15 Controversial Sci-Fi Movie Endings That Fans STILL Argue About

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Vote up the movie endings that you're still fighting with friends about.

Science fiction takes audiences on a ride, not just through space and time, but also through our minds. More so than any other genre, science fiction asks audiences to examine the philosophical implications of the story on the screen, whether it's about fixing a dying sun or being stuck in a grocery store with a bunch of religious zealots while giant Cthulhu bugs rip up small-town Maine.

Every one of the sci-fi films collected here ends in ways that were always going to leave fans bickering. Some of them have third acts that turn the film into a love it or hate it movie while others offer moral and philosophical implications many members of the audience just aren't ready for. The finales of these films aren't bad by any means, but they do continue to poke the audience in interesting ways.


  • 1
    231 VOTES

    John Carpenter's The Thing explores the tension of what would happen if a shapeshifting killer from another planet landed near a remote ice base and started wreaking havoc among the six or seven guys stationed there. Throughout the film, the titular Thing takes over the bodies of the men at the base until only two remain.

    In the finale of the film, Kurt Russell sits amid the burning wreckage of the base with his co-worker Childs (played by Keith David). It's unclear whether or not either of these guys is the alien, but it's clear they both think that the other is the shapeshifter, and neither plans on taking their eyes off the other. It's a bleak ending that people have been arguing about since the film was released.

    There are numerous theories about what's really going on at the end of The Thing; some of them are fascinating explorations of semiotics and filmmaking, while others are a little kookier. One of the loudest theories is that because Childs's breath isn't visible, that means he is the shapeshifter. However, it's also been claimed that there's a light in the eyes of everyone who's been assimilated. Cinematographer Dean Cundy notes that the theory doesn't hold water because the "light in the eye" trick was abandoned early in production, and director John Carpenter says that it doesn't matter if either of the guys is the shapeshifter because they're dead anyway.

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  • 2
    140 VOTES

    Danny Boyle's Sunshine centers on a group of astronauts who attempt to keep the Sun from dying and wiping out all life on Earth. Much like Contact, the film intermingles faith and science into a fascinating story, but the finale gets less philosophical and leans into a slasher motif no one saw coming.

    On the trip to the Sun, Captain Pinbacker of the Icarus I pops up without his eyes and starts monologuing about how the Sun is really God and how he's going to send everyone on Earth to Heaven via total extinction. He does all of this while straight-up icing every astronaut he can get his hands on. He's eventually subdued, all of the astronauts die, and the Sun is reignited.

    Nearly 20 years after its release, Sunshine is finally getting its due, although most segments of the audience don't care for the slasher elements in the third act. It's easy to understand why such a big tonal shift from pensive science fiction to crazy go-nuts horror would throw audiences for a loop, but Sunshine performs this tonal shift admirably. Much like 2001, Sunshine is a film that asks the audience to go along for the ride with no preconceived notions.

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  • 3
    288 VOTES

    Even though The Mist is one of the more faithful Stephen King adaptations, it makes a major change to the narrative with an incredibly grim ending. The film follows David Drayton, a carpenter in Bridgton, Maine, who gets trapped in a supermarket with his son and a group of locals after a mist filled with human-eating creepy-crawlies engulfs the town.

    The people inside the supermarket split into factions, with one leaning all the way into apocalypse speculation while Drayton and the rest of the survivors try to figure out how to survive the mist. As the film ends, David, his son, and a couple of survivors escape the supermarket in his car but soon decide to take their lives. David then shoots his son and the other survivors. Moments before David can take his own life, the mist dissipates and the military makes their way through the streets. The death of his son and his fellow survivors proves to be for nothing. 

    That's pretty dark, even for Stephen King, and it's a surprise that this ending was in a major motion picture distributed to theaters (and that it made money). Some fans weren't so hot on the whole "the protagonist kills his son and friends" thing, but in 2017, King said he thought the addition to his story was fantastic:

    When Frank was interested in The Mist, one of the things that he insisted on was that it would have some kind of an ending, which the story doesn't have - it just sort of peters off into nothing, where these people are stuck in the mist, and they're out of gas, and the monsters are around, and you don't know what's going to happen next. When Frank said that he wanted to do the ending that he was going to do, I was totally down with that. I thought that was terrific. And it was so anti-Hollywood - anti-everything, really! It was nihilistic. I liked that. So I said, "You go ahead and do it."

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  • 4
    205 VOTES

    Total Recall tells the all too familiar futuristic tale of a jacked construction worker - let's call him Quaid - who visits a company that places false memories into the brains of their clients so they can have a fun mental vacation on Mars. Here's the twist: he already has a false memory implanted covering the fact that he's a corporate spy, and the people who put the memory in his head want to get rid of him.

    Throughout the film, multiple people tell Quaid he's not a spy and that the recall process has messed up his brain. Quaid assumes they're lying to him, but after he saves the planet, beats the bad guy, and gets the girl, it's not clear if the whole movie was an implanted memory or if it actually happened. Fans are fond of arguing about whether or not Quaid is actually in the middle of a plot to save Mars or if his brain just went wonky when he received the implant. The thing that makes the controversy over the ending so great is that it's so fun to debate.

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  • 5
    299 VOTES

    Boy, oh boy, audiences were torn over the ending to Interstellar - a movie that feels like Christopher Nolan watched Contact and said, "Hold my beer." Or as the English say, "Hold my pint, mate." The film concerns Joseph Cooper, a former NASA engineer, who's tasked with piloting a craft with 5,000 frozen human embryos to a habitable planet through a wormhole.

    Before Cooper can do any of that, there's a plotline about a "ghost" in his daughter's room who arranges dust patterns around her room that relay coordinates through binary code and make changes to the second hand on her wristwatch as a form of Morse code. After Cooper's mission goes upside down, he's sent through a giant tesseract in space that shoots him through his own past. It's there that he realizes he's the ghost in his daughter's room. He lays out the dust patterns and changes the second hand on her watch so that in the time that he's gone, she can figure out how to send humanity through a black hole and save the human race.

    The film ends with Cooper arriving on a station orbiting Saturn, where he finds his now-elderly daughter. Interstellar is a love it or hate it movie with many audience members pin-pointing the "ghost" narrative, the questionable science, and the overall serious tone of the film as their sticking points. There are probably some folks out there who love the ending of Interstellar regardless of all the wonky science and heartstring-pulling time travel shenanigans, but in this case, it's the haters who are the most vocal.

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  • 6
    204 VOTES

    Blade Runner has always been a controversial film. There are at least eight edits of the film circulating, each removing or adding small pieces of plot that change the story significantly. The film follows Deckard, a former detective who tracks down rogue Replicants (bio-engineered humanoids) and "retires" them. When he goes after a group of three Replicants running loose in a futuristic Los Angeles, he falls in love with a Replicant named Rachel who believes she's human. Through his interactions with the Replicants and the people around him, it becomes more and more likely that Deckard is a Replicant, as well. Maybe.

    At the end of the film, Deckard returns to his apartment to grab Rachel, and he finds a piece of origami folded like a unicorn. This hints back at a dream he had earlier in the film and a conversation he had with his supervisor. There are some people in the Blade Runner community who believe that the origami is proof that Deckard is a Replicant and that his memories and dreams have been inserted into his head, specifically from his supervisor. Other fans believe the unicorn represents Deckard's need to be free from the constraints of a capitalistic society that deems Replicant life to be lesser than human life.

    The ending of the film is purposefully ambiguous, so we'll never have an end to this conversation, which is actually pretty cool - unless you really need a hard answer on the whole Replicant thing.

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