After a couple of hours or so of a film, there’s no better feeling than reaching an exhilarating finish, and there are none better than these: the top 10 best movie endings of all time.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD – PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION
10. Buried (2010)
Ryan Reynolds’ one-man show in the incredible survival thriller Buried is fantastic from start to finish, but the one thing that does beat his performance is the astonishing ending.
After being kidnapped in Iraq and buried alive in a box under the desert, Paul (Reynolds) is left with a limited supply of air, and a mobile phone running low on battery. However, after he has contacted the authorities, a team has been sent into the desert and found him, now digging beneath the sand as his life becomes ever more endangered.
But the one thing that you never see coming is that the Americans actually got the wrong coffin, and are hundreds of miles away from Paul, who is then crushed by a wall of sand from above, and as the screen cuts to black, we hear the devastating words over the phone: ‘I’m sorry Paul. I’m so sorry’.
9. American Beauty (1999)
Sam Mendes’ directorial debut American Beauty won countless awards for its writing, cinematography, music and performances, but its ending also deserves huge recognition.
The film follows Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father who develops an infatuation with his teenage daughter’s friend. However, after nearly making a move with her, he remembers how immoral it is and turns away, to remember all that is good about his life despite his depressed state.
However, in one final twist, he is shot in the back of the head by his neighbour and killed. Here, the iconic music begins to play as Burnham narrates the moment his life flashed before his eyes, and brings a serene and beautiful but also devastating note to the film, before Burnham closes the film by telling us his final realisation, that despite all the hardships of modern life, ‘it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world’.
8. Back To The Future (1985)
Following Marty’s successful return to 1985 from 1955, he finds his family changed, but for the better, whilst he embraces his girlfriend after not having seen her in, what was for him, so long. But out of the blue comes a DeLorean, carrying Doc, who has apparently been to the future in the year 2015, and says that Marty must come immediately to sort out a terrible problem with his kids.
Doc, Marty and Jennifer then get into the updated DeLorean, and as Doc explains that where they’re going they ‘don’t need roads’, the DeLorean flies into the air and off on another adventure, and to the brilliant surprise of the audience, we see a To Be Continued sign on screen, exciting everyone for more Back To The Future.
7. Citizen Kane (1941)
Commonly referred to as the greatest film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane also features one of the best movie endings you’ll ever see.
It all starts at the beginning, as media tycoon Charles Foster Kane is lying on his deathbed, he utters one final word: ‘Rosebud’. The rest of the film follows journalists searching through Kane’s life for the true meaning of Rosebud before they give in as his house is cleared out.
But in the final shot, the film comes full circle, and we see what Rosebud was all along: a sledge that Kane had played with as a child when living in poverty. However, just to rip your heart out at the last moment, the sledge is thrown on the fire with the rest of Kane’s possessions, leaving the meaning of Rosebud forever a mystery to all those who sought to find it.
6. Melancholia (2011)
Lars von Trier’s depressing arthouse piece Melancholia may be difficult watching for the most part, but there’s no denying the brilliance of the astonishing finale.
The film is set in the weeks before a rogue planet hits Earth and wipes it out of existence, and after over two hours of painfully tense build-up, the final scene shows the moment when the collision occurs.
After a family’s father has committed suicide a few moments before, two sisters and a young boy sit in a circle on a hill with the planet getting ever closer in the background. The music builds to a deafening volume, and as the Earth’s atmosphere explodes from the impact, the three are obliterated as the film cuts to black, in one of the most harrowing but visually beautiful endings you’ll ever see.
5. Whiplash (2014)
The ending to 2014’s jazz thriller ‘Whiplash‘ consists of one scene that lasts over 15 minutes, but it is one of the most unbelievable cinematic experiences you’ll ever have.
After young drummer Andrew finally gets the chance to play in a professional jazz orchestra under the guidance of Fletcher, the man who he once informed on for having terrorised him in the past, his dreams are shattered as the abusive conductor changes the music set at the last minute to deliberately humiliate him.
However, after initially walking off stage, Andrew returns to his seat and goes against his conductor’s instructions, beginning an astonishing face-off as he controls the music with his drumkit, overpowering Fletcher and showing his true credentials as a jazz great.
And what’s most incredible about this whole scene is that it lasts for over 15 minutes, features next to no dialogue, and is simply exhilarating and thrilling for every second, leaving you breathless as it comes to an astonishing end.
4. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Named as the greatest movie twist of all time on a regular basis, the ending to 1995’s The Usual Suspects is an amazing wow moment with few equals.
The film follows the tale of a group of criminals who become caught up in a devastating gun battle, and the one survivor, Verbal Kint (played by Kevin Spacey) who tells the story to a police detective.
And although Verbal, who seems perfectly naive and harmless, is let go by the authorities, his distinctive limp seems to disappear as he gets into a car driven by the man who was serving the illusive super criminal Keyser Soze. At this moment, the detective suddenly begins to recall Kint’s words: ‘the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist’, and upon that realisation, runs into the street to catch Kint, but fails.
The endings begs the question: was Kint Keyser Soze all along? Did Soze ever exist? It’s a stunning ending that leaves people bemused to this day.
3. Se7en (1995)
David Fincher, the man who made Se7en one of the most desperately grim and still exhilarating mysteries of all time, is an absolute master when it comes to an incredible twist ending.
And the iconic finale to this film, where the two protagonists confront John Doe, the mysterious criminal, in an isolated field, revolves around the contents of one cardboard box.
As the men begin to discover the truth, Doe tells of the way that he murdered the wife of Detective Mills, who did not know she was pregnant, and put her head in the box. As Mills begins to realise what’s in the box, his colleague, Somerset, who recognises Mills’ anger, tells him not to kill Doe, who is trying to be killed to complete his master plan.
The final moments close in on Mills as he agonisingly decides what to do, until he finally shoots Doe dead, giving the criminal what he wants, and ending the film on a simply astonishing note.
2. Fight Club (1999)
Fincher, however, was determined to outdo Se7en, and took on the project of Fight Club four years later, and made an ending even more incredible than you could imagine.
The most amazing thing about this ending is that it comes a good time after the main twist of the plot, that the protagonist and the illusive Tyler Durden are actually the same person, and yet is still astonishing.
Following the protagonist’s discovery that ‘Durden’ has persuaded his followers to destroy the tower blocks that control the economy of the world, he shoots himself in the head, thereby killing Durden.
However, he remains alive, and, powerless to stop the explosions from going off, watches alongside his girlfriend as the world’s economy is sent back to zero, finishing the archaic film in the most spectacularly chaotic way possible.
1. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed sci-fi Inception is hailed as one of the most original, complex and thrilling movies of all time, and its astonishing ending is testament to that.
After two and a half hours of following Dom Cobb through the many layers of dreamland, we return to the real world as he returns to his children that he has been waiting so long to finally see again.
And just to be sure that this is real life, and that Cobb isn’t dreaming, he spins the spinning top that will fall if it is the real world, and continue spinning if it’s a dream. As he goes into the garden to play with his children, the camera zooms in on the top, which begins to wobble.
Then the screen cuts to black.
We will never know whether Cobb was dreaming or not, because Nolan ingeniously makes an ending so simplistically ambiguous that people cannot stop talking about it and debating it. It’s a serene moment, but one with such emotional power and drama that make it easily the best movie ending of all time.