What are the best movie endings of all time?

Posted by · 4:01 am · July 10th, 2008

Kevin Spacey in The Usual SuspectsI was working on this piece yesterday (nothing major — just pulling together the YouTube clips), but I wasn’t aware how the list was going to pan out.  “Carrie” at the top?  Not so sure about that.

But The Times critics like to be contrarian.  Just take a look at their Top 100 Films of All Time list, which places Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” rather brazenly at #2.

Anyway, debating and sussing out the best of movie endings ever could have us chatting into the night.  Most of my favorites are recent examples, but that’s probably due to what the 1990s did to the screenwriting form.

Scribes began giving a lot more thought to how the audience would feel when leaving the theater.  Twists and emotional-punches became a currency of sorts, which is probably why there are more films from the decade than any other on The Times’ list.

I will say I’m glad there was room for “Seven,” “Memento” (which I re-watched recently and absolutely adore) and “E.T.,” three (perhaps) out-of-the-box choices that don’t leap to mind when the subject comes up.  And it’s impossible to argue against “The Usual Suspects,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Planet of the Apes.”

If I were to suggest a some additions, I might begin with “Heat,” “Citizen Kane,” “A History of Violence,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Boogie Nights,” to name a few.

The Times’ list of the best movie endings of all time:

1. “Carrie”
2. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
3. “Casablanca”
4. “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”
5. “Chinatown”
6. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
7. “Some Like It Hot”
8. “The Italian Job” (1969)
9. “The Usual Suspects”
10. “The Sixth Sense”
11. “Thelma & Louise”
12. “The Wizard of Oz”
13. “Les Diaboliques”
14. “Dr. Stranglelove”
15. “Gone With the Wind”
16. “The Shawshank Redemption”
17. “Planet of the Apes”
18. “Memento”
19. “The Blair Witch Project”
20. “Seven”

I might pull together my own top ten soon enough.

What are your favorite movie endings?




→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 7-10-2008 at 4:22 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Bonnie and Clyde.” Not even the slightest doubt in my mind.

  • 2 7-10-2008 at 5:21 am

    Will said...

    Limbo
    The Sacrifice
    Solaris (the ’72 Russian version)
    No Country For Old Men

    (clearly I like vague endings that leave me to my own interpretation)

  • 3 7-10-2008 at 5:24 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Also, the absence of “The Graduate” from that list makes it very suspect indeed.

  • 4 7-10-2008 at 5:32 am

    Martin Edwards said...

    2001 is absolutely tops for me.

  • 5 7-10-2008 at 5:50 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Truthfully, Guy, I’m not sure “The Graduate” would make my own list.

  • 6 7-10-2008 at 6:05 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I must say I like this list more:

    http://www.filmcritic.com/misc/emporium.nsf/reviews/The-Top-50-Movie-Endings-of-All-Time

    But then I would, since it’s got both my picks in the Top 11, and some really smart 90’s/00’s inclusions – Big Night is particularly inspired.

    And Magnolia would certainly make my Top 10, which I’m now tempted to start assembling . This is fun.

  • 7 7-10-2008 at 6:33 am

    John Foote said...

    Got to say The Godfather Part II, Michael all powerful yet utterly alone among the autumn leaves, and that stinger at the end of the original (is there another?) Planet of the Apes. That moment Heston sees the Statue of Libert armpit deep in the sand…iconic and awe inspiring. Finally, The Searchers, the moment we spy Ethan outside the door, forever banished from civilization, turning around and wandering away…forever to wander, forever untamed, one with the west.

  • 8 7-10-2008 at 6:48 am

    Dan said...

    City Lights…. that’s the only possible answer.

  • 9 7-10-2008 at 6:53 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    OOH! Good answer, Dan. Definitely high on my list.

  • 10 7-10-2008 at 7:44 am

    Walter said...

    Nashville, in that it is both tragic and inspiring. I feel, at least. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is up there, definitely. I adore There Will Be Blood’s. The most recent example of a perfect ending, though, is Red Belt. It ends when it ends, no padding necessary.

  • 11 7-10-2008 at 9:15 am

    Proman said...

    Here’s my list. I actually thought about this for a very long time:

    A.I. – Artificial Intelligence – heartbreaking and powerful.
    Before Sunset – simply beautiful and poignant. Absolutely perfect.
    Memento – quite possibly the most satisfying suprise ending I’ve ever seen. It all made sense.
    Millennium Actress – A few little words that shot shock waves through my spine.
    Exotica – haunting.
    2001: A Space Oddysey – trasports me every time.
    Dr. Strangelove – as good as any ending.
    Human Nature – Kaufman’s most underrated work. Way better than “Eternal Sunshine”.
    Lost in Translation – another sentimental favorite.
    Match Point – y0u think you know how it’s going to end and yet you underestimate Allen’s pessimism. Works as a great antithesis to M. Night’s “The Signs”!

    Edmond – that’s the most recent one I saw and it’s quite haunting. Confirmed to me that Mamet is one of the giants working today.

    An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – one of the best endings to any short film. Obviously inspired “Brazil” – another big favorite of mine.

    “Burnt by the Sun” and the aforementioned “Irony of Fate”. Look them up.

    …Oh, I don’t know… Angel Heart ;), Dead Again, House of Games, Planet of the Apes, Citizen Kane?

  • 12 7-10-2008 at 9:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Love Occurrence. Haven’t seen it in YEARS though.

  • 13 7-10-2008 at 10:10 am

    Chris said...

    – “2001: A Space Odyssey”
    – “A Clockwork Orange”
    – “KIDS” (great opening scene as well…brutal and certainly not for everyone, but great)
    – “the Last Temptation of Christ”
    – “Do the Right Thing”
    – “Requiem For a Dream” ( also incredibly brutal, but extremely well made)

    Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Definitely some of my favorites.

  • 14 7-10-2008 at 10:14 am

    Chris said...

    “JFK” and “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original) also had two great endings.

    Leatherface chasing after that woman with a chainsaw…and then doing a sort of mad-dance in the middle of the road with the chainsaw still in hand when she gets away is quite classic by now.

  • 15 7-10-2008 at 10:37 am

    Ivan Hernandez said...

    Its all about the frame…
    Three colours: Red-full of style
    Dangerous Liaisons- Poor Marquise de Merteuil
    The 400 Blows- run Antoine run!
    The Usual Suspects- vuala

    its all about the words…
    Pulp Fiction- “thats a good idea”
    Y tu mama tambien- “La cuenta”
    All About My Mother “Te veo luego”

    It´s all about the music…
    Fight Club- pixies explosion
    Closer- blowers daughter in 47st
    Trainspotting- Renton smiles … yeah!

    My top ten
    1. Children of Men
    2. The Princess and the Warrior
    3. Memento
    4. Boogie Nights
    5. Seven
    6. Rushmore
    7. Thesis
    8. The Lives of Others
    9. 25th Hour
    10. Apocalypse Now

  • 16 7-10-2008 at 10:40 am

    Craig said...

    Was very happy to see The Usual Suspects and Se7en on the list, as well as Memento.

    Whoever mentioned Big Night deserves a prize – great pick… but in that same vein, I’ll mention Michael Clayton. It had both the gotcha with Clooney and Swinton, as well as the long silent cab ride.

    Angel Heart is another ending a la Usual Suspects, Jacob’s Ladder and The Sixth Sense… one of those that makes you rethink the entire film you just watched.

  • 17 7-10-2008 at 11:14 am

    Joseph said...

    Is this list only for American films? Because the absence of Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” (probably the single best ending in cinema history) and Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” is absolutely inexcusable.

    Other ones that bring the goods:

    “Bonnie & Clyde”
    “Chinatown”
    “Cries and Whispers”
    “La Dolce Vita”
    “The Godfather”
    “The Bicycle Thief”
    “The Rules of the Game”
    “Ran”
    “Seven Samurai”

    And the Billy Wilder triple-whammy:

    “Sunset Boulevard”
    “Some Like it Hot”
    “The Apartment”

  • 18 7-10-2008 at 12:14 pm

    Yih said...

    Requiem for a Dream and A Clockwork Orange needs to be on that list for simple having the ability to make you feel paralyzed by what youv’e just seen.

  • 19 7-10-2008 at 1:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks for mentioning Burnt by the Sun, Proman – a truly great film that would, weirdly, probably be held in higher regard today if it hadn’t won the Oscar. It came close to making my 90’s list last week.

  • 20 7-10-2008 at 1:53 pm

    Proman said...

    Thanks, Guy.

    I agree with you completely. It is a great movie that really works well on multiple levels. I can’t wholly hold it against people who didn’t like it though. To really understand the nuances of this film one had to have lived in or known the situation in USSR (and I have).

    I don’t consider it a masterpiece but the sense of impending doom is quite incredible throughout the whole movie and Mikhalkov masterfully escalates it in the final minutes. I remember when I saw the movie for the first time and just seeing the whole deal with the little girl was heartbreaking . And it wasn’t just cheap sentimentality. It rang true and it stuck in my memory. That’s why I mentioned it.

    It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the sequel(s). The very fact that they even exist is very bothersome in itself (as I’m sure you understand). Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with it despite the fact that I was dissapointed with “12”. I feel it was nominated by default and it clearly shouldn’t have been.

  • 21 7-10-2008 at 3:02 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    More recently The Orphanage ending rocked me around the theater. So did There Will Be Blood.

    Otherwise I still believe that Return of the King has a great ending, just for the balls of making it that long.
    As to anything less recent I’d have to think about that.

  • 22 7-10-2008 at 3:18 pm

    kin fook said...

    i think the ending for “American Beauty” is befitting for such a dark drama.

  • 23 7-10-2008 at 3:37 pm

    Fabio said...

    Ikiru

  • 24 7-10-2008 at 3:47 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, Proman, I completely share your reservations. I haven’t been able to see “12” yet in the UK, but I feared the worst from the outset. But all the indulgences aside, the man is a born filmmaker – he could still astonish us.

    Jonathan: The Return of the King has a great ending? Which one? I counted about seven of them when I watched it… :)

  • 25 7-10-2008 at 4:00 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Traffic…very haunting.

  • 26 7-10-2008 at 6:54 pm

    toycanon said...

    I agree with many that have been mentioned
    Some new ones

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    Midnight Cowboy
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    Adaptation
    In Bruges – so perfect

    I always remember how at the end of E.T.
    they came up with the perfect line for what do you say to a kid when you are leaving never to see him again
    “Be Good”

  • 27 7-10-2008 at 7:39 pm

    Adrianna said...

    The Seven Per Cent Solution

    Nicholas Meyer wrote the script, adapted from his own novel. He said, when he wrote the screenplay, he suddenly realized what the end should have been in the novel. And that’s what the film has: a satisfyingly just-right ending.

  • 28 8-02-2008 at 4:33 pm

    Cegreeusera said...

    Very nice!!