10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Published 5 months ago by , Updated August 7th, 2014 at 11:48 am,

Great Movies Ruined By Terrible Endings 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Whether writing a movie, TV series, novel, or any other form of storytelling, one fact rises above all: endings are hard. The sentiment is proven on a yearly basis, as countless films deliver an intriguing premise, compelling action, or powerful messages, only to fumble with the closing act. Sometimes, the film’s final impact can be so poorly executed, it leaves audiences wondering whether the film that preceded it was even worth the trouble.

It’s rare that a film’s finale can be so poorly handled, it negates what the movie did right up to that point, but it’s just as unfortunate to realize that the characters, the conflict, and the plot in its entirety were all building to an ending that was doomed to fall short from the very start.

Our list of 10 Good Movies Ruined By Terrible Endings shows that strong films can still succeed despite a flawed climax, but in our opinion, they would be even more beloved if their conclusions were just as flawless. Needless to say, SPOILERS abound, so read at your own risk.

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10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Great Movies Bad Endings AI Artificial Intelligence 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

In hindsight, director Stanley Kubrick’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence was always going to be divisive. The futuristic retelling of the Pinocchio story – injected with elements of science fiction and the more unseemly sides of humanity – was put on hold with Kubrick’s death in 1999, eventually falling into the hands of Steven Spielberg.

For most of the film, the story of a robotic boy’s quest to be loved by his human family, cast out, pursued, tormented, and seeking a mystical ‘Blue Fairy’ to make him ‘a real boy’ fall in line with Kubrick’s style. But just when the film reaches its somber conclusion, a plot twist comes screaming in unannounced, leaping David (Haley Joel Osment) millenia into the future. The film’s ending can’t decide whether it wants to be sentimental or somber; a thought-provoking conclusion, but one far cleaner and straightforward than the preceding film (steeped in Kubrick imagery and meaning) seemed to promise.

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9. The Ninth Gate (1999)

Great Movies Bad Endings Ninth Gate 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Director Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate was anticipated by many, both for its star and the director’s past work on Rosemary’s Baby. Following rare book dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) as he works to verify a centuries-old book designed to conjure the powers of Satan, countless characters are murdered along the way before Corso must watch as his work is used to ‘enter the ninth gate’ – with the attempt resulting in nothing but another death.

Just as a missing page is revealed to be the culprit, said page literally flutters into the story, landing squarely in the main character’s lap. Finally revealing the true story that has been playing out, the film brings Corso to the threshold of immortality, book in hand – and the screen fades to white. Fans have crafted their own theories, but more than any other entry on our list, The Ninth Gate fails by simply lacking a real ending. So instead of the eery, moody thriller that preceded it, viewers are left scratching their heads as to the film’s real message.

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8. Signs (2002)

Great Movies Bad Endings Signs 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

When discussing “bad endings,” it won’t take long for M. Night Shyamalan’s name to pop up. Although the stunning ending of The Sixth Sense cemented his name (and Unbreakable proved a twist was going to be something of a trademark), it wasn’t long before some flaws started to show. None of his films are more divisive than Signs, following a small family in rural Pennsylvania as they suspect and personally witness an alien invasion of Earth.

While a majority of the film has kept to the idea of a single family witnessing an alien invasion, the twist ending plants an alien attacker in their living room, revealing that each traumatic event, failure, and eccentricity of the family was fated to save them. Divine intervention is fine, but the twist is delivered more bluntly than anything prior. Aliens choosing to invade a planet that is covered in water (their only weakness) is enough of a plot hole, but the fact that the drinks scattered throughout the house could have been anything shows just how unnecessarily clumsy the conclusion really was.

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7. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Great Movies Bad Endings Devils Advocate 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Lawyer jokes aside, The Devil’s Advocate managed to not only offer a demonic/supernatural drama that was actually grounded in real world New York, but one bolstered by a strong cast – Al Pacino as the aforementioned Devil at the top of the list. It also packs one heck of a twist: after Pacino’s ‘John Milton’ has welcomed young defense attorney Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) to the top of his field – costing him his wife and soul in the process – he reveals that he is Lucifer himself, and Kevin is his son.

Asked to father the Antichrist with his half-sister, Kevin destroys his father’s plan in an act of free will: killing himself. Instead of the movie ending with the Devil once again thwarted, the story rewinds, returning Lomax to the film’s first scenes. No explanation is offered for exactly how (did Satan return him to try again? Was it all in his head? Does Satan have mastery over the universe?), but Kevin takes the chance to do the right thing. That would have been a slightly sappy ending itself, but the final shot of a laughing Pacino clearly still set on corrupting his son turns the movie into a confusing morality tale, instead of the dark, depressing descent into immorality that it had been to that point.

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6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Great Movies Bad Endings 2001 Space Odyssey 10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

To call Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a mystery would be an understatement, but it’s not the enigmatic and unresolved nature of the story itself that turned out to be the problem. The film’s core mystery – the strange black monoliths seemingly calling to mankind – looks to be solved, but the final contact instead sends the audience hurtling through space, before closing on a shot of the infamous ‘Starchild’; a colossal fetus floating in space next to Earth.

Understandably, many critics were just as confused as audiences, with the message hard to grasp beneath the shocking visuals. But the message isn’t entirely ambiguous: the monolith gave apes the wisdom to use weapons and tools, and this second leap (more clearly understand in the “2001″ novel) takes humans beyond their own life and death, emerging as a newborn into a brand new awareness of the larger universe. 2001 remains a classic for everything from its music to set design, but the willingness to leave even curious viewers confused meant that its message remains lost on many, if not most. After charting out the themes sci-fi would follow for decades, the film ends on more of a whimper than the (intellectual) bang it had earned.

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TAGS: 2001: a space odyssey, i am legend, signs, sunshine, superman, the wolverine

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  1. The black monolith in 2001 isn’t supposed to impart wisdom onto people (or ape men). They don’t ever explain exactly what it is though it’s clearly supposed to be the product of an advanced, extremely ancient intelligence that has apparently been observing life on earth as it developed.

    I’ve always thought 2001 was part genius, part pretentious rubbish. The dirty little secret is that a good deal of it doesn’t actually have a deeper meaning; it’s just weird for weird for weirdness sake,

    It was the late 60s, and the film was probably inspired as much by LSD than anything else.

    • @ M.L.: In my opinion the movie illustrates how the monolith ignites the apes intelligence. Perhaps only in such animals that anyways holds the potential, but it ignites it in some way: It is no chance that it is the same ape first touching the monolith and later kills by the use of tools. It is no chance it appears in the centre of the camp of these apes overnight. It is no chance another one appears on the moon and submits a signal once undug. Intelligence or rather the evolutional path to intelligence is a central theme of the whole story – from the beginning to the end.

      Anyways, it is true that the Monolith is never explicatively explained, and nor is it explained in the short story “the sentinel (1951) on which the story supposedly takes its foundation. Actually “the sentinel” has a different vision, as this short story speculates the monolith is put there to simply inform if it would ever be destroyed and thusly inform of intelligence in this region of space. But then again Clark has always dismissed his “The Sentinel” to really be the inspiration of 2001…

      However, Clarks later novel entitled “2001 – a space odyssey” (he wrote it the same time as they wrote the movie) does explicitly explain how the monolith inspires a particular group of apes to use tools. So ultimately I think this proves your notion false.

      That being said, I am sure LSD played its part.

      • Totally agree, Jon.

      • The monolith is explained in 2010: The Year We Make Contact, as is the entire motivations of the Jovian intelligence behind the monoliths.

    • The monolith (and there are far more than one) is something of a corporeal (if inanimate) ambassador for the Jovian intelligence that makes itself known in 2010. The monolith does, in fact, act as the beginning of primitive man’s intelligence. The apes in the beginning of the film, for example, learn how to use tools and weapons. When the ape throws the bone into the air and it transforms into the space ship, that is to signify that nothing significant (within the scope of the story) happens between prehistory and the space age.

      When the scientists uncover the second monolith on the moon, it was placed there as a goal for humanity. Once man was advanced enough to find that monolith, the Jovian intelligence knew man was ready to hear its message. The loud ringing sound is the monolith sending a signal to Jupiter for the sole purpose of man chasing after it.

      Man chases the signal in the form of a small team of astronauts and scientists aboard Discovery I. The HAL 9000 computer’s A.I. becomes corrupted because it was ordered/programmed to do something it was not originally designed to do: lie. HAL was covering up the true purpose of the mission to pilots Frank Poole and Dave Bowman. In the process of his malfunction, HAL kills the entire crew (save for Bowman), who is “kidnapped” by the Jovian intelligence in order for his humanity to be destroyed so he could be reborn as the “Star Child.” The purpose of this all is not revealed until the book 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

      2001: A Space Odyssey is a monumental achievement in cinematic history on so many levels that this post will probably not contain every word I could possibly write. The story was written by Arthur C. Clarke and its origins go back as far as 1948. Arthur C. Clarke was not some LSD-dropping ’60s hippie.

      Just because you don’t understand something does not make it any less genius.

  2. That 2001 one makes this list shows it is still far ahead of its time. No sci fi movie has ever explored such a huge cosmic arc. I’m sorry the ending confuses some people but that doesn’t mean it should be dumbed down for the people who get it.

    • @Sam – YES YES and YES! I have lost track of how many times I have had to explain this movie to people too lazy to put some thought into a plot. 2001 is my favorite film of all time and I don’t care how many times I see, it gives me chills.

  3. As with all great through lousy horroe films it’s the ending that make it or breaks it….

  4. How did you miss “The Black Hole”?

    A better movie than most people give it credit for, though not a great movie by any means. But what they heck was that ending about?

    • The bad people and robots went to hell. The good people and robots went to some Earth-like planet.

  5. I am Legend does not keep close to Richard Matheson’s novel. Have you seen the other adaptations, the closest being the black and white version?

    • Yes, the black and white version with Vincent Price was by far the closest thing to the actual novel. This newest one (not to mention that godawful 70′s version with Charleton Heston, aka The Omega Man) completely missed the point, which is that *HE* was actually the monster.

      • Except the alternative ending to I AN LEGEND (filmed and available on YouTube) follows this path and should have been the one they chose. Sadly, they did not.

  6. How, how can you put “2001: A Space Odyssey” in this list? Everything in this movie, from beginning to end, its amazing. It is perhaps Kubrick’s best film. You are just making a nonsense here.

    • I’m another one who didn’t like the ending of 2001. Conventional wisdom states that once the villain has been neutralized, you have a quick denouement and roll credits.

      Instead, we get 20 minutes of a Kenneth Anger film tacked on. Kubrick went to great pains to establish a hyper-realistic science fiction setting, and this long dream sequence ending doesn’t fit.

      • Since you refer to the last 20 minutes as a dream sequence it is obvious you have no idea what you are talking about.

      • …. and that you think this movie is at all about “neutralizing a villain” makes it obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about.

    • Duke,

      Conventional wisdom? Really? As if there was such a thing.

      Don’t read good literature then. Absolutely stay away from anything like Proust or Durrel. Oh, and never visit museums or go to any kind of theater. As a matter of fact, I think the circus might be a bit of a challenge. Stay away from that too.

  7. Your inclusion of 2001 on this list invalidates any and all credibility you might have had to write about movies. I came to this site as a click-through from IGN, but I can guarantee you I will not return.

    Have fun digging some grand, dramatic meaning out of the next Spider-Man movie and leave real cinema to people who aren’t afraid to think a little bit.

    • Thank you greg! I couldn’t agree more.

  8. Star Trek Into Darkness.

  9. >Aliens choosing to invade a planet that is covered in water (their only weakness) is enough of a plot hole

    Thats not a plot hole.

    • Um…that’s practically the definition of a plot hole. What kind of advanced, intelligent (one must assume, since they’re capable of space-travel), space-faring race attempts to invade a planet that is virtually nothing but the one substance in the universe that can kill them just by touching them.

      • Humans can’t really live on/in water, yet here WE are.

        • But humans are composed of mostly water, and we need water to survive. We’re not going to die if water hits our skin.

  10. Also the last part of sunshine was fine, all the talk about its tone changing is exaggerated.

  11. Anybody who disses 2001 for a supposedly weak ending is both unimaginative and not very intelligent. Whoever gave these people jobs as critics? Of any kind?

    • I consider myself intelligent and have a very active and expansive imagination. That didn’t stop me from thinking that 2001, while competent, is an overwrought and pretentious movie, particularly the ending. I can understand why it was done and can understand why it appeals to others, but it just didn’t do it for me.

      That doesn’t mean you are wrong in how you perceive the film / the ending yourself. It’s an opinion and insulting someone just because they don’t agree with yours is a stupid way of defending your position.

      I mean, even if you base it on intelligence as you have, perhaps those (like me) who found it boring, etc, are actually hyper-intelligent to the point that the subject and tone was intellectually beneath them.

      Of course, it wasn’t that, but why let facts and reasoned debate get in the way of name-calling? It is the internet after all.

  12. You left out The Mist.

    • You’re joking, right?
      That was one of the best movie endings in years.

      One of the very few times straying from the original book’s ending was a smart move.

  13. A.I.: The ending was the only part of the movie that got really interesting for me. And it really added a point to the rest of the movie. I’ve always hated criticism of the ending. I think people just didn’t like the movie, so they blamed their dislike on the most conspicuous thing.

    Signs: I’ve always defended Signs. I don’t see the water thing as a plothole, I just see the aliens’ mentality as being far different from ours, which was quite refreshing and unique. Like the twist or not, it does bring the whole movie together.

    2001: I wouldn’t say the ending stands out too much. Most of the movie was completely confusing to people. To suggest that the movie should have ended differently is absurd. It was the perfect ending to an already mind-bending movie.

    I Am Legend: Online commenters do not “almost universally prefer” the alternate ending. Maybe some like it better because the hero lives, but in the context of the whole movie, it’s so horribly ridiculous, I can’t believe they even considered it enough to make the CGI. The studio made the right call. The movie ended up being a little pointless, but at least it wasn’t stupid.

    • @ Jared,

      I agree with you on all your points. Except the last. The alternative ending to “I AM LEGEND” is actually what the base material says (a novel by the same name published in 1954). It flips the whole story around on the last pages by making him the monster and not the others. It is not that the hero lives, it is that the hero is actually the villain. That he lives in the movie, or is allowed to live by them, just cement this even further: They show pity on him, something he never did to them, and he really is the last man on earth. The last man on earth who has been naively going on a killing spree chasing an ideal only he really wanted. Chilling in my opinion. Exceptionally chilling. That he lives in the alternative ending is as far from a Hollywood ending as we can get.

      The reason the book is titled “I AM LEGEND” is because he realises in the end that HE is the legend to the infected survivors, just like vampires and monsters were legends to humans before the outbreak.

      I think the whole movie is drawn to the book’s conclusion (and so the cinematic ending must have been a last decision). E.g. he once says in his analysis that all signs of humanity is now gone…. and he says this just after he caught the girlfriend and saw how angry their leader became because of this. In my opinion, he completely misdiagnosed this behaviour. It was indeed very human to be pissed here – in fact HE was the coldblooded inhumane character in this situation, not their leader. Also, his den with pictures of those he tortured and killed are hanging on the wall – filling it up completely. Until the last couple of frames this seems like a concerned scientist’ lab, but in the alternative ending it becomes clear it actually looks more like the wall of a serial killer’s layer…. anyways, this twist and dare I say the whole point of the original novel is completely lost with the chosen cinematic happy ending where humanity is saved.

      The movie is great in either case, but the story much better in the alternative take.

  14. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the greatest film ever made. Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is also the greatest film, equally, ever made. Both by Stanley Kubrick. Thank you, man.

  15. all this article does is show Andrew Dyce as being severely THICK!!!!!!!!!!!

    The Ninth gate ending was perfect as was 2001 also perfect, You are trying to be smart and the end result is just showing you are stupid. Bet Andrew Dyce is one of the people who agree with the changes made to Wicker man despite the fact those changes destroyed the whole meaning of the movie.