Good Movie/Bad Ending: 6 Movies That Would Have Been Great If They Ended Differently

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SPOILER ALERT. We’re talking about the end of movies here so yeah, spoilers.

The other night I went and saw The Spectacular Now. The reviews I read of it seemed to say it was vaguely good, or that’s what I remembered–an honest movie about teenagers or some such thing. And it seemed like it was. All the way through I felt a building sense of sadness and doom. Here was a compelling story about a massively messed-up, charming, 18-year-old alcoholic. Here was a teenage romance, full of insecurity and insanity and making out in the halls. Here were causes and effects, great acting, beauty, tragedy, humanity. I was getting ready to love this movie.

And then, right at the end, the main character cried, hugged his mom, had an epiphany, finished his college entrance essay and everything was just totally fine!

I’m still mad about it.

The Spectacular Now could have been a great movie if it had ended with a fatal car accident or prison or even rehab. But instead, for whatever reason, the director gave a deeply distressing movie about the damage people do to each other a nonsensically happy ending.

To get over my boiling rage, I have decided to ask around and compose a list of similarly great movies that were destroyed by awful ending.

Wonder Boys (2000)

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My brother suggested this one. Wonder Boys is the perfect example of a Spectacular Now-style happy-ending-to-sad-movie. Why does this happen? Is it studio-related? Is there a pot-bellied man in a upper-level office somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs “THIS MOVIE WON’T SELL UNLESS THEY GET TOGETHER AT THE END!” Life is suffering but sometimes in the movies people telling hard stories chicken out at the end. Wonder Boys, with its neatly wrapped up, bow-tied ending, is exactly that kind of chickening.

A.I. (2001)

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Another way a movie can go wrong is that it just. won’t. end. I remember watching A.I. in the theater, way back in 2001 when it came out, and totally being on-board with the crazy future world of robot children and Haley Joel Osment’s blue, blue eyes. And I liked the ending, when it came. Only then it ended like four more times. Steven Spielberg says by ending the movie this way (going 2,000 years into the future) he was just fulfilling Stanley Kubrick’s vision (the movie was originally his project and he handed it over to Spielberg in 1995). Knowing Spielbergs track record with endings (see below), it doesn’t seem fair to blame this train wreck on Kubrick.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

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Variations on a theme: the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy just wouldn’t quit. I get it. Peter Jackson didn’t want to say good-bye to his hobbit pals and their friends. But seriously. This ending was longer and more boring to non-hobbits than the goodbyes that I was part of on the last days of Girl Scout camp.

Contagion (2011)

201109120927410005887This the movie my dad most often calls out for a bad ending. His beef is that, after this horrible disease ravages the human population of the entire planet, NOTHING good is happening. Look at America after the smallpox killed 80 to 90% of the native population; NOTHING GOOD HAPPENED. When the society and infrastructure is so damaged, there is no going back. No vaccine. No fake prom in the living room because there is no living room. If you want a movie about what really happens, go with The RoadBetter yet, read the book.

Signs (2002)

The_Signs_movieThis is the classic M. Night Shyamalan deep-sigh-twist-ending-we-get-it-give-me-my-money-back situation. While I personally think The Sixth Sense was really entertaining and spooky and an original with the whole Bruce Willis being dead thing, Shyamalan turned himself into a joke really quickly. Which is too bad because he makes great looking movies and the first time I saw the aliens in Signs I was legitimately freaked out. It was scary and I screamed and then…WATER?! WATER IS THE THING THAT KILLS THE SCARIEST THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A MOVIE (up to that point)? Um, the atmosphere is FULL of water. As is air. As are all people. Pick a different thing! Use science! Treat your audience with some respect!

Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln_2012_Teaser_PosterOh Steven Spielberg…you are the most oft cited in the Trouble With Endings Department. On Facebook my various friends cited not only, obviously, A.I., but also War of the Worlds, Amistad, Minority Report and Saving Private Ryan. In the office someone even tossed out Schindler’s List, saying that once Roseanne Barr said it would have been a good movie if the ending wasn’t so “League of Their Own” (this quote is nowhere to be found by the way so I can’t back up what my source told me and this is purely speculation). So what is happening at the end of Lincoln? Truly, I was perplexed. Why is it Tad Lincoln at the theater and not Abe? Why do we see Abe dying in bed? What is the relevance to this, if you aren’t going to include the actual assassination? Even Samuel L. Jackson agrees that “the movie had a better ending 10 minutes before [it actually ended].” So maybe Spielberg need a No Man, someone who just says, “no dude, we are ending it here.” That could be their only job. Think about it, Steve. I will totally accept that position.

So, what movies-that-would-have-been-good-if-their-endings-didn’t-suck did I miss? Tell me in the comments!

  • Guest

    Tad was at a different theater that night (according to Wikipedia, The Grover Theater), not the Ford. Other than that, you’re right, it should have ended with the assassination, not his 2nd inaugural address.

  • Rob C

    What you fail to address is that many movies are filmed with a less than happy ending. Test audiences react negatively, so they change it to a happy ending. Happens all the time. Pretty Woman, Blade Runner, 28 Days Later all had “sad” endings originally, but were changed because of test audiences.

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  • Torsten Dewi

    “Knowing” is probably the worst offender. The ending is like a joke: “Wouldn’t it be funny if the biblical apocalypse ACTUALLY HAPPENED now?”. And so it does. Good grief.

    Oh yeah, and I never “got” the ending to “Two lane blacktop” – but that’s probably just me….

  • Johnny Stafford

    As for chickening out, and going happy when the book did not: The Natural.

  • menocu

    Couldn’t disagree more about Contagion. I think it’s just about a perfect film and I don’t think you were paying very close attention while watching it. They mention in the film something like 1 in 12 people have caught the disease, with it being fatal in 25-30% of cases. Going with the highest estimates, that’s a little under 200 million people dead, near 3% of the world’s population. That’s an awful lot of people and in keeping with stats of similar pandemics like Spanish flu and cholera and smallpox. Vaccines were eventually created for all of these and none exactly decimated the human race for all eternity. I’d say a lot of good has happened after all of these outbreaks.

    Also Wonder Boys- I haven’t seen it since it came out, but doesn’t the book end the same way? Should you be blaming Michael Chabon for the lame ending?

    • lizzyacker

      Thanks! I’ll have to rewatch Contagion. And I totally blame Michael Chabon.

Author

Lizzy Acker

Lizzy Acker’s work has been published in Nano Fiction, Fanzine, Joyland, Eleven Eleven and elsewhere. She has read with Bang Out, RADAR, Quiet Lightening and others. Her first book, Monster Party, was released in December of 2010 by Small Desk Press.

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