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The 40 Greatest Movie Endings In Film History

21 November 2014 | Features, Other Lists | by David Williams

requiem_for_a_dream

Unlike movie openings, movie endings are always the most important and mesmerizing part of a film. It lifts the film to a new level and gives the audiences something to digest afterwards. Sometimes we can recall the ending scene in a clear image even we forget what the film is about.

Two weeks ago we made a list of the greatest movie opening scenes in film history, it’s no-brainer making a follow-up list with movie endings. This time we decide to double the size, but there is still plenty room for suggestions. Please leave a comment if you feel one of your favorites is missing here.

Without further ado, here is our choice of the 40 greatest movie endings in film history. BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

 

40. Before Sunset

We are with the two for the whole film, now like the first film, it’s time for some real sentiment. Upon his departure, Jesse is invited to Celine’s apartment and is treated a song written by Celine herself. Every feeling is all in Julie Delpy’s sweet voice and the beautiful song “A Waltz for a Night”. Is he staying? We hope so. Thank god the director made the third film and proved we are right.

 

39. Children of Paradise

children_of_paradise

One of the greatest French films ever made also has one of the most tragic endings of all French romance films. In one of the most epic crowd scenes in film history, Baptiste is pushed away from the love of his life further and further by the flood of people, the helplessness of this scene is tremendously moving.

 

38. Blow Out

Blow Out

Under the cover of a political thriller, this is a very sad romance film at its core. Jack is not able to save his love Sally at the last moment. However, he manages to get the perfect scream which pleases his boss. It’s an ironic and tragic ending, it’s highly emotional because of John Travolta’s brilliant performance and Pino Donaggio’s touching score.

 

37. Aguirre: The Wrath Of God

Aguirre, who claims to be the wrath of god, leads his troops into the wild Peruvian rain forest. He thinks he can conquer this wild land, but he is wrong. People around him die out, at last only him and a bunch of monkeys are left on the raft. The camera revolves around the raft in rapid speed to emphasize the solitude of the crazy man and his doomed failure to fight against the nature.

 

36. Usual Suspects

Probably the greatest twist ending in modern film history. Kent makes everything up based on the texts he saw in the office and totally fooled the police officer and us. It’s one of these endings that the villain never gets caught, but Kevin Spacey’s superb performance makes it unique and charming.

 

35. Fight Club

At the end of this thought-provoking film, the Edward Norton character shot himself, we are as shocked as Marla. Before we realize what is going on here, the skyscrapers start to fall down in front of them as well as us. Where is my mind?

 

34. Vengeance Is Mine

Vengeance is Mine (1973)

Shohei Imuamura’s classic ends in a fashion that is quite unusual in Japanese cinema history. The serial killer is executed; his family takes his ashes to the mountain top and splashes it. Then it’s a freezing frame, it’s like the earth is unwilling to accept a human being who’s so evil.

 

33. Ashes and Diamonds

Ashes and Diamonds

Ashes and Diamonds is one of the greatest Polish films ever made. At its ending, the Polish James Dean character is shot, he crawls on a dump and dies like a dog. A highly emotional ending to a great film.

 

32. The Wages of Fear

In this breathtaking French thriller made by Henri Georges Clozout,  four European men, down on their luck, drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine needed to extinguish the flames of an oil company.

At the end, only Mario survives and a party is held to celebrate his arrival. The camera frequently cuts between the party and the exhausted yet excited Mario on his way back. It seems like a happy ending. Then the girl faints during her dance, and the truck falls down a cliff. The film gives us the biggest thrill at the end.

 

31. The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain

In this mind-bending surreal masterpiece by Alejandro Jodorowsky, a team set out to the Holy Mountain to find immortality. Near the top, the alchemist, played by Jodorowsky himself, suddenly breaks the fourth wall by saying “Zoom back the camera”.

The camera zooms back, revealing all the casts & crews and filmmaking equipment. The director talks to the team member, as well as us, “Real life awaits us”, then the film ends. It’s surprising Jodorowsky ends his surreal film in such a realistic way, this ending adds more layers to the philosophy of this film.

 

30. Through the Oliver Trees

Through the Oliver Trees

In the last chapter of Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy, actor Hossein pursues one of the actress he works with while the film goes on. After finishing her scene, the actress leaves, Hossein runs to follow her.

The ending is a long take, showing us the process of pursuit from long distance. Hossein catches up with the girl, they talk, he runs back with her response. There is no close-up shot of his face so we have no idea what the girl’s response is. The film ends after he runs through the olive trees.

 

29. The Marriage of Maria Braun

The Marriage of Maria Braun

The Marriage of Maria Braun, the first film in Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy, follows the ups and downs of a woman called Maria during and after the WWII.

In the mesmerizing finale, Maria is visited by the executor Senkenberg. In the background plays the live radio broadcast of the final match of FIFA Would Cup 1954. As we hear a gas explosion which indicates Maria’s death, the radio is celebrating the winning of the German National Team. Fassbinder made this ironic ending to remind the people in Germany that they should not forget their own history.

 

28. The Leopard

The Leopard

In this epic tale of decay, director Luchino Visconti puts a long ball scene in the second half to make a contrast between the noble Prince and the young people of the new generation.

At the end of the ball, the Prince of Salina looks into a mirror and sheds some tears of sadness. His time has passed, but will the future be better? He refuses to take the carriage and walks alone in the alley.

 

 

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  • Kuba Sawoskower

    ‘Fallen Angels’ and ‘Beau Travail’

  • I Am

    no ‘Nights of Cabiria’???

  • Johann S.

    I like the ending to E.T – the extra terrestrial. It’s beautiful..

  • Bradley Vinci

    what about Citizen Kane ?

  • Benas Bačanskas

    The Graduate?

  • Cinema270

    Probably my favorite ending of all time:
    3:10 to Yuma (the James Mangold remake)

  • Michael Rappaport

    Ordinarily, I think your site is one of the best cinema sites. But … “Louise, I think …” from Casablanca? It’s Louis, not Louise. Captain Renault is a man.

  • Alvaro Guerrero Gabella

    And CHINATOWN????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ted Wolf

    Boy, this is a tough category. Planet of the Apes (68) is great as is Rocky (76) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  • Monster Master

    What about “Planet of the Apes”??!!!!!

  • MateRey95

    what about Old Boy?

  • Tim Drenth

    Great list again! Personally I would like to add Tom Tykwer’s Heaven (Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett, 2002). A very simple and minimalistic, but yet so powerful ending.

    • Felix Rafael

      Totally agree.

  • Justin Collymore

    Where in God’s name is Se7en???

    • Dominic O’Flynn

      Ha, ha!

  • Irene Tenenbaum

    Germany, Year Zero

  • Kristoffer Groves

    The Game

    • Brian Lussier

      Very predictable ending, when it was supposed to be a twist. Didn’t work. Then again, Usual Suspects was also easy to guess and I still love the ending…

  • Kristoffer Groves

    Clue

  • Hashim Nabil

    where is Se7en?!!!

  • Max

    Pretty good list but it’s missing my absolute favorite ending of all time from “Paths of Glory”.

  • The Graduate. The subtle change in their faces.

  • thegoddamnbatman

    -The Quiet Earth
    -Chinatown
    -Bonnie and Clyde
    -The Thing
    -A Clockwork Orange
    -Citizen Kane
    -Night of the Living Dead
    -Rosemary’s Baby

  • Alana Coppinger

    The Truman Show!~!

  • Romeo Garcia

    What about HEAT or LA BAMBA or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or STAND BY ME or DEAD POET SOCIETY or HALLOWEEN or EYES WIDE SHUT or TRANSPOITTING or CHINATOWN or PLANET OF THE APES or SUPERMAN:THE MOVIE or THE DARK KNIGHT.

    • Brian Lussier

      What the hell?!?! La Bamba and Lethal Weapon 2? Really? Wow! Notice also that all your choices are American films. The world doesn’t start and stop with America…

  • Unkle Amon

    Absence of Se7en is def. big mistake. That;s probably best film ending ever.

  • Felix Rafael

    Where is Three Colors: Red? and Ali: The Fear Eats the Soul?

  • Felix Rafael

    And Tropical Malady? The Piano? Bye.

  • Brian Lussier

    Not putting 2001: A Space Odyssey somewhere in the Top 5 is just stupid! It could be #1. And among other Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Paths Of Glory and Eyes Wide Shut could all have deserved a spot, and at least one of those should be here, with my vote going to A Clockwork Orange. Chinatown, Se7en, The Sixth Sense and plenty of others also deserve to be here, and especially The Godfather and Citizen Kane.

  • sallyatticum

    Citizen Kane, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Planet of the Apes?

  • Kristoffer Groves

    David Fincher’s The Game

  • mars

    -There Will Be Blood
    -Graduate
    -Dead Poets Society
    -Whiplash
    -Closer
    -Inception
    -Inglorious Basterds

    • Ahmed

      Agree with you on the first and last one you mentioned. Day-Lewis absolutely kills it in the Milkshake scene.

  • John Davidsson

    This is a great list, however, like any great lists, it’s missing out on some titles, be it Stalker, The terminator, Breaking the waves, Inglourious basterds or Birdman, one can understand that one’s own choices got left out But one ending that just should have been there more so than any other ending… One ending so good that the only reason for not including it must be one of ignorance, not having seen the film for no other reason can or should be accepted. I am of course talking about Takashi Miike’s formidable rulebreaker – Dead or alive: Hanzaisa.

    • Brian Lussier

      I loved Birdman, but I thought its ending was slightly problematic and a little too consensual.

      • John Davidsson

        I don’t know what you mean with Birdman’s ending being consensual and concerning the ending of Breaking the waves, I always thought of it as a great ironic whim put forth by a greatly ironic atheist.

        • Brian Lussier

          Breaking The Waves marked Lars von Trier’s conversion to Christianity, he’s spoken about this. However, like Woody Allen said in Scoop, as he grew older he converted to cynicism. Haha! As for the ending of Birdman, what I mean is that the film was so great, but it ended with a typical Hollywood happy ending that felt like a concession to the studio. It doesn’t mean it was one (I don’t actually think it was), but it wasn’t in keeping with what the film was going for, I thought. The film was SO bold from all points of view, and then he lost his fangs in the ending. But that’s me…

          • John Davidsson

            Do you have a link to a clip or an interview when he speaks of this, I’d love to read it, did he view the ending of Breaking the waves as something positive in favour of christianity? If so I’m greatly disappointed…

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9RAa5OqAJc

          • John Davidsson

            *BIRDMAN SPOILERS*

            I do not think that him commiting suicide is a typical happy hollywood ending, I thought it was a very deep, complex and beautifully uplifting ending that prompted questions instead of just handing us an easy answer.

        • Dominic O’Flynn

          ….which, I guess, responds to my comment. I felt it was a cop out.

          Thank you for your input on this, John. There is much I need to see from many of the comments here – to say nothing of the original list. I’m actually quite ashamed that I have never even heard of over half of the titles.

    • Dominic O’Flynn

      Strong commenting! I loved ‘Breaking the Waves’ but hated the ending. For me, in his first re-telling of the story – ‘Dancer in the Dark’, he nailed it.

  • Bernard Welt

    Very glad to see City Lights and The Third Man so high on the list. Dead of Night (1945) is a little more obscure than most of these, but its ending certainly stunned viewers more than most of these, and it’s the progenitor for many other endings that are memorable not for imagery but for narrative structure. It does effectively what Inception tries to.
    Of recent films, Boyhood has one of the most beautiful endings in years, and Waking Life has a great ending, too.

  • Chriso Saint

    Errrrr Shawshank Redemption!!!

    • Dominic O’Flynn

      Nicely put.

  • Aleš Prelog Volk

    What about The Mist?

  • Redouane Rami

    How about INCENDIE? HOW DARE YOU NOT TO PUT INCENDIE? *crying*

    • Demian Tatroevsky

      Absolutely.

  • Gines Velazquez

    iron 3

  • Gregorius Venmanius

    The ending of Fight Club was actually awful.

  • ladyofargonne

    Birdy

  • Steppenwolf

    Missing Se7en on this list makes it almost invalid…

    • Dominic O’Flynn

      Hear, hear! In all of the comments, this seems to be the most missed.

  • Cygnifier

    Good list. There are others to consider: All Quiet on the Western Front. Sunset Blvd. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Thelma and Louise. Doug Fairbank’s The Iron Mask (1929), which was also his swan song to silent film. Citizen Kane. Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

  • Piyush Jain

    The Sixth Sense and The Others

  • Javier Cornejo Subiabre

    I can’t believe nobody miss Melancholia.

  • Rui Martins

    What about the Shawshank Redemption?

  • SPFboston

    The last 5 minutes of Harold and Maude…. damn.

  • Andy Kubica

    Seven, The Mist, Dead Poets Society, Planet of the Apes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers

  • Andres Abad

    No sev7n ? No Clockwork orange ? No godfather 1 ???

  • Klaus Dannick

    Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Kubrick’s The Killing, and Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead deserve mention over some of these. And Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead has a doozy of an ending as well. As much as I love The Holy Mountain, I must confess that I find the ending to be something of a letdown. Otherwise, an interesting list, regardless of some of the more mainstream choices.

  • Paul Schofield

    “… Kent…”

    *Kint. Verbal Kint.

  • Sophie Legg

    How bout Melancholia? One of the most powerful closing scenes ever!

  • Susan Wallace

    Eat the Rich!!! How could you leave that out?

  • Arthur Hall

    Empire Strikes Back

  • Dominic O’Flynn

    Thank God. I thought this was serious – until I realised ‘Gone with the Wind’ was not in there. Then I KNEW it was a joke. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!!!! etc. etc.

  • Dominic O’Flynn

    Pinocchio. Thelma and Louise. Wizard of Oz. La Vita e Bella. Central Station. Gone with the Wind, Gone with the Wind, Gone with the Wind…

  • Pramod Gohil

    Add White God!! It has such great ending I have ever seen.

  • Jugu Abraham

    All good endings. I would add “Il posto” (Olmi).

  • nobody

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  • Ankit Sethi

    Sorry, but you can’t make a comprehensive list about that. Tons of movies could be there, it varies with each person. Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, The Tenant, Coherence and dozens of sci-fi movies could be there.

  • jane

    don’t look now
    enemy
    the witch
    the graduate
    seven
    rosemary’s baby
    sunset blvd
    melancholia
    etcetra….

  • Saptarshi Das

    lots of spoilers

  • K100

    Blow up!

  • Dipankar Chattopadhyay

    I expected Roman Holiday in the list. Last scene still haunts.In’Bicycle Thieves” last scene is everlasting. It shows that for a little boy, father is always ‘Papa”.”papa'” does not have any other identity. He cannot be a thieve. And little boy would always shake his hand calling ‘papa papa’

  • Michael Daly

    The good, the bad and the ugly’s final scene is where Clint shoots down Eli Wallach from his noose and rides off into the hills. Great ending as well mind. And can’t say I disagree with The Third Man’s conclusion being chosen as number one – perfection.

  • Allister Cooper

    Back to the Future? Pulp Fiction? Return of the Jedi? Manhunter? True Romance? Goodfellas? Pacific Rim?

  • Sara Oh

    what about taxidermia?!!

  • Objectivity

    Das Boot

  • SCParegien

    Great list. Some here I haven’t seen. I was always partial to the ending of The Long Goodbye.

  • Ted Wolf

    lots of complaint in the comments, but these are all really outstanding endings to, primarily, outstanding films.

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  • Scott Weber

    My personal favorite is “Raising Arizona”. Best ending to a film this year goes to “Captain Fantastic”.