A film’s ending has the ability to do many things. It can double down on the movie’s greatness, inspire hope, crush expectations, and even change everything that has come before it.
The best endings are the ones we first think of when we hear a movie’s title. The hand emerging from Carrie’s grave, Verbal’s disappearing limp, Thelma and Louise driving off a cliff. These endings defined the films themselves, staying with us long after the credits rolled.
This decade has seen incredible change in cinema’s format and distribution. Still, the power of great storytelling and powerful climaxes remains the same. Many endings in the last ten years, like the films they close, will forever go down in cinematic history.
As we come to the end of the 2010s, here are the movie endings that proved to be the most memorable and effective of the last decade.
20. Your Name (2016)
Ending a film with the characters saying the film’s title in unison is an undeniably corny way to end a story. But somehow, it works in this gorgeous animation. Your Name is a film you just have to see for yourself. A Japanese animation about body-swapping teens becoming star crossed lovers sounds a bit silly on paper. But the cosmic love story is moving enough to win over any anime skeptic.
After Taki and Mitsuha lose all memory of each other, they cross paths when the two both live in Tokyo. Unsure of where they know each other from, they catch eyes as their trains travel parallel to each other. Carried by a buried sense of recognition, they run across the city streets searching for each other. Eventually, they meet on a staircase. Still, a reunion is teasingly held back once more as they hesitantly walk past each other. Finally, they turn to one another and ask for each others’ name. Soppy pop music plays and the characters, as well as the film, get the fittingly gushy end they deserve.
It is a textbook example of a happy ending in a romance movie. But this ending stands out because of how good the film is leading up to it. If Your Name was anything less than it was, it would be a laughable closing note. Instead, it’s a completely earned and touching finish.
19. Capernaum (2018)
This Lebanese film recounting the difficult childhood of a young boy in Beirut was an absolute roller coaster ride of emotions. Zain, played by a real-life Syrian refugee of the same name, is hardened by the chaotic world around him. He runs away from his home, lives independently on the streets, and after being arrested, tries to sue his parents for bringing him into such a harsh world.
In the end, some justice finally comes to young Zain’s life. From prison, he manages to contact the media and shed light upon his own situation as well as Aspro’s human trafficking. As slow emotive string music plays, we see a montage of Aspro’s house being raided and refugees being found in small dark rooms. Among them is Yonas, the Ethiopian baby Zain previously helped raise on the streets when his mother was arrested. The following reunion between Yonas and his mother is impossible to get through without teary eyes and goosebumps. The use of amateur actors from similar real-life situations, as well as the visual documentary style, make every moment in this film exceptionally hard-hitting.
The very final shot of Zain breaking into a smile is a hopeful note the film clings to as the image remains frozen on the screen. Although positive, the smile feels particularly striking as it reminds us what a rare sight a smiling child has been throughout the film.
18. The Florida Project (2017)
We associate Florida primarily with beaches, golf courses, and Disney World. But Sean Baker’s Tangerine follow up showed a much different side to the sunshine state. Set within a community of permanent motel residents, The Florida Project follows 6-year-old Moonee and her friends.
The world we see through the children’s experiences is anything but family-friendly. At the end of the film, Moonee returns home to find child services waiting to take her into foster care. The young girl has other ideas and sets off to find her friend. The two then run hand in hand to Disney World.
The closing moments of the girls running towards the magic castle look like a fever dream, with the handheld camera bouncing in pace with the fleeing children. The style for once matches a more typical joyous children’s life. The film is anything but a fairytale, so it is a beautiful twist to give it an ending from one despite the inevitable realities.
17. Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke’s Cannes triumph is a devastating portrait of love. After a stroke, retired music teacher Anne is left debilitated and suffering immeasurably. Committed to a promise he made her, Anne’s husband Georges continues to care for her in their own home. But as her state and will to live deteriorate, Georges is left with an unimaginable choice.
Due to the film’s opening, we know Anne eventually dies. But how it happens is surprising and deeply upsetting. Georges recounts a childhood story to Anne who is unable to speak, but is still able to express her pain. As she begins to calm and lay peacefully, Georges reaches for a pillow and begins to suffocate her. The whole scene is framed in a still and unbroken shot that makes the act feel inescapable. Anne’s death is anything but quick and easy, as we are forced to watch the entirety of her suffocation. All we can see of her is her legs flailing under the blanket until they lay still. And on top and covering her, is Georges holding the pillow firmly down.
It remains a truly upsetting end to what came across as a beautiful marriage. For a film so focused on small everyday details, Anne’s death scene feels earth-shattering in scale. It is a tough watch and one that leads to an even tougher discussion about the right to die.
16. High Life (2018)
Claire Denis’ indie sci-fi is filled with troubling and violent sequences, not to mention plenty of fluids. It is a film that draws a very physical reaction and remains an often unpleasant watch despite its brilliance. It is a relief then that the film manages to find beauty and light in its ending.
After everyone else onboard his prison spaceship dies, Robert Pattinson’s Monte is left alone to raise his child Willow, in the depths of space. Even after Willow has grown up, and the two have survived for many years independently, there remains no hope of a return to Earth. When the pair reach a black hole, Willow convinces her father to fly inside it.
Unlike the previously shown entry to a black hole by a crew member, this time, it doesn’t end in a frenzied and gory manner. Instead, it is peaceful, with the two seemingly transported to another realm. The final moments of the father and daughter entering into a bright light feels uplifting and ultimately optimistic despite its ambiguity.
15. Enemy (2013)
Of all of Denis Villeneuve’s extraordinary work in the 2010s, Enemy stands as his most challenging watch. The complex puzzle of a movie about a man finding his doppelganger ends with the most shocking and terrifying scene. As (one of) Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters enters a bedroom to talk to the woman his doppelganger was dating, he finds a huge cowering tarantula standing in her place. He sighs, and the film ends.
It is perhaps the single most surprising shot in the last ten years of cinema. Spiders were a motif throughout Enemy, but nothing can prepare you for such a startling and surreal final image. Anyone with arachnophobia would understandably list this as the biggest scare of their lives. What it all means is unclear, as we are left shaking and not to mention scratching our heads.
14. It Follows (2014)
It Follows was one of the most original and effective horror films this decade. ‘It’ is a supernatural presence that takes the form of different people who are only visible to the viewer, and the victims it slowly chases down. The climactic battle in the swimming pool with the stalking entity is gripping, but it is the final shot that ultimately leaves its mark.
As Jay and Paul walk down a street holding hands, finally feeling safe, we notice a figure following behind them. Whether or not it is just another pedestrian who happens to be going the same way, or the entity once again following them, remains unclear. The film’s scariest aspect throughout is how it has the viewer scanning the frame trying to work out if the entity is present, and if so, who it is. This final shot plays perfectly with that, leaving you to work out when the film cuts to black if it is safe after all.
13. Annihilation (2018)
Annihilation is a movie based on mystery. Where did the “shimmer” come from? Why does nobody survive inside it? Why the hell does a bear produce human screams? Rather than answering all of the questions, the film doubles down on its ambiguity in its surreal ending. Although Interstellar tried so hard, this decade, it was Annihilation’s ending, which most resembled the feel of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s iconic climax.
The colorful cosmic structure in the crater, the face-off between Lena and her clone, the destruction of the shimmer, it is all so baffling and also visually stunning. The haunting closing sequence as Kane and Lena are reunited only adds to the questions, as the alien shimmer in their eyes suggests the otherworldly life is still alive. There is no closure, and certainly no easy answers. But sometimes, mysteries are most effective when they are left unsolved.
12. Roma (2018)
Alfonso Cuarón has established himself as the modern master of the long take. Although Roma was a much smaller and more personal film compared to the likes of Children of Men and Gravity, he still managed to fit in many visually impressive sequences. The harrowing hospital scene, the fire, and much of the riot all used long unbroken takes. But it is the beach scene at the film’s end that stands as the most technically impressive.
This challenging way of filming is more than a director flexing, it adds so much realism and power to the scene. As Cleo wades into the crashing waves, it is hard not to hold your own breath. Knowing she can’t swim, her rescue of the children feels more significant and more thrilling than most action movie set pieces.
Yet the whole time, we never lose a sense of what this film is about, the intimate. As Cleo and the children come back out to the beach, they are joined by the other child and the mother. The image of the five huddling together against the setting sun is among the many striking images of Roma. Cleo’s confession that she wished her child would not be born makes it emotionally devastating. The following closing scenes return the characters to their home and the film to normality. But despite the calm finish, we are still reeling from the breathtaking beach shot and its emotional fallout.
11. Buried (2010)
Ryan Reynold’s claustrophobic thriller ends on a brutal twist. After being buried alive in a small wooden box, Conroy finds a lifeline using his cell phone. He is able to contact Brenner, the head of a Hostage Working Group. As the box increasingly fills with sand, Brenner hunts down the coffin he believes Conroy is trapped inside. With mere moments to spare, we hear them unearth a coffin only to realize they tracked down the wrong one. It doesn’t contain Conroy.
The film ends with Brenner repeating, ‘I’m sorry’ over the phone as Conroy is left buried alive. All the hope the audience is given, all the tension built up with a race against the clock; it was for nothing. The whole time, they were never even close to rescuing him. Instead, we cut to black as Conroy is left suffocating in a box buried in an unknown location. It is the stuff of nightmares.