Making a great movie is not an easy task, but if a filmmaker succeeds in getting just about everything right, it still hinges on one thing: the ending. How are you going to let the audience out of your story? What do you want them thinking about as they leave the theater? What feeling do you want to stick with them? Getting all of this across on top of wrapping up your story can be tricky, and more often than not the ending is more of a footnote than anything—not as memorable as what came before.
But a precious few films are able to take the conclusion to new heights, offering up a final scene or shot that viewers are unable to shake. This may come on the heels of a massive plot twist, it may be a genius visual idea that taps into the film’s thematic throughline, or it may be a frustratingly/excitingly ambiguous note that leaves a portion of the conclusion up to the viewer.
There’s no math equation that gives you a great ending. There’s no formula you can stick to in order to guarantee a brilliant conclusion. That’s part of what makes great endings so memorable—they don’t happen too often. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorites from cinema history. They run the gamut from tearful to joyous to delightfully twisted, but they all have one thing in common: they’re unforgettable. Behold the best movie endings of all time.
Oh, and spoiler alert, obviously.