film Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things  

Ann Casano
53.7k votes 13.8k voters 2.1M views 18 items

List Rules Vote up the films that were better off for never explaining that one thing. Downvote the films where the lack of explanation doesn't really work.

There are generally two types of movie fans in the world. The first type needs to have every single loose end tied up. Just the mere thought of a film concluding with an open-ending or any lack of closure, gives these kinds of people cold chills and bad dreams. Then, there are the types of movie fans that don’t necessarily need a neat and tidy explanation for every detail. They are fine with the idea of a cliffhanger or tiny plot hole. Many filmmakers hope for the latter type of audience. This list features great films that get away with not explaining things.

There are many types of movies with unexplained parts. We often do not see a complete explanation in a suspense or mystery. M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t necessarily worry about the giant plot hole in The Sixth Sense, because he trusts that audiences will be able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the film's amazing twist ending. I mean, it is a film about a little boy who is able to see dead people, so we’re already being asked to buy into the dream world of the film.

Then, there are those pesky MacGuffins - these narrative devices are used to incite a plot point, but are then never referenced again in the story. Think about the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction. Do we ever find out what's inside? No, it’s a MacGuffin; it doesn’t matter. That is, it doesn’t matter if you’re one of those types of people who watch movies that don't explain big parts.

So whether the items on this list are plot holes, MacGuffins, or simply just films with unexplained moments, most of these stories thrive without tying up every loose end. Of course, some films on this list could use a little exposition or narrative tightening. Be sure to vote up the films that are actually better off not explaining every detail, and vote down the films where an explanation would improve the story.
1 2,301 VOTES

12 Angry Men


12 Angry Men is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things
Photo:  12 Angry Men
Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is slowly able to convince a group of his peers that there is reasonable doubt in the murder trial of an 18 year old teenager accused of stabbing his father to death. Every other juror walks out of the courtroom with 100% certainty of the teen's guilt, until Fonda's character brings up all the ambiguity in the prosecutor's case. The jury ultimately decides upon a verdict of not guilty, simply because there is too much reasonable doubt. But, is the young man actually innocent or is he guilty? It's a question that is purposefully never answered by the storytellers.

Actors: Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, + more

Initial Release: 1957

Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Genres (Film): Drama

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#6 on Every Single Movie On Rotten Tomatoes With 100% Approval, Ranked By Sheer Watchability

#4 on The Best Movies That Take Place in Real Time

#54 on The Best Movies of All Time

#96 on The Most Inspirational Movies Ever

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2 3,765 VOTES

The Sixth Sense


The Sixth Sense is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things
Photo:  The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan's first big movie features one of the best plot twists in film history.

Spoiler alert!

Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis) is dead the whole time and doesn't know it. But that doesn't make much sense. How could Crowe go about his day as a psychologist and a person just living his life and not realize that no one is interacting with him? It's a giant plot hole for sure, but does that really matter?

Actors: Bruce Willis, Mischa Barton, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, M. Night Shyamalan, + more

Initial Release: 1999

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Genres (Film): Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Supernatural, Drama, + more

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#3 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#2 on The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

#28 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#67 on The Best Movies of All Time

2,467 1,298
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3 3,075 VOTES

Groundhog Day


Groundhog Day is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things
Photo:  Groundhog Day

A bitter weatherman (Bill Murray) must relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right in Harold Ramis's 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day. It's a nightmare for Phil, who never wanted to be in Punxsutawney, PA covering the February 2 story in the first place. The film's narrative never gets around to explaining why the day keeps repeating itself, or why Phil is the only character aware of the repetition.

Actors: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Michael Shannon, Harold Ramis, Chris Elliott, + more

Initial Release: 1993

Directed by: Harold Ramis

Genres (Film): Fantasy, Romance Film, Time travel, Drama, Comedy, + more

Also Ranked

#14 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#2 on The Funniest '90s Movies

#41 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

#3 on The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films

2,019 1,056
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4 5,016 VOTES

Back to the Future


Back to the Future is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things
Photo:  Back to the Future
Trying to explain all the various plot hole issues that arise in film about time travel can be exhausting. But this one from Back to the Future cannot be totally ignored. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) goes back in time and befriends both of his parents in an effort to make sure they fall in love. But then they don't remember him? Is there no point after Marty is born and grows up, where Mr. and Mrs. McFly say to each other, "My, our boy looks exactly like that Calvin Klein we met when we were in high school, who suddenly disappeared."

Actors: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Billy Zane, + more

Initial Release: 1985

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Genres (Film): Science Fiction, Family, Adventure Film, Comedy

Also Ranked

#1 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#3 on The Funniest '80s Movies

#10 on The Best Movies for Tweens

#7 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

3,236 1,780
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