Great movies often have great endings, and on that note, here are a few of my favorites. Oh, and this should go without saying, but just in case: Spoiler Alert!
10. Finding Elaine - The Graduate
Poor Ben Braddock. The love of his life (Elaine) is about to be married off to some other guy, so he does what any self-respecting hopeless romantic would do in this situation and drives off to the rescue to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson. This ending is as humorous as it is classic. My favourite part is when Ben uses the cross to fend off the angry mob and then uses the same cross to bar them all inside. I also like the very ending after they hop on the bus, laugh, and then just sort of stare off into space. To some this may seem to be a rather odd ending, but I think it perfectly captures the essence of the film. The whole movie is about Ben trying to find a direction for his life (something which I am beginning to discover I can relate to), and after a long time spent searching he finally found what he looking for in the form of love. So sets his mind to it, leaps the hurdles, and gets the girl... so now what? He's back where he started with no real plan and no easy answers.
9. Big Brawl - Blazing Saddles
I wrote a little bit about this scene in an earlier post, but I'll elaborate a little bit here. Throughout the movie, Mel Brooks is making cracks in the fourth wall separating us from the film, and with this finale he absolutely demolishes it. Unfortunately I couldn't find a clip on Youtube showing the whole thing, but I am sure that little bit I did find will give you a good idea of what I am talking about. As the scene continues, the brawl consumes the entire Hollywood lot and spills over into the street. The main villain hails a taxi and tells the driver to "take me off this picture," he gets out at a theatre that is screening Blazing Saddles, buys a ticket, and watches as the sheriff pulls into the same theatre on his horse. It's pretty much the craziest most hilarious ending ever. And just to put the icing on the cake, the final shot has the sheriff and his deputy ride out of town, dismount, get in a car, and then drive off into the sunset.
8. To my big brother George... - It's a Wonderful Life
The only proof I can give you that I have a soul is the fact that this scene always chokes me up no matter how many times I watch it. Some critics think its sappy, and they may be right, but something about it gets to me. Maybe it's the way everybody rallies together to support the man who's sacrificed so much for them, or maybe it's just seeing a man who was at the end of his tether discover that his life is pretty good and that he has a lot to live for. Whichever it may be, this is one of the most touching endings ever put on celluloid (which is a bit surprising given that the rest of the movie is pretty dark) and as long as I have a heart, will remain one of my favourites.
7. Destroying the Death Star - Star Wars
Hell yeah, this ending is awesome. It's hard to top an epic and tense space laser dogfight with the force hanging in the balance that ends with a freakin planet-sized construction exploding. And just when Darth Vader thinks he has Luke in the palm of his hand, Han Solo comes swooping in on the Millennium Falcon to save the day. Then to top it all off you have this medal presentation ceremony and Chewbacca does his roar thing and then the theme music plays. This is one of those scenes that you mostly describe using sound effects when relating it to other people, so it's kinda hard to translate into the written word so I'll just leave it at that.
6. The End of All Things - LotR: The Return of the King
A lot of people complained about the 10 different endings this movie has, but if you've read the book then you'd realize Peter Jackson cut it down by about a half. Seriously, half of Return of the King is epilogue. They're all touching in their own way, but this is the one that sticks with me the most. Frodo and Sam have literally gone though Hell to complete their quest and now the world is crumbling down around them. The last thing they think of on the brink of death is returning home, and the scenes they remember from The Shire. Of course they don't die, because Gandalf (as usual) comes to save the day, but I think its a nice little touch that, at the end of the road when all is said and done, its the little things that stand out.
5. We'll Meet Again - Dr. Strangelove
I never thought that the end of the world could be so hilarious until I saw this movie. The climax starts off pretty tense, but quickly devolves into the insanity that is the threat of nuclear annihilation. For a moment it seems as though the bomb bay doors won't open and the world will be saved, but alas Major Kong is too resourceful and he opens them just in time. This is the point where the tense atmosphere comes to an end as he rides the nuke to the ground in what is arguably the greatest way to die ever. Jump back to the Pentagon where the President and his aides consider the bleak future. It doesn't take long for them to forget about the massive amount of suffering Doomsday will cause, and begin thinking about how to save their own hides with the maximum amount of sex possible while cooking up ways to take the Cold War underground. It is both laughable and terrifying as the whole scenario doesn't seem like much of a stretch. And what better way to end the world, than with stock footage of nuclear bombs exploding to the tune of Vera Lynn?
4. Final Shootout - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
If there's one thing director Sergio Leone can do, it's exploit a tense situation for maximum effect. It begins with Clint Eastwood writing the name of the grave that contains a vast sum of gold on a rock. He puts it down in the center of the cemetery and then the staring contest ensues as the title characters square off and prepare themselves. Their eyes dart back and forth as they consider their options in this deadly game of rock, paper, scissors, while their hands slowly inch their way towards their guns. This brief moment seems to drag on forever before the guns are drawn. But when the final outcome is known, you realize that Leone was toying with us the whole time. Their was no real contest "the Good" had unloaded "the Ugly's" gun beforehand making the entire showdown just for show. Despite this (actually probably because of this), Eastwood is still a badass.
3. Frankly my dear... - Gone With the Wind
If nothing else, that final line makes this 4 hour long epic worthwhile. Rhett Butler has been putting up with Scarlett's bullshit for pretty much the whole movie, and finally he decides that enough is enough. I am glad this was made in 1939, because if this film were made today that famous line would probably be, "Frankly my dear, go fuck yourself," which although is quite hilarious, just doesn't quite have that same air of finality about it. In either case, it's a pretty tough ending to beat, but there are still two more to go so it's certainly possible.
2. Realization - The Usual Suspects *DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE*
The Usual Suspects wasn't the first movie to have a twist ending, but without a doubt it perfected it. Just when you think the mystery has been solved in a way that is already surprising to begin with, they throw in this final piece to puzzle which changes everything. And I mean that quite literally. By calling the narrator into question, everything that narrator has told you comes into question as well, and by overlaying sound bites from throughout the movie, Brian Singer makes sure that you know. It's quite the coup de grace and it blew my fucking mind the first time I saw it.
1. Goodbye Ilsa - Casablanca
When it comes to great endings, I don't think any movie will ever top Casablanca. It's absolutely perfect in every way made all the greater since it's not a typical Hollywood ending despite the fact that it was made in 1942 when typical Hollywood endings were all the rage (especially for a WWII piece). This six and a half minute scene is chock full of memorable lines, one of which provided the title for the #2 movie on this list. But my favourite part of this scene isn't a particular line or shot, but how it changed my perspective of the whole film. Casablanca is a movie that wants you to think its a love story, but it's not. It's a story about a man trying to recover his conscience and ultimately does so by sacrificing love. The ending is bittersweet, and it fits perfectly.
Well there you have it. I'd also like to extend a special Honorable Mention to Animal House, who's ending I could not find on Youtube. Just know that it is hilarious and awesome and you should watch it. Here's a link the entire movie if you don't want to rent it.