In the past decade it’s become far more common for television shows to get a chance to end on their own terms, declaring the logical end-point of their story, and then using the time they have left to craft a satisfying conclusion. However, not all shows get this chance, no matter how much they may deserve it. Some of these shows are blessed with an ending that still makes sense as the end-point of their story, whether it was was meant to be or not, while others are left hanging in the middle of their tales. Some shows are lucky enough to be picked up by Netflix or another streaming service, or finished off in a different medium, but many are left cruelly unresolved.
This is a list of shows that ended on a cliffhanger (sometimes literally), with the character’s fates still hanging in the balance in some way or another. It doesn’t include shows that ended on an intentionally ambiguous note, such as The Sopranos or Angel, focusing instead on shows that ended a season intending to return to the story, only to be unceremoniously canceled before they could resolve their stories.
Warning: SPOILERS for some of these shows lie within.
Here are 16 TV Shows That Were Canceled On Massive Cliffhangers.
16. Sense8 (2015 – 2017)
The wound of this cancellation is still fresh, and the fans of Netflix’s inclusive and inspirational Sense8 are still reeling from the cancellation. The story of eight ‘sensates,’ who discover that they comprise a ‘cluster’ of individuals capable of sharing memories, feelings, and skills with each other from around the world, Sense8 was not only a truly global and diverse show, but also had some of the best characters and action sequences on television. Unfortunately, the cost of shooting on location all over the world (something that was insisted upon by the show’s writers, J. Michael Straczynski and Lana and Lily Wachowski), caused Netflix to pull the plug while Sense8 was still in its prime.
After two seasons of slowly building the show’s global conspiracy plot, while focusing largely on smaller character stories, the season 2 finale pulled the trigger on the show’s premise, with bad-boy gangster Wolfgang getting kidnapped by the villainous Whispers, forcing the rest of his cluster to convene in London and stage a rescue operation. Marking the first time the lead characters of the show had all been in the same place, the season ended with the cluster speeding off in a van, having turned the table on Whispers and taken him hostage. Where they were heading, we’ll never know.
15. Carnivale (2003 – 2005)
Another of HBO’s critically acclaimed but wildly expensive shows, Carnivale was the story of an epic battle between forces of good and evil, set against the backdrop of a traveling carnival in the Great Depression. Ben Hawkins, a fugitive with healing powers who joins up with the carnival, found himself being inexorably drawn towards Brother Justin Crowe, a minister who could bend others to his will. The show regularly hinted towards a vast mythology, but kept the backgrounds of its characters hidden until they became relevant to the story.
The show was building to an epic battle between its avatars of good and evil, and the season 2 finale seemed to deliver on that promise, with Ben and Brother Justin finally meeting, and Ben burying a blade in Brother Justin’s chest. However, creator Daniel Knauf had four more seasons planned, and the season ends with with a number of cliffhangers.
An unconscious Ben is still suffering from injuries from the battle, and young fortune teller Sofie is revealed to be the Omega, a powerful figure in the battle between good and evil. The series ends with Sofie placing her hands on a seemingly dead Justin’s chest, as the corn in the field around them begins to die.
14. Southland (2009 – 2013)
Southland was the story of a number of LAPD officers, focusing both on their lives and the cases that they dealt with on a daily basis. Young police officer Ben Sherman, played by Ben Mackenzie (of eventual Gotham fame), was trained by closeted officer John Cooper, played by Michael Cudlitz (who would soon be known to Walking Dead fans as mustachioed tough-guy Abraham).
The show ran for five seasons before it was canceled, which is longer than many of the shows on this list, but didn’t make it immune to ending on a massive cliffhanger.
Cooper, fed up with his neighbors, turned off their generator, sparking an argument. The cops were called, and not knowing that a Cooper was a fellow officer, saw a gun in his hand and shot him multiple times. As he lay on the pavement bleeding out, the show faded to black, with fans never founding out whether he lived or died.
13. Revolution (2012 – 2014)
A post-apocalyptic action series, Revolution took place not after a massive war, but a global blackout that ceased the operation of all technology on the planet. Deprived of most methods of transportation and communication, humanity fractured into a number of factions and militias, with the first season chronicling the wars between these groups, as well as an effort to restore electricity to the world. It was eventually revealed that the blackout was caused by nanites; microscopic robots designed by the government.
While the second season wrapped up many of the show’s ongoing stories, it introduced another one entirely, which it would never have time to explore. The nanites were gathering people to a single location, and had restored electricity, which drew them like moths to a flame. The series ended with a shot of this illuminated outpost, a truly unique sight in Revolution’s post-technology world.
12. Pushing Daisies (2007 – 2009)
Bryan Fuller is used to having his shows end on an unresolved note. In fact, Pushing Daisies, his whimsical tale of a pie-maker named Ned (Lee Pace) who could bring the dead back to life with a touch, is not even his only entry on this list. The show had a delightful ensemble of characters, including Ned’s dead childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel), and her two agoraphobic aunts Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene).
After bringing Chuck back to life, she and Ned enjoyed an adorable but frustrating courtship – knowing that if they ever touched again she would die, this time unable to be revived. As her Aunts (one of whom is ultimately revealed to be her mother) finally come to terms with her death, Chuck decides to reveal to them that she is still alive, eagerly waiting on their doorstep.
11. The Event (2010 – 2011)
A conspiracy thriller that lasted for only one season on NBC, The Event told its story through flashbacks and digressions, eventually revealing itself to the be the story of a different sort of alien invasion. As the characters investigated a plane crash that turned out not to quite be a plane crash, viewers learned that the government was holding extraterrestrial beings in a secure facility, while others had successfully integrated themselves into the population.
The Event never took off with viewers, but ended with a striking cliffhanger. After a failed attempt to release a virus and destroy humanity, the aliens succeeded in opening a portal that transported not just their people, but their entire planet to Earth. The show ends with a shot of the alien home world hanging in the sky, something that surely would have introduced a new dynamic to the series had it been picked up for a second season.
10. Terriers (2010)
Terriers was a beloved but short-lived FX series about two private- yes in San Diego: ex-cop Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue,) and his best friend, Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), a former criminal. The two slacker-sleuths solved crimes, dealt with their personal issues, and eventually got sucked into a vast conspiracy involving an unbuilt airport in their town.
In the finale, after having successfully unearthed the man behind the conspiracy, Britt is faced with a return to prison for succumbing to his anger issues and committing assault. On their way to turn him in, Hank casually suggests running away to Mexico instead, and the series ends a stoplight, with two alternate paths laid out before them. The screen goes black to the sound of Hank and Britt driving off to one uncertain future or another; an oddly fitting end for the two oddball heroes.
9. ALF (1986 – 1990)
ALF was a fairly traditional family sitcom – apart from its lead character, an alien who had crash-landed in the garage of the Tanner family, and went on to live with them for four seasons of misadventures. An affable alien, ALF would learn about humanity through the day-to-day life of the Tanner family, while often attempting to eat their cat – a delicacy on his planet.
After four seasons of low-key adventures, ALF ended on an odd note, with the titular alien abducted by an Alien Task Force, and taken into custody by the government. While this cliffhanger was eventually resolved with a made-for-TV movie, it satisfied basically no one as it included not a single original cast member from the show, other than ALF. Alf was rescued, but to many people, the show ended with him in the hands of the government.
8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 – 2009)
The Terminator series’ timeline has gotten increasingly convoluted with each addition to the canon, and while Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles technically took place in its own corner of that timeline, it was no exception. Starring Lena Headey (of eventual Game of Thrones fame), The Sarah Connor Chronicles featured Sarah and her son, eventual rebel leader John Connor, on the run from an array of evil machines, with their own friendly robot, Cameron, in tow.
In the finale, after escaping to the future in which he was destined to lead the revolt against the machine army, John is shocked to discover that for some reason, nobody there knows his name. He also meets the woman that Cameron would be modeled after, promise a twisty, time-travel heavy season 3 that viewers never got to experience.
7. Bored to Death (2009 – 2011)
Imagine finding out that your girlfriend was actually your half-sister. That’s the situation that Jonathan, the lead of HBO’s Bored to Death, found himself in at the end the show’s third season. After a season spent tracking down his biological father, the bumbling writer and private detective discovered that the sperm donor who sired him was a con artist involved in burning down the fertility clinic as part of an insurance scam.
As if that wasn’t enough, his girlfriend rose turned out to be a product of that same con-man/sperm donor, putting Jonathan in the awkward position of dating his sister. The show ended before he had much time to react to this revelation, but given Bored to Death‘s increasing willingness to be super weird in its final season, he surely wouldn’t have handled it very well.
6. Mork and Mindy (1978 – 1982)
By its fourth season, Happy Days spinoff Mork and Mindy had already undergone a number of reinventions. Initially a fish-out-of-water comedy about alien Mork attempting to fit in on Earth, Mork and Mindy was retooled several times to focus first on the romance between its titular characters, and then on an increasing number of wild antics that would showcase Robin Williams and his manic comedic persona.
Mork and Mindy never fully embraced its sci-fi roots until “Gotta Run,” which was originally intended to be the three-part finale of season four. After another alien blew up their apartment, Mork’s identity was made public to the world, and he and Mindy end up on the run through time.
While another episode, shot before “Gotta Run,” was shuffled to be the finale after they found out they were being canceled, Mork and Mindy still ends either with the two perpetually stuck in prehistoric times, or with an unsettling and unexplained return to the status quo.
5. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was, as you could probably tell from the title, a more romantic take on the Superman mythos, with an emphasis on the relationship between Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent and reporter Lois Lane. The two had many ups and downs over the course of the show’s four seasons, including a romantic relationship between Lois and Lex Luthor, the reveal that Clark is secretly Superman, and number of villains and Kryptonian threats.
In season four, the two were finally happily married, though they had just discovered that they could not have a child. As if on a cue, they find an abandoned Kryptonian baby, just in time for the show to be canceled. In interviews it was revealed that the child would have been Kryptonian royalty in hiding, but the brand new storyline never had a chance to develop.
4. The Dead Zone (2002 – 2007)
After a car accident left him in a coma for six years, Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) had visions of the future. For six seasons, Johnny used these visions to prevent crimes, while also attempting to reconnect with his fiance and child from before the coma. As if that weren’t enough, he also struggled with visions of an apocalyptic future, seemingly brought on by the election of a psychotic politician. While these visions stopped for a time, returned full-force in the show’s sixth season finale.
Never to be renewed for a seventh season, due to low viewership and high production costs, the series ended with Johnny meeting his birth father, as well as coming to the realization that this new wave of apocalyptic visions were showing a him a future that was the result of his own actions. These revelations would never get a chance to be explored, with Johnny’s future left uncertain in more ways than one.
3. Invasion (2005 – 2006)
The first and only season of Invasion focused on body-snatcher situation in a small Florida town, where glowy orange aquatic creatures were replacing residents on an increasingly large scale in the wake of a massive hurricane. Main character Russel begins to suspect something is amiss, tipped off largely by the fact that his ex-wife and her new husband (who happens to be the Sheriff), have started acting like super-creepy alien doppelgangers.
When another hurricane hits, Russel’s new wife Larkin is shot, prompting creepy Sheriff Tom to place her in the water, where she will presumably be replaced by an identical, but much more unsettling, alien clone. As the other characters scream at him, asking what he’s done, the waves lap at the shore. Audiences would never get to see what happened to Larkin, or find out exactly what those creepy orange water-bugs actually were.
2. Reaper (2007 – 2009)
A slacker who dropped out of college, Sam Oliver discovers on his 21st birthday that his parents had, years ago, sold his soul to the Devil. Forced to capture souls who have escaped from Hell, Sam begins working for a slick and smooth-talking version of the devil, working alongside his friends Ben and Sock, as well as his love interest Andi.
In the second season, more and more questions began to arise surrounding Sam’s parentage, with the Devil hinting that Sam was his son, the reveal that Sam’s other father may also be immortal, and implications that the deal for Sam’s soul was more complicated than it seemed.
In addition to all of that, Sam played a game against the Devil in an attempt to get his soul back and lost, prompting the Devil to take Andi’s soul as well. A third season would have likely seen her hunting demons alongside Sam, who she also declared her love for in the finale.
1. Hannibal (2013 – 2015)
A dark and twisted tale of murder and obsession, Hannibal slowly revealed itself over the course of its three seasons to be something of a love story as well. Used and manipulated by cannibalistic therapist Hannibal Lecter, FBI consultant Will Graham found himself tempted by his own murderous impulses, with Hannibal as the devil in his ear. They developed an odd co-dependence, each of them plotting the downfall of the other, while simultaneously uncertain how they could ever live without each other.
In the season 3 finale, after working together to bring down the deranged killer Francis Dollarhyde, Hannibal and Will embraced on a cliff top, having consummated their relationship in their own strange way. Knowing that there is no coming back from this, Will tips them over the edge of the cliff, plunging them into an uncertain fate. While this works perfectly as an ending to their murderous romance, showrunner Bryan Fuller has made it clear that he intended the story to continue from this point, implying that everyone’s favorite “murder husbands” somehow survived their fall.
What are some more shows that ended on a cliffhanger? Let us know in the comments!
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