Common sense and statistics say that, even when you think you’re watching a decent SciFi film, you should refrain from celebration until after the end credits – because sometimes movie endings suck. We asked a host of luminaries the following question.
*** SPOILER WARNING! ***
Some of these answers (and accompanying videos) contain spoilers. But in this case, the answers are more entertaining than the end of the movie anyway, so…spoiler warning redacted.
First, what makes for a good ending? The hallmark of a great movie ending is that it’s impossible to anticipate while watching it, but seems like the only ending possible in hindsight. It shouldn’t fall prey to sentimentality, at least not overly so, and should follow through with the power of the premise. Surprising, inevitable, memorable; some examples that come to mind include: A Boy and His Dog, 12 Monkeys, The Thing, Planet of the Apes (1968). I guess I like the shocking sci-fi horror ending! A lot of sf movies have conventional endings, a little too pat and expected, but not weird or ugly.
I decided to start with a list of movies I think have endings flawed one way or another, a list that includes a lot of movies I truly like. 2001 is pretty confusing. Contact is a bit of a let down and the government cover-up seemed unnecessary. AI goes for the weird alien happy ending. The Hulk ending is a dark mess. The finale of Sphere sucks. Changing the ending of Armageddon sure couldn’t hurt it. Return of the Jedi is full of Ewoks and happy happy joy joy Darth Vader. Ridley Scott himself has changed the ending of Blade Runner several times.
And then there’s the movie I finally settled on: Signs…
Signs isn’t exactly a rigorous science fiction movie. It’s more of a horror movie masquerading as science fiction, all in service to a bigger message about whether or not there’s purpose in the world. I think some of the scenes in the film are terrific, and the movie sets a great mood. I usually have to watch a few minutes of the film when I find it on TV. But then comes the ending, and it literally makes me scream out. WTF? WTF? Water burns alien flesh?! Water?! This is so, so dumb, I can’t even make sense of it. Maybe there was a purpose in this, some biblical allusion or something, but it’s so stupid I can’t see it. Even going with this crazy development, we’re supposed to believe that the aliens would like to invade a planet where acid falls from the skies, and the native children carry it in toy guns.
Signs has the worst ending of a movie with some otherwise redeeming qualities, and I wish I could change it.
[Editors Note: Couldn’t find the verbatim ending of Signs, but this video does contain scenes from the mentioned ending.]
I’d change the ending of E.T. I’d show Elliot barbecuing the little animated baseball mitt for his family. Enough with this feel-good crap! Next thing we’ll have sci-fi writers adopting Martians.
I would love to see a different ending for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Let me begin by explaining something: I think Star Trek V gets picked on unfairly. Sure, it’s not the best film in the series, and it may in fact be the worst. But one of the worst films ever? I wouldn’t go nearly that far. It has some wonderful character moments, and some of the design and effects are gorgeous. People like to beat up on it, but it isn’t that bad.
But there’s that ending: After hearing Spock’s hippie brother Sybok tell us about the impassable barrier at the center of the galaxy, the Enterprise sails right through it with no problems at all. On the other side they find Sha Ka Ree, a planet that supposedly houses the origin of the universe. It looks like a quarry, which is par for the course for television SF like the original Trek or Doctor Who, but a bit of a let-down for a feature film. And then God – yes, God, depicted as a glowing, rear-projected guy with a beard – demands the surrender of the Enterprise and starts zapping people with beams from his eyes. And then – well, then they ran out of money. There’s a somewhat nonsensical spaceship rescue (God can be defeated by a couple disruptor blasts, apparently), Kirk delivers a platitude about God existing “right here, in the human heart,” and the credits roll. It’s a mess, but there are some parts of the ending I truly like. In particular, Kirk’s inquiry about what God needs with a starship is legitimately classic line and a key bit of Star Trek theology (on which more below). But on the whole, the ending feels a bit off.
In a way, it’s a good thing that the film went over budget. The original plan was to have God summon an army of rock monsters to fight the Enterprise crew. Test footage of a monster suit is included on the special edition DVD, and the full scene made its way into the DC Comics adaptation. Judging from that evidence, the ending wouldn’t have been better, and could very easily have been a great deal worse. (What do rock monsters have to do with God, anyway?) It wasn’t just running out of money that made the ending a failure. The ending we got was a bit of a mess, but the ending they wanted could have been a complete fiasco.
When I was writing The Gospel According to Science Fiction, I had a small dilemma over this film. I knew that I needed to discuss it – after all, it’s Star Trek‘s clearest (or at least loudest) statement about religion. But what does it mean? After struggling with it for a while, I had an insight: Kirk’s interrogation of God is an awful lot like Abraham bargaining over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Despite McCoy’s protests, Kirk wants to be able to challenge, question, and haggle with God. Buried in the murk of that ending is a plea for a humanistic religion, but we simply don’t get enough of it. I realize that a feature film needs to end with an action sequence, but did God have to jump to the eyebeams so quickly? An additional 30 seconds of dialog would have done wonders for bringing more sense to this scene, but apparently fully fleshed-out ideas are even more expensive than monster suits.
The real problem is that I had to struggle to find something thematically interesting here, that I had to put so much thought into this movie to figure out what it was trying to say. Trek usually packages its philosophy much more clearly than this, but this film just doesn’t try hard enough to be interesting. It ends up being just a rehash of the original series episode “Who Mourns For Adonais?“, which isn’t the best episode to begin with, though it did reveal the interesting fact that Starfleet ships have religions specialists on board. Star Trek V could have gone further and done something more original, but it didn’t, and that’s a shame.
1972’s Conquest of The Planet of the Apes is my favorite of the original Apes films, but man, that ending blows.
For those of you who haven’t seen it (or don’t remember which movie it is)…Caeser spends the entire movie organizing and executing a bloody ape revolution. At the end of the film he delivers a stirring speech, with the city of Los Angeles burning behind him.
But then, he changes his mind and says apes and men must live together in peace.
This change-of-heart speech was tacked-on, using close-ups of Roddy McDowell’s eyes and a rough voice-over. Apparently test audiences disliked the revolution ending, so this was added at the last minute. I would prefer to see the original ending.
It probably never would have been considered a masterpiece in any event, but one science fiction film ruined by an absolutely wrong ending was Ivan Reitman’s Evolution (2001). Having depicted tiny alien organisms that landed on Earth and rapidly generated more and more advanced creatures, up to and including primates, the film should have properly concluded with the development of intelligent humanoid aliens, who would calmly introduce themselves, apologize for all the problems caused by their more ferocious predecessors, and announce plans to gather all of the alien beings together and depart to another world that is not already inhabited by a thriving biosphere. Such an ending would not only have been logical, but it also would have provided a worthwhile commentary on the process of evolution, which was after all the film’s title: the idea that, whatever value fierce competitiveness might have in the advancement of species, the best strategy for ultimate success is usually cooperation. Unfortunately, since such an ending would not have provided the spectacular special-effects fireworks and improbable heroism which contemporary Hollywood lore insists is essential in concluding a sure-fire box-office success, the filmmakers instead opted for the inane emergence of an enormous one-celled organism which could somehow be exterminated, as I vaguely recall, by the desperately improvised application of some Head and Shoulders shampoo – foreshadowing, it seems clear in retrospect, that a lot of investors were going to take a bath, and the film was going down the drain.
I would change the ending of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.
Now, I actually loved most of this movie, and for that matter, Stars Wars I and II, and I hate to offer any criticism of this saga, lest it give comfort to its critics, and/or be seen as taking candy from a baby.
But…the way Padmé dies was a real letdown. What do you mean, she lost her will to live? What kind of limp fish way is that to go out?
If I could change the end of that movie, I’d have Padmé giving birth to Leia and Luke, then going down in a blaze of glory, fighting off the clone army to save her children, with perhaps Vader even trying to come to her assistance at the very last moment, failing, tortured, and not knowing what became of his children.
End with Padmé fighting with her last breath to save what was best in her universe…
But, then again, I’m always an optimist when it comes to these things…
I’m certain that there are any number of possible answers, but the first to come to mind is Contact. Too many members of the audience wholly misunderstand the nature of the first encounter at the end, and believe the point of the movie is than an atheist gets heaven shoved in her face and is forced to change her mind. Second choice: 2010. Audiences thought the end of the movie was a greeting card, when in actuality it was an event of cosmic importance. Both endings needed clarification.
I want to rewrite the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and make the revelation be that HAL’S AI consciousness is downloaded into the Star Child’s wetware, and the Singularity is upon us!
I can’t think of any SF movies whose endings I’d like to see change. By and large, they’ve all worked for me. I do have to say that I haven’t seen every SF movie out there; in particular, I stay well away from the horror stuff (Aliens, Predator, and the like), and a lot of the rest I just haven’t caught up with.
This was a tough question for me to answer. Most of the time if I don’t like a film I come to that realization well within the second act and the ending is just the final little bit of suffering I have to endure before leaving the theater or ejecting the DVD. The thing about the film industry is that when it comes to making a movie there are so many cooks in the kitchen that a film’s tone and watchability are cemented consistently throughout the picture by the time any of us see it. Chances are if the beginning stinks, the ending will follow suit.
So if I really had the opportunity just to change the ending of a film I would have to tinker with Serenity. I know I can hear the collective groans of the fans right now, because we all know that Joss Whedon is awesome and can do no wrong, but there was one thing that bugged me about the film–the death of Wash. It seemed to come at the wrong time and for apparently no reason. He didn’t die fighting–he was just sitting in the pilot’s seat after a masterful flight through a huge battle between the Alliance and the Reavers. It shocked the heck out of me and I couldn’t get past it for the rest of the movie, which was sad since I couldn’t initially appreciate some of the wonderful things about the ending because I was so disturbed by his sudden death. I can maybe understand it as a mechanism to allow River full acceptance into the crew, but I still didn’t like it. If I would redo the ending, I’d let Wash live and leave the rest of it as is, because Whedon is awesome.
The easy answer would be Star Wars Episode III, but that ending was almost a multiple choice with George Lucas providing viewers with all a few different options. I don’t think I’d change the ending(s) he gave us though. The ending I would change, though, would probably be Signs. I was really into the “ride” of the movie, going along with the tension that built up over the course of the story. Then it turns out the aliens were basically clones of the Wicked Witch of the West. Water? Freaking water is their kryptonite? These aliens, who can travel across galaxies decide to land en masse on a planet whose surface is over 70% of their version of kryptonite! Asinine. I thought Mel Gibson’s character’s return to the Church was a bit ham-handed. There were other holes in the plot, but what movie doesn’t ask viewers to take some sort of logic leap? The water though, was too much and threw the whole movie into the light of parody.