Returning to a lover in death. Standing in one’s former glory against humanity. Realizing it was all just a dream. These are just a few of the most memorable movie endings that have us talking weeks after we see them.
Endings are one of the most important moments of any story, and in movies, making sure the audience leaves with the right mindset is a goal every good screenwriter takes into account. Without a solid ending, a movie simply falls apart and confuses viewers. Using the right type of ending with the right type of movie can make all the difference.
There are really only two types of endings to movies: those that wrap-up with a crowd-pleasing happily ever after, and those that make the audience members wrack their brains trying to figure out what happens next.
Happily Ever After
Cinderella marries the prince and they live happily ever after. Created mostly to appeal to the average moviegoer, endings with enemies making peace or the protagonist overcoming a challenge are among the most popular of movie endings. The audience is happy and the characters are happy. What more could a viewer ask for? These endings make us feel like we’ve accomplished something and give us the warm fuzzies. But these kinds of endings can be as unsatisfying as one that ends in the middle. Once we start asking ourselves what happens to the characters after the movie, we start asking when tickets for the sequel go on sale — and capitalism takes its course.
The horrible side effect to these movies is they leave the story too well wrapped up, making the audience crave more. Thus, while Disney struggled in the 2000s to make money, Walmart stores across the country were shipped “Cinderella 2” and “Cinderella 3,” along with other bastardizations of childhood classics. Parents don’t want to deny their children another hour and a half with sweet, pre-adulthood Bambi. These continuations of fixed endings are simply a bad idea. There’s a reason each new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score was lower than the last: They’re used to make money, not to make a better movie.
However, even if a movie is a piece of crap, as long as its ending is logical you can come out of the theater without too many questions and move on with your life. Misusing the next type of movie ending can lead to a disastrous reputation if the plot is terrible, but it can leave a positive, lasting impression if done correctly.
Does she choose to go with her mother or her father? Does he sleep with the girl on the train or not? Cliffhanger endings are among the most frustrating, yet fulfilling, of all movie endings. These endings are not designed to give the casual moviegoer that warm, gooey feeling on the inside. They are designed to make you think.
Last year’s “Shame” utilizes the cliffhanger spectacularly well, ending with a choice addicts must face every day. This is a full-circle ending. It is ambiguous, but sticks to the theme of the movie without trying to give personal commentary on the matter. The audience must think for itself what would happen given different endings. These movies are for the literary viewers, not the escapists looking to get away from reality.
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy’s first two movies use the cliffhanger ending differently. It is obvious the story will continue and have a definite ending later. On the other hand, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” while still a decent title, hints at a sequel with a humorous end sequence and a — literally — question marked ending. While the central plot of the movie is finished, this ending is not satisfying and simply exists to allow for a possible third blockbuster title to the series.
The newest “Sherlock Holmes” series of movies is not a fluid plot, and therefore its ending should be distinguished from similar cliffhangers. For example, while the end of “Batman Begins” may seem to end similarly — Batman’s crime-fighting days begin and the Joker’s character is pseudo-introduced — the series was intended to have sequels and was constructed on that basis. The first new “Sherlock Holmes” movie was not.
Building up to a massive conclusion and leaving the audience hanging is a tricky decision. Unless there is a specific, understandable message to be made by not answering a plot’s central questions, it should be avoided.
Today’s society has a serious problem with paying attention. We’ll often read the first part of an article and quickly become bored and turn our attention elsewhere. In theaters, audiences are forced to focus on a big, flashing screen. Yet it’s still easy to zone out if a movie isn’t interesting or engaging enough. Even with titles considered cinematic masterpieces it can often be hard to give full attention during a film’s mid-way lull. But if a director or writer can snag that focus back at the very end, it’s possible to imprint a lasting message or meaning that sets the mood for the entire film.
How anything ends — be it an essay, TV episode, even a Facebook rant — is always the freshest part in a consumer’s mind. If your endings are bad, remember to recapture your own focus with your conclusion. It’s too easy to just leave an audience hanging by a
Tim Hadick is a sophomore majoring in Japanese and Journalism. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet him @RealCollege.