Almost like clockwork, my friend and author John Kenneth Muir announced another of his Reader Top Ten list collaborations. And it’s a doozy, folks:
“The question this month is: what are your top ten greatest/favorite science fiction movie endings of all time?
What are the qualifications for a “great” ending?
I leave that determination to you. But for me, a great ending is one that shocks or surprises, yet also (at least retroactively) seems entirely consistent with the body of the movie. If a strong science fiction concept or message is relayed in this ending, all the better…”
Oh, and since we’re talking about endings, spoiler warning from here on out.
What a topic! Be sure to read JKM’s Top Ten for this subject as it is a splendid roll, sure to surprise and offer plenty in thought, reaction among those reading it. As for mine, drumroll please…
1. Planet of the Apes – Can’t go beyond what John had to say about the ending to the film we both rank at the top:
“Taylor (Charlton Heston) realizes he has come home (and that all of Dr. Zaius’s anger is, in some fashion, justified…) when he sees the Statue of Liberty rusted and ruined on a craggy shore-line ahead. The supreme irony is that Taylor is a misanthrope who is forced into the role of lawyer, essentially, defending his species, humanity. Upon seeing the evidence — Lady Liberty — however, Taylor realizes that his “client,” his very species, is dead guilty.”
2. Aliens – Ridley Scott’s ending for Alien was triumphant, though ominous, while John’s favorite of Alien³ was heroically bleak. Now, contrast that with Cameron’s Aliens. Whereas the first systematically destroyed the family unit (crew) and Fincher’s just butchers the ‘final girl’, this first sequel, by journey’s end, distilled down a squad of Marines, an android, an orphan and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder survivor into a new family unit. The last shot of mother and newfound daughter raises my spirits every single time.
3. WALL•E – Ask anyone of my immediate family and they’ll tell you I barely hold it together by this film’s finale. Humanity brought back to its place of origin, one they’ve wrecked and abandoned, literally put back on its feet, and owing it all to a being cold of metal, but warm of heart. The cost to the hero is steep, though. His love, E.V.E., marshals every circuit, electrode, and energy in her being to bring WALL•E back online, almost for naught. Till that one spark proves,
“… irrational love defeats life’s programming”
4. Children of Men – This was essentially a journey film — Theo Faron’s journey. His passage to deliver a miracle mother and child peaks right along with the film’s, and extraordinarily so. As remarkable and perhaps better relating to Blade Runner‘s Roy Batty’s at the end, Theo finishes his life dramatically on a fog strewn waterway. He knows he’s helped nurture the unforeseen uptick in the dwindling of his number, and laid a hopeful claim upon that bleakest of outcomes — our own mortality.
5. The Thing – John Carpenter fashioned not only one of the greatest remakes in genre film history, but crafted one of the all-time best ambiguous endings for it. You cannot write off or dismiss it no matter how you feel about the film. Having seemingly destroyed the monster that reaped distrust and paranoia throughout, we’re left with our doubts for the survivors MacReady and Childs; who by the end, offer their last bit of trust to each other as the fires fade and Ennio Morricone’s theme comes up.
6. Escape From L.A. – Unfairly dismissed as a rehash of the great Escape From New York, this one had arguably the better ending. Though Snake Plissken has been outmaneuvered throughout the story, he gets the last laugh by unleashing a worldwide EMP and ending the technology we rode in on. As John offered:
“…it’s actually not an end, but a re-boot, do-over or a new beginning. “Welcome to the human race,” Plissken utters, and it’s time to start over.”
7. District 9 – A Kafkaesque finale, if there ever was one, delivered by this recent sci-fi film that brought our worst traits into raw focus. Much like the protagonist Wilkus gazing at his metal/trash flower sculpture (and in the manner of the best in this particular genre), as John wrote in his cult review of the film, it asks:
“…us to look at the world we’ve made; and what might become of that world if we don’t change trajectory.”
8. Source Code – I am all for the well-earned ending in a sci-fi film, but I’m a sucker for the one that delivers that and beyond. This one did for me. Not only using a post-9/11 mentality in a story that shows we’re all about security sans safety, but a story that cares about those given the task of saving us (yet carelessly used up in the process by the powers that be), and of second chances. We’d all want what Colter Stevens desires by mission’s end.
9. Donnie Darko – A couple of years ago, author Joe Maddrey, via his movie review, finally got me to screen this. As a dad of a teen son, the film hit me like a ton of bricks by its dramatic end. A coming of age story told through the sweep science-fiction offered. Joe nailed it:
“Donnie’s biggest fear is of dying alone, and the only thing that counterbalances his descent into madness is falling in love. The final message of the film is that only through love (and the self-sacrifice that comes from it) can he satisfactorily answer the crushing question about whether the world would be a better place if he weren’t part of it.”
10. Abra Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) – Yes, yes, Cameron Crowe remade this 1997 Spanish film in 2001 with Tom Cruise (author Joe Maddrey also loves it). Still, Alejandro Amenábar’s mind-bending original I felt much closer to overall (likely because the ol’ Tomcat wasn’t in it). And because the film’s ending for the main character, and the audience, which used the movie’s title as the last words of dialogue, did so to even better effect and meaning.
Note: it’s true that Blade Runner made my Top Ten for Sci-Fi Film and Sci-Fi character, but was not included in this movie ending list. I’ve even commented that Roy Batty’s final moments are some of the most poignant on film, no matter the genre. However, that beautiful point in time was not the ending but the penultimate scene* of the work. So, with Blade Runner‘s real final scene, Deckard going to recover and take Rachael away from those who ‘retire’ replicants (them both by Ridley’s final cut), I just like the above ahead of it.
* that said, if John Kenneth Muir ever comes up with a penultimate scene tensome, Batty’s will no doubt be at the top of mine!