Weekend Roundtable: Good Movie, Bad Ending

Does a bad ending ruin an otherwise good movie? Can you forgive a film that stumbles in its last act if you enjoyed the rest of it? This week’s Roundtable is all about movies that come so close to greatness, but fail to stick the landing.

Needless to say given the topic, this article will contain PLOT SPOILERS for all of the movies mentioned.

Shannon Nutt

I think I may have brought this movie up in a similar topic in the past, but for me no movie has a better build-up and a more disappointing ending that M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs‘. Now keep in mind that this film came out long before M. Night’s directorial career went off the rails, not to mention Mel Gibson’s personal life. This was back in the day when both the director and star were at the top of their games, so none of that baggage went into one’s viewing or opinion of the movie.

The set-up of the story is fantastic, as crop circles appear in a farmer’s field and there’s a growing tension about what may be coming to Earth. While all this is going on, the farmer (Gibson) is having a crisis of faith. He’s a widower who has lost his faith in God due to his wife’s passing. When the aliens finally arrive, the movie totally cops-out on us by revealing that the one thing that can kill them is water. Yes, these advanced aliens traveled all the way across the universe (or possibly from another dimension) and chose a planet where 70% of the make-up is lethal to them. I guess what Harlan Ellison said is true: “The two most abundant things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

The dark, destructive climax to ‘Superman: The Movie‘ painted the Man of Steel into such a corner that the only way he could claw himself out was to travel back in time. This is a power that was never established or even hinted at beforehand, has no negative consequences, and is never again used throughout the four sequels that follow. It’s the worst kind of deus ex machina, stomping all over the drama of any crisis afterwards since Superman could always just fly around the planet and make sure it never happened in the first place. Apparently, narrative logic has the same crippling effect as Kryptonite.

Luke Hickman

I enjoy a good Will Smith movie. With the star’s charm and charisma, they’re fun and entertaining. But no matter how intense ‘I Am Legend‘ may be, the movie is completely undermined by a stupid ending.

I’m fine with central characters dying in heroic ways, but this one is not heroic. It’s a needless suicide scene. I’d enjoyed everything up to that point, but strongly disliked the movie due to the climax. Wanting to strike it from my memory, I wrote the movie off at that point. Just as I started learning more about the book, its character and the overall themes, the Director’s Cut alternate ending appeared online. Out of curiosity, I watched it and instantly found the ending that I’d hoped to see theatrically. Instead of having a character needlessly die in way that goes against everything the movie had set up until that point, it closes in a fitting way. If the only version of ‘I Am Legend’ in existence was the theatrical cut, I never would watch it again. Luckily, you can watch the full Director’s Cut with the proper ending on Blu-ray.

Mike Attebery

I don’t mind a sad ending now and then, just so long as it feels right, but there’s something about a story that doesn’t resolve itself in a satisfying way that leaves me eternally discombobulated. Without saying what happens, ‘Love Is Strange‘ is the most recent film to leave me feeling out of joint as a viewer. If you’ve seen this one, I’m sure you have either a resigned acceptance of the conclusion, or you’re still asking the same question I am: Where the heck did that ending come from? I was just shelving this Blu-ray yesterday and was strongly tempted to give it away. That never happens. So disappointing.

Brian Hoss

It would be so tempting for me to pick ’28 Days Later’ as a great movie marred by a bad ending (or series of ending scenes), but instead I’ll pick on another Danny Boyle film: ‘Sunshine‘. Every time I try to explain to someone how much I like the movie, I get this cold, sickly feeling, because it has this certain plot element that nearly consumes the conclusion of the film that I really think stinks. That plot element is an entire character, and could even be considered the antagonist. I really can’t say anything good about the character or his runaway effect on the story. It’s a shame.

Josh Zyber

Steven Spielberg frequently has a problem ending his movies. He has a compulsion to tidy everything up in a neat little bow, even when that doesn’t make much narrative sense (e.g. ‘Minority Report’, ‘War of the Worlds’). Even his masterpiece ‘Schindler’s List’ goes on for a few beats too long with that schmaltzy “I could have saved one more!” scene.

Perhaps the most frustrating of Spielberg’s endings happens in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘. Spielberg has cut three different versions of this movie so far, and even though one of them (the 1980 “Special Edition”) compounds the issue by dragging it out much longer, they all still share the same fundamental problem: In every version of the story, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) hops on the alien mothership to take a cruise across the galaxy for what will presumably pass as decades here on Earth – and in doing so, abandons his wife and children. He doesn’t even give them a second thought when he suits up for his new adventure. Although Neary had been driven to obsession in his quest to prove the existence of aliens, this final decision to leave his family behind feels like a betrayal of his character. It turns him into a straight-up asshole.

What kills me about this is that the problem would be so easy to solve with one more re-edit. The mothership lands, the aliens walk out, Neary is vindicated for everything he’s done in the film, the music swells and – BAM! – cut to the credits. That’s it. That’s how the movie needs to end. What happens next is up to the audience to imagine for themselves.

Sadly, Spielberg cannot abide any sense of ambiguity in his films, and would never let this story end without telling us exactly what he wants to happen next.

‘Close Encounters’ is such a good movie up until that moment, which really sours what could have been a masterpiece.

The key to this discussion is that we’re talking about movies that are good except for their endings. Movies that suck all the way through don’t count. Please keep that in mind when adding your own picks in the Comments.


  1. I wonder if after a few more years with his twins, Josh will think CE3K has the best ending ever? 😉

    By the way, hasn’t Spielberg himself said – since becoming a father of his own – that he screwed up that ending? I want to say that he has, but I could be remembering wrong.

    • Josh Zyber

      Yes, I believe that Spielberg has acknowledged the problem with the ending to Close Encounters. However, he had a chance to fix it with his Collector’s Edition version and didn’t.

      • RIPMaix

        Except the “now a daddy” Spielberg was the same Spielberg that replaced the guns in E.T. with walkie talkies. I for one have no issue with the ending of CET3K and would feel he is falling into the same trap a lot of young parent fall into. There is a period (usually before a child hits its teens) that EVERYTHING about a child is sacred. These same friends who have killed legions of zombies before the child was born can’t play Dead Rising 2 because you (as the main character) have to inject your daughter with a drug every few hours to keep her from turning into a zombie. The Walking Dead Game? Forget about it. Any movie that uses the cheap ploy of a sick child suddenly is heartfelt and wonderful. Do you remember the movie? His wife and kids were TERRIBLE to him. He asked for support, and they flat out abandoned him. Fortunately, most people grow out of this phase and realize that kids are not sacred and can have flaws and even be the source of humor. If Spielberg ever wusses out and changes CET3K, he’l regret it just like he did with E.T. And I’m surprised this is from the same guys who always bring up filmmakers mucking with their past work and even refer to it as “raping their childhood”. So changing a movie is not okay if a director/writer was never happy with the result but if you personally want a different ending- then artistic freedom be damned. People like you are the reason we ended up with that crap ending to Fatal Attraction, the “happy” Brazil edit, and heaven knows how many other, test-screening shaped saccharine endings.

  2. I know a lot of people hated the movie throughout, but I really enjoyed A.I. until the ending. It really should have ended on the sad note of him staring at the blue fairy statue, instead we shoot forward in time and get a tedious ending with future-robo-aliens, ugh.

  3. Elizabeth

    I absolutely love Close Encounters and I feel it would have absolutely failed as an ending if Neary hadn’t gone with the aliens. That would have been a real betrayal of the character that Dreyfuss had built up over 2 hours. He HAD to go to Devil’s Tower. He HAD to see the aliens up close. And when given the chance he HAD to go with them.

    The woman he made it to Devil’s Tower with, it was her story for it to be enough to just be vindicated in her belief the aliens were real. Neary was way more driven then her.

    I don’t think Spielberg ever said he’d change the ending. I think he said it came from a time when he was far more naive and that he couldn’t make that same movie ever again.

    Sorry, the ending to CE3K was brilliant (the original one, not the extended one he was forced to make to do the special edition he wanted). I just can’t imagine it being cut short with Neary not walking into the ship. What a let down that would be.

    Now the ending to The Abyss, that could use some work. The Special Edition helped, but I’m not entirely sure how James Cameron could have really wrapped that movie up in a totally satisfying way. I guess it would help if the alien city/ship wouldn’t have looked like a horrible blue and purple blob when it reached the surface.

  4. Deaditelord

    Despite it ripping off… err… *borrowing from* Dean Koontz’s novel Intensity, Alexander Aja’s High Tension is 3/4 of a great movie… right up until the big “twist” that renders most of the movie completely implausible. It’s such a big **** you to the audience that I’m surprised Aja didn’t take the extra step of inserting a gigantic middle finger on the screen right at that moment and immediately rolled credits.

    I also have to second the inclusion of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Normally I’m a defender of his movies, but even I have problems with the weird pit stop in Tim Robbins’ basement and Tom Cruise’s son miraculously surviving.

  5. EM

    The 1989 thriller Dead Calm is an exciting cat-and-mouse game between Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane which goes on one scene too long. Having already arrived at a satisfying conclusion, the film then descends into a cheap dead-villain-comes-back useless bit of nonsense. I keep waiting for the corrected cut.

  6. Jon

    Source Code pissed me off so badly in it’s last ten minutes that I vowed to never watch it again. The movie built up to a perfect coda that was sad, but fitting to what had transpired before and ultimately uplifting. Then the twist came in with all the happiness of a kick in the balls and the movie’s real ending turned out to be a lame happily ever after joke that was so far off tonally from the rest of the film that I thought it was a deleted scene.

    The thing that always bugged me is supposedly Jake Gylenhaal’s conscience transferred into the body of someone else in an alternate dimension. What happened to the person who was originally in that body? Did Jake just erase him when he rudely downloaded into his brain? What a dick!

  7. I knew we covered a very similar topic before. September 20, 2013. I still feel the same as back then. High Tension and Fight Club.
    I also agree with A.I. That one desperately needed a “wrap it up” button.
    This isn’t a great movie, but somewhat interesting. Nymphomaniac. The last scene in that movie makes no sense to me.

  8. Chris B

    I forgot The matrix revolutions, a total slap in the face to fansof the trilogy who get all the way to the end of the battle to save mankind and find out it’s all pre-programmed and destined to repeat itself?!? WTF?!

      • Chris B

        That’s not what I got from it, I got the impression the whole thing was in the architect’s design and even tnough there was now peace the whole thing would be short-lived. Haven’t seen it in years though, should rewatch it and see if I can interpert anything else.

        At any rate, it just felt like the ending was way too cryptic and not near the payoff 3 movies about the battle between good and evil would lead you to.

  9. Ryan

    Signs’ ending is stupid….until you decide to go with the theory that they weren’t actually aliens, but demons…which would make all the religious undertones make a lot more sense. It also could explain their stupidity (Can’t escape a closed pantry door)

    • Elizabeth

      I actually rather like the ending to Signs. I just really like how it pulls everything together, his daughter leaving the water glasses all over the house, the baseball motif. If anything, I thinks that’s where the religion motif comes in. That he had everything to save himself right there, he just needed to clear his mind, to give up his fear and doubt and have faith.

      But The Village was just terrible. Or rather the fact that the movie didn’t end when it was revealed that there wasn’t an actual monster. And then again it should have ended when it was revealed that the village was located in modern times on some private holding. But no, neither of those was enough to end the movie. I can’t actually remember how it ended, I just know it went on for far too long.

      • Ryan

        I liked idea of The Village (living in modern times….not the stupid monster fake out crap), I just don’t get the logistics of it.
        1) why not bring some medicine with you to be safe?
        2) why speak like weirdos (other than to throw off the people watching the movie)?
        3) No one is THAT old in the movie….and when they show the picture of all the elders before they left society, they are pretty much the same age. So where did all these other grown ups and older children come from that act as if they were born in the Village!? It’s impossible

  10. Ryan

    I’m going to go with Birdman for my choice, if only because it’s the one freshest in my mind. I rather liked the movie…until the endings….each one worse than the last.

  11. I understand why many people dislike the ending to Sunshine, but I’m totally fine with it. The format of the movie basically followed that of 28 Days Later: a group of people are all alone, they think they can save themselves (and/or the world), but some crazy radical(s) thwart their plan and ruin everything.

    Also, the Sunshine score is so blasted good that it’s been used in tons of trailers and movies since then.

    • Love the score, but I’m glad that the radiation radical (who can survive endlessly in space and must kill normal humans) didn’t cause anyone to spell out “hello” on the sun.

  12. B-Mo

    I’ve been hearing the “They should have known” argument about Signs since it came out.

    Isn’t it possible that the aliens did not know what water is? It’s not exactly prevalent in the known universe outside of Earth.

    I’m not saying it’s a great ending, because it is a bit of a cop out; but at least the water had been set up early in the film (as opposed to Superman’s unexplained ability to alter time by reversing the Earth’s rotation – an act that probably should have destroyed the whole damn planet).

  13. Chucky The Trousered Chimp

    I have a couple I think are bad.

    For one, ‘Man On Fire’. With the hulabaloo that Christopher Walken made about Denzel needing to wear a vest, this advice was never taken, so he gets shot… again. Then it friggin’ cops out by revealing that Dakota Fanning’s still alive. Why? “Because it’s bad for business”. How? Killing hostages if a ransom isn’t given IS good business because it lets people know you ain’t kidding around. Then, it has that brief epilogue with the cops storming the bad guys’ compaound, just to try and compound on its attempted happy ending. Ah, screw this movie. It had no balls. At least ‘The Man From Nowhere’ earned it.

    Next, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. The interdimensional time traveling stuff and the reveal of the prince with the ‘love of his life’ stuff in the last 15 minutes completely negates the need for the war subplot that’s developed over the course of the movie, and by extension, the villain Sulliman and her motivations, thus almost negating the whole movie.

    Then, there’s ‘The Edge’. A pretty solid and entertaining survival flick about two guys bonding to survive and take down a bear trying to eat them until it comes back to this stupid subplot of these two guys fighting over a woman, which leads to such a stupid, stupid, stupid press statement of how the other men saved his life. It then credits and remembers Bart the Bear, whose character was killed onscreen.

    ‘Buried’. Has the most broad and vague, most tacked-on, and stupid political message to ever end a movie. What was the message? My best guess is: Don’t trust AT&T.

    ‘War Of The Worlds’. Talk about something coming out of the blue, even if it is from a novel.

    ‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King’. A great movie that proceeded to wear out its welcome by not knowing exactly where to end.

    • William Henley

      It has been a while since I saw Man on Fire, but I thought the little girl was not killed because the father was the one who had arranged the kidnapping in an attempt to get investors or the govenernment or someone to pay the ransome because the father was in financial trouble. I don’t think I could have handled hte movie if they had of actually have killed the little girl, but I do remember being pretty pissed off to find out that it was her own father who arranged the whole thing.

      • Chucky The Trousered Chimp

        That still doesn’t change the men the dad was working with. They’d have killed her, because they run a kidnapping/ransom racket that depends on the their reputation for following through with people who don’t pay. Now, while I admit that killing Dakota Fanning would’ve left a negative taste in my mouth (the killing of that boy with his dad in ‘AVP: Requiem’ turned that movie into Some Ol’ Bullshit for me right off the bat), the movie (‘Man On Fire’) had been so well done by that point that I figured, if they brought her back, they would’ve done so in a manner much more clever. What they did was instead a perfect example of half-assedly reviving a dead character, more for the audience’s benefit than for the story’s, and it backfired, becoming a cop out instead.

        It pissed me off so much that I haven’t watched the film since. If you ask me, ‘Man On Fire’ is the perfect example of that old movie adage: a great ending can make a bad movie better, but a shit ending can make a great movie shit.

        • Chris B

          I also thought it was fucking stupid how Denzel just hands himself over to the kidnappers to die. I’m pretty sure he could have arranged a way to get the girl back and not have to be the sacraficial lamb. I kind of hated that movie,
          Tony Scott’s overstylized direction just reeked of someone trying waaaaaayyy to hard to e relevant. Ever seen Domino? It takes that style to a ridiculous level.

          • Chucky The Trousered Chimp

            That’s also a fair point. A moment that should be the ‘Shane’ moment the movie needed and demanded has no weight because it copped out.

            I actually liked Tony Scott’s direction here. Sure, it was flashier than normal Tony Scott, but when was he ever NOT flashy as a director? I mean, this is the guy that gave Michael Bay his start as an AD on ‘Days Of Thunder’. It kind of exceeded my expectations direction-wise from him as a result.

            But ‘Domino’… I only remember the flashy direction from that. It’s the only thing memorable about it and even then, it’s overdone, even for Tony Scott.

        • William Henley

          I’ve seen it a few of times, but it has been a while. I think what pisses me off more than anything had to be the fact that it was her father. I mean, if it was ANYTHING other than that, I would be okay.

          The sacrificial lamb thing I was okay with, mainly because we see earlier in the movie how the little girl got under his skin, and he came to love the little girl. But the fact that any parent could do that to their own kid….

          Needless to say, I don’t watch many crime television shows – In fact, there was one episode of CSI that Daktoa Fanning was in when she was way young where her father and grandfather was the same person, then the man started coming after her as well. While I know stuff like that happens, I can’t stomach that.

          So yeah. I have an issue with the ending of Man on Fire, but for a different reason as you. That movie is an oddity for me, I normally watch around the first 3/4ths of the movie and then shut it off. Yeah, the first 3/4ths of that movie is fantastic.

  14. Fourgiven

    The Mist. Trying to be bold and different doesn’t make your movie good. Pointless changes to the original story that turned it into the worst movie I’ve ever bought a movie ticket for. There is no justifying the choices they made.

    • Ryan

      I thought the ending’s twist was the ONLY thing good about the movie. The hour 45 that preceded it, however….bored me to tears

      • Fourgiven

        The movie wasn’t very good before that but the ending made it a terrible movie. Anyone could make a stupid ending like that to get attention for a movie but it doesn’t make it a good ending. Being bold doesn’t equal being good.

    • Pointless changes that were approved and actually liked by the author? Loved this movie honestly, especially the dark ending, nothing I’ve seen in recent memory has ended on such a downer, it was awesome. And the movie up to that point was completely engaging IMO, beliefs go out the window, beliefs send people over the edge, crazy comes out of people in those kinds of situations, especially ones that defy everything you’ve been led to believe your whole life.

      • Fourgiven

        It’s interesting to hear someone’s take on it that liked it but I still respectfully disagree personally. If I wanted to see something sad I don’t gotta buy a movie ticket for it. Just not what I look for in a movie.

  15. William Henley

    I got one that immediately came to mind. The ending is so bad, that people completely miss how great the first 2/3rds of the movie is. The movie is……. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. You just have this absolutely fantastic structure for what should have been a great movie – a neutral planet where people from three waring factions are trying to make a life together, they band together to go on a spiritual journey. You got fantastic character development, especially with Doctor McCoy, but also the bonding that takes place between McCoy, Spock and Kirk. There is this whole story line of Spock’s half-brother. You place all these people in the middle of a ship that is in the middle of a refit and is not space-worthy. And then…….. “What does God need with a Starship?” The ending was awful – horrible story, awful acting, awful sets, horrible special effects. The movie can probably be described as one of the worst endings in motion picture history. But, if you go back and watch this movie up until the point that they go down to the planet, this movie is absolutley fantastic.

    A second example that I can think of is Jurassic Park:The Lost World. Fantastic book, and the movie stayed true to the book -until about midway through. Then they take a T-Rex to San Diego.

    Got to pull out another Star Trek movie – Star Trek: Into Darkness. Okay, there was a bunch of stuff going on in the movie that drives me nuts – like galactic transporter beams and instantanious warp, but overall, the movie is actually pretty good and a pretty fun movie. Except…. First, we have to copy Wrath of Khan, and a death scene that pisses off old fans and means nothing to new fans as they really have not had time to grow attached to the characters. Then you have Khan’s magical blood.

    • Jon

      I don’t get all the venom directed at Star Trek V over the years. It’s not a great movie by any means but it has a number of exceptional scenes (McCoy’s father), which is more than I can say for some truly bad movies (Alex Cross).

      • Chucky The Trousered Chimp

        I dislike ‘Star Trek V’. I don’t hate it and it’s not as bad as ‘Generations’, but I certainly dislike it. It’s a crappy movie on the surface, but it has far more going on for it than most of the other Treks, especially beneath the surface. However, William Shatner’s direction either makes it feel bloated and pretentious or inept and miscalculated. I could never get past the feeling that it was all a giant egotrip for Shatner after Leonard Nimoy (RIP) directed the previous 2 films. The movie’s a giant misfire as a result. Thank god ‘Star Trek VI’ saved the original series’ of films.

  16. Bill

    With regard to the ending of Close Encounters, you seem to be forgetting that Roy Neary really had nothing at the end. He had lost his job. His wife and kids had left him and presumably that was why he was willing to head for outer space. He really had nothing and nobody left on earth. As far as the movie was concerned at the end of film all his ties to Earth had been broken. He felt free to follow to go with the aliens.

  17. Gotta disagree with Mike re: Love Is Strange. Loved the movie and thought the ending fit in with the rest of the film.
    I get the complaint about the Birdman ending(s), but it was still my favorite film of 2014. I would’ve preferred it end with the cheers in the crowd, but I don’t think the epilogue ruined it.

  18. Kraig McGann

    If this is too off topic, maybe it can start another. I hate the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot series’ ending. After two great seasons, almost everyone was revealed to be a cylon and we found out the colonials and the cylons have always been fighting or some such nonsense. I was so frakkin’ disappointed, that I never owned or re-watched Season 3 or 4. I recently revisited the original series on German Blu-ray and it was way better and less silly than I remembered.

  19. Master Quantator

    3:10 to Yuma: A possibly great movie ruined by the ending. OK, so as we watch a movie, we get to know the characters, their motivations, how they’d behave in certain situations, etc.

    Ben Wade does something that is completely out of character at the end of the movie concerning his gang. *Maybe* I can believe about Charlie Prince, but *not* the rest of his gang. On second thought, not Charlie Prince either. Not believable at all. Ruined the movie for me.

    There is some really pretty cool stuff here though. I loved how his pistol was named, “the Hand of God”. Ben Foster’s Charlie Prince character was awesome along with Russell Crowe as Ben Wade. I’m not even a big Russell Crowe fan, but this was a great role for him. That’s why the ending was so disappointing for me. A typical “feel good” Hollywood ending, whereas this movie deserved better.

    A.I.: The movie should have ended right after the underwater scene in the helicopter.

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