Have you ever sat through a movie, and loved every moment, only to be let down by a disastrous final act? There are some amazing movies, that for a variety of reasons, take a turn for the worse towards the end, ruining the entire viewing experience. Sometimes it’s because the movie is intending to set up a sequel, therefore leaving loose ends. Other times, due to unfavourable test screenings, a haphazard new ending is shot that simply doesn't work. More often than not, though, it just comes down to lazy writing.
Here are Screen 10 Worst Endings to Great Movies.
Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead!!!
10 I Am Legend (2007) – The Hollywood ending.
This adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic where a man-made virus designed to cure cancer kills 90% of the population and turns the survivors into monsters has become infamous for its ending. According to media outlets at the time, the original ending for I Am Legend was not favoured by test audiences, and a new ending was shot shortly before the release.
A lone human survivor walks around a deserted Manhattan, hunting and generally surviving, alongside his pet and only companion, Samantha, a German Shepherd. After finding two immune human survivors, Robert (Will Smith) also captures an infected woman. After his newly-designed cure that he's tested on the infected woman proves successful, his house attacked by the monsters, known as the Darkseekers.
Why the ending doesn't work: Richard, before killing himself and the Darkseekers with a grenade, gives a blood sample to the two people he encountered earlier in order for them to pass it along to other survivors, so that they might be able to mass-produce a cure for humanity. Why this fails as an ending is largely due to its abrupt nature. Richard doesn’t need to sacrifice himself, and it seems entirely possible that he could have made it out with the other survivors. More than that though, this is a man who has been driven for years to find a cure, and when he does, he hands it over to people with fewer survivor skills than he has, and assumes that they will be able to get the cure to the right people. Audiences were generally less than thrilled by the ‘Hollywood’ ending which demanded a self-sacrifice, and the original ending was obligingly released on DVD and Blu Ray releases.
9 Remember Me (2010) – The tasteless 9/11 reference
Tyler (Robert Pattinson) is a quiet, introverted guy coming to terms with the death of his brother. His family is fractured and he's despondent until he meets Ally (Emilie De Ravin), an equally damaged human being. The battle to overcome the obstacles in their path, and their love story as a whole, is tender and relatable, with Tyler and Ally as engaging as many couples in film history.
Why the ending doesn’t work: Tyler is visiting his father in his office when it’s revealed that he’s in the Twin Towers minutes before the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. It’s both tasteless and exploitative, and is completely out of place in a movie that is deserving of a more satisfying ending. While movies about 9/11 aren’t necessarily tasteless in themselves, Remember Me's particular use of a national tragedy makes for an unnecessary ending, one which steals the focus from the characters and their story.
8 Signs (2002)- The deus ex Machina
Given that Signs is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, the film's twist ending is to be expected. The movie follows a rural family in Pennsylvania as they try to survive an alien invasion. Each member of the family is well-rounded, and good deal of time and effort is put into giving them a backstory that establishes reasons for their actions. The minister who's experienced a loss of faith; the baseball star that always had to swing, no matter what; the child that left glasses of water all over the house; each is given ample screen time, ensuring that by the time the third act rolls around, the audience genuinely cars what happens to them.
Why the ending doesn’t work: The aliens reveal their weakness: water. Why they would choose to invade a planet that is two-thirds covered in it is baffling. The scenes in the house where the baseball player swings his bat into the glass and the water hurts the aliens gives the minister back his faith that there is a plan after all, but the ending feels clumsier than anything Shyamalan had put on screen — up to that point, anyway.
7 Superman (1978)– Flying around the planet backwards
The first, and still arguably one of the best, mature comic book adaptations, Superman put a comic book character in a real-world setting and treated the source material with the utmost respect. A classic origin story that takes the time to establish its leading man, leading lady, and villain and put them in a believable world, it set the standard for comic book adaptations for an entire generation.
Why the ending doesn’t work: Let’s just assume that flying backwards around the planet causes time to flow in reverse (it doesn’t). It completely delegitimizes any threat in that universe. No matter what a bad guy does, it’s reversible. If the Man of Steel has a bad date with Lois Lane, he can whip around the planet a few times and have a Groundhog Day-style do-over any time he likes. For a movie so keen to put itself in the real world, it’s an unbelievable ending that makes little sense.
6 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)– the star child confuses people
While polarizing amongst critics and audiences at the time, 2001: A Space Odyssey is now regarded as one of the finest films of all time, and has become required viewing in most film schools. The introduction of the prehistoric monolith sets the scene for humanity’s evolution for the next four million years, and the discovery of another allows the plot to unfold even further. While intellectual and certainly far-out, the film still has enough internal logic for the audience to follow the story. The nature of both humanity and artificial intelligence are thoughtfully explored as the crew of the Discovery head towards Jupiter.
Why the ending doesn’t work: Director Stanley Kubrick later admitted that the ending was deliberately left open for interpretation, but the final monolith seemingly evolving a human to another state of being was seen as confusing to audiences at the time. Even with years of hindsight, there are many people that debate whether or not the ending made the film perfect, or ruined it entirely.
5 Sunshine (2007) – A sci-fi-turned-slasher
Wearing the influence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey proudly on its sleeve, Danny Boyle's 2007 sci-fi epic, Sunshine, was not the box office smash it was intended to be, despite rave reviews across the board. And while the film — which starred Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans as astronauts on a mission to reignite a dying sun and save Earth — has become a cult classic in the years since its release, a great many people still have serious issues with the film's controversial third act.
Why the ending didn't work: Critics and audiences alike were confused by the film's decision to make a stark turn into slasher film territory two-thirds of the way through, with a rogue, zombified astronaut from another crew terrorizing those aboard humanity's last hope, Icarus II. The insanely improbable survival of the zombie astronaut (who completed several nigh-impossible feats throughout the film) has even led a to a few fan theories suggesting that he didn't actually exist, that he was a Tyler Durden-esque creation of the protagonist's (Murphy) mind.
4 The Matrix Revolutions (2003) – That's it?
The first Matrix movie was a triumph in almost every respect. Coming out during the same summer as the first of the long awaited Star Wars prequels, the high-concept movie about virtual reality wasn’t expected to perform well. Not only did it blow all financial predictions out of the water, it became one of the biggest hits of 1999 with both critics and audiences. While much acclaim was levelled at the visual effects — in particular, “bullet-time" — one of the aspects that audiences loved was the focus on philosophy. Seen as a welcome return to "smart sci-fi," the philosophical nature of the movie, in particular the question of “what is real?” gave audiences much to think about. While the sequels were seen as being significantly weaker than the original, the third entry, Revolutions was bold in that most of the action took place in the “real world” and not the simulated reality of the Matrix.
Why the ending didn’t work: While there’s tons to criticize about the Matrix sequels, the series inarguably ended on a low point. The end fails to give an answer as to what happens to Neo, the entire Matrix, and pretty much everyone else. Is Neo dead? Will he return? Given the humans' stated desire to free the entirety of humanity, will they be satisfied with leaving most of them in prison? Did Agent Smith die? How did absorbing Neo kill him? If killing Neo in the real world gave the machines the chance to interface with him, why didn’t they use one of the seven billion people he’d already merged with? It’s a deeply unsatisfying end to what could have been one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
3 The Devil’s Advocate (1997) – Extreme Morality Shift
Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is an ambitious lawyer given a chance to work at one of the biggest firms in the world after winning a high-profile trial. It’s a tale of greed and corruption that (eventually) reveals that his boss, John Milton (Al Pacino), is actually Satan in disguise. While the Devil has been encouraging Kevin all along, he has given him multiple chances to leave, which Kevin has refused. In the end, Kevin kills himself rather than conceive an Antichrist.
Why the ending doesn’t work: If the movie ended with Kevin’s suicide, it would have worked well enough. His choice to die rather than father an Antichrist with his half-sister would have seen him choose morality over his corrupt tendencies. As it is, after his death, time rewinds to immediately after the trial seen at the beginning. Instead of choosing to fight for a client he knows to be guilty, he chooses not to represent him knowing he could be disbarred. A reporter pleads for an interview, offering to “make him a star” for making the right choice. Encouraged by his wife, he agrees to the interview. Breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the audience, the Devil says, "Vanity. Definitely my favourite sin." Implying that he was going to make another attempt to appeal to Kevin’s weakness and father the Antichrist. This defeats the point of Kevin’s self-sacrifice and takes away the themes of choice and self-determination that had been present throughout the movie. Also, forces the question of just how powerful Satan is if he can manipulate time? This could have been a classic, but the poorly thought out ending makes it a barely comprehensible tale of morality.
2 The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Bane’s neutering
After the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight, Rises had HUGE shoes to fill. Taking inspiration from stories such as The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, and No Man’s Land, The Dark Knight Rises is, in many ways, even more epic than its predecessor, while maintaining its aesthetic and themes. Bane, the film’s main villain, is more brutally imposing than anyone Batman has faced up to that point, his physical prowess far greater than Batman’s own. He's also a villainous mastermind, capable of crushing the city’s infrastructure more completely than even the Joker’s schemes managed to. Of course, despite Tom Hardy’s mesmerizing performance, he isn’t quite the force of nature Heath Ledger’s Joker was though.
Why the ending doesn’t work: While not without its faults, TDKR is heading towards being a worthy follow-up to The Dark Knight right up to the final act. Then it really comes apart. Bane, the criminal mastermind/physical powerhouse that stands as Batman’s superior in most respects, is revealed to be little more than a frontman for the film’s true villain, an incognito Talia Al Ghul. Bane, having fallen in love with her years prior, serves as her protector and henchman as she enacts her revenge on Batman for his part in her father’s downfall a decade before. Given that Talia is seen only in her guise as Miranda Tate for most of the movie, her reveal is less than engaging and does not deliver the emotional sucker punch it tries to. Moreover, it neuters Bane and makes him instantly less than Batman, making his defeat hollow and empty.
There's also the whole, "there's no way Batman was able to survive that nuclear blast" bit, but we'll save that for another day.
1 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – aliens!
The Indiana Jones movies were always based on myth, history, and supernatural/biblical premises. They all had a similar “feel” to them, a sense that you could blow the dust off an ancient artefact and “be” Indiana Jones. Yes, there was always the finale where the myths were shown to have some truth behind them, but they always felt authentic.
Despite the shift from the Nazis to the Soviets, the long-awaited fourth film does address some interesting character developments. An older Indy discovering he was a father and his difficulties adapting to his age were well-handled, and the risk of re-visiting a sacred film series after such a long hiatus seemed to have paid off. Even the notorious “Nuke the fridge” moment could be forgiven as a piece of harmless fun.
Why the ending didn’t work: Aliens!! The ending of each of the other films involved Indy using his knowledge of the relics and their power to come out on top. The decision to go with aliens (or, more accurately, beings from a different dimension) feels out of place with the established lore of the series and instantly kills the movie. Combine that with some very poor CGI and Ray Winstone’s status as a triple-agent, and the collective effort very nearly killed Indiana Jones for good.
Got a movie that you loved right up to the final scenes? Tell us about it in the comments!
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