10 Classic Movie Endings: Jordan’s Take

invasion of the body snatchers 1978

WARNING! Possible spoilers ahead!

By Jordan

A memorable ending isn’t necessary defined by an unforeseeable twist, but rather a satisfying conclusion to events that we have established an emotional connection with. Some of the below films do in fact feature twists, but they are carefully crafted to gel with the story preceding them, so that they don’t jar with the audience or appear out of context or character.

Whether or not a film is revered is dependent heavily on the final scene or moment; here are 10 (plus some honourable mentions) of the best.

For my Top 10 Opening Scenes click here

Note: This article contains possible spoilers, so if you’re yet to see a film below and don’t wish to know the ending it may be best to just read the titles and skip the write-ups.

10. The Wicker Man (1973)

Never before or since has there been gut-wrenching despair quite like what awaits the viewer at the end of The Wicker Man

Never before or since has there been gut-wrenching despair quite like what awaits the viewer at the end of The Wicker Man

Directed by Robin Hardy. Written by Anthony Shaffer

Waiting for the finale of The Wicker Man to hit is one of the most despairing feelings a movie goer can have; knowing the inevitable conclusion will be so tragic, so avoidable and yet predetermined. Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie has his fate sealed when he begins his search for a missing girl on a strange Pagan village, and no movie since has invited the viewer to take such a strange, nightmarish journey with such an undeserving protagonist.

 Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 5 – It’s not about the shock, but the execution.

9. Being There (1979)

Being There ending

Whats gravity to interrupt Chance the gardener’s stroll?

Directed by Hal Ashby. Written by Jerzy Kosinski

Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail) is one of the most underrated directors of the 70’s, and his unassuming work of cinematic art Being There, starring an arguably never better Peter Sellers, stands tall as his crowning achievement.

The conclusion, which sees Chance the gardener unknowingly fool even the law of gravity while he is touted as the saving grace for the American Presidential campaign, ties up a suitably charming and sweet movie perfectly.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 7 – It’s not a twist in any way, but similar to the raining frogs in Magnolia it’s still unexpected, and thoroughly enduring.

8. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (AKA The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue – 1974)

the living dead at the manchester morgue

Yeah.. this one has a lot of alternative titles…

Directed by Jorge Grau. Written by Sandro Continenza, Marcello Coscia

A Spanish/Italian co-production set in a very grim UK, Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is often referred to as Europe’s answer to George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), and save for Romero’s later entries in his series it’s also the next best zombie film there is.

Dark, depressing and gory yet unexpectedly nuanced and patient in it’s unraveling, this low-budget horror gem also boasts an exceptional crescendo to all the violence, which is both knowing and powerful and draws strong parallels with the zeitgeist defining Easy Rider.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 6 – We know a happy ending is a long shot.

7. Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory ending

Christiane Kubrick as the heart breaking German Singer

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson.

An excerpt from my Classic Review written October 15 2014:

Engaging, thrilling and at times thought-provoking and meditative (“See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we’ll be dead and it’ll be alive” laments the doomed Corporal Paris), Kubrick’s insight into the trials of war on a humane level stands tall and proud as one of his defining moments. His trademark tracking shots are evident here in arguably their best use yet, the camera trudging through the deathly canals of the dugouts and breaching the fray with a brigade of blood and dirt strewn soldiers in an unblinking fashion, and never again would he take a moral stance so passionately.

Then there’s the ending; a mesmerizing moment of reflection where a room full of rowdy American infantrymen lower their guard and hum along to the singing of a captured German girl made to perform for them (Kubrick’s future wife Christiane Harlan). The exact meaning of this scene is seemingly unknown to anyone, but what is known for sure is that it exists as the perfect culmination for a remarkable cinema experience.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 7 – It’s a sad yet somehow hopeful scene, and it’s unknown significance further entrenches it in the viewers memory.

6. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Sleepaway Camp poster

I can’t show a photo of the ending here… you’ll need to experience it for yourself

Directed by Robert Hiltzik. Written by Robert Hiltzik.

On the surface, Sleepaway Camp is just another summer camp slasher knockoff that exists in the shadows of Sean S. Cunningham‘s iconic Friday the 13th, but that’s why its important to dig beneath the surface, and to watch an otherwise ordinary film to the bitter end…

Simply put: if you’re at all interested in exploring the vast expanses of cinematic oddities, make Robert Hilzik’s bizarre thriller a must-visit destination. The majority of the running time is reserved for slightly off putting murders and forced tension, but the ending… oh boy the ending… it will rock you and shock you and make you realize that not all horror films are as they seem.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 10 – It’s a thing of beauty. Kind of. Actually it’s horrifying. Read my Classic Review here.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is simply devastating, but essential viewing

Directed by Philip Kaufman. Written by Jack Finney, W.D. Richter.

1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a rare case of a sequel trumping the original, and an important element of Philip Kaufman’s reworking of the classic tale of paranoia is it’s seriously downbeat, haunting final shot.

Bolstered by stoic performances from a highly talented cast including Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy, Kaufman’s masterpiece ratchets up the fear to almost hypnotic levels, culminating in this heartbreaking moment which will leave even the most unmovable critic shaken to the core.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 9 – This will leave you breathless.

4. The Searchers (1956)

The Searchers movie ending

A essential end to a poetically harsh, enduring masterpiece

Directed by John Ford. Written by Frank S. Nugent.

John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards is one of the most complex male characters of all time; a man out of touch with the world around him and who has discovered he no place in it. He is a lonely man who must wander alone, destined to be seperated from the woman he lusts after and the niece he so reluctantly saved, and his presence when framed in a doorway, before exiting into the vast expanses of the American West, summons a rousing feeling of satisfaction for a character so faithfully imagined and sculpted.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 1 – It’s the way it needed to end.

3. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr Strangelove ending

Dr. Strangelove presents the end of the world. We do not go quietly

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George.

Not many film-makers have the guts to present the end of the world, but then again, there have never been many film-makers quite like Stanley Kubrick. Teaming up with satirical writer Terry Southern to turn an otherwise straight tale into a black comedy, he proves that in this constant Cold War state of affairs the world will indeed end not with a whimper, but with a bang.

Vera Lynn’s lovely ballad We’ll Meet Again playing over images of exploding nuclear bombs is simply genius.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 3 – In a comedy of errors, an error this big was due.

2. The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects ending

One gold lighter. One pack of cigarettes…

Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Christopher McQuarrie.

The Usual Suspects is indeed a very fine film that is unfairly remembered primary for its ending, but what an ending it is…

Wrapping up a labyrinthian plot in such a devious manner was a masterstroke of writing by the canny Christopher McQuarrie, with his twist regarded as one of the greatest of all time behind The Empire Strikes Back and Fight Club.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 9 – When the coffee cup drops, so does the viewers jaw. Read my Classic Review here.

1. The Thing (1982)

The Thing 1982 ending

The ending to John Carpenter’s classic still resonates today

Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Bill Lancaster. 

Childs: Fire’s got the temperature up all over the camp. Won’t last long though.

MacReady: Neither will we.

Childs: How will we make it?

MacReady: Maybe we shouldn’t.

Childs: If you’re worried about me…

MacReady: If we’ve got any surprises for each other, I don’t think we’re in much shape to do anything about it.

Childs: Well, what do we do?

MacReady: Why don’t we just… wait here for a little while… see what happens?

… satisfaction level: 100%. If you’re yet to see John Carpenter’s finest hour, and one of the finest horror films of all time, do so now.

Rating on the “I’m Your Father” Shock Scale: 2 – There is no shock, apart from how shockingly good it is.

Honourable mentions:

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Night of the Living Dead, A Clockwork Orange, Primal Fear, Magnolia, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (1979), Don’t Look Now, The Mist

24 responses to “10 Classic Movie Endings: Jordan’s Take

  1. I’ve seen “Paths of Glory,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Searchers,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “The Thing.” The movie whose ending shocked me the most was definitely “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The firing squad scene in “Paths of Glory” was somewhat unexpected, and had me pondering a similar (but implied rather than shown) scene near the end of “The Great Escape.” I’ve always wanted to see “The Wicker Man,” “Being There,” and “The Usual Suspects.” Now that you’ve brought those titles to my attention again, I’m convinced that I really need to track them down.
    I think a discussion of movie endings is a great idea. I’m of the opinion that a good many films do have a satisfying ending. I am not fond of trick endings such as those in films like “High Tension” and “A Perfect Getaway.”
    One of my favorite movie endings of all time incorporates both the final sequence in “Wild Things” and the clips during the ending credits that creatively fill in a few gaps. Controversial endings that I really like include those for “Identity” and De Palma’s “Femme Fatale.”

    • Thanks for the insightful comment, I agree about trick endings – they can seem too forced sometimes and don’t gel properly. I hope you like the 3 you mentioned when you get a chance to see them.
      Cheers, Jordan

  2. Great list…one of my favorite endings was from Lars Von Trier’s ‘Breaking The Waves’. It really moved me, actually.

    Props for your inclusion of Sleepaway Camp. Classic ending.

      • Breaking The Waves in the only Von Trier I can watch all the way through. After that film he just became so divisive and angry. Granted BTW was angry, but it still seemed to have a soul at its core. Everything afterwards just seemed to be created to just piss people off. I did watch all of ‘Antichrist’, and while I like Dafoe and Gainsbourg, it all just seemed like arty exploitation. Meh.

  3. Interesting. I totally agree on Dr Strangelove. A lot I haven’t seen yet. My favorite endings would probably be a lot more sentimental than yours as I am a sucker for the old ‘Happily Ever After’. But I love the ending to the old Winnie the Pooh movie ‘will you always remember me Pooh”. I love the ending to ET and Truman Show. Gravity has a great ending and I know some hate it but I loved the ending to Inception. How it was a puzzle.

    The end to Casablanca is a favorite and Toy Story 3 when he plays with the toys one last time…You are making me think of a lot of favorites. Fun post!

    • There’s definitely nothing wrong with the happy ever after! Toy Story 3 particularly almost made this list – was moved to tears in that film. I remember loving a Winnie the Pooh movie when I was younger to: The Search for Christopher Robin I think..
      Thanks, Jordan

  4. And the ending to Christmas Carol and Les Miserables is always a favorite ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’. The ending to Some Like it Hot is funny. I know there are other good comedic endings but can’t think of them.

  5. Your opening line is spot on, commercial audiences struggle to connect with a film that lacks closure. I’m personally indifferent, enjoying films that challenge the viewer. Great way to start this post!

  6. Blimey these are bleak (apart from The Usual Suspects, which is brilliant)! Great definition of an ending. If it’s not shock value that is the criterion, one of my favourite endings of recent times is Ida.

  7. Jordan, might I ask, what about Hitchcock’s Psycho or Vertigo. I found that these endings and some other endings to Hitchcock’s films were quite jaw dropping!

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