No Ending Is a Good Ending

Posted on December 5, 2012 3:00 pm

I was thinking of how rare it is to have a great ending in fiction. This is important to me as I’m trying to write fiction myself and know it’s hard to wrap things up, so I was trying to think of other good examples of great endings. But there are so few in either movies, books, or TV series. Like I just read Ender’s Game, and while the second to last chapter of it blew me away, the actual last chapter and concluding of the book was kind of “eh.” It’s like maybe it should have just ended sooner, but there were threads to wrap up. And I can’t even think of one TV series that had a finale that met expectations. As for movies, most of the great movies I can think of just had okay endings. The examples I hear for great endings are usually twist endings — which only have the impact on the first viewing if it wasn’t spoiled — and movies where it wasn’t really an ending. Like Empire Strikes Back had a great ending — but it wasn’t an ending as we knew that was all getting picked up in the next movie. Offhand, if I was to think of a great ending that just perfectly summed up the story while also wrapping things up well enough, the best example I can come up with is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Maybe great endings are rare, but I pretty much never see anyone not recommend a great film or book because the ending was only okay (though some endings are so bad they almost ruin the whole thing, like for the TV series Lost). It’s all the stuff leading up to the ending that’s important, and the ending is more obligatory because fiction has to end. But in real life, there are no endings.

So what are the best endings in fiction you can think of?

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48 Responses to “No Ending Is a Good Ending”

  1. Carl says:

    The Chuck series finale was pretty excellent. I really like Brandon Sanderson’s endings (he writes epic fantasy); Mistborn and Elantris both had epic endings. Ten Little Indians (book) had a great ending. I’ll try and think of others, because now that you mention it, it’s hard to pick out endings that really blew me away.

  2. tim3048 says:

    Serenity has a perfect ending. And not just because it’s a perfect movie.

  3. tomg51 says:

    The Road Warrior
    Midnight Cowboy
    Soylent Green
    Shane

  4. tomg51 says:

    ConAir took about 40 minutes to end. I think its the longest ending ever.

  5. silaS marreD says:

    Off the top of my head:
    Dr. Strangelove – Explosions!
    Ninotchka – Capitalism!
    North by Northwest – Innuendo!

  6. CTCompromise says:

    “The Sixth Sense”…’never saw it coming, but when you watch the second time it’s there all along !

  7. Just Some Guy says:

    I don’t think endings are really all that important compared to climaxes. As long as the final conflict is satisfying it doesn’t really matter what happens in the handful of pages or scenes that come afterward.

    Along those lines, the most powerful ending I can think of is probably from the anime series Cowboy Bebop, mostly because the climax and the ending happen at the same time. They actually took care of all the loose ends before the finale so there was nothing to prevent them from rolling the credits right after the big emotional showdown.

  8. DamnCat says:

    “It’s a Wonderful Life”

    “Wages of Fear”

    “Dark City”

  9. KristenS says:

    I like the ending of Collateral, a lot. One of the few post 2000 Tom Cruise movies that I’ve actually enjoyed, but it does have that twist ending you’re talking about.

  10. Jimmy says:

    Casablanca – great – but corniest ending in the history of moving pictures.

  11. DamnCat says:

    @tom51 – what about “The Neverending Story”?

  12. John D says:

    RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, coolest ending ever.

    Also (in no particular order):

    HEAT
    SNATCH
    INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
    LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
    JAWS

  13. Fertile Moor says:

    Dark Tower series by Stephen King

  14. Frank J. says:

    @Carl – I thought the last book of Mistborn did a great job of tying everything together, but the actual last chapter of the third book was cheesy.

  15. Arkady says:

    The Princess Bride
    Monsters, Inc.

    I’m just a big softy.

  16. Mike the Canuck says:

    Supernatural Season 5 (When the series should have ended).

  17. dch says:

    The Usual Suspects.
    did not see it coming, tied everything up, lasted 30 seconds. Pefect.

  18. pete the elder says:

    Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.

  19. pete the elder says:

    Citizen Kane. The ending with flames burning away the old paint is near perfect.

  20. CTCompromise says:

    @12. 12.John D: Put together, those kind of look like a bunch of 70’s porn film titles…(Bom Chick-a-Bom Bom…)

  21. DamnCat says:

    “The Blues Brothers” – Now that’s an ending!

  22. tomg51 says:

    11,14&16-
    neverending story – I almost said I’ve never seen it. Nicely done.
    Monsters inc and Usual Suspects were great endings.

  23. FormerHostage says:

    Being There (movie)
    Quantum Leap (TV)
    Red Shirts (Book – Scalzi)

  24. JAGernaut says:

    While I haven’t read it, Ender’s Game is supposed to be part of a series of novels, rather than just a stand alone. Maybe that explains the state of the “ending”?

  25. jw says:

    @23 i have read it and most of the sequels. ender’s game started life as a short story (which i haven’t read). i suspect that the short story ending was more satisfying.

  26. La Longue Carbine says:

    The best, bar none, ending to a short story I have ever read, and I’ve read thousands and thousands of them, was for Kieth Laumer’s Retief story “Diplomat at Arms”. The last sentence of the story changes everything. You have to read it again, looking for the hints, but hey just aren’t there. You can get it from the Baen free library in the ‘Retief!’ collection. (Google.)

    Now, I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Keith Laumer’s books and stories. Most of his writing is fun, but not too well built, which I find endearing for some reason. He especially has trouble winding up a story, which might be why this one surprised me so much.

    It’ll only take an hour to find and read.

  27. itisIleclerc says:

    Farscape

  28. zzyzx says:

    As always I must nominate Blazing Saddles which is the only western in the history of Hollywood to end with the heroes riding into the sunset in a stretch limo.

  29. zzyzx says:

    For TV I’d have to say it’s the end of the current season of Sons of Anarchy. I mean what is cooler then a guy biting off his own tongue?

  30. CTCompromise says:

    @28. zzyzx: ~~~~ How we went to #28 without that showing up is inexusable !

  31. Keln says:

    One of my favorite endings in a movie ever was in a movie that isn’t anywhere near one of my favorite movies (although I liked it). But I remembered it for the ending, because it was the type of ending you want to see.

    The movie was Enemy at the Gates

    This whole movie sets up an inevitable confrontation between the protagonist Russian sniper Vasili Zytsev and the German ace sniper Erwin Konig during the battle of Stalingrad. According to Hollywood tradition, this should have been played out in some kind of grand before-death conversation when the two met face to face.

    Instead, the pure awesomeness of the end is in that, when Vasili finally comes face to face, or rather Mosin-Nagant to face with the German, he simply shoots him. And that is it. Well, there is a short thing about finding his girl in a hospital, but that was about it.

    Here is the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Giom5_byviI

    This is how all battles between good and evil in a film or book should end. None of that wimpy stuff about the hero almost dying before finally killing the bad guy, or some long bad-guy monologue before he gets what’s coming to him. Just that the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.

  32. CrustyB says:

    Intacto
    Wanted (the graphic novel, not the vastly different movie)
    The Stainless Steel Leech (Roger Zelazny short story about a defective robot befriending Dracula. Cool idea, perfect ending.)

  33. mrsizer says:

    Numb3rs – it was a bit too tidy and sweet, but you knew the show was done, forever, and you didn’t wonder what happened to everyone.

  34. calcpa says:

    The Sopranos

    Many will disagree with me because it there were many unanswered questions, but it doesn’t matter. TONY DIED!
    That’s all that matters.
    Who killed Tony? Doesn’t matter, TONY DIED!
    What happened to the mob? Doesn’t matter, TONY DIED!
    What happens to his kids? Doesn’t matter, TONY DIED!
    What happens to his wife? Doesn’t matter, TONY DIED!
    They were the most narcissistic scumbags ever to live and that was all that matters.

  35. A. Pendragon says:

    Since we’re allowing movies, I’m shocked nobody mentioned The Godfather. The settling of all the “family business,” the confrontation with Connie’s louse of a husband, and above all that last shot where the door slowly closes Kay off from the realities of Michael’s life while the music swells – that says everything that needs to be said and is the perfect climax to the Corleone saga. They should have left it there – and I say that despite being quite fond of the sequel and at least willing to forgive Coppola and Pacino for the third. (Not forgive them right away, mind you, but maybe, someday, eventually.)

  36. Bad Science says:

    Two of my favorite science fiction movies, Alien and Aliens, had awesome endings: an outrageously large explosion and an alien getting pushed out an airlock.
    Oddly enough, the rest of the movies in that series were almost unwatchable to me. Oh, well.

  37. star city k says:

    For me, and its not a happy ending by any means, the end of The Road (book) will always stand out. I can’t bring myself to watch the movie though.

  38. Danny Boy says:

    Rocky. Heck, the ending just about won it the Oscar.
    Gladiator. A classical tragic ending where all the characters (that are still alive!) come onto the stage.

  39. Marcopohlo says:

    Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – Will and Elizabeth’s scene after the big battle turns an adventure into a love story.

  40. Derek says:

    Mr. Sardonicus. Old movie but awesome viewer-involved ending.

  41. zzyzx says:

    The ending of Vanishing Point is pretty awesome too. I’m not talking the sequel I’m speaking of the original movie.

  42. Rusty says:

    At the risk of being looked down upon for mentioning a Leonardo Dicaprio movie…I loved the ending to Shutter Island. The twist happens very near the end, but you’re given enough time to adjust. Then the end just shuts you down. Nice emotional roller coaster, and that from a guy who doesn’t have any feelings.

  43. blarg says:

    Being There
    5 Easy Piecs
    Dark City
    Empire Strikes Back

  44. Vaktatunnen says:

    Prisoner. An incomparably messy ending to an incomparably messy series. Perfect.

  45. Harvey says:

    Robocop:

    “Nice shootin’, son. What’s your name?”

    *look*

    *pause*

    “Murphy”

    *smile*

    *exit*

    *roll credits*

  46. slaphappy says:

    The Monk series finale was epic.

  47. Editor says:

    Bacon to CrustyB for listing Intacto! I loved the blindfolded running scene!

    My list:
    Cheers
    The Third Man
    The Name of the Rose
    Requiem for a Dream
    The Man Who Would Be King
    The Outlaw Josey Wales
    Terror in a Texas Town (for the writing and the awesome harpoon(!) showdown)

  48. Dohtimes says:

    The author Ken Bruen writes books I like a lot, some of them where nothing good seems to happen to anybody. But one titled The Dramatist not only has the worst ending ever, that ending may just be the worst thing ever.

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