It was tough to ween down to only 10 because there are truly hundreds of incredible movie endings out there; so I will definitely have to make more lists! But for now I'm going to discuss 10 film endings that made me shake my head in disbelief of how good they are.
There will be a lot of ambiguous ones here but more often than not, they're some of the best! I'm going to have the names of the films visible and a link to the videos but any info will be given a spoiler cover in case you haven't seen the film and catch a glimpse of important stuff! I'm gonna be brief in explaining how the ending is coming together and I'll explain why I love it but I'll let the videos themselves do a lot of the talkin'! Anyhow, enjoy this list! It has no real order, by the way; all are incredible!
These are obviously spoiler filled videos and what I write about them will spoil other elements of the films, so I will be hiding what I have written so you can read it by your own choice! If you haven't seen any of these films, please do before you watch the videos or read what I say and let me know if you agree!
Also be sure to view all footage in the highest quality you can! You don't want to be bombarded by 144p now do you?
10. Killing Them Softly (2012) - Dir. Andrew Dominik.
Andrew Dominik wraps up his incredibly visual crime-drama masterpiece with one of the most satisfying pieces of dialogue about America itself. Throughout the film there is footage of Obama's build up to presidency and finally his inauguration, constantly pushing forward the idea of community and equality and the idea that America is a nation of one people. Pitt's character Jackie decides to destroy that idea in an angry speech after he discovers he is going to be paid much less than he should be for "disposing" of some people who were causing problems.
This whole scene is utter genius, the sound editing is absolutely on top form and the soft focus with the fireworks as Jackie enters the bar is just incredible! This whole film is just phenomenal in every way, but visuals and acting reign supreme.
9. Blue Valentine (2010) - Dir. Derek Cianfrance.
As this grueling and soul destroying romance-drama reaches it's last few minutes, you're already disorientated by how brilliantly edited it all is. Only to make the punch is packs ten times as hard. The whole film is edited in such a way that it shows the beginning of their love story and the crumbling end, this scene in particular is simply devastating as we see their marriage exploding into fireworks (literally) in the worst way possible as well as their wedding day which is crammed with smiles and joy, making it worse knowing that it's absolutely gone in the toilet.
Without a doubt one of the best and most realistic dramas of all time and it thoroughly kicks the living shit out of you. Which is exactly why it's here because it's rare you get a film, especially a romance one, that'll end on such a grim low. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams' relationship and chemistry is so legit on screen that you actually feel like you're watching a harrowing break up for real. His stepdaughter running after him is the final kick in the bollocks too.
8. Pusher (1996) - Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn.
Unfortunately this scene is an utter bastard to find online so I had to use a program that unfortunately wont embed here - I've provided the link above. The first of two of Refn's incredible endings here as we see our (Anti) hero, Frank finally coming up with the money he needs to pay back Serbian drug lord, Milo, who he believes will give him a chance to pay and getaway scott free without actually being cut up for fucking him over in the first place. To get this money he had to steal from other criminals and sell some drugs, originally planning to just take the money and run with his girlfriend, Vic.
He foolishly decides to trust his gut and bring the money to Milo and basically tells Vic "Tough shit" - So she responds by snatching the money and running away. Leaving him standing on the street thinking about what he'll do as Milo sets up his ambush and the criminals he stole from come gunning from him. One of my favourite moments of ambiguity as you're just left there thinking "FUUUCK!" and wondering what ever happened to him.
7. Primal Fear (1996) - Dir. Gregory Hoblit.
One of the greatest and most legitimately surprising twist endings of all time, only a year after The Usual Suspects bruised everyone's jaw from having it slam to the floor. After battling tooth and nail with lawyers and judges, top-dog lawyer, Martin Vail, successfully proves the innocence of the simple, shy, wouldn't hurt a fly, Aaron, who after years of sexual abuse, developed a split personality disorder with the vicious and brutal Roy who is on trial for murdering an abusive priest. He arrives to tell Aaron that he will not be on trial for murder any longer and that he will be put into a mental institution to get help for his "disorder."
Only for Aaron to reveal he hasn't got any mental disorder and he made up ever being schizophrenic. In reality, Aaron never existed, it was Roy who invented him as his cover up rather than the other way around. Leaving Vail stunned and disgusted and feeling more guilty than Roy could ever be. An absolute pants-shitter of an ending that has hardly ever been matched in terms of "Holy shit!" quality. Ed Norton definitely earned his Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a total, twisted scumbag. Though to be fair... he's PARTIALLY in the right. Still shocking as ever to this day.
6. The Long Good Friday (1980) - Dir. John Mackenzie.
One of the few endings that feels like a horror film but isn't. Only moments after telling the US Mafia to go fuck themselves and taking out some traitors and Northern Irish criminals, Harold Shand is on top of his game and clearly delighted with himself. He calls his driver over and gets into his car to drive off with his beautiful wife, Victoria. Only to realise she isn't there and is in fact in the hands of the Northern Irish now, who from what I can imagine, very likely rape and murder her. Harold is being driven to his death now too, at gunpoint by a very young Pierce Brosnan. He sits there thinking over the situation, visibly furious until he finally comes to terms with the fact it's all over!
I was caught so off guard by this. Throughout this British crime masterpiece, he is bombarded with problems and knocks them all down in such a way that you feel he actually earned a happy ending. But no, his final problem comes for him and it absolutely destroys him. The late, great, Bob Hoskins' acting in this scene is tremendous. He was told to think over the whole life of Harold Shand while the camera rolled for an unbroken 5 mins. He goes from clearly shocked, to bottled rage to acceptance all in about 2 mins, accompanied by the great theme tune for the film! He's leaving on such a high too which makes it all the more horrifying! Truly unexpected.
5. The Proposition (2005) - Dir. John Hillcoat.
Again, issues with finding the appropriate video, luckily Vimeo has this embedded but unfortunately lacked the very last moments of the film, which makes it for me. Anyone who has seen it will know what I mean. After this brutal intrusion on Captain Stanley's home following the death of his brother, Mikey, Arthur and his scaldy right hand man, Samuel are both shot by Charlie. Arthur, still alive, makes his way out to the sunset, where Charlie follows. They sit as the sun comes down and Arthur dies.
One of the best and most visually beautiful endings committed to film ever. Every shot in the film is immaculate anyway but this particular shot is my absolute favourite. It's an ultimately fitting end to what I can consider one of my all time favourite films. In my top 5 films easy! I have a link to the only image of the final scene I can find, I will leave it in link form as I can't seem to put spoilers over images, for those who have had the misfortune of not seeing this masterpiece.
4. Thief (1981) - Dir. Michael Mann.
In this absolute definition of the word "Slick", our anti-hero, Frank decides to erase his life and settle his scores with the Mafia who have taken it over. He sends his wife packin' and destroys his house, car dealership and bar with high-powered explosives and petrol. He then makes his way to high-level gangster, Leo's house to take him and all his henchmen out in one of the finest shoot-outs in cinema.
Accompanied by the slickest 80's score you're bound to hear for a long time (which was sadly missing on the soundtrack), he stylishly and violently blows everyone away, including a youngish Dennis Farina. Even though the pure style and coolness of this scene captivates the shit out of me, it's that slow-mo shot of Frank perfectly replacing his clip that just makes my trousers catch fire, especially with the score. It is literally the epitome of the word slick. I said slick a lot there, but it was necessary.
3. Drive (2011) - Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn.
Without a doubt one of my all time favourite films and endings. Everything about it is just perfection. I remember the entire cinema was in silence watching this scene. The Driver and Bernie Rose just had a violent, knifey altercation and he sits in his car, covered in blood after being stabbed. Not blinking and motionless. We're left stunned thinking "Oh no, is he dead??" but then very faintly we start to hear what has essentially become the film's theme song, "A Real Hero" by College. Reminding us that he IS a real hero and real heroes never die!
He starts up his car and Drives off, leaving Bernie's corpse in a parking lot next to the bag of millions he had stolen, proving the fact it was never about having the money, it was all about protecting the girl, that girl being Irene! She makes her way to his apartment to see if he is there, showing she still cares despite him traumatizing her by brutally stomping a man's head to mush in front of her very eyes. He isn't there though, he's driving off into the night as the glorious song continues. This is the perfect end to an utterly PERFECT film. Everything about it, the build up, the fear that he may be dead, Irene's concern as she approaches his apartment and especially, the saddened Driver as he goes into the night, he has a look of true unhappiness as he drives away from the love of his life!
2. SE7EN (1995) - Dir. David Fincher.
Without a doubt the most shocking and horrifying ending to a film ever! Sure A Serbian Film could be in there but this is far more realistic and more likely. John Doe, the deranged sin obsessed serial killer brings our heroes Mills and Somerset out do the middle of the desert on a bright sunny day (Ironic as the film is constantly set in dark, gloomy rain and the darkest moment of the film comes in the brightest conditions!) to reveal where the last two bodies in his sick and twisted game are buried. Upon arrival, a delivery truck appears bringing a special package addressed to Mills. Somerset opens it to find Mills' wife's severed head inside. Finally clocking Doe's plan, he desperately pleads with Mills to drop his gun and prevent him from perfecting his masterpiece.
But upon discovering his wife was pregnant, he is sent over the edge and empties his entire clip into Doe's head. 100% mentally destroyed from what has happened. Letting Doe win and complete his "work of art" - Absolutely horrifying and utterly genius. It's rare you get a film where the bad guy completely wins at the end. Some films did do it really well though, but they shall remain nameless for now, as I may do an article on them! Plus I don't want to spoil them here... This whole scene gives me goosebumps every time. Pitt's acting is often made fun of here but I think it's amazing, it's exactly how someone would react to something like this the music after each reveal adds so much to the evil.
1. Heat (1995) - Dir. Michael Mann.
And here we have the reason why I wrote this article in the first place. The greatest crime drama of all time comes to a close with one of the most intense chases ever. Top cop Vincent Hanna and career criminal Neil McCauley, who over coffee in a diner, sadly realise that under different circumstances they could have been great friends, pursue each other on foot to an airfield, stalking slowly and intending to put the other one down. Thanks to the runway lights, Hanna spots McCauley's ambush and blasts four bullets into him. Slumped on an electrical box, he reminds Hanna of their conversation regarding prison, speaking his final words "I told ya I'm never going back". They hold hands as he takes his last breath, as friends rather than enemies.
This to me is what I always think of whenever I imagine the question "What's the best ending to a movie you've ever seen?" and I feel it is an extremely apt choice! Everything is perfect in it, especially the sound editing. "God Moving Over The Face of The Waters" by Moby works almost too well. Adds so much power to the scene, that's what this is full of. Thief was full of style and slickness but this oozes with power and realism. At first I was going to do "Best final shot in a film" but I realised the full endings would be a lot better! But again, this would most certainly be the best, along with The Proposition. I can't find fault with this film (Except Val Kilmer's elbow) and especially with this ending. I hope Mann goes back to this quality of film making again soon, back when he could end a film in such a way you'd stand up and applause every time you see it!
I hope you enjoy this list! If you've scrolled down to see the names but have not seen ANY of the films, do so immediately! Then come read this again properly! I'm likely to do another one because there was so much to choose from!
An honorable mention for The Wrestler too, I was going to include it but literally NOWHERE had the ending uploaded sadly. A total masterpiece and one of the best endings out there! Maybe it'll be online for the next list...
Please be sure to check out some of my other MoviePilot lists if you enjoyed this one!
13 Excellent Horror Films You May Not Have Seen - http://tinyurl.com/nw2cyjp
20 Forgotten Gems of The 90's - http://tinyurl.com/p7abz65