The ending of a movie as the potential to make it or break it. It can bring a good movie down or elevate a mediocre/bad one. That’s why we tend to feel rewarded by the very good ones. But perceptions of what “good” means, seem to differ wildly. That’s why I complied a list of 8 endings of movies that have been released since the year 2000, that don’t deserve the praise they get, at least in my eyes.
Disclaimer: As this article is about (twist) endings, it naturally comes with a ton of spoilers. But I guess you already figured that out.
The Mist (2007)
directed by Frank Darabont
The ending: David Trayton (Thomas Jane) and four other survivors, one of them his little son, are stuck in a car surrounded by a transdimensional mist filled with Lovecraftian monsters. Deciding that a death by gunshot is more humane than being devoured by those creatures, David reluctantly agrees to shoot all the passengers, including his son. He does so, but being short of ammunition, there is no bullet for himself. When he exits the car to meet his fate though, the mist suddenly clears and the US Army shows up, rendering his sacrifice futile in hindsight.
Why it’s overrated: This movie got a lot of love and not undeservedly. With its excursion into Lovecraftian realms and the rare successful attempt to visualize the creatures that somewhat adequately reflect the phantasmagories of the influential author, it was a fresh breath of air amidst the torture porn monotony of the last decade. I don’t think it’s as brilliant as it is made out to be, but it is pretty decent -till the last 5 minutes.
Many people seem to think the ending is genius- I don’t. Two adjectives come to mind when I try to sum it up: “tacked on” and “tacky”. It feels tacked on because it doesn’t fit the tone of what preceded, nor does it make any sense from the standpoint of storytelling. It’s as if the filmmakers desperately wanted an ending with some punch, even though the story was already told at that point. This technique reminded me of those OTT- heist movies that apparently cannot have just one twist ending, but need a second and a third one attached, no matter how ludicrous it gets. Despite all the cosmic horror, The Mist is a rather old-fashioned, unambiguous morality tale and was played as such, that’s why the unexpected nihilist ending sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe it was an experiment at subverting expectations, but if that’s the case it was a rather clumsy and not particularly subtle and clever one. Or one that had anything meaningful to say. It had more the whiff of a juvenile, slightly mean-spirited attempt to cap the movie off with something edgy to elicit a reaction. It doesn’t help that the scene when the mist suddenly clears, the army arrives and Thomas Jane’s character realizes the consequences of what he just did, plays rather cartoony than emotionally powerful, which only reveals how cheap and manipulative that twist actually is.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
directed by Jonathan Mostow
The ending: After successfully destroying the Terminatrix and reaching a hidden fortress in the mountains, that is ought to host the core of the evil Skynet- program, John Connor (Nick Stahl) and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) have to discover that it’s actually a fallout shelter intended to house them till the nuclear war is over, so they can take on their roles as leaders in the resistance against the machines. There was never a real chance to stop Judgement Day.
Why it’s overrated: And like The Mist, this is yet another demonstration of what happens when filmmakers, who have neither the necessary guts nor sensibility to do so, try to go “dark”. Terminator 3 is horrible, even more horrible than the incoherent Terminator: Salvation, which at least succeeded in terms of spectacle. This one is just a big TV- series special. For some reason though, the “twist” ending is still held in high esteem by many. Why? It’s neither clever nor satisfying nor does it add up to something. The worst kind of twist endings, even worse than the ones that make you say “that makes no sense whatsoever!”, are the ones that make you say “So what?”. Okay, so Judgement Day was inevitable- so what? Boom, that fell flat. I can see why they did it though. After two hours of coasting on and aping Cameron’s original entries, without ever being able to emulate the distinctive Terminator– atmosphere, this ending was a pathetic token stab at originality. I guess it has to do with “subverting expectations” again… oh damn how I hate this hollow phrase formed in the age of Whedon, this lazy and pompous device, usually used as a plot highlight to make everyone forget the morass of incoherence and cliches surrounding it. Identifying expectations and subverting them is not that clever per se, constructing a proper story with a sound ending is more impressive.
Too bad the “dark” ending also doesn’t work at all, as Mostow’s passionless effort never builds a world as dark and compelling as in Cameron’s originals, so after all the mediocre action and heavy-handed expositions, we don’t care when everything goes down in flames. This cannot live up to the optimistic endings of T1 and T2, which felt earned after the brilliant, but pitch-black views on technology vs. humanity, while this is just a load of poser-fatalism following a preachy milquetoast story. Judgement Day has been degraded into a mere plot gimmick.
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The ending: After mysteriously surviving multiple disasters, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is approached by the eccentric comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) who suggests that Dunn might be born as superhero. Initially sceptical of that idea, Dunn discovers that Price might be right with his assumption, only to find out that he was the orchestrator behind all the disasters, as Price is obsessed with the crazy idea to find a superhero he can fight in the role of a super-villain.
Why it’s overrated: There is not a single Shyamalan movie I like, but I cannot deny that the man has a knack for great concepts- it’s just the execution that is lacking.
Like in Unbreakable. Another great premise, telling the story of an ordinary man who slowly has to deal with the fact that he might be a superhero. It’s almost like a more intimate, condensed accompanying work to Watchmen, in that it tells how people would deal with superheroism in “real life”. So Bruce Willis finally accepts he has superpowers, uses them to fight some goon only to find out in the end that the man who pointed him to his fate is actually his arch-enemy who orchestrated his plight. Well now it’s getting really interesting and….oh wait, movie’s over.
The End. What?
Here is the thing: Unbreakable was supposed to be Part 1 of a trilogy, so it’s no surprise it feels chopped off at the end. But that’s no excuse for this ending. First and foremost, the plot doesn’t feel like it justified a whole movie, it’s material that could have been packed into two thirds or even half of the run time, the rest focussing on the duel between Willis and Jackson. There is nothing that makes it worth the “journey” to boot. Shyamalan never delves too deeply into the matter intellectually, poses some interesting questions but doesn’t really explore them. It’s not that giving artistically or emotionally either, both Willis’ acting as well as the film’s stylistics sell mannerisms as style. That wouldn’t be an issue if it had been condensed into a shorter running time, but this way it just feels very stretched and very thin.
Second, even if Shyamalan was sure they would greenlit a sequel, he still could have crafted a more satisfying ending and not this “freeze frame with insert bullshit” with no impact whatsoever.
The Tall Man (2012)
directed by Pascal Laugier
The ending: Julia is the local nurse in a small, poor redneck town in Washington, that is haunted by a series of child abductions, which are attributed to a mythical creature called “The Tall Man”. When the Tall Man abducts her own son, the plot go haywire and before you can utter “unreliable narrator”, Julia is suddenly revealed as the head of an organization that abducts children from poor families to give them a better future in the upper class households of New York.
Why it’s overrated: I don’t get this one at all. Actually, I don’t get the fans who say this is brilliant. Talk about a tacked on message. I mean shouldn’t there be any hints leading up to this? Sure, the misery of the townsfolk is addressed, but it feels as if it was mainly added for texture, the sudden turn of making it the core topic is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Not only is the final reveal, following a slew of already increasingly ridiculous and forced twists a total letdown, it’s also embarrassingly pretentious and so damn heavy-handed. It needs not one, but two monologues in the end to be fully justified, a particularly preachy one awkwardly delivered by Jessica Biel. Horror movies with sociocritical messages have been done far more convincing and more entertaining before, up your game. Not even starting with the moral implications of the ending.
Shutter Island (2010)
directed by Martin Scorsese
The ending: Detective Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is investigating the disappearance of an asylum inmate, only to discover that he himself is the missing patient. His detective persona was a delusion his psyche created to deal with his war- inflicted PTSD and the fact that he killed his wife.
Why it’s overrated: And here is the third kind of failed twist ending: The one that makes you say “This was so obvious from the beginning, that it must be a deception- I am sure there is another twist coming that defies our expectations… nope, that’s it.” It’s still a decent movie, but the feeling remains that it could have steered into a more interesting direction.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The ending: Early 20th century oil tycoon Daniel (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at the peak of his wealth, but still a horrible person. On the same day he rejects his son and taunts the preacher Eli (Paul Dano), with whom he made business before and who is now asking for financial assistance. After a lengthy conversation, Daniel throws a tantrum and kills Eli in cold blood.
Why it’s overrated: If you still did not get the message about the soul-devouring nature of greed and capitalism that has been reiterated over the course of the whole movie, then Daniel Day Lewis will sum it up for you in a long dialogue in the final scene, with the help of Paul Dano, who is hamming it up like there is no tomorrow. Way to deflate your movie- show, don’t tell and learn to trust your audience, PTA.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
directed by Roman Polanski
The ending: A ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is assigned by the British Premier (Pierce Brosnan) to finish his memoirs, after the man who was originally entrusted with that task died in a mysterious drowning accident. Of course it was no real accident, but an assassination following the first writer’s investigation of a conspiracy that also involves the Premier’s wife (Olivia Williams). Finally, the ghost writer realizes that the original manuscript contains an encrypted message: The Premier’s wife is a CIA Agent. Before he can spread the information, the ghost writer is assassinated himself.
Why it’s overrated: This entry may be considered as a bit of a cheat, as I have never heard anyone praising this ending. But the movie has high ratings on RT and imdb, so I guess it’s fair to include it.
This is the kind of twist that, like the one in Unbreakable, would lead to a more interesting story than the one being told, as implications that come with the reveal are more intriguing than the mystery presented in the basic premise. And the plot device that makes McGregor uncover the truth might be seen as charmingly old school, but it’s also quite hackneyed. On the other hand, a few plot movements before he had already solved a big chunk of the mystery with a simple Google-search, so there is that.
Donnie Darko (2001)
directed by Richard Kelly
The ending: Was the troubled teenager Donnie Darko really killed by a jet engine that crashed into his room? Was time travel involved? Or are all happenings in this movie result of a near-death hallucination? Something, something.
Why it’s overrated: What starts out as a hypnotic melange of sweet coming-of-age story and Lynchian homage to suburbia, gradually becomes a dull “puzzle movie”, including the obligatory, smartpants “ambiguous ending”. I honestly don’t care if everything we’ve seen was a hallucination or a real time paradox in the end, because simultaneously with the gradual replacement of the initially wonderfully poetic tone and the character studies with tedious, smug baloney about time singularities and whatnot, my interest waned. When the ending comes around, the movie has become emotionally so hollow, that any goodwill created in the beginning was used up. Sadly avoiding emotional depth in favour of showing off cleverness has become the MO of the once so promising Kelly.
With which ones do you agree? With which ones do you disagree?
Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments.