10 Good Movies Ruined By Bad Endings

Published 4 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.

NEXT PAGE: The Wolverine, I Am Legend and More…

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

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  1. To be totally fair, The Ninth Gate was based on a novel called The Club Dumas. In the book, the whole immortality/Satan/hell thing is just a subplot. The main story is about, well, The Club Dumas, a group of people who admire Alexander Dumas and his works. When you read the book, you see the entire picture, and the ending is much better and makes much more sense. Just taking out a subplot and crafting it into it’s own movie means making your own ending, and it doesn’t always work out well. Go read Club Dumas, it’s worth it.

  2. I Am Legend sucked. It sucked big time.

    • Anything with Will Smith sucks.

      • What about The Pursuit of Happiness? That was a great movie. It didn’t suck.

  3. Most of these are not “Good” movies, really.

    But the “Signs” criticism always annoys me. It’s always “Duh, why did the aliens come to a planet with so much water?”

    But if the aliens had never encountered water before, they wouldn’t know it kills them. It’s not like every planet has water.

    • I agree, the foundation of those arguments is missing the point of the story that the movie is really telling. But apart from that water is actually quite common in the universe. If a planet is temperate it will likely also hold liquid water. In fact some of the most common meteorites a cased in ice and our blue planet receives something like a couple of tons of water each year from space.

      • I am not missing that Signs is about Mel Gibson’s character’s lost faith.

        But I don’t think that just because that’s what the story is really about, all other details can get a free pass.

        And I don’t think it’s a valid excuse that the aliens might never had encountered water before. In fact that should have urged them to be even more cautious. They must have noticed that out planet is covered with water. That’s visible from space. If they’re capable of any rational thought, why would they assume that this alien (to them) substance is probably harmless?

        I do hope and even trust that when we start to explore new planets eventually, our reaction to something we’ve never encountered before, won’t be to show up naked ;)

        • E.T. was naked too, and wasn’t 3nd Encounters also…. actually War of the Worlds were…I.D. used a bio suite, but a naked bio suite… and we sent out a gold plate of naked pictures of us in to space 35 years ago… so maybe the Alien just greeted us the way they read this “invitation”? I think, there is no way around it, you just gotta be naked to party in space. :-)

          I agree, good stories hold even on secondary, or third level plotline and the water things begs some creative rationalization to work indeed. However, since SIGNS were not really about an invasion, it has no deep impact (pun intended) on my enjoyment and so does not promote it to an “all time worst endings” list, more like to a “com on, man…” list. And water does has a returning theme in the bible and so this justifies why it was even thought up in the first place. That being said; water is a common enough substance in our known space that aliens should know their tolerance levels before hand.

          • True, but E.T. wasn’t allergic to water – or here to fight us.

            And a naked bio suit it still an extra layer of protection, so I’d think that’s okay. Plus they came in fighter ships and not by foot.

            I agree that Signs can still be enjoyed. And I’ll need to see it again sometime with that demon theory in mind because that might help the water to become a little more plausible what with its biblical meaning as you point out.

            And they should definately make a “Come on, man”-list ;)

            • They were naked because their skin was able to be used as camouflage and therefore was quite sensitive (even to water). But why they didn’t plan invasion better was above me too. Maybe the aliens were just disposable snatchers (slaves). My point is you would be able to made up reasons, but why would we do that really?

            • The water was one of those things put their by divine intervention, the daughter always being thirsty for water and leaving her glasses around half full. Just like her asthma saved her from the toxic gas.

    • Still thought great scifi movie

    • “But if the aliens had never encountered water before”…then they would just be illegal aliens

  4. Not that the criticism of Superman “turning back time” isn’t valid. Many of complained about that scene. It’s not accurate, however, to say that his ability to travel in time was unprecedented or “changed the character’s mythology” The fact is; Superman was traveling back and forth through time for decades before he did it in the ’78 film. He frequently flew into the future to team up with the Legion Of Super-Heroes as Superboy in the Silver & Bronze Ages, and even before that, went in the other direction quite often.

    Since I (at the age of 14 then, going to the theater over and over again) was well aware that Superman could do this; I had no problem with it. Again; I can see why others have a problem with it. If you just don’t think it works in a film, as well as it would in a comic, that’s understandable. Don’t think it belongs on a list like this by a long shot; but, such lists are, of course, quite personal, and thus never really wrong.

    • Don’t confuse the ability to travel *through* time with the ability to *control* time. Superman may have previously had the power to fly so fast that he could break the “time barrier” but that ability never manifested itself in the comics as the ability to turn back the flow of time for the entire planet. Ever. Whenever Superman travelled through time, the ‘present’ he left behind continued on normally. The concept in the movie was just as sloppy as shooting blue beams out of his eyes to fix the Great Wall of China in Superman IV was.

      • Unfortunately, you are simply flat-out wrong. Reversing the Earth’s rotation as a means of turning back time was used as a plot device multiple times in early Superman comics.

  5. I’m not sure why anybody would find the end of Superman confusing? -obviously he’s flying faster than the speed of light which (as Einstein theorized)results in going back in time.

    I’m assuming the issue is that he doesn’t use this trick every-time he finds himself in trouble -maybe there’s something inherently dangerous in doing it which makes it a very final resort?

    -eitherway, you could have me naming bad endings for a year, and this would never make the list… what about films with ‘open’ endings like “No Country For Old Men” or “Prometheus”?

    • No Country was about as confusing an ending as one could come up with!

      It made little sense to me at all!

  6. On first view the slasher ending of Sunshine seems out of place. But the more you watch it, the more it makes sense. The reason pinbacker turned slasher is the crushing insignificance he felt so far from earth. His isolation and introspection imploded on themselves, setting up the disappearance of Icarus 1, forcing them off course etc. Also that awesome moment on the observation deck when you didn’t know if he was an alien or what was going on – gold. Equipment malfunction doesn’t cut it for dues ex machina and Boyle didn’t want aliens. A savior turned psycho was the best way to do it. This movie is classic!

    • I agree with you 100%. I feel as if people who complain about the third act never saw the very end which is freaking incredible. Cillin Murphy touching the Sun was epic. As a fan of Alien, 2001, and Blade Runner Sunshine has earned it’s spot as one of the greatest Sci-fi’s ever.

  7. AI: Artificial Intelligence is Stephen Spielberg’s baby – NOT Stanley Kubrick. It doesn’t even resemble a Kubrick film.

    • Apparently ou don’t read the other commnets on the message board or research the subject matter you are commenting on. Kubrick brought in Spielberg and Spielberg used much of what Kubrick had prepared (which was substantial).

    • If we’re going by that analogy, Spielberg is more like a new stepdad. Kubrick developed the movie long before Spielberg took over. It was even Kubrick that brought Spielberg in back in 1985. Yup, that’s how long pre-development on AI goes back. Kubrick hired and directed the writers of AI. Spielberg was originally supposed to produce it, not direct it.

  8. Nearly 800 comments is a lot to sift through, did anyone point out that Superman did not fly around the world to make time turn back? He himself flew back in time? I believe some other’s did point this out, but they may have just been pointing out the fact that he was very capable of time travel as written in that era.

    • Yeah, I pointed it out a few pages back. It didn’t seem to elicit much response either way.

  9. Interesting that at the time Superman was view was a surprising smart twist ending.
    until a couple years ago was an awesome ending.

    • Well, now… let’s not get crazy. I thought it was ridiculous as a kid, I still do, and everyone I know also thought it was ridiculous. I don’t know who exactly thought it was a “smart twist ending,” but it wasn’t me as a child or anyone else I’ve ever heard of.

      But… I think we can all agree it’s better than the “magic forget everything kiss,” which has no basis in anything and easily trumps Superman I as a terrible ending.

    • You are absolutely right. This is a recent thing. If people thought the ending was so bad, the movie would never have achieved the classic status it has now. I’ve always seen it as he is a super man and unlike the accepted ways to go through time, he does not need a DeLorean or a jumped-up phone booth.
      I don’t like how these people now hear a snarky comment made by someone with an agenda, and they jump on that bandwagon cause that sounds cool. They never think about it themselves.

  10. Including The Ninth Gate’s ending on this list shows that the article author just didn’t get the movie.

    A lot of others on the list are either a big ‘who cares’ or aren’t all that bad, though I do agree that the endings of Signs and I Am Legend are epically awful. =\

    • I agree. Also wheres The Village? I know that a lot of people were pissed off by the ending.

    • “Including The Ninth Gate’s ending on this list shows that the article author just didn’t get the movie.”

      Why?

      I don’t see how it shows anything about the author. I’ve never seen such an obtuse ending. A two-by-four could “get” the movie. That, in fact, is the problem. It went from smart and mysterious to clobbering the viewer over the head with supernatural twaddle that was none the less left unsatisfactorily hanging.

      The inclusion of The Ninth Gate is exactly what I was hoping to see. Never have I seen a finer movie more utterly ruined by absurdity. I understood what was meant fully, but it was vastly inferior to what it had been up to that point.

      The worst part is that the movie had the perfect ending. It merely came a few minutes before the movie actually ended. (SPOILERS) The scene in which Balkan inadvertently self-immolates and Corso escapes the burning castle was the ideal way in which to end the story. We know there are supernatural elements at work because of the Girl, but had it simply ended here, with the assumption that Corso had been sent on a devilish wild goose chase, he and the audience would realize as one that he’d been a victim of his own greed. That he’d been caught up in something legitimately insane and treated it as viable simply because he wanted it to be true. It could’ve even been inferred, again because the supernatural was clearly present, that the search for the Ninth Gate was set up specifically as a trap to collect the souls of the foolish and greedy, like Balkan.

      It was so much cleaner, more elegant than the last fifteen or twenty minutes. It was mysterious, yet satisfying, and unfolded just right. The final scenes, after the castle, are so rushed and half-cocked that it literally ends with a deus ex machina. Yes, yes, Corso meant to find to find the authentic ninth engraving. There’s always a dim excuse for lazy screenwriting.

      That’s the shame of it. It was like a good bill with a crappy provision that dragged the whole thing down. The ending was so poorly executed I’m almost tempted to wonder if Polanski didn’t hate it, himself.

      • AI is another one that had a great (though tragic) ending 15 minutes before the end of the film. If HJOs character (can’t remember his name – it’s been a while) had remained at the bottom of the sea for all eternity praying to the statue of the angel to become a real boy – the film would probably have been considered a modern classic. Or at least considered significantly better than it was. The ‘aliens-who-can-resurrect-the-dead-for-one-day’ ending was pretty ridiculous.

  11. Well, every one fell for it. articles like this are written to just spark emotion and get people talking.
    for me SIGNS was a really cool movie.
    so was SUPERMAN and I liked when he got all angry and pissed off and flew around the world reversing time. I love when people get annoyed about the true physics and complexities of time travel but over look a person/alien flying around in the air with red and blue tights. If you like the movie enjoy it. no one going is going to tell me the endings is bad. so this whole thing is crap.

    • Excellent comment and quite true but these days people need to be told what to think.

    • Thought signs was a really good movie

  12. Knowing had the worst ending to a film IMO. Was really enjoying it until the ridiculous last 20 minutes. Also The Happening. TV nearly went out the window when the ending was revealed.

    • I agree, I thoroughly enjoyed that movie and the last 20 minutes where everyone was burnt up and the kids went to another planet was the biggest disappointment!

  13. one movie that has yet to be mentioned is ‘absense of malice’…the perfect ending was already there…the tables get turned on sally field, when her fellow reporter asks her a question and she replies ‘no comment’…cut to black and that would have had the message come full circle with an exclamation point…instead they drag on with her and paul newman wrapping up what little ‘relationship’ they tried to have in the film, leaving the ending like a wet noodle…

  14. I would have to say that No Country For Old Men has perhaps The worst final 15(or so) minutes in any movie that I’ve ever seen,and that’s mainly because everything before the final 10-15 minutes was pretty good.Hate getting let down like that.

    Also,just watched Killing Them Softly recently,and I have to say that movie just felt empty and incomplete at the end.

    I loved A.I.,and had absolutely no issues with it at all.

  15. AI is a ripoff, almost verbatim, of Astroboy (the original story, not necessarily the recent movie).

  16. RE: your half-bottomed assessment of the conclusion of ‘The Devils Advocate’;
    Seriously? – Watch it again!
    For those of us familiar with the fundamental concepts within the Judeo-Christian mythos, the reason the ‘reset button’ gets pushed is obvious: he asks God to do it!
    You watch and listen carefully, as Lomax’s body hits the floor & little miss Red-Hot gets toasted by daddy in a fit of pique, old flaming handsome yells out a single word before the white-fade takes us back to the small town courthouse.
    That word, distorted as it was by disappointment & enraged frustration, was: GOD!
    So why is G-O-D doing favours for the Morning Star?
    Read my ancestors book in the Bible (old testament), they might not be best buds anymore, but Lucifer is one of the family.
    And what kind of lousy father leaves his son hanging out to dry?
    Even if he is the veritable and literal ‘Black Sheep’.

  17. RE: I am Legend; I don’t see it as an adaption of the novel, rather a remake of the first movie adaption ‘The Last Man On Earth’ starring Vincent Price. Considered this way (rather than how the studio promoted it) it is a faithful modernization.
    RE: The Wolverine; 3 words – Read More Manga! This sort of ending is a staple for creators of Japanese fiction and, given the number of Japanese movie goers compared to their U.S. counterparts, I know which audience I would be pandering to!
    These staples are sacrosanct law in Japanese fiction, to end it any other way would be like closing out a Bugs Bunny cartoon with Elmer Fudd standing in his kitchen, apron on, knife in hand, cutting veggies, preparing a rabbit stew!
    RE: Sunshine; I don’t feel strongly about the ending because I understand the physics involved in heliothermic reactions – a nuclear weapon to restart the sun would have to be at least the size & weight of the entire planet Mercury!

  18. 2001 has the perfect ending. No, it doesn’t answer each and every question one might have, just like the universe -or life itself- does not. Get over it and enjoy. “Ruined by a bad ending” – such a fail.

  19. Vertigo and Fight Club should be on here.

    • Michael:
      Wrong & Wrong!!!!

  20. You forgot The Mist. HORRIBLE ending… maybe the worst I have ever seen.

  21. 2001 and I am Legend on the same list, oh my, this article is pure nonsense.

  22. Classic film list: #1 Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Any other thoughts about classic films that would fit on a list like this?

    • clarification: by classic film I mean pre-1960.

  23. To be fair, it´s impossible to anyone to really understand this ending just by watching the movie. You have to read the book. In there, it´s possible to understand that Dave, the astronaut, encounters an alien civilization, the ones who are responsible for the monoliths, and they are dying. Humankind is their chance of rebirth and avoidance of extinction, hence the Star Child.

    Of course, this is a very simple and superficial explanation. It´s all better covered in several articles throughout the internet. This warning serves only as a reminder that if you are going to talk about something, specially something so complex and covered in mistery and controversy as the movie´s ending, you should really do some good in-depth research before trying your hand at explaining it.

    • 2001 is one of my favourites, so imo it should not be on the list. However, I disagree a little with your statement above. A good movie should tell its story and use its medium for this. Expecting the audience to do research beyond its telling is not fair, perhaps as supplementation but not as a fundamental requirement. Naturally, the movie can assume some basic level of knowledge and it may target specific demographics, but by not giving a complete experience I think it misunderstands its propose. 2001 is one of those movies which are very difficult to understand without any outside help, but not necessarily impossible. And this is part of why it is so great. Sure, a viewer might not get all the intents of Arthur, but the movie is also a child of Stanley and with all due respect, they are not necessarily canon to each other – the movie is more Stanley than Arthur, I dare say. 2001 is great and so is the ending. Who ever put it on this list simply failed to understand the movie as a whole, and failed to give it the time its need. A movie like this needs multiple viewings and contemplation upon each. If the alien race behind the monoliths were suffering etc. is perhaps a plot in the book, but not in the movie and fundamentally irrelevant to the story told here. Humans are in the seat of this story, and its message is evolution and the conflicts in evolution – and so Hal and the Alien race becomes plot devices. The ending is ambiguous and does not spell it out very well, which I am confident was not by fault, but by design. I agree of course that reading the book and interviews helps to realise it more literally, however to feel and connect with the ending and to understand the message and fundamentals of the story, no book nor interview or even online chat is needed.

      I am guessing we agree on 2001. But my point is rather that any movie which requires the viewers to read the background material or perhaps even to read future books and other such stuff, has misunderstood its purpose and such a movie might very well qualify for this list.

      2001 is no such case.

  24. They left out, “the mist”, and “Pompeii”, both with horribly bad WTH endings! I was left screaming at the screen after both movies. I’m sure there are a lot more but those two are my two top picks for this list of 10 bad ending movies.

    • IMO Mist (2007) has one of the best endings ever. What a mindblow.

  25. 2001 is the best movie the list useless

  26. I’m sure someone said it already, but Kubrick did not direct A.I. Spielberg did.

  27. Is that a picture of a man with alien arms wrapped around him on the page that links to this one? To which of these movies does it refer?

    • The Mist (2007). However the film in not in their list so ergo the pic is click bait.

  28. I think we are all overlooking one of the best movies that had the worst ending. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was brilliant with all sorts of unexpectedly funny twists, but the final twist, where everyone goes to jail was just AWFUL. And then it just ends! Ugh! Double Ugh!

  29. Your observation that Superman’s reversal of Earth’s orbit had the result of “forever changing the mythology” reflects a lack familiarity with Superman canon from the early comics. Despite the obviously unrealistic outcome of reversing events, the technique was used by the Man of Steel on more than one occasion, so it actually represented a continuation of the original mythology, rather than altering it.

    • As silly as it was, the “turning back the earth” isn’t nearly as mythology-scrambling as the “magic forget everything kiss” from Superman 2.

      That kiss is wrong on so many levels…