Some of the greatest moments in cinema history come from the last scene of a film. The anticipation an audience member feels towards the end of a great film is unlike anything else. The urge to see how a story will unfold and where a character’s fate lies is a huge reason why we even watch movies in the first place. From dramas and romances to comedies and action films, iconic movie endings can be seen across all genres. The best endings are the ones that stick with you even after you leave the theater, and in some cases linger in the back of your mind for years to come. You connect so deeply with the characters and the story being told on the screen that you feel as though you lived through the event with them.
Ranging all the way from 1960s classics to movies of the 2000s, our list of incredible movie endings are all filled with passion and anticipation, and have left audience members completely overwhelmed. From Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious Psycho to James Cameron’s epic Titanic, we can see all the factors that go into making a timeless ending. Not only do these two films star incredible actors like Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh and Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, respectively, but the direction choices, cinematography, editing, and costuming all play into the reason why their endings are so revered. Here are the best movie endings of all time, ranked.
10 The Sixth Sense
The ending of the 1999 thriller / horror The Sixth Sense is one of the most shocking and unexpected endings we’ve seen in the last 30 years. Malcolm, played by Bruce Willis, is a child psychologist whose existence is forever changed after working with a very gifted boy named Cole (Haley Joel Osment). Cole has a unique gift where he can see ghosts, a secret that weighs heavily on him, and he keeps hidden from most people aside from Malcolm. At the end of the film, Malcolm learns that he himself is a ghost and has been dead the entire time, coming as a complete shock to both the characters and the audience.
9 Stand by Me
Over the years, Stand by Me has become a classic and is one of the most beloved coming-of-age films released in the 1980s. Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman play four small-town best friends from Oregon who go on an adventure to see a rumored dead body near their homes. Despite how dangerous the journey was, the boys looked out for one another, and their on-screen relationships are what made countless people connect so deeply with the movie. At the end of the film, after the boys find the dead body, they end up going home and say their goodbyes to each other. This ending may seem simple, but after watching their journey and seeing what a strong friendship the boys have, their goodbyes are incredibly emotional for the viewer to watch.
8 The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks’ iconic lovers Noah Calhoun and Allie Hamilton, played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, are by far one of the best movie couples of all time. Despite all the people in their lives trying to pull them apart, Allie and Noah always seem to find a way back to one another. The film is narrated by Noah as an older man retelling the love story to Allie who now suffers from dementia and can no longer remember who Noah is. At the end of the film, while the audience is most likely already in tears, Allie and Noah lay down and die in one another’s arms, proving that their love is so strong, it is capable of anything.
7 Eyes Wide Shut
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise star as Bill and Alice Hartford in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 drama / mystery Eyes Wide Shut. This film is provocative, intense, and at times unsettling, but also extremely entertaining and a perfect example of what Kubrick does best. As tension builds in Bill and Alice’s marriage, the two begin to fight and learn secrets about each other that will prompt the other to question the foundation of their relationship. Bill finds himself sneaking into a private meeting, which he very quickly comes to regret. At the end of the film, Bill realizes how terrifying the people in power can be and cries on his bed with his wife Alice. In the final scene, Alice tells her husband that they should be grateful to have made it through their adventures even if they were only a dream.
Fargo is truly a masterpiece and an example of how incredibly talented the Coen brothers and Francis McDormand are. The film follows a car salesman named Jerry Lundergard, played by William H. Macy, who hires two men to kidnap his wife after getting himself into deep financial trouble. Marge Gunderson, played by Francis McDormand, is the chief of police investigating a murder committed by the two men who kidnapped Mrs. Lundergard. Through her investigation, she is able to locate the killers and takes Gaear, the only living partner into custody. The beauty of Fargo lies within its simplicity and the fact that crazy events can take place in the most mundane areas. While Marge is driving Gaear back, she says “And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well “I just do not understand it.”
5 The Godfather
The Godfather is one of the most famous and beloved films of all time. The Corleone family is an extremely powerful and successful Italian American crime family whose leader Don Vito Corleone, also known as Godfather, has the capability to change someone’s entire life with a single word. Throughout the film, the family is constantly being portrayed as above every other family, and they seem almost inhuman, hiding in the shadows and covered in a cloud of mystery. At the end of the movie, Don Vito’s son Michael, played by the great Al Pacino, lies to his wife Kay, played by Diane Keaton, about having Carlo killed. This lie seals Michael’s fate to the audience, showing everyone the man he is choosing to be.
This epic crime / mystery is filled with an incredible cast including Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey. Detectives William Somerset and David Mills investigate terrible murders that are popping up all around their city. The murderer is attacking citizens whom he feels represent one of the seven deadly sins, hence the film’s name Se7en. After both detectives go to grueling lengths to try and catch the killer, they are finally in a position where they will be able to stop him, only to realize that they are too late, and the murderer had already killed his final victim, Detective David Mills’ pregnant wife.
Alfred Hitchcock is credited as one of the greatest directors of all time, responsible for the creation of masterpieces such as Vertigo, The Birds, and of course Psycho. After Marion Crane flees from her home, job, friends, and family, she finds herself at the Bates Motel. A seemingly quiet and boring place that turns out to be much darker than anyone anticipated. Marion is brutally murdered in a motel bathroom, a scene that has become iconic in the world of cinema. At the end of the film, we see that the motel owner Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is a very sick and disturbed man who murdered Marion. He created an alternate personality where he inhabited his dead mother and turned into a monster. Norman Bates staring into the camera at the end of Psycho is one of the most unforgettable movie scenes ever.
James Cameron’s Titanic is an epic masterpiece from start to finish. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star as the star-crossed lovers Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, who fall in love while aboard the Titanic. After watching the two come together, despite all the people in Rose’s world who disapprove of their relationship, it makes the sinking even more heartbreaking to watch. Jack ends up dying in the freezing North Atlantic waters while saving Rose and making her promise him that she will not give up and live a full life without him. At the end of the film, we see pictures of Rose throughout her adult life flying in a plane, riding horses, having children, and doing all the things that Jack wanted her to do. A 101-year-old Rose lays peacefully in her bed, and we drift off into a dream where Rose finds herself back aboard the Titanic, where she is greeted by all the passengers and meets Jack, the love of her life at the top of the grand staircase. They share a passionate kiss and the passengers all applaud them.
1 The Shawshank Redemption
The ending of The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope and what beautiful change can occur when you surround yourself with the right people. The two main characters Red and Andy, played by the great Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, are inmates in prison who have given up on any hope for a life outside Shawshank. The two connect on a deep level that goes beyond just a friendship, and together they end up changing life in prison for not only themselves but for all the inmates. At the end of the film, Andy is able to escape from prison, and he and Red find their way back to one another on a beach where they can start this new chapter of their lives full of hope for the future.
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