WARNING: In these pages, the endings of many movies are revealed— the good, the bad, and the ones changed at the last minute. The intention here is not to ruin the suspense— though that’s always a fun parlor game— but to delve into a little-explored area. Reviewers, being the first viewers, can’t in good conscience tell the entire arc of a plot; understandably, there’s much more ink spilled on the silly details of development deals, casting decisions, and opening weekend numbers than on the mysterious whys and hows of filmic finales.
Michael Atkinson opens the discussion with a survey of Hollywood wrap-ups, from tragic silents to the relentlessly triumphal ’90s blockbusters. Elliott Stein offers some instructive alterations, tailor-made to national temperaments. Gary Dauphin confronts films that end with the end of the world. And, finally, moviemakers and other movie lovers name their favorite last scenes. We’ve boldfaced these movie titles, so that you can avert your eyes if necessary.