14.6k voters

Great Films That Get Away With Not Explaining Things

Updated May 23, 2019 47.9k votes 14.6k voters 2.2m views18 items

List RulesVote 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.
  • 12 Angry Men
    Photo: 12 Angry Men / United Artists
    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
    • Released: 1957
    • Directed by: Sidney Lumet
    Would explanation have ruined this?

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  • Groundhog Day
    Photo: Groundhog Day / Columbia Pictures

    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
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Harold Ramis
    Would explanation have ruined this?

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  • The Sixth Sense
    Photo: The Sixth Sense / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

    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
    • Released: 1999
    • Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
    Would explanation have ruined this?

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  • Pulp Fiction
    Photo: Pulp Fiction / Miramax Films

    Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) go through a lot of trouble, and almost die, in order to retrieve a briefcase for their gangster boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames.) At one point, Vega opens the briefcase to a clear glow. We see this glow again during the diner scene robbery.  

    What is inside the case? We never find out. There are a thousand theories to this famous Pulp Fiction mystery, including that it's Wallace's soul. However, it's more likely that the briefcase is simply a MacGuffin, a narrative device used to start a plot line, but then is never referenced again, because it is ultimately irrelevant to the outcome of the story.
    • Actors: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken
    • Released: 1994
    • Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
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