The 2010s have seen a lot of memorable, maddening, and mind-blowing film conclusions, but which ones have been the very best movie endings of the decade? As the decade comes to a close, we look back on the greatest movie finales from 2010-2019.
A good movie ending can often make a break a film. So many films have gotten lost when trying to find their way to the finish line, or totally crumbled when attempting to stick the landing, from War of the Worlds to I Am Legend. But at the same time, a great ending can elevate an average film to good and a good movie to the realms of greatness. It’s the final impression you leave an audience with, so it needs to make an impact.
Some of the best movie endings leave things on an ambiguous note, while others deliver a much greater sense of finality, and more still - especially in a Hollywood driven by sequels - end with teases of what’s to come. But what the best movie endings have in common are the feelings they elicit, capable of leaving us racing to the internet to discuss what they mean, or simply too stunned (and emotional) to even process what’s just happened. These are the 20 best movie endings of the decade.
20. Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name is a solid movie bolstered by the lead performance of Timotheé Chalamet, but the biggest criticism is that it lacks passion. That’s what helps make Call Me By Your Name's ending such a stirring note to go out on, as Michael Stuhlberg’s Mr Perlman gives a heartfelt, fatherly speech about love and romance. It’s not just a loving, tender moment, but accompanied by the fire-lit shot of a tearful Chalamet, one that succeeds in wrenching at the heart-strings and imprinting itself on your memory.
19. The Social Network
The Social Network, which has only aged better with each passing year this decade, brings things home to a powerful conclusion with the fate of Mark Zuckerberg. The epilogue might tell us about how much money he has and that he's the youngest self-made billionaire in the world, but it's the sad shot of Zuckerberg refreshing the page to see if Erica will reply that holds the real key: for all the money he has made and the millions (now billions) of people he has connected, it hasn't stopped him from being lonely. Somehow, The Social Network finds a real sense of pathos in its ending.
From the very first trailer for Logan, it was clear this movie was going to hurt. We just didn't know how much. The ending finds Wolverine making his last stand in a ferocious, feral battle, but the movie ensures to find time for a quieter, more poignant send-off. Logan uses his final breaths to ensure that Laura doesn't become like him, turning his ending into a brighter future. As she tearfully calls him her father and, with the rest of the group, buries him under a makeshift 'X', it makes Logan's ending a devastating climax to a bleak movie, but crucially tinged with hope.
Throughout Drive's runtime, it feels like it'll be almost impossible for Ryan Gosling's protagonist to make it out alive. There's too much violence and destruction around him, and the best you and he can hope is that he's able to do some good first. He achieves that, ensuring the safety of Irene and Benicio, but it would've been a betrayal of the movie to give all three of them a happy ending. Nonetheless, Drive's ending finds a way of almost doing that while staying true to itself. As the Driver speeds off, a stab wound in his stomach and having just killed Bernie, we don't know if he'll live or die - or rather, how long he lived for - but we know that regardless, he was able to do the right thing.
16. Ex Machina
Alex Garland announced himself as a visionary director with Ex Machina, a sci-fi that punched well above its weight, and its ending is the kind to send the internet into a frenzy as to what it all means. Ava (Alicia Vikandar) is able to kill Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and plan her escape with the help of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), but Caleb himself is left behind. As Ava departs, Caleb screaming at the window, it's not just a blurring of the lines between robot and human, but a foreboding commentary on artificial intelligence and life itself. As Ava blends into the crowds, Ex Machina tells us that we're all going to be replaced. It's not a warning, just a fact, and all the more powerful for it.
After Ex Machina, fans might've had an idea of what to expect from Alex Garland, and especially the ending of one of his movies. Then came Annihilation. It's a movie that defies description, and an ending that no explanation can do justice too; it simply demands to be seen. Annihilation's ending is a daring, dazzling conclusion that boggles the mind, and while the showdown between the two Lenas or the following reunion between Lena and Kane leave no easy answers, it does leave a big impression, and the kind of movie ending you just can't stop thinking about.
14. Toy Story 4
Toy Story 3 is among the most emotional endings of the decade, so it speaks volumes to the power of Pixar that Toy Story 4's manages to outdo it. Toy Story 3 delivers a tear-jerking conclusion to Woody's time with Andy, but Toy Story 4's ending wraps-up Woody's entire story as a toy to be played with by one owner. It brings his and Buzz's relationship - the real crux of the franchise, rather than Woody and Andy - to a heartfelt close that feels true to who they are. It's open-ended in the sense Woody will go on to have more adventures, but it's also allowing him a sense of closure. He doesn't have a kid to worry about; he can, for the first time, just be free.
13. The Florida Project
The Florida Project strikes an astonishing balance: it finds the humor, the heart, and the horror in America, all in the shadow of The Happiest Place on Earth. It's set up for the ending to be incredibly tragic, with the authorities ready to take Moonee away, but then it flips the switch. This is about how children can stay so strong and happy despite the awful things going on around them, and in two friends running away to Disneyland, it's true to the carefree spirit and strength of childhood.
12. The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises has its flaws, but as a conclusion to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy it could hardly be more fitting. Batman gets to save the day one last time, believed to be dead but going out as Gotham's hero. John Blake discovers the Batcave, suggesting a Batman legacy we need to feel, but don't need to see. And for Bruce, he finally gets to rest and live the rest of his life, unburdened by being Batman, knowing Gotham doesn't need him as a hero anymore.
11. Avengers: Infinity War
It was always likely that Avengers: Infinity War would have to end either with the Snap or right on the precipice of it. But for a Marvel Studios movie, a big chunk of whose audience is kids, to go through with it to such an extent is quite remarkable. The heroes turn to dust one-by-one, each paying off multiple character arcs and bringing their own devastation (none more so than Spider-Man). Logically, we know they're coming back, but in the moment of Avengers: Infinity War's ending you're too shell-shocked to care about that, and it guaranteed fans would be back for more.
10. Before Midnight
Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy is among the most perfect movie trios ever made, and in Before Midnight the near 20-year relationship between Jesse and Celine finds a maturity that is about as true to life as a movie can get. It's touching, loving, and funny, but also makes it clear that moving forward is going to be incredibly difficult. Before Midnight's triumph in this poignant goodbye is that it leaves you uncertain (yet hopeful) things will work out, but knowing that they're really going to try.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an anthology movie that puts the emphasis squarely on the second part of the Star Wars title, but it'll be best remembered for what happens in its final five minutes. When Darth Vader boards that Rebel ship, Rogue One gives Star Wars fans something they'd wanted to see for almost forty years: Darth Vader the monster; the Force fully unleashed. It's a breathtaking sequence, and the despair it brings is balanced by the arrival of Princess Leia and the core theme of the franchise: hope.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger/Avengers: Endgame
Although these are two separate movies released eight years (and many more films) apart, the two endings are intrinsically linked and inform (and strengthen) one another. In Captain America: The First Avenger, we have the stunning moment that Steve Rogers arrives in the future, sadly stating that he had a date. In Avengers: Endgame, after becoming one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known, he's allowed to keep his promise. Both rely on each other, and if you thought Avengers: Infinity War's ending was bold, then consider that Avengers: Endgame ends on a dance, and it's one of the MCU's greatest moments.
Arrival is Denis Villeneuve's big, beautiful, and thoughtful sci-fi, so it should be no surprise that Arrival's ending follows suit. Through Louise Banks (Amy Adams) a war is averted, in an ending that speaks to the incredible power of communication. But there's a final twist in the tale, with Banks committing to a future with Donnelly despite knowing where it will lead to, because ultimately, love is worth the pain.
6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
There are lots of criticisms of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, many valid and some decidedly less so, but its ending is one of the saga’s very best. In Luke Skywalker, we have the culmination of a 40-year hero’s journey; a story that loops full circle, back to the twin sunset, the farm boy now the saviour of the galaxy. In Rey leading the Resistance, a new hero is born, perhaps to take on the next 40-years. And with Broom Boy, The Last Jedi conjures up a coda that strikes back to the very heart of what Star Wars has always been about: just a regular kid, looking up at the stars and daring to dream of bigger things.
Carol's story of forbidden love makes for a swooning, heart-soaring period drama, but for a moment it looks like it's not going to get a happy ending. This was 1950s America, so of course a lesbian romance wasn't going to work out. But then Therese goes to the restaurant, her eyes meet Carol's, and Cate Blanchett smiles that smile, and suddenly you can find yourself believing in love again. Carol doesn't get the appreciation it deserves, and its ending is earned, optimistic, and simply gorgeous to watch.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 is an epic, ambitious sci-fi filled with incredible visuals and grand questions, but at its core, it's a love story: that of K and Joi, and in turn Deckard and Rachael. The ending, in particular, brings this home: in K's sacrifice to lead Deckard to his daughter, he chooses to believe in himself, his ability to make choices, and love. Deckard's ending, too, doesn't fully answer if he's a replicant or not, but it doesn't matter: whatever he is, he's finally free, and can build a relationship with his daughter. It's the miracle of life and love, and for a movie about artificial intelligence, Blade Runner 2049's ending is tragically, beautifully human.
Whiplash is a rather intense movie across its entire runtime, but the preceding 100 minutes feel like a stroll in the park compared to the final six, where a drum solo becomes almost like a horror movie in terms of the palpable tension and sense of claustrophobia. With Miles Teller’s Neiman drumming for his life, consequences be damned, and J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher pushing him all the way, it’s the harrowing apex of Damien Chazelle's study of how far we’ll go to pursue our dreams. There have been few moments in cinema this decade capable of making the audience sweat like the ending of Whiplash. It’s exactly our tempo.
2. La La Land
From one Chazelle movie to another (of course, the man who made First Man knows a thing or two about sticking the landing), La La Land’s ending substitutes intensity for something even harder to watch: beautiful heartbreak. After a sumptuous dance through the Golden Age that suggests Mia and Sebastian are going to have the happy ending together we so desperately desire, Chazelle brings us crashing back to Earth. There are no words necessary; all it takes is a shared look, a wry smile, and a simple nod. In those moments, La La Land perfectly conveys lost love, what-could-have-been, and yet, a shared happiness in that both got what they wanted: it’s a jazz-fuelled tribute to the fools who dream.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception was a game-changer in many ways: from that Hans Zimmer score to the astonishing effects and twisty plot, it threw down the gauntlet for all blockbusters this decade (none have topped it so far). But its ending...even for a movie about dreams within dreams within dreams, Inception’s ending is almost beyond belief. Following the mission, Cobb gets his wish of being able to go home to his kids. Or does he?
The spinning top might fall, or it might not. As the top keeps spinning, Cobb keeps watching, and we’re forced to leave this behind, it’s a feeling of waking up from a dream you so desperately want to stay in. Did it really happen? What did it mean? To this day, Inception’s ending remains the subject of heated debate and online explanations, but the ambiguity is the point. Inception’s finale doesn’t give us one ending, but multiple; it basically Inceptions itself. It’s not just the best movie ending of the decade, it’s the movie ending of the decade.