There are a handful of cliched endings that never fail to satisfy audiences: the guy and gal live happily ever after, the hero saves the world, the characters find happiness. These types of endings appear in the majority of films made today, and as long as the story is well crafted, these predictable endings can still feel earned. So it's a shame that when filmmakers try something different for a change they often find their audiences unreceptive.
We're looking at movie endings that mainstream audiences either disliked during the film's initial release, or continue to dislike today. This can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe the ending was too upsetting or ambiguous. Or maybe the story took an unexpected turn toward another genre. But the underlying reason seems to be that audience don't like endings that offer questions instead of answers. However, we believe that under closer examination these films earned their endings despite being rejected by mainstream movie-goers.
Here are 15 Amazing Movie Endings That Audiences Totally Hated.
15 The Shining
This 1980 horror epic is based on one of Stephen King's most notable works. But much to the chagrin of the author, and many fans of the source material, director Stanley Kubrick changed multiple aspects of the story, especially the ending. In the novel, Jack Torrence is destroyed along with the hotel after failing to vent the hotel's unstable boiler. However, in Kubrick's film Jack freezes to death while chasing his son through the hedge maze. The final shot of the film moves in on a photo hanging in the lobby of the Overlook Hotel from a party in 1921, which somehow features Jack Torrance as an attendee. After all, the ghostly butler Grady tells Jack that "You're the caretaker, sir. You've always been the caretaker".
So was Jack reincarnated? Or has he been absorbed into the history of the hotel after his death?
Stanley Kubrick never provided an answer and The Shining is just as puzzling today as it was at the time of its release. The film has even inspired a documentary, titled Room 237, which tries to unravel the many mysteries of The Shining and the eccentric director who crafted it. While the ending left many feeling like they had missed something, it remains a great ending to a horror masterpiece simply because these unanswered questions drive the viewer mad. And unlike the novel which was mostly about ghosts, Kubrick's film is ultimately about maddens.
14 The Thing
Before it developed a cult following and was receiving shout-outs in Stranger Things, The Thing was largely considered a failure following its release. The movie was in theaters up against E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Blade Runner, which both out-performed The Thing, week after week. Meanwhile, critics touted The Thing as a gross-out feature void of an emotional core. And the ending-- which finds characters MacReady and Childs as the only two possible survivors of the alien organism-- was also considered exceedingly bleak. John Carpenter even shot an alternate ending, which featured MacReady being rescued and administered a blood test that proves he isn't an alien. Fortunately, the director went with his gut, much to the disapproval of test audiences, and kept the original downbeat ending instead.
The rare thing about The Thing is that it doesn't promise audiences anything. There's no family MacReady is trying to desperately get home to. There's no love story where the characters need to make it out alive so they can live happily ever after. The film is simply about a group of scientists trying to survive against the unknown. And when one experiment after the next seems to make matters worse and worse, the two survivors are too tired to fight any longer and decide to share a bottle of booze together instead. Can you blame them?
This David Fincher film punched audiences in the gut by providing an extremely dark ending to an already disturbing film. Sure, the killer may die by the end of the movie, but any sort of satisfaction goes out the window when a box is delivered to the scene containing the head of Detective Mills' wife. This was a little too much for many audiences to handle, as the ending no doubt leaves you feeling dirty for days.
However, Se7en is a grim story from its first scene, and if the killer had simply been brought to justice by the end it would've felt disingenuous to the rest of the story. Brad Pitt, who plays Detective Mills, even took the role under the condition that the head stayed in the box, so to speak. And although it is extremely upsetting, the ending succeeds in catching the audience totally by surprise while still making sense of the previous scenes. For instance, when the killer turns himself in he is covered in unknown blood, Detective Mills has been too busy working the case to go home and see his wife, and the detectives are finally made a part of the killers master plan, as opposed to just being spectators. The ending of Se7en may be disheartening, but it's certainly not forgettable.
12 Donnie Darko
From the beginning of Donnie Darko audiences are promised that the world is going to end, but when the countdown is finally complete the story simply resets itself. It then goes back to the beginning and Donnie seems to be the only person to fully recollect the events we've watched unfold. However, this time around Donnie opts to stay in his room, knowing full well that a jet engine will come crashing through the roof and kill him. The ending leaves us with a pile of questions and no obvious answers. So what is Donnie Darko ultimately about? Even the director has admitted that he doesn't fully understand every aspect of this puzzling movie. Many audience members have gotten wrapped up in trying to unravel the timeline, but it's possible the film simply uses time travel to make a point about fear, love, and the unknown.
In one scene, Donnie agrees that fear and love are the two strongest human emotions, but that life isn't that simple. Later, he admits that he doesn't want to live since everyone ends up dying alone anyway. However, by the end of the movie Donnie laughs and accepts that he is going to die alone. He has overcome the fear which has plagued him the entire film up until that point. Of course, there's a ton of questions that Donnie Darko leaves unanswered, which is what turned the film into the cult classic that it is today.
11 The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods was without a doubt a movie made for horror lovers, and the more horror movies you've seen the more likely you are to love the ending of this film. Which means that a lot of casual film-goers were left scratching their heads at the end of this 2012 horror comedy.
The film takes aim at the typical horror movie tropes and follows a group of technicians who are overseeing the slaughter of a group of college kids vacationing in the woods. The end of the movie revealed that these technicians weren't just murdering the kids for the sport of it; they were trying to please the Ancient Ones-- malevolent beings that live beneath the surface of the earth. For many audiences members, this was a stretch too far. However, the ending succeeds by humorously trying to give a reason for the ridiculous deaths we see time and time again in horror movies. The film ends with college students Dana and Marty deciding that humanity isn't worth saving. They accept their death at the hands of the Ancient Ones, and toke a joint.
This 2003 South Korean film follows Oh Dae-su, a businessman who is imprisoned in a room for 15 brutal years for reasons unknown. When he finally is released, Oh Dau-su is given five days to find out why he was being held captive. The grisly film ends with his captor revealing that he has tricked Oh Dae-su into falling in love and sleeping with his own daughter and that the 15 years of imprisonment was simply to allow Oh Dae-su's daughter to become a woman.
We admit that the ending to Oldboy is extremely depraved, and the film as a whole can be emotionally draining for many. But we also have to acknowledge that Oldboy takes the revenge plot to new heights (or should we say depths?). Somehow, director Chan-Wook Park turns 15 years of imprisonment into a set-up for an even crueler act of revenge. And just when we think that Oh Dae-su has found someone he can live happily with, we discover that she's actually his daughter. However, Oldboy isn't just depraved for the sake of shocking its audiences. The film tells a real story about how much humans can endure. What's even more disturbing is that Oh Dae-su opts to have his memory erased at the end of the film so he can continue to live happily with his daughter. But the audience is left wondering if the hypnosis has worked at all.
9 Mulholland Dr.
David Lynch is known for making movies that delve deep into his characters' psyches, which often leaves his audiences in a stupor. With Mulholland Dr. it almost seemed like Lynch was going to give us a dreamy, yet easily comprehensible story about a Hollywood hopeful, Betty, who gets involved with an amnesiac woman. But things quickly take a a turn for the confusing when the perky Betty wakes up as Diane Selwyn, a failed actress weighed down with jealousy and guilt.
So was the whole thing a dream? Did the first three quarters of the story never take place? Many audiences who won't give Mulholland Dr. much consideration beyond an initial viewing will miss a lot of what this intoxicating story has to offer. This David Lynch masterpiece demands multiple viewings to fully be appreciated. Though some aspects of the story never fully connect, the overall story seems to be that Diane has created an alternate life for herself in her head, in which she's on the verge of becoming a successful actress while falling in love with her crush. This revelation can be totally lost on audience members who don't like to analyze a film long after it's ended, which would understandably make Mulholland Dr. a puzzling movie-going experience.
8 Requiem for a Dream
Many people believe that anything that onscreen becomes glorified-- whether it be violence, war, or drug use. Apparently, those people have never seen a Darren Aronofsky movie. The ending of his 2000 film Requiem for a Dream isn't just upsetting, it's also nauseating. The film follows four individuals whose lives spiral out of control due to their drug addictions. By the end one character has lost their arm, one is imprisoned, one ends up in a psychiatric hospital, and the last ends up selling her body to continue to buy drugs. The film doesn't offer the slightest glimmer of hope, and many have vowed to never watch it again.
While we agree that the film is hard to stomach, we also think that the ending is a brilliant achievement in filmmaking. When the characters all find themselves hitting rock bottom, a montage cuts between each character as their lives spiral downward. The shots becoming shorter and shorter and the ominous soundtrack goes louder until your watching an endless blur of unsettling images. After all, a film about heroin and amphetamine addiction shouldn't have an unrealistic happy ending. And we can't help think that if they just showed this film in high school health classes they could dissuade everyone from ever getting hooked on hard drugs.
This 2007 science fiction thriller was directed by Danny Boyle, who reinvented the zombie genre five years earlier with 28 Days Later. Sunshine centers around the crew of the Icarus II who are sent on a mission to reignite the dying sun and save the human race. As they approach the dying star, carrying a bomb with a mass equivalent of the island of Manhattan, they receive a distress call from the Icarus I-- the first ship to attempt the same mission which disappeared seven years prior.
Sunshine was influenced by films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien, but Sunshine didn't share the same amount of success as those films and even failed to make back its budget at the box office. Audiences were disappointed with the film's third act, which finds the captain from the Icarus I still alive and attempting to murder the new crew members. Many thought the shift in tone from sci-fi thriller to slasher-horror came out of nowhere. However, the sudden twist provided a platform to discuss human selfishness versus selflessness. Captain Pinbacker wants to murder the crew and let humanity die-- he dreams of being the last human alive. Meanwhile, the remaining crew of the Icarus II has not yet been possessed by the power of the sun, and they are prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to save the human race. In the end, it's their selflessness that prevails.
6 The Mist
The Mist is a 2007 sci-fi horror film based on a novella by Stephen King. The film was directed by Frank Darabont, who previously adapted two of King's other stories, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. The Mist follows a groups of people holed up in a supermarket when a thick blanket of mist covers the town, concealing otherworldly monsters.
The film ends with David Drayton driving his son and three other survivors out of town. But when they fail to escape the mist the group decides to commit suicide together and spare themselves from death at the hands of the monster. David kills everyone in the car, including his young son. Out of bullets, David hopes that one of the beasts will put him out of his misery. However, he tragically discovers that the U.S. Army has retaken the area and that he murdered his son and fellow survivors for nothing. The ending of The Mist is definitely a bummer, so it's easy to see why audiences would be turned off by it. However, by having the characters opt to die moments before they could've been rescued, the film tells us more about the importance of keeping hope alive than if the characters had simply been saved. The ending was altered from King's novella, where the fate of the characters was left unknown. But in this case, King was actually satisfied with the new ending.
5 Night of the Living Dead
Before Night of the Living Dead, horror movies were synonymous with Sunday matinees that parents could drop their children off to. But George A. Romero's zombie epic took the horror genre out of the world of the fantastical and held a mirror up to the real horrors of mankind.
After Ben survives one zombie attack after the next, he is awoken from inside the farm house the following morning to the sound of gunfire. Ben is mistaken for one of the zombies and shot and killed. The film ends with Ben's body being thrown onto a bonfire amongst the dispatched zombies. The ending was extremely grim and nihilistic for a movie released in the 1960s, and much of the audience felt cheated after the supposed hero is killed so anti-climactically by a redneck posse. The character of Ben was played by Duane Jones, an African American actor at a time when Black people were almost never cast in leading roles. It's possible that Romero was making a cultural statement about civil rights at the end of the film. After all, the nature of his zombies attempted to show that sometimes terrible things happen without any rhyme or reason, but their pernicious effects can plague an entire country.
4 American Psycho
The ending of this 2000 horror satire keeps the audience wondering if Patrick Bateman really murdered anyone at all. When Patrick returns to an apartment building where he's stashed a number of dead bodies, he finds the place pristinely cleaned and up for sale. Furthermore, everyone who he tries to confess to thinks he's telling a joke and his secretary, Jean, finds drawings of murder and mutilation in Patrick's notebook. So did the murders we had been watching for the past hour and a half actually take place? A lot of audience members were unhappy that this rather important question is never fully answered at the end of American Psycho.
While the author of the original source material has said that if the murders never took place, there would be no point to the book, the ending of the film leans more toward the murders being a manifestation of Bateman's deranged fantasies. The debate continues, but the real point of the film is not about Patrick getting caught for his murders, it's meant to highlight the shallowness of Bateman's world, and how the super rich will continue to evade punishment for their crimes. If the ending simply had Patrick being taken into custody, it would just turn into another film about a serial killer being brought to justice.
3 Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation follows Bob Harris, an aging movie star who's going through a mid-life crisis. While Bob is in Tokyo to film an advertisement he meets Charlotte, a young college graduate who feels detached from her relationship. The two grow close and bond over their rocky marriages and feelings of isolation while stuck in Tokyo. After sharing an awkward goodbye, Bob spots Charlotte walking down the street while on his way to the airport. Bob gets out of the cab and chases after her. The two embrace and Bob whispers something into Charlotte's ear that is too quiet for the audience to hear. They kiss and exchange their final goodbyes.
So does Bob tell Charlotte he loves her? Say they'll meet again? Or say goodbye forever? Go ahead, turn the volume up on your TV as loud as you want to. We've tried and we still can't make out what Bob whispers.
Many audience members felt cheated, and that they had invested an hour and a half into the couple's relationship without ever knowing if the two would see each other again. While we certainly wish that the two are able to find happiness, it seems unlikely that these two would be able to make a relationship work back in the real world. Instead, Lost in Translation seeks to explore what people can mean to one another in a specific time and place, even if those two people never get to see each other again.
So is that top still spinning? This film may have come out in 2010, but for many the debate rages on as to whether Cobb is awake or still dreaming at the end of Inception.
Director Christopher Nolan has a knack for leaving his audiences guessing. Does Leonard ever find peace over his wife's murder in Memento? Does Bruce Wayne simply retire as Batman at the end of The Dark Knight Rises? Christopher Nolan is easily the most mainstream director on this list, so it's pretty impressive that he can get away with making blockbusters that don't always give the audience a satisfying ending.
But in the case of Inception, we're pretty sure the point of the ending isn't whether Cobb is dreaming or awake. Cobb sees his kids' faces for the first time in the film, and whatever his state may be, the character has overcome the emotional hurdle that he felt responsible for his wife's death. If the top had simply fallen we would've known that Cobb made it home, but that would've taken the focus off the character who has overcome his paranoia of whether or not he's dreaming. It's also massively impressive how Nolan could keep audiences completely breathless while simply watching a top spin on a table.
1 No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men starts off as your typical western. There's the sheriff, the outlaw, and the unsuspecting citizen who ends up with a satchel of stolen money. The film is a white-knuckle cat-and-mouse thriller that had audiences glued to their seats for the first two-thirds of the film. But even though No Country won Best Picture of the Year and was praised by critics, many audiences felt the anti-climactic, cut-to-black ending was a massive let down. Instead of leading to an ultimate duel between the hero and the villain, the man character is actually killed off-screen, and while the bad guy gets away with the money the story refocuses on the aging sheriff, Ed Tom Bell.
The now retired sheriff struggles to accepting his old age and during the final scene of the film he recounts two dreams he had about his father. Then the film simply cuts to black leaving the audience to decipher his dreams and the overall meaning of the film. While each audience member will have their own ideas about what the story is trying to tell us, the ending succeeds in deconstructing a typical film structure. Just because we're accustomed to a final shoot-out doesn't mean we should expect one. Instead the film hones in on one of it's primary messages: that life doesn't get easier the older you get. Sorry, guys.
So did we fail to convince you that these endings are actually great? Let us know where we went wrong!