Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the word “conclusion” as “the act of ending something”. They also define the word “epilogue” as “the closing part of a discourse, in which the principal matters are recapitulated”. However, the directors of the movies featured on my list define both those words as “a waste of my fucking time!”. Some filmmakers simply wish to forego a conclusion or epilogue and end their movie immediately following the climax. Often, they will abruptly cut away to the end credits after the villain is dead or the main plotline has been resolved. It goes without saying that some audiences want all their movies to be tied up in a neat little bow and don’t want an ending that raises more questions than it answers. They also want to feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth while the end credits are rolling and that the final payoff was worth the time that they invested in the film. When an ending is very abrupt or highly ambiguous, not all viewers will be pleased. The most controversial abrupt ending of the past decade is probably the series finale of The Sopranos, which made millions of viewers around the world believe that their cable had gone out.
Of course, the ending to The Sopranos is very ambiguous and open to interpretation and is meant to engage the audience into a debate about what actually happened. However, those traits do apply to the movies on this list at all. There isn’t really any deep artistic reason why these films ended as abruptly as they did. You get the sense that these films immediately cut away to the end credits because the writer didn’t feel like coming up with a fully fleshed conclusion, or because the director just didn’t want to shoot any more footage. Don’t get me wrong, some of these abrupt endings are pretty awesome and work perfectly within the context of the film, but they still take the viewer by surprise. They are all quite amusing in their own little way as well, which is why I had to label these “Robin’s Top 10 Most Hilariously Abrupt Movie Endings”.
*SPOILERS* I’ll provide the obligatory spoiler alert, but it’s not like any of these are mind-blowing twist endings or anything…
10. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011):
Hobo with a Shotgun is a modern re-creation of sleazy low-budget grindhouse exploitation flicks from the 1970s and considering that a lot of those films often had abrupt endings, it’s only appropriate that Hobo would have one too. At the very end of the film, the Hobo is holding his trusted shotgun over the villainous Drake, with the town’s corrupt police all pointing their weapons at him. The Hobo proclaims: “You and me are going on a car ride to hell… and you’re riding shotgun!”, and decides to blow The Drake’s head off, which leads the cops unloading their bullets into him. And we cut instantly to the end credits! Never mind the fact that a few seconds before, a full-scale riot had started to ensue between the cops and the townspeople, but the movie conveniently ends without showing what ultimately happens. What makes this abrupt ending extra awesome is their choice of music to play over the end credits: Lisa Lougheed’s “Run With Us”, the theme song to the popular 1980s Canadian kids show, The Raccoons! You couldn’t find a more random, inappropriate end credits song than that, which is what makes the transition so hilarious. Here’s an awesome mash-up of Hobo and the original Lisa Lougheed music video:
9. Crippled Masters (1979):
Instead of selecting a specific movie, I could have simply titled this selection “Every Chop-Socky Martial Arts Film from the 1970s” as virtually all of them would conclude with a dramatic musical sting and an abrupt cut to a “The End” title card the exact moment after the villain was defeated. However, I had to put a spotlight on Crippled Masters because it is a true one-of-a-kind oddity about two real-life amputees (one without arms, the other with withered legs) who use their combined martial arts power to defeat their enemies. I had to post their climactic fight against the villain because it is truly a sight to behold and also because it may have the most abrupt ending of any martial arts film. Crippled Masters is in such a hurry to end that it doesn’t even wait to show its defeated villain hitting the ground. It just does a freeze frame on the bad guy while he’s in the midst of falling over before an obligatory abrupt cut to its “The End” title card! What, did the camera just run out of film three seconds before the director said “cut”? Geez, for all we know, the villain suddenly had a rush of adrenaline and turned around to kick the amputees’ asses after the movie was over!
8. Birdy (1984):
Ah, the days when Nicolas Cage could play a crazy character in a film and you actually thought he was just acting. Such was the case with the bizarre Alan Parker film called Birdy, where childhood friends Al (Nicolas Cage) and Birdy (Matthew Modine) serve in Vietnam together, which culminates in Birdy becoming mentally unhinged and developing a genuine desire to actually become a bird and fly away. Anyway, the two friends are eventually both committed to a mental hospital together with Birdy living in a near-comatose state. One day, Birdy suddenly starts moving again and goes up to the roof and, in a very dramatic and frenzied scene, Al watches in horror as his friend jumps. Al runs over to the edge of and cries out “BIRDY!” as he looks down… only to see that Birdy has simply landed on another level of the roof only a few feet below. Birdy looks up and says “What?”, and the movie abruptly cuts to the end credits with “La Bamba” playing in the background! For the most part, Birdy is a pretty sad and dark film, so it’s quite unexpected that it would end with such a goofy punchline. Apparently, the original novel that the film was based on DID end with Birdy jumping off the roof to his death, so if you had read it beforehand, the movie’s abrupt comedic ending is doubly surprising.
7. 10 to Midnight (1983):
You could compile a list of hilarious abrupt endings made up entirely of cheesy action films from the 1980s as many of them just loved cutting to the end credits immediately after the hero killed the bad guy. The most awkward ending out of all them probably occurred in 10 to Midnight, a VERY sleazy thriller starring Charles Bronson and produced by the infamous Cannon Films, which tells the story of a serial killer who loves to stab college girls to death while he’s nude because “his knife is his penis”. Anyway, after the naked killer has butchered a bunch of girls, he chases Bronson’s daughter down the street until Bronson finally appears to rescue her. As the cops arrive to arrest him, the killer spouts off a off a monologue about he’s going to plead insanity and that he’ll be back on the streets someday and there’s nothing Bronson can do about it. We then get this classic exchange:
“I’ll be back! I’ll back! You’ll hear from me! You and the whole fucking world!”
“No, we won’t.” *BANG*
Total time between Bronson shooting the bad guy in the head and the end credits: ten seconds. Ah, if only all the world’s problems could be solved with Charles Bronson shooting someone in the head whenever he felt like it.
6. Cop (1988):
We go from a very awkward abrupt ending of an eighties cop film to a flat-out awesome one. During this period, James Woods had a great deal of starring vehicles where he would single-handedly elevate the material. Some of these movies might have been completely generic and forgettable if Woods didn’t bring so much energy and intensity to his roles. The generically titled 1988 film, Cop, is a perfect example of this as its plot is fairly routine, but, thanks to Woods’ dynamic lead performance, the film works fairly well as a character study about a cop pushed over the edge. Anyway, at the very end, Woods finally tracks down a serial killer and has him cornered with a shotgun when the killer makes the typical mistake of spouting off about how Woods is a cop and that he has to follow the rules. Woods follows this up with a classic response:
“Well, there’s some good news and there’s some bad news. The good news is you’re right: I’m a cop and I’ve gotta take you in. The bad news is I’ve been suspended and I don’t give a fuck.” *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*
Cut to black! Roll end credits! Fuck the law! Not many actors could make an abrupt ending like that work, but James Woods handles it beautifully.
5. Robocop (1987):
I’ve already talked about the tendency of many action movies from the 1980s to end immediately after the bad guy has been killed, but no movie did it with any more panache than Robocop. Robocop enters a board meeting to arrest corrupt OCP senior president Dick Jones and winds up shooting him several times, which sends Jones plunging out the window several stories to his death. All that stands between Jones’ death and the end credits is this classic exchange:
“Nice shooting, son. What’s your name?”
Now, what makes this ending feel so abrupt is that the movie leaves a pretty massive loose end dangling. Throughout the movie, there is constant talk about a potential police strike, which finally happens at the beginning of the last act and plunges the city into chaos… but the movie ends without ever resolving this plot thread. To be fair, this loose end would finally be dealt with in Robocop 2, but of course, no one could be sure at the time that there was going to be a sequel. I guess the filmmakers just figured that nothing could really top the sight of Dick Jones plunging to his death and decided this was the perfect way to sign off.
4. Death Proof (2007):
Given that Death Proof was the second half of a double feature in a film called Grindhouse, this would fall into the same category as Hobo with a Shotgun. In order to pay tribute to the sleazy exploitation grindhouse flicks of the 1970s, Quentin Tarantino delivers the same type of abrupt ending that many of those films had. I put this one on my “Top Ten Most Satisfying Non-Lethal Comeuppances for Movie Villains” list as the plot revolves around a psychopath named Stuntman Mike who loves to murder young women through a bizarre form of vehicular homicide. However, the three girls he targets in the movie’s second half turn the tables on him, reducing Stuntman Mike into a whimpering coward before they beat the shit out of him. Right after this happens, there is a dramatic musical sting as “The End” pops up onto the screen and the credits suddenly start rolling. Of course, the movie deliberately leaves one very glaring loose end dangling. In order to take a classic Dodge Challenger out on a test drive, the three heroines decide to leave their dim-witted friend, Lee, behind as collateral with Jasper, the guy who’s selling it. Unfortunately for Lee, Jasper is a creepy redneck who’s been given the impression that she is a porn star who’s planning to blow him. Jasper is standing over Lee and letting out a very diabolical laugh as the girls drive away, and… well, the movie ends without us ever finding out what happens to this poor girl. Not to mention that Jasper is going to be mighty pissed once he sees how much damage they did to his Dodge Challenger! Of course, since Death Proof is a deliberate recreation of films that did this type of thing all the time, this loose end adds to the abrupt ending’s charm.
3. The Italian Job (1969):
If the 2003 Hollywood remake of The Italian Job had ended with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Jason Statham trapped in a bus that was dangling over the edge of a cliff, I doubt that audiences would have reacted too favourably. Thankfully, the British have a much better sense of humour about this sort of thing. The original British version of The Italian Job involves Michael Caine and his crew pulling off a massive heist of a consignment of gold and they successfully get away with it… until they recklessly drive their getaway bus along a winding road on a Swiss mountain and wind up dangling over the end of a cliff. The gold is resting very close to the open rear doors and is in danger of falling out, but if anybody tries to grab it, their weight will cause the entire bus to topple over the edge. Caine finally says: “Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea”… but the movie suddenly ends with all the characters just standing around in awkward silence with the bus still dangling over the cliff. This, ladies and gentleman, is a literal definition of a cliffhanger ending! Except, of course, that there was never any sequel made to provide resolution for this cliffhanger. That said, given The Italian Job’s wacky sense of humour, I can’t think of an ending that’s more in tune with the rest of the movie.
2. French Connection II (1975):
French Connection II, the much-maligned follow-up to the 1971 Academy Award-winning original, is one of the more underrated sequels of all time and I even wrote a “Robin’s Underrated Gems” column about it. I also think it features one of the most awesome abrupt endings of all time. The original French Connection ended with drug kingpin Alain Charnier somehow escaping police during a mammoth drug bust orchestrated by New York City cop Popeye Doyle and successfully making it back to his native France. In French Connection II, Doyle travels over to Marseilles on an obsessive quest to track Charnier down. After going through an ordeal where Charnier kidnaps him and addicts him to heroin, Doyle recovers and orchestrates another drug bust where Charnier somehow manages to escape again. After a long and exhausting chase scene, it almost seems like we’re going to see another ending where Charnier gets away with it… until Doyle suddenly notices him on a boat in the distance. Doyle pulls out his gun, calls out Charnier’s name and manages to fire two shots into him before the end credits suddenly roll! As abrupt as this ending is, it’s a very satisfying way to conclude the film and the French Connection series in general. Popeye Doyle’s entire life has revolved around his obsessive quest to catch the bad guy and once he’s done that, what else is there to do except cut to black?
1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003):
I can’t tell you how ripped off I felt by this abrupt ending! After Frodo dropped the ring into the volcano, the movie ONLY ran for another 40 minutes before it cut to the end credits. Talk about not giving an audience their money’s worth!
Okay, just kidding! Here’s the real #1 selection:
1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974):
There has never been a more blatant or hotly debated abrupt cop-out ending than this one, so no other film could possibly occupy the #1 spot on this list. Some of the films on the list had a sudden, abrupt ending because the story had nowhere else to go. Some of the films ended like that out of pure laziness. But while those films ended in lieu of an conclusion or epilogue, Monty Python and the Holy Grail did it lieu of a CLIMAX! Throughout the film, a modern police force keeps inexplicably popping up within its medieval story. The film seems to be building up to an epic finale where King Arthur and his knights storm the Grail castle, but just as the battle gets started, the police suddenly show up to put a stop to it and arrest everybody, and the film ends after one of the cops puts his hand over the camera lens. I’d like to type the phrase “cut instantly to the end credits”, but Monty Python and the Holy Grail doesn’t even have any end credits! All you get are several minutes of organ music played over a black screen! Now, obviously, if you know Monty Python well, you’ll know that this ending is perfectly in keeping with their brand of humour. However, I have read horror stories from people who worked in movie theaters and video stores and claim that angry people have demanded a refund over this ending because they thought the last reel of the film was missing or that the tape was broken! Python fan or not, I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be watching this film in a theater back in 1974 when this unexpected ending occurred. Love it or hate it, you’ve got to hand it to a film that can come up with an ending which can infuriate you while still making you laugh hysterically at the same time.
So, I hope you enjoyed my list of “Robin’s Top Ten Most Hilariously Abrupt Endings”. Before I bring things to a close, I would like to talk about –