Some of the most iconic and memorable scenes to emerge from the history of cinema are those that come right at a film’s close. In a climatic final scene, even the worst of films can redeem itself with a powerful or imaginative ending. From head scrambling twists to poignant heart-string pullers, a good final scene can elevate a film to otherwise unattainable levels of notoriety. So, with a great big *SPOILER ALERT* in mind…
Top 10 – Final Scenes:
10. The Searchers (1956)
Closing scenes don’t come much more iconic than this classic from John Ford’s celebrated Western. As the rest of his friends and family are absorbed into the comforting blackness of the civilized family home, John Wayne’s tortured cowboy Ethan Edwards stands framed in the doorway, a rough and wild character whose inner turmoil and guilt prevent him from succumbing to domestic life. Ethan takes a long hard look into the peaceful home before him and turns away into the harsh and unforgiving terrain of the American wilderness a lonely and isolated figure.
9. Chinatown (1974)
Explaining the labyrinthine plot of Chinatown would take up far more room than is available here. Polanski’s neo-noir is full of twists, turns and double crosses, but the films downbeat ending is truly a cinematic punch in the gut. Jack Nicholson was in his prime as dogged PI Jake Gittes, and despite solving the complex case and identifying the bad guys; he is ultimately still unable to bring them to justice. As he watches the harsh inevitability of life unfold before him, as the rich and powerful yet again avoid their comeuppance, he is shepherded away by a policeman and told “forget it Jake…its Chinatown.”
8. Oldboy (2003)
This twisted South Korean thriller possesses one of the most shocking revelations of all time. The film centres around Dae-Su, who is imprisoned for 15 years and given with no explanation by his captors. When he is finally released, Dae-Su sets out to gain his vengeance, but not before he falls for an attractive Sushi chef, Mi-Do. The film follows Dae-Su’s quest for revenge as well as his blossoming romance with Mi-Do, until finally he catches up with his tormentor Woo-Jin. When the big reveal is made, and we are told of Woo-Jin’s reasons for imprisoning Dae-Su, it is to a mixture of shock and disgust. I won’t spoil it for you here, but needless to say, you won’t see it coming, and the bleak ending will stay with you for days afterwards.
7. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Kubrick’s comedic masterpiece is blessed with an abundance of memorable scenes, and in its final moments proves to be surprisingly moving. After the inevitable countdown to nuclear oblivion finally reaches its end, the demented Dr. Strangelove, until now wheelchair bound, rises to his feet and takes a few tentative steps. “Mein Fuhrer,…..I can walk!” With this bizarre revelation, the doomsday device activities and suddenly the farce is all over. What follows is a haunting montage of mushroom cloud explosions accompanied by Very Lynn’s bittersweet wartime hit ‘We’ll meet again.” After making one of the most ludicrously funny films of all time, it was testament to Kubrick that he could still provide an ending of genuine poignancy. His original ending, of which only stills have yet emerged, saw the war room break down into a childish pie-fight. Whilst the symbolism would have been suitably apt, it’s fair to say Stanley made the right choice with the montage providing a powerful Cold War critique.
6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
After years on the run, Butch and Sundance shelter in a dilapidated shed in a small Bolivian town. The notorious bandits have evaded capture for as long as they can, but finally find themselves surrounded by, well, just about everyone. Unaware of the sheer volume of firepower that awaits them outside, the two friends nurse their wounds and prepare themselves for one last showdown. Butch asks Sundance if he saw arch enforcer Lefors out there waiting for them. Sundance says he did not. “Good. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble,” Keeping up the banter until the last, the two comrades storm out into the streets to meet their fate. As the film freeze-frames with the duo guns ablaze, we are left only with the soundtrack descending into a barrage of explosive gunfire. A fitting end for two of cinemas greatest anti-heroes.
5. Some Like it Hot (1959)
Proof that sometimes all a film needs to go out on a bang is the zippiest of one liners. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are at their best in this career-defining comedy starring as the hapless duo of down on their luck musicians who pose as women in order to avoid detection by the mob. In a film chocked full of memorable lines and classics scenes, Lemmon arguably steals the show as the put upon Jerry. Jerry spends a large portion of the film being wined, dined and chased by oblivious wealthy suitor Osgood Fielding the third. As Osgood and Jerry make their own getaway at the film’s end, Jerry does his best to put Osgood off without revealing his big secret. He’s not a natural blond, he’s a smoker, he can’t have children! Nothing can dissuade the frisky suitor. Eventually, exasperated, he gives up and admits “Osgood, I’m a man!” Barely batting an eyelid, the dapper Osgood simply quips back “Well,… nobody’s perfect.” Its legendary writer and director Billy Wilder at his devilish best.
4. Se7en (1995)
Kevin Spacey’s demented John Doe has led Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills and Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset around in circles whilst he carries out his grisly murders based upon the seven deadly sins. There are still two sins left to complete though as wrath and envy remain unseen. At the films tense denouement, the three leads are out in the isolated desert when a package arrives in the distance. As Somerset goes to retrieve the suspect item, the ominously calm John Doe begins to reveal to Mills how he intends to complete his sick task. What follows is a tense and shocking stand off as it slowly dawns on both the characters and us at home how the serial killer will achieve his final goal. Director David Fincher amps up the drama and Brad Pitt does a superb job as the tormented Detective. All together now…..”WHAT’S IN THE BOX???????”
3. The Godfather (1972)
As Coppolla’s epic crime masterpiece comes to a close, Michael Corleone, the once fresh faced young soldier, has become a powerful and feared crime boss. As his inconsolable sister is led away, blaming him for her abusive husband’s death, his long suffering wife Kay begins to doubt Michael’s choices as well. Angered by her questioning, Michael allows her to ask him a question about his business…just this once. After he unflinchingly lies directly to her face, Kay is ushered out of the room. Looking back into his study, she glimpses Michael for what he has now become, no longer the man she once knew, but an untouchable monster. As the study door is closed both in the film and on the story itself, Kay is in every way imaginable shut out of Michael’s private business forever. A bleak foreshadowing of the events still to come in Part 2.
2. Casablanca (1942)
The ultimate tail of love, duty and loyalty, set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during World War 2, is rightly viewed as one of the all time movie greats. Iconic lead Humphrey Bogart plays the cynical American bar owner Ric, who goes to great lengths to remain neutral on all matters, even when Nazi’s arrive in his bar and begin to make their presence felt. After making the ultimate personal sacrifice for the greater good, Ric finally takes a side and shoots down the evil German Major. The previously sycophantic Vichy French Chief of Police, Louis, takes a moment and turning a blind eye to Ric’s involvement, says to his lieutenant, “Major Strasser has been shot…. Round up the usual suspects.” As the duo walk away into the misty night, finally prepared to continue the good fight, Ric says to his new ally, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It still packs a punch even today, and it’s an apt ending for one of the most quotable films of all time.
1. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Forget The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game, this is the ultimate twist ending. Kevin Spacey’s nervy cripple Verbal Kent spends the entire film being interrogated by Chazz Palminteri’s Dave Kujan and in fear of the mythical Keyzer Soze. Finally, he is outsmarted and broken down and reluctantly offers a sobbing confession. Then, in a truly masterful piece of cinema, Director Bryan Singer perfectly captures the exact moment that Kujan realises he’s been taken for a ride. As the penny drops for Kujan, amidst a crashing coffee mug and a whirl across the bulletin board behind him, so it does for the viewer at home. As we watch Kent gingerly limp away, only for his limp to slowly turn into a confident stride, the twist no one saw coming is confirmed. It still grips and impresses even on repeat viewings, but nothing beats that first time when you realise you’ve been truly outsmarted.