10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Published 6 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. They forgot to add Tron Legacy. I thought it was a great movie that come together like I felt the story after the original ended. But then the end of the movie came with a fizzle instead of a bang.

  2. Haaaaang on. Regarding The Ninth Gate, the clues to understanding the ending are in the movie, but they’re badly executed. It’s much better laid out in the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, on which the movie is based. Dean Corso is the devil made flesh, and has forgotten who he is. He is lost in the physical world. Luckily for him, this has happened before, and the denizens of Hell have systems in place for leading him back to Hell, and reminding him of who he is. The final scene represents Satan’s/Corso’s return to his domain.

  3. How can you forget “A League of Their Own”?! A great movie with memorable scenes and quotes, but a horrible ending. The cry baby sister, who can’t live in her sister’s shadow anymore, gets her way in the end when her big sister (Geena Davis) drops the ball on purpose. Awful!!

  4. I think there may have been a mistake with entry #7. When Kevin finds himself miraculously alive and back at the courtroom in Florida, he does of course avoid his fatal mistake of defending a man he knows to be guilty and seemingly saves his soul… but then he is offered an opportunity to become famous by telling his story, which he accepts. Earlier in the film, the Devil made it clear that Pride was his favorite sin. What we have here is a Devil who lost his first gambit to recruit Kevin, but then turned it around and found that a wiser Kevin was just as vulnerable, and so potentially just as recruitable.

    And that is why the Devil laughs.

  5. I stopped at your first pick. Stanley Kubrick didn’t direct AI — Steven Spielberg did. Kubrick died in 1999.

    • @ Matt,

      For the love of all that is holy, you are the umpteenth person to say this and the umpteenth person who hasn’t actually read what was written.

      “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.”

      A.I. was Kubrick’s baby. The movie passed to Spielberg, but there are a ton of Kubrick’s elements that remain.

      [Quote from a reply just a few comments above.]

      • THANK YOU JON FOR SCOLDING MATT. I hate people that that read half of a sentence and then go about trashing the entire article especially if the thing that they’re bitching about is explained in the very next sentence. BRAVO!

      • You forgot the Jodie Foster movie ‘Contact’. All that buildup & excitement, and the only alien we see is her ‘dad’. Boo

    • Did you not read? They stated Kubrick passed in 99, then the film made it to Spielberg’s hands. I’d recommend reading before making a fool out of yourself on forums, just saying.

    • You stopped too early: this movie was to be made by Kubrick, but since he died, Spielberg did it

      • Wrong all the way around. It was Kubrick himself who asked Spielberg to direct AI. After doing much prep work on the film he fellt that he wasn’t the right man to direct it and concentrated his efforts on Eyes Wide Shut. He conferred with Spielberg and convinced him he was the right choice to helm the film.

  6. Ok, I can understand all of these movies being on this list, but on the main page where you click to see the entire article, there’s a screenshot for the movie, “The Mist.” That was my main reason for clicking on the link! I was thinking to myself, “How in the hell could they put ‘The Mist’ in a list, (I know I just rhymed, I just can’t think of another word for list and I will refrain from rhyming in the rest of this comment that no one will read,) of the worst movie endings when, in my opinion, that ending made me applaud to my TV. It’s an ending that NO ONE saw coming unless it was in the book, and (spoiler alert) it’s UNHAPPY! Most movies choose to go the “Well, we need to have a happyish ending to please the audience,” route which this movie just goes and does the opposite because in real life, (yes, I’m going to talk about real life in a comment about a movie where aliens come out of a mist to kill humans,) not every story ends with everything working out. I would venture far enough to say that the ending to “The Mist” could possibly be the best unforeseen ending of all time.

    • Considering that comments have steadily trickled in on this article for months at this point, I’m starting to think it’s a carefully planned strategy to maximize click-throughs. This entire article is a honey-trap for internet movie nerds.

      1) The Mist screenshot, when it’s not on the list
      2) The wording on the Kubrick AI thing
      3) 2001 is on the thing, for pete’s sake
      4) Superman’s highly questionable yet apparently still debatable ending alone accounts for all kinds of comments

      And the list goes on. Each is carefully designed to outrage a particular sub-set of internet movie nerd. It’s freaking diabolical.

      Unless, of course, ANY article about movies will outrage an internet movie nerd. But that can’t be it.

    • @ Mike, I think you might be right. The ending makes it a movie worth remembering. And I dare say for this reason alone I have recommended it many time over. The ending is brilliant because it is not just an unhappy ending, it is also happy as we learn the events were only local and seemed controllable. It is storytelling at its best. It is this michmach of expectations vs. experience… and by the way, the book has a different and more traditional ending.

  7. i hope there was a way for flag this for being misleading. things like this should be not done. i hope whoever wrote this or the marketing department gets fired.

  8. How could “High Tension” leave viewers enlightened? I don’t go to a horror movie to feel enlightened. It’s a freaky HORROR MOVIE. The twist made perfect sense. It was all in her head. The movie was a great horror experience and still sticks to me. Bad choice for choosing that one.

  9. 2001? LOL! I never got it as a kid. I saw it several times and was frustrated. I finally decided to revisit it as an adult and I think I got it.

  10. Regarding “Superman: The Movie” (1978):

    “No matter how you explain it, suddenly granting the hero such power is never explained, despite forever changing the mythology.”

    The mythology was not changed. It has always been there.

    This “power” should come as no surprise to anyone who read Superman comic books as it was used many, many times by The Man Of Steel in those publications going WAY back. It was NOT a fabrication of the film version.

  11. I am amazed how ridiculous this is. These are the movies they pick? Completely disagree(with the exception of “I Am Legend”; was a lame movie with archaic FX). Really weak and lazy attempt.

  12. Fight Club

  13. Hell, You could just have the list contain 10 Shyalaman films (if he had 10) That guy couldn’t write a plot anymore than Superman could turn back time circling the Earth.

    Speaking of which, it seems to be a running theme in Superman films. The recent atrocity known as Man of Steel pretty much copied the same idea, giving the hero the choice of saving many at the cost of other lives.

    This time, they followed through with it, not realizing how completely irrelevant it was, giving Supermoron had already destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of buildings, the act of which probably culled a few thousand in his way too.

  14. If i would pick the BEST ending ever in a movie, i would pick the ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).

    Its more of a epiloge, buts its really poetic justice and the ending makes the whole move better and deeper.
    Its problably the only Movie ending that still, after 10 years often pops up in my head and makes me Think about man and the universe.

    It’s REALLY weird to find an genious ending like that on this list.
    Resign all…

  15. Some of these movies I agree with (where is the the Mist since it’s on the tab?). A.I, Superman and 2001 had great endings. I’m soryy if some can’t comprehend 2001′s ending but that doesn’t diminish the movie. Superman’s ending made sense to me, he couldn’t change things and it haunted him so he changed the past. Who wouldn’t? A.I’s ending actually was rather different but I liked it. Even the Devil’s Advocate made sense since it was explained that Pride was Satan’s favorite sin so he was going to try again. Seriously, if you lure people in with the movie Mist and not actually have it on there then you’ve already lost but adding these great movies to your list sunk the article completely.

  16. AI wasn’t passed onto Spielberg upon Kubrick’s death, he and Kubrick had been planning it for years and it was Kubrick himself who passed it to Spielberg to direct, way in advance of his death. To be honest, I find it hard to believe an article can one minute claim to have an understanding of Kubrick’s work (when talking about AI), but then later on seek to rubbish the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anyone who truly appreciates Kubrick’s work, and what it entails, finds 2001 to have one of the most intriguing endings they’ve ever seen. So what if it doesn’t end with the usual Hollywood spoon feeding? It’s not a Christopher Nolan film. For the record, it’s not a good movie that was ruined by a bad ending, it’s an incredible movie with an ambiguous ending that actually challenges the viewer’s perception on what they’ve just seen. It’s a piece of art that is so timeless it can be seen over and over again, which mainly comes down to it’s ambiguous ending. Which, if you study Kubrick for even a minute, you’ll know happened with a lot of his works, post-Spartacus. And it’s these techniques that made him one of the most revered and intriguing film makers of all time. To be a good ending to a film it doesn’t need to put all the pieces together. In fact, if and ending does more to challenge you than to explain to you, I think it’s done a very good job of breaking from the conventional spoon fed generation of film goers.

  17. You guys forgot “Drag Me To Hell.” Okay, it’s not a great movie, but decent especially for a horror flick. But the ending would’ve been much improved if she had succeeded in breaking the curse, freeing not only herself, but all the souls of those who had been cursed by this same family. Then she finds out she’s pregnant and it’s revealed that the soul of her child is the soul of the boy who was dragged to Hell from the beginning. That every soul she released is going to be reincarnated to get a second chance.

    And every single one carries the taint of Hell in them.

    • Just shows everyone’s different. I find that suggestion, imaginative as it is, would be a terrible ending, not fitting the mood of the film, and not clearly a horror ending at all. The ending is great. You finally figure out why they made him a coin-collector!

  18. I think number 1 is wrong when it says “suddenly granting the hero such power is never explained, despite forever changing the mythology.”

    Didn’t Superboy travel in time to meet the Legion of Super-Heroes in this same maner before the movie came out?

  19. Eh. The AI ending makes a lot more sense if you actually think about it for a second. It’s not somber or sweet. What it is is an open-ended ending you can actually argue and think about, roll it around in your head.

    See, what happens is David wakes up in the future and all of a sudden these future robots turn up who’ve never met humans because they were built by other robots. They make a fake house and a fake mom for David and his bear to spend a perfect day with before dying. It’s coded as an old fashioned fairy tale with a bitter-sweet ending like how the Little Mermaid doesn’t win the prince but does win her soul.

    But the thing is it isn’t David’s mom. It’s a shoddy duplicate created by robots that don’t actually know much about humanity, and the day they share is basically a revisionist retelling of his time with his mom after Martin woke up. Humans reject robots throughout the movie because they don’t think they’re real people. David’s father wants to return him to the company, they’re destroyed in the flesh fair, and even Dr. Hobby inadvertently shows David how disposable he thinks he is by showing him the other David robots and the portrait of the boy David’s a copy of.

    Basically the whole point of the ending, and David’s ability to be content with the fake mom, is that he never actually became a real boy. It’s about puncturing the fairy tale while framing it in the same language of denial that characterized the rest of the film.

  20. The Abyss.

    • The Abyss Director’s Cut

  21. While this movie wasn’t a big blockbuster like the others mentioned, Kick-Ass 2 final scene hurts the conclusion of the film. even if you take into account the first film, A man sees lots of crime being committed and everyone is afraid to say or do anything. This is all to common in our society where we tell women it’s better to yell fire then rape for assistance. So the hero dresses up like a hero and fights crime while helping others. In part 2 he inspires others to do the same, but in the opposite direction super villains are created by the villain. At the end of the story, a huge battle is over with the heros winning and realizing that they cant go back to being superheroes. the ending monologue explains that the world doesn’t need costume vigilantes to patrol the streets, all the city needs is people with the courage to stand up and do whats right.

    if they would have stopped right there it would have been good, but they show kick ass training with a new suit, totally going against the full circle conclusion of their story

  22. People need to stop saying that “High Tension” is a “good” movie (even if they say that it has a bad ending.) Cause it is simply not true.