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The Very Official List of Good Movies With Bad Endings or Bad Movies With Really Bad Endings

Saturday, July 21, 2007
by

My only friend

James17930: Given that The Culturatti has been around for more than a year now, it’s strange that myself, graeme and Beal have yet to do a collaborative post, all three of us together. With that end in mind we give you this one, the subject of which should be pretty clear from the title (sorry Beal — you can get the next one). Needless to say, spoilers abound.

All of my selections here are going to deal with that dreaded situation known as anti-climax, which happens when either a movie peaks too soon and there’s a bunch of boring stuff at the end that no one cares about, or when the ending provided comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really give the viewer a feeling of fulfillment.

San Francisco -- so unaware . . .

Zodiac (2007): Overall a fairly good film, but, in terms of how it ended, director David Fincher was unfortunately handicapped by reality in that the Zodiac Killer was never caught and the authorities never officially solved the case — everything was just kind of left hanging (the investigation was actually reopened in March). The film speculates very specifically as to whom the killer was, and we’re all like 99% percent sure it was that guy, but there was never any sort of confrontation, and so after 2 1/2 hours of plodding psychological drama, it feels like a real letdown.

A Tripod -- no, really!

War of the Worlds (2005): I have two huge problems with the ending to this one. First off — it may have been really clever when the book was written in 1898 for the aliens to be brought down by micro-organisms, but now it just seems really, really stupid. I mean, c’mon — they’ve developed interstellar space travel, have designed heat rays which can instantly incinerate a person and shields which are impenetrable by any human weapon, they planned the invasion way in advance by burying their pods on earth who knows how long ago (which means, you would assume, that they’d studied Earth already) — but they don’t know about viruses? They can’t make their tripods air-tight? LAME.

Also — the fact the kid miraculously turns up alive at the end. SUPER LAME.

GP: Also lame was the fact that the mom’s street was untouched by the aliens, and still had electricity.

B: Why is that part lame, GP? Would the aliens really have attacked every single street on Earth?

Oh when the good guys, go marching in . . .

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003): Now, Peter Jackson should be applauded for having the balls to completely alter the ending of his movie from that of the book — the book’s ending is one of the worst I’ve ever read: our heroes spend well over 1000 pages in total trudging towards Mordor, fighting the most massive horde of orcs etc. ever assembled, finally destroy the ring and rid Middle Earth of evil forever and ever and then . . . come home and have to fight against the horror of industrialisation! (the whole ‘Scouring of the Shire’ crap). I mean, this whole episode should go in the dictionary as the premier example of anti-climax.

So, thankfully, not in the movie. But . . . even the other stuff is kind of anti-climactic as well, in that there’s no final confrontation with Sauron. The protagonists spend the whole trilogy encountering bigger and bigger creatures and harder and harder challenges and it all seems to be building towards something huge, but then all that happens is Frodo and Sam trudge into the Crack of Doom, scuffle with Gollum, and oops, the ring gets destroyed. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the eagles could have just flown them directly there in the first place . . .

I’m not sure what Tolkien’s reasoning was (I know that according to the lore Sauron couldn’t take physical form again without the power of the Ring), but he could have written it so that it does happen, and there’s some sort of more interesting confrontation other than Frodo vs. Gollum and Frodo vs. himself. I understand all the mirroring symbolism being employed in that scene, but overall it leaves me wanting. And then of course the twenty minutes of denouement afterwards is a little tiring too (even though, I do admit, it does get to me every time).

graemepowell: A good movie with a great ending is a joy to behold. A good movie with a bad ending can be a very disappointing experience. After investing two hours in a well-crafted, well acted story, we crave the catharsis, and if that moment fails to materialize, well, it can be as bad as preparing your favourite food, only to have the plate drop on the floor before you’ve had a single bite. Not that that has ever happened to me, but I can only imagine it would be as bad as that.

Cast Away (2000): While I do have problems throughout with this film, I actually think it’s surprisingly affective. The island stuff (which is thankfully most of the movie) is beautiful to watch, and the soundscape is amazing. Hanks’ performance really is a tour de force, and even while the other main character of the film, Wilson (a volleyball), might seem a bit contrived, when Wilson gets swept overboard and gently bobs out to sea, it produced a lump in my throat. The thing that bothers me most about the film, and therefore the ending, is the fact that one could read it as a two and a half hour commercial for Fed-Ex. I understand that the package basically represents Hanks’ sanity, and that by keeping it unopened and delivering it to its recipient its supposed to help him heal after his 4-year ordeal on a deserted isle, but please. And the final shot of Hanks standing in the intersection is just dumb and uninspired. Oooo . . . he’s at a crossroads in his life . . . whatever.

J: That’s typical Robert Zemeckis though — he did much the same sort of stuff in Forrest Gump.

Walkin' and Talkin'

Munich (2005): Hmm, the second Spielbergo movie on the list (he should be thankful we haven’t ripped into AI). Munich certainly has a lot going for it; stylistically it’s one of Spielberg’s most exciting films, and all of the performances are great. Dramatically, however, I don’t think it succeeds all that well — but, the last few minutes of film (the climax . . . literally) are a mess: Eric Bana’s character, after becoming a hardened killer, disillusioned with his country, and himself, makes love with his wife, but all he can think of are the Munich killings. They invade his mind — the more rapid-fire the thoughts appear, the more rapid-fire does his screwing become, until he finally climaxes, showering the bed, and presumably his mate (though she apparently is not important enough in the love-making to warrant any screen time) in a firework-like burst of sweat. It’s embarrassing, and incredibly insensitive to the female viewing population, and ultimately turns an otherwise okay film into a bad one.

B: To add a quick third to Steve’s closing errors — He removed from Minority Report its final line of epilogue: “The following year, there were 161 murders in the District of Columbia.” It would’ve been a great, grim dwelling point to go out on, but Spielberg needs his endings to be clean and happy, apparently.

Ooo . . . crop circle.  Spooky

Signs (2002): Continuing with James17930’s criticism of War of the Worlds, I have similar complaints surrounding M. Night Shyamalan’s alien invasion scare-fest. I think Shyamalan is a talented director – he knows how to build tension very effectively, and his sense of style is actually quite different from many blockbuster movie-makers. But, he’s also known as “that guy who makes those movies with the twist endings.” Signs isn’t too bad with the whole twist thing — the restoration of Mel Gibson’s faith, the ‘swing away’ message coming into play — that’s all fine. But you’d think a sophisticated alien species, capable of travelling through space and invading other planets, wouldn’t invade a planet where the majority of its surface is covered by water if water can kill them! If the aliens had just been wearing suits, I would have been less peeved. But no. They walk around naked on a planet full of water. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go around invading planets covered in hydrochloric acid, and even if I did, I’d make sure the tech guys had invented the anti-hydrochloric acid suit before I went.

J: No — I thought the whole ‘swing away’ thing was pretty stupid too; a writer can’t construct a bunch of coincidences in a movie or book and then use that as ‘proof’ that ‘there are no coincidences.’

B: But you know what they say, James: The Lord works in stupid ways.

Beal: I’ve got no desire to set up why good endings are important and why I don’t like bad endings. That’s all pretty obvious, don’t you think? I’ll just say that a great movie with an ending that just doesn’t satisfy all that’s come before, well that’s just a damn shame.

Identity (2003): This film’s bodies-keep-piling-up murder mystery bases all its tension on three primary questions:

  • Who’s doing it?
  • How are they doing it?
  • How are all these strangers connected?

With each bizarre new death this puzzle grows ever stronger, until all the various plot elements seem so convoluted that it’s hard to believe the filmmakers will be able to provide any answers at all. But that’s what this kind of story is all about — the ingenuity of a carefully-balanced plot, and the satisfaction of learning just how you’ve been led around, like a dog on a leash, to exactly where they wanted you. Though here, when they finally do reveal what’s up their sleeves, it’s more like a stiletto-heel kick to the appendix. How, in physical reality, could all these elaborate murders have been pulled off, you’ve been asking? It seems the assumption of physical reality was a presumptuous one to make.

Because Identity is a fucking dream sequence. None of these characters are real, nor is the location, nor were any of the murders — it’s all just the symbolic manifestations of some nutjob’s multiple personalities fighting it out in his inner motel. Which personality is the psychopathic one, looking to off all the rest and claim his/her/id’s position as king of the head? Will it succeed? Why do I suddenly not care at all anymore?

The Descent (2005): The plot here is only slightly more than what’s required for a tale of lady spelunkers trapped below the surface of the earth with blind albino subhumans (of the flesh-eating variety). Tone and performance are more important in pulling off the moments of quivering, creepy tension and splashy gore that writer/director Neil Marshall manages. But when you’ve got this kind of isolated-characters-being-picked-off-by-beasties movie, there are really only a few, well-established ways to wrap it all up. You can leave one-to-three survivors to somberly contemplate the carnage they’ve witnessed, or you can just kill’em all off. I’ll go on record as saying that the latter is the easy way out; you really need to have justification for such a redemption-less, downer of an ending, and The Descent doesn’t.

On top of that, it has our hero punish another character (one who I happened to like a hell of a lot more than her) rather harshly over something that was really just an accident. And it reveals the whole purpose behind a thus-far-not-especially-vital plot element as being an attempt at final-moment poignancy. And, worst of all, it throws a fake at us: the hero escapes the caves of hell only to discover that it’s just a dream. Oh drat! The Descent is still absolutely a good movie, it’s just unfortunate they didn’t find a better way out.

Batman Begins (2005) : Christopher Nolan and co. do a fine job of illustrating the depth and force of Bruce Wayne’s obsession, as well as setting up some interesting villainy in Ra’s Al Ghul’s desire to bring down the decadent Gotham City. Unlike most superhero fare, the Batman’s origin story is kept rather grounded, presenting these characters and events in such a manner that they (almost) seem plausible.

But then all this is tossed aside for the climax, where they try to give us that big dose of over-the-top spectacle they’d assumed we’d been waiting for since the advertising campaign started, some three years before release. Two problems: 1) they had actually dissuaded us from wanting ridiculous spectacle by the skillful character study of the first two hours, and 2) Nolan apparently sucks at it. The Batman dangling behind the countdown clock train; illogically big explosions; a sympathetic-but-plot-unrelated little kid that needs saving; and James Gordon as comic relief — none of these are deserving of the film which preceded. Here’s hoping they know when to hold back in The Dark Knight.

J: Overly harsh there, I’d say. I had no problem with this ending.

And now here’s our ending. Make of it what you will.
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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, July 22, 2007 1:21 pm

    Hmmm, nothing really for us to comment on…

  2. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, July 24, 2007 8:40 am

    Unless there’s anything else you’d like to add . . . ?

  3. Tuesday, July 24, 2007 2:15 pm

    No, I’m good.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Monday, May 5, 2008 11:56 am

    Got a new one to add to the list. Phonebooth. C’mon — like a guy, no matter how pyschopathic, is really going to go to all that trouble to set all that up simply because another guy is a bit of a dick and was trying to have an affair?

    I was liking the movie until we found it there was really nothing that had happened. Then it was just stupid.

  5. esquire1979 permalink
    Friday, April 17, 2009 10:33 pm

    uhh…the entirety of the descent wasn’t a dream sequence – just the escape was. the descent refers more towards sarah’s mental downward spiral than the physical descent into the cave. also, sarah’s stabbing of juno at the end wasn’t based on the accident involving beth- juno’s cowardice in her dealing with accidentally killing beth merely compounded the fact that sarah knew that juno was having an affair with sarah’s husband. also, the ending as it appeared in American theatres differs from the European ending. the American ending was indeed stupid – not because, as you state, it made it seem like a dream, but because it made it seem like juno’s ghost had risen, which doesn’t make sense. why introduce a ghost in a monster flick? at any rate, the european version makes it abundantly clear that sarah just went mad and ends up still in the cave at the end, caught in a vision involving her daughter. Ultimately, the directors chose the ghost sequence because they thought it would please American audiences. like you three bozos, most Americans can’t take a “downer” ending. grow up. not everything ends up with reflection of a few characters or total annihilation. seems like a pretty arbitrary rule in determining a good movie. also, if you saw the European version, you’d realize that your basic premise – that there better be a good reason for only one person to survive – falls flat on its face, because no one gets out alive here.

  6. Sunday, April 19, 2009 10:56 am

    I did mean that the escape was the dream. Really, there’s no reason you should have thought otherwise, having seen the film.

    Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced you can read.

  7. Josh permalink
    Sunday, June 14, 2009 12:14 am

    heres a good one, “Changeling”

  8. Friday, July 24, 2009 10:19 pm

    Just came across this, and I think it tops anything we’ve got on our lists:

  9. Martin permalink
    Saturday, October 9, 2010 7:14 am

    I like some of the comments. However, war of the worlds was just plain bad all the way through. The only good scene was when the guy stole the van and then got shot 10 seconds later.
    One movie that is THE poster child for bad endings is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. All that emotional investment into the two main characters and the one guy get puts down by a group on Mexican hoodlums!!!!
    Then the anti climax of Tommy lee jones outside the hotel room. Followed by the dumbest monologue drinking coffee (…and scene)

    Worst ending EVER.

    • Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:42 pm

      Yes — WotW was definitely in the ‘bad movies with bad endings’ category.

      As for NCFOM — unbelievably I still haven’t seen it.

    • Saturday, October 9, 2010 2:39 pm

      Yeah… No Country For Old Men would have been a much better film if the good guys got the bad guys, and everyone went home and lived happily after. Then I could have left the theater with a false sense of comfort based on the notion that, in this world, everything always works out okay in the end.

      And Llewellyn should have had an adorable monkey sidekick.

      Also, it should have been a musical.

  10. Umm... permalink
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 2:49 am

    The end of the decent is not that its all a dream… hense the decent 2.

  11. Friday, December 10, 2010 7:30 pm

    Having just watched The Descent for the second time, I feel entirely more satisfied with the ending knowing that there is a sequal. It opens up a world of possibilities, outside of the initial option, being that they all die in exactly the same way, only one lives long enough to go insane. I’ve not seen it, and I’m confident that this will not be the case, but I’m genuinely hoping it involves the last remaining survivor becoming queen of the cave monsters.

  12. Ben permalink
    Friday, August 12, 2011 6:03 pm

    Worst list ever! I thought I’d see some movies like Reservoir dogs and Vanishing point or Dog day afternoon not Lord of the rings or some M. Night Shyamalan movie! You don’t know shit about movies!

    • Wednesday, August 31, 2011 5:37 am

      Damn — and here we went and started a blog. I feel so bad that we were lying to the internet for so long.

      Good thing we’ve stopped.

  13. Anonymous permalink
    Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:35 pm

    the Mist is the BIGGEST pile of horse shit ending, fucking Darabonte

  14. Friday, December 9, 2011 1:04 am

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