The Worst Surprise Endings in Movie History

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Huffington Post has got a list of the nine worst surprise endings in movie history (well, in the past few years). I was pleased to see three of my Gothika Rule picks on the list, “Perfect Stranger,” “23,” and “The Forgotten.” (For newcomers — the “Gothika Rule,” named for a movie with one of the worst endings of all time, means that I will give away the surprise to anyone who sends me an email to save them what I had to suffer in watching it.) Be sure to check out the comments from readers with their own suggestions. I’d add “The Pink Jungle,” “Desperate Measures,” and, of course “Gothika.” Any others?

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25 Replies to “The Worst Surprise Endings in Movie History”

  1. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any of these.
    Most slasher movies that end with the villain coming back at the last minute probably qualify, but the ones that I hate the most are:
    * A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge (most fans hate the first’s ending as well, but I find it more forgivable for some reason).
    * the first Urban Legend (even though the rest of the movie is one of my favourite slashers, along with the first Scream).
    * I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (the first was bad enough, but that one was explained away as a dream at the start of the second).
    * Urban Legends: Final Cut, not because the killer comes back, but because of the complete incoherence of his motive.
    For non-slasher films, I’d go with The Game, although I like it overall, and Steven Spielberg’s War of the World, for bringing Robbie back from the dead with no explanation.
    One that often comes up on these lists in the Tim Burton version of Planet of the Apes. I actually really like this one, mainly because it’s actually taken from the original book by Pierre Boulle. Admittedly, though, you do have to think about it a lot for it to make sense, and you may not even come to the same conclusion that Burton had in mind.

  2. I am also one of the few fans of the Tim Burton “Planet of the Apes,” and I thought the ending was pretty good! Endings I hate: when the culprit turns out to be the main character we were supposed to have been rooting for all along, when it turns out to have been a dream, and when some mastermind was behind it all and somehow able to control things that no one could possibly determine.

  3. In addition to the whole “it was just a dream” endings, I’ve never been a fan of variations on the “it was just a dream” ploy – such as Superman II and Donnie Darko.
    I also may be one of the few people that didn’t like Seven (or SE7EN, however it’s supposed to be spelled), partly because of Brad Pitt’s rediculously over-the-top performance, but also because there are several elements of the killer’s final actions that I thought broke from his established pattern, for no reason.
    Likewise, I was disappointed by the ending of Castaway – for all that we’d been through with Tom Hanks’ character, I just went away feeling like zero had been resolved. Not so much a “surprise” ending as one that just felt weak to me; not since Ishtar had I sat through such a great story only to be completely let down by the ending.

  4. I remember about 4 movies coming out around the same time with the same sucky ending:
    1. Gothika of course.
    2. Identity
    3. Secret Window.
    4. The Village

  5. Thanks Your Name. I kind of liked “Identity” and “The Village,” even though I guessed both endings. But there are a lot of stupid “twist” endings out there. Most recently “A Perfect Getaway” with a very non-perfect, non-surprise ending.

  6. Dear Nell,
    While we could go at this with a plethora of movies I offer you two…by the same director…same family of movies…
    Jurassic Park….II and III. I contend that Spielberg must be ADHD. Somehow, someway…he loses interest at about the 3/4 mark in the above two movies, falls into a deep Hollywood sleep, and the same guys who have been breaking in to some of the stars home of late, break into his office…finish writing the script and magically, its brought to the big screen in the truest sense of let down one could “Not” hope for in a Spielberg action/adveture/fantasy flick.
    The last beach scene in Jurassic Park III made me just wonder who viewed the daily’s and allowed this to get through.
    How true the saying…”Potential never realized, is only potential”

  7. Now that I’ve seen Signs, I don’t think the ending is that stupid. Remember Bo’s paranoia about contaminants in her drinking water? Maybe that’s what killed the alien, not the water itself.
    Steve: Jurassic Park III was directed by Joe Johnston, not Steven Speilberg.
    Dave, I agree about Superman II’s disappointing use of the Reset Button although it’s still not as bad as what Richard Donner did when he made his cut in 2006. However, I don’t agree about Donnie Darko, which was far more complex than a reset button. I suggest you read Richard Kelly’s explanation at 
    I’m also unclear on what your problem with Se7en was. My understanding is that the killer is making his victims and their sins instruments of a death, if not always their own. Most of the victims may do so under coercion, but they still kill themselves (Pride takes the pills, Gluttony overeats, and Greed cuts himself, while Lust could be said to apply not to the prostitute but to the man forced at gunpoint into killing her). This fits with the final scene, in that Doe kills Tracy because of Envy and Mills kills him because of Wrath.
    The one that bothers me though is Sloth, since it’s not even clear that he was a sloth before Doe got to him.

  8. I agree with you, Toby, about Donnie Darko and Se7en. But the ending of Signs bothers me, not just because of the water (though you’d think this is the kind of thing the aliens would have checked into before picking our planet and you’d think that the issue would have come up sooner following their arrival) but the determinism of it, which suggested that God was on the side of Mel Gibson’s family but not the millions of other people.

  9. This is probably in a different vein (and I realize I’m late to the party), but for me it is the fictional films where one of the main characters the audience is rooting for dies at the end just to…I don’t know…push the emotional envelope or something. The three examples that come to mind for me are _Message in a Bottle_, _City of Angels_, and _Pay It Forward_. I enjoyed all three of these films until the end, and then I felt like I had just been emotionally manipulated for the prior two hours. I don’t mean to suggest a character can never die at the end, but make it a real part of the story–not a tag on manipulative ending.

  10. The end of “Pay It Forward” actually made me angry. It seemed like it was tacked on just so they could have a tragedy or something. Heaven forbid a movie just make you feel good.

  11. I’m not sure how I missed this post when it first came out, but I found it quite entertaining. When I followed the link to the Huffington Post article, I was surprised to find “Identity” on their list. I quite enjoyed “Identity”, and watched it for a second time just to spot all the subtle clues. I can see how some people might hate the ending…I know people who hated “The Sixth Sense”…but I never expected it to make it to a top ten list.

  12. John, I am overjoyed to find the only other person I have ever heard of who liked “Identity!” I thought the surprise ending was quite clever and well done. Thank you!

  13. Gothika’s ending is terrible because there is no twist when there ought to be one (although I really enjoyed the rest of the film, all but the last five minutes of it). A better ending would have seen the sheriff burning and then we cut to Miranda waking up in the mental hospital and the audience realizes that the escape and what came after was all a dream and she really is insane (perhaps incurably so). What we got was very disappointing and completely ignores the fact that she did in fact kill her husband and, logically, wouldn’t have gotten off scott free no matter what he had done.

  14. Toby I do agree that the Richard Donner version’s ending was disappointing (I think a lot of fans were hoping for a version that would somehow fit better with Superman Returns), as I do think the reverse-the-spin-of-the-Earth thing was used to much better effect in the first Superman, but I don’t think it was any worse than the original release.
    I do find it curious that you’re willing to excuse Donnie Darko and yet don’t like the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. Regardless of what the director’s desire may have been, what was presented on the screen was basically the same effect in both films, a single act that completely erases what we’d seen. But then the only time I ever liked the whole “it was a dream” or other technique that made it so what we’d just seen never really happened was The Wizard of Oz.
    As for Se7en, I had two problems with that movie. One, Brad Pitt’s performance was way over the top, extremely hammy and totally unbelievable. But as for the ending, When Doe kills Pitt’s wife, it completely broke from his established pattern in the rest of the film. Every other person Doe killed was the sinner, but as far as we’d been allowed to see, Pitt’s wife was free of any sin. It just cheapened what was otherwise a very creative premise.

  15. Dave, the difference is that in Donnie Darko the director did a much better job of portraying the act as neccessary, the reason being that the universe was on the verge of collapse (although, again, this is explained better in the director’s cut). Whereas Superman’s only motive in rewinding the movie is to undo Lois having found out his identity, never mind that a) she had already sworn that his secret was safe with her, b) she could come to the same conclusion at any moment just as easily as last time, and c) the Phantom Zone prisoners, who had previously been defeated and killed, are now out there again and at risk of being released. Donner and Thau should have used Lester’s ending, or better yet, ended with the scene of him leaving her on the roof. End the movie there and the result would have been far better than Lester’s version, mainly because of the restored Marlon Brando scenes.
    I agree with you about Brad Pitt’s performance, to some extent. But my interpretation of the ending is that John Doe’s plan was about turning seven people into killers, not just killing seven people. Kind of like the Joker’s plan with the ferrys in The Dark Knight. His target for lust wasn’t the prostitute, it was the man who chose to kill her to save his own life. He kills Tracey because he’s envious of Mills, and because his target for Wrath was Mills (how else are you going to incite wrath in someone?). You can make a similar case for Pride, Greed and Gluttony, all the instruments of their own deaths. Sloth doesn’t fit quite as well, though.

  16. Also, anything by M. Night Shyamalan. They’re far too easy to figure out where it’s going (in the dumper) and most are just recreations from old 40s suspense plays.

  17. My pick is One Hour Photo. I thought the ending must have come from another movie. The whole premise was the supreme alienation that many people must endure in a consumer culture. The ending in the film discards the entire premise, and places the protagonist’s behavior on a totally unrelated cause. Too bad, because the movie was very good up to that point.

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