A movie ending is not the equivalent of icing on the cake as that doesn’t even begin to capture its importance. It shouldn’t be an afterthought that serves to simply warp things up. The life of a screenplay, good or bad, hinges upon the execution of the final chapter.
In short, it pays (especially if you’re a working screenwriter) to know how to write a compelling movie ending.
A bad movie can be bailed out by a good conclusion, but the opposite is also true. You can have the best of plots, crafted to perfection, but a poor ending will undo all that hard work in an instance.
Most people don’t know how their screenplay is going to end by the time they’re putting pen to paper. Some writers don’t have a clue about the conclusion even way into the writing process.
They figure the characters will eventually stumble there somehow. And the plot will organically create a satisfying character journey.
Therein lies a crucial mistake. Your ending should guide your story, molding its path in a way that the climax builds up to it. So by the time you’re starting on your first sentence, you should have a conscious idea of how the plot is going to end. Some great writers in fact come up with a script by working their way back from the conclusion. They have a general concept in mind, then retrace plot steps from finish to start.
What makes a movie ending impressive and a bad one anticlimactic and uninspiring? We’ve rounded up a couple of pointers so you can ensure yours falls into the former category.
An answered question: Have you ever left the theater thinking deeply about a movie’s conclusion? A good ending sometimes makes us think. Leave the audience guessing what happens next and let them join the dots themselves.
If the audience can figure out how your movie is going to end from a mile away, then your ending may not be the best. Viewers are already anticipating an ending by the time the midpoint comes around. Your story seems to be barreling one way and all signs point to an expected outcome. If the movie ends the way the majority thinks it’s supposed to, then it won’t make for a very memorable film.
We’ve seen loads of those in action flicks and rom coms. The villain takes hostage a man’s daughter and the film ends with him rescuing her. That’s the case in both Commando and Taken. While fairly decent films, the audience can see the ending coming from the movie’s beginning, and they both live up to the cliché. It’s like walking into a surprise party you knew your friend was planning a week ago.
Remember the ending is the last thing people see from your movie. In cinema, the last impression is often more important than your first i.e. the hook or beginning. Misdirection should be your friend. Fool the audience by feinting the plot one way, then twist and turn in a totally different direction.
The guy doesn’t always have to get the girl in a rom-com. Perhaps he finds peace in singlehood and derives purpose from other relationships in his life. Round up cliché endings in your niche of choice then use these as a basis of what not to write.
Human beings are empathetic in nature. Whether it’s failure or success, there’s a part of our brain that feels remorse or excitement when the people in our lives lose or win. America’s Got Talent plays with the psyche in such fashion, manipulating that innate need to relate and form an emotional connection with people we get to know.
Hence why TV shows such as these are so successful. They play to the empathy concept, introducing us to a character we get to bond with, understand, and in a way befriend. When the story is well done, it sets up the ending which should offer the emotional reward subconsciously promised unto us, the viewers.
What would an emotionally rewarding ending be like?
One way to know is by placing yourself on the other side of the script, i.e. in the shoes of the audience. Set aside your formulaic, writer’s perspective and let the viewers’ hearts guide you to a meaningful conclusion that does justice for your audience.
If one of the objectives was character transformation, for example, we should see how the conflict changed the protagonist and if he is any better for it. Sampling third-party opinions is a nice way to determine what sort of concerns the typical cinephile believes you did not address, in terms of emotional promises, with the ending.
Your ending should follow not too long after the climax. When the amount of time between these two pivotal points drags out too long, you lose your window of opportunity to knock the audience while they’re still down. If a story overstays its welcome, you lose some of that spark that you can take advantage of for a more compelling and satisfying conclusion. The further the distance from the climax, the less powerful your ending gets. This is referred to as ending fatigue.
At a certain point in your film, the audience is expecting a summary. When that doesn’t happen and instead new plot points are introduced, viewers are confused. That expectation is ruined and the viewing experience is affected.
Casino Royale features a close to 40-minute gap between James Bond besting the villain, or at least who were led to believe is the main antagonist, and the ending. After building up to a game of poker and an intellectual showdown between protagonist and antagonist, the movie introduces a different dynamic.
Bond’s girlfriend is handed the baton of the big bad. While that no doubt makes for a shocking turn of events, it feels like we’re straightaway thrust into a sequel. So keep things short between climax and credits. Some experts recommend a gap of at most ten minutes.
A final note of uncertainty has the potential for an ending that’ll get people talking. It’s not a must-have yet writers time and again opt for the technique. That’s because it works. Sometimes, the best ending is one that leaves questions in viewers’ minds. Questions that they’ll need to answer themselves.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t resolve the conflict but do so in a way that leaves your audience guessing. Like there could be more to the story, but the ending is still satisfactory nonetheless. In a horror flick, the twitching hand of a defeated villain at the tail end would be an example.
A pinch of suspense will get people arguing about your movie way after they leave the theater. For example, the audience is left with an image of Hannibal walking after a gathering at the end of the horror masterpiece, Silence of the Lambs.
He says over the phone he has to go because he’s having an old friend for dinner. An ominous statement that indicates he is obviously up to no good but we don’t know what exactly. We don’t get to see what he meant by that because the credits roll up moments later.
This American drama might have debuted in 1941, but it remains a hot subject on the lips of cinema lovers. If you haven’t watched the movie, chances are you’ve heard about it in the alleyways of internet gossip. You may have come across the controversies and the tug of war that raged during filmmaking. You may have stumbled upon the scathing battles with media mogul William Hearst who believed the main character to be a dig at him.
Amid that chaos, one word from the film stands out above the noise and technical expertise of Citizen Kane. It’s a matter of constant debate as everyone chips in with an interpretation.
The movie basically seeks to uncover the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s last word “Rosebud.” Endless blind alleys make it seem like the audience will never get to discover what it means. But as the final image shows Kane’s burning childhood sled, the camera zooms in on the imprint “Rosebud”.
The audience’s mind is left to wander and connect the dots themselves. Was he hinting at some lost childhood innocence? Was it a souvenir of a mother’s love? The great thing about this ending is that it leaves us speculating. Nothing is certain. Nothing is clear. It’s like getting a clue to a crossword puzzle that you just can’t crack. And that’s what makes the ending so perfect and emotive.
Indeed, Citizen Kane is a fine example of how to make a great movie.
A salesman endures life’s struggles, including homelessness, as he battles to escape poverty. Throughout the film, we see Chris go through one obstacle after another. That includes the poor investment decision in not-too-popular technology that leads him down a road of desperation. Then there’s the turmoil of a quarrelsome wife who wants better.
We’ve invested our emotion in the character’s journey as we go through the ups and downs with him. And the ending is so perfect because we also get to win with him. His triumph is ours as well, and the conclusion wonderfully ties up the major plot point to satisfaction.
When Chris is called into the boss’s office on the final day of his internship, we don’t know if he’ll get the job. Out of 20 interns, only one gets a permanent broker position at the company. Six months of living in a toilet, homeless shelters, getting kicked out of motels, and struggling to put meals on the table boils down to those final nervy moments as Chris awaits the board’s decision.
The tension seeps right through to our hearts and the wait is killing us. His mind is made up. He believes he won’t get it, so when he does, it completely catches him by surprise. He is teary, happy, and speechless. We couldn’t be happier for him.
No Country for Old Men is not your traditional western. The hero doesn’t defy the odds to escape with an unlikely victory. This time, it is he who is not so lucky as the villain takes the day. There’s no happy ending for the protagonist who, in fact, doesn’t make it to the end. Unlike what we’ve become accustomed to with the genre, there’s no big final shootout or chase scene that settles the conflict.
Instead, we get a calm monologue, from a tertiary character no less, to wrap up the violence we’ve witnessed so far. Yet it works in ways that make us think, rounding up the movie’s events in a somber mood of reflection.
Retired sheriff Ed Tom Bell recounts two figurative dreams he had the previous night with his wife over breakfast in the film’s conclusion. One in which his father gives him money that he loses. Much of the movie revolves around fights over a $2 million briefcase. The dream may reference his failure at keeping the people safe and preventing the chaos that ensues. The second dream where he sees his father ride by on horseback, saying nothing to him, may mean that he feels he has let him down.
He is accepting the future and a world that seemingly has no place for him. Both dreams are open to interpretation, of course. The ending deviates from your typical western. It leaves us thinking deeply about the film’s theme of moral justice and how sometimes bad things happen in the world and we are powerless to stop them.
Almost every superhero film has a cliché plot and ending. It’s hard to stand out in a genre of film where there’s not much room to experiment and try something new. A bunch of heroes hurdle up to defend the world from extraterrestrial threats and, as always, they find some way to win. They are pushed to the verge of defeat before they eventually find a moment of clarity and inspiration to muster fading strength to defeat the villain.
That’s not the case with Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel’s billion-dollar box office success. It dares to be different, venturing the less trodden path and answering long-pondered wishful thinking like what if the heroes don’t win today?
Several things make the final chapter one of the most thrilling and shocking in cinematic history. When earth’s mightiest heroes gather up against Thanos in the final battle in Wakanda, we expect of course the heroes to prevail as the film’s final minutes trickle away.
Everything points to the villain’s defeat but he still has one final trick up his sleeve. In a nutshell, the heroes don’t save the day and a bunch of them die. The plot is building one way then takes a sharp U-turn, hitting you smack in the face like an unnoticed door.
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