There’s been no shortage of films to have fallen just shy of greatness after ending on a disappointing note, but luckily there’s plenty of all-time greats that ended on a high note. Whether it be a bang, a cliffhanger, a major twist or a shocking revelation, the following 40 movies boast the best movie endings. Naturally, there’s spoilers from here on out.
40. Point Break
It might be an action-packed cops and criminals thriller with a heavy extreme sports influence, but Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break is surprisingly philosophical about life and death.
The bromance gone wrong between Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah and Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi comes to a head nine months after the meat of the story is wrapped up, with the FBI agent tracking his friend and mentor down to the location of the fabled 50-year storm.
Bodhi refuses to go into custody despite being handcuffed, leaving Utah to essentially send him to his death, with the rookie agent throwing his badge into the ocean as he leaves the scene for good measure.
39. Batman Begins
The influence of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins can still be felt all over blockbuster cinema, and we’ve not yet passed the era of the dark and gritty reboot being the preferred method of rebooting a franchise.
It’s comfortably one of the best comic book movies ever made, and the final scene of the movie caps the origin story off in fitting fashion by teasing a much more iconic foe still to come.
Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon could have easily winked at the camera when handing Christian Bale’s Dark Knight a Joker card, but instead it serves to remind audiences that this Batman is ready for anything, while also setting expectations for the arrival of his arch-nemesis in the sequel.
38. The Birds
Tippi Hedren had a notoriously torrid time on The Birds, with director Alfred Hitchcock pushing his leading lady to the limit to draw out a convincing performance in the avian thriller.
Hedren’s Melanie Daniels finds herself stuck in the middle of a most unusual natural phenomenon when birds begin a relentless assault on San Francisco, terrorizing everyone in their path.
By the end of the movie, Melanie is injured and resigned to her fate, but the birds stop attacking her once they realize she’s no longer a threat to the Brenner family, but as their cars pulls away the flying fiends are ominously perched all around, so it’s not a guarantee that they’re out of the woods.
37. There Will Be Blood
Daniel Day-Lewis deservedly swept the Best Actor board at virtually every ceremony for his incendiary performance as Daniel Plainview, who was defiant up until the very last.
There Will Be Blood is viewed as a commentary on greed, capitalism and the notion of interpreting the American Dream any way you see fit, with Plainview a conman masquerading as a prosperous business owner.
The feud between Plainview and Eli Sunday builds to a head when the former exacts his revenge by mercilessly beating him to death with a bowling pin, before collapsing exhausted on the ground and simply muttering ‘I’m finished’ with an air of resigned finality.
36. The Wicker Man
The Nicolas Cage-starring remake is so bad as to be unintentionally hilarious, but the chilling and atmospheric original hasn’t lost any of its power, no matter how many times you see a GIF of Cage screaming about bees or punching a woman in the face while dressed as a bear.
Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie’s investigation into the disappearance of a child leads him into some bizarre territory, and he soon falls foul of the mysterious locals and their unusual traditions.
He ends up becoming a sacrifice, trapped in a burning effigy reciting the Bible and praying to god as his time on Summerisle ends with him become an extra crispy human sacrifice.
Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough feature was just the first of many times the filmmaker tinkered with the audience’s expectations of time, and it remains one of the 21st Century’s greatest modern noirs.
Guy Pearce’s Leonard is on the hunt for the man who murdered his wife, but naturally he encounters some problems given that he’s suffering from a rare form of retrograde amnesia, and he puts the pieces together at exactly the same speed as the viewer does.
After killing the man he believed to be the culprit, Leonard hears the name ‘Sammy’, throwing everything into doubt given that it was only a name he’d have known if Leonard had told him. Leonard drives off with the conclusion deliberately left ambiguous, and the debate has raged for over 20 years about the specifics of Memento’s conclusion.
34. Some Like It Hot
Billy Wilder’s classic rom-com is a hoot from start to finish, following Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon on the run when they flee Chicago after witnessing a Mafia hit.
The duo disguise themselves as women to join a jazz band, heading out to Florida where they encounter Marilyn Monroe’s blonde bombshell, all while the mob remains hot on their tail.
The final gag sees Lemmon’s Daphne receive a marriage proposal from Joe E. Brown’s Osgood Fielding, causing Daphne to reveal her true identity. Not that Osgood cares in the slightest, because he still wants to marry her anyway.
33. The Silence of the Lambs
One of the very few movies to score the ‘Big Five’ at the Academy Award for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, The Silence of the Lambs’ ending could have been cheesy in the wrong hands.
The terrifying Hannibal Lecter has managed to escape the clutches of the FBI, but he’s still more than happy to extend a courtesy call in Clarice Starling’s direction, almost inviting her to come and catch him.
Only Anthony Hopkins’ sinister yet charming performance could have ended such a phenomenal movie on the bad joke that he was ‘having an old friend for dinner’ and make it work.
32. Rocky II
Rocky is one of the best sports dramas, boxing movies and feelgood films you’ll ever hope to find, but let’s not forget that the Italian Stallion came out on the losing end of the climactic fight.
The first installment was such a success that a franchise was born, and there was only one way to wrap up the sequel, sending audiences home happy and finally letting Rocky win the big one.
The rematch to end all rematches, you still find yourself willing Rocky to land that final knockout blow, and it’s made all the sweeter by his final rallying cry of, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!”.
31. Bonnie and Clyde
The outlaw couple were legends in their own right long before they were brought to the big screen by Arthur Penn with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles, but 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde only cemented their legacy.
A landmark entry when it comes to the genesis of the New Hollywood movement, the movie was filled with sex and violence, while the two leads were antiheroes in every sense of the word, scripted and portrayed with shades of grey.
Bonnie and Clyde go out in a blaze of bullet-riddled glory, with the camera lingering on their lifeless bodies as the movie cuts to black, with Denver Pyle’s Frank Hamer getting exactly what he wanted, if not the way he sought to get it.
30. The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch was a revolutionary work of cinema when it was first released, with the graphic depictions of violence also seeing it come in for more than its fair share of controversy.
It still holds up as one of the best action-packed Westerns to ever come out of Hollywood, with Sam Peckinpah’s rapid-fire editing and use of slow-motion reinforcing his credentials as a true trailblazer.
Much like the ways of the Old West, the titular band of outlaws go out swinging in a blaze of glory following the stunning final shootout, refusing to bow to down to convention, much like the director and the entire movie itself.
29. The Third Man
Carol Reed’s classic noir The Third Man gives erstwhile protagonist Harry Lime one of the best onscreen introductions in history, so it’s par for the course that the ending is also an all-timer.
Writer Holly Martins travels to Vienna at the request of childhood friend Lime, only be drawn into a wide-ranging conspiracy that involves fake deaths, government interference and romance.
Harry eventually dies for real during the third act, leading to a second and definitive funeral, with Martins firing the final shot. Not wanting to miss his flight out of Vienna, he waits to talk to Alida Valli’s Anna, who was caught between both men, but she simply ignores him and carries on walking.
28. Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy classic is a phenomenal satire that doubles as a wondrous showcase for the very best of Peter Sellers, who plays multiple roles and nails them all.
The final stretch of the film is just as absurd and irreverent as everything that proceeds it. Dr. Strangelove simply rises from his chair and declares, “Mein Führer, I can walk!”, as the movie ends with a montage of nuclear explosions.
Legend has it that Sellers improvised the line after accidentally getting up out of his wheelchair during one of the many takes, and it’s definitely the out-there finale that Dr. Strangelove deserves.
Brian De Palma’s Carrie was the first big screen adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and the prolific author’s work is still a goldmine for the film and television industry to this day.
However, few have had quite the impact as Carrie, which still endures as one of the greatest and most iconic horror movies ever made, with a terrifying ending that’s still more than capable of getting people to jump out of their seats in fear.
Sole prom survivor Sue has a nightmare where she lays flowers on the charred remains of the title character’s house, only for Carrie’s arm to burst out from the rubble and grab her, causing her to jolt awake in a fit of screaming, which is pretty much how viewers felt as well.
26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a star studded ensemble piece that’s gone down in history as one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made, with an ending that still packs a punch.
It’s also spawned more than its fair share of memes, though, with Donald Sutherland’s exaggerated pose recognizable to internet-savvy folks that might not have a clue where it originated initially.
Having managed to escape the pod people, Veronica Cartwright’s Nancy Bellicec crosses paths with Sutherland’s Matthew Bennell to let him know that she’s still human, only for her to discover to her horror that he’s been turned.
25. Lost in Translation
One of the best performances of Bill Murray’s career and a breakthrough turn from Scarlett Johansson combine to deliver one of the 21st Century’s most memorable rom-coms, even if it hardly plays by the rules of the genre.
Murray’s Bob Harris bumps into newlywed Charlotte in Tokyo, where the duo get to talking and find out there’s a genuine spark between them, one that ends up tugging at every single one of your emotions and heartstrings.
There’s been a lot of theorizing over the ending, but if Sofia Coppola deliberately left it open to interpretation for viewers to tie up the story however they saw fit, then there’s really no reason to give a definitive answer.
24. Avengers: Infinity War
Obviously, everybody knew that Avengers: Infinity War was only the first half of a two-part story, and the good guys would always win out in the end, but that doesn’t make the ending any less impactful.
It’s rare that any comic book movie ends with the bad guy winning, never mind wiping out half of all life in the universe and turning the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest names to dust.
It left audiences with their jaws on the floor when Thanos basked in the glory of accomplishing exactly what he set out to do, especially when fans had to wait an entire year for the conclusion.
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The battle of wits between Jack Nicholson’s Randle Patrick McMurphy and Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched drives the story of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it’s Will Sampson’s Chief who gets to take center stage when the credits role.
After the rest of the patients at the mental institution get drawn into the conflict, Ratched decides to tighten her iron grip over the facility even further, with McMurphy inevitably her main target.
Chief discovers McMurphy with lobotomy scars on his forehead, with Ratched having finally managed to subdue him. Tearful, Chief smothers his friend to death, launches a fountain through the window and escapes to his freedom in about as uplifting an ending as you could hope from such a grim film.
22. The Italian Job
One of the most iconic crime capers to ever grace the big screen, The Italian Job is packed full of quotable dialogue, while the signature car chases and action scenes more than hold up when viewed today.
Michael Caine’s crafty criminal Charlie Croker leads a gang of thieves in the attempted robbery of an armored truck packed full of gold, but things inevitably go awry for the crew.
By the time the credits roll, Charlie and the gang are left hanging over the side of a cliff with the gold sliding towards the exit. In the most literal sense of the world it’s a cliffhanger, with Caine’s “Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea” a tremendous capper.
21. Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead is credited with igniting interest in the zombie movie, and it remains a hugely popular subgenre of horror to this day, but few have mastered it quite like George A. Romero.
The director always made a point of lashing his gore-drenched output with plenty of satire and social subject, and nothing encapsulates his mindset better than Night of the Living Dead’s ending.
Having survived an onslaught of the undead, Duane Jones’ Ben finally escapes from the cellar, only to be immediately shot and killed by people who mistake him for a zombie. He’s discarded onto a bonfire and burned along with the rest of them, a shocking and ignominious conclusion for the hero of the story.
20. Toy Story 3
One of the main reasons people were skeptical when Pixar first announced Toy Story 4 was the near-perfect conclusion to the third installment, which brought Woody and the gang’s story full circle.
Never mind the sheer levels of nerve-wringing dread when the toys nearly met their demise in the third act, waving goodbye to Andy’s former playthings barely left a dry eye in the house.
The epilogue offers a ray of sunshine at the very end, but seeing Andy leave Woody and Buzz behind was ten times more heart-wrenching than it had any right to be.
Christopher Nolan has long had a habit of toying with the notion of time dating back to his breakout feature Memento, but while time is a key factor in Inception, reality is truly the key.
Venturing into the subconscious of others is a dangerous game, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb discovered when his wife was driven to suicide by her failure to determine what was real and what wasn’t.
His totem just beginning to topple right as the movie cut to black ensured that audiences would be debating the ending long after they left the theater, and people are still doing so over a decade later.
18. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Almost all of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography was left wide open to interpretation, so it was only natural that the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey would generate so much intense discussion and debate.
In short, lead character Dave winds up on Jupiter, discovers a highly advanced alien species, ages decades in a matter of moments, dies and is reborn as a star child. It’s wild, bonkers and totally existential, which is exactly how Kubrick wanted it to be.
Never one for spoon-feeding viewers, in subsequent interviews the filmmaker proceeded to clear up absolutely none of the mystery, insisting that it’s entirely up to personal preference and interpretation.
17. The Graduate
Mike Nichols’ The Graduate is one of the defining movies of the late-1960s, even if the ending has been mercilessly parodied into oblivion over the following decades as one of the rom-com’s go-to tropes.
Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock finally takes the plunge and chases after the girl of his dreams, even if it happens to involve him crashing her wedding and the bride ditching her would-be husband at the altar.
The lovebirds run out of the church and get on a bus, but the final hint of ambiguity on their faces indicates that they might have rushed into it, but we’ll never find out as the credits begin to roll immediately after.
16. The Searchers
The Searchers in an epic, sprawling Western of the highest caliber from start to finish, but at is core it’s essentially the tale of a man out of time, with John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards forced to reckon with both himself and his past.
Returning home after the Civil War, he spends years tracking down his missing niece to bring her home from deep into Comanche territory, embarking on a dangerous rescue mission.
After returning Natalie Wood’s Debbie to her home, Ethan walks off into the sunset in one of cinema’s most iconic final shots, the door closing on him as he grows smaller and smaller in the distance, now a man without purpose.
15. Thelma & Louise
Another iconic ending that still manages to retain its impact despite being the subject of so many parodies since it was first released, the ambiguity only adds to the climax of Thelma & Louise.
Ridley Scott’s road trip buddy movie is a character piece first and foremost, as we get to know the two title heroines and their motivations as they wind up on the run from the law.
Not willing to surrender without going out in a blaze of glory, Thelma & Louise ends with them driving a car directly into the Grand Canyon, leaving their ultimate fate entirely up to us to decide.
14. The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s twist endings eventually saw him become something of a punchline, but the law of diminishing returns will never detract from the shocking rug-pull at the end of The Sixth Sense.
It’s still a great movie even if you know how it plays out, and if anything there’s definite value in re-watching it just to see all of the signs laid out in front of our eyes that Bruce Willis’ Malcolm Crowe was dead all along.
On second viewing it becomes apparent and even obvious, but hindsight is always 20/20 and very few people could have predicted the jaw-dropping twist to The Sixth Sense going in.
Arguably the first revisionist Western, Shane delighted in playing with the established tropes of the genre, sticking to the rules while subtly turning them upside down at the same time.
Alan Ladd’s title hero is a drifter with a mysterious past who winds up in a small town and soon falls foul of the local bad guys, which is about as formulaic a setup as you could expect to find.
However, director George Stevens leans on formula to inform the story, leaving the ending deliberately ambiguous as Shane rides off into the sunset, leaving the audience to decide whether or not he’d survived his injuries from the third act shootout.
12. The Mist
Frank Darabont’s previous association with Stephen King adaptations brought the uplifting duo of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, but his third time directing the author’s work was something else altogether.
For almost the entire running time, The Mist is a contained and hugely effective sci-fi horror thriller, trapping the residents of a small town inside a supermarket as malevolent creatures attack.
Just when you think our intrepid band of heroes are in the clear, Thomas Jane’s David Drayton admits defeat and shoots three of the four remaining survivors, including his own son. Wrecked with grief, the titular fog dissipates to reveal the Army have arrived to save the day, in an absolutely devastating final twist.
11. The Thing
John Carpenter’s classic creature feature is packed with buckets of blood and gore, not to mention some horrific practical effects as the titular shapeshifting being wreaks havoc, but its real power is in the quieter moments.
The residents of a remote Antarctic outpost begin to lose faith and trust in each other, which builds to a head throughout the story in increasingly extravagant fashion, making the last scene look positively quaint by comparison.
However, seeing the remaining survivors resigned to their fate and freezing to death while still intensely distrustful of each other sums up The Thing’s relentless fear and paranoia to a tee.
10. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Action adventures don’t come much better than Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which saw the bearded dream team of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas teaming up.
It’s a near-perfect mix of style, substance and spectacle, packed with standout action sequences and an instantly iconic performance from Harrison Ford as the world-weary yet charismatic professor who moonlights as an action hero.
With the plot neatly tied up, Indy questions what’s happened to the Ark of the Covenant. As we all know, it’s been left in the hands of top men, leading to the legendary wide shot of a mysterious warehouse packed with all sorts of artifacts.
9. Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind may have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons following last year’s widely-publicized criticisms directed at the movie’s outdated content, but it’s still a monument to Hollywood at its greatest no matter how poorly it may have ages in the decades since.
The epic to end all epics, Victor Felming’s sweeping and operatic tale is big screen excess at its most lavish and opulent, boasting the sort of star studded ensemble and top-tier production design destined for awards season glory.
In the end, despite everything they’ve been through Scarlett O’Hara and and Rhett Butler don’t end up together, as he rebuffs her final plea before walking off into the fog, although she vows to win him back one day.
8. The Shawshank Redemption
One of the most uplifting movies ever made despite being a grim prison drama for the most part, The Shawshank Redemption culminates in one of the best ever examples of cinematic catharsis.
Having forged an inseparable bond, Morgan Freeman’s Red is forced to patiently bide his time until release, long after Andy Dufresne executed his ingenious plan to escape from the titular institution.
The build up is agonizingly slow as we cross our fingers that the duo will be reunited in Zihuatanejo, especially when Red’s violating his parole, but the final shots of the two best buddies will always leave you punching the air no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
David Fincher’s Seven is one of cinema’s greatest psychological thrillers, and the ending is about as harrowing as they come, despite most of its impact coming from the power of suggestion and implication.
We never actually see what’s in the box, but after Kevin Spacey’s John Doe regales Brad Pitt’s David Mills with the tale of how he broke into his house and decapitated his wife, we’ve got a pretty good idea.
Morgan Freeman’s William Somerset is powerless to prevent pure emotion taking over, with Mills gunning down the serial killer in cold blood, with envy and wrath rounding out the final two deadly sins on his checklist.
Roman Polanski’s hard-boiled mystery noir is one of the best Hollywood movies of the 1970s, and the final line of dialogue continues to be quoted and referenced all over film and television to this day.
It’s a dark and often harrowing tale, but viewers were still hoping that Polanski would thrown them a bone and at least give them a happy ending. Instead, Faye Dunaway’s Evelyn is gunned down by the cops after shooting John Huston’s Noah.
Jack Nicholson’s Jake is as shocked as we are, but he’s led away from the scene accompanied by the legendary line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown”.
5. The Usual Suspects
Christopher McQuarrie’s watertight script deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it remains a masterclass in tightly-plotted sleight of hand and misdirection.
Verbal Kint always felt like a somewhat unreliable narrator, but the final rug pull still comes completely out of the blue, thanks in part to Kevin Spacey’s Oscar-winning performance and McQuarrie’s mastery of leaving out breadcrumbs, but making sure they’re very hard to spot.
Even if you know how it ends, The Usual Suspect still packs a punch as a breezy crime thriller, but you’ll never forget the thrill of seeing it for the first time and realizing Keyser Soze was hiding in plain sight all along.
4. Planet of the Apes
Even people who haven’t seen Planet of the Apes will more than likely be able to describe the ending from memory, such is the way it’s become embedded in the very fabric of pop culture.
Up until the final scene, it’s a massively entertaining sci-fi romp that finds Charlton Heston doing his best to keep those damn dirty apes off his tail having escaped from captivity and gone on the run.
However, the conclusion is nothing short of legendary, revealing that he’d been trapped on a far-flung future version of Earth all along, with the lines elevated by Heston’s impeccable conviction and gravitas.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic was the progenitor of the slasher as we know it, and the legendary filmmaker went out of his way to upend and subvert audience expectations from the very beginning.
The first act made it seem like a relatively straightforward crime thriller, before Janet Leigh was shockingly killed off in what still comfortably ranks as possibly the most famous death scene ever.
Hitchcock was still turning convention on its head right up until the final scene of Psycho, which sees Norman Bates with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, with his inner monologue telling us that Mother had to take over in a truly chilling climax.
Another stone-cold classic of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Casablanca turned out remarkably well considering that the script was being rewritten and fine-tuned throughout the entirety of production.
It might be a sweeping romantic drama, but Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blane and Ingrid Bergman’s Isla Lund don’t ride off into the sunset arm in arm, tying everything up in a neat little bow.
Instead, Rick arranges an escape to Brazzaville through his cohort Louis, played by Claude Rains. The dynamic duo then decide to continue their nascent partnership, leading to the iconic final line of dialogue; “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
1. Citizen Kane
Ever since it was first released in 1941, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has been pored over, analyzed and dissected by film scholars the world over, such is its monumental legacy and impact on cinema.
Naturally, a movie that’s regularly touted as the greatest ever made would have one of the best endings, and you’ll get a reaction out of any self-respecting cinephile if you mention the word ‘Rosebud’ in their presence.
The final scene of Citizen Kane finally reveals the big mystery lingering over the story since the beginning, with Charles Foster Kane pining for his childhood sled, the last semblance of his innocence before he was shaped into the man he wound up becoming.