The ending of a movie is supposed to be the best part, where everything ties together into an emotionally satisfying conclusion that sends audiences out of the theater feeling content. These classic movies with bad endings prove that you can mess that up and still emerge a fan-favorite.
It's an interesting phenomenon. Some films are so good that viewers are mostly willing to look past the fact that they bungle things at the end. For this to happen, literally everything else about the picture has to operate at peak level. If that occurs, people are likely to overlook a wrap-up that's too bleak, or that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, or that inadvertently sends the wrong message.
If we're being honest, this sort of cinematic forgiveness is probably healthy. There's no such thing as a perfect movie, so if we can't overlook a flaw or two, we'll never enjoy anything. The following films work so phenomenally that you probably don't mind their faulty finales.
The Film: Married man Dan (Michael Douglas) cheats on his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), only to have his mistress, Alex (Glenn Close), turn on him when he tries to end things.
The Ending: Alex comes at Beth with a knife in the bathroom. Dan rushes in and shoves Alex into a tub full of water, where she seemingly perishes. As he sits on the edge and catches his breath, she springs back up with a scream and goes after him with the knife. Beth then fires at her and stops her for good.
Why It Doesn't Hold Up: It took quite a few years for people to realize how disappointing Fatal Attraction's ending is. At the time, audiences got caught up in the excitement and drama of it. Time and repeat viewings exposed the finale's weakness, though.
For starters, it employs the age-old "psycho's last grab" cliché, in which the villain appears to be finished, only to come back for one last "gotcha" moment. This device was common in '80s horror fare, like the Friday the 13th movies. Using it in an otherwise sophisticated drama was a cheap trick.
The disappointment factor was laid even barer when the original ending was made available as a bonus feature on the DVD. In it, Alex off herself using a knife that has Dan's fingerprints on it, thereby framing him. This finale is far more in line with the story's overall tone. Incidentally, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, and director Adrian Lyne all hated the theatrically released ending.
Actors: Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Jane Krakowski, Anne Archer, Fred Gwynne, + more
Directed by: Adrian Lyne
The Film: A strange, black monolith is found on the moon. A group of astronauts embarks on a cosmic adventure to discover where it came from and what it means, with the help of a supercomputer named HAL 2000.
The Ending: At the end of his life, elderly astronaut Dave looks up from his bed and sees the black monolith in his room. Then, there's a fetus in an orb on the bed where he was previously resting. The fetus is seemingly sucked into the monolith, then sent to float in space, where it gazes at the Earth.
Why It Doesn't Hold Up: This is one of those endings that everyone thinks they understand, but no one does for sure. Ask 10 different people what it means, and you're likely to get 10 different answers. Fans have spent 50 years debating the meaning of this finale. Compared to the rest of 2001, the ending is also rather slow. Instead of a "big bang," it concludes with a drawn-out question mark.
Actors: Arthur C. Clarke, Leonard Rossiter, Ed Bishop, Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, + more
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
The Film: Thousands of birds inexplicably begin tormenting a small Northern California town.
The Ending: The story's central family nervously gets in their car. They drive away, while hordes and hordes of birds eerily perch on just about everything in sight, watching them go.
Why It Doesn't Hold Up: Alfred Hitchcock's thriller was originally supposed to have an ambitious and lengthy ending in which the birds swarm the car as the group tries to escape. Time and financial considerations made that impossible, though, so Hitchcock went with the well-known ending.
Although there's something ominous about watching them loom and stare, it's downright weird that the birds abruptly stop. The whole movie sees them go after the humans, and then they give up for no reason? It's a letdown.
Actors: Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, Rod Taylor, + more
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
The Film: The Rebels head to Endor in their quest to eliminate the second Death Star in the final chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The Ending: After victory is achieved, the Ewoks celebrate by dancing and singing their infamous "Yub Nub" song. The spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda arrive to watch the proceedings.
Why It Doesn't Hold Up: It's a testament to how much people love the Star Wars franchise that they're generally willing to tolerate the goofy conclusion to the original trio of films. The Ewoks are divisive already. They look like cute little teddy bears but are supposed to be fierce warriors. That's a stretch. They also feel like what they basically were - a marketing gimmick to sell toys.
Even if you can stomach them, the "Yub Nub" song and dance party is far too cutesy a way to cap off the greatest science-fiction series of all time. No one wants to see C-3PO getting down with a glorified stuffed animal.
Worse still, in the re-release of Return of the Jedi, George Lucas digitally replaced Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen, the actor who played Anakin in the prequels. This enraged purist fans.
Actors: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones, Alec Guinness, + more
Directed by: Richard Marquand