There's nothing worse than watching a great movie that fumbles its conclusion. It's one thing for a film to just be rotten from the beginning. However, it's even more disappointing when a potentially great film fails to deliver on its potential.
Can a film truly be considered to be a masterpiece if it ends on a disappointing final note? It depends on how the ending changes the story's context. Sometimes, a last-minute plot twist can create logical inconsistencies within the story. The faults might not always lie in the storytelling but the execution.
Sci-fi movie fans are driven by their passion for film. They want a story to work, and it's frustrating when their investment does not pay off. Discussing why a film's ending isn't effective can encourage thoughtful debate. These science fiction films have promising starts, and some would even consider them masterpieces. However, we're still complaining about the ways that they all ended.
"Serenity" is a film that fans never thought they would get. The science-fiction Western adventure series "Firefly" amassed a strong critical following, but it was canceled by the FOX network after only one season. "Firefly" clearly had the potential to improve and expand.
"Firefly" series creator Joss Whedon stepped behind the camera to direct the feature film "Serenity," which serves as a continuation of the show. The film picks up with Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew mates Zoë (Gina Torres), Wash (Alan Tudyk), Jayne (Adam Baldwin), Inara (Morena Baccarin), Kaylee (Jewel Staite), Simon (Sean Maher), and River (Summer Glau). The crew must protect River, whose powers make her a target of the evil governmental body the Alliance. The Alliance dispatches a ruthless agent known only as "The Operative" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to capture River.
"Serenity" does a great job at raising the stakes and giving each of the characters room to grow. However, Wash is suddenly killed right before the final battle. It would be one thing if the death had felt earned, but the shocking moment feels like it is only there to gut-punch the audience. It's disappointing given Wash's reduced role in the rest of the film. It was later revealed by Whedon that Wash was killed because Tudyk could not commit to sequels.
Blade Runner (Theatrical Cut)
Ridley Scott's 1982 cyberpunk mystery, "Blade Runner," is easily one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. However, it took a while before fans got to see the version of "Blade Runner" that truly lived up to its potential. Months before the film was scheduled to be released, test audiences responded negatively to initial screenings. Viewers felt that the ending was too bleak. In an attempt to please mainstream audiences, Warner Brothers forced Scott to create a new, happier ending.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and the replicant Rachael (Sean Young) share a joyous ride to the sunny mountainside. The original cut also included narration by Ford. Warner Brothers was concerned that the audience would not like the film's ambiguity, so the expositional lines were added.
"Blade Runner" is a study of mortality. It doesn't make sense for Deckard and Rachael's story to end with optimism. The sequence also feels like a drastic change of tone. It comes as a complete surprise after the heartbreaking death of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). Thankfully, the 1990 director's cut and the 1992 final cut both removed the reshot ending and narration.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director Gareth Edwards revealed to the "Los Angeles Times" that his 2016 film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" was extensively reshot. Tony Gilroy was brought in to rework large portions of the film.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) successfully transmit the Death Star plans to the other Rebel Alliance agents. In a last-minute attempt to take back the plans, Darth Vader boards the Rebel command ship, ignites his lightsaber, and slays a squad of Rebel troopers. However, one of the troopers manages to escape with the schematics and joins Princess Leia on her starship, Tantive IV.
The entire scene feels like it's only there for fan service. Vader is far more intimidating when he's simply strolling through the aftermath of the "Tantive IV" battle in "Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope." The insertion of a digital Leia is also distracting.
10 Cloverfield Lane
The final scene of "10 Cloverfield Lane" feels like a completely different movie compared to the events that precede it. That's because it was. "10 Cloverfield Lane" was inspired by the script "The Cellar" by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken. J.J. Abrams' production company Bad Robot acquired the film's script and repurposed it as a spinoff to their 2008 found-footage sci-fi horror hit "Cloverfield." Abrams said that "there were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place that Cloverfield' was born out of."
The film follows a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who gets into a car accident as she drives through Louisiana. Michelle wakes up to learn that she's now the prisoner of an enigmatic man named Howard (John Goodman). Howard chains up Michelle in an underground bunker. He informs her that following a possibly extraterrestrial attack, he has decided to isolate himself. Michelle and her fellow captive, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), uncover Howard's deceitful ways during their time held prisoner. In the final scene, Michelle manages to escape Howard's bunker. However, she realizes that Howard was telling the truth when an alien craft attacks her.
This ending removes the ambiguity of the film. It's never entirely clear if Howard is telling the truth or not up until that point. The last-minute reveal feels awkwardly timed.
Superman: The Movie
"Superman: The Movie" is optimistic, brightly colored, and has a self-aware sense of humor. However, the stakes are not superfluous thanks to Christopher Reeve's incredibly sincere performance. Reeve captures all the anguish that Kal-El is going through as he tries to live a normal life as Clark Kent. His relationship with the "Daily Planet" reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is thoughtful and touching.
"Superman: The Movie" is hardly realistic, but it does a great job of explaining the mythology of the iconic character. The audience understands exactly what Superman can (and can't) do. However, the film's ending introduces a ridiculous new power that hadn't been previously established. As Superman saves innocent civilians from the aftermath of the explosion in the San Andreas Fault, Lois dies in the rubble. Superman cries out in heartbreak. However, he thinks back to the lessons that his adopted father, Jonathan (Glenn Ford), had taught him. Superman flies around the world and reverses its rotation, allowing him to travel back in time to save Lois. Audiences may have been able to "believe a man could fly," but time travel was another thing entirely.
Up until the ending, Alex Proyas' disaster film, "Knowing," is an enthralling mystery. The film poses a haunting possibility: Various world disasters are connected in some way. M.I.T. astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) attends a ceremony at his son Caleb's (Chandler Canterbury) elementary school, where a time capsule from 50 years ago is brought up from the ground. Within the buried capsule is a mysterious sheet listing different numerals. John begins studying the sheet and realizes that it contains dates, coordinates, and casualty numbers for different disasters.
Throughout the film, Caleb hears mysterious voices speaking to him. This sets up an intriguing storyline, but its resolution is fumbled. John and his son flee the devastation of a solar flare. Caleb realizes that the voices that he's been hearing belong to mysterious extraterrestrial creatures that prophesied the disastrous events. The aliens reveal to John that they are saving children by transporting them through interstellar arks. Unfortunately, John is not allowed to join them.
While the extraterrestrial storyline works as the story's ending, it doesn't serve as a satisfying conclusion to John's relationship with his son. Both John and Caleb have been in mourning since the death of John's wife, Allison (Adrienne Pickering). Their search for answers allows them to bond. It feels odd that John and Caleb aren't able to spend their futures together.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
This is a case in which the fact that a film is "science fiction" is reason enough for us to complain. The "Indiana Jones" franchise originated as a series of treasure-hunting adventure films inspired by the classic film serials of the 1930s. The first three films incorporated mythology, history, and fantasy elements. The fourth installment, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," was released in 2008, 19 years after "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Although "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" received mixed responses from critics and fans, the film has a lot more merits than many of its detractors would lead you to believe. Yes, the story is completely goofy, but "Indiana Jones" has always been a little bit silly. Since the first three films were inspired by 1930s cinema, it made sense for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" to pay homage to B movies from the 1950s. However, this doesn't excuse the strange ending that introduces aliens.
A flying saucer feels completely out of place in an "Indiana Jones" movie. Coupled with some truly embarrassing CGI effects and a melodramatic wedding between Indy (Harrison Ford) and his old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), it's a major disappointment.
War Of The Worlds
Steven Spielberg's 2005 adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel "War of the Worlds" is not your typical summer blockbuster. It's a disturbing and realistic look at how the world might respond to a global catastrophe. "War of the Worlds" is one of Spielberg's darkest films. The shots of massive cities being destroyed are particularly unnerving in the aftermath of 9/11. The film also contains one of Tom Cruise's most underrated performances. Cruise's character, Ray Ferrier, is hardly a perfect father. He's forced to reconnect with his children, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning), throughout the story.
During one of the more emotional scenes in the film, Ray is forced to let Robbie go when his son decides to join the US Marines in their battle against the aliens. Ray realizes that Robbie must be free to be his own man. He can no longer dictate his son's life. Ray has to deal with not knowing Robbie's future. However, Robbie somehow survives the assault and appears during the last few moments when Ray and Rachel escape to safety. It's a hasty wrap-up that gives an unnecessary conclusion to Ray's relationship with Robbie. The story is more powerful when Robbie's fate is unclear.
The Matrix Revolutions
It's impossible to doubt the ambition of what the Wachowski sisters accomplished with "The Matrix" trilogy. The three films pack in so much mythology, character development, and thematic undertones that it is overwhelming. The Wachowskis clearly succeeded in telling the story that they set out to create. However, "The Matrix Revolutions" falls flat with how it handles the main characters' fates.
During the final battle between mankind and the Sentinels, Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) is shockingly killed. This feels like it is only there to gut punch the viewer, particularly after Neo (Keanu Reeves) made such an effort to save her in the previous film, "The Matrix Reloaded."
Neo's death is more understandable. He has always been a messianic figure, so his self-sacrifice makes sense. However, the Wachowskis really go out of their way to make sure that the audience understands the Biblical allusions. They spell out something that is already obvious.
Man Of Steel
Anything said about Zack Snyder's 2013 superhero film, "Man of Steel," is bound to be controversial. The ending is one of the most contentious parts of what's already a very divisive film. During the Battle of Metropolis, Superman (Henry Cavill) manages to get the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) in a headlock. Zod threatens to kill an innocent family. Seeing no alternative, Superman snaps Zod's neck. He then cries out in torment. Would Superman really kill a living being?
"Man of Steel" actually does a great job at handling this moment. Superman realizes that letting Zod live would only result in the death of more innocent people. What makes the ending so ineffective is that throughout the battle, Superman makes no effort to save anyone from the destruction. Innocent civilians are buried alive as debris falls from the skyscrapers. It's important to show that Superman cares about the family that Zod nearly kills. It just doesn't seem like he cares about anyone else.
Released in 2018, "Black Panther" raised the quality level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's not just another superhero movie. "Black Panther" has something serious to say about systematic racism and discrimination. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is forced to consider what the merits of isolation are when his cousin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) threatens to take the throne of Wakanda for himself. Killmonger raises good points. Wakanda has done very little to help struggling people outside of its borders.
What begins as a compelling political thriller turns into just another generic comic book film at its conclusion. Killmonger and T'Challas' armies battle in a large open field. It's virtually identical to a similar sequence done much better in "Avengers: Infinity War," in which Thanos' troops invade Wakanda. The CGI effects look tacky, which is surprising considering how consistent Marvel Studios' visual effects work had been up until this point.
The Adjustment Bureau
The work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick has inspired some of the most influential science fiction films ever made, including "Blade Runner," "Total Recall," and "Minority Report." While all of these films have elements of action and adventure, they are more philosophical than most summer blockbusters. The 2011 sci-fi thriller, "The Adjustment Bureau," had the potential to be another elevated genre story. The film was inspired by Dick's short story "Adjustment Team."
While "The Adjustment Bureau" has a promising beginning, it turns into a standard sci-fi action movie by the end. The film is set within a world where a latent group of influencers tries to prevent honest politician David Norris (Matt Damon) from falling in love with his constituent, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). The first two acts are very intriguing. David and Elise slowly realize how their life is being controlled. However, the last third of the film features the pair running through doorways to escape Bureau forces. It's a disappointingly safe conclusion to what is otherwise an untraditional film.
If anyone tells you that they completely understood "Vanilla Sky" after just one viewing, they are probably lying. Cameron Crowe's 2001 romantic mystery thriller is one of the most complex science fiction films ever made. "Vanilla Sky" was inspired by Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Spanish film "Open Your Eyes." Although Crowe's version drew mixed responses upon its initial theatrical release, it has attracted a strong cult following.
"Vanilla Sky" unfolds in a nonlinear way, following the journey of privileged publishing agent David Eames (Tom Cruise). During the final moments of the film, David must choose whether to accept his reality or take a (literal) leap of faith. Thematically, this works. However, Crowe packs so many revelations into the final scene that it weakens the emotional impact of David's decision. A revised ending that was included on the 2015 Blu-ray improves the film by adding slightly different dialogue and additional scenes.
The maverick filmmaking style of notorious writer-director Darren Aronofsky is certainly not for everyone. Aronofsky's 2006 film "The Fountain" is easily the most emotionally impactful project of his career. Although "The Fountain" wrestles with big philosophical ideas, it keeps the stakes intimate. The film focuses on scientist Thomas Creo (Hugh Jackman), who struggles to take care of his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz), as she suffers from brain cancer.
"The Fountain" takes place across three different timelines, each of which centers on the search for immortality. In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistador Tomás Verde (Jackman) ventures into the South American jungle to find the elixir of life. In the distant future, an astronaut (also played by Jackman) travels through deep space to find Izzi's grave. It's interesting to see how these three storylines intersect, but Aronofsky spends so much time developing the mythology toward the ending that the audience loses their connection to Thomas and Izzi. Aronofsky has stated that he wants to also make "an alternate story told with the addition of unused footage from the first go-round." Perhaps he could include a revised ending of the original film that is more focused on Thomas accepting Izzi's death.
"Alien 3" had a notoriously challenging production cycle. Director David Fincher was given very little creative control and ultimately disowned the film. Although it was considered a disappointment following the heights of 1979's "Alien" and 1986's "Aliens," "Alien 3" is a compelling science fiction film in its own right. Each of these installments fits into a different genre of science fiction. "Alien" is an isolated horror film, "Aliens" is an action spectacle, and "Alien 3" is an atmospheric prison drama. As for 1997's "Alien: Resurrection," you can probably just skip that one entirely.
Up until the ending, "Alien 3" does a great job at continuing Ellen Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) character arc from the first two films. Ripley is the ultimate sci-fi final girl. She's destined to emerge victorious from her encounters with the Xenomorphs, even if that means watching her friends die. This is why it makes no sense for Ripley to sacrifice herself in the final moments of "Alien 3."
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