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The 20 Best WTF Movie Endings in Cinema History

28 May 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Daniel Gauss

Stanley-Kubricks-2001-A-Space-Odyssey

So yesterday a guy I know told me he saw Blowup by Antonioni again and thought the film was horribly dated. Au contraire mon frere. The film was deliberately embedded in London’s ‘mod’ culture, it’s not dated at all, it’s a period piece. Then I realized maybe he meant the pantomime performers made the film look dated. Then I remembered the amazingly ambiguous ending to the film and his criticism lost all credibility.

Then I got the idea for this top 20 list – maybe this guy saw the ending, said, “WTF is this!?” and just concluded the ending was some superficial homage to the moribund Marcel Marceau. After doing some research, I discovered there is a plethora of “WTF movie ending” lists, but they really fail to delve back into film history.

Here’s my shot at “art film WTF endings” with a clarification: WTF would have 2 meanings – an ending so ambiguous you leave saying WTF was that? Or an ending so bizarre and shocking you leave saying WTF was that? So we have WTF category 1 and category 2 and I’m lumping them together. “WTF!!!” you say? Well, it’s a free country, compile your own list. Please note that this list contains spoilers.

 

20. The Host by Joon-ho Bong

The-Host

Due to experiments conducted by the US military, there is a monster living in the Han River running through Seoul. It likes eating people. Early in the film we are introduced to the sweetest, cutest, most lovable little Korean girl you might imagine. Toward the end of the film she is captured by the monster who holds her in his lair as one of his next snacks. You really get to like this girl, who protects a little boy who is also in the lair.

Finally, the monster eats her and you feel like crap and you say WTF – come on! Did the monster REALLY have to eat this little girl in this film! Jesus Christ, you couldn’t save the cute little Korean girl! WTF!

 

19. Nazarin by Luis Bunuel

Nazarín (1959)

When you present something so ambiguous that you get praise from both the Vatican and atheist groups, you know you have created an art film classic. This is a one of Bunuel’s less ‘surreal’ films but one of his more affecting and meaningful projects. It’s a tale of a genuinely sincere and humane priest who gets railroaded by corrupt small town officials in Mexico.

At the end, as he is chained to a group of other prisoners and about to be marched off to a prison camp, an old woman walks up to him and gives him a pine apple. The film ends.

 

18. Aguirre the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog

Aguirre Wrath of God

Herzog said he didn’t even know what the dialogue was going to be for individual scenes until 10 minutes before each scene. The guy just kind of went with the flow. So a nutty Conquistador (played by Klaus Kinski) usurps power from a competent Conquistador to look for a City of Gold which, in reality, is part of a mythological story and not a literal place.

Ultimately his party gets ambushed by indigenous folks who think he is stupid, lots of white folks get shot with arrows and a huge bunch of monkeys swarm the ship Kinsky is on. He yells at the monkeys. The film ends.

 

17. The Bicycle Thief by Vittorio de Sica

the_bicycle_thiefjpg

So throughout the whole film we’re hoping the guy finds his bicycle again. At the end, with his son by his side, he decides to steal another person’s bicycle…seems fair, doesn’t it? Not to the guy who owns the bike. The dad is publicly humiliated and walks off with his son.

 

16. Jules and Jim by Francois Truffaut

jules and jim

There’s no reason for Catherine to drive with Jim off a bridge to end the film. But she does it. Why? Your interpretation is as good as mine.

 

15. Y Tu Mamá También by Alfonso Cuarón

Y Tu Mamá También

Yep, you get a few WTFs out of this one. So the sexy woman is going to die soon. The two teen guys have awkward sex with each other for no good reason. Since they are of different social classes they will soon end their deep friendship and go to different types and qualities of colleges. And, the punchline of the whole film is that one of them has been having sex with the other’s mother (and your mother too!).

 

14. Z by Costa Gavras

z 1969

This is an amazing film about political corruption. A sincere and kind-hearted politician is assassinated in an apparently random manner. Yet, it turns out the Greek military is behind the whole thing since this politician wants to force American troops out of Greece. A lackey prosecutor is assigned to ‘investigate’ the case and he surprises everyone by actually investigating (so we get a WTF right here).

Indeed, he indicts a huge number of generals and military guys. So we think, wow, great film, justice was done! Nope. Before the closing titles run we see what happened to each general – not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, not guilty…the prosecutor became uncorrupted, but fat corrupt judges never change.

 

13. The Blue Angel by Josef von Sternberg

The Blue Angel

So after throwing his life away chasing Lola Lola, Professor Unrat crawls back to his desk at the school he had to leave due to Lola Lola. He dies there. The film is chalk-full of WTFs as we see a guy in a highly respected position become the subject of universal scorn.

 

12. The Marriage of Maria Braun by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The Marriage of Maria Braun

Maria works her hump off as a post WWII German businesswoman partly in the hopes of finding her husband again, who disappeared in the war. The bundle of dough she is hoarding from her numerous successes will ensure a wonderful life for them upon his return. So he finally returns years later. Life sucks anyway. West Germany wins the 1954 World Cup. Maria kills herself. Film ends.

 

11. Kanal by Andrzej Wajda

Kanal (1957)

A group of Polish resistance fighters has to go down into the Warsaw sewer system to try to evade a squad of Nazi soldiers who are hunting them down. One by one each Polish fighter is killed in an often humiliating and degrading way, in a sewer among all kinds of muck. The film is one slow wwwwwwtttttttttffffffff as you slowly begin to realize this is one of the darkest and most pessimistic films ever made. At the end all the good guys are dead and the Nazis have triumphed in this sewer.

 

 

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  • Johann S.

    the ending of Jules and Jim had me more “wow”.

    • Veronica Clarke

      The bird driving the car into the water didn’t surprise me at all, as she was obviously mentally ill. What had me going ‘huh’ was that Jim got in the car, as she had previously tried to shoot him. Why would you do that?

  • Eric Newman

    Filth that’s all I’ll say

    • missannthrope

      That definitely had a WTF ending.

  • Ricardo Moreira

    The Mist
    The movie is not the best but that ending was really wtf? cool!

  • Derek Handelong

    Holy Motors

  • Lorenzo Nicchi

    Enemy

  • Tony Harrison

    I hadn`t seen a couple of films on this list….luckily you`ve told me the endings so I don`t need to….

    • Sharlto

      You read them. The whole article talked about the endings, so why didn’t you skip the ones you hadn’t seen? You ruining the films for yourself is entirely your fault, not the author’s.

  • Brandon Thompson

    Good choices

  • Jeroen Ledderhof

    Dead or Alive of director Takashi Miike
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTlbulbVo8c

    was pretty WTF!!

    And Kaboom!!!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_2vrppZqT0

    • Rui

      This! This is the most WTF ending!

  • Ted Wolf

    great list, although on Blow Up there are some even more specific WTF issues going on as you start to hear the invisible tennis ball before Hemmings completely disappears! Fun stuff, thank you!

  • Brett Lovejoy

    I would add Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy.’ What a fucking insane ending.

    • Daniel Gauss

      Thanks for the great addition! I kept the list down to 20 and there were a few films that came to mind after I compiled the list and I wish I had thought of them earlier. For instance, WTF! how could I have left Nicolas Roeg off this list! Walkabout, Man Who fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now! all had great WTF endings! Arrrrr….I apologize for any stuff I missed and hope people add to the list here! 🙂

      • Brett Lovejoy

        No need to apologize, everyone’s list would be different and people are bound to disagree with one another to some capacity! I enjoyed the read 🙂

        Roeg would definitely go on mine, and if I had to choose one of those three, I’d go for ‘Don’t Look Now.’ What an ending. Probably one of the best horror twists I’ve ever seen, and it’s such a uniquely done film.

  • Rubén Martínez

    c’mon, you totally misinterpreted “Y tu mamá también”. It’s like you weren’t paying attention.

    Or maybe you need context. I’m mexican, and “Y tu mamá también” it’s just a comeback catchphrase when you’re arguing verbally with someone and you’re out of arguments, it’s a very immature and “asshole-ish” way to end up a conversation.

    Also, they didn’t fucked each other’s mothers, they DID fucked each other’s girlfriends, basically, “Y tu mamá también” means that they are both assholes and they would’ve fucked each other’s mother if they had the chance.

    And they didn’t have sex for “no reason”, there was a lot of sexual tension and angst thanks to the Spanish girl in that point of the movie and they both were very very very drunk and ended up having sex with each other to “make up” for all the fights they had during the roadtrip.

    The “ending punchline” of the movie is that they never saw each other again after the coffee conversation, because they were still awkward and insecure about the drunk sex incident, they were young, stupid and immature, and now it was time to move on and leave that incident behind… and their way of dealing with that was to not see each other ever again.

    • Daniel Gauss

      Hey Ruben – thanks for your constructive feedback. It’s possible that I misinterpreted the “Y tu mamá también” moment, but it also seemed to me that the character himself wondered whether this really was a joke. I thought the implication was that the one guy probably had had sex with the mom. 😛 Maybe I’m wrong though since my Spanish sucks and I was looking at the subtitles alot. But we can also agree to disagree 🙂 I think everyone should see this film however! Thanks again!

      • Rubén Martínez

        You’re welcome! and of course we can agree to disagree.

        I love Taste of Cinema and the intention of my comment was just to improve its contents. Sorry if I sounded a little harsh 😛

  • marcel

    El cuerpo WTF?!?! El orfanato, again WTF!?

  • Rudi

    Fun list! I would definitely add Irréversible. It ends very low key which makes everything that happened “before” even more intense/horrible. Talking about brainfucks!

  • Klaus Dannick

    I’d add Lars von Trier’s Europa (Zentropa) to this list, definitely.

  • Samuel Segura

    Magnolia…

  • Eden Daniel

    I think Catherine Breillat’s “Fat Girl” should be on this list!!

  • Great choices but never forget the shocking ending of Don’t Look Now.

    • Daniel Gauss

      I can’t tell you how much I’ve been kicking myself for not adding that one. Walkabout too – why does the Aborigine guy kill himself at the end? I guess there could be many theories.

  • marcel

    The biggest WTF is to have IT problems :))) backup is a bitch. Lost some of your recent articles Tasteofcinema?

  • Tom M.

    Sixth Sense. Almost 100 % of people were truly surprised by the ending, judging by the look on their faces and the way everybody gasped when the ring fell…

  • charlyaz

    You are missing a plethora of russian films from the soviet era. In cuba they call those kind of endings “Koniec” endings. They are plenty

  • PhillyPhreak

    I don’t see how the film “Magnolia” is not on this list. When the movie is nearing the end and all of a sudden, thousands of frogs just happen to start falling from the sky? C’mon……it’s the weirdest WTF ending I’ve ever seen!

  • Lex Vanderwal

    The 20 worst spoilers on this entire website. Thanks.

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  • Leon

    Take Shelter, such an underrated film. And that ending blew me away.

  • asalways

    Doesn’t the ending of La Dolce Vita imply alienation and people don’t understand each other?

    • Daniel Gauss

      I think that’s a good interpretation…

  • Bryton Cherrier

    Where in the world is Killer Joe?!
    That ending stomped on my heart.
    Like seriously, holy shit.

  • Daniel Gauss

    In my opinion this is a rotten group of people to write for. This was my first and LAST list.

  • Daniel Gauss

    Frankly, I am sorry I ever submitted anything to this site.

  • Man Hattan

    Yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the greatest WTF ending of all time. The ambiguity combined with the unforgettable visual on top of the “Zarathustra” music was the best way to reward the audience members who braved the journey. This one taught me that the best movies are ones that are in fact open-ended, not predictable rubbish like 90 percent of films are.

  • delraydavis

    I would add Brazil.