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How much does the very last scene of a movie contribute to its success?

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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   MickeS



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Posted April 19 2002 - 01:01 PM

Several of the biggest hits have had very energetic/upbeat last shots, which leave the audience feeling "high" on the movie ("Back to the future", "Star Wars", "Ghostbusters", "The Matrix").

There are of course example of the opposite too, the only one I can think of right now is "Raiders of the lost ark", which had a pretty downbeat (but "whoa"-inducing) ending.

Oh, and LOTR, which didn't even have a real ending Posted Image, but made a pretty penny anyway... Posted Image

How much do you think these shots contribute to the overall success of the movie?

Personally, I think they're extremely important and can almost make or break a movie, no matter what the quality of the rest of the movie is.

I think I read that "Spider-Man" has one of those upbeat energetic last shots, so it'll probably be a huge success.


#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted April 19 2002 - 01:12 PM

I don't think they 'make' or 'break' a film, but they are the last image you relate to it. A powerful ending CAN make a big impression. An example I use wrt success is Titanic...it's ending was pretty emotional and visually relayed the love and loss of the story (if you bought into it - I did) quite well. I think it was one of the reasons the film did so well, especially for repeat viewings.

But I can't even remember the final shot of Black Hawk Down, a film that has completely stayed with me.

So...who knows Posted Image

Take care,

Hey buddy...did you just see a real bright light?

#3 of 13 OFFLINE   StephenA



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Posted April 19 2002 - 01:47 PM

The ending to Mission to Mars ruined it for me. It made no sense. If the ending sucks, it only makes a film good at most in my eyes.

#4 of 13 OFFLINE   Alex Spindler

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Posted April 19 2002 - 02:27 PM

The last line is what separates the "good movie with some great scenes" from "great movie". It's just like having any weak point in the movie, but it is often the one that leaves you walking out of the theater freshest in your mind. A wonderful line, scene, or shot can be a powerful thing. I leave you with helpful from the sage-like Throw Momma from the Train "Except for the last line. 'Love makes you impotent, hate makes you crazy. Somewhere in the middle you can survive'? It's cryptic."

#5 of 13 OFFLINE   Mike Graham

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Posted April 19 2002 - 02:56 PM

Chinatown The ending really left an impression on me as it really drove home the importance of the film. The French Connection This landmark Oscar winner's swan song compliment's the film's gritty tone. John Carpenter's The Thing One of the goriest cult classics has an ending that many find disturbing because it follows through with the paranoid and distrustful nature of the film. Seven The most disturbing ending of this list - this crime drama doesn't take any prisoners with the pay off and the film is better for it. Even if you're able to guess right away the film's final mystery before the other characters, the last act still leaves a powerful impression. The terrific build up by director David Fincher with the use of Darius Khondji's dark cinematography and Howard Shore's ominous score makes this one of the great films of the 90s. Memento, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense These puzzle pictures made much of their audience come back for second helpings with their surprise endings. The films that succeed in putting one over on us so much so that a second viewing is mandatory tend to be a lot of people's favorites (including mine) because they let the viewer get something new out of it every time they watch it. The Score The first two acts of this film are nicely done, building the tension between the characters until the eventual heist is carried out. However, the required double-double cross at the end is mediocre, and doesn't hold up to the quality of what preceeded it. AI While this may not qualify, I found the second act of the film (which featured Jude Law as Giggolo Joe) to be wonderfully produced science fiction that was thoughfully textured. Yet, the third act of the film became very over-the-top, so much so that I wasn't able to follow through with it. Training Day Definitely the biggest disappointment on the list. Truthfully, the script isn't of the highest caliber, but Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington are absolutely riveting as they square off with each other. But when the action becomes so physical in the last 15 minutes, I felt they let the air of the balloon so to speak. The ending didn't ruin the film's superb acting, but really degraded the film's overall quality.

#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Bryan


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Posted April 19 2002 - 03:26 PM

I couldn't give specifics, but I beleive that if you brave a movie that you are not really in to and the ending is great, then you come away saying it was a good movie. If it was a good movie and the ending was terrible, then you feel that it was a good movie and the ending was terrible.

#7 of 13 OFFLINE   Seth Paxton

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Posted April 19 2002 - 03:50 PM

Whoa Mike, that's weird. I was just thinking about this very fact the other day. And I mean in detail, not just passing interest. I'm beginning to think that the final scene is by far the most critical moment for a film's success. I used to be big on opening scenes, and certainly it's great to grab the audience well right off the bat. But I think a weak opening can easily be overcome by a strong finish, while a weak finish is not fixed by a strong opening. It makes sense in terms of "last thing you remember" and the images you leave the film with. Yet that doesn't mean that the ending image has to be the DOMINATE image. Think of Raiders for example. In many ways the most memorable part of the film is the opening moments, the image of the boulder rolling after Indy. And moments like "snakes, why'd it have to be snakes". BUT the closing pull out of the box buried away in the huge warehouse is still an effective and highly satisfying ending moment. It lets the audience exit the story in the right mood, with a tone of resolution. Not in the straight narrative sense like "now we know what happened" but in a way that convincingly says "this is where the storytelling ends". What got me thinking about it was the Panic Room ending, or the scene just before the ending scene. It's beautiful to see yet it feels flawed in terms of being an improperly signaled ending that is not consistent with the rest of the storytelling. Instead, to me, it felt like a moment that should be more toward the middle of the film. Not really in what was happening but in how it unfolded. Pacing and tone of scenes can adjust to signal sections of a film, sometimes directly in terms of speed (editing, action, camera movement) but also more subtly with character behavior or the visual style of a scene...heck even lighting. I think Jurassic Park 3 is a great example of a basically fun popcorn ride that is horribly ruined by an ending that comes in very awkwardly. The audience simply cannot anticipate it, nor does it makes sense after the fact (like some shocker endings do). An ending like 6th Sense might seems like a narrative jump, but the way it is done with a resolving sequence of thoughts from Willis signals that the process is coming to an end, therefore the audience understands this. Even Muholland Drive works in this manner. You have a key moment for the film to turn on and it gives a clear signal that things are shifting to the final stretch. No matter what sort of narrative shift is going on (like what the hell just happened) we can tell that the "strange" ending is coming. The scenes toward the end are made of resolution-type narrative and dialog and are even structured like a series of ordered (the only time in the film for this really) answers to questions, even if these answers spur new questions to leave the theater with. We understand that the film's end is being presented to us. I don't know if you were looking for this much discussion of it, but I love trying to understand how films are effectively or ineffectively done. I think the ending moment is the key element to the script AND storyboard stage even. It has to resolve visually as much as narratively, if not more. And the end should be signaled, even if you subtly hint that an abrupt ending will be coming. A film can "feel" like that, so that when a sudden end hits you say to yourself "of course, that makes sense". When done right those sudden endings are often the most powerful, but when done wrong they leave a big mess behind.

#8 of 13 OFFLINE   Seth Paxton

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Posted April 19 2002 - 04:06 PM

One thing to follow up on that. Endings are often critical moments. A film may have several of these, not just the ending. But usually critical moments are given MORE screen time than other scenes, at least in terms of screen time versus actual story time. Think of explosions that are edited so that we see them happening again and again from different angles. That says "this is important, I'm showing you more of this and I'm repeating it to you". Not unlike conversation really. So something like Panic Room has an ending scene that is NOT given more importance or more drama than any other scene in the film. In fact it actually has less. And it doesn't really get any more screen time to story time than any other moment. That makes it improperly signaled as an important moment, and therefore improperly signaled as a FINAL moment. One other thing - markers. Like the Silencio scene in Muholland a film will often set out markers that indicate shifts into the next act. A more obvious example would be Run Lola Run which marks 3 acts very clearly. The audience can see a narrative progression from act to act as well, so as the final act unfolds it is very clear that it is/will be the final act. Another one that we often take for granted because it's so cliched (especially in SF or spy thrillers)...the COUNTDOWN scene. The bomb goes off in 60 seconds, Dorothy has a certain amount of time to give up the slippers, whatever. Counting down implies coming to an ending. Doesn't always mean the ending of a film, maybe an act or scene, but it has that effect. And it can be other counting instead. Think of 10 Little Indians based on the Agatha Christie novel. There the count down is people being killed (also popular in slasher films). Once the film runs out of characters to kill it must end, or so it is implied. The audience understands this concept. And the mentioned Se7en has 7 sins to count through. The implication is that once all the sins have been done, the film will come to a conclusion. Often we take this stuff for granted, but these things are very powerful yet subtle devices that we pick up on all the time while watching films.

#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Seth Paxton

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Posted April 19 2002 - 04:08 PM

If that wasn't enough Posted Image

My personal fav ending of ANY film...Touch of Evil. To me, brilliant.

#10 of 13 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted April 19 2002 - 05:04 PM

I think that the last scene of a movie really doesn't determine the success of a movie, but it can certainly have its effects (eg. I used to hate North by Northwest soley because of the ending, but I've grown to love it now). As for endings, I got you all beat: Cinema Paradiso It has quite possibly one of the best, if not THE BEST, ending of any movie out there. Extremely bittersweet.

#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Morgan Jolley

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Posted April 19 2002 - 08:44 PM

If a movie has a bad ending, then it generally ruins the whole thing. Just like if a movie had a bad middle or beginning (only the ending is able to bring the movie up a little while the other two parts can't). If a movie "doesn't have an ending" (like Lord of the Rings) then it either pisses people off or it doesn't (usually it won't if there are other movies coming out, like in LotR's case). If a movie has an amazing ending, it can make a great film even better. I must say the most interesting ending in a movie was Memento. Mainly because the ending was actually the middle.

#12 of 13 OFFLINE   Steve Enemark

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Posted April 19 2002 - 09:21 PM


As for endings, I got you all beat:

Sorry, Dome! Vertigo's ending trumps all others! Posted Image
"The feel of the experience is the important thing, not the ability to verbalize it." -Stanley Kubrick

#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted April 19 2002 - 09:27 PM

I was just about to mention Vertigo. It's what left a lasting impression of the film in my mind. The rest of the most is simply buildup for that ending.Posted Image

Still, I wouldn't say it's the be-all-end-all either.

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