Top 5 Thursday: Best Movie Endings


There’s no easier place for a film to completely fall apart than right at the end. Steven Spielberg has spent the better part of the last fifteen years completely unable to stick the landing on any of his films. It’s so easy to think about good films with terrible endings (The Departed or I Am Legend), or films that we artificially elevate in our minds because they had great endings (The Sixth Sense or The Others), so today let’s look at five good films made great by their endings.

Spoilers ahead…


5. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, dir. Irvin Kershner)

The original feel-bad ending, I guarantee that you wouldn’t think half as much as you do about the middle-part of the original trilogy had it not been for the film’s downer of a third act. Granted the power of Vader’s moment with Luke is severely diminished by the prequel trilogy, but there’s no denying how iconic that moment is. It’s a perfect example of “nowhere to go but up.”

Everyone is at a low point, which is what the second act of a classic three-act structure, which this trilogy is, demands. Han and Leia realize their feelings for one another just in time for Han to be betrayed by his best friend & frozen in Carbonite. Luke begins his Jedi training, only to get schooled by the baddest ex-Jedi in the galaxy just before finding out that dude is his dad. All that’s left of the great Rebellion now is two droids and a pair of estranged siblings trapped on a ship with a guy who just betrayed their best friend to the bad guys.

The coddled kids of today would riot in the streets if a sequel pulled this big of a 180, but thank goodness the filmmakers of yesteryear were willing to give us some tough love. We’re all the better for it.  [via]


4. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979, dir. Terry Jones)

The zealots of the world whipped up a frenzy over Monty Python’s send-up of the Biblical epics of the 1950’s and 60’s when it was released in 1979, but thankfully cooler heads have prevailed over the decades, and the film is now rightly viewed as the masterpiece it is. Biblical scholars (my wife being one of them) will tell you that it is far and away the most accurate depiction of what life in early A.D. was really like, and the film has a lot of laughs at the expense of the very people who missed the message by thinking that the film was in any way, shape or form making fun of an individual person, so much as it was making fun of the entire concept of organized religion.

What makes the film truly transcendent however, is its ending. Abandoned by his friends and family, reluctant messiah Brian is left to die on a crucifix, but luckily, he’s positioned right in front of Eric Idle’s Mr. Cheeky, who leads all the crucifixion victims in a rousing chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s ironic, hysterically funny, and truly ridiculous, all the things that make it the perfect ending to a film that’s all of those things. [via]


3. The Graduate (1967, dir. Mike Nichols)

The ultimate film about the disconnect between young people and their parents would have been a great film even without the last sixty seconds, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the reason the film is as revered and remembered as it is has everything to do with the last image we see before the film ends.

Track star & angry young man Benjamin Braddock finally knows what he wants, and his determination leads him to fight for it. He races to a chapel to prevent the girl he loves from marrying someone else. He arrives just after they’ve been pronounced man & wife, but that’s not enough to stop Ben. Screaming for her from the top of the chapel, he succeeds in getting Elaine to ditch her new husband and run off with him. They battle back the family, locking them in the church, and hop on a bus, off to start a new life.

If the film ends here, it’s a great film. But rather than rolling the credits, Nichols keeps the camera rolling as the looks on their faces turns from ecstasy to terror and uncertainty. Their laughing and smiling subside, and they look just like the scared young kids their parents have been telling them they are their whole lives. [via]


2. Casablanca (1942, dir. Robert Curtiz)

I weep for people seeing Casablanca for the first time now. It is the most ripped-off, homage’d & copied film in cinema history, and everything in it has been parodied and re-purposed to death, that the original now feels like a pale imitator by comparison. But those of us who know, know well how groundbreaking this film was and still is.

Rick puts his own feelings for Ilsa on the back burner, realizing that her husband Victor will play an integral part in defeating the Nazis. He tells her to get on the plane that’s headed for the US, via Lisbon, and be a source of inspiration and support for Victor. It runs counter to both of their feelings, but it’s the right thing to do, and how often does that happen in movies anymore. Rick is now forced to go into hiding with Renault, while the love of his life is out there doing her part to help the Allies win the war. It’s heartbreaking, noble, and cemented Humphrey Bogart’s status as the ultimate man’s man for all time. [via]


1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb (1964, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I know I’m fairly new to most of you, but one of the big things you need to know about me is that I worship at the altar of Stanley Kubrick. He is, for my money, the greatest filmmaker that ever lived, and Dr. Strangelove is arguably the best film he ever made.

World leaders have gathered in the War Room to discuss the potential nuclear war at which their countries are staring down the barrel, and nobody is able to reconcile anything with anyone. It’s an hysterically funny look at politics & war with a bleakly ironic ending. Unable to officially make contact with the rogue US plane about to drop a bomb on Russia, the War Room breaks out in chaos, just as Major King Kong is able to get the nuclear warhead unstuck from the malfunctioning bomb bay doors. Kong takes the plunge down with the warhead, Dr. Strangelove’s Nazi-controlled hand finally gets the best of him, and Vera Lynn’s rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” plays over footage of mushroom clouds sprouting up across the globe.

It’s funny, but it’s so deeply unsettling, particularly when you consider that the film was made a mere 48 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a gutsy move that continues to pay off huge dividends to every new generation of film-goer that discovers this brilliant satire that only gets more prescient as time goes on. [both Strangelove pics via]


So there you have one man’s opinion on the best movie endings of all-time. I would loved to have included Don’t Look Now, Night of the Living Dead, The Godfather, The Usual Suspects, Chinatown, Some Like it Hot, and on and on, but it’s only a Top 5, so I reigned myself in.

Anyone have thoughts, comments, think I’m right on, think I’m way off? Let me know!

Steve Attanasie

Steve Attanasie

Film News Contributor & Reviewer (joined 04-2012)

An avid movie lover from the age of six and a film critic since the age of twelve (Junior High newspaper counts, people), Steve brings a unique perspective to film criticism. As a father to two young girls, he sees virtually every kids’ movie released, but he’s also a big fan of smaller, independent, auteur driven films as well as the occasional mindless shoot-em-up action film.

Favorite films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, Amadeus, American Movie, Magnolia, Her, Rashomon, City Lights, Vertigo, Rushmore, Dr. Strangelove, & Last Year at Marienbad. Steve tries to respond to all questions, comments & criticisms, so please feel free to leave any combination of the three on his reviews or news items.

Steve Attanasie

Chicago Critics Film Festival starts May 1 at the Music Box. Come see some great movies months before they open – 4 weeks ago

Steve Attanasie

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