Top 10 Movie Endings That Don't Mean What You Think
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Some people have grossly misinterpreted the meaning of these movie endings. For this list, we'll be looking at film finales that are often misunderstood by general moviegoers. We'll be basing our choices on a mix of the movie's fame and the severity of the gap between the perceived meaning of the ending and the actual, intended outcome. Our list includes Get Out, Shutter Island, Fight Club, Inception, and more! Join WatchMojo as we count down our picks for the 10 Movie Endings That Don't Mean What You Think.
Script written by Nathan Sharp
Top 10 Movie Endings That Don't Mean What You Think
Some people have grossly misinterpreted these films and the conclusions they came to. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top ten movie endings that don’t mean what you think.
For this list, we’ll be looking at film endings that are often misinterpreted and/or misunderstood by general moviegoers. We’ll be basing our choices on a mix of the movie’s fame and the severity of the gap between the perceived meaning of the ending and the actual, intended outcome.
#10: “Rocky” (1976)
“Rocky” is a boxing movie that’s not about boxing. While the famous training montage and climactic fight are a lot of fun, the movie was always more interested in telling a wholesome story about an underachiever discovering his potential. It’s telling that the result of the fight is so inconsequential. While many bemoan Rocky’s loss to Apollo or criticize the movie’s lack of focus regarding the outcome, this lack of focus is entirely the point. Rocky and Adrian don’t care about the outcome and neither should you. Rocky went the distance and found love along the way, proving his own self-worth. And when you accomplish that, who cares what the judges have to say?
#9: “Taxi Driver” (1976)
The ending of “Taxi Driver” has been discussed and debated for decades. Some people believe that Travis died in the brothel and that the final scene with Betsy is some kind of death dream, while others believe that the Betsy scene actually happened (which it totally did). But then there’s even further debate, as some interpret the ending as Travis being cured and returning to normality. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. By having Travis do a double-take into the rear-view mirror, the movie is subtly showing us that Travis has found something else to “cure,” hinting that he is still dangerous and that he will indefinitely continue his cycle of violence.
#8: “Shutter Island” (2010)
Near the end of “Shutter Island,” we discover that Teddy Daniels is actually Andrew Laeddis, a mental hospital patient who murdered his wife . While Laeddis initially shows signs of understanding his true identity, the doctors also declare that this has happened before and that Laeddis had unfortunately regressed. This is seemingly proven when he refers to Sheehan as “Chuck.” It’s understandable that some people interpret the ending as Laeddis simply regressing back into his role as Teddy. However, Laeddis is only pretending to be Teddy in order to get a lobotomy and end his suffering, as evident by his question to Sheehan, his refusing to answer to Teddy, and Sheehan’s bewildered response.
#7: “Get Out” (2017)
“Get Out” seems to have a pretty happy ending. Rod arrives and rescues Chris and the Armitage family are dead. However, things aren’t as happy as they seem, as evident by Chris’s dejected stare. For one thing, Chris is clearly aware that there are far more members of the Armitage family still out there and who knows how many kidnapped black people are still wandering around as hosts. The ending could also be an ironic statement on our modern culture. The current racist state of things is still most certainly not “handled,” contrary to what Rod thinks, and it looks as if Chris knows it. The Armitages are still out there, both literally and figuratively.
#6: “Whiplash” (2014)
“Whiplash” tells the story of an ambitious jazz student and his abusive instructor, and it serves as a great fable about the quest for perfection. And while the ending seems relatively happy, we must take a closer look at Andrew and his relationship with Fletcher. By the end of the film, Andrew is completely ruined and has sacrificed his entire life for drumming. On top of that, the ending seems to hint that Andrew wants Fletcher’s approval more than he wants to be a successful drummer. This unhealthy quest for perfection and approval will only lead to more loneliness and tension. Who knows, Andrew could even wind up suicidal like Sean Casey before long.
#5: “In Bruges” (2008)
Leaving a character’s fate unanswered is often a cheap storytelling tactic used for unearned discussion or sequel bait. And while “In Bruges” does employ the often-frustrating ambiguous death trope, it uses it to complex and thematic effect. Throughout the film, Colin Farrell’s Ray is suicidal after accidentally killing a child. During the climax, Ray is shot by his employer Harry and taken into an ambulance while narrating about his wish to stay alive. And while we never learn the outcome, the actual catharsis comes from Ray wishing for life. As Ken suggested, Ray has earned his redemption and atoned for his sins, and that’s good enough for us.
#4: “Total Recall” (1990)
The ambiguity of “Total Recall’s” ending has made it one of the most debated endings in science fiction cinema. The ending sees the reactor releasing air into the Martian atmosphere and turning the sky blue. Everything seems well and happy, but there’s a reason why Quaid thinks about the possibility of it being a dream. Earlier in the movie, a lab tech mentions a blue sky on Mars, and there are various other hints littered throughout pointing to the ending being a fabrication. So, did the ending actually happen, or was it all a programmed dream? There is certainly enough evidence to support the latter, even if many people believe it to be the former.
#3: “Fight Club” (1999)
“Fight Club” is arguably one of the most misunderstood movies of all time. Posters of Tyler Durden have littered many a college dorm, and Durden’s philosophies are often hailed as some sort of cure for the modern commercial age. Only, we’re not supposed to root for Durden. The ending in which the buildings explode is not meant to be cheered or viewed as some sort of moral victory against the powerful elite, but an ominous sign of misaimed frustration. We’re not supposed to cheer the explosions because they serve as a critique against the Narrator’s unhinged mental state. As the Narrator explains, this violence is a result of a “very strange time” in his life.
#2: “Inception” (2010)
“Inception,” like “In Bruges,” utilizes the otherwise-frustrating lack of closure for thematic importance. The ending sees Cobb returning home to his children and ignoring the totem. The camera lingers on the spinning top, leading many viewers to debate whether Cobb was dreaming or not. And even ignoring the famous wedding ring theory, the idea of Cobb being in a dream or reality is not the point. The point is that Cobb chooses his own reality by ignoring the totem. It doesn’t matter if the children are real or not; what matters is that Cobb has finally found peace and acceptance.
#1: “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
The ending of “A Clockwork Orange” remains controversial and misunderstood to this day, perhaps because people don’t like the idea of inherent evil. The ending sees Alex shedding his tendencies towards violence and sex, being offered a job by the Minister, and declaring that he is cured, leading many viewers to assume that he will continue his law-abiding nature. However, this final declaration from Alex is laden with sarcasm. He is most certainly not cured and will revert back to his violent ways. While Alex eventually matures in the novel, this is not the case for the film, which seems to be suggesting that evil cannot be controlled.