Final scenes aren’t exactly easy. They’re expected to sum up an entire film, and prove to audiences that the time that they invested in the movie was worthwhile. As these scenes play out, it becomes abundantly clear that they are trying to prove a point. Sometimes, they’re trying to provide meaning and end the film on a note that gives viewers a sense of closure. At other times, they work towards avoiding any sense of closure, instead choosing to redefine the film that viewers have just witnessed.
This is a list of final scenes, which means it contains some of the best films ever made. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, many of the best films of all time also happen to have great endings. Still, there are some films on this list that would not be obvious inclusions on most “best of” lists. Endings can be shocking or comforting, bizarre or wonderful. Every entry on this list stands out. These are endings that work toward something. They succeed in what they attempt to do, and they do so without compromising on their ambitions. Endings can make or break a movie. They’re important. They're the 20 Best Final Movie Scenes of All Time.View article on one page
Pulp Fiction’s ending is a tense confrontation that actually occurs in the middle of its chronological story. Jules has just decided that he’s looking for redemption, but he ends up in the middle of a diner robbery that immediately tests his newfound holiness. As the scene unfolds, we can feel the incredible tension that Tarantino has infused the scene with. Jules and Vincent are violent men, and these diner robbers are absolutely in over their heads. What remains to be seen is whether everyone will make it out alive.
In the end, tensions are diffused, largely because of Jules’s spiritual awakening. Pulp Fiction’s ending is brilliant precisely because it leaves so much uncertain. The film ends, even though we’re well aware of the fact that Vincent will go on to die in a later scene, and we still have no idea what’s in the case. That’s the point. Pulp Fiction purposefully avoids ascribing meaning to its scene, and its ending reinforces that idea.
Casablanca is about unrequited love, and its ending reinforces those ideas. As Rick send Ilsa off, knowing he’ll probably never see her again, he’s not overly sentimental. Instead, he sends her off without much fuss. Afterwards, when it looks like Rick has doomed himself to save his lover and her husband, he finds help in the form of Louis Renault, the local police captain, who covers for Rick after he shoots a German officer.
As the pair walk off into the distance, they discuss their plans for the future. “Louis,” Rick says, “I think is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It’s a poignant and perfect ending, one that’s allowed Casablanca to endure to this day. It’s surprisingly restrained, the kind of movie that chooses to end on a note of clever dialogue that is perfectly true to character. Rick isn’t horribly sentimental, and that’s part of the reason we love him so.
18The Usual Suspects
One of cinema’s greatest twists unfolds as The Usual Suspects comes to an end. Keyser Soze, the horrifying villain at the center of the mystery that is unfolding in front of our eyes, is actually Verbal Kint, the mild mannered man who has been questioned throughout the film. What’s fascinating about this ending is what it does for the story that’s been told thus far. It singlehandedly erases everything, suggesting that the story that Verbal has been telling was a completely fabricated one.
The twist is masterfully executed, using its medium to bring together all of the disparate elements of Verbal Kint’s story. As the detective realizes who he’s just released from custody, he simultaneously understands that it’s too late. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” says Verbal. He proves it at the end of the movie, having convincingly put on an act for 90 minutes of interrogation and then disappeared. He became nothing more than a face in the crowd.
Another twist ending, Memento’s final moments cast a cloud over the character at its center. Lenny, the hero of our story, is a man who can’t remember things that happened to him just ten minutes before. This means, of course, that he can’t remember where he is or what he’s done. If something’s important, if there’s a truth that Lenny wants to make sure he never forgets, he tattoos it on his body. He’s hunting for his wife’s killer, but really, he’s already found them.
The ending of Memento reveals that Lenny has been lying to himself. He doesn’t remember that he’s lied, and so he accepts these lies as the absolute truth. Really, it’s something that everyone has done. Lenny tells himself lies to give himself purpose. They get him through the day. They allow him to kill without remorse, even though the criminal who attacked his wife is long gone. They allow him to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. His lies are what he’s formed his identity around. If he removed them, what would be left?