Top 20 Most Satisfying Movie Endings of All Time
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Now that's how you leave an audience satisfied! For this list, we're looking at the most effective and fulfilling live-action movie endings. Our countdown includes “Avengers: Endgame", “Forrest Gump”, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi”, “The Matrix”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, and more!
Script written by Garrett Alden
Top 20 Most Satisfying Movie Endings of All Time
Now that’s how you leave an audience satisfied! Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 20 most satisfying movie endings of all time.
For this list, we’re looking at the most effective and fulfilling live-action movie endings. Naturally, since we’re talking endings, there WILL be spoilers.
#20: The Dance
“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
Captain America has the most tragic love life in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Separated from Peggy Carter after he goes under the ice, Steve Rogers misses out on not only decades of history, but also the life that they would have shared. In “Avengers: Endgame,” thanks to time travel, Steve Rogers is able to see Peggy again in the past, which breaks his heart all over again. At the film’s conclusion however, we see that Steve decided to stay in the past and has now grown old. And sure enough, he did alongside Peggy, with whom he finally gets that long-awaited dance. After years of waiting, it felt like a perfect ending to both Avengers: Endgame and his story.
#19: The Chopper
This quintessential ‘80s action flick sees a team of muscular mercenaries facing off against a powerful alien foe in the Central American jungle. Eventually, their leader, Dutch, is the last man standing. He engages the Predator one-on-one, using guile and traps to finally kill the creature - though it does technically get the last laugh. Action heroes always go up against absurd odds, but rarely has a victory been quite so hard fought. When Anna and Philips pick him up and they fly off, you can’t help but smile. It’s just such a relief that Dutch managed to “get to da choppa”, especially when so many of his friends didn’t.
#18: Chris Is Hired
“The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006)
Chris Gardner has a rough go of things throughout this film. His marriage falls apart, he loses his apartment, and he and his son are ultimately left homeless. Nevertheless, Chris persists and works hard in an unpaid internship, even as life continues to throw hardship his way. All of Chris’ hard work pays off though, as in this final scene, he gets the job at the firm; securing a future for himself and his son. There were few dry eyes in the audience during this scene, as Chris achieved long overdue success. This film isn’t an easy watch, but the emotional payoff is massive.
#17: Don't You Forget About Me
“The Breakfast Club” (1985)
This teen film follows a group of high school students in detention. All come from different cliques and have preconceptions about the others. But, as the day goes on, they realize they have more in common than they thought, reaching a better understanding of each other and themselves. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they find a common enemy in Assistant Principal Vernon. At the end of the film, Vernon reads an essay written by Brian summarizing what the students have learned together. As Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays, the students part ways. The future might be uncertain, but they’ve made new bonds and a lifelong memory. John’s fistpump in the last shot says it all!
#16: Feather on the Wind
“Forrest Gump” (1994)
He might not be the smartest, but he’s got a huge heart. And throughout his life, Forrest Gump’s positive attitude leads him to have numerous unique experiences. The one constant, however, is his love for his childhood friend Jenny. His joy at them finally reuniting and getting married is sadly tempered by Jenny’s untimely death from illness. But it's plain to see that in their short time together, they brought each other a lifetime’s worth of happiness. Moreover, it’s incredibly heartwarming seeing Forrest be a father to their son. The image of a feather blowing in the breeze might be open to interpretation, but as Forrest sends his son off to school, viewers can’t help but feel their spirits soar with it.
#15: Dynamite Unleashed
“Django Unchained” (2012)
A revisionist Western focused on the title character’s quest to rescue his wife from slavery, “Django Unchained” builds to the moment beautifully. Just as Django and Schultz’s initial attempt to rescue Broomhilda looks poised to succeed, it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. Schultz is killed, Django is tortured and sold to a mining company – things look bleak. However, Django manages to outwit his captors and fight his way to freedom. Returning to the plantation with dynamite, he blows the whole thing to smithereens, then rides off with his wife. Satisfaction and style! What more could you ask for?
#14: A Friend for Dinner
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
One of the most frightening thrillers ever made, “The Silence of the Lambs” has two related story arcs – Clarice Starling’s pursuit of serial killer Buffalo Bill and her interactions with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Clarice is able to capture Buffalo Bill after enduring one of the most harrowing suspense sequences in cinema. Meanwhile, Lecter manages to escape his bonds and calls to congratulate Agent Starling on her victory, ominously telling her that he’s “having an old friend for dinner”. Unlike Clarice, viewers can see that he’s eyeing the psychiatrist who was in charge of him while he was imprisoned. It’s an ending that leaves audiences happy about Clarice’s success, and also intrigued by the prospect of Dr. Lecter being at large.
#13: Where Is My Mind?
“Fight Club” (1999)
What begins as an excuse for men to beat the crap out of each other eventually turns into something even darker. Tyler Durden leads the unnamed narrator and their gang into becoming domestic terrorists. Perhaps more disturbing, at least for the narrator, is the fact that Tyler is actually the other half of his fractured psyche. It all comes to a head when the narrator, armed with this knowledge, shoots himself in the mouth, effectively killing Tyler. Then, looking out over the horizon with his romantic interest, Marla, they watch the city explode. It’s terrifying and mesmerizing all at once. Plus, the song choice is amazing!
#12: You Already Have
“Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” (1983)
The finale of the original “Star Wars” trilogy sees multiple battles play out simultaneously; our heroes take the fight to the Empire on Endor and in space around the second Death Star, while Luke faces his father. Their epic duel is interrupted by the Emperor, whose attempt to kill Luke drives Vader to protect his son and kill his former master, becoming mortally wounded in the process. Although Luke laments that he wasn’t able to save his father, an unmasked Anakin Skywalker assures him he already has. This is driven home by seeing him made whole when he returns as a Force ghost, during the victory celebrations. Seeing a villain redeemed is always rewarding. And hey, who doesn’t like a party?
#11: What Alfred Sees
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
The conclusion of “The Dark Knight” trilogy sees Batman seemingly sacrifice himself to tow a bomb away from Gotham City. The city, and especially Alfred, mourn him and pay tribute to the hero, while the torch is seemingly passed to a new potential crimefighter. When the dust settles, Alfred visits a café in Florence, where he sees Bruce Wayne seemingly alive and well with Selena Kyle. To be fair, this could very well be just in Alfred’s imagination. The butler actually described just such a fantasy to Bruce earlier in the film. And considering the end of “Inception”, we wouldn’t put it past director Christopher Nolan. Regardless, it’s still gratifying to see the hero who sacrificed so much get a happy ending.
#10: Truman Escapes
“The Truman Show” (1998)
Truman Burbank’s entire life is a carefully controlled TV show. His gradual realization of that fact leads him to try to leave the town he’s lived in all his life, eventually setting sail across the “ocean”, despite a fear of water. After crashing into the edge of the world, Truman discovers a door leading outside. As he prepares to leave, his show’s creator and director begs him to stay. However, Truman has had enough and his only response is to deliver his catchphrase, bow to the camera, and walk out the door. As pleasant as Truman’s surroundings were, he was a prisoner all his life, for the entertainment of others, so his escape feels extremely rewarding.
#9: Maximus Wins
A former Roman general, Maximus is forced into slavery after his wife and son are murdered. Becoming a gladiator, Maximus works his way up to the Colosseum. By making a name for himself and winning over the people, he eventually gets the opportunity to face the man who betrayed him, the Emperor Commodus, in single combat. Despite Commodus cheating by stabbing him beforehand, Maximus manages to defeat his foe and win. Although he dies soon afterwards, it's a glorious death and one that reunites him with his family at last. After all that Maximus has endured, it’s fulfilling to witness our hero not only get justice, but also peace and happiness in the afterlife.
#8: Hunting for Happiness
“Good Will Hunting” (1997)
Will Hunting is a talented genius, but his personal and professional lives suffer because he consistently sabotages himself. Afraid of failure, he pushes people and opportunities away. This includes jobs and his girlfriend, Skylar, who asks him to move to California with her. After unearthing some personal trauma and dealing with it, Will rejects many of the job offers he’s received. However, this time it’s because he’s going in pursuit of Skylar and happiness, instead of running from potential pain. While it’s bittersweet for the friends he leaves behind, we can’t help but be happy that Will is finally going after what he wants.
#7: Neo Flies Away
“The Matrix” (1999)
The climax of this cyberpunk action blockbuster sees Neo attempting to leave the Matrix after saving his mentor. Before Neo can escape however, the deadly Agent Smith delivers a killing blow to our valiant hero. Fortunately, his love interest Trinity is able to restore him with a kiss. He proceeds to not only rise from the dead, but live up to his status as “the One” - blowing Smith up from the inside. The ending sees him telling the Machines that he’ll free the humans still trapped, before flying away - signalling his new mastery over the Matrix. After watching Neo and his friends barely survive against their foes, his promise to take the fight to them is awesome.
#6: A New Day
“Groundhog Day” (1993)
Phil Connors hates Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney – too bad he’s trapped in both. Stuck repeating the same day over and over again, Phil lives years in one day. Although sometimes suicidal, Phil eventually comes to love the town and its people, and becomes a better person by doing good for others every loop. After his coworker Rita falls for him and they get together, Phil is initially disappointed that the day appears to be repeating itself ... but he then discovers that February 3rd has finally come and that Rita is still with him. It’s a long, strange trip that Phil goes on, and it’s wonderful to see him come out of it enlightened and happy.
The quintessential underdog, Rocky gives it his all preparing for a fight against heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. While he doesn’t think he can win, he still tells his girlfriend Adrian that he wants to go the distance. And indeed he does. Rocky’s bout with Creed is one for the ages. Rocky survives for 15 rounds against the more experienced fighter, and endures a lot of punishment along the way. The fight ultimately ends without a knockout, but Creed is declared the victor by split decision. For Rocky though, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing, but proving yourself, and Rocky showed us all how. He declares his love for Adrian, and she for him, and the world cheers.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)
Indiana Jones’ shared quest with his father for the Holy Grail sees them compete with Nazis to attain the sacred object. Indy is able to save his father’s life by selecting the correct cup, but an attempt to leave with the cup causes the temple to collapse. Although Indy nearly dies pursuing it, his father convinces him to let it go. Dr. Jones chooses wisely and decides that life is more important. Along with their companions, they make it out and, after some banter, ride off into the sunset for more adventures…literally. What better way to end an adventure than with a lesson learned and the promise of adventures to come?
“Citizen Kane” (1941)
This famous and hugely influential film begins with the death of Charles Foster Kane, whose last word, “Rosebud,” leads to much speculation and investigation. Through those that knew him, we get glimpses of Kane’s rise and fall. Generally speaking, the picture that’s painted isn't an especially flattering one, and it’s only in the final minutes of the movie that we’re shown that Rosebud was the name of his childhood sled. With this one detail, everything changes. It illustrates that, however much the man changed, Kane still valued the innocence of his youth. Like any good mystery, once it’s solved, there’s really nothing else left to say.
#2: You Bow to No One
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)
Sure, some would argue that there are more endings to this movie than there are Rings of Power! But to those people, we say go back to the Shadow, because they’re all great! We’ll be focusing on one in particular though. With Sauron defeated, and Frodo and Sam rescued, there’s a tremendous relief as the world has been saved. Not only that, Aragorn and Arwen get together at last. Best of all though, when the hobbits go to bow to them, the newly crowned king bows to THEM instead - and everyone follows suit. It’s tremendously satisfying to see our heroes get the recognition they deserve, finally judged by the strength of their convictions rather than their short stature.
Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
Solo, “Whiplash” (2014)
Drumming Has Never Left Us This Breathless
Okay, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
Some Things Are Worth a Little Pain
Rudy Gets to Play, “Rudy” (1993)
Watching People Achieve Their Dreams Is Always Satisfying
One Last Ride, “Furious 7” (2015)
A Beautiful Tribute to the Late Paul Walker
So Make It a Good One, “Back to the Future Part III” (1990)
Great Life Advice & a Flying Train – What’s Not to Love?
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
Andy Dusfresne has a rough go of it in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. However his stay there is made easier by his friendship with fellow inmate, Red. One night, Andy enacts a daring and successful breakout attempt; leaving for Mexico. Meanwhile, Red has to wait to be paroled. But Andy left behind money and a note instructing Red to come find him at a place they once discussed. Although the escape in itself is among the most cathartic moments in all of cinema, seeing these two old friends reunite on a beach is pretty dang heartwarming too. And that… is how you end a movie!