Great Movies With Disappointing EndingsPublished on February 9, 2015. Updated March 24, 2020
Generally speaking, there is a lot of significance placed on endings in storytelling and movies are no exception. A lot of work gets put into crafting a good ending; all the more difficult because the closing moments tend to closely follow the climax and falling action, the most interesting and significant portions of the plot. The ending is simply one component of a film’s story, but because it is by definition the last component, a lot of significance is placed on an ending being effective. The truth is that a lot of movies, even very good ones, don’t always nail this important stage. When a great movie ends in a disappointing or unsatisfying way, it, unfortunately, diminishes the work as a whole and tends to stand out in the viewer’s eye. For whatever reason, the following 10 movies, while undeniably great in their own right, had some pretty disappointing endings.
10. War Of The Worlds
War of the Worlds is seen by many as one of Steven Spielberg’s lesser works and while that opinion is very much up for debate, even a “lesser” Spielberg film is something special. This 2005 modern take on H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction story has a much darker tone than some of the director’s more well-known films and is a visual stunner anchored by the always dependable Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, much of the film’s criticism is aimed at its abrupt, convenient ending and for good reason. While the concept of the aliens dying from something as simple as not having an immunity to bacteria found on earth is interesting, there is almost no lead-up to this reveal, making the resolution more one of convenience than one that is earned. If Spielberg had spent a little more time developing his film’s conclusion, it could have been remembered as an all-time sci-fi classic.
9. The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman’s performance as amnesic mutant Wolverine has been the glue that has kept the X-Men film franchise together for 15 years now, but his first solo outing in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a pretty big stumble. Fortunately, the quality was ramped up considerably for 2013’s The Wolverine, which featured a tighter plot and competence behind the lens with James Mangold handling directing duties. While the film finally does justice to the character, it loses its footing pretty badly in the 3rd act, where Wolverine fights an old man in a ridiculous giant metal samurai suit. Most of the movie is understated, reflecting Wolverine’s more tempered style of superhero. His run-in with the giant mech is cheap in comparison and feels more like the writers weren’t sure of how to end the movie than a fitting trial for the character to face.
8. Monty Python And The Holy Grail
One of the greatest comedy films of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is composed of scene after scene of classic comedy. A notoriously low-budgeted film, half the fun of watching the movie is seeing how the Python troupe cleverly comes up with cost-effective solutions, often to hilarious result (who can forget the coconut shells being used literally to simulate horse hooves?) Unfortunately, the one gag that just doesn’t seem to work and ends the movie on a whimper is a bit about the police showing up to stop the Arthurian proceedings. It’s never made clear how this subplot is supposed to be humorous or clever and rather than being either of those things, it just feels out of place and upsets the pacing of what is otherwise a fantastic film.
7. Return of the Jedi
Although it is the lesser of the three original Star Wars films, Return of the Jedi is a very enjoyable movie and for the most part, it finishes off the trilogy well. Unfortunately, something seemed to change for George Lucas between 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and this film 3 years later, as the latter film is imbued with cheesy diversions that occasionally threaten to undo everything. Return of the Jedi is infamous for introducing the Ewoks, teddy bear-like creatures that somehow overcome an army of the (supposedly) most elite soldiers in the galaxy. The film ends with the film’s heroes partying in celebration with the ewoks, an ending so uncreative that is only saved by the touching scene between Luke Skywalker and the apparitions of his three Jedi mentors…that George Lucas promptly ruined with his 2004 cut that replaced original Anakin Skywalker actor with the dopey face of Hayden Christiansen.
6. Kill Bill Vol. 2
It’s all in the title, really. Quentin Tarantino’s two-part revenge saga stars Uma Thurman as a former assassin who sets out to kill Bill, the leader and ex-lover who ordered a hit on her at her own wedding. Naturally, the plot eventually reaches the point where “The Bride” confronts Bill, but instead of an epic duel to rival The Bride’s battles with the rest of Bill’s assassins, the whole affair devolves into a lengthy conversation with less than a minute of actual combat. Volume 2’s finale isn’t bad and actually has good characterization, but it’s just such a momentum killer that it still feels disappointing, even if the content is technically sound. An epic conversation in place of an epic battle is definitely the kind of reversal Tarantino would pull, but in this case, it just doesn’t work out as well as planned.
5. The Dark Knight Rises
It’s a bit of a stretch to call The Dark Knight Rises great, but a few plot twists aside, most of the film is relatively good, anchored by Tom Hardy’s interesting, menacing take on Bane – if you can get past his occasionally ridiculous voice. Deep into the film’s 3rd act, it’s revealed that Bane isn’t the criminal mastermind he’s been touting himself to be; he’s merely the bodyguard of Marion Cotillard’s Talia al Ghul, who reveals herself to be the true villain. Unfortunately, the disappointment doesn’t end there. After Batman saves the city by supposedly sacrificing himself, it’s revealed a few scenes later without explanation that he is alive and well. Not only is it never explained how he escaped the blast radius of a nuclear bomb, but his survival also undercuts the whole point of his noble sacrifice. In the end, Batman fans deserved better.
4. I Am Legend
Alternate endings can be fun Easter eggs for fans who are interested in seeing how a film could have ended differently. When the alternate ending turns out significantly superior to the ending that was actually picked though, it usually means the film in question made a serious mistake. Such is the case for 2008’s I Am Legend, which sees Will Smith in the lead role of a scientist who is one of the last survivors of a virus that wiped out most of humanity and left the rest as ravaging mutants that come out at night. In the theatrical ending, Smith’s character sacrifices himself to ensure a cure he developed reaches a group of survivors. The alternate ending improves upon this significantly by humanizing the mutants to an extent, while throwing into question the brutal methods Smith’s character used to make his cure, making the decision to stick with the other ending confusing in hindsight.
Prometheus is a profoundly silly movie overall, but it’s such a visually stunning and seemingly thought-provoking film that many of its flaws can be overlooked. Unfortunately, once the frustrating final act arrives, it’s a lot harder to stomach this film. Ostensibly a prequel to his early sci-fi masterpiece Alien, director Ridley Scott distances Prometheus from that earlier film for most of its runtime and the film is all the better for it, as it very much wants to tell its own story. Unfortunately, the final act not only throws in Alien references and links for no reason other than to tie it to that franchise, but it also doesn’t answer any of the pertinent questions that the film raised in its earlier acts. If the ending of Prometheus had stayed true to its stronger, more intriguing opening segments and not tried so hard to make Alien references, it could have been a modern sci-fi classic rather than a disappointing prequel to a far superior film.
2. The Village
Night Shyamalan gets a lot of criticism these days as a once-promising director who largely tarnished his early career goodwill with a streak of bad films to the point where it’s easy to forget that the man can craft some pretty good filmmaking. Case in point; The Village, for most of its runtime, is a creepy turn-of-the-century thriller with a pretty good cast and a mystery beating at the film’s heart that keeps the audience engaged, wondering where the twist-happy Shamalyn is going to take this. Unfortunately, the 3rd act twist of the whole affair being set in modern-day, while seemingly sounding like a home run on paper, kind of kills the whole film’s mood and essentially makes the first 2/3’s of the movie pointless as a result.
It’s always a gamble when a film takes a hard turn off a relatively straight course plot-wise but Interstellar pulls off an ending so wild and absurd that it kind of ruins the preceding spacefaring intrigue. On the technical side, everything about Christopher Nolan’s epic space exploration film is immaculate and there are scenes that are astonishing and breathtaking. The problem is, Nolan throws in Kubrickian abstract imagery and mumbo jumbo about 5th dimensions near the end that feels unearned and insulting to the viewer’s patience. Abstract filmmaking can be excellent when done properly, but when there are plot holes as wide as the black hole Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper finds himself in, the result is a film that is 2/3 sci-fi masterpiece, 1/3 disjointed mess.