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Good Movie, Just Change the Ending

Updated on September 20, 2013

Whether we realize it or not, coming up to an ending to a movie is an art unto itself. How do you come up with an awesome premise without copping out at the end? And we can’t forget that the ending really does set the tone for how we feel. So today, let’s talk about movies where – for one reason or another – the ending just didn’t sit right for me. It is kind of hard to rank these, so I’m just doing these in alphabetical order. Also, I know this goes without saying, but HERE BE SPOILERS.

- Bowling for Columbine: I’m not here to discuss the gun rights issue, so let’s not go there. What I will say is that Michael Moore’s interview with Charlton Heston always rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get real for a moment, like him or not, Charlton Heston was a figurehead for the NRA. They were using his name power to draw attention to their cause. Come to think of it, I think that’s what Michael Moore was doing… Though I am sure that everyone knows that Heston suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease by this point in his life. So I get annoyed watching Michael Moore scrutinize him with these questions and framing it like Heston was dodging the questions. The man wasn’t dodging questions: His mind was turning to mush!

- Elf - This is one of the few films on my list where the issue is less about the ending, more about the inexplicable change it takes in the third act. After two acts of being a very funny fish-out-of-water story inexplicably derails itself when Santa arrives. All of a sudden, it turns into a story about how people need more faith in Santa. Um, where did this come from? The movie doesn’t hint that people not having enough faith in Santa is a problem. The only main character that really needed an attitude adjustment was Walter (James Caan) and he had already changed his ways by that point. And let’s not it’s a complete tonal shift. Up to that point, Elf had more of a grown-up edge to it – something you could show to kids but never feeling like it was pandering to them. This segment felt kind of cloying and overall just felt like it belonged in a completely different movie.

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- The Fly: This is the first of many examples where the movie doesn’t end so much as it just stops. First, there was the absurdity that the Brundle-fly fuses with the teleportation pod. What… the…? If it’s even possible to fuse with the transporter machine, wouldn’t that happen EVERY time? But after that, Geena Davis shoots the fly and… the movie just ends. Yeah, there’s a thing called falling action: Have you heard of it? To be fair, I liked when An American Werewolf in London did a similar thing, but I think that only added to the dark humor. So ending immediately after the climax isn’t IMPOSSIBLE. Here, it’s just a gamble that didn’t pay off.

- Lost in America: Speaking of movies that don’t end as much as they just stop… Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty lose their jobs, lose their money and wander around the country, and land odd jobs. And then they just up and decide to go back home. To be fair, realizing how good they had it, and going home isn’t a bad idea for an ending. But execution is everything, and this comes way too abruptly.

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- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: How ironic that my favorite Monty Python movie is the one with what I consider the weakest ending. From an anti-humor perspective, I can kind of see the appeal of cutting out right before the action starts. But really, it just feels felt like they ran out of ideas. Considering this movie was made on a shoe-string budget, I can’t say I’m too surprised. But considering how well they maneuvered around their absence of money, it’s fair to expect a little more. I also kind of view this as one of those instances where they had kind of written themselves into a corner where nothing would have stacked up with the rest of the movie (though I have heard the original plan was for them to find the grail in a department store). On a positive note, Python troupe definitely improved their endings as Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life had endings that were not only memorable, but musical.

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- The Producers (1968) – Like Elf, this is more about third act troubles than the specific ending. The trial scene is good as is Prisoners of Love. But the decision to blow up the theater always felt like a cop out to me. It’s debatable which version of this film is superior (I own both movies and usually pick one based on my mood). I will say the ending of the new version (and ergo the Broadway show) works better and just feels like a more natural way for the story to progress.

- Rat Race: If I complained about Elf having a third act that felt a little cloying and out of place, this one really puts things into perspective. At least there was SOME method to the madness of that one: Elf is a Christmas movie targeted towards children after all. But this one takes the cake. Yes, the characters all give the money to charity after being put on the spot, and then the film has the audacity to bring out one of the kids that the charity is designed for. Forget cloying, that’s straight-up manipulative! If I actually were ranking these, this one might be numero uno because it came as close to ruining the movie as any other movie on this list.

- Road to Morocco: This one’s sort of an exception because while the other movies on this list are more about creative differences, this one is actually more about a technical complaint. My problem is that the movie just cuts out during a scene… mid-line! (A funny line I might add) I will say one thing, having only seen Road to Hong Kong and Road to Bali before seeing Morrocco, it was nice to see a film where Bob Hope got the girl. So that was a plus. But they seriously couldn’t keep the movie running a few more frames?

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- Superman I and II: I’m sure this choice will come as no surprise to most of you, but how could I not include these two? I absolutely love the first two Superman movies, but there’s a reason the endings to both of them are almost unanimously despised. The first movie ends on one of the most notorious cop-outs in film history. Lois Lane dies – which is actually a pretty clever twist and a big moment. Then it’s ruined by Superman turning back time. Aside from the absurdity of this (bare in mind, I’m a huge advocate of suspension of disbelief) and the serious plot hole in Superman turning back time (Are there two of him? Did he undo stopping the other missile?), what’s the lesson? That Superman doesn’t have to live with his mistakes? He just has carte blanche to do whatever he wants without consequence?

As for Superman II, I suppose it’s a plus that’s it’s not as grandiose as the first film, but it’s still pretty absurd. Superman uses the magic kiss to erase Lois’s memory. From what I understand, this actually is a throwback to a hypnotism power Superman had during the Golden Age. But since the movie never explains this power – how exactly it works, how Superman learned it, or whether or how we can even be sure Supes erased the right memory or if he’s going to keep doing. (I’m reminded of a line from Men in Black. You keep using that and you’re gonna erase her medical school training!”) Oh well, it could be worse. As I found out from buying the Richard Donner cut on DVD, the time reversal was supposed to the be the ending to THIS film! I think it actually would have worked less here, and hear me out on this. If Superman turned back time in this film, wouldn’t that restart everything – like the Kryptonian villains arriving and Superman having to fight them off?

Well, that’s my list. Like I said before, still enjoy all of these movies, and watch them frequently. I just accept these endings with a grain of salt.

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    • Chrshonore profile image

      Christian Honore 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Very good article. Totally agree about the otherwise great Superman films and hope that's something they get right with The Man of Steel.

    • adecourv profile image
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      Alex deCourville 4 years ago

      Thanks - I was thinking the same thing.

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