A dozen films ruined or practically ruined by terrible endings.

by Martin Hafer

I hate going to see a movie and investing my time and money on a picture only to be completely let down by a stupid ending–one that should have been worked out long before production even began in the first place. Here I am presenting a list of 12 such films. It is not meant to be exhaustive and I would appreciate any suggested titles I could add to a future second or third list of similar films.

Now there are a few things I would like to add. While the ending to The Apple, for instance, might just be the worst in movie history, just about everything else about this film is also terrible, so this sort of film shouldn’t be on my list. Likewise, in Superman II, Clark and Lois get naked and sleep together–something that made no sense and ruined the nice, clean image of the super hero. But, while this did ruin an otherwise exciting film, it came long before the ending–so it really cannot be included either. To make the list, the movie needs to be one that you actually liked and would have left you excited when it ended…had the ending not been completely brainless. Finally, because I am talking about endings, you can rightfully assume there will be a lot of spoilers–so just be aware of this before you read further.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey–While the ending is not the only problem with this gorgeous space epic (the first 10-15 minutes or so consists of guys in ape suits mucking about), the film did have a lot going for it. The story, while slow, was pretty neat and the special effects seemed decades ahead of every sci-fi film before it. But the ending was a complete mess–with a pseudo-intellectual ending featuring the leading man becoming an old man and then an embryo. But, because many critics loved it, the film was declared to be an artistic triumph–even though audiences were left baffled and wondering what the heck they just saw!

2. Red River–Howard Hawks’ western is considered by many to be a classic. It does have an excellent story and one of John Wayne’s best performances as the hard-bitten and unforgiving man who is estranged from his adopted son (Montgomery Clift). Near the end, Wayne’s character brutally kills one of his son’s friends–and then, inexplicably, moments later when the father and son are reunited, all is forgiven and everyone has a nice laugh. What about the murdered man?! No one seems to remember that he just viciously killed someone! Am I missing something?!

3. War of the Worlds–This is a rare case where I think the film versions should have changed the original story. I usually am a purist and want films to stick to the original material and the story was by the genius writer, H.G. Wells. But it is the most anticlimactic ending in history. After the aliens from Mars decimate the planet and are poised to rule the world, they all catch a cold and die…just in a matter of seconds in the films! Huh?! Talk about an ending that comes from out of nowhere!

4. The Secret of NIMH–Back in the early 1980s, Don Bluth was becoming a serious rival to Disney Studios. Disney was at its lowest point and Bluth’s films looked great–mostly because he’d worked for the company in the past and brought together some great artists who wanted to make quality animated films. As for their choice of stories, that was the problem with this grim film which was way inappropriate for children. It turns out that the NIMH in the title refers to the National Institute of Mental Health and the secret is that they’re doing awful experiments on animals! Aside from a few PETA-types, I cannot imagine any parent wanting their kids to see such a dark and joyless ending in a film designed, supposedly, for kids!

5. Ben Hur (1925 version)–This was the first big epic from the new mega-studio, MGM. They pulled out all the stops to make this THE film of the year and it featured amazing sets, breathtaking stunts, a cast of thousands and lots of excitement. Oddly, however, for a Biblical epic if also included some gratuitous nudity as well as an ending that pretty much says that once Jesus died, he stayed dead. An odd sort of film considering the audience it was hoping to attract! Perhaps they spent all their money and couldn’t afford to resurrect him in the finale. All I know is that it ends by folks saying essentially that “he IS dead but alive in our hearts”. Huh?!

6. The Black Hole–Following the success of Star Wars, the Disney Studio was hoping to create a legitimate, adult-friendly film that would improve the prestige of their films which had been suffering through the 60s and 70s. So, they announced they were going to make a serious sci-fi film. The movie wasn’t bad (aside from the robot) but the ending seemed like it was something directed by Fellini after he took a hit of acid or perhaps by the people who built Disney’s Haunted Mansion–with the cast members in ghost form flying through a tunnel in space. It let more than a few patrons scratching their heads and wondering what they had just seen.

7. Mission: Impossible–This one seriously annoyed me. After seeing Tom Cruise and the rest doing all sorts of exciting things to save democracy, you learn that the REAL bad guy is Jim Phelps. Yes, this is the same guy who was the hero and leader of the MI team in almost all the TV shows. So, the guy you have loved over the years is now inexplicably evil…and it’s a great way to spit on the fans of the original series. Sadly, the film STILL made a lot of money and spawned even worse sequels.

8. Blazing Saddles–Mel Brooks made some seriously funny films early in his career, with The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. The problem with Blazing Saddles wasn’t that it wasn’t funny–it was hilarious and has many terrific moments. However, Brooks apparently had no idea how to end this wonderful farce and the ending consists of the folks in the movie getting into a giant fight which spills over onto the sets of other films. Terribly unfunny and a complete waste of all the work and laughs up until this ending.

9. Spartacus–This Stanley Kubrick film would have been perfect had it ended when all the slaves stood up and proclaimed “I am Spartacus”. Instead, the film has 15 or so additional minutes which completely ruin the strong ending which should have just occurred. It’s also a stupid way to tack on a happy ending onto the story of several thousand guys getting crucified!! How can you give such carnage a happy ending?!!?

10. 3:10 to Yuma (1957 version–I have not seen the recent remake)–A much better than average western about a tiny town and the few men in it who are determined to take a vicious murdering gang leader to another town to be tried for his crimes. Unfortunately, his gang learn of the plan and they attack the town–killing most of the good men protecting it. Inexplicably, no one thinks to shoot the gang leader during all this AND to make it worse, as the film ends, the hero runs with the gang leader to jump aboard a moving train to safety. Why does the gang leader do this? Why not fall to the ground or refuse to get on the train since it ultimately will result in his being hung when they get to the next town?!

11. The Wild Child–While I love most of this film that not only was directed by François Truffaut but which stars him, the ending is a complete enigma. This is the true story of a boy who wandered the forest of Aveyron, France for years until he was captured and brought to live in society in the late 18th century. And, it’s masterfully written and acted. However, the ending is NOT the boy’s life at all but a tacked on ending which makes it appear that the child became normal and lived a happy life. In reality, his caretaker got bored with working with the child and abandoned him. The boy never really learned to fit in to society or function normally and he wasted away and died while still quite young. I guess this is awfully grim, but considering that the director and his other New Wave friends were contemptuous of Hollywood and its clichés, it’s very surprising he’d fill the ending with the biggest cliché of all, the happy ending.

12. The King and I–This is a lovely looking film with some great music. However, as it nears the end, the King announces that he’s going to die and then soon does. No lingering announcement, no foreshadowing of anything–just a curt announcement and then boom, he dies. This is a beloved film, I know, but when this ending came out of nowhere, I felt cheated and amazed that it is considered a classic.

So there you have it–my dozen. As I said above it is NOT an exhaustive list though I am happy that unlike other lists I’ve seen, this one is not made up exclusively of recent or American films but a cross-section. Perhaps you would like to offer a few suggestions of movies you loved but which completely let you down at the end. I am eager to hear from you.