10 Movies With The Most Disappointing EndingsPublished on July 28, 2014. Updated October 31, 2019
There’s an old adage in the moviemaking business: “Wow them in the end and you’ve got a hit.” Unfortunately, this piece of sage advice isn’t always observed as faithfully as it could or should be. Hollywood history is littered with flicks that were solid, or even fantastic, up until it came time for the filmmakers to wrap up the story, leaving moviegoers frustrated and critics scratching their heads.
While enjoyment of a movie is necessarily a subjective experience, some scripts just don’t deliver in their final moments. Here is a list of 10 notoriously disappointing endings for movies that could otherwise have been much better and more memorable than they were. Note: spoiler alert! Details of these movies’ endings are about to be revealed.
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Yes, the final chapter of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic saga took home a lot of hardware at the 2004 Academy Awards. Yes, it is among the most brilliantly realized book adaptations in Hollywood history. And yes, it goes on far, far, far too long. The story seems to be wrapping up when Frodo makes it off Mount Doom, but wait! Aragon has to marry his elf queen. Oh, and the hobbits have to return to the Shire so Sam can marry his lady love. Then Frodo has to pick up his pen to start writing down the details of his adventure. But hold on — Frodo has to join Bilbo, Gandalf and a group of elves on a boat so they can sail away. Three simple words Jackson forgot: CUT TO BLACK.
9. The Mist (2007)
This 2007 sci-fi thriller reunited the team of director Frank Darabont and horror guru Stephen King, who hit gold in 1994 with The Shawshank Redemption. In The Mist, a small town is invaded by terrifying creatures following a creepy and mysterious storm, leaving residents to scramble for their lives. The movie’s opening act is atmospheric and engaging, moving into a middle with many great scares and intense moments. Unfortunately, when the story reaches its conclusion, viewers are left frustrated by a strange and unsatisfying creative choice: everybody dies. Why spend two hours watching this if we’re going to be the only ones to live to tell about it?
8. The Ninth Gate (1999)
In this supernatural thriller, Roman Polanski directs Johnny Depp in an intriguing tale of a powerful multimillionaire in search of nine pieces of ancient parchment which give their bearer the ability to summon the devil. While this twisty-turny story has its ups and downs, it throttles into its final act with a lot of momentum…only to have everything fall apart in what can only be described in a nonsensical and unsatisfying final confrontation between the hero and supernatural forces he cannot possibly understand. While the film ends on an interesting final moment of character development, when Depp decides to harness Satan’s power for himself, the preceding 20 minutes are so convoluted that most viewers will check out long before the story tries to redeem itself.
7. The Village (2004)
After The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan earned a reputation as the modern master of the twist ending. In The Village, he goes back to the well one more time and comes up dry.
The Village tells the story of a deeply religious and traditional settlement in the American heartland, and for most of the movie, the viewer is led to believe that the story is set during the colonial era. The old-fashioned villagers soon come in contact with mysterious monsters that seem to live in the forests surrounding the town, but as the movie’s main characters flee certain death, we suddenly learn that they’re not living in the past at all. They’ve decided, for some reason, to revert to a pilgrim lifestyle in the middle of the 21st century because the modern world is just too painful a place to live. Yeah, that’s believable. What a twist.
6. Planet of the Apes (2001)
Over the past couple of decades, Hollywood has adopted a frustrating insistence on reinventing classics that should just be left alone. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes is a shining example of the many, many things that can go wrong when moviemakers try to apply contemporary sensibilities to stories that belong in the past.
By now, pretty much everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that the original Planet of the Apes ends with the surviving characters discovering that they’ve actually been on Earth all along. Burton tries to take this a step further in his 2001 remake, but ends up propelling the movie into laughably ridiculous territory by having actor Mark Wahlberg end up in a future version of Earth. Or is it a past version of Earth? Or have the past and the future somehow melded all into one? Who knows? By this point, a better question is, “Who cares?”
5. Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
As legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick progressed into old age, he passed a longtime pet project into the trusted hands of his friend and colleague Steven Spielberg. Kubrick was unable to realize Artificial Intelligence: AI before his 1999 death, and wanted Spielberg to bring his vision to the screen. Spielberg did, but he also tacked on a sappy ending that probably made Kubrick turn in his grave. After an underwater encounter with the Blue Fairy that should have wrapped up the movie, Spielberg brought the titular robot boy back to life, gave him a teddy bear and sent him home to mommy. Really. Yikes.
4. Signs (2002)
Back to M. Night Shyamalan, whose dramatic fall from effective filmmaking began with this 2002 alien invasion flick that was very nearly the best movie of his career. In Signs, things take a turn for the worse when viewers finally get a look at the aliens. First, everyone knows that the monster you can’t see is far scarier than the one you can. Second, these monsters just look ridiculous. But that’s not the biggest problem — the logical inconsistency is. How can creatures capable of intergalactic travel find themselves unable to figure out how to get through a locked door? Why haven’t they figured out that water burns them like sulfuric acid? Unfortunately, they’re obvious questions Shyamalan’s script outright failed to answer.
3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
This instalment of the Indiana Jones saga left a bitter taste in the mouth of many a moviegoer, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of aliens. Every time the script wrote itself into a corner, presto: here come the aliens! Aliens here, aliens there, aliens aliens everywhere. Nowhere does the trope get more tired and trying than during the movie’s conclusion, when aliens inexplicably emerge from the crystal skulls to pilot the spaceships back from whence they came. Unfortunately, no movie theater in the world will hand out a refund for actually sitting through this head-scratching cash grab.
2. Casablanca (1942)
This movie makes the list for one reason and one reason only: everybody wants to see Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) end up together at the end. But in the film’s finale, Rick sends Ilsa away from Casablanca on a plane with a man she is no longer in love with. It’s hard to argue that the movie ought to end differently, considering that it’s universally regarded as the greatest Hollywood movie of all time. But when it comes to disappointing endings, this classic certainly fits the bill. Even so, had the filmmakers made any other choice, they would have regretted it — maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…and for the rest of their lives.
1. The Devil Inside (2012)
Why does this largely forgettable 2012 horror flick top the list? Because its ending isn’t actually an ending.
Smack in the middle of the movie’s climactic scene, the picture abruptly fades to black and viewers are directed to head online to learn more about what’s called an “ongoing investigation” into the events of the movie. Why pay the price of admission when you can just stay home, hop on Google and find out everything you need to know? It was a gimmicky attempt at trying something different, but one which failed so spectacularly that it’s hard to imagine a more disappointing conclusion.