When contemplating my favorite films of the year, I keep forgetting about Life of Pi. Yet very few narrative features wowed me as much as Ang Lee’s spectacular adaptation. Given how much I enjoyed it in the theater, the film should have stuck with me more than it has. I blame the ending, which traded the magnificent visuals and wondrous sea adventure for a talky bookend that too directly spelled out the point of the story within the story. I don’t know that I’d say the ending ruined the rest of the film for me. I could go back and re-watch the whole thing and still appreciate all the effects and thrills and drama that excited me the first time around. But if that’s the stuff I want to remember first and foremost, I’ll probably have to leave a few minutes early next time.
Lee surely is familiar enough with the craft of storytelling to know that endings are extremely important, that they can make or break an audience’s satisfaction with a movie by being the part that it is left with. He would presumably disagree with me that Life of Pi has a weak ending. And at least the staff of Entertainment Weekly believes the film actually has one of the best endings of the year. And that is fine, because a lot of people hated the endings of Prometheus, The Bourne Legacy and Savages, and I think those movies have three of the best endings of 2012. The other day, a critic friend told me he ultimately didn’t like one of my top films of the year, The Imposter, solely because of the final shot. Again, it’s another of my favorites.
Regardless of disagreements about which were good and which were bad (or in the case of End of Watch, just wrong), there was definitely a lot of chatter this year focused on movies with endings viewed as anything from awful to simply dissatisfying. In 2012, we did have at least two movies with trick endings (interestingly enough, some people were more accepting of one but not the other) and a whole bunch of movies seemingly influenced by the popularity of serialized television. It’s one thing for a planned two- or three-parter to have inconclusive or cliffhanging endings, but way too many hopeful franchise starters or continuers this year stopped short in order to easily set up a sequel. If you’re certain the movie will be a hit and will warrant a follow-up, fine. But with a flop like John Carter, the ending now appears embarrassingly presumptuous. Never mind if the book it’s based on finished in the same manner.
It’s fitting that 2012 should be remembered as a year of terribly weak movie endings since the year began with possibly the largest, most uniform outcry ever in response to the conclusion of a feature. Or non-conclusion as the case was for The Devil Inside, which abruptly finishes with a title card directing viewers to a website “for more information about the ongoing investigation.” Yet even the site doesn’t show any more of an ending (for some the issue was the non-ending itself, while for others it was the annoyance of the title card itself). In a list of the “50 Worst Movie Endings” ever, Total Film‘s George Wales placed it at #1.
It might also be appropriate seeing as 2012 itself was supposed to end with a big apocalypse and is now just going out with a (admittedly preferred) whimper. But what kinds of endings will 2013 bring us? Well, M. Night Shyamalan does have a new movie coming out…
Here are some negative blurbs from the past year (from pro and amateur reviewers) on the worst movie endings of 2012:
The Devil Inside concludes with what might be the least-satisfying horror ending in a decade. - Thomas Leupp, Hollywood.com
The Bourne Legacy lacks the two things that you expect every movie to have: There isn’t a beginning, and there isn’t an ending. – Graeme McMillan, Time
I can forgive a lot about Bourne Legacy; I cannot forgive its ending. – Tim Kelly, CHUD.com
[A Separation] was great until the credits started rolling what seemed like half way through with every single piece of the plot (about 9) all left completely open ended. I think previously, the worst ending ever went to Blood Simple, but this one was incredibly annoying and terrible and I might snap the red box dvd in half so nobody else has to suffer through a good movie with no ending. – Dave, Yahoo! Movies
[Life of Pi is] so good until the #$%$ ending. imagine in Avatar if in the end he woke up out of cryo sleep back on the original ship still crippled having dreamed the whole thing. the ending of this movie ruins a great story and kills your high. – Darth, Yahoo! Movies
[Red Lights] has, without question the worst ending of the year – Rob Thomas, 77 Square
[Savages has] an ending that may actually lead audiences to throw things at the screen. – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend
[Savages] falls apart with an ending that erases all the hard work the film had accomplished. – Matt Goldberg, Collider
[Argo ends with] a totally unnecessary dose of schmaltz, particularly after the adrenaline rush and emotional punch of the airport escape. By no means enough to spoil a fantastic film, but a bum note all the same. – George Wales, Total Film
[Prometheus:] There’s something unmistakeably comical about the way Fassbender’s head is bundled into a bag, while the whole thing seems to reek of a sequel set-up. Even the Xenomorph reveal seems tacked on. – George Wales, Total Film
The Grey is a good movie about man battling nature, but it ends up losing me as a fan for a unnecessarily bad ending to an otherwise good movie [...] All that is good about the movie is somewhat undone by an ambiguous ending that leaves the audience feeling unsatisfied. - Todd Reed, Examiner.com
Editors note: please comment with the title you think had the worst ending, but please don’t describe any endings and spoil them for anyone who still wants to see that film.