The Worst Movie Endings Ever
This could be a long list. The worst movie endings are subjective, but we like to think there are some we can all agree on. The conclusion is so important in film. When it disappoints, we don't forget. Terrible endings often present silly twists or implausible outcomes. Sometimes, they're just too easy. We've collected some of the most outlandish over the years, while trying to keep the list modern. Here are the worst endings in movies.
**Spoilers** to follow, of course...
'The Butterfly Effect' (2004)
A small-brained version of A Sound of Thunder, The Butterfly Effect stars Ashton Kutcher as a guy with a damaged past who can suddenly time travel and change events. However, those changes only affect he and his friends. Chaos Theory tells us small events can have big consequences, but not in this movie. In the end, things are fixed nicely. But the director's cut would've been better — Kutcher goes back in time and strangles himself in the womb.
'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012)
Director Christopher Nolan's final installment in his Dark Knight trilogy is not without its problems. There are a few small plot holes — how does Bruce Wayne get home after climbing out of the pit? But the big one comes at the end when Nolan seems to sacrifice the hero when Batman flies a nuclear bomb out to sea in the Batcopter. But a final scene shows Bruce alive and well. No explanation. We're supposed to believe he ejected into the open ocean and survived, with a gaping stab wound in his side... OK.
At the end of Titanic, after a whirlwind romance, love, sex, dancing, and overcoming the dastardly Cal, Jack and Rose somehow manage to survive the sinking of the title ship. And, after all that, Jack dies frozen in the water. What's up, Rose? You couldn't have made a little room on that piece of wood, or found something for Jack to float on? Maybe a trade-off situation where you get in the water for a little while?
Some fans will say there's no way the wood could've handled the weight of both Jack and Rose. But they don't make an attempt so we can only speculate. As for trying to find another piece of debris or attempting to get in one of the lifeboats? Well, who knows? The movie wanted the tragic ending and Jack was fated to die.
The ending is a cop-out and the movie tries to prepare us for it. "O" (Blake Lively) tells us from the beginning she may not be alive when the story ends so the unreliable narrator keeps us off-balance and ready for anything. But, when director Oliver Stone presents two different endings, one sad, one happy, he fails to make a choice and it doesn't do the story justice.
M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, like many of his others, is full of big ideas. He's an ambitious filmmaker who deserves credit for having the guts to go for big payoffs. Sometimes they work, but not always.
The payoff in Signs falls a bit flat. Shyamalan foreshadows it throughout the story, but the end reveals the invading aliens can be killed with water. So it begs the question: Why would these galactic travelers invade a planet 71 percent covered in the stuff? It's in the atmosphere. It would be like inhaling acid.
'The Village' (2004)
Shyamalan again. His big payoff in 2004's The Village was eviscerated by critics already disappointed by how his previous film, Signs, concluded. The Village is set in a 19th century-style community where the people do not enter the surrounding woods for fear of killer creatures, and they barely visit neighboring towns. OK. There must be some legend to the creatures, right?
Well, no. Shyamalan's big reveal is the Village is actually a stone's throw from civilization in the present day. The elders, all trauma victims, created it to insulate themselves and their unknowing children from the big, mean real world. And we're supposed to buy that? Didn't planes fly overhead once in awhile? Wasn't a hospital needed in an emergency, ever? Roger Ebert, at the time, said of the ending, "...It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It was all a dream..."
The heavy-handedness of the political eco-message in The Happening is more suited to Dr. Seuss than M. Night Shyamalan. The anticlimactic reveal of the terror (the wind) is a mockery of Shyamalan's penchant for twist endings. He forces it. The Happening includes many horror tropes that are supposed to be odes to the genre, but they come off silly.
'The War of the Worlds' (2005)
The War of the Worlds was a big-budget 2005 movie which employed a deus ex machina that doubles as a plot hole. Based on H.G. Wells's 1898 novel about an alien invasion and subsequent fall out, the movie displays the alien tripods' domination. Soon after arriving on Earth, they've wiped out millions and seem set to rule the world.
However, late in the tale, a bacteria wipes out the aliens. As Wells says, "..Slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth." Anticlimactic, to say the least. Can we learn a little more? How?
At the end of the movie, Salt has to run from the CIA because no one can vouch for her after she saves the President and stops the nukes. Except for, you know — the President... Little help, POTUS?
'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' (2008)
The "Hangar 51" government warehouse of the fourth Indiana Jones film is pretty cool. It's a callback to the first film and the kind of thing great sequels are made of. Unfortunately, that's about the only good thing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Highly anticipated as the first Indiana Jones movie in almost 20 years, Steven Spielberg's sequel made two big missteps — it brought in Shia LaBeouf (not a fan fave) and it made aliens a part of the plot. In the end, Jones replaces an alien head and watches a Mayan temple turn into a flying saucer and zip away.
Little Rock and Wichita, who are supposed to be strong female characters (they outsmart the two dummy males the entire film), wrap things up at the end by turning into lame damsels in distress. They stupidly start a carnival. Didn't think that might attract some zombies, eh? When the undead rush them, they get stranded on a ride and have to wait for the boys to save them. Good grief.
'Secret Window' (2004)
Like in Fight Club, the audience experiences the main character's imaginary friend along with the main character in Secret Window. Based on a Stephen King short story, the thriller stars Depp as a writer being threatened by a mysterious man who claims plagiarism. But the man is a part of the author's personality, which is much more evil than he ever knew.
'The Devil Inside' (2012)
Many fans felt duped after being hyped into seeing The Devil Inside by its cool trailers in 2012. The horror flick is shot docu-style while focusing on a woman investigating exorcisms to help determine what happened to her possessed mother. But, in the end, the movie fails to offer a conclusion. A title card reveals the case of the Rossi family is still unresolved, followed by another title card directing viewers to a website "for more information on the ongoing investigation." Disappointing.
'Pay it Forward' (2000)
Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) is murdered at the end of this transparent, manipulative rollercoaster about good deeds and how they can save the world. Huh? So paying it forward got him killed. OK. This is a great example of how a movie can make a martyr of a child to further a heavyhanded message.
After the apocalyptic battles against invading aliens are won in this movie, the characters all go to a bar like they just won a softball game. It's a thoughtless ending. (Also: Q*bert turns into a female and has babies with Josh Gad.)
Nicolas Cage plays a clairvoyant in Next who can see the future so he can predict stuff like bullets flying towards him (which leads to scenes like this). But the end shows him failing to stop a nuke, but... wait a minute! It was all a dream. Cage's character wakes up at the beginning. The whole movie is one big premonition.
'My Fair Lady' (1964)
In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle realizes her self-worth and leaves Henry Higgins for Freddy. The redeeming part of her character is how she sets herself free. However, the movie version changes things, opting to return Eliza to Henry in the final scene.
'Law Abiding Citizen' (2009)
Gerard Butler's Clyde watches his wife and daughter murdered by a man, Darby, who cuts a deal with the prosecuter (Jamie Foxx) and gets out of prison soon after. Fed up with the system, Clyde sets out to prove it doesn't work. He brutally murders Darby on video and goes to prison willingly. Clyde then proceeds to use the system to prove his point. But, in the end, it's the lawyer who turns vigilante in order to kill Clyde. So, there's no real lesson here.
'Now You See Me' (2013)
Now You See Me wishes it was half as smart as it thinks it is. The magician movie, which uses "tricks" to fool the audience the entire time, runs out of magic in the end. The movie builds up to a big twist ending but it's a let down when the FBI guy (Mark Ruffalo) turns out to be the leader of the Horsemen. It's just a random turn of events that's not set up at all. The movie even explains it in exposition to ensure the audience follows things.
'Epic Movie' (2007)
Epic Movie, the 2007 yawner spoof which takes aim at The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pirates of the Caribbean, and X-Men: The Last Stand, really throws in the towel at the end. After the movie kills the heroes for a cheap laugh, Borat (not the real one) shows up, says "Happy ending... Not!" and then spanks himself.
'Sausage Party' (2016)
Mayhem ensues when anthropomorphic grocery store items realize what happens after they get chosen by a customer. Frank (Seth Rogen), a brave sausage, leads his friends to safety while battling an evil douche... After surviving, and exploding the bad guys, all the heroic sausages, sausage buns, and other items have a giant... orgy. Why not?
'Funny People' (2009)
Judd Apatow took his 2009 movie, Funny People, in a weird direction that ruined the movie for many fans. The story starts out strong, with Seth Rogen's Ira Wright becoming friends with famous comedian, George Simmons (Adam Sandler). But then the two head off to visit an old flame of George's and her family. The movie stalls as George starts fights with everyone in a narcississtic hissy fit. Time passes and he finally makes up with Ira. That's it.
'The Golden Compass' (2007)
For fans of Northern Lights and the His Dark Materials trilogy, it was disappointing to see The Golden Compass change the first book's conclusion. Hollywood loves the happy ending and the movie delivers, as Lyra and her friends sail away in a balloon. The book is much darker, as Asriel sacrifices Roger, a huge moment in the story. The HBO series, His Dark Materials, gets it right.
Cage again. He's done so many ugly B-movies I haven't even seen, I'm sure we could do an entire slideshow on his movies alone with the right research. Nevertheless, he's still the only actor with two movies here. He plays an MIT professor in Knowing who finds code in a time capsule that predicts when future disasters will occur. He tries but can't prevent a world-ending solar flare disaster. Everyone on Earth is wiped out, but not before aliens show up out of nowhere and scoop up select humans. Where did that come from?
'Planet of the Apes' (2001)
In Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake, Mark Wahlberg is an astronaut who crash lands on the distant title planet. In the end, he escapes in a pod and makes his way back to Earth. But, when he gets there, he finds the Abraham Lincoln Memorial is a statue of the evil ape he's been battling the whole movie. So... In the time Wahlberg was flying home, the apes beat him to Earth, overtook the entire planet, made statues, and replaced humans altogether? Makes no sense. If the apes time traveled ahead of Wahlberg, a little explanation might've helped.
People hibernate in stasis during a 120-year trip to a new planet, but Chris Pratt wakes up. Then he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence because she's hot. She gets mad. He's ruined her future and made her a prisoner on a spaceship for the rest of her life. Then they fall in love. Puke. Later, Pratt finds a lone pod she can use and forget all this mess. But she doesn't do it! She stays awake with Chris and they have a sweet life alone together.
'The Scarlet Letter' (1995)
Demi Moore defended the decision to change the ending of The Scarlet Letter, a literary classic, in the 1995 movie bastardization. She called Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "very dense and not cinematic." The movie ends with Hester (Mooree) ditching her "A" and running away to the Carolinas with Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). Happy ending. In the book, Dimmesdale dies in Hester's arms and she wears the letter until she dies years later. You don't mess with the classics.
'Friday the 13th: A New Beginning' (1985)
The original Friday the 13th has one of the classic horror endings, but the sequels don't fare as well. In Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason ends up screaming like a little girl when he never seemed to feel pain before. And Jason burns up into the atmosphere upon reentry in Jason X. But the worst, most confusing ending is probably in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Dreams on top of dreams only serve to confuse as Tommy Jarvis somehow has a hockey mask in his hospital room and seems to become the new Jason. None of it seems thought out in the least.
'The Life of David Gale' (2003)
The Life of David Gale ends with one of the great, cheap manipulations in movies. Kevin Spacey plays the title character, a professor on death row for the rape and murder of a friend of his. Gale is executed, but the movie ends with a recorded message he leaves behind. He reveals his friend had actually committed suicide after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. Gale wasn't a murderer. He was willing to sacrifice himself to show the flaws in capital punishment. How brave, and stupid.
'The Number 23' (2007)
The Number 23 is one of the worst movies to ever exploit mental illness for a cheap payoff. The film stars Jim Carrey as Walter Sparrow, a man who thinks a book holds the key to a murder. But, in the end, we find out Walter was the murderer. He wrote the book himself as a confession, tried to kill himself, and wound up with amnesia, leading to the beginning of the movie.