Great endings in movies almost always feel so inspired by instinct rather than design, you wonder what they would be without it. In most cases the screenwriter and the director would’ve arrived at the ending only once they’re done with the rest. What if they didn’t chance upon a brilliant idea? What difference would it have made to the film’s legacy? A great ending can make a good movie great, and sometimes a decent movie good. Think about the movie endings you love and it is often the factor that makes a film, what we call, greater than the sum of its parts. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good final flourish? The Vulture list of 101 greatest endings in movie history led us to make our own version of it — not the ‘greatest’ so much as our personal favourites as picked by FC Staff members (Anupama Chopra, Vishal Menon, Prathyush Parasuraman, Gayle Sequeira, Ruhaan Shah, Ashutosh Mohan and Sankhayan Ghosh). From the brutal to the melancholy, from the shocking to the understated, here are 30 such endings, across languages.
30. Apur Sansar (1959)
Struck by one tragedy after another, when Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) has to deal with another of life’s cruel blows in the form of his wife Aparna’s (Sharmila Tagore) death at childbirth, he is unable to come to terms with it. He holds it against their little son, Kajol (Alok Chakravarty), whose name is a reminder of his most intimate moment with her (a reference to her eyelashes). He gives up his dreams of being a novelist and lives like a recluse in a small hill station. When he finally does return to Aparna’s village to see their son for the first time—more out of a sense of duty—the child rejects him violently. But the friction of their interaction creates a small opening, an opening through which we can see a father in Apu, who is compassionate, sensitive, and a friend. The final scene on the riverside landscape is masterful and moving, bringing the curtains down on Ray’s trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito). The journey of the boy from Nischindipur is now complete. A new journey begins.
29. Breathless (1960)
With a cigarette pincered between his two fingers, wearing its smoke like a perfume as is the case throughout the film, Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character declares that he’s tired of running from the cops, that he has had enough — he is breathless. And ultimately, a few seconds before he dies after being shot, he lets out the final fumes of his indulgence and death. It is this precise symbolism that makes Godard’s ending so delicious — cigarettes, that often make for his parenthesis, also mark the end.
28. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
What Jack Nicholson’s character does at the end of Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces is perhaps an act of cowardice, but it’s incredibly liberating. As they make a stop at a gas station on the way back from his family home, Robert, a thirty-something drifter, abandons his girlfriend and decides to hit the road by hitchhiking with a truck driver. It’s an act of pure impulse, brought about by a moment of self-reflection in the restroom, where we get one of the defining images of the film, of Robert looking at the mirror. The quietly stunning ending perfectly encapsulates the alienation, and the call of freedom, emblematic of the new wave of counterculture films in Hollywood in the 60s and 70s.
27. Arth (1982)
At the end of Arth, Pooja, a housewife whose life is turned upside down when her husband has an affair, has two choices. Her repentant husband has returned. But she gives him a harsh reality check with one line – she simply asks, if I had done to you what you did to me, would you take me back. He’s forced to admit that he wouldn’t. There’s also Raj, a supportive friend who longs to be more. But Pooja walks away from both because she’s finally found her voice and the strength to be alone. She is complete in herself. Shabana Azmi as Pooja is stellar and Pooja’s decision to live on her own terms was at the time revolutionary. It continues to be inspiring.
26. Apoorva Sagodharargal (1989)
The ending of Apoorva Sagodharargal is high 80s kitsch, backed by inventive writing. Appu and Raja, both played by Kamal Haasan, are separated at birth because their father’s enemies hunt down and murder him like a pack of lions. The tragic sequence at the film’s beginning finds its emotional inverse in the end where Appu, who is often mocked for his short stature, balances high up under the roof of a circus tent and gets the villain mauled by lions, to the same background score that played when his father was killed. The format of the ending is typical of mainstream films from the time, but Apoorva Sagodharargal achieves both emotional closure and plot resolution.
25. Do The Right Thing (1989)
The final 20 minutes of this Spike Lee joint is stirring and explosive. The ending materialises the anger and rage around racial injustice, and as Mookie approaches Sal for his salary after the latter’s pizza joint is burnt down, we even see the banality in this anger. But it is Radio Raheem that defines these moments — a man not only strangulated by the police, but by the social institutions around him as well. If anything, this is evocative of how America trudged through the last year.
24. Cinema Paradiso (1990)
Postwar small town Italy. A boy called Toto grows up watching films at the local theatre Cinema Paradiso and befriending the projectionist, the rough on the exterior but gentle, kind soul, Alfredo. Lest we forget an important detail that will give the movie its rousing ending, the films are all censored, the erotic scenes taken out under strict instructions from the priest. The people complain, boo and make noises as these scenes are blanked out—a part and parcel of life in this small Sicilian town. The boy is now a famous movie director in Rome, and a phone call from his mother informs him that a certain Alfredo has died, the man who taught him how to project dreams on a screen. He has left him a gift, a film reel containing he doesn’t know what. As he plays it at a private screening room, the screen flickers into life with the adult scenes they were denied the pleasure of all those years ago, a supercut of his boyhood itself. It’s an incredibly moving, completely unexpected ending, that elevates the movie, and Ennio Morricone’s stirring, melancholy score is just perfect.
23. The Age Of Innocence (1993)
Martin Scorsese once called The Age Of Innocence the most violent film he’d ever made and you can see why. Its characters don’t wound with weapons but with words, and much of their pain, which stems from thoughts of what if?, is psychological. Bound by rigid social norms, Newland Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) proceeds to marry a woman he doesn’t love, rather than risk scandal by admitting his feelings for her cousin Ellen (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose divorce makes her a pariah. Years later, Newland, now an old man, finds himself at Ellen’s door but does not go inside. Is he crippled by cowardice? Is the memory of her more precious to him than her presence? As the window above him shuts and Newland walks away, a lone figure on the street, it’s all too apparent that the deepest wounds are those that are self-inflicted.
22. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)
We love it when Shah Rukh Khan lets out a good cry towards the end of a film, where his heartbreak metastasises into abject misery. Despair eats into the film’s closure and ultimately, you get some semblance of a reality. But this film manages to achieve this and some catharsis. After sitting on a sidewalk probably wondering about the meaninglessness of his past, a bubbly Juhi Chawla helps end the film on a hopeful note. But in hindsight, what stayed with me is the realisation that this is the end of Khan’s youthful appeal, too.
21. Mudhalvan (1999)
Shankar’s Enthiran had a long drawn out climax with a thousand Rajinikanths coming together to take the form of a computer-generated snake. But Mudhalvan, an intelligent political thriller, has a sharp conclusion. The deadlock between Pugazhenthi (Arjun) and Aranganathar (Raghuvaran) is broken when they come together for a one-to-one meeting. You know you’re near the film’s end, and yet, you have no idea how it could end well for Pugazhenthi, when he does something that you don’t expect him to do — play politics. It’s one of those political films that doesn’t end in triumph for the protagonist and society, but instead opts for a more mellow, but realistic ending.
20. Devdas (2002)
The ending is operatic. Paro’s (Aishwarya Rai) long piece of fabric flowing like a river. A musical score that crescendos as she runs towards Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) taking his final breath outside her palace. A kinetic camera on slow-motion. There is an immediacy to Paro and Devdas’ impending touch that is put to test by the apparatus of the palace. It’s the best kind of ending there is, this level of heightened visual-visceral-sonic collaboration on a scale that even Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been unable to match.
19. Sideways (2004)
Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a down-on-his-luck divorcee when he starts planing a trip to the Napa Valley with his best bud Jack just before the latter gets married. Miles is broken and depressed but he has a prized bottle of a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc that he has saved for a big event in his life. Perhaps for the day his manuscript finally gets published or perhaps the day he gets married again. But when he returns from this trip more messed up than before it, there’s no moments left to save up for. One of the last scenes of Sideways has him sitting at a fast food joint secretly pouring his most valuable possession into a styrofoam cup. In the words of Maya from the film, “To open a bottle of ’61 Cheval Blanc is enough reason to open a bottle of ’61 Cheval Blanc.”
18. Udayananu Tharam (2005)
The 2005 Malayalam film starring Mohanlal and Sreenivasan takes us through the trials and tribulations faced by a struggling filmmaker (Udayan) as he somehow tries to complete shooting his first film. Having cast an old friend and new superstar Saroj Kumar to play the protagonist, the shoot of this film-within-a-film comes to a standstill after an altercation between these two old friends, sending the director into depression. The star wont lose out on much, but it’s surely going to end Udayan’s career if his first film gets shelved. So what do they do? Without rewrites or without killing off the hero, the makers come up with wacky technique to shoot the climax—a dream-like sequence where the hero goes into delirium. Without telling the star, the makers start staging the remaining scenes with the help of hidden cameras. Ending with a car chase set in a studio (unbeknownst to our hero) we get a whole new level of ‘method acting’, with an excellent display of his ‘navarasa’. Add to this an equally satisfying tail-end with the audience loving this climax (and the performance) and we got one of Malayalam cinema’s most satisfying finishes.
17. Omkara (2006)
By now you may have noticed our proclivity for tragic endings. And everyone’s on their metaphorical deathbed in Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Othello, waiting to either kill each other or themselves. It’s a conclusion so bleak and morbid that it indirectly ends up romanticising life itself — perhaps this is what makes the film and the ending so appealing. But the glory is in its final shot, as Kareena Kapoor swings over Ajay Devgn, both lifeless.
16. The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network, by David Fincher, is a tragedy about a man’s ascent to billionaire-ism. But this tragedy only emerges in the final ten minutes — as Mark Zuckerberg sits in the deposition room, realising that everyone close to him are now strangers indifferent to his misery, he sends a friend request to his ex. A million people registered on his website but not a single person there to support him — there’s something really prescient and self-reflexively horrific about this. Given the time of its release, it is essentially a prediction about how one cannot break free from social media’s architecture, even the architect himself.
15. Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (2010)
The Telugu version of this Gautham Vasudev Menon masterpiece, Ye Maaya Chesave, came with a happy ending and the film went on to become a blockbuster. In Tamil, though, the film remains a timeless tragedy all thanks to what is now known as its ‘double ending’. This is another film that goes into a meta zone to give us both a happy and a sad ‘real’ ending. We get a happy ending for about five minutes when we think Jessie and Karthik have finally united. But this ‘happy ending’ is the climax of the film Karthik ends up making as a tribute to his love story with Jessie. Real life had other plans and ‘Jessie’ remains the fifth or sixth film Jessie ends up watching.
14. Udaan (2010)
Udaan begins and ends with two scenes of escape. In the first, a group of young boys slip out of their hostel after dark, past curfew, to catch a movie that isn’t exactly PG13. Their joy is short-lived once they’re caught and suspended. For Rohan (Rajat Barmecha), that means returning to an uncaring father and an abusive family dynamic. He comes dangerously close to internalizing that dynamic himself, with his younger half-brother, until a breakdown gives way to a breakout. The two of them flee from home. This time, Rohan won’t let his joy be short-lived. He’s prepared. They walk out into the sunlight, the rest of their lives ahead of them.
13. Inception (2010)
Few movie endings have had the kind of global pop cultural impact as Inception, which might have singlehandedly spawned the earliest ‘X Movie Ending, Explained’ YouTube videos. Are we still in Dom’s dreams? Did the totem wobble, or not? Even if it did (which means we are *not* in his dreams), what’s important is that by blacking out the screen, Christopher Nolan’s refused to neatly wrap up his puzzle box blockbuster and give in to such pedantic curiosity as to spoon-feeding the audience its exact meaning. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the mystery, which is at the heart of great art.
12. Ship Of Theseus (2012)
To make an intellectual film is one thing. To make an intellectual film that is engaging is another. But to make an intellectual film that is engaging, ending with an “Oh” on the lips, a “Whoa” in the brain, and a “Sigh” in the heart is an entirely different thing. Anand Gandhi’s directorial debut has all the trappings of philosophy. He pursues three different narrative threads, but unlike an anthology he has a quiet climax where the three strands come together in a way that feels neither rushed nor contrived. To give a feeling of closure to a paradoxical philosophical concept, the ship of Theseus, is something unheard of and perhaps even unseen.
11. The Lunchbox (2013)
Endings that don’t provide closure sometimes stick like a splinter in the flesh. You are forced to create your own script – in my head Ila the housewife who makes a tenuous connection with Saajan, a widower, through a wrongly delivered lunchbox, is living happily with him in Bhutan. Of course, writer-director Ritesh Batra doesn’t give us the comfort of this. Instead, we see Ila, ready to leave. And Saajan, sitting with the dabbawallas, heading to her home. ‘Kabhi kabhi galat train bhi sahi jagah pahucha deti hai’, Ila writes. Wherever she ends up, I think she’s already found her peace.
10. Drishyam (2013)
The world may now have moved on to the ending of the sequel but almost everyone who watched Drishyam has a ‘my first time’ story about the physical phenomenon they experienced when they witnessed the film’s shocking climax. Even without the shot of Georgekutty leaving the police station with a shovel, the film would have remained a satisfying watch, but this ending made sure the audience remained in their seats long after the credits to gather their thoughts whilst also collecting their jaws from the floor. Given that this remained a secret between us and Georgekutty (even his family didn’t know this until very very recently) made us co-conspirators in an unforgettable crime with a bit of blood on ours hands too.
9. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)
There is nothing more sumptuous and satisfying than a happy ending in a rom-com. Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) and Naina (Deepika Padukone) are together, they kiss and make-up, they call their friends celebrating a new beginning (literally, it’s New Years Eve) all connected only by feeling and phone—this hits differently in a pandemic time of forced isolation. But the beauty and hope of it still remains. Will Bunny and Naina stay together? Will they resent each other for the things they are giving up? Perhaps. But in the flush of love expressed and reciprocated, holding and being held, who cares?
8. Munnariyippu (2014)
Mammootty’s Raghavan is an ex-convict who is willingly overstaying his prison sentence, because he likes it. The film makes you believe that this is a harmless quirk, and Raghavan is a harmless man. He meets a journalist who brings him out of jail to compile his memoirs, he gains a bit of fame as an idiosyncratic philosopher, but nothing really significant seems to happen for most of the film; right until the very end. Raghavan’s shocking act in the film’s final minute feels random at first; until we realize that we could have guessed that he was a dangerous man, but we didn’t. It dramatically changes the way we interpret both the character and the film.
7. Sairat (2016)
There are two films in the two halves of Sairat. Nothing in the epic, larger-than-life star-crossed romance of the first half prepares you for the almost gritty, realistic marriage story in the second, when the young lovers flee the village and move to the city. And then there is the ending. Equally deceitful about its intent in first glance, when Archi’s male relatives arrive unannounced, with smiles on their faces, sweets from her mother and a present for their child — but with portents all along, like the men with saffron flags they see harassing young couples in the streets. Nagraj Manjule toys with our expectations: we are suspicious, then hopeful, before he subjects us to that almost unbearable, but in retrospect inevitable, brutal, sledgehammer of an ending: the sound goes off as the child steps into the house in broad day light to find his parents murdered. Only in the final few frames is the visual, symbolic power of the scene revealed: the baby-sized, blood-red footprints.
6. Mayanadi (2017)
The film itself is a quiet devastation because it builds the love of its leads Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) and Mathan (Tovino Thomas) with such care and musical balm. To know that they might never be together is one thing, but to have Appu look back over her shoulders hoping for Mathan to materialize is a visceral kick in the gut unlike no other. The hum of the title track over this moment hits differently. Because we know Mathan is dead. But we keep hoping that it’s all a dream, and he will manifest in his cap and caper.
5. Vikram Vedha (2017)
Vikram (Madhavan) is a cop out to get Vedha (Vijay Sethupathi) who is something of a gadfly on his back. They are opposites that attract because they have scores to settle with each other. Their cat-and-mouse game reaches its high point when Vedha saves Vikram’s life which forces the latter to reassess his moral stand. Mainstream thrillers often end with clear good and bad guys. But Vikram Vedha ends in a satisfyingly ambiguous standoff that makes a story of cops and gangsters feel like an unassuming folk tale.
4. Tumbbad (2018)
There’s a moment in Tumbbad when you think that the story, a multi-generational tale of ambition and greed, might end. A father and son enter the womb of a goddess intending to trick her vengeful son and double the wealth they steal from him. Their plan backfires when he spawns multiple clones instead, each of whom begin to encircle the two. Their light goes out and the screen fades to black. It’s a stunning horror-movie ending but Tumbbad elevates itself by continuing the story. The father realizes, maybe for the first time, that his son is more important. The son realizes, maybe for the first time, that he can’t grow up to be his father. He survives, and in a bookend moment, climbs out, shutting the pathway to greed behind him forever.
3. Pariyerum Perumal (2018)
Pariyan (Kathir) goes through horrific events at college because he is from an oppressed community, and also as he is friends with a girl from a privileged community. As their relationship develops, the girl’s family attacks Pariyan. We expect him to fight back. But the film doesn’t end in a face-off with the girl’s father or with homilies about unity between classes. In a scene at the end, Pariyan holds a dignified conversation with the girl’s father and tells him what might be interpreted as a commentary on the position of the oppressed. The final dialogue that Pariyan utters gives the film a quiet, but chilling, conclusion.
2. Rajlokhi o Srikanto (2019)
We know where an ending ends but where does it begin? In Pradipta Bhattacharyya’s Rajlokhi o Srikanto, it’s when — with 30 minutes of the film still to go — the titular couple bumps into Indra da and Annada di at a cafe in Kolkata. The mindfuck begins at that exact moment. Like Rajlokhi and Srikanto, they, too, were lovers on the run, many years ago when Indra da had killed Annada di’s alcoholic, abusive husband in a crime of passion. And like Rajlokhi and Srikanto, they should’ve been dead by now. So then what’s going on? An alternate what-if ending? A wish-fulfilment fantasy made possible by cinema and the idea of afterlife (hints of which we are given in the film’s suggestive supernatural elements)? As we are left scrambling our brains, the film leaves us with an image of transcendental beauty: the four characters on the beach in their ancestral village enjoy the sunset, shot by a drone camera that will soon take off into the horizon, as a haunting version of a DL Ray song plays in the background.
1. The Great Indian Kitchen (2021)
The Great Indian Kitchen is one of the rare films where even the bad guy ends up with a happy ending. The ‘Husband’ (played by Suraj Venjaramoodu) ends up divorcing Nimisha’s character and then remarrying another women at the end. Nimisha appears to be single and is seen teaching dance to a set of students, but her ex doesn’t seem to have changed all that much. He’s back to romancing his new bride near the stove and he says his past life was a rehearsal for what is now the real deal. When you see a close shot of him keeping his tea cup near the sink without washing it, you realise that he’s just the same or perhaps happier.