Can an Ending Ruin a Film?
November 1, 2016
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. We've all come across that film that was either good or okay, but then the ending ruined everything!
(The posters for the following movies are shown)
NC (vo): From Into Darkness to War of the Worlds (2005) to...
(The posters for the Iron Man trilogy are followed next)
(The montage of clips from I Am Legend, Now You See Me, Secret Window, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and The Number 23, along with other movies mentioned in the review, is shown)
NC (vo): ...the ending can often have a talent for taking several hours of our lives that were enjoyable, and suddenly making it feel like they were wasted. But why?
NC: If two thirds of the movie are good, sometimes even more than that, why do we get so upset when a small percentage is bad?
(A picture of steak and vegetable salad is shown)
NC (vo): If we have a meal that's mostly good, but might have a spice we don't like, we don't get too angry.
(One of the "rain in autumn" oil paintings by Leonid Afremov is shown)
NC (vo): If we look at a painting that moves us, but might have one stroke that's a little off, we don't dismiss the whole thing as garbage.
NC: So why does the ending have such an impact on us? Why can it ruin what was, for the most part, perfectly fine?
NC (vo): Without getting too much into spoiler territory, we should probably talk about some of the films that have what many consider awful endings...wiiiithout actually giving the endings away.
NC: Some of the more notable ones, as I mentioned before, are...
NC (vo): ...Into Darkness and War of the Worlds, but other ones a lot of people bring up recently are I Am Legend, Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Number 23, Ninth Gate, and Now You See Me. All of them have audiences going on and on about how they would have liked the film, if it hadn't been for the last few minutes.
NC: (shrugs) I'm actually a firm believer that X-Men 3...
NC (vo): ...wouldn't have been that bad a film, or at least on par with the others, if the ending actually went somewhere important.
NC: Instead of just, you know, sucked.
NC (vo): A lot of characters are killed off, but if it led to somewhere meaningful, people probably would have accepted it and acknowledged a lot more of the cooler scenes. Arguably, some of the coolest out of the previous X-Men films.
NC: A good example of doing that right actually comes from another X-Men film.
NC (vo): In a lot of ways, Days of Future Past actually does what X-Men 3 did: it kills off a lot of characters from the previous film, changes timelines from the comic, and puts characters in roles very different from their original intention.
NC: But it works in Days of Future Past because it amounted to something. Something important, something huge!
NC (vo): Because of this, people remember even more of the cool visuals and action sequences, where X-Men 3's are overlooked. But not always forgotten. Even this clean slate still had Kelsey Grammer back, arguably the best Beast, so even a sequel trying to retcon this movie had to acknowledge there were some things that were really good.
NC: So even if a movie throws in a lot of cool stuff, oftentimes it just comes down to... "What do you have to say?"
NC (vo): There's an alternate ending on the Thank You for Smoking DVD that actually destroys everything the film had been building on. This ending would have transformed it from one of the greatest comedies ever written to meaning absolute dick.
NC: Why? Because the film was about going all the way.
NC (vo): Finally picking an ethical side and sticking to it without tap dancing. It's like watching all of (poster of...) Schindler's List and at the very end somebody just says... (The picture of a man shrugging is shown) "Eh, maybe Hitler was right." (The fake credits roll, with the actors from Les Miserables taking the roles of production designer, composer, etc.) And then rolled the credits.
NC: Everything would have meant nothing! And all from just one line!
NC (vo): Spielberg obviously knew how to end this movie, but that hasn't always been the case with him.
(Posters for Steven Spielberg films are shown)
(The clips from Jaws are shown next)
NC (vo): ...to even the movie that invented the blockbuster, Jaws. Yeah, they brilliantly kept the shark a secret, building up what he looks like, but then, when they actually showed more and more of him, a lot of people weren't impressed the more they revealed.
(A clip from Back to the Future Part II is shown)
Marty McFly: Shark still looks fake.
NC: But the interesting thing about Spielberg is, half the time, he's pigeonheld it to these endings.
NC (vo): War of the Worlds, for example, is technically how the book ends, but the other incarnations knew to make a bigger deal out of it. This one forgets to have a climax, which is closer to the book but not the best for a movie. A.I. is known as one of his worst endings, but he did it as a dedication to his friend, Stanley Kubrick, who, despite every writer telling Stanley that the ending sucked, still wanted it that way before he died, so Spielberg did his best to honor his wishes.
NC: Who would have thought being too faithful and understanding could work against a film?
NC (vo): Nevertheless, most of these movies were still hits, despite them leaving people scratching their heads at the endings.
NC: In fact, for all the films we bring up that have endings that ruin the movie, sometimes a bad ending doesn't even make a dent.
(The posters and stills for Superman (1978) are shown)
NC (vo): Take Superman, for example, arguably, the stupidest cop-out ending ever. Yet people still see this as the best Superman film, because everything else was so good. Even the emotion before the lame ending was genuinely powerful.
(The footage of the infamous ending for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is followed)
NC (vo): Return of the King practically held us hostage for the number of endings it had, but everything else was so huge and well done, and it was wrapping up three very long movies, that we allowed our asses going numb for these sometimes awkward moments.
(The footage ends on the close-up shot of Gandalf the White laughing)
NC: (shudders) It's still creepy.
(The poster for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is shown)
NC (vo): People didn't like the Ewoks or Vader's reveal in Return of the Jedi, but they still thought it closed things out well enough.
(The clips from the trailer for Iron Man 3 are followed)
NC (vo): And even all the Iron Man movies, with their painfully botched villains in each film, still managed to be spectacular at the box office.
NC: So...what did these films (The posters for Superman, Return of the Jedi, and Return of the King pop up as NC points to them) do right to excuse the bad endings that these films didn't? (He points to Star Trek Into Darkness, War of the Worlds, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 posters)
(The footage from all the Iron Man films is shown)
NC (vo): All the Iron Man movies have had bad final acts, but it's still Robert Downey Jr.'s incredible charisma at the center, and the faultiness of his character that drew us to like them in the first place. That is one of the elements that's always kept in check. You can say the same thing about Superman, or Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings. Even though they get the final part wrong, it's still felt it was in the same vein of what made it charming and likable to begin with. The ending of A.I. is not the same feel as the opening. The ending of Into Darkness is an immediate disconnect from the rest of the film.
NC: But this isn't as surprising, seeing how a lot of bad endings nowadays come from a very similar place: the twist.
(Clips from The Sixth Sense are shown)
NC (vo): Years ago, when The Sixth Sense came out, everyone was so blown away by the surprise ending that they had to go back and see it again. Thus, people would go tell their friends and then they would have to go see it twice. So not only were a ton of people going to see a movie, they were going to see it two times. Suddenly, a huge hit didn't need to have a lot of money, it needed a reason for you to come back and watch it all over again.
NC: So tons of movies started to throw in twists, even if they didn't require them at all.
(The posters for movies about to be mentioned are shown)
NC (vo): Dark Knight Rises, Remember Me, Last Exorcism, Secret Window, there's too many to count.
(The photo of M. Night Shyamalan is followed)
NC (vo): Even the guy that started this craze, Shyamalan, couldn't keep up with constantly forcing them into his stories, and his films began to suck. So movies that might have been okay or passable were suddenly destroyed or made worse by shoving in an unneeded element that ruins the way not only that you look at the ending, but the way you look at the entire film. Oh, that dumb surprise at the end is what's supposed to be going on throughout the entire story? Well, that just makes the whole entire story lame, then.
NC: So, okay, if an ending can ruin a film, is it possible an ending can save a film?
NC (vo): It's no secret I'm not a fan of Jurassic World, but it's hard not to tell somebody to go see it based on that kick-ass climax, especially fans of the other movies. Usual Suspects would have probably just been an okay crime thriller, but the ending turns it into a lot of people's favorite movie.
NC: One of the most interesting cases of this is The Straight Story.
NC (vo): This film is purposefully relentless in how slow and dull it is. The majority of the time, it's practically unbearable. But by the time the ending shows up, suddenly everything is made clear why it was so slow and dull, and it makes everything that you went through suddenly seem phenomenally important. The whole entire movie suddenly changes from bad to kind of brilliant.
NC: So for some films, the ending is everything, but for others, it barely makes a dent. How is that possible?
(The clips from I Am Legend, Now You See Me, Secret Window and other movies mentioned before are shown again)
NC (vo): Well, the important thing to realize, (The short clip from Jem and the Holograms (2015) review of the Chart Guys holding out a chart saying "Critic = NO" is shown) especially for focus group suits, is that while film-making is very technical and precise, film-watching isn't. The experience in viewing a movie isn't measurements or mathematics, as much as many executives wish it was. It's entirely emotional. You want to make a connection with these characters, feel like you're in their spot, and discover something important or interesting with them. They seem real when this happens, and just like real people in your life, they can piss you off and leave you angry.
NC: Everyone has a friend that you love, but can sometimes push you a little too far.
(A picture of two women yelling at each other is shown)
NC (vo): Many friendships have been broken because they were pushed beyond what they thought was trustworthy.
NC: Movies, in a strange way, are a form of trust.
NC (vo): You're taking a gamble, spending hours of your time and money on something declaring it's going to make a connection with you. If the connection is bad, then the whole movie is bad. But if the connection is good, but then suddenly can't deliver in its most important moment, we feel like that trust has been betrayed.
NC: Sometimes, that's even worse than a movie that's bad all the way through.
NC (vo): We identified with you, movie, we thought you got us. You took us to an emotional place we didn't know existed. And now you throw something at us that doesn't seem like you at all? What happened? I thought you were cool! Much like a friendship, all the wonderful moments you spent together can be easily forgotten because of one terrible choice. That's why so many entertainers use the phrase "always leave them wanting more", because it's the last emotion they usually remember.
NC: Now, does that make it right that we should dismiss all the good stuff that they gave us? Well, it depends on the viewer.
NC (vo): Again, like a person, it's all about the emotional connection you have. I can overlook the lame ending of Last Exorcism, but a lot of folks can't. I think the ending of Into Darkness ruins everything, but some people don't mind. Everybody is going to have a different acceptability of what's fulfilling and what leaves you lacking. Our memories especially tend to put the most value in the last major thing we went through, even though many other major things might have happened.
NC: So, can an ending ruin a film? Absolutely, and there's good reasons why.
(The clips from War of the Worlds, The Straight Story, I Am Legend and Now You See Me are shown once more)
NC (vo): But that doesn't mean every film works that way. A movie can have a bad ending, but maybe it wasn't bad enough to overshadow the good. An ending can even change the way you look at everything, teaching you that sometimes it really is important to stay and hear everything someone has to say. It depends on the person and it depends on the movie. But one thing's for sure: a movie is never truly over until it's over.
(The clip from Secret Window is shown)
Mort (Johnny Depp): The only thing that matters is the ending.
NC: Anyway, what fun is it to talk about a movie that only has a bad ending? It's time to return to the movies that suck all the way through!
(Suddenly, something falls from above on NC's table to suspenseful music, and that's the Blu-ray for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows)
NC: Fine. At least this time, I don't have to review it with a whiny, obnoxious, pain in the a- Just zoom out, you know he's here.
(Cut to reveal the Angry Video Game Nerd sitting next to NC!)
Nerd: What the hell?! I had a cool entrance planned!
NC: It was a close-up! Clearly you were gonna be in the next shot.
Nerd: Well, at least it's only the two of us doing the review.
NC: Yeah, just you, me, and... (The two notice something offscreen) Is it me, or is that light looking a little suspicious?
(Cut to Andre the Black Nerd hiding behind a lamp (unsuccessfully))
BN: No, I'm not.
(The credits roll)