Every moviegoer has experienced it. You’re watching a movie that’s been thoroughly entertaining through its first two acts, and then completely drops the ball in the third. What causes this disappointment? It could be a sense of build-up that didn’t pay off as intended, an implausible plot twist, or a potentially great concept that loses its focus as the runtime progresses.
There are many reasons why a great movie can be ruined or diminished by a weak ending and it always hurts when you’re let disappointed by a movie’s choices. The hardest part of a story to write is the ending, as it represents the culmination of all that came before it.
Every plot thread and character arc that has been introduced needs some sort resolution or sign of progress by the time the credits start rolling. A movie that is significantly weakened by its third act is like finding a fly in the soup you’re almost finished eating. It doesn’t matter how well it started, the entire experience has been ruined.
Here are the 15 Great Movies Ruined By Terrible Endings
15. War Of The Worlds
While there’s nothing wrong with happy endings, when the level of happiness is simply implausible, there’s a problem. War of the Worlds maintained an understandably dark tone throughout, as it depicts a catastrophic event where millions of people died. Although Justin Chatwin’s character, Robbie, is seemingly blown up early on in the movie, he shows up perfectly fine at the end.
Not only that, but everyone in Boston, the place that was labeled as the safe haven, is almost completely unharmed. Considering the film’s portrayal of countless unflinching deaths, this overly-convenient ending doesn’t fit.
In addition, it removes much of the weight of Robbie’s decision to sacrifice himself, as he’s miraculously saved off-screen. Spielberg certainly loves ending his movies positively, but this goes too far and removes the harsh sense of reality that made the rest of the movie so engaging.
Brave really could’ve been something special, as the strong themes about forging your own destiny are really strong. The film does maintain this message at first, but is thrown out as soon as the protagonist, Merida, meets the witch. She unintentionally turns her mother into a bear and then the plot centers on Merida returning her mother to normal.
The issue here is that the film simultaneously loses focus of both its central themes and its plot. Instead of being about forging your own path regardless of what society dictates, it’s about dealing with bear-mom. Merida’s troubled relationship with her mother was well-established, but never should’ve been the primary focus.
13. Captain America: Civil War
A complete adaptation of the Civil War graphic novel was never going to be possible. Even so, it’s difficult not to be bothered by how neutered this adaptation feels in comparison to its source material. Primarily, the film’s lack of consequences waters down this adaptation.
While characters like Black Widow can seemingly betray anyone and not face retaliation, you’d think other people not named Tony Stark would also be worried about splitting up the Avengers.
Following the showdown between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky, it seems like there’s a clear rift between the heroes. However, Iron Man receives a note from Cap that basically says he’ll always be around to help. What was the point of tearing the Avengers apart when they could so easily forgive each other like that?
12. I Am Legend
I Am Legend‘s ending seems like one that was chosen out of compromise instead of artistic freedom. In this case, it hurts because fans of the original source material know that there could have been a better ending. Will Smith’s character, Robert Neville, captures infected mutants and performs experiments on them in to try to find a cure. This is an important plot thread in the final cut of the movie, but the original ending made it even more essential.
In the movie’s alternate ending, it’s revealed that the mutants attack Neville not because they’re cannibalistic but because they want to rescue one of the mutants he’s holding captive. This adds some moral ambiguity to the film, where neither side is totally right.
The theatrical ending decided to make Neville sacrifice himself to kill the mindless, uninteresting mutants – completely eradicating the depth of the monsters. What’s the point of telling a morally-challenging story if the morally-challenging parts are cut out?
11. Now You See Me
It seems only fitting that a movie about talented magician thieves would have a twist ending. The problem with Now You See Me‘s ending is that it not only feels tacked-on, but it doesn’t make any sense.
Mark Ruffalo’s character, who was the FBI agent that’s been hunting down this magician group, turns out to be the all-knowing leader that’s been guiding them throughout their adventure. Never mind the fact that Ruffalo’s character was in serious danger at multiple points, it’s also unclear how everyone in the FBI failed to recognize his connection with the group.
He may be pretty crafty, but there are limits to people’s suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t help that there were other characters within the plot that would’ve made more sense for this reveal, yet they picked the least plausible character.
10. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 was divisive film for a host of reasons. The Mandarin plot twist and a PTSD-riddled interpretation of Tony Stark surprised many audience members. While these were bold decisions, there were just too many problems with the execution that ruined the entire third act of the movie.
Put simply, the Mandarin twist doesn’t work. It makes sense from a story perspective, but the character was working before the twist. The audience was already on-board with him as a villain. If the twist was played straight, maybe it could’ve worked. Instead, he turns out to just be an obnoxious goofball.
To make matters even worse, the real Mandarin is a character that received no development and has no noteworthy qualities. They took an intimidating, interesting villain, turned him into a joke, and replaced him with a boring, one-note character.
9. Hunger Games Mockingjay: Part II
Sorry, Hunger Games, but the Peeta-Katniss relationship was just never convincing enough. Even though the film consistently reminded the audience that Katniss really cares about Peeta, it never felt genuine. Katniss is constantly pleading for him to be saved in Part I and then spends Part II defending him, even when he got people killed..
The fact that the needed chemistry between the leads never presented itself naturally is the main issue with the movies. In order to make audiences believe that the couple should be together, they should have made Peeta a better character.
Liam Hemsworth’s portrayal of Gale is more of a natural fit for Katniss, but due to his accidental blowing up of Katniss’s sister, he’s taken out of the picture. In the end, Katniss ends up with Peeta not because it’s a natural progression for the story, but because the source material says it must be so.
Horror movies are rarely praised for their narrative, but Sinister was bolstered by Ethan Hawke’s presence and a really creepy atmosphere. It’s just a shame that the movie’s answer for the overarching mystery is not only underwhelming, but implausible.
If all of these horrific acts portrayed in the Super 8 film footage was enacted by children, how did they have the capabilities to carry out the tasks? Ethan Hawke’s 7-year-old daughter in the movie, supposedly incapacitates and butchers the rest of the family with ease. There’s no indication that she’s strong enough to carry out this task, yet she does so with no outside help.
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Everything regarding Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi has been divisive. The film brings up some morally-questionable decisions and makes people realize that he may not be the perfect hero he appeared to be. While we knew he was living in hiding, there seemed to be a clear build up to his eventual big hero moment.
The reveal of Luke force-projecting himself to distract Kylo Ren ends up fulfilling both these expectations, but to minimal effect. Immediately afterwards, Luke collapses and dies without explanation.
If Rian Johnson wanted to kill him off, why didn’t he just have Luke physically show up on Crait? It would’ve been far more effective. Instead, a fan favorite got killed off seemingly because the movie just didn’t know what else to do with him.
6. The Accountant
When this Ben Affleck-led action thriller is working, it works well. However, the ending attempts to treat the unveiling of Jon Bernthal’s character as Affleck’s brother as some big reveal. The majority of observant audience members could see this as a natural conclusion instead of some major, unpredictable twist.
The revelation should’ve been gradually built up to through Bernthal’s character so that the reveal is more of a final confirmation rather than a completely out-of-nowhere realization.
Although it by no means derails the movie entirely, it feels like an unnecessary twist and only ends up hurting the strong pace that the movie had established. This decision in the third act is easily the weakest component of an otherwise greatly entertaining movie.
5. Burn After Reading
Burn After Reading had plenty of issues, but its biggest problem was that it didn’t know how to end. There are certain characters that die in shocking and ultimately pointless ways. This includes Brad Pitt’s character, who was the film’s most entertaining component. J.K Simmons’ character even acknowledges how much of a mess it was, but he then just tells his employees to clean up the situation.
The movie itself never truly reached the typical Coen brothers level of quality, but its third act could’ve been the standout section of the movie. Instead, the ending makes the entire movie feel inconsequential. This makes the overall viewing experience just as unmemorable and disappointing as J.K Simmons’ character feels it is.
From director Andy Muschietti (2017’s It) comes a film that has a great sense of atmosphere. The unseen, monstrous entity keeps the tension high for much of the movie’s runtime. By resisting the urge to show the evil being that’s responsible for the haunting, the film maintains its unpredictability, since you never know what the ghost’s next move will be.
That is until the final act, where it’s completely visible. While at first glance the creature design is terrifying, the movie falters because Mama’s given an unnecessary amount of screen time. This leads to her becoming less and less frightening with every passing minute.
3. No Country For Old Men
There is a clear difference between being ambiguous, and being unwilling to commit. No Country For Old Men is an example of the latter. After Tommy Lee Jones’ character decides to retire from his sheriff position, he gets asked if everything that happened in the story actually happened. His response boils down to meaning you believe what you want to believe.
Now, like Mockingjay, this film has source material that it must respect. Obviously, they can’t stray too far from it but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of adding to it. The way the ending was implemented feels like a cop-out.
This type of ending works for a movie like Life of Pi because the fake story was a coping mechanism for the harsh reality experienced by the main protagonist. Here, it seems more like Tommy Lee Jones’s character is either going senile, or wants to appear more important than he really is. Regardless, this film deserved a better ending.
Savages takes what should have been the real ending and instead turns it into something hypothetical. When it comes to what actually happens in the climactic showdown, it’s far more cartoonish and unsatisfying.
Benicio Del Toro’s character grabs the money and maniacally laughs as he runs away and Salma Hayek conveniently incapable at handling the situation. She ends up getting arrested and thrown in prison. Instead of taking a risk and killing off one of the three leads, they all survive and have a happy ending together.
It seems completely at odds with the harsh realities explored in the rest of the film. It also makes you question why you were so intimidated by the two antagonists when they were uncharacteristically goofy at the most important point in the plot.
1. Law Abiding Citizen
Another movie that was afraid to let the villain win, Law Abiding Citizen took the interesting direction of making the antagonist more sympathetic than the protagonist – although this may have been unintentional. Regardless of the intention, this was another example of the filmmaker’s chance to give audiences a different ending than your average thriller.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, as Gerard Butler’s character loses the battle of wits to Jamie Foxx’s less creative protagonist. The movie makes Butler’s character seemingly impossible to beat, yet he’s bested by someone who’s never shown as an even match.
This robbed the film of its unique qualities so that it would be more audience friendly. Butler’s character is more clearly defined and even more likeable than Jamie Foxx’s, yet Foxx still won. It seems that Foxx won not because he deserved to, but because he’s the protagonist and the bad guy couldn’t win.
Did we miss any great movies that were ruined by terrible endings?
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