Memorable Movie Endings. Goodbye 2014

Welcome to an exit of sorts – memorable movie endings to bid farewell to 2014.

Beware – spoilers!

  • CITY LIGHTS (Charles Chaplin, 1931)

This is my favorite of Chaplin’s films, a comedy gem replete with heart which culminates in one of the most beautiful film endings of all time – when the former blind flower girl realizes the tramp that stands before her is her knight in shining armor, “Yes, I can see now.”

  • KING KONG (Merian C. Cooper, 1933)

“Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes.  It was beauty killed the beast.”

His world was invaded, he was ape-napped, bound, chained and mocked – all for profit.  He’s innocence in the form of a monster and like so much else he is destroyed by man.  Few, if any, other movie characters go out with such glory – from the top of the most famous building in the greatest city in the world.

  • ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Milos Forman, 1975)

It’s heartbreaking to see what’s been done to the exuberant R. P. McMurphy, but as the shock and anger set in we also realize his loss serves a purpose. “I feel big as a damn mountain” his friend says before breaking a window on his way to freedom in one of the most satisfying movie endings ever.


  • BONNIE AND CLYDE (Arthur Penn, 1967)

Unforgettable overkill.

  • CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz, 1941)

You know how it goes – the boy doesn’t get the girl in the end, but it’s a hell of an ending regardless with memorable line after memorable line – one iconic shot after another – a fedora, a hat, the usual suspects and the beginnings of beautiful friendships.

  • HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter, 1978)

Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) looks out over the second-floor balcony Michael Myers fell over.  Myers had been shot several times.  YET, when Loomis looks over the bannister there is no body lying there. The shrill music swells and the mold was broken.  I remember the exact feeling I had the first time I saw this – shock and chills.  Michael Myers disappeared into the night and maybe he was coming after me.

  • CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles, 1941)

Ironic ending for its sweetness, a sentiment in stark contrast to the man we’ve come to know.  To learn that his last word referred to a childhood object of affection is moving and what drives a one of the most admired films ever made.

  • CINEMA PARADISO (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)

A beautifully crafted film about the magic of the movies – and it ends with a film montage of movie kisses, a legacy that moves you to pieces.  Perfection.


  • PLANET OF THE APES (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)

Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) realization that he’s been home all along hits home when the camera pans back to reveal the now iconic image of a half-submerged Lady Liberty.  All I can add is no subsequent Apes film incarnation can ever top this.

  • SUNSET BLVD. (Billy Wilder, 1950)

Her director gives her the cue.  Norma Desmond begins to descend the grand staircase performing as Salome, what she believes to be her greatest role – the role that would return her to the silver screen, to her adoring fans.  Surrounded by newsreel cameras, which she believes to be Cecil B. DeMille and crew she reaches the bottom.  She does a dance of sorts.  It’s creepy, over the top.  But so sad…and unforgettable.  Norma drops the facade for a moment, becoming the actress wanting to please her director, long enough to say, “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”  She then picks it up again, the act.  She becomes Salome.  Toward the camera, toward us, the people in the dark she moves, ever so slowly, dramatically – that face.  FADE TO BLACK.  My goodness.  Of the numerous great Billy Wilder endings, the piece de resistance.

  • FUNNY GIRL (William Wyler, 1968)

“Oh, my man I love him so…”

A phenomenon.


  • THE GODFATHER (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

Kay asks her husband Michael Corleone if he had anything to do with the death of his brother-in-law Carlo.  Michael doesn’t normally allow Kay to ask about his business, but makes an exception on a particularly emotional day.  “No” he says, he had nothing to do with Carlo’s death.  At ease for a moment she steps out into the hall to prepare a drink and sees how her husband is greeted, shown reverence by those who work for him.  The door between Kay and Michael closes slowly, her husband is now at the top of the food chain – The Godfather.

  • WHITE HEAT (Raoul Walsh, 1949)

“He finally made it to the top of the world and it blew up in his face.”


  • IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Frank Capra, 1946)


  • FAIL SAFE (Sidney Lumet, 1964)

I recently showed this underrated thriller to a group of friends. The reaction at the film’s conclusion was stunned silence followed by a collective, “holy sh*t.”  I concur.

  • MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

We can’t help but empathize with the struggles of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man incapable of making memories trying to investigate the death of his wife.

The story in this movie is told backwards so in essence when we get to the beginning we learn a shocking truth – the how of his wife’s death is not what we or Leonard think it is in the end.  Or something like that.  It’s a stunner.

  • RANDOM HARVEST (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942)

For “Smithys” everywhere.


  • MYSTIC RIVER (Clint Eastwood, 2003)

The drama has unfolded, the issues have been resolved and several of the players’ lives have returned to normal. But…there stands Celeste Boyle (Marcia Gay Harden) watching her heartbroken young son go by on a parade float. We know at that moment that she will relive her life-altering decision each and every time she looks at his face for the rest of her life. This scene, which is followed by a moving shot of the Mystic River as the credits begin to roll, is almost impossible to watch and not easily forgotten.

  • NOW, VOYAGER (Irving Rapper, 1942)

OK, truth is I find this a sappy ending, but that cigarette exchange that sets the stage is worth the price of admission and then some.  I wait the entire film for it so it gets a mention here.

  • PRIMAL FEAR (Gregory Hoblit, 1996)

It’s somewhat surprising that this one still packs a punch, but it does.  So – it goes that an altar boy (Edward Norton) is on trial for a grisly murder, a murder he committed and for which he is pleading diminished capacity due to mental issues.  The young man gets off thanks to a great defense, which leads to a shocker revelation.  We are duped by a fine script and good performances to root for a guy who ultimately kicks us in the stomach.

  • THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

“I’m having an old friend for lunch” – A serial killer with charm, style and wit like no other.  And after the thrills he leaves us with a smile on our faces.

  • ROCKY (John G. Avildsen, 1976)

I’m such a sucker for this movie (and don’t tell anyone but also a few of the sequels.)

Underdog Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has lasted 15 rounds in the rink with World Heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed who is declared the victor by decision.  Balboa beats incredible odds and makes me cry each and every time I watch this.

  • THE BIRDS (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

Gorgeous, doom-filed, powerful sequence ends what is to me Hitchcock’s scariest movie. The possibility of unending terror – the realization we are (possibly) not nature’s chosen species.  In the end the people succumb, defeated by the birds.


  • SE7EN (David Fincher, 1995)

John Doe has committed five murders based on the seven deadly sins when he turns himself in to detectives Mills and Somerset.  He has two more to go, but promises to show the detectives where the last two bodies are.  The three men go to an open field in the middle of nowhere, a truck delivers a box – and one of the most shocking, disturbing movie endings of all time.

  • THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Robert Wiene, 1920)

Is it a delusion?

Extraordinary parting shots:

  • THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed, 1949)
  • MODERN TIMES (Charles Chaplin, 1936)


  • SHANE (George Stevens, 1953)


  • ACE IN THE HOLE (Billy Wilder, 1951)


  • THE SEARCHERS (John Ford, 1956)
  • THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)


  • Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY (Clyde Geronimi, 1959)


  • ALL ABOUT EVE (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)


  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)


Goodbye, 2014. You’ve been some kind of year!

10 thoughts

  1. Great choices all! I have a particular love for Cuckoo’s Nest, Now Voyager, Fail Safe and White Heat — oh what the hell, they are all memorable! Nice article to usher the old year out and the new year in!

  2. So satisfying. Say, if you ever run into my husband and you want to make him cry, just say “Smithy”. Oh, “Shane” and “The Searchers” – they get me every time.

    We re-watched “Fail-Safe” last week and that ending is never diminished by time. Never.

    If you haven’t seen it, but you are in the mood (!!) for the most tragic final shot ever, check out “The Breaking Point” directed by Michael Curtiz.

    1. Oh my! I’d forgotten all about THE BREAKING POINT. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it. Also love knowing you agree on those endings.


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