Saturday, July 20, 2013
Regular reader Brian O’Rourke offers his list of the top ten science fiction film endings below to close out the afternoon.
“10 - DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB: "Mein Führer! I can walk!" And with that, the world ends in a montage of nuclear annihilation. A gem of an ending.
9 - THESE ARE THE DAMNED – Why is Joseph Losey’s movie barely acknowledged by science fiction fans today? It’s a downbeat classic of the ‘60s, with a surprisingly violent conclusion and an ending completely devoid of hope. “Someone help us! Please help us!” (Not to be confused with CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED)
8 - DONNIE DARKO – Richard Kelly’s mind twister of a movie ends with a heartbreaking but redemptive fatality. There are so many challenging ideas throughout this movie (12 years later I’m still trying to decipher some clues), but we never lose our human connection to these characters – especially Donnie, brought to life by Jake Gyllenhaal.
7 - ALIENS – Ripley vs. the alien queen, an epic battle. I prefer ALIEN to any of its sequels and think that James Cameron is cursed with a tin ear, but there’s no denying the sheer cinematic catharsis this scene provides. It’s so great an ending I can almost forgive Cameron for AVATAR. Almost.
6 - THE THING – An hour and 45 minutes of shocking suspense and carnage ends with a whisper: Two men, exhausted and distrustful, sit facing each other over a crackling fire. Ingenious.
5 - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) – The 1978 remake is a classic that sports its own unforgettable ending, but Don Siegel’s 1956 original ends in true paranoiac fashion, our hero begging an apathetic public to open its eyes. Kevin McCarthy’s "They're here already! You're next! You're next!" scared the hell out of a few generations.
4 - PLANET OF THE APES – It’s a visual cliché today, but wow!, Lady Liberty buried in the sand was a shock and a thrill for me, not yet a teenager, the first time I saw this movie. One of cinema’s indelible images. (I love that MAD MEN used this scene in a recent episode: Don Draper takes his son to see PLANET OF THE APES at the theatre, and they’re both so riveted they decide to stay for a second viewing.)
3 - CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND – The appropriate science fiction ending for any fan: In a visually, aurally and emotionally stunning finale, Roy Neary finally meets the visitors who have haunted him for so long and accepts an invitation to join them on what is sure to be an amazing journey. I’ve seen this movie countless times and the tears still well up.
2 - THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN – Scott Carey shrinks so small as the movie ends, feels his body “dwindling, melting, becoming nothing.” He makes his peace with the vast universe and accepts whatever awaits him. “I still exist,” he proclaims. This is one of the finest science fiction movies ever made, and the shrinking man’s final words turn his tragic end into a story of hope and humanity.
1 - LA JETEE – Though it’s only 28 minutes long and made of still photographs, Chris Marker’s 1962 film is one of my favorites, and the haunting, inevitable and endlessly copied ending is simply perfect. This was remade in 1995 by Terry Gilliam as 12 MONKEYS, which is also very, very good."
Brian: your list is a terrific one, and adds at least one more title I wish I had thought to include: Dr. Strangelove. Also, it's great to see The Incredible Shrinking Man and Close Encounters getting their due on these tallies as well...
Reader and blogger Robert of Hornak Watchlist gives us a great list to think about this afternoon.
No idea if my list is true to the spirit of the lists that came before (which I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from) – or any rule on long-windedness and self-indulgence. Rather than list endings that I know, in my wise old age, are great, I’ve listed endings that rocked and imprinted my unsuspecting pre-pubescent amygdala in real time and for all time before I ever had the words to interpret the reaction. I’m only including movies that I saw before my 12th birthday, effectively snubbing movies that would otherwise make the cut, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, 2001, Alien, Back to the Future (“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”), and 12 Monkeys. The list isn’t necessarily all movies that are great for sci-fi or cinema history (though some obviously are), but they fit the bill for movies with endings that helped shape my internal world, and every entry still has the power to rattle me to my core.
10. FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH – I only understood what was actually going on in this movie when I saw it again later in my teens, but I was hooked as a kid by the Brit palate of the film stock before I even knew what that was – a kind of muted yet clear and sharp-edged gray; like a darkly adult version of a live-action Wonderful World of Disney episode (guess it could’ve just been our old console television) – enough so that I watched to the end, when the walls came tumbling down, fire leapt, men burned, women screamed, and from out of the split ground rose what to my Southern Baptist, Sunday school addled imagination was no one less than the devil himself. I was terrified – and still tremble a little when I see that warbling, weirdly-horned silhouette.
9. SOYLENT GREEN – Being the young sci-fi nerd I was, I’d already heard the famous phrase, but I never knew the backstory. So when the movie digs deep into the melancholy of Robinson as dying father figure/roomie, and Heston finally outs the true nature of the offending wafer, the literal translation of the line – or a kind of secular transubstantiation – could be “Soylent Green is my friend!” And the line that was co-opted by culture as a punch line is reclaimed as tragedy.
8. X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES – Only obliquely a science fiction story, and another one whose ending yanked hard on my well-churched sensibility. When our hero, running the gamut from benevolent to cursed, finally teeters on the edge of his own sanity, and stumbles into potential redemption at a tent revival – the preacher quotes a line I’d heard many times in the pew, “If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out!” Watching Milland resort to the most fundamentalist interpretation for relief from his encroaching madness, and then rising back into frame with those empty, red sockets, I had an image that was burned onto my own retinas for eternity.
7. THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – Harryhausen movies were always an event, awaited on any given Saturday afternoon when “Screaming Meemies Flicks” opted to play one. A lot like his younger Venusian-Italian cousin, the Ymir of “20 Million Miles To Earth”, the Rhedosaur is really just a sci-fi incarnation of the King Kong myth – the gargantuan fish out of water, too big to be contained, too frightened to be held responsible for his angry-tourist rampage. But as much as I worshiped King Kong (as a kid, I’d climb to the top of the empire state fire hydrant on my block and swat at imaginary bi-planes), somehow The Beast was more my own – I’d never seen a jungle island or NYC with my own eyes, but I’d been to Six Flags Over Texas and seen the Judge Roy Scream with my own eyes; and I’d never felt bullets penetrate my leathery hide, but I’d felt the hot stovetop on the palm of my hand. So seeing that innocent reptile, coughed up by a radioactive blast (like my other hero, Godzilla), swallowed by a blazing rollercoaster, and ultimately taking those patented-by-Harryhausen last giant gasps of earthly air, I felt his death more than any other monster.
6. THE THING (1951) – I didn’t see Carpenter’s update till my mid teens (remember my semi-sheltered upbringing), so I couldn’t yet know the joys of severed heads sliding off tables and sprouting spider legs. But that was okay – ignorance, and Howard Hawks, is bliss. While the low-budget humans in most 50s sci-fi, even the ones in the fast-forwardable previous entry, were often just shy of animatronics, the budding cineaste in me soaked up the fast, overlapping relations of these adults, enough so that keeping the intellectual carrot at bay didn’t seem so bad – and the creepiness edging up into the picture was soon an enjoyable thing in itself. Then, finally, when you’re jolted by the sheer unstoppable force of the visitor, finally stoppable only with a jolt or two or three of straight up electricity, you feel the catharsis of those characters you’ve grown to know and like… Until, the catharsis is abruptly truncated with that nervous newsman’s repeated imperative, “Watch the skies… Keep looking…!” As a kid given to a perverse mixture of fear of invasion and hope for contact of any kind, this was more than Lederer’s dialogue, it was a dispatch from my own imagination.
5. FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – I honestly don’t know if this movie/story is science fiction or not. To my eyes it is, given it’s one man testing God’s law via bold scientific experimentation. But the pathos given the monster by Karloff’s portrayal makes the story too human to strap with any one genre label. The movie (and later, the book, which became and still is in my top five or six favorite novels) treats the monster, perhaps unwittingly, with more humanity than the humans, and the sight of the poor brute lurching toward safety – mostly mute in the film, making it even more tragic – kept it from becoming something frightening, but instead stamped the whole, beautiful black-and-white tragedy as an experience too entirely relatable to a kid who feels left alone. The lit torches ascending to the monster’s final roost were, to me, not unlike the kids I was convinced truly did not like me. (I suppose now it could’ve been the bolts in my neck.)
4. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – I was only 6 when Star Wars was out, so I didn’t quite grasp the fullness of that movie, as story or effects watershed. But by the time its sequel came out, I’d absorbed enough to feel something like real love for the characters. So stop-motion kangaroo-horses, mystic muppets, and laser-spitting dinosaur-tanks were more than enough to keep a 9-year-old boy enthralled for an entire summer. But the juice of any mythology is how much more deeply it can penetrate your dreams than your parents’ Christmas present budget. And the REM-fuel of Empire is in the final wallop, wherein the bad guy gets cleaved forever to the good guy, scraping hard against every rule your little kid brain’s ever known about family and fathers and defeating what is dark so that light can win, and something unnamable in you gets broken – nothing you’d ever be able to label till tenth grade psychology class – something that gets stroked again later in life every time you let pass into your ears “The Rebel Fleet” from the soundtrack, swooning as it does from longing to wonder to peril to hope.
3. PLANET OF THE APES – There I was, nine years old, flat on my stomach, staring up at the tv, allowed to stay up for the 10:30 movie, my parents dozing somewhere behind me – they’d seen it, and wanted me to know the joys of the big reveal. Of course, the talking apes were all I really needed, and a story that felt so much like the Twilight Zone episodes I’d just started gobbling up – it’d be many years before I put POTA’s partial screenplay attribution with that show’s genius creator-soul. When Heston slams the wet surf with his fist, crying out in tv-safe, sound-dropped blasphemies, I knew something was up. Then the eerie, music-free pull back that still sends the tingler up my spine, and the reveal of that iconic destruction... I had to ask what exactly it meant, and of course I didn’t really get it until I had a few social studies classes under my belt. Later, the entire Ape series lit the fire for me on any and all time travel movies – for my money, the millennia-wide vicious loop is still the king of the sub-genre.
2. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – I was eleven, sitting in the movie theater, watching those characters that’d become my friends in the old tv reruns, now giant, now loud, now in real, exploding, one hundred percent danger instead of just tv danger. I’m still stunned when Spock takes that short moment to let his salvation plan get 3D in his brain, then leaps up to make it happen. I want to tell him to stop, find another way! – but somehow I know this is how it’s got to be. And the palm-to-palm farewell. I admit I still get choked up. Today, it’s not just that a friend is gone; I know full well there’s Star Trek III and beyond. Today, it’s that my age makes me relate less to Spock’s singular act of sacrifice, and more the deep-down-in-the-screenplay meditation on the pangs of getting older, and the changes that hit that don’t have automatically built-in sequels. What moves me most now is watching Shatner’s humbled Kirk, God bless ‘im, pondering his own regrets, coming face to face with old mistakes, and embracing the opportunities that come so rarely to renew an old lost love. The movie, for all its audience-friendly action and its fairly simple black hat/white hat schemes, is deeply philosophical, mature and completely satisfying.
1. E.T. – The summer of 1982 was an emotional one. Spock died… and so did E.T., only to come back and then leave again right away. I went to see E.T. with my family, my father paying for the entire brood. The next four times I saw it, that same summer, I was on my own, five bucks a pop, down at the Eastgate Cinema, alone with my thoughts and my hopes and my tears – that moment when the final image of Elliott fades to black and the music fades to silence… that three seconds before the tinkling end credits piano ramps up… and you can hear nothing but semi-embarrassed sniffs… I can still hear that in the silence when I’m watching the DVD. I wanted to see it that first time because I thought it would be like all the stuff I’d been absorbing my whole life – aliens, spaceships, outer space, monsters, the unknown. What I got was something that transcended science fiction, transcended movies. It was nothing short of the bridge from my childhood to my young adulthood in terms of understanding my own feeling of isolation and in terms of being able to grope toward more adult-themed movies. Maybe that’s a little too informed by my adult reflection; at the time, all the repeat viewings were more that I just couldn’t take it – maybe this time he’ll stay, but every time, he’s got to go. I obviously couldn’t have known it then, but maybe it was some kind of foreshadowing in my life, and the life of everyone else who’s a human being, that nothing we have will necessarily stay. The little bit of dialogue between Elliott and E.T. before final lift-off and timpani is absolutely the stuff of our lives – our constant separation from the things we love – family, friends, our own childhoods – and it’s the very stuff that can still make me cry so unashamedly, that it cannot be anything other than my favorite ending to any movie of any genre. I’ll stop there, now that everyone thinks I’m a hopeless, weepy sentimentalist."
Robert: I love this list. You do a great job of explaining why you love these movie endings so much. E.T. (1982) has started placing in the last few days, and man, I get weepy just thinking about it. But also, you've got some great nods to an earlier generation of sf films, including The Thing and Frankenstein. I really enjoyed this, and thanks for sharing it.
Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Endings: Roman J. Martel of Roman's Movie Reviews and Musings
Our next list today comes from Roman J. Martel, the amazing blogger at Roman's Movie Reviews and Musings, and one of my great buddies.
But first, he has a bone to pick with me:
"I'm beginning to be suspicious of your lists. I mean how can you not set this one up so that "Planet of the Apes" isn't a clear winner. And since we all know your favorite film is "Planet of the Apes" is smell a conspiracy! Or maybe I've been watching too many "X-files" episodes.
Anyway this was a tough one to compile. And oddly enough this time I didn't have a list of "greatest" different from a list of "favorites". I guess in the end, a great ending is a great ending.
So here is my list with some accompanying remarks:
10. Galaxy Quest – 1999
The ultimate in fan wish fulfillment makes this one of my favorite endings to a movie. Not only does the goofy super-fan get to help his heroes save the day, but those same heroes crash land in the middle of a huge sci-fi convention, in a working spaceship, and then defeat the villain once and for all. It’s the perfect ending to one of the best sci-fi comedies I’ve ever seen.
9. The End of Evangelion - 1997
While you could consider this entire film to be the ending of the series, the final minutes make a huge impact on the viewer. Shinji Ikari literally destroys the world and remakes it to suit him. Since he is a depressive, shattered human being, his ideal world is desolate, empty except for a girl who says she loathes him. Director Hideaki Anno creates some of his most vivid imagery in this film but that final scene is both horrifying and sad as all hell.
8. Close Encounters of a Third Kind – 1977
We achieve contact with an alien life form, and all the wonder and amazement that it entails unspools before the viewer. Spielberg creates a dazzling visual display of light and darkness, and John Williams amazing score for the film comes to its climax. An amazing ending to a tough journey, and yet it implies that Roy Neary’s journey has just begun.
7. Back to the Future – 1985
Zemeckis stages one of the most fun and exciting set pieces of the 1980s, as Marty attempts to catch lightning and get back to 1985. But then the actual ending is wonderfully perfect as Marty returns to a home that is even better than before, because of his “tampering with the space time continuum”. It all ends with one of my favorite quotes to end a film, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need… roads.” I grin every time.
6. The Empire Strikes Back - 1980
I don’t think anyone viewing this film for the first time expected this ending. Luke defeated and maimed, Han Solo captured, Darth Vader victorious. The heroes barely escape with their lives. The final word in the film is literally “Ow!” Ouch indeed! But for all the trial, the movie ends with a glimmer of hope, with new allies, Luke restored and with friends. John Williams even sums up the scene with a glorious crescendo of Han and Leia’s theme – hinting that Solo will return. An excellent finale and my favorite of the series.
5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – 1982
The bold step to kill Spock and cripple the crew of the Enterprise is still effective to this day. For anyone who grew up with the characters, the final scenes in the film are some of the best in the history of the franchise. As painful as the death scene is, the blow is cushioned by a wonderful epilogue scene where Kirk reflects, a planet is born and then Spock says the final lines… “To boldly go where no man has gone… before.” Perfect.
4. Ghost in the Shell -1995
After an extended philosophical exploration, Major Kusanagi and Project 2501 decide to merge. This cyborg/synthetic mind combination awakens in a new child like body. But the body is nothing more than a shell, because the voice is Kusanagi’s, with hints of 2501 within. As she steps out onto the cliff overlooking the city below her, the new being’s eyes seem to light up with the wonder of new possibilities. “The net is vast, and infinite.” We have a woman who’s an efficient killing machine fused with a being created “in the vast sea of information”. It is impossible to know what she is going to do next… and that is why I always get the shivers when she says that final line. I suspect the world is in for a rude awakening.
3. Blade Runner -1982
Deckard’s encounter with Batty has left his broken and reflective. But it also opened his eyes. He races home to get Rachael and escape into the world – perhaps to be hunted by another Blade Runner. As they leave he see the unicorn origami, and it just adds that final question mark to the character of Deckard. Then the elevator doors shut and Vangelis kicks our 1980s asses. Great stuff.
2. Planet of the Apes – 1968
Oh the rich rich irony of those final minutes. It does not surprise me in the least that Rod Serling worked on this screenplay, because his Twilight Zone series was filled with moments like this. But the build up and execution of the scene give it additional power. Of particular note is Jerry Goldsmith’s innovative and amazing musical score. In those final moments he builds tension and atmosphere very subtly, we subconsciously are waiting for something to happen. But when the moment arrives, he wisely lets the scene play out without any music at all. This masterstroke makes the moment have an even greater impact. I’ll say it again, Goldsmith was a master of film scoring.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey - 1968
Love it or hate it, the ending has had a huge impact on so many different films in so many different genre’s it is impossible to ignore. The mind blowing stargate sequence is both unsettling and numbing in it’s own way. But those final scenes of “the Infinite” are an amazing surreal and yet visual exploration of the concept of first contact. Something truly alien coming in touch with our consciousness, how could our minds even comprehend it? The style and execution of these scenes are nothing short of spectacular. That is why it’s my number one pick."
Roman: I promise you I didn't set out trying to think of a list that POTA would win, but of course, we're all the sum totality of our biases. So maybe I did it subconsciously? Next month, I will attempt to pick a subject where POTA does not excel. I promise!
In the meantime: I love your list, especially because you noted the uplifting ending of Close Encounters. If memory serves (and it doesn't always serve so great these days...) that's the first mention of CE3K on the top ten!
Duanne Walton starts off our reader's top ten this beautiful Saturday morning with his great list.
Take it away Duanne:
“I always enjoy reading top ten lists, but not so much making them. I always end up second guessing myself once I'm done. Case in point: I now think I should've made Flash Gordon my number 10 choice instead of the T-800 in last month's top ten movie characters list.
But anyway, here's my top ten movie ending list, subject to change at any given moment:
10. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One final voyage into the final frontier for our old friends.
9. The Stepford Wives (1975). The blank eyes stare out at us from the supermarket and we know Joanna is gone.
8. The Thing (1951). “Keep watching the skies!”
7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1957). Whit Bissel alerts the authorities to the pod people as Kevin McCarthy slumps against the wall looking completely drained. But is it too late? We're left to wonder.
6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). This time, there's no wondering: it is too late.
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The alternate ending, which is much more satisfying than the theatrical one.
4. Return of the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker is restored, and so is peace and justice in the galaxy.
3. The Incredible Shrinking Man. “To God, there is no zero. I still exist.”
2. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”
1. Planet of the Apes (1968). We obliterated ourselves, Klaatu.
Official runners up:
Charly. His mental regression is horrifying and heartbreaking. But the freeze frame on his smiling face begs the question: is he actually better for it?
The Iron Giant. "Su-per-man."
Cloverfield. "I had a good day." Always cherish your good days. Because you never know when that statue's head will come crashing down in the middle of the street.
That should do it. Thanks.”
That should do it. Thanks.”
Duanne: I love that your list really considers the full-breadth and history of science fiction film history, with shout-outs to films as diverse as The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Stepford Wives and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. A fantastic selection of unforgettable endings. I also really like the yin-and-yang of your number one and two choices, as you humorously connect them.
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "The Time Trap" (November 24, 1973)
The U.S.S. Enterprise investigates a remote area of space known as "The Delta Triangle" where starships have been disappearing without a trace for years. After a Klingon battlecruiser, the Klothos, disappears near the Enterprise, Kirk order his ship into the rift -- a "window to some other continuum" -- to investigate further.
Soon, the Enterprise finds itself in a pocket universe, sailing in a Sargasso Sea of lost starships...some of which are ancient. The crews trapped there have formed a peaceful ruling council in this land, called "Elysium," and there are representatives there from many races, including Orions, Gorns, Phylosians and Tellarites.
So far, none of these aliens have been able to return to the prime universe. And they punish any act of violence aggressively, since order must be maintained and resources shared in such a limited universe.
Spock and Scotty realize that the power of the lost Klingon ship -- when combined with the Enterprise's own engines -- could propel them all home together.
But first, the suspicious Klingons must agree to work with the Starfleet officers. And worse, one Klingon has violated the law of the land, meaning that the Elysium council is within its rights to punish the Klothos crew.
"The Time Trap" is another really terrific, really well-done episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 - 1974). In the tradition of the best Trek episodes, it offer trenchant social commentary relevant to its time, and even more than that, keys in on a popular "fad" of the 1970s: belief in the Bermuda Triangle, that region of the North Atlantic Ocean where many ships and planes have apparently vanished.
"The Time Trap" is also splendid from a continuity standpoint, showcasing alien species we have already met in other episodes, including from "The Cage," "Journey to Babel," "Arena" and even "The Infinite Vulcan."
Additionally, this episode sees the return of the Klingon Captain Kor of "Errand of Mercy." Unfortunately, the original actor, John Colicos, does not voice the character, which makes the return appearance of the beloved antagonist less successful than it might otherwise be.
I interviewed "The Time Trap" author Joyce Perry back in the year 2000, and discussed this contribution to the Animated Series with her. Her Star Trek story is based on the very timely (in the early 1970s) notion of detente, a new era of cooperation between hostile or competing governments. "I had this idea that a Klingon ship and the Enterprise would get trapped in a Sargasso Sea of space and be forced to cooperate to escape," Perry told me.
Perry's big concern was getting the former enemies out of the crisis. "I remember telling Gene [Roddenberry] this bizarre notion that two ships could combine engines and become more powerful as one than they were separately. I explained it with a straight face, but was afraid he might laugh me out of his office. Instead, he was quiet for about 30 seconds, then said 'that's pretty good...do it!"
Regarding The Bermuda Triangle craze of the era, it probably began circa 1969 with the publication of a speculative book about that region called The Limbo of the Lost (by John Spencer). After "The Time Trap," series such as The Fantastic Journey featured story-lines in that mysterious region. But "The Delta Triangle" -- while clearly a transposed Bermuda Triangle -- works well for the Star Trek formula because it poses a trap that the Enterprise can't escape from alone, and thus suggests that enemies can become friends when faced with common problems. I especially appreciated the portions of the episode in which Kirk must go to bat for a Klingon who has broken the laws of Elysium. He realizes that if the Klothos is punished for the man's actions, the Enterprise won't be able to go home either. The Klingons and the Starfleet vessel need each other.
Finally, Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001) produced an episode in its seventh season, titled "The Void" that was very similar to "The Time Trap." In that story, Voyager slipped into a pocket of subspace where it found a Sargasso Sea of space ships, and their long-stranded crews.
Next week: "The Ambergris Element."
Friday, July 19, 2013
Regular reader Ampersand contributes the following list for this round of the Reader Top Ten.
"What a great challenge, John! On first glance I was a little disappointed -- how could a list of "greatest endings" differ significantly from a list of "greatest films"? But the more I thought about it (and read the other submissions) the more I came to realize that there is a distinction. Some merely "good" films have great endings, and some great films don't necessarily have the most awesome endings. Besides, this way I get to name-check a few more of my favourite films that I couldn't shoehorn into the last two lists!
Like with my list of great sci-fi characters, I've tried to put the emphasis on movies with great science fiction endings. After all, King Kong has a powerful finale, but with a little adjustment (sub in outlaw or gangster for big ape) and the basic outline would work just as well in western or noir.
So. my top two are:
1. 2001 (1968) What can I say? Beautiful, awe-inspiring, and still capable of provoking arguments. Also, Exhibit A in my rants about why the movie was better than the novel and why the dreadful sequel was unnecessary.
2. Planet of the Apes (also 1968. Hmmm ....) Full disclosure: I'm not really a big fan of the Apes movies. I don't hate them, but I also don't have much interest in re-visting them. That said, well, the Statue of Liberty gag ... great twist ending, or The Greatest Twist Ending? Both unexpected and perfectly logical, it resolves much of the seeming nonsense in the film before it and ties in thematically with Taylor's character. M. Night Shyamalan, take notes.
The remaining 8 are presented in chronological order:
- The Fly (1958) Yes, Cronenberg's remake was a better movie all around (and had a damn fine ending, too), but who can forget "Help me! Help meeeeeeee!"
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Spock's heroic sacrifice. Kirk facing the fact that you can't always "re-program the simulation". Hope in the face of death. In an era where series finales weren't fashionable, this was the series finale TOS deserved. (Not that I really minded the subsequent movies, but part of me would have been quite happy if the adventures of Kirk and crew had ended here.)
- Videodrome (1983) I've seen this movie maybe half a dozen times over the last 30 years, and each time I've interpreted the final scenes differently. And each time I've been blown away ...
- 12 Monkeys (1995) Terry Gilliam at his most ironic, and that's saying something.
- Dark City (1998) The movie that out-Matrixes The Matrix. (And I kinda liked The Matrix.)
- Vanilla Sky (2001) Overall, I preferred the original Abre los ojos, but Cameron Crowe gets points for the sheer audacity of the Aames-jumps-off-the-skyscraper montage.
- District 9 (2009) Considering how oblivious (at best) and dickish (at worst) Wikus is through the first part of the movie, I was amazed at how much we come to sympathize with him. And the final shot of him making the metal flower ... heartbreaking.
- Source Code (2011) Yeah, don't think about it too hard, that way lies madness. But when you're in the moment, everything just slots into place beautifully: the reveal of Stevens' actual condition, Goodwin's heroic act of rebellion, even the pizza box on Rutledge's desk. And as a bonus, an appearance by one of my favourite ever works of public art, the "Bean"!"
Ampersand, I love your list. 2001: A Space Odyssey was high on my list too. It's an ending that suggests enormous hope for the human race, and is legitimately "transcendent."
But beyond that -- wow! -- I can't believe I didn't think to include the ending of the original The Fly (1958). Those final images are nightmare-inducing, and absolutely brilliant, especially when coupled with the adenoidal voice of the fly crying for help, as you perfectly describe it. It's funny how reading all these lists calls to mind great endings I otherwise forgot to include. I really wish I had included The Fly (1958) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)!
The fantastic blogger of In The Comfy Chair -- and my friend -- Terri Wilson contributes a great top ten list this afternoon, and selects a number of offbeat but memorable titles.
"When it comes to a memorable ending, I tend to like ones that I can't see coming. Although I have one happy ending in this list, the rest are mostly twists and surprises. Which is why I liked them so much.
10. The Matrix (1999) - Neo finally embraces his fate and becomes The One. Whoa.
9. Time Bandits (1981) - Just when you think the whole movie is nothing but a little boy's dream, an errant piece of Concentrated Evil kills his annoying parents leaving him all alone to navigate the universe. Heavy.
8. The Final Countdown (1980) - Speaking of time travel, this genre usually ends up making my brain hurt because at some point an old version and a young version of someone is at the same place in the same time. Such is the ending of this film when the reveal is that old James Farentino is the mysterious millionaire sending young James Farentino off on this mission.
7. Donnie Darko (2001) - Speaking of making my brain hurt, this movie blew my mind so badly that I don't know if I was shocked by the ending or not.
6. Paranoia: 1.0 (2004) - Also known by a plethora of titles that are some version of "1.0," this epitome of a Kafka-esque nightmare gives us an answer to the film's mystery that we and the hero have been suspecting all along, but the final tableau is surprising in its action and the characters it involves. The film was so unsettling to me that it haunted my thoughts for days afterwards.
5. Men In Black (1997) - In a movie where nothing is what it seems, the fact that our world is as insignificant as another sphere in an alien kid's marble bag is a perfect coda. "Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
4. E.T. (1982) - If you weren't sobbing your eyes out at the end of this movie, you have no soul!
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - Though I like 1979's ST The Motion Picture, it's this film that really is the "beginning" of the Trek movie franchise and that is so apparent in an ending that perfectly sets up the next two movies while simultaneously paying homage to the past.
2. Soylent Green (1973) - Ditto what everyone else has said.
1. Planet of the Apes (1968) - Again, ditto. And why are we so adamant in destroying the Statue of Liberty? The poor lady almost never makes through a sci-fi movie unscathed."
This is such a great list, Terri, and I love that you remembered both Time Bandits (1981) and The Final Countdown (1980), two eighties films that don't get nearly the love they deserve.
Your list also confirms the fact that Donnie Darko has left a permanent imprint on many viewers, in no small part for its haunting climax. I suspect it is going to finish high in the final tally...
Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Endings: Darren Slade of Episode Nothing: Star Wars in the 1970s
Writer and reviewer Darren Slade, of the new (and highly-recommended...) blog Episode Nothing: Star Wars in the 1970s, contributes our first reader's list of the day.
1. Star Wars (1977)
Our heroes have penetrated the enemy fortress, rescued the princess, got back to their spaceship and fought their way free. That would be a satisfying enough ending for most movies. In fact, when I saw the film at the age of 10, I thought that was the ending. It was a great ending, too. I just wished the whole thing could have gone on a little longer.
In my excitement, I'd forgotten that the Rebels still had to deal with the small matter of blowing up the Death Star. What followed were 20 of the most exciting minutes of film ever. And however many times I see it, I'm still surprised when Han Solo flies out of the sun. The medal ceremony, with its rousing music, caps the adventure perfectly.
2. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
OK, so the original film has the brilliant twist ending, but everyone picks that one. The sequel has the end of the world as an ending. The director hated it. The star hated it. It wasn't the ending the screenwriter had wanted, but he was under orders to bring the franchise to a permanent end. It still astonishes me that a big, studio-backed film could end in so bleak a fashion.
“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”
3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
A chase scene which is the perfect synthesis of action, editing and music gives way to a farewell which is not exactly surprising but completely satisfying emotionally. And kudos to effects man Dennis Muren, who came up with the inspired idea of having E.T.'s spaceship leave a rainbow in its wake.
4. Superman (1978)
It's an ending that shouldn't work, because it makes very little sense – yet does work, because it's dramatically right.
Superman is faced with two nuclear missiles exploding simultaneously in two parts of the US. He's stopped one, but the fatalities caused by the other include Lois Lane. Distraught, Superman disobeys his birth father's number one rule and interferes with human history by turning back time.
How does that resolve the problem when he still can't prevent two nuclear explosions at once? I still can't work it out, yet we're caught up with it because it's emotionally satisfying, and we cheerfully overlook the gaps in logic.
5. Sleeper (1973)
Certainly the funniest ever ending to an SF movie.
Luna: “You don't believe in science, and you also don't believe that political systems work, and you don't believe in God, huh? … So then, what do you believe in?
Miles: “Sex and death - two things that come once in a lifetime... but at least after death, you're not nauseous.”
6. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
What better homage to Flash Gordon than to end a $20 million movie with a cliffhanger? And we had to wait three years for it to be resolved. Audacious, yet the lack of an ending was a great ending in itself.
7. X aka X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
"If thine eye offends thee ... pluck it out!" A chilling end to a movie which looks hokey and exploitative but is also brilliantly thought-out and almost profound.
8. When Worlds Collide (1951)
The Earth is doomed and only a fortunate band of young and attractive people get to escape in a rocket ship. We get only a glimpse of their new planet, Zyra, in a matte painting, but it looks an idyllic place to start procreating for the good of the species.
9. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
In the closing moments, as the cast's autographs appeared among the constellations, it really did suddenly feel like I was saying goodbye to something that had loomed large in a lot of our lives. None of the cast should have come back in Generations.
10. Blade Runner (1982)
I could have my internet connection taken away for saying it, but I like the theatrical cut. I think it gets away with that “happy” ending. Anyway, it not happy, it's bitter-sweet. Who could fail to relish that closing line: “I didn’t know how long we had together... who does?”
Darren has written-up a great list here, and I'm particularly happy to see The Undiscovered Country make the cut. That movie offers our final goodbye to the Original Cast (and still brings a tear to my eye). A wonderful choice.