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The 15 Most Moving Film Endings in Cinema History

08 September 2016 | Features, Other Lists | by David Williams

cinema paradiso

Movie endings are like the last sentence of a novel; it’s responsible for leaving a lasting impression on the viewer, regardless of whether it’s shocking, disturbing, depressing, or happy.

However, there is one kind of movie ending that always stays with us long after watching the film, and that’s the ending that moves us into tears.

When we watch these kinds of films, usually our emotions accumulate and it reaches a boiling point when the film reaches its closure. Even the subtlest moving moment could bring out our tears and immerse us in an emotional state for days. That’s the power and magic of cinema. Without further ado, let’s take a look at our picks for the 15 most emotionally moving endings in cinema history.

 

15. Dead Poets Society (1989, Peter Weir)

Dead Poets Society

In one of his most iconic roles, the late Robin Williams plays John Keating, an idealistic teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. He encourages his students to “make your lives extraordinary,” a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem (“seize the day”).

The students find the meaning of life through poetry, but a tragedy forces Keating to leave the school. As he departs, the formerly shy Todd stands on the desk and salutes Keating with the words “O Captain! My Captain!”, and we see half of the students do the same thing, one by one. Keating realizes his education has had a last impact on his students and leaves with smile on his face. How we wish we had a teacher like this.

 

14. Three Colors: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieślowski)

three colors blue julie cry

This is a story of a woman’s resilience after losing her beloved husband and daughter in a car accident. She tried to get away from everything related to her former life to escape the pain, but things keep pulling her back to it.

The film ends with the camera slowly panning through all the people Julie encountered in the movie, with the completed music piece played in the background. We see the final image of Julie, crying, a single tear falling from her eyes.

 

13. Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

paths-of-glory

It’s hard to connect the word “moving” to Stanley Kubrick, but if you are a big fan of his work, you actually can find one moving scene in Kubrick’s otherwise “cold” filmography.

It’s at the end of his early World War I film “Paths of Glory”, after three soldiers were wrongly court-martialed and executed for their cowardice during an operation. The rest of the Army is having a party at an inn.

Then we hear this beautiful and sad folk song sang by a captive German girl (played by Christiane Harlan who would become Kubrick’s wife), and the whole atmosphere suddenly changes. They don’t know that they will soon return to the front again, and they don’t know if they have the same fate as the three dead soldiers. We never know the answer, because this is war.

 

12. The Leopard (1963, Luchino Visconti)

The Leopard

This Palme d’Or winning film is, in a way, director Luchino Visconti’s autobiographical film. He was born into a prominent noble family in Milan and was formally known as Count don Luchino Visconti di Modrone, and his family is a branch of the House of Visconti. The film is about the shift of power between old and new Italy.

In the big climactic ball scene, Prince Salina despised the new social class and found his old time glory once again by dancing with his daughter. After that, he looks into the mirror and can’t help shedding tears, as his time is gone and the new Italy is one he will never inhabit.

 

11. Au hasard Balthazar (1966, Robert Bresson)

au-hasard-balthazar

For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, it would be hard to imagine that you could cry for a donkey. Robert Bresson did this in the most Bressonian way.

The film is about the miserable life of a donkey on the surface, but it’s also about a saint, or Jesus Christ. The last scene of the film is one of the holiest moment in cinema history; we see the old Balthazar dying among a group of sheep, as we sympathize with it and hate ourselves at the same time.

 

10. The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut)

the-400-blows-12

Probably one of the greatest coming-of-age tales ever told on the silver screen, Francois Truffaut’s French New Wave classic is also a story of his own. He was passed around to live with various nannies and his grandmother for a number of years during his childhood, and then he fell in love with cinema and spent most of his time in movie theaters.

We find the film relatable because we have also experienced an age of confusion and rebellion. The film ends with a long take of Antoine running toward the sea, as the frame suddenly freezes as he moves toward the camera and stares into it. We are moved because we all find Antoine in us.

 

9. Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook)

oldboy ending

What’s so interesting about this modern South Korean masterpiece is that the one who looks for vengeance is actually the one being revenged upon, and he didn’t even know it. Certainly, the big plot twist toward the end made viewers’ jaws drop, but it was the beautiful ending that really closed this film in a perfect way.

After learning the secret that has both shocked him and us throughout the film, Oh Dae-su found the hypnotist who hypnotized him before and asked her to do it again. This time he wanted to forget the truth and continue his romance with the female sushi chef. They embrace once again in big snowstorm, with “The Last Waltz” playing on the soundtrack, it’s a beautiful and moving moment.

 

 

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  • Ard Vijn

    Great article, but either Isao Takahata’s GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES or ONLY YESTERDAY needs to be added to the list (and preferably both).

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    Requiem for a Dream.

  • Lucas

    What about Phoenix by Christian Petzold???

  • Hariharan Acharya

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind????

  • Andrés Alafita

    Waltz with Bashir!!!!!!!

  • Erik

    Great endings indeed, but no Pan’s Labyrinth?

    • tea & snark

      That movie made me cry.

  • Jorge Pancolart

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) + Julio Iglesias – La Mer song then perhaps Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).

  • Brazil, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Synecdoche New York, Love

  • Rudi

    Dancer In The Dark probably has one of the most moving (and brutal) endings in movie history.

  • baba

    no chinatown??

  • Levi

    Sansho the Bailiff

  • lauramoreaux

    The bridges of Madison county, Captain Phillips, Carol, The imitation game made me cry .

    • Adrian

      Even though it’s highly sentimental, Bridges Of Madison County ending is one that always breaks me without fail each time. One of the most moving endings in cinematic history. Equally so is the ending in David Lean’s Brief Encounter. Shame those two weren’t on this list.

  • You can’t go wrong with any of these endings. All of them are great.

  • Jimi LaMort

    Sion Sono’s HIMIZU (2011) & NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005)

  • Michael Woodier

    The Mist…best ending and moving ever, Fear of the number 13, haven’t been moved an in tears since ET.

  • Gabriel Zoeman

    The clothes weren’t hanging in Jack’s closet in the final scene of Brokeback Mountain, you dopes. He found them in Jack’s closet when he visited Jack’s parents. He was looking at them in his own closet in the final scene after his daughter visited him to tell him she was getting married. I swear to Christ this mistake made me way angrier than is rational.

    • dan klutmeyer

      Ya you dopes! lol They were in his closet

  • Nico

    Toy Story 3 broke my stupid little heart 🙁

  • Mason O’Neill Hunsicker

    Where’s Forrest Gump? When he talks to Jenny’s grave, that gets me every time.

  • Cesáreo

    Damn!

  • Allister Cooper

    Ten things I hate about you, when Pat and Kat make out like mad in the parking lot :)!

  • Moni Parthiban

    What about Bicycle Thieves

  • jane

    agree with additions of pan’s, dancer in the dark, and requiem

    i’d add melancholia, rams (!), and wendy & lucy, too, off the top of my head.

    the witch and safety not guaranteed both had “moving” endings as well, but not in a “sad” way.

  • Raphael Bruckner

    How about “A River runs though it”

  • Gab Kesen

    What about Kotoko?
    I cried a lot with that ending…

  • Gabriel Zoeman

    You remove my comment calling out your mistake and then you don’t correct the mistake. This page is like the teacher that sends a student to the principal for knowing more than the teacher.