If you think about it, most film endings are usually far from memorable. In some cases they’re insignificant, in others they’re cliche and expected: the lovers reuniting in a public place and embracing; a crane shot pulling back from a disaster area with ambulances. Everything is tied up neatly with a nice little bow or a feeling of emotional resonance. Roll credits.
Then there are film endings that surprise, delight, haunt and stay with you forever. I would love to debate the virtues of how The Blair Witch Project (1999), Oldboy (2003) or Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) ended, but I’d rather do that in person. If I did it here this list could go on forever.
Here is an abridged list of some of my favorite film endings, each included for a different reason.
Proceed with caution: spoilers ahead. Obviously.
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5) Irréversible (2002)
If you read this blog or have known me since 2003, you undoubtedly know that Irréversible is one of my favorite films. What precedes the ending is nearly impossible to forget (in fact, most viewers never want to see it again), but the final shot is transcendent and mind-bending, beginning with the unknowing Alex (Monica Bellucci) at rest in a public park, reading about the theories that cement her fate.
She has said so herself: “The future is already written,” fixed in time. And as the final title card reveals, “Time Destroys All Things” (other translations: “Time Devours All Things,” “Time Reveals All Things”). We already know what will happen to her and everyone else in the story.
Director Gaspar Noé has said that staying until the end of Irréversible is imperative because it’s a reward. If a viewer leaves halfway through the film- as some are wont to do- they’ll find it more difficult to calm down or reconcile themselves to the story. After doing this he does the ultimate pull-back: literally launching the viewer out of the film with sweeping camera movements, Beethoven’s Symphony N° 7 In A Major Op. 92 and eventually a frenzied strobe light leading us into outer space.
That’s some Cosmos shit right there. And unlike any other film ending I know, it’s a borderline physical experience.
4) Death Proof (2007)
Quentin Tarantino has gone on record to say Death Proof is his weakest film, but my God- its ending is incredible.
In fact it’s the biggest payoff. The film is a homage to grindhouse cinema, which is misogynistic as hell. However, Tarantino gives the ending a breakneck twist and a feminist sucker punch I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Best freeze frame ever. Watch the video above.
3) The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Wow, this film ending came out of nowhere. Andy (Steve Carell) and Trish (Catherine Keener) have just married and consummated their marriage- which lasted about two minutes. Trish gives Andy another go as the screen fades to black.
When you see them next, it’s two hours later and Trish looks like she has been hit by a truck. “So how was that for you?” she asks. Andy replies… by beginning to sing “The Age Of Aquarius.”
That’s right. Then the entire cast reunites in a field, skipping around in a full-fledged musical sequence. Also you see Paul Rudd doing this:
This ending is a total blindsiding winner.
2) Made (2001)
I don’t think many people are aware of Made, which was Jon Favreau’s first time directing a feature. It details the uneasy friendship between Bobby (Favreau) and Ricky (Vince Vaughn) as they try to hustle their way into organized crime. As expected, they suck at it.
However the film is less about their plans and more about the way these two interact. Ricky is a irrepressible jerk with severe diarrhea of the mouth, paving the way for characters like Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down. In spite of this there’s something touching about his relationship with Bobby, the only friend who can tolerate him.
In short: this is a film about bromance before the word “bromance” was even invented. The film ends with the two of them unofficially “adopting” the child of Bobby’s ex-girlfriend and deciding to raise her together. They’re like squabbling, hetero-life partners. Ricky’s mouth is running a mile a minute, ending before the final moment where he reprimands the “big mouse” himself. Why? He simply wants the best for his “adopted” daughter and is in full-on douchebag/mother hen mode.
I can’t fully explain it, but I found this ending satisfying, even though it isn’t as in-your-face or memorable as the others. But it comes to mind almost first.
I leave #1 to a master:
1) The Works Of Lars von Trier (four-way tie): Breaking The Waves (1996), Dancer In The Dark (2000), Dogville (2003) & Melancholia (2011)
Say whatever you want about Lars von Trier. To be honest, I really don’t care. He knows how to end a movie.