‘Don’t Look Up’: Adam McKay Says ‘Audiences Could Handle’ The Film’s Explosive Ending

While Netflix‘s Don’t Look Up is a dark comedy, the ending of the film is anything but funny. In fact, most audiences would consider it downright depressing. It subverts expectations by going against the normally happy endings in most Hollywood movies. Now, director Adam McKay has spoken out about the ending to his Best Picture nominee, Don’t Look Up, and says that he believed that “audiences could handle” the way it ends.

Adam McKay discusses 'Don't Look Up' at an early screening.
Adam McKay | Theo Wargo

‘Don’t Look Up’ analyzes how today’s society would react to an imminent disaster

McKay is a director who does not shy away from his own political ideologies. Don’t Look Up is no different as McKay provides a satirical comedy that serves as a metaphor for how the world has reacted and is still reacting to the ongoing climate crisis. It is boosted by a tremendous cast that includes Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, and Cate Blanchett. 

In the film, a comet is headed toward Earth that is large enough to cause an extinction-type event. While the scientists who make this discovery urge the world to take action, politicians, media moguls, and everyday citizens are more concerned with their own agendas, leading to no one agreeing on how to address the situation. 

Unlike other disaster films like Independence Day or Armageddon where our main characters survive and Earth is saved, Don’t Look Up ends with the comet hitting and everyone on the planet dying. It’s a not-so-subtle way of pointing a mirror at society and telling them that this could be their fate if further action is not taken.

Adam McKay explains the reasoning behind the film’s ending

In an editorial piece for the Los Angeles Times written by McKay himself, McKay explains why he had to end Don’t Look Up the way he did. McKay says he received pushback from studio heads to change the ending but refused, saying that the main reason he wanted to make the film was because of the ending. 

“The main reason we wanted to make the movie was because of the ending. After decades of guaranteed happy endings from big Hollywood movies, we really wanted to show that nifty feel-good conclusions are not guaranteed without characters actually, you know, doing something. But even more important, we had a suspicion that audiences could handle it and might even be excited by the formula being broken.”

Luckily, it worked out for McKay as on day two of sending the script out, a studio said “ they loved it and wanted to make it with the ending as is.” He later decided that this movie would be perfect for Netflix as well, especially after the focus on streaming due to the pandemic.

Despite divided reactions from critics, ‘Don’t Look Up’ picked up many award nominations

When Don’t Look Up debuted on Netflix, reactions from critics were mixed as the film had largely divided opinions. The film currently holds a 56% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes which suggests that there really isn’t a majority consensus for the movie. Some critics didn’t enjoy the not-so-subtle political message, while others appreciated the hard-hitting, painfully accurate humor and storyline. 

Either way, Don’t Look Up still ended up being a winner as it is nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Whether or not McKay wins an Oscar, everyone will most likely still be thinking about his ending for quite some time.

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