Movie endings can leave you with a sense of satisfaction or make you want to throw your chair at the screen.
Every filmmaker strives for the former, and in some cases they manage to pull off something that will be remembered forever.
Whether it leaves you happy, sad, or has a visual or line of dialogue that just brings everything together, movie endings can make or break how you feel about the story you just watched.
From “Gone with the Wind” to “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Chinatown,” here are 30 of the best movie endings of all time, ranked (spoilers galore, obviously):
For better or worse, director M. Night Shyamalan became the king of the surprise ending with the reveal at the end of “The Sixth Sense.” It turns out Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) was in fact one of the dead people Cole (Haley Joel Osment) sees.
In one of Jack Nicholson’s greatest performances, the fate of R.P. McMurphy is sad but also inspiring. His rebel attitude, sapped from a lobotomy, transfers to the gentle giant Chief, who finally has the strength to escape the ward.
Gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) has beaten the bad guy and brought justice to the West, but as he gets on his horse, young Joey (Brandon De Wilde) sees blood dripping from Shane, his arm limp as he rides off. What follows is one of the most quoted closings in movie history, Joey shouting out: “Shane! Come Back!”
Driving home the “we blew it” statement in the scene before the conclusion of the revolutionary “Easy Rider,” Billy (Dennis Hopper) is shot by a hillbilly and when Wyatt (Peter Fonda) drives off to get help, he’s also shot and killed. An aerial shot shows Wyatt’s burning motorcycle on the roadside.
The epic love story set during the Civil War ends in grand fashion. Tired of the games being played by Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) walks out on Scarlett with the epic line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” This leads to Scarlett pledging to win back Rhett because “tomorrow is another day.” The film then closes with an incredible shot of Scarlett sanding in front of a setting sun as the score by Max Steiner plays.
After getting the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) brings it back to the US to be told sternly that the Ark will now be studied by “top men.” But in a final shot, director Steven Spielberg shows the Ark boxed up and wheeled off in a warehouse among thousands of other boxed secrets.
The first “Rocky” had the incredible first bout between Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and the famous “Adrian!” line at the end. But the “Rocky II” ending tops the first. The rematch between Balboa and Creed ends with the two knocked down in the final round and racing to stand before the referee gets to 10. The scene is intense regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.
After destroying the alien that has terrorized him and his crew, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) thinks he’s all alone in Antarctica. That is until Childs (Keith David) comes out of the darkness. MacReady thinks Childs could have been contaminated by the alien, but doesn’t have the strength to do anything about it. Instead the two have a drink and “see what happens.”
In a movie filled with mind games, the ending of Paul Thomas Anderson’s classic is its most memorable. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) comes to Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in hopes of selling him land for oil. Plainview agrees, but only if Eli, a preacher, denounces his faith. Sunday does, but then Plainview reveals the land is worthless as the oil has already been taken from it. This leads to a confrontation that ends with Plainview killing Sunday with a bowling pin. The last line of the movie is Plainview shouting, “I’m finished!”
François Truffaut’s landmark story of a delinquent boy’s life in Paris ends with main character Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) running way from a troubled boys’ school to the ocean, a sight he’s never seen before. He then turns and looks directly into the camera. The freeze-frame of his face is one of the most powerful images in movie history and has led to countless interpretations.
After the big reveal that shows Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was in fact dressed as his mother and committed all the murders at the Bates Motel, director Alfred Hitchcock shows Bates in a holding cell as the voice of his mother is heard protesting the murders. If you look closely you’ll see the chilling skeleton head of Norman’s mother as the picture dissolves to show Marion’s (Janet Leigh) car being pulled out of the swamp next to the Bates Motel.
One of the better remakes of a horror movie, the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has a great shock ending as we find Michael (Donald Sutherland) thought to still be human, walking around until he runs into Elizabeth, who has also stayed human. But when Elizabeth gets closer, Michael points and lets out a scream that the pod people let out. Elizabeth is frozen in terror. Try to go to sleep after watching that scene!
Controversial at the time of its release because of the violence, the film’s ending drove home that unrest as outlaws Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) are killed in a hail of gunfire from police who’ve finally caught up to them.
After being the first man ever to successfully escape Shawshank, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) sends a message to friend “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) on how to find him once he is paroled. This leads to a powerfully touching reunion on a beach.
Director Sam Peckinpah was always for delivering harsh visuals to his audience and with his classic Western he delivered a blood-soaked ending in which Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang take on the Mexican Army with their sidearms and a very big machine gun.
In an ending that is very much commentary on the racial unrest in the US in the late 1960s, Ben (Duane Jones), the lone survivor in the house from the zombie attack, is shot and killed by hunters the morning after the attack as he’s mistaken for a zombie. Ben, an African-American, is then thrown into a bonfire.
With nuclear weapons certain to destroy the world, the politicians and generals in the war room think of how mankind can live. Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) begins to explain how a super-race can be created and begins to stand from his wheelchair. He shouts, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” Then the doomsday device goes off. There’s only one better ending from a Stanley Kubrick movie. (Keep reading to find out.)
As drug lord Sosa has his men attack the compound of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), Tony goes out in one of the most incredible shootouts ever filmed with a machine gun and a lot of smack talk. It’s the scene that will link Pacino and director Brian De Palma forever.
After putting out hits on all the heads of his rival mafia families, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is confronted by his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) about the death of his disloyal brother-in-law Carlo. Saying he doesn’t talk about his business, he finally gives in and tells her he had nothing to do with Carlo’s death. We then see from Kay’s point of view Michael being greeted by the men in his family, who call him “Don Corleone” as the door closes on Kay.
Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is to be taken by the police for the murder of screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) but doesn’t move until the press arrives — with cameras. Then, with her public waiting, she gives her final performance.
Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) successfully breaks up Elaine Robinson’s (Katharine Ross) wedding and the two run off on a bus. After the excitement subsides, the camera inspects the two sitting in the back of the bus as they contemplate what they have just done.
When Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) finally figures out the twisted love affair of Noah Cross (John Huston) and Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), it’s too late. The cops are hot on his tail and everything comes to a head in the Chinatown district of LA. Evelyn is killed and Noah leaves with Katherine (Evelyn’s sister and daughter). Jake is told the classic line: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
When you think all the scares are done, director Brian De Palma gives one more at the end of his adaptation of the Stephen King novel. As Sue (Amy Irving) walks to Carrie’s old home to pay her respects, a hand comes out of the ground to grab her. We realize she is actually dreaming and she wakes up in hysterics in her bedroom.
The ending of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” is a technological masterwork. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) flies into the monolith where he finds a vortex of colored lights, sees an older version of himself, and finally becomes the star child. Well, we think that’s what happens, anyway.
The shocking twist in David Fincher’s “Seven” brings to a thrilling conclusion a police whodunit that we thought couldn’t get any more insane. Finally having captured John Doe (Kevin Spacey), Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are led by the madman to an open field where a box is delivered. The reveal of what’s inside the box is an incredible shock and leads to the final sin being committed: wrath.
With plans to run off with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) instead has her leave to America with Victor (Paul Henreid). After killing Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) so the two can get away, Rick is left with Captain Louis Renault. The two famously walk away in the fog as Rick says, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
What does “Rosebud” mean? That’s the MacGuffin director Orson Welles plugs into his classic movie, using it as a device to tell the life of Charles Foster Kane (Welles). We learn the truth at the end, as objects of the late Kane are thrown into an incinerator, including his boyhood sled called Rosebud.
One of the most surprising endings in the history of movies, the reveal in the last few minutes that “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) is actually the legendary crime lord Keyser Söze is a twist that may never be duplicated.
The beautiful end to Carol Reed’s film noir proves that sometimes action really does speak louder than words. The single shot with no dialogue shows Alida (Anna Schmidt) walking from Harry’s (Orson Welles) funeral and completely passing Holly (Joseph Cotten), proving how much she really cared about Harry. All of this is over the unique score by Anton Karas.
Thinking he has been on a planet where apes evolved from men, George Taylor (Charlton Heston) realizes that he has been on earth the whole time after seeing a destroyed Statue of Liberty. It’s the most powerful movie ending of all time. Not just because it’s the perfect ending for a sci-fi movie made in the late 1960s, when the country was in complete turmoil, but because to this day it still has a strong shock effect.
Movie endings can leave you with a sense of…
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