The Best Movies That Sort of Leave You Hanging 

Ann Casano
9k votes 1.8k voters 143.1k views 23 items

List Rules Vote up the movies with the best cliffhangers.

SPOILER ALERT! This list discusses the endings of many popular films.

Here’s the deal. Storytellers craft a narrative that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Audiences spend about two hours, hopefully becoming invested in the story, and at the conclusion, there’s a payout. The writer is expected to wrap up the story, giving audiences some kind of closure. Except, of course, when a screenwriter doesn’t pen a cut and dry ending, and instead chooses to leave the audience hanging with a serious cliffhanger or otherwise open-ended movie.

This list ranks the best films that have ambiguous endings. You may ask yourself why a screenwriter would choose to leave an audience gasping, “What the heck happened, how does the story end!?” Some spectators don’t think it’s fair and feel cheated when they don’t know what really happens, while others believe that it’s sort of cool and interesting to work through plot points upon repeated viewings and attempt to analyze a conclusion.

Of course, everyone has their own interpretations of these open-ended films. For every person who watched American Psycho and thought that Patrick Bateman was really a murderer, there is another person who is absolutely positive that he was just delusional.

Controversy is just one of the reasons why these movies are so brilliant; they create thought through deconstruction. All of these films contain multiple layers, each features plot points that beg to be examined, and several ultimately blur the line between reality and fantasy. We can’t trust our eyes and we have to ask questions. We are forced to think outside the proverbial box to try to create order out of a filmmaker’s chaos.

Have a favorite open-ended film that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments section and be sure to cast your votes for the greatest movies below, despite (or maybe because of) their ambiguous and unclear endings.
Inception is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Movies That Sort of Leave You Hanging
Photo:  Inception/Warner Bros.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) spends so much time inside of other people's subconscious that he needs to carry a totem, a spinning top, in order to tell what's real and what's a dream. At the end of this science fiction heist story, Cobb finally gets his kids back. He spins his top to make sure it's all real, however, writer/director Christopher Nolan cuts to black in the middle of the spin. Was it all just a dream? Is Cobb really with his kids? Is Cobb even alive?
Are you left hanging?

More Inception 

#10 of 254 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #120 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Moviesfeaturing List of Movies Like Inception

American Psycho is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Movies That Sort of Leave You Hanging
Photo:  American Psycho/Lionsgate
Is Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) a sociopathic serial killer or just a crazy loon? Audiences spend the entire movie watching him kill people, or so it seems. The successful New York businessman is able to keep his psychotic side in the closet, until the third act when he goes totally bananas. In a hysterical state, he calls his lawyer and confesses his crimes. However, the dead bodies he was keeping around disappear into thin air. Did Bateman hallucinate killing people, or did he actually do it?
Are you left hanging?

More American Psycho 

#13 of 254 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #527 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films

Shutter Island is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies That Sort of Leave You Hanging
Photo:  Shutter Island/Paramount Pictures
This 2010 Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio psychological thriller once again asks the question: Is the protagonist a crazy loon or is he being played? DiCaprio plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels. He and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to investigate the disappearance of a murderess on an island for the criminally insane. The plot-twisty narrative leads spectators to the possibility that Teddy may actually be a patient, not a Marshal.
Are you left hanging?

More Shutter Island 

#106 of 348 The Best Movies Based On Books #16 of 59 The Best Movies Where the Bad Guy Wins #9 of 37 The Best Martin Scorsese Movies

Donnie Darko is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies That Sort of Leave You Hanging
Photo:  Donnie Darko/FilmRise
Time travel, alternate and tangent universes, supernatural powers, destiny, death, the end of the world, and a crazy looking rabbit. To say you need a Ph.D. in the theory of time travel to understand this movie is probably an understatement. Whether or not Donnie saves the universe at the end of the film is certainly up for debate.
Are you left hanging?

More Donnie Darko 

#290 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #71 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Againfeaturing Travel Through Time With The Best 'Donnie Darko' Quotes