My Top Ten Greatest Science-Fiction Movie Endings
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!
34 Responses to “My Top Ten Greatest Science-Fiction Movie Endings”
Nice list Michael. Totally agree with you about the endings of District 9 and The Thing, great endings. I just can’t agree with you on Source Code though, I hated the ending of that! I thought it should have had a more ambiguous ending but just explained everything a bit too much. Still, I know a lot of people love it though.
Yeah, I realize SC splits people. But, I couldn’t keep it off my list. I’d love to read yours, Chris. As always, thanks for the read and comment, my friend.
I would want to add the last scene from SOYLENT GREEN (not in the original book I may add), maybe in the place of OPEN YOUR EYES, which I liked a lot right until the end.
A true classic, Sergio. I’m sure someone always sent that Heston’s way in acknowledgment of the film. Thanks, my friend.
One of the more shocking endings in the Sci~Fi pantheon comes from Roger Corman. And his ‘X- The Man With X-Ray Eyes’. Whose final line from Ray Milland; “I can still see!” was removed from many reels or tracked over after it was deemed too frightening.
Someone just brought up that one in a top ten list. Even the excised version remains powerful; with that portion though, it’s nightmarish. Thanks, Kevin 🙂
great list! I LOVE Children of Men! It’s one that I always forget about though.
Definitely agree with the District 9 ending too, I like that film but hate it at the same time…it’s so hard to watch, I’ve seen it a couple of times now and the second time around I really struggled with it, very upsetting film.
I more than understand your points, Tasha. Both fantastic and thoughtful films. Many thanks.
Agree totally with Apes, Darko, District 9, Wall-e. I would add 12 Monkeys and I Robot. Not that the endings weren’t predictable, but I liked how they felt satisfying and correct. I would have been mad if it hadn’t ended as they had. Great question!
Wasn’t it? John has offered up some great ones this summer. Thanks, Cindy 🙂
Indeed. Thanks, Tim 🙂
I can’t imagine an ending more powerful and shocking as Planet of the Apes. I remember seeing that for the first time and was like….”WOW”!
Yes, indeed. It blew me away when I caught first-run in theater. Thanks, Chris 🙂
Good list Michael, especially since this is a genre containing so many memorable end scenes.
It is indeed. Thanks, Colin 🙂
Some great film endings on your list, but I’d have to put the endings of “Incredible Shrinking Man” and “The Day the Earth Caught Fire” on my list. I liked the deeper spiritual concept that went beyond the themes of the movies.
Man, what great answers! Timeless. Thanks so much, Arlee 🙂
Some great selections, Le0p. Not sure how I feel about Source Code, though. Not certain I’m down with that end or not… need to rewatch.
I’d have included Blade Runner, though. Especially the final cut ending that stops with the origami unicorn. Mind blowing. POW! 😯 LOL
Remember when Blade Runner didn’t have that unicorn, or ending? I’m very happy Ridley continued to refine it. You should think about contributing one of these to John’s reader top tens. I’d love to it read, my friend. Thanks.
Great list for what is a very hard list to even think of making in the first place. Source Code feels a tad to “new” still, although I really did like the movie. Love that you threw in District 9 a movie that I feel isn’t talked of that much anymore. If I was to add a movie I might say Star Wars- The Empire Strikes Back or T2.
Thank you very much, mummbles. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but Source Code works me.
As I mentioned over at our sister site. Great list. Loved your summations and we agree on a number of them my friend.
I also want to mention that I too understand Natasha’s feelings on District 9. It’s a brilliant film, powerful start to finish but indeed a difficult filmto digest.. I can understand how it could be upsetting because it is. Succinctly put.
So Michael, what do you think of Vanilla Sky?
Thank you very much, G. And I’ve got to say I really enjoyed reading your Top Ten list for this intriguing subject. Glad to see so many District 9 fans in this (a film I’ll be re-screening soon in prep for ‘Elysium’). Regarding ‘Vanilla Sky’, I’ll reiterate my thoughts with Joe:
I remain more the fan of the original Spanish work, primarily for the originality in its ideas and execution. I can appreciate Crowe’s version for making it his own, though. Similar to what Christopher Nolan accomplished with his adaptation of ‘Insomnia’ compared to the 1997 Norwegian film, IMO.
Naturally, I’m drawn to Penelope Cruz being in both film for the exact same role. Granted, she does alter it some. Still, as someone who understands some Spanish, I readily noticed and appreciated her great rendering of Sofia in her native language. It plays better in the original performance compared to her more difficult English-speaking part — not that I’m complaining about her sexy, sweet Spanish accent, mind you.
Still, the 2001 remake does include a favorite actor of mine (sorry, it’s not Cruise, though he was solid in this), Kurt Russell. His take of the Atticus Finch-like character, McCabe, really works for me and goes beyond its Spanish counterpart. It’s one of two character parts (Cameron Diaz being the other) that’ll keep me coming back to VANILLA SKY.
Crowe’s version is a little flashier and slick, production-wise, but ABRA LOS OJOS has a bit more heart for me.
Very interesting. Thanks for your reflections on this. I was aware of the back story but have yet to see the original film.
Also, speaking of characters, I’m always impressed with Noah Taylor. He’s had a strange but interesting career. But I liked something about him from the first time I saw him in the Australian film The Year My Voice Broke. He’s just an interesting presence normally. You’ve got me thinking I need to see these films -Abra Los Ojos for a first time and Vanilla Sky for a second.
Finally, I will likely view District 9 again as well. It’s interesting to note that the film looks very much like its captured in the same universe as Elysium as far as the look. Blomkamp definitely has his own stamp. I will definitely review it when it comes out. Cheers my friend for the conversation.
Great endings chosen here. Some I have yet to see, myself. I’d be interested in a list of “Worst endings from otherwise Decent Films.”
I think I’d like to add MOON, 28 Days Later and Quarantine.
I consider a couple of those myself. As Colin mentioned, this is a genre that contains “so many memorable end scenes.” Thanks, my friend 🙂
Some fantastic choices here. I particularly admire your reasoning for including Aliens, highlighting why it is such an uplifting ending that is entirely in-keeping with the underlying mother-daughter relationship story we’ve just witnessed.
This is a great topic which has got me thinking about my own top 10!
Thank you so much, Dan. Yeah, I truly love that ending for ALIENS. Oh, that’s a great idea. Perfect for what your blog’s theme. I look forward to reading it, my friend.
I totally agree on Alien, Planet of the apes and D9…especially D9. i thyink that’s the best ending western movies ever have.
I can expect something like that from Asian movies but western tends to create happy ending even though most of the time it felt like they forced it to be happy. I like how real D9’s ending was
My daughter watched District 9 with me last week. Her first time, and she loved it. Great story and ending. Thanks, Novroz 🙂
Simply one of my all time fav alien movie 🙂
Nice list Michael, I haven’t seen District 9 or Escape from L.A. but other wise I agree with your choices. I think Aliens good ending was counteracted by Alien 3’s awful beginning. You never ever kill off the cute kid from the previous film, especially when the previous film was the best of the bunch and Scout made the movie. I’ll have to check out District 9 when I get a chance. Thanks Michael
Another great point about Alien 3, Ronan. I know the film has its fans, but gleefully taking apart the family of its predecessor is what makes me really not like it. And I think you’d like District 9, or at least I hope it you do. Thanks, my friend.