The best endings

I’ve been thinking lately about memorable movie endings. I was surprised that I’d never really considered endings before, and so I’ve been trying to cook up a list of the greatest, most masterful endings in all of cinema. Endings that make you cheer.

First, let me get it out of the way and say that I really didn’t think the ending of Citizen Kane was all that great. You may disagree or throw stones at me all you like, but I stand by my opinion. That said, here are some of the best movie endings I’ve ever seen, in no particular order (if you haven’t seen these movies, my descriptions may contain a few spoilers, but I’ll try not to get too specific):

A Place in the Sun: ending

A Place in the Sun (1951) – In his prison cell, George confesses his guilty heart to Angela. They kiss and say their goodbyes. In a series of long dissolves, George is led out of his cell and down the hall towards the execution chamber. Close-up of George as he walks down the hall. Swirling violins. Lap dissolve to George and Angela’s first kiss, with George’s condemned eyes staring out from underneath. Fade to black. George Stevens is a Jedi master of the lap dissolve, and employed here it is haunting.

Full Metal Jacket: ending

Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Joker and the other Marines march through the burning ruins of Hue City at night, singing the Mickey Mouse March. “We play fair and we work hard and we’re in harmony, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!” Voice-over: “I am in a world of shit, yes, but I am alive. And I am not afraid.” “Hey, there! Hi, there! Ho, there! You’re as welcome as can be! M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!” Fade to black. Music cue: Paint it, Black, by the Rolling Stones.

And then of course when you’re talking Kubrick, you have to mention Dr. Strangelove: “Mein Führer! I can walk!” KABOOOOM! But that one’s obvious. The ending used to be a pie fight, you know. But then JFK got shot, so they had to change it. True story.

The Great Dictator: ending

The Great Dictator (1940) – I debated about whether or not to include this one, because how great can a movie be if it ends with a speech, especially when it’s such a departure from the largely lighthearted film? Well, it all depends on the speech. A Jewish barber, mistaken for a Fascist dictator, addresses a crowd of thousands: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor,” he says. “The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress,” he says, and somehow, it’s true. Hannah, his love, weeping on the ground far away, rises. “Hannah, can you hear me?” he says. “Look up, Hannah, look up.” And she does. “Listen,” she says. A light breeze blows. Fade to black.

Blood Simple: ending

Blood Simple. (1985) – Loren Visser lies bleeding to death on the bathroom floor, staring up at the plumbing underneath the sink. A droplet of water forms on one of the pipes. It swells. It dances. Visser concentrates on it with all his might. Drop falls. Cut to black. Music cue: It’s the Same Old Song, by The Four Tops. The whole chaos of betrayal and murder and misunderstanding in this first feature by the Coen Brothers all boiled down into a drip, a cut, and a Motown song.

Enough blathering from me. What are some of your favorite endings?

2 thoughts on “The best endings

  1. See if you can guess what this one is from:
    James is in his room contemplating suicide. The grungy sound of a live recording of a passionate guitar rings out. Solo shots of various characters in states of varying depression. Blood runs down the screen. Clapping and cheering.

    An alarm goes off – no motion from James. A cheery riff starts another song – a new day or a deep loss? Hard to say… “You know it all seems overwhelming today….. I’m feeling fine……” As the news is told about James’ death, the guitar ramps up – then down. Extreme close ups, slow motion walking. Erin and Arin’s characters share a moment and a look. Arin walks away – the world may never understand. Timed steps to Candy Apple Red. James awakens in a white room – spots cheesecake. Memories shared (egg shell found). “None of the penguins knew anything about any of this.” James looks terribly depressed. Fade to black, AND a whole new song.

    Seriously, this is one of my favorite endings EVER. What really does it for me is the music and timing. When I first saw this was when it really clicked that not only are you talented, Andrew – you’re a genius!

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