How to Train Your Dragon, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky and RoboCop all have perfect endings. They build up to an exciting climax, and after the heroes triumph, the films end on the best possible note. But I’m not going to talk about that right now.
I’m going to focus on movies that do just about everything right until they reach the very end. Unfortunately, they drop the ball at the last second and the audience is left feeling disappointed. Even though most of what they saw earlier was memorable and engaging, the final moment in the film stays with them like a splinter in their mind, causing a lot of irritation. I’d like to share five films that I would like a lot better if they ended sooner or if they had a better conclusion.
1. The Abyss
It’s ironic that The Abyss would make it onto this list after I proclaimed it James Cameron’s best film. There are two versions of this film: the shorter theatrical version and the expanded Director’s Cut. I like most of the cuts in the theatrical version, but I can’t stand how they ruined the ending. After two hours of incredible suspense and action, the film takes an odd turn when aliens just randomly decide to rise to the surface of the ocean after remaining hidden at the bottom of the ocean since, presumably, the dawn of time. Why did they do that? Because Ed Harris loves his wife? Explanation, please!
What is missing is a scene showing the aliens’ motivations. They could destroy humanity with mile-high tidal waves to wipe away the darker side of humanity, but they forebear because of humans’ capacity for better things like love and sacrifice. They go to the surface and reveal themselves to the world in order to usher in an era of peace for all humanity. It’s an interesting idea, but it requires a lot of explanation and screen time to properly develop.
This is how the scene should have played out (and no, the on-scene reporter is not played by Jim Carrey):
2. Little Big Man
Imagine if Forrest Gump had ended with the titular character saying, “That’s all I have to say about that” to some random old woman at the bus stop. Do you think the movie would carry the same emotional impact if it didn’t include the reunion scene with Jenny, the introduction of Forrest, Jr., the wedding scene, Lieutenant Dan’s return, or Jenny’s death? Of course not. All of those ending scenes were important to validate and enrich what came before. Without all of those payoffs, Forrest’s story would be hollow and seemingly pointless.
Little Big Man has such an ending. It’s like someone decided that putting a man’s life story on film was good enough and there was no need to tie it all into a theme or have some point to it. There are a lot of interesting parts of the film, but there’s nothing compelling or surprising in the end to justify the film’s bookends. Why have a 121-year-old man tell his story to a researcher if the only purpose was to have him serve as a narrator from time to time? In the end, the researcher admits that the old man isn’t an “Indian fighter” as he thought at the start of the interview, and the old man just tells the researcher to get out. No clever explanation or insight. Just a quick farewell. And the audience is left scratching their heads about the purpose of it all.
See for yourself, starting at 7:23:
3. The Man Who Knew Too Little
1997’s The Man Who Knew Too Little is Bill Murray’s last great screwball comedy. The story revolves around a ne’er-do-well who gets mistaken for a secret agent, and he constantly makes his way out of deadly situations smiling all the time because he thinks everyone is just playing around. It’s a concept that has been done many times, but usually not this well. That is until the last scene.
After Murray has unwittingly saved civilization as we know it, he is approached by a couple of real secret agents who want him to join their team. Murray still thinks it’s all a joke, so he plays along, which is hilarious at first. But then, as the credits roll, it devolves into him telling the agents to pretend they are dogs and chase each other around on their hands and knees.
If they had just faded to black at the end of this clip, I would have been a lot happier:
4. Mortal Kombat
Let’s face it, Mortal Kombat is the best movie based on a video game. It’s arguably the only good one in that genre. But even though I really enjoy this movie’s creativity, characters, and choreography, I can’t stand its conclusion! After the heroes save the day and return home to Earth, their victory celebration is cut short when inexplicably the Emperor shows up and says he’s come to take over. Um… doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the film? The (admittedly flimsy) plot is set up so that mortals have to fight with each other in a tournament, and if the Emperor’s warriors beats all of the human opponents 10 centuries in a row, he can take over the world. But the humans triumph over the Emperor’s fighters on their 10th encounter, so that should keep the Earth safe for quite a while, right? Apparently not.
Here’s my question: if the Emperor was able to come to Earth and take it over this whole time, why did he even bother wasting 1,000 years sending fighters to Mortal Kombat? What was keeping him from conquering our world? I don’t get it.
See this travesty of an ending for yourself:
My parents let me watch a lot of movies as a child that were hard for me to understand. The Fugitive, Tootsie, and Witness are three examples of films my parents really enjoyed, but that I didn’t understand the appeal of on first viewing. Over time I developed a deep respect for many films my parents like, but Witness has always remained a disappointing film to me. The problem is that the buildup to the climax is so good, but the payoff is completely botched.
The whole movie leaves so much unspoken between a police officer named John Book and an Amish woman that I felt like they were going to explode if they didn’t let out their emotions by the end of the film. They needed to come to some decision that would allow them to either part ways on good terms or remain together in some fashion. But they don’t. After the bad guys are dispatched or arrested, Book just says goodbye and walks away. No closure. No admittance of how his experiences throughout the film have changed him. And, most importantly, no emotional final scene between him and the Amish woman. Just goodbye.
If the filmmakers really wanted to derail their movie, this is how they should have ended it:
I still think that these are all well-made movies, but it’s hard not to think of them as disappointments, knowing that they could have ended so much better. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these in a comment below, and also share which movies let you down at the last second.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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