No Ending Is a Good Ending

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 Comments

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

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  6. 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.)

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  7. 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.

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  8. 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.

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  9. 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)

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  10. 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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