Some films hook you right from the start and pull you into an engaging and enjoyable storyline, only to drop you into a pit of disappointment and dissatisfaction once you’ve reached the end. It’s not necessarily that these movie endings are sad — some films end on a happy note but still leave the viewer wanting more.
Other movies leave the audience annoyed with the conclusion of the film because it fails to tie up loose ends. This isn’t the same thing as a cliffhanger, which we see so often with Marvel movies so they can set up the inevitable sequel. No, an unsatisfying ending is the sort of closing where you’re left feeling annoyed or frustrated, either by the intention of the director or as a result of bad writing.
Let’s take a look at some of the worst movie endings out there, and why they’re such awful notes to end a film on.
25. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
At the beginning of this film, we’re presented with a broken marriage, a deeply boring and unsatisfying relationship, and an existential crisis. Ninety-six minutes later, we see a fiery montage of fight scenes and bisexual exploration, before suddenly, the film is over and you’re left with a broken marriage, a deeply boring and disappointing relationship, and an existential crisis. Nothing has been resolved. No lives have been changed or improved for the better.
24. The Hedgehog
The end of The Hedgehog is the same in the movie as it is in the award-winning French novel the film is based on, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. There are two major conflicts in the story: The young girl who is suicidal and struggling to contend with her own family and a world she finds pointless, and the old concierge who hides who she really is out of fear of being discovered for the fascinating individual that she is.
It requires quite a bit of patience and self-exploration for both internal struggles to be overcome, but just as the concierge is coming out of her shell, she dies. There’s nothing worse than investing a great deal of time and energy into a character only to have them die by getting smacked by a car out of nowhere.
23. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series
The end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series is arguably not decided as of yet, but regardless, the trilogy ending with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest starring Noomi Rapace did not have the most satisfying of endings. In fact, while both the first and second films earned an 86% and 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes respectively, the third film had by far the lowest score, at 53%.
In certain ways the series was well tied up — most of the protagonist’s biggest problems were solved, but the movie doesn’t try to gloss over her years of abuse with a perfect love story or a happily-ever-after. But while an end with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist embracing happily would have been overly saccharine, their almost complete lack of interaction throughout the film was frustrating, and the final noncommittal scene was confusing and didn’t seem to align itself to any particular emotion.
This film was generally well loved by critics and viewers alike, but the end of the movie was quite disturbing and rather sudden. Most movies that end with the protagonist being hit by a vehicle are deserving of some degree of criticism in terms of ingenuity. Special is hard to critique in that area, given how creative a plot the film offers, but the end is certainly a let down in terms of failing to commit to tragedy while still managing to be deeply depressing.
21. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The old Indiana Jones films fell into a certain genre; they all had a similar feel to them, and it was the feeling of dust being blown off a mysterious artifact. Sure, there were supernatural aspects to them, but they were always biblical or anthropological in origin. The decision to deviate from that and go with an extraterrestrial ending seems poorly thought out, not to mention out of sync with a long legacy of well-loved movies.
Making another Indiana Jones film was always a risk, but this seems like the wrong way to have risen to meet that risk — with a UFO and some bad CGI.
20. Now You See Me
The first, 2013 movie follows a team of illusionists named the Four Horsemen who steal from banks while FBI agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) tries to catch them. The plot is full of twists since it hinges on the main characters fooling people with what appear to be magic tricks. So it’s not that surprising that there would be a twist ending as well.
However, this one falls flat when it turns out that Rhodes himself is the fifth horseman and offers them membership to an elite group of magicians. The film ends with all of them stepping onto a carousel and disappearing by magic.
The twist undercuts the build up throughout the whole movie and destroys the notion that these illusionists are always the smartest people in the room. It also weirdly turns the movie’s Robin Hood theme into a revenge plot since Rhodes’ plan was to get back at the magician he feels is responsible for his father’s death.
19. I Am Legend
The novel adaptation shows Robert Neville trying to survive in New York City while it is overrun by monsters. The sci-fi movie is pretty suspenseful and Will Smith does a good job carrying the movie mostly by himself. However, the theatrical ending misses the mark. Robert ends up kidnapping one of the monsters and makes a cure from her blood, which draws the others to his lab to save the captured monster.
The official ending shows Robert handing off the cure to someone else, then blowing up himself and all of the monsters in the lab. The movie could have had a much better ending considering that there is a great alternate ending within the story, where Robert acknowledges that he too, is a monster in a way.
Ben and Chon grow marijuana together, but things get dangerous once their girlfriend O, gets kidnapped by the Mexican cartel. The whole movie is pretty terrible but that still doesn’t excuse the bad ending. There is a shootout between the cartel leader and Ben, Chon, and O. Ben is fatally wounded so Chon and O kill themselves because they don’t want to live without him. However, it turns out this weirdly tragic ending is just O’s dream and the three live happily-ever-after on an island.
The 1997 blockbuster showed a lower-class man named Jack falling for an engaged high-society woman named Rose while the two are traveling on the ocean liner, the Titanic. The movie is beloved by those who love romantic movies, but even some of the movie’s fans have one huge complaint about the ending.
While the Titanic sinks, Jack gets Rose to float on a door while he holds on in the freezing water beside her. Of course, this gesture leads to him dying, while Rose ends up surviving.
Many classic love stories end with the lovers not ending up together, so in this way, the ending is not that surprising. However, fans have been arguing for decades that Jack could have also fit on the large door with Rose.
16. The Matrix Revolutions
The movie shows the invasion of machines on the human city of Zion. Neo tries to end the war and that includes going up against rogue Agent Smith.
The third installment in the series left a lot of fans confused because Neo gets brought into the Matrix. He is then seemingly killed by Agent Smith, but machines try to revive him. However, instead of waking up, everything explodes into light. This ending doesn’t really give any resolution to fans who have been invested in this franchise.
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s infamous futuristic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, is undeniably a strange movie. Though the visuals were very impressive for the time, the plot was, at best, difficult to follow, and meant to tackle several abstract themes.
The end was no different: A silent scene, showing Dr. Bowman at various ages, before ending on him as an old man on his deathbed, reaching toward a fetus floating in space. Everyone’s interpretation of the last 20 minutes was different, but many feel that it dragged on, and left viewers confused as to what they’d just seen.
Not everything turns out the way you planned it. According to cowriter Jonathan Nolan, brother of director Christopher Nolan, the ending he had written for Interstellar was a bit simpler. What we ended up with, however, was a convoluted, paradoxical scene in which Matthew McConaughey’s character travels through a black hole and ends up in an alternate timeline.
Most fans who enjoyed the rest of the movie were perplexed and turned off by this ending.
Kevin Smith’s comedic horror flick Tusk was a strange and disturbing film in its entirety. Justin Long’s Wallace finds himself a victim to a man who slowly turns him into a walrus, while his girlfriend and best friend search for him. In the end, Wallace kills his captor, but as he is no longer completely human, he is forced to live out the rest of his days in a wildlife sanctuary. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and completely disgusting.
12. The Sea of Trees
It would probably shock most to know that The Sea of Trees, which was directed by Oscar-nominee Gus Van Sant and starred Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey, was a Cannes competitor. But the film was a complete flop both at the festival and the box office, and the reason comes down primarily to its final act. The twist ending reveals that the man McConaughey’s character spent the entire time with recounting his wife’s death was actually the spirit of his wife’s ghost all along.
11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
When a film franchise is based on a beloved book series, and there’s a definitive end in sight, it’s hard to imagine that those behind the scene could make a mess of things. But creative liberties and a desire to find the perfect end equaled disaster in the case of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
We understand that this ensemble cast had a lot of characters to say goodbye to, but the ending drags on and on, with numerous fade-to-black moments, tricking the audience into thinking it’s over. With a runtime already over three hours (plus more in the extended cut), this was beyond overkill.
10. Spider-Man 3
When even the director of the film doesn’t like the end result, you know it’s bad. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy started off beautifully, but the third and final chapter was almost universally panned, even by Raimi himself.
One of the movie’s biggest issues was overload. Too many villains, too many storylines to wrap up, and too much unnecessary dancing. The flick concludes sullenly, with Harry’s death and funeral, and then Mary Jane and Peter are somehow just fine again, dancing in the club while she sings sadly. Talk about a lame conclusion.
9. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
We’ve acknowledged that it’s difficult to end an epic trilogy of films. But while many remember the original Star Wars series for its many strengths, few can forget how incredibly corny and ridiculous the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was.
The Rebels celebrate their victory with a massive party, as the Ewoks dance around and Leia and Han share a kiss. The spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (and, in the remastered version, Anakin) show up, seemingly saying goodbye and congratulating Luke. Then, everyone stands together as though they’re posing for a photo. As The Richest points out, it’s a contrived reminder that though we look back on this epic space opera with fondness, it turned into a giant commercial for kids toys.
8. War of the Worlds
It can be hard for filmmakers to find a balance between a complete ending and an open one. When it comes to Steven Spielberg’s films, however, the acclaimed director leans way into the former — perhaps too far.
The 2005 remake of War of the Worlds finds action star Tom Cruise escaping the aliens and reuniting with his family. But how, with the amount of destruction caused by Tripods, are all of the Ferriers completely unharmed and safe in Boston together? A little ridiculous, if you ask us.
7. Source Code
A built-in way to always get the ending you want? The alternative timeline plot device. Source Code, a surprisingly well-received Jake Gyllenhaal thriller, is fully crafted around this concept, equipped with sci-fi technology that allows the user to live for eight minutes in another body.
If that’s not weird enough for you, the idea of one’s consciousness and what’s real and what isn’t becomes a subject of debate. The film ends with the notion that history has been permanently changed, and that “everything is going to be OK” — but by this point, it’s hard to tell which reality is now the true reality.
6. High Fidelity
If you’ve never been frustrated with John Cusack in a movie, you likely haven’t been paying attention. And in one of his most well-known and infuriating roles, Cusack portrays Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, the pretentious owner of a record store who has no idea what he wants.
Throughout the film, Rob struggles between his desire to be with Laura, a kind woman who actually loves him, and every other girl who shows any interest in him. The guy only wants what he can’t have, and by the time he realizes this, it’s too late — or, it should be. Rob sleeps with Laura after her father’s funeral, and then wins her back, even though it should be clear to her by this point that this guy has been a jerk all along.
The false notion that humans use only 10% of their brain has been perpetuated for some time now, and is the idea behind the sci-fi film Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as the titular character. Though writer and director Luc Besson acknowledged that he knows the theory to be false, he still sent the message home with the flick’s ending.
Lucy accidentally absorbs a mixture of chemicals into her system, which increases her brain power at a steady rate. In the end, Lucy takes more drugs, and reaches whatever 100% entails, becoming one with the universe. It’s fairly hokey and unscientific for what was touted as a genre film, and puts it more in the realm of mysticism and fantasy.
4. Man of Steel
The Zack Snyder DC Extended Universe films are a point of contention for many. On one hand, many die-hard fans enjoy the darker turn taken with these films. However, others are frustrated by what they see as a lack of loyalty to the comic origins of the superheroes in question.
Man of Steel, the franchise tentpole, had both ups and downs, but the ending definitely fell into the latter category for most. Superman is known for his moral compass, and in the end, when he kills Zod, there’s a feeling of sadness and desperation shared between viewers, Lois Lane, and the superhero himself. It was a very intentional choice, but not everyone understood or agreed with it.
3. The Abyss
Acclaimed director James Cameron makes films on a massive scale, that much is certain. The Abyss was, as far as anyone can tell, a massive, CGI-heavy labor of love for Cameron, but, like many big-budget movies, failed to live up to expectations.
The underwater epic is compelling, certainly, but it has issues with pacing. Its finale is the real kicker, though: Bud, our hero, sacrifices himself, is saved by aliens, and everyone lives happily-ever-after in what seems like a very lackluster end to a monumental build. An alternate special edition gives the end more purpose, but Cameron still didn’t manage to achieve the level of profound meaning he set out for.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The beloved Harry Potter franchise had its ups and downs, most of which came when the films deviated from the books. Some changes were necessary, of course, but die-hard fans were unhappy by the omission of several of their favorite moments. However, one scene everyone agreed could have been done without.
The epilogue in Deathly Hallows: Part 2 sees Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny many years after the Battle of Hogwarts, saying goodbye to their own children as they board the train to school. The final film ended with this scene, featuring the primary actors who were made to look significantly older with makeup and prosthetics. Some felt it took away from the true story, while others just found it unnecessary.
1. The Devil Inside
This 2012 horror flick took a very strange turn. Not the demon possession, exorcisms, or heavy reliance on religion — all of that is par for the course in the genre. It was the end of The Devil Inside, or complete lack of one, that infuriated viewers.
It’s implied that the main characters get into an accident, and whether or not they survive is unknown, as the camera cuts to black. Then, a title card tells the audience to continue following the story … on a (now defunct) website.
Is it worse that they expected viewers to do more leg work in order to get a pay off after taking the time to watch the film in full, or that anyone who tries to watch it years later doesn’t even get that option? It’s no wonder that the film is certifiably rotten.
Additional reporting by Nicole Weaver and Becca Bleznak.
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