10 Movie Endings You Probably Didn’t Get the First Time Around

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Most of us go to the movies hoping for a story that ends with everything tied up in a neat bow so we can move on with our lives. We like knowing that, in some fictional universe, someone is having their happily ever after. However, not all movies follow these rules. Some directors love to shake things up, leaving us with ambiguous conclusions that are easily misunderstood and overlooked.

We put together a list of movies with endings that might not mean what you initially thought they meant. How many of these have you seen?

Image Credit: IMDb.

1. ‘Whiplash’ (2014)

Damien Chazelle’s acclaimed 2014 film, “Whiplash,” chronicles the toxic relationship between the tyrannical jazz teacher, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), and ambitious student drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), in a cautionary tale of perfectionism and the doom that comes with it. After 100 minutes of watching Andrew going through jazz training hell and throwing his personal life in the trash can, we are awarded a seemingly satisfying David beats Goliath end. 

But are we really, though? By the end, Andrew is completely ruined and has sacrificed everything for drumming — and, more importantly, for Fletcher’s approval. Fletcher obviously thinks that Andrew’s success is due to his psychotic approach to teaching. Andrew, covered in sweat and bloody hands, hints that now he’s got the approval, he will continue his obsessive quest to become Fletcher’s next Charlie Parker.  

Image Credit: IMDb.

2. ‘Shutter Island’ (2010)

In “Shutter Island,” directed by Martin Scorsese, we’re led through a winding story where U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, turns out to be Andrew Laeddis, a patient who killed his wife and is now spending his days at a psychiatric facility. At first glance, the ending seems to show Laeddis slipping back into his delusion, calling his doctor “Chuck” like he’s still a marshal. It’s easy to think he’s just lost in his made-up world again. 

But there’s more to it than that. Laeddis’s last conversation and his actions hint that he’s actually choosing to pretend he’s Daniels again, but not because he’s confused. He wants the doctors to believe he isn’t cured so they’ll give him a lobotomy, a surgery he hopes will end his mental suffering for good. This twist shows Laeddis isn’t just a patient failing to face reality; he’s a man making a heartbreaking choice to forget his tragic past and the guilt that comes with it.

Image Credit: IMDb.

3. ‘Fight Club’ (1999)

Directed by David Fincher and based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, “Fight Club” delivers one of the most unforgettable twists in cinema. By the end, you might cheer for the narrator (Edward Norton) as you see the buildings he helped to destroy go up in smoke, all while he and Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) look on. 

But this final act doesn’t suggest a triumph, as it doesn’t necessarily solve the problems presented throughout the film. Instead, it highlights the extreme lengths Norton’s character embarks on to confront his disillusionment with society. It suggests that destroying the past doesn’t automatically pave the way for a better future. The movie is a commentary on the futility of rebellion that only replaces one form of control with another, leaving us to ponder the real meaning of freedom and identity in a consumer-driven world.

Image Credit: IMDb.

4. ‘American Psycho’ (2000)

The ending of “American Psycho” is famously ambiguous, intentionally leaving us scratching our heads to choose whether the yuppie Wall Street psychopath Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, really committed all those murders throughout the movie — or whether it was all in his deranged mind. And yet, the truth behind the film’s climactic confusion is less about trickery and more about a genuine reflection of Bateman’s dual life. Director Mary Harron and Bret Easton Ellis, the author of the book, have repeatedly clarified that the chaos we witness isn’t a mere figment of Bateman’s imagination. Sure, some moments — like an ATM demanding a feline snack — might feel like a fever dream, serving more as a peek into Bateman’s unhinged mental state than a literal event. But the killing spree indeed happened!

Image Credit: IMDB.

5. ‘Inception’ (2010)

The ending of “Inception” is so masterfully mindboggling that Christopher Nolan admitted that, during the movie’s original release in 2010, he would sneak into the theater just to see the crowd react to it. 

The movie ends as Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns home to his children and spins his totem — a small top that spins indefinitely in a dream but topples in reality — to test if he is still dreaming. Then, just to mess with us, Nolan abruptly cuts to black before we can see the outcome, leaving Cobb’s reality — or lack thereof — open to speculation. While the debates on whether Cobb was dreaming or not are still an ongoing topic among fans, Nolan says that is not the point he was trying to make.

The conclusion suggests Cobb’s journey is more about his subjective experience than finding an objective truth. Whether the top falls doesn’t matter as much as the fact that Cobb stops watching it, choosing instead to be with his children.

Image Credit: IMDb.

6. ‘The Graduate’

Mike Nichols’s 1967 “The Graduate” wraps up with Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) making a wild break for it from her wedding, hopping on a bus to who-knows-where. At first watch, you are stoked for the young couple’s happy ending, ditching the script society laid out for them. But if you look closely as the bus rolls on, those smiles slowly morph into something more reflective, as Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” sets the mood. This shift suggests they are contemplating the ‘What’s next?’ question. Nichols seems to imply that “happily ever after” endings are not guaranteed, leaving Ben and Elaine’s future open to interpretation — which is precisely what makes the ending so great.

Image Credit: IMDb.

7. ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)

All the animals come out at night — and one of them is a cabby about to snap. The ending of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” has sparked debates for decades. While many believe Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a disturbed ex-Marine Vietnam vet, dies in the shootout, and the following scenes where Travis is hailed as a hero and briefly reunites with Betsy are just a lucid death dream, Paul Schrader, the film’s screenwriter, says that’s not the case. Schrader has clarified that Travis survives the shootout, and the scenes that follow are real — and that he is far from a hero. At the movie’s end, Travis quickly looks into the rear-view mirror, suggesting he’s still battling his inner demons, hinting that his struggle with violence might not be over.

Image Credit: IMDB.

8. ‘Rocky’ (1976)

It’s understandable why many were disappointed with the end of “Rocky.” After all,  watching the iconic training montage pumps you up for a big win right? But what we all tend to overlook is that this is a boxing movie that is not about boxing. It’s more about “walking the distance” and achieving self-belief. Despite Apollo winning by a split decision, the focus shouldn’t just be on Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) losing the championship. The point of the ending is that Rocky went the full distance with the world champion, something no other fighter had done. So it was never about winning the title but proving to himself and to Adrian that he’s more than just a “nobody.”

Image Credit: IMDb.

9. ‘In Bruges’ (2008)

Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” ends on a note that has sparked heated debates among fans for years: Does Ray (Colin Farrell), the last hitman standing, die or survive? However, dwelling on Ray’s survival might distract from the film’s takeaway. Throughout the movie, Ray struggles with suicidal thoughts and guilt following a tragic mistake that resulted in a child’s death. Yet, as he’s taken away in an ambulance, Ray reveals a newfound will to live. This shift in his desire to keep living is the point that McDonagh wanted to make.

Image Credit: IMDb.

10. ‘Get Out’ (2017)

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” ends on a note that’s more than just a simple win. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) gets away from the Armitage’s creepy control with help from his buddy Rod (Lil Rel Howery), but a lot more is happening beneath the surface. It’s not just about getting out of a bad situation; it’s a deep dive into racial issues. The look on Chris’s face after he escapes isn’t just about feeling relieved; it’s realizing the bigger fight against racism that’s still out there. The Armitage family might be gone, but the bigger problem they’re part of – using race to spread fear and control – is still around.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: IMDb.

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