Sitting through a bad movie is frustrating. Sitting through a bad movie that abruptly becomes awesome in the last few minutes can be even more frustrating. You have to wonder: if the filmmakers can pull off a great ending, why couldn’t they have expended the same energy in order to make the whole thing awesome? If there’s any upside to this phenomenon, it’s that you at least exit the theater on a high note. After all, you got something for your money. That mitigates the damage a little bit, right? Right?
The movies below are all fine examples of what we’re talking about. They are not good films. In fact, they’re generally pretty awful. Except, of course, for their finales. We’ll try to look at why the endings work when little or nothing else does. And unlike these titles, we will make every attempt to maintain a level of quality throughout.
Here are 15 Bad Movies With Amazing Endings. We don’t need to include a spoiler warning, right?
15. The Lone Ranger
So many things are so, so wrong about The Lone Ranger: the convoluted plot, the misguided belief that Armie Hammer is Hollywood’s next A-list star, and pretty much everything about Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto. We could go on and on. Running an unconscionable two-and-a-half hours, it stands as a prime example of blockbuster-wannabe excess. Everything about it is so overblown that all the potential fun gets sucked out.
Except for that climactic train sequence at the end. It’s a combination chase scene and shootout, with people dangling from the locomotive, the hero riding his horse on top of — and through — the cars, Tonto engaging in slapstick violence, and a Buster Keaton-worthy bit with a ladder that absolutely has to be seen to be believed. It ends with a spectacular bridge explosion that sends the train plunging into a river. The famous “William Tell Overture” (finally) plays on the soundtrack the entire time. Whereas most of The Lone Ranger is misguided, the grand finale is light and fun. If the whole movie had been like this, it would have been the blockbuster success it was clearly designed to be.
14. The Omen III: The Final Conflict
The Omen is a horror classic. The sequels…not so much. Omen III: The Final Conflict is especially terrible. It follows Damien (played by a young Sam Neill) as an adult. Now a successful businessman, he plots to prevent the Second Coming by ordering his minions to kill all the babies born on the day it’s supposed to happen. What a jerk, huh?
All kinds of absurd stuff happens that we won’t get into because, like we said, this movie blows. The important thing to know is that Omen III ends with Damien calling out Christ and demanding that He show Himself. As he walks around a church courtyard doing this, the journalist he was previously dating pops out and stabs him in the back with an ancient dagger. (Don’t ask.) Staggering around from the injury, Damien then sees an image of Christ before him. “You have won…nothing,” he tells our Lord and Savior before falling over dead. Cue the shining white light and angelic chorus. The sequence is a pretty gutsy way of warning that Evil can never prevail over Good.
13. Mirror Mirror
With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 49% and an audience score of 45%, it’s safe to say that Mirror Mirror didn’t exactly light the world on fire. The 2012 fantasy, directed by Tarsem Singh, is a hipped-up version of the Snow White legend, with Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) playing good old SW and Julia Roberts portraying the evil Queen. The movie received some praise for its lush visuals — a Singh specialty — but the consensus was that it didn’t find a fresh enough spin to put on the classic fairy tale. Visually, it was magnificent; story-wise, it was extremely “meh.”
It’s interesting, then, that Mirror Mirror goes out with some major fireworks. The end credits sequence is an elaborately-staged, Bollywood-influenced musical number that has great imagery, superb choreography, and an undeniably catchy song. Is it incongruous to the story’s time and setting? Sure, but the high energy of the scene, coupled with its technical proficiency, is enough to put a smile on your face, even if the rest of the picture has you checking your watch every few minutes.
Kevin Smith once made smart, funny movies with characters and situations you could relate to (Clerks, Chasing Amy). These days, he makes bizarre, nonsensical films that seem to appeal primarily to himself. But hey, we give him lots of credit for taking risks and doing his own thing, even if the results are less than stellar. The horror flick Tusk is a prime example of modern-day Smith weirdness. Justin Long plays Wallace, a podcaster who flies to Canada to interview former seaman Howard Howe, played by Michael Parks. What he doesn’t realize is that Howe is a psychopath with the intention of turning him into a walrus.
Much of Tusk is long stretches of dull conversation, interrupted occasionally by Johnny Depp’s over-the-top-even-for-Johnny-Depp performance as a detective looking into Wallace’s disappearance. None of it is funny, much less scary, but the film’s final scene is unarguably a doozy. Wallace, now fully transformed into a walrus, lives in a wildlife sanctuary. He is visited by his girlfriend, who recounts that he once told her the most important thing separating humans and animals is that humans cry, thereby indicating the possession of a soul. As she walks away, we see a tear rolling down the walrus face of our hero. He may look like an animal on the outside, but on the inside, he’s still 100% human. It’s a profoundly touching moment in a movie that is otherwise insipid and dull.
11. Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck, released in 1986, was the (first) attempt to bring the beloved Marvel character to the big screen. It was not a success. Reviews were unkind, to say the least, and box office business was nearly non-existent. (Total gross = $16.2 million) The movie, which is filled with bad duck puns, lame action sequences, and a creepy love scene between Howard and Lea Thompson, has a cult of fans, although it’s widely mentioned in any list of the most epic cinematic bombs ever.
Like many bad movies, the best part is the end credits — not just because the movie is over, but because it concludes with the genuinely funny sight of Howard joining Thompson’s band onstage for an eponymous Prince-inspired song. He dances, he shreds on the electric guitar, and he gets the audience pumped up. Whereas the rest of the film basically treats Howard as a dumb joke, the musical finale takes him more seriously as a character, finding a bit of what made comic book readers fall for him in the first place. The sequence is also a fairly astute satire of pop music glitz of the era. Too bad the whole thing couldn’t have done what the last three minutes do.
The late Wes Craven made some classics (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) and some clunkers (Cursed, Vampire in Brooklyn). His 1989 film Shocker definitely belongs in the latter category. Mitch Pileggi plays Horace Pinker, a serial killer who gets sent to the electric chair. Rather than ending his life, the chair gives Pinker the power to manipulate and meld with electricity. In this capacity, he frees himself from prison and continues his murderous spree, pursuing Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg), the son of a previous victim.
Shocker is little more than a pale retread of Elm Street, hitting a lot of the same beats and playing many of the same rhythms. Its one moment of inspiration comes at the end, however. Jonathan and Pinker fight, and the killer plunges himself into a TV set. Jonathan, having acquired a little power of his own, jumps in after him. The two then battle through a series of channels showing a war movie, an old episode of Leave It to Beaver, a heavy metal music video, a boxing match, and a broadcast of the original Frankenstein. The payoff finds them emerging from the television of a strange family, whose living room they proceed to wreck with their fighting. Shocker is dopey, but at least it goes out with a bit of imagination.
9. Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction was intended to jump-start a rapidly declining franchise. Gone was Shia LaBeouf, replaced by Mark Wahlberg. Gone were all of the human characters and story arcs established in the first three chapters, having been replaced by new heroes and new plot points. All of it was supposed to bring a fresh spin that would lead the series into the future. That would have been great, except that, under Michael Bay’s direction, it felt like just another Transformers movie.
Like its predecessors, Age of Extinction is way too long, running a bewildering 165 minutes. After enduring a less-than-inspiring 120 of those minutes, audiences finally get something worth watching. The third act features Transformers dinosaurs (a.k.a. Dinobots) joining into the climactic battle. Not only are there giant robots fighting other giant robots, there are dinosaur robots fighting dinosaur robots, dinosaur robots fighting giant robots, and giant robots riding dinosaur robots fighting dinosaur robots being ridden by giant robots. Get the picture? It’s all too late in the game to save Age of Extinction, but if nothing else, the film at least gives you some bang for your buck before it wraps everything up.
8. RoboCop 2
RoboCop 2 has to go down as one of the most disappointing sequels ever. The original was fresh, provocative, and exciting. The follow-up was convoluted and flat. In the film, an updated RoboCop has been created to fight a drug syndicate that’s putting a new narcotic on the streets. It goes haywire, leading the original RoboCop (played, of course, by Peter Weller) to step in. He must fight not only the drug pushers, but also the machine that is, essentially, his replacement.
Many of the elements from the original are repeated in the sequel, just to much lesser effect. Still, the movie ends with a glorious shootout between the two metal law enforcement officers that must set some kind of record for number of bullets fired. There’s also some robot-on-robot fisticuffs, during which RoboCop reaches into his enemy, yanks out the brain that allows it to function, and smashes it into the ground. While it doesn’t come close to matching its predecessor’s satiric tone or strong human element, RoboCop 2 delivers a crazy-awesome battle royale, which certainly counts for something.
Xanadu is one of the biggest turkeys of the 1980s. It is a film so misguided that many people thought it would kill the career of its wildly popular star, Olivia Newton-John. (Thankfully, that was not the case.) The story centers around young artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) who is visited by a roller-skating Olympian muse named Kira (Newton-John). She convinces him to team up with a former big band conductor (played by the legendary Gene Kelly) to open a nightclub.
Plots rarely come as random as that. Most of Xanadu is a bunch of ethereal claptrap about fate and fortune, punctuated by an occasional musical number. Only at the end does it really perk up. The opening of the club features an elaborately choreographed routine of Kelly and dozens of other patrons skating around. Newton-John, meanwhile, sheds her hippie clothing and puts on something far sexier to belt out her Top Ten title song. She is, at last, the pop star America fell in love with. As dumb as Xanadu is, the grand finale is visually spectacular, with a phenomenal singer performing one of her most popular hits. It’s a blast.
6. Into the Grizzly Maze
The cheesy B-movie Into the Grizzly Maze stars James Mardsen and Thomas Jane as estranged brothers who are reunited at the Alaskan wilderness home of their late father. A hungry grizzly bear begins stalking and attacking people in the area, so they decide to use the skills they were taught in childhood to hunt it before anyone else can be harmed. Billy Bob Thornton plays this movie’s version of Quint from Jaws, a no-nonsense local tracker who has methods that seem a little dubious. The animal is as smart as the humans, though, and before long, it’s back to munching happily on flesh.
That sounds more exciting than it is. Into the Grizzly Maze spends far too much time exploring the sibling drama between Marsden and Jane than it does in showcasing bear action. Until the end, that is. The brothers come up with a plan to halt the bear that involves luring it into a circle of gasoline that they pour on the ground. Jane then shoots the gas with a flare gun, lighting it up. But that doesn’t stop the crazed animal! Via the magic of unconvincing CGI, it jumps through the fire and attacks, and some good ol’ fashioned man-on-bear fighting ensues, which is capped off with a knife attack. Every ounce of this conclusion is preposterous, in the best, most entertaining manner.
5. Sex Tape
Sex Tape is a raunchy comedy predicated on a very modern phenomenon. Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play a married couple who decide to spice things up in the bedroom by videotaping themselves knocking the proverbial boots. The raw material is here for something really funny, but unfortunately, the movie opts for an unlikely plot twist in which Segel’s character accidentally sends their video to everyone they know after uploading it to the Cloud, leading to a frenzied attempt to swipe the devices of their friends and family so that no one can view it.
That concept really doesn’t work, and it’s not what anyone going to see a comedy called Sex Tape wants anyhow. Eventually, after watching the strained farcical story play itself out, we are treated to a glimpse of the titular object — and it is glorious. Reenacting the Kama Sutra, Diaz and Segel contort themselves into almost unimaginable positions. Their sex is hysterically acrobatic at times, at one point even encompassing a backflip. Other times, it’s comically awkward. The characters are so horrified by their own performance that they end up destroying the footage in several different ways. This satiric ending is a fine example of what the whole movie should have been.
4. The Room
The Room has gained fame — and a considerable amount of fan love — for being one of the worst, most incompetently made movies of all time. It’s the story of Johnny, played by writer/director/space alien Tommy Wiseau, who is madly in love with his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle). What he doesn’t know is that she’s a lying, conniving, cheating jerk destined to break his heart. The movie is notable for Wiseau’s complete lack of acting talent, characters and plot threads that abruptly arrive and/or disappear, laughable dialogue, and filmmaking that brings new meaning to the term “bargain basement.”
While it’s true The Room is so deliriously bad that it’s kind of fun to watch, we need to talk about that ending. Good guy Johnny, upon learning that Lisa has been carrying on an affair with his best friend Mark, melts down at a party, then runs into the bedroom and shoots himself. The movie ends with her crying over his dead body, aware that she’s directly responsible for the tragedy. This ending is amazing because it reframes our perception of the entire film. We may laugh at its incompetence, but the last two minutes suggest that a woman somewhere in the world completely devastated Tommy Wiseau, and The Room is his attempt to deal with a shattered heart.
3. Cool World
Ralph Bakshi is the groundbreaking animator who helped show the format could be used for adult storytelling purposes with influential works like the X-rated Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. During the 1970s, his films had real impact. By the 1990s, however, Bakshi was struggling to get his vision onscreen. Cool World, released in the summer of 1992, stars Gabriel Byrne as a cartoonist who gets sucked into one of his own creations. Kim Basinger provides the voice of Holli Would, the fictional vamp heroine who tries to seduce him so that she can cross over into the real world.
Bakshi feuded with Paramount Pictures over the movie. He wanted to make an R-rated pseudo-horror film; they wanted a PG-13, Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style comedy/adventure. The studio won. Cool World shows the struggle between the studio and the artist in its inconsistent tone and virtually incoherent plot. That said, the last fifteen minutes are madcap fun. Having indeed entered the real world, Holli runs amok in Las Vegas, using the magical “Spike of Power” to turn everyone into cartoons. Byrne is morphed into a superhero, and he tries to retrieve the artifact from her to get everything back to normal. It may not have been exactly what Bakshi intended, but Cool World‘s finale is inventive and wildly entertaining.
In Anaconda, Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, and Owen Wilson travel down the Amazon river to shoot a documentary. Jon Voight portrays a shady shake hunter who forcibly commandeers their boat so that he can search for the gigantic creature that provides this movie with its title. Of course, they all stumble upon the snake, which is alternately rendered in less-than-convincing CGI and cheesy rubber animatronics. People get eaten and squeezed to death by it at semi-regular intervals. Those scenes hold some obvious interest. Anything involving the characters or the “story” is considerably less engaging.
A film such as this needs a glorious comeuppance for its villain, and Anaconda delivers one, when Voight attempts to use Ms. Lopez and Mr. Cube as bait to lure the snake. They manage to escape its clutches, so it turns on the bad guy, first biting him, then coiling around him, then swallowing him whole. We even get a view from inside the snake’s mouth as it swallows him! That alone would be a magnificent fate for a cinematic baddie, but things get even better. After eating Voight, the anaconda promptly regurgitates him. He lands at Lopez’s feet, giving her a wink before dropping dead. The moment is so deliciously over-the-top that you can’t even see the top from there.
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
It’s almost mind-blowing how terrible 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is. Based on the music of the Beatles — and existing only because producer Robert Stigwood owned the rights to a handful of their songs — it tells the story of Billy Shears (played by ’70s rock icon Peter Frampton), who puts together a band with his pals Mark, Dave, and Bob Henderson (the Bee Gees). After signing a bad record contract, they must fight various corrupt forces within the music industry, as well as battle a villainous figure known as Mr. Mustard, who has stolen all the musical instruments from their hometown, Heartland.
So much about this movie is so bad that it’s hard to know where to begin. All you really need to know is that, to compensate for a lack of acting ability on the parts of Frampton and the Bee Gees, the filmmakers decided to have them not speak, instead using a narrator named Mr. Kite (George Burns) to explain everything that happens. The rest of the picture consists of half-hearted renditions of Beatles hits (ie: Steve Martin singing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) and dumb slapstick comedy.
At least they had one really cool idea, which comes during the climactic musical number. Once Billy and the Henderson brothers have saved the day and are back in Heartland, a slew of music stars emerge out of nowhere to sing the title tune. Among them are Tina Turner, Frankie Valli, Robert Palmer, Wilson Pickett, Carol Channing, Heart, Bonnie Raitt, and Sha Na Na. Their assembly pays tribute to the famous Sgt. Pepper album cover. It’s a wonderful moment of tribute to the Beatles, coming at the end of a movie that otherwise treats their legacy as a joke.
What other bad movies have amazing endings? Do you have any favorites that we missed? Tell us all about them in the comments.