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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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