There are tons of movies out there that leave their audiences feeling happily entertained as they walk out the cinema, satisfied with two hours of money and time well-spent. Films that have the tried-and-tested formula of the underdog getting the girl, the bad guy getting his bones beat, an abandoned alien returning to his home planet, or a ring destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.
All these end the movie with a neat little bow of good vibes and happily-ever-afters. Then, you’ve got the other movies that go down a slightly different road… one meant to shock, upset, or keep their audiences up at night – a filmic conclusion that has its viewers discussing even decades after its release.
That’s not to say that these sorts of endings are by any means “bad” (though some, just plain and simply, are), but rather consist of debatable ambiguity or sensitive issues often left uncontested. While creating quite the stir among audiences, they’ve also managed to become some of the most memorable finales in cinema history.
From unnecessary character deaths to abrupt, infuriating cut-to-blacks, here are the 15 Most Controversial Movie Endings Of All Time. Of course spoilers abound, so you’ve been warned.
15. Man Of Steel
Man of Steel was the first mark of hard times for Zack Snyder and the DC Cinematic Universe, garnering a wave of rage and disappointment among die-hard Superman fans.
The first installment of the expanded universe, Man of Steel was a reboot of the previous Superman movies, fixating on the legendary character’s origin story and how he came to be the superhero Metropolis knows today.
While chock-full of action-packed battle scenes and a decent portrayal by Henry Caville, long-time fans of the character were up in arms at the final climactic scene between Superman and General Zod, during which Superman snaps his neck, killing him.
14. Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is praised as one of science fiction’s most influential movies, rich in its stylistic visuals and complex themes of humanity.
Set in a dystopian future, artificial humans – known as “replicants” — have been produced to slave away off-world colonies. When four illegally return to earth, a “Replicant Hunter” named Rick Deckard is forced to track them down and kill them, though eventually falls in love with a replicant woman named Rachael.
While the original cinematic ending was a happy one, showing Deckard and Rachael driving off in to the sunset of happily-ever-after (kind of ), the director’s cut added a bleak implication: that Deckard is a replicant himself.
Ridley Scott admitted to wanting more transparency with this – though his idea was contested by others working with him (including Harrison Ford himself), and thus opted for a bit more ambiguity on the detail.
The 1997 James Cameron classic was a box office and critical hit for its brilliant direction, breathtaking visuals, and having created one of the most iconic romantic couples of all time: Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson.
While providing audiences with an all-around, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of star-crossed romance and historical destruction, if there’s one thing many of us just can’t get over, it’s that darn ending where Jack freezes to death in the ice-cold sea, as Rose survives afloat on a piece of wooden debris among the Titanic’s ruins.
The scene caused wild disputes among fans over how there must’ve been room on that piece of wood for Jack to fit – and even Mythbusters demonstrated how this would have been well possible.
12. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece of a film franchise provided not only the false hope of future, well-made DC movies, but also an ambiguous finale for Batman fans to fervidly debate over.
At the end of The Dark Knight Rises, Batman saves Gotham City from the detonation of an atomic bomb, carrying it over the bay with his Batplane, where it ultimately explodes.
While “Batman” is pronounced dead, Alfred later catches a glimpse of Bruce Wayne, alive and well – brunching it up with Selina Kyle at a random café. We learn that he had actually turned his plane on auto-pilot, ejecting himself from the vehicle before the bomb’s explosion.
Some fans have argued that Alfred’s vision was more of a dream-like sequence or wishful thinking, stating that there was no way Wayne could have escaped his plane in time.
11. Monty Python: Life Of Brian
For those in a loving relationship with the comedy movie genre, it’s near-impossible to not have heard of the words “Monty Python” at least once.
The classic British comedy group, who have appropriately dubbed themselves “The Pythons,” have generated goofs and gaffs across the pop culture sphere for decades, though none have caused quite the religious uproar like their 1979 debut of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
The film, which revolves around an ordinary man named Brian mistakenly taken for the Messiah, sparked outrage among audiences for their mockery of Christian themes. Specifically the film’s now-iconic finale in which Brian, on a cross next to other Crucifixion victims, sing the Monty Python original, “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”.
10. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko’s that weird, indie movie your edgy hipster friend has probably recommended once or twice. It’s the one with the guy in the creepy Halloween bunny suit, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a film as strange as it seems.
Dabbling in a whole bunch of science fiction concepts – from time loops to what’s termed as the “Tangent Universe” – the movie has left a whole lot of viewers fumbling for answers, mainly due to the fact that a lot of these ideas weren’t clearly explained in the film.
After a mish-mash of seemingly random, mysterious events that involve Donnie having to prevent a jet engine from crashing into his home – killing himself in the process – the movie concludes with the rest of the characters wondering if they’ve just woken up from some strange dream.
9. The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is a simple movie centering on three student filmmakers, who set about on a journey to catch the fabled “Blair Witch” — a mysterious local entity haunting the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland.
As the trio venture further into a terrifying journey of strange findings, getting lost in their forested surroundings and suffering severe mental breakdowns, they discover that one of their members is missing. The remaining two end up in run-down abandoned house an attempt to search for their friend.
However, the movie abruptly ends as we see one of film’s leads facing a corner, while an unseen force attacks the person behind the camera, causing it to fall and eventually cut off.
8. The Grey
With Liam Neeson as the starring lead Ottway, The Grey focuses on a group of oil-men, stranded in the snowy hell of the Alaskan wilderness after surviving a plane crash. Neeson and co. are left to not only fight against the unrelenting forces of nature, but a pack of bloodthirsty grey wolves to boot.
The film then goes on a thrilling roller-coaster ride of grisly survival and bleak character deaths, until Ottway is the last man standing. Arming himelf with a knife and shards of glass, he prepares to face off an entire pack of wolves that surround him.
The movie then makes the utterly abrupt decision to end right then and there. Cut to black — no bloody wolf fight, no Neeson in some Taken-style action. While many appreciated the film’s somewhat poetic conclusion, others were simply vexed by the lack of a satisfying, resolving battle.
7. Planet Of The Apes
Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes disastrous reboot in 2001 featured Mark Wahlberg accidentally travelling to the year 5021 (why this far into the future, we aren’t sure), to a planet run entirely by human-enslaving apes who speak English.
During his time in this strange world, he works as the slave of a Senator, falls in love with a chimpanzee played by Helena Bonham Carter, and battles the evil General Thade – the ape responsible for the capture of human servants.
Eventually, Wahlberg finds a way back to Earth and returns to his timeline. Only it isn’t really his timeline – because the Lincoln Memorial is replaced by a monument of General Thade. As police officers and news reporters surround him, he realizes that they, too, have been replaced by apes.
6. The Mist
This 2007 Stephen King cinematic adaptation features a family in their struggle for survival as a mysterious mist shrouds the streets of their town, unleashing large, other-worldly creatures to prey on the helpless living.
The film takes its audience on a wild ride of suspense and “horrible things pouncing on people,” as Roger Ebert puts it. The severe and utter frustration of most viewers, however, peaks during the movie’s final moments, where our leading man, Dave, mercy-shoots his entire survival group in an attempt to prevent them from enduring the horrid death of a monster attack.
Left without a bullet to use on himself, Dave waits for his own inevitable death, only to be met with a rescue team just seconds later.
5. The Devil Inside
We’re pretty sure no other horror movie had the gall to infuriate audiences more than William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside.
Taking on the now-cliché form of a found-footage movie, our main character Isabella Rossi is determined to investigate the criminal case surrounding her mother – a victim of a demonic possession leading her to murder three innocent people.
While documenting various exorcism cases, Rossi winds up getting possessed herself. Her companions drive her off to search for help, though she ends up attacking one of them, causing the car to crash.
As the movie’s most climactic moment, you’d think we’d have some sort of epic, exorcism-related payoff — but nope. Instead, a title card appears on screen, directing audiences to a website to learn more about the “unresolved” case.
Passengers focuses on a man named Jim Preston, who wakes up 90 years too soon in a starship hibernation pod – bound for another planet with thousands of other sleeping passengers. Desperate for companionship, he awakens a female passenger named Aurora Lane.
The two eventually fall in love and all is good and well – until Aurora discovers that Jim had purposefully tinkered with her pod to wake her. Conflict arises between the two, until they realize the ship is suffering from multiple system failures.
Long story short – they manage to repair the ship, and find an alternative hibernation pod for Aurora.
However, the ending shows that Aurora has instead decided to live a life on the ship with Jim, continuing their romance. Many have criticized this finale as a sort of “Stockholm Syndrome fantasy”, wondering how she could have possibly chosen to stay with him after his cruel and selfish actions.
3. The Interview
When you turn North Korea’s dictator into a fictional assassination target “for the lulz,” you’re bound to create some scandalous controversy.
The Interview was the darling project of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, featuring a couple of journalists who have been assigned by the CIA to assassinate the infamous North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.The film concludes with Kim being blown to bits by his own tank, hijacked by the two leads.
Unsurprisingly, the premise alone was enough to rattle the country’s cage, with the government threatening a ruthless retaliation upon the film’s theatrical release.
The movie was labeled as an “act of war” — a blatant act of terrorism against their leader. Sony Pictures was even hacked, having a ton of sensitive information leaked to public.
Inception is, without a doubt, one of Christopher Nolan’s finest works, and possibly one of the more thought-provoking sci-fi movies in recent times.
The concept centered on the ability to infiltrate one’s subconscious through dreams, implanting information or ideas in the process. Our leading man, Dominick Cobb, possesses a top that infinitely spins in the dream world, though falls over in reality.
The film kicks into high gear as we see Cobb and friends attempt to incept a person’s subconscious, venturing into multiple “dream levels” as they do so.
When they finally wake up and return to reality, we see Cobb return to his home and children, and spins his trustworthy top to prove that he is, indeed, back in the real world.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
Would the list even be complete without mentioning one of the most iconic movie twists of all time?
While this epic second installment to the original Star Wars trilogy garnered a ton of awards for its thrilling plot, score, and special effects, eventually landing it a spot as one of the “Greatest Films of All Time,” what really got jaws dropping was its bewildering twist of a finale.
It goes without saying, but Darth Vader revealing himself to be Luke’s father was utter mind-blownage for audiences everywhere, and we’re pretty sure they were screaming along with poor Luke once Lucas dropped the bomb.
It’s now an well-loved and much-parodied icon of pop culture, but will forever remain as one of the most shocking moments in cinema’s history.
Which of these endings do you think was the most controversial? Can you think of any other movies that we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!
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