left behind by police officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos). In the original version of the movie, voice over narration supplied by Harrison Ford explains that Gaff had been there but decided to let the android Rachel live. The final shot of the movie shows Deckard and Rachel flying away together. Fast forward to the 1992 director’s cut of Blade Runner and it is the exact same ending without the voice over narration. However, director Ridley Scott has now inserted a new scene earlier in the movie that shows Deckard dreaming of a unicorn. The implication in the director’s cut is that Gaff, who left the origami unicorn behind, knows what Deckard dreamed about because Deckard himself is a replicant android, which is creepy and confusing as Deckard just spent the whole movie tracking down and killing replicant androids.
8. Superman (1978)
It’s not the worst ending ever, but the way filmmakers chose to end the great 1978 Superman movie strains credibility—even for Superman. We’re talking here about how Superman flies around the world backwards a gazillion times to reverse the earth’s rotation and roll back time so that he can save Lois Lane from an earthquake. Up until that point, Superman had been a great example of linear plot development and narration—taking audiences from the destruction of Krypton to the arrival of young Superman on earth, through his life growing up in Smallville and his eventual move to Metropolis, work at the Daily Planet and growing interest in Lois Lane. Few movies have carried off a superhero origin story so well. Which makes the scene at the end when Superman rolls back time by reversing the earth’s orbit a bit of a head scratcher. Even little kids find it hard to believe that Superman can pull off that feat.
7. Contact (1997)
Based on a novel by Carl Sagan and directed by Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame, the 1997 movie Contact spends most of its time exploring big ideas of science and religion. The characters played by actors Jodie Foster (scientist) and Matthew McConaughey (theologian) spend nearly two hours debating the possible existence of extraterrestrial life and its implication for religion and the possible existence of God. With so much debate, tension and thematic build-up audiences understandably can’t wait to see the aliens at the end of the movie once Jodie Foster’s character heads into outer space and finally makes “contact” with them. And the pay off? The aliens appear as a manifestation of Jodie Foster character’s dead father. It’s essentially the same ending as the movie Field of Dreams without the game of catch included. This ending feels lazy and way too schmaltzy, and it is a letdown after so much debate and build-up.
6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
We know this movie is sacrosanct for many people, but the ending of The Shawshank Redemption goes on for bloody ever. There are about 10 places where this film could have ended and been awesome—namely once the main character played by actor Tim Robbins escapes the prison. But instead we get a protracted and overly long ending that involves the character played by Morgan Freeman being released on parole, reintegrating into society and then tracking down Tim Robbins by way of a map left at an old oak tree. The final act of the film is way too long and ends up boring the audience and being anticlimactic. And it serves to undermine what, up until the ending, was a great and uplifting film.
5. War of the Worlds (2005)
The 2005 version of War of the Worlds directed by Steven Spielberg is all about chaos, destruction and devastation. Told from the perspective of a regular guy played by actor Tom Cruise, the movie is an unrelenting adrenaline rush from about five minutes in, when the aliens attack and the Tom Cruise character is set on the run with his son and daughter. For nearly two hours Cruise and his kids are on the run and avoiding one chaotic situation after another. But then, at almost exactly the two hour mark, it’s explained that the aliens couldn’t survive in Earth’s atmosphere and the invasion abruptly stops and all humans such as Tom Cruise’s character are spared. How convenient. Not only do we never really get to see the aliens or find out why they’re destroying everything on Earth in the first place, the whole onslaught of action suddenly stops as if someone on the film set yelled “Time.” Disappointing to say the least.
4. Signs (2002)
With the exception of The Sixth Sense, which has one of the best endings ever in a movie, you could put most films directed by M. Night Shyamalan on this list. But the 2002 movie Signs probably has the most ridiculous ending. How do you kill an alien creature that’s invaded your home? By throwing a glass of water on it, of course. And that, sadly, is exactly how the alien that invades the home of the character played by actor Mel Gibson is killed at the end of Signs. This after an interminable build-up over the course of the movie about aliens invading Earth and what the crop circles they’ve created mean. This ending seems laughably simple and convenient. Especially since 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water—the one thing that can defeat the invading aliens. Another example of a movie that had tremendous build-up and ends with a whimper.
3. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Probably the biggest knock on director Steven Spielberg is that he insists on putting happy, family-friendly endings on his movies. And while the hug and warm glow of a heart light worked at the end of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, the sickly sweet, melodramatic ending of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence does not work. After spending the movie looking for a fairy that can turn him into a real boy in a blatant plot rip off from Pinocchio, the robot boy David, played by actor Haley Joel Osment, ends up trapped at the bottom of the ocean with a statue of the blue fairy he’s been looking for. Had the movie rolled the credits at this point, it would have been a decent ending. But instead, Spielberg fasts forwards 2,000 years and has an alien race find David, wake him up and allow the robot boy to spend one perfect day with his human mother. While sweet and happy, this ending seems completely unnecessary and implausible. Definitely not Spielberg’s best.
2. Planet of the Apes (2001)
The original 1968 movie Planet of the Apes was written by Rod Serling, who created the television series The Twilight Zone and is the master of mind-blowing endings. And so the first Planet of the Apes movie concludes with one of the best endings in cinema history, as the human character played by actor Charlton Heston discovers the Statue of Liberty and realizes, to his horror, that he’s been on Earth the whole time and not some distant alien planet ruled by apes. This ending is so great, it would be almost impossible to top it. But that didn’t stop director Tim Burton from trying with his 2001 reimagining of Planet of the Apes. In Burton’s movie, the lead character, played by actor Mark Wahlberg, returns to Earth to find that General Thade’s face has replaced honest Abe’s face at the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C. A cheap gimmick tacked on to the end of the movie in an effort to shock audiences similar to the ending of the 1968 movie, the conclusion of Tim Burton’s film only made audiences roll their eyes. Especially since the ending makes no sense. General Thade was defeated earlier in the movie. So how did he get back to Earth and how was the timeline on Earth altered? It’s never explained and with no sequel made to this version of Planet of the Apes, we’ll never know.
1. Magnolia (1999)
Probably the only film that will ever feature raining frogs as its ending, the 1999 film Magnolia, directed by critical darling Paul Thomas Anderson, takes the cake for the most bizarre, inexplicable and self-indulgent movie ending of all time. A melodrama about people experiencing existential angst in Los Angeles, Magnolia features an all-star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. And while the acting throughout is pretty over the top and the story is schmaltzy at best, it is the ending that really ruins this piece of ’90s nostalgia. At the end of the movie, frogs literally rain from the sky. Actual frogs. Apparently this is in reference to the Book of Exodus 8:2 in the Bible that reads: “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs.” Weird. But weirder still is when one of the characters calmly says “This happens. This is something that happens.” Audiences apparently disagreed and found the film’s climax utterly confusing and ridiculous, not to mention self-indulgent. Some movie critics have taken interpretation of the ending to extremes, claiming that the frogs are meant to represent “slavery” or even the return of Moses. Really?