The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

15 ways to leave a movie

with 42 comments

Today I’m going to talk about movie endings I love. Most of them are happy, a few are miserable, others ambiguous, but all of them felt just “right”. They brought the movie at halt exactly where it should, like a figure skater landing a perfect final quadruple jump and then halts, ready to receive the love of the audience.

I will make an effort not to go into too many details, but if you’re very spoiler sensitive and want to know as little as possible of all movies you see, consider yourself warned. If you go on, tread carefully and don’t read about the movies you haven’t watched yet.

Lord of the Rings
I came to think of movie endings as I wrote about The Ides of March the other day. I liked the final scene so much that it bumped up my rating of the entire movie and this made me realize how important it is that a movie end on a high note. My memory is only that good, so the last impression is often what will linger in my mind as I walk home from the theatre it’s also what I’ll take with me from the film in the long run.

My preferred movie ending is bittersweet. I’m a sucker for that perfect blend of sadness and joy, loss and gain, grief and hope. The twilight zone.

A good example of this is my favourite scene of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – the heartbreaking farewell in the gray heavens. When I read it I know that the book is about to end and I don’t want it to end but it has to and I don’t want them to go but they must and why does the world need to change and Sam, Sam, you have to go home, and look, there’s your wife and kids and the world we live in isn’t such a bad place after all…

It never fails me. It always makes me cry. Even as much as thinking about it as I’m writing this post brings tears into my eyes.

Endings of 2011
But let’s leave the literature and move along to the world of films.

I’ve seen several movies this year with memorable endings. My number one by far is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. The final image, wasn’t unexpected, but yet somehow shockingly beautiful and painful at the same time. It will go right into my list of best movie endings ever.

Another favourite was the final image from Of Gods and Men.  The movie is based on true events, about a group of French monks who died in Algeria in 1996 when they refused to evacuate their monastery when their life was put at danger. Their destiny is known from the beginning, but the movie doesn’t end with an execution as you could expect, but in a more subtle way as we see them disappearing in a snowy landscape.

15 great final scenes
And now it’s time to go further back into film history. I’m going to share 15 final scenes I truly love with you. It’s not aimed to be a ranking list over the best endings ever made. It’s just some movie endings I love. Maybe you’ll agree, maybe not. We’ll soon find out!

The Big Blue
Here is something as weird as a movie with two endings, aiming for different audiences. Both show a man who is swimming after a dolphin. But in one case he’s swimming on the surface and in the other deep down in the sea, which makes quite a bit of a difference for the interpretation. One was for Europe, the other one for US. I am a European, that’s for sure.

Billy Elliot
It can easily feel a bit too cheap and cheesy when a movie ends with a sudden jump into the future to see “what happened afterwards” . While I loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2, the final scene was a bit underwhelming. The aging of the young actors was so unconvincing that the audience burst into laughter. (The same ending in book form actually didn’t bug me at all.)

Billy Elliot has a similar jump into the future where we get see how all turned out in the end for the protagonist. But as opposed to with HP they’ve used a different actor and it works better. Whenever I hear the lead motive of Swan Lake, it’s not Natalie Portman that comes into my mind. It’s Billy.

Some people don’t like sentimentality on the movie screen. I bet they’re the same ones who claim they don’t like candy. I’m not ashamed to say that I love both. This is the sweetest end I know of. I just need to make sure to have a paper towel at hands, to wipe of the sugar and the tears in equal amounts.

Groundhog Day
Could you ever believe that seeing an alarm clock to off in the morning could be that exciting and exhilarating?

Will it fall? Or won’t it? Didn’t I see it stagger a little? Was it a dream? Or wasn’t it? If there ever was an ambiguous end, open for interpretations it was this one. I know there were answers given in interviews afterwards. But I still love the image of the spinning toy. It certainly gave some food for thought and discussion on our way home from the theatre.

It’s a Wonderful Life
There’s a sugar warning for this one on par with E.T. But who cares? If I ever start to doubt my reason for existence, this is where to go to get medication.

Life of Brian
I wanted to include a movie that ends with a musical number on my list and this is probably my favourite. It’s catchy and it never fails to cheer me up.

Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.
Always look on the bright side of life


Lost in Translation
What does Bill Murray whisper in the ear of Scarlett Johansen? I don’t want need to know. The melancholy and unanswered questions hit the right spot for me.

Love Actually
Of course it needed to end on the airport. A romantic comedy requires an airport scene and what better place could you choose to knit together all the storylines? What I love most about this scene is how it pans out to embrace not only the characters we’ve been following, but all the people at the airport and eventually mankind. Whenever I’m at an airport I think of Love Actually. Of meetings and separation, of love that is or could have been. It makes me equally happy and unhappy.

Match Point
Match Point ends pretty much like Inception. You stare at an item wondering not if it will fall, but where, but this time we get an answer. I love how it. It ties the entire movie into one elegant package, beautifully connecting with the beginning. Allen knows how not to drop the ball.

Never Let Me Go
An empty field, a piece of plastic or paper stuck at a barbed wire blowing in the wind. Never did I see a more gripping image of how fragile and volatile a life is in the end. It’s the perfect ending of a thoroughly saddening movie.

The Truman show
A man walks through a door. And it makes the world. Sometimes the simplest is the best.

The combination of football, snow and Abba is so irresistible that even I want to throw my grownup dignity and join the party.

12 Monkeys
And so it begins. Or ends.  It depends on how you see it and it’s as beautiful as it’s sad.

2001 – A Space Odyssey
I’m not sure I fully understand everything about what was going on with at the alien place and where the space baby comes from. But I understand the language of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Bom bom bom bom bom bom. It’s space worthy.

The End
And speaking of ends, that’s where we have arrived in this post. I’m afraid I have no beautiful quadruple jump  to treat you with, so I’ll leave you with a whimper rather than with a bang. But if you agree or disagree about my choices or if you have some favorite endings you’d like to share, we can always talk about it over a drink in the comment section.


Written by Jessica

November 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

42 Responses

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  1. Inception – I haven’t heard the answer to this one, and I don’t understand why any director or producer would ruin that.

    Never Let Me Go – I’m not ashamed to say that it was the first movie in a long time that brought me to tears. I loved this movie, as well as its ending.

    The Truman Show – A lovely ending indeed.

    Great post! I agree completely that a great movie needs a strong ending to seal the deal.


    November 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    • Thank you! It definitely wasn’t just the ending of Never Let Me Go, the entire movie was brilliant. A very good adaptation as well. I read the novel afterwards. It was really good, and I felt as if I was revisiting the movie.


      November 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

  2. Let me be a figure skating pedant but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a program end on a jump of any sort. Generally programs end with a spin, but the point is taken, give me a fantastic, fast, centered scratch spin with that sudden dynamic stop and it gets my heart really beating.

    When you asked about good endings I wasn’t coming up with many though I did mention F**king Amål. Kind of a perfect, sweet moment. Things may or may not turn out well but it is joyous at the time. Fish Tank also ends really strong and a bit ambiguous.

    For me though, I tend to like good opens over big finishes and can more often name films that blow it in the end, most recently with Fat Girl.


    November 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    • I really loved the scene with the toilet in Fucking Åmål, but I couldn’t remember if that was the final scene in the movie or if there was something after it. I watched it as it came out and that’s 13 years ago. And since I don’t own it and couldn’t find it at Youtube to confirm the ending I decided not to include it. It’s still a wonderful scene, I definitel agree on that.

      You’re probably right about your figure skating details. It’s rather a spin, but those are harder to fail with so… I tempered a little with the metaphore to suit my purposes, knowing it was a cheat.

      I remember very few openings as clear as the endings. But it’s worth a thought, definitely. Perhaps the topic for another post.


      November 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  3. Now that I think about it, my favorite films are the ones with the best endings… I also think of Billy when I hear Swan Lake :). That’s one of my favorite films.
    And the LOTR ending scene… perfect, just perfect.
    I don’t like when films end too happy or too sad, or too open (you know, in a way that makes no sense), so I guess it’s pretty hard to make a perfect end.


    November 25, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    • Billy Elliot is one of your favorites? That’s wonderful to hear. I never see it mentioned on the top lists of forum and blog posters. Maybe it’s too “lowbrow”, what do I know? But I really love it. I’ve seen it several times and could easily revisit it many times more with the same joy.


      November 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      • Yes, I’ve already included it in my Top 100 list which I’ll post very soon.


        December 1, 2011 at 9:04 pm

  4. I’ll add Before Sunset. It offers a great, sad and open ending.

    I’ve just re-seen the Godfather part 2 this weekend and it also offers a great ending. A comparison is made between Michaels junior years and his current state, showing the differences and similarities that time made.

    No man’s land offers one of the saddest endings I know. It would be a shame to spoil it but it shows the horrors of war and is a big anti-war statement.

    Pulp fiction might have one of the best endings ever. Travolta walks into the sunset while we actually saw him shot half an hour earlier. What a way to give us a happy ending.

    Anyone who’s seen Requiem for a dream will still know the ending. And his newest movie, Black Swan also ends great. Now that I think of it, Pi also offers a haunting ending which still makes me shiver and is imprinted on my retina. Aronofsky surely is the master of endings.


    November 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    • I haven’t seen Before Sunset, bud I’d sure love to.
      I really can’t remember the Godfather part 2 ending myself (to be truthful I remember nothing of the movie at all, so it’s probably a good idea for myself to make a revist too.

      No man’s land: not seen yet, but I take it as a recommendation.

      And yes, I agree that the ending of Black Swan was fantastic too. It could definitely have been on my top list, but I had to put an ending to it somewhere. Maybe I’ll make a part 2 at some point, and then I’ll definiely include it.


      November 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      • Before sunrise is one my all time favorite movies so I definitely recommend it. It’s a romance but with real characters who are intelligent enough to have something to discuss. Quite the difference from America’s predictably cliché romance movies (men meets woman, they fall in love, problem arises, break-up, happy end).

        And No man’s land is a really good movie.


        November 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

  5. Great post! I love the endings of Melancholia, Groundhog Day, Match Point, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Truman Show, too – they all fit their stories just beautifully and leave the perfect resonance.

    Other movies with endings I love:

    Casablanca, of course.
    Say Anything – ding
    Solyaris (1972) – chilling and perfect
    Roman Holiday – so wonderfully bittersweet
    Tokyo Story – breaks my heart
    Poetry (2010) – most perfectly used poem in a movie ever maybe

    • Tank you!
      Casablanca was up for consideration, but when I looked it up at Youtube to confirm, I didn’t FEEL it. So I decided in the end to leave it out. I think the problem is that it’s been to long since I watched as a teenager. I need to see the entire movie again and then the end will probably be much stronger.

      Of the other movies you mention I’ve only seen Solyaris, which I loved, but I don’t remember how it ended.

      It’s really frustrating when movies you’ve once loved are starting to fade away in your memory. It’s one of the reasons why I’m blogging now, trying to hold on to them a bit longer.


      November 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

  6. Probably my favorite kind of ending is the “the movie you’ve been watching isn’t the movie we’ve been showing you” ending. All the clues were right in front of you, but you’ve been putting them together in the way you’ve been trained by years of storytelling to do so. However, the real story is very different. Best know example of this is “The Usual Suspects”, but my personal favorite is “Inside Job”.

    I hate “Inception” style endings. Wouldn’t go so far as to say it ruined the movie for me, but it did leave a bad impression. The failure to right an ending is not an ending. It is a cheap hack writer’s trick to not make a decision.


    November 26, 2011 at 12:18 am

    • Oh, I love that kind of endings too! But it needs to be clever, not just breaking the furth wall.

      I recently watched “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” and that had a bit of that, when the veil fell off my eyes through some revelations towards the end. I haven’t seen the movies you mentijon, but I probably should.

      We disagree about the Inception ending though. I don’t think it’s necessarily a cop-out for the screenwriter not having to make a decision.

      On the other hand: ambiguity for the sake of ambiguity, because it gives a “artsy” feeling to the movie, that can be plain bad. But I don’t think that was the case in Inception. I loved to brood on the question myself afterwards and make my own decision about how I wanted it to be.


      November 26, 2011 at 2:26 pm

  7. In 2001, the space baby is a representation of what the transcendent alien monolith has turned Bowman into. The movie started with apes being turned into tool-using (proto-)humans, and the movie ends with Bowman being changed to the next stage, beyond human. HAL is the culmination of the tool use that the monolith started at the beginning of the movie, and his deactivation represents humanity moving beyond the need for technology.


    November 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    • That makes sense. 🙂 Frankly I don’t remember all of the movie in detail. But the end was magnificent, either you figure out exactly what it means or not.


      November 27, 2011 at 11:50 am

  8. Great fun to read your list. I wholeheartedly agree with TBB, Billy Elliot, Truman and Together but the Grey Havens is way too schmaltzy for me, both as a book and in the movie. Brokeback Mountain is one of my all time favourites, I get tears in my eyes just by hearing the music.


    November 26, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    • Brokeback Mountain, oh, it’s wonderful. It was up for consideration for this list but I had to stop somewhere. It will appear in the part 2 post if there will be one, for sure!


      November 27, 2011 at 11:51 am

  9. You mentioned it, so now I have to do the joke, re: the Life of Brian

    I’m not the messiah, I’m a very naughty boy.

    Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    November 27, 2011 at 5:23 am

    • You just couldn’t resist it, could you Brian?
      You’re welcome. 🙂


      November 27, 2011 at 11:53 am

  10. LOTR, Inception, Truman, great choices. I’d have to have Fight Club (holding hands while a city crumbles to the sounds of the Pixies) and La Haine (don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.


    November 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

    • Oh, I haven’t seen those two movies. Pretty violent, right? But since I made it through Drive, I might be able to cope with it.


      November 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

      • Fight Club is very violent but La Haine’s not so bad. Both have amazing final shots! I hope you get a chance to see them!


        November 28, 2011 at 8:44 am

  11. Great idea for a post Jessica.

    My favourite endings? Hmmm Let me think.

    Recently SHAME. Has a great ending that makes you think.

    Mentioned above, FIGHT CLUB is an obvious one. Totally blew me away when I saw it for the first time.

    What about Flash Gordon? HAHAHA

    Scott Lawlor

    November 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

    • Shame won’t come up in Sweden until next year I’m afraid. Looking forward to see it.
      Flash Gordon I haven’t watched, but from your laughter I understand that I probably should?


      November 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  12. The Godfather has one of my favorite endings ever. With Kate just outside the door of the thing she feared most.

    Flash Gordon huh? I’ve seen the movie a few times, but I….oh wait…that ending..when that was really funny. The whole movie is terrible, but in a good way.

    I had to skip a lot of movies I haven’t seen yet on your list, but the ones I have seen I agree with. This was fun.


    November 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    • “The whole movie is terrible, but in a good way”. 🙂 I know the feeling, even if I haven’t seen that particular movie.
      I’m glad you could read parts of the post without getting unwatched movies spoiled.


      November 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

  13. I also have a list of favorite endings AND beginnings.
    None of your choises are at my list but: Never let me go, inception, Match point and 12 mokeys have great endings.


    November 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    • Thanks for linking those! Titanic is a little bit overly sweet for me. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit but… the necklace. No, just no. It crossed a line.
      I need to do opeing scenes as well, although I don’t remember many as clearly as I remember the closing scenes.


      November 28, 2011 at 10:28 pm

  14. Two-Lane Blacktop, with the celluloid burning up in the projector.
    The most pure cinematic ending imaginable.

    Paul S

    November 28, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    • Wow. Car racing doesn’t sound like my kind of movie, but maybe it’s worth watching just for the end.


      November 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

    • Even though it’s a film that means a lot to me I find it hard to recommend Two-Lane Blacktop mainly because it doesn’t have a story, the characters don’t have names and there’s very little dialogue.
      It does have a great performance by Warren Oates and some beautiful cinematography as well as that incredible ending though.
      I’d echo the people who’ve already mentioned La Haine and The Great Silence is another ending that springs to mind because it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where the bad guys completely and utterly win.

      Paul S

      December 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      • That can be a bit depressing but in the end I guess it’s needed. If all you ever get are happy endings, there won’t be any suspense at all in movies. There needs to be just an inch of a possibility of a sad outcome…


        December 26, 2011 at 10:30 pm

  15. About Titanic the scene i´m thinking of i the dream sequence at the stairs after she dropped the necklace, i know it´s kind of over romantic but i do like it.


    November 29, 2011 at 2:23 am

  16. Oooh, I love this post. I agree about the Inception and Never Let Me Go endings…those are two that are forever in the back of my mind. And Melancholia has one of my favourite endings ever!


    November 29, 2011 at 6:40 am

  17. Great list! Yet another reminder too that I need to see Together. Will watch it soon.


    July 13, 2012 at 11:58 am

    • It’s a wonderful film. And SO Swedish! It should suit a Sweden fan like you!


      July 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

  18. Great list of amazing final shots, the final shot has to be memorable in my opinion it is crucial.


    July 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    • Cheers! Yes, you want there to be something that lingers wtih you.


      July 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      • I agree something that makes you think and will stick in the memory. You should check out my posts if you get time.


        July 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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