The perfect film ending should wrap things up in a neat and tidy bow. Unfortunately, some filmmakers choose to employ an ill-defined conclusion for their movie. They call it artistic license, but the fans who actually have to watch the ending simply call it unfair.
These vague resolutions lead to endless debate between people who simply can’t agree on what the ending actually meant. The credits have long since rolled, but now your time is dedicated to figuring out this confusing conclusion. Well, not anymore. Keep scrolling for our explanation of the most confusing movie endings no one really understood.
Total Recall follows Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who suddenly learns that he might be part of an international espionage mission which led to his real memories being erased and replaced with his current life. However, it’s also possible that Quaid is simply living in a dream.
Although director Paul Verhoeven hasn’t officially cleared up the ending of the movie, he has stated that he believes Quaid is dreaming. Rather than living those moments, Quaid is simply having a bad reaction to a memory implant that takes him down an insane path.
The Planet Of The Apes
In Tim Burton's 2001 film Planet of the Apes, the innovative director included a twist at the end. When Leo Davidson travels back in time, he discovers that General Thade is already there. Not only that, but the ape also took over the planet.
However, the twist raised the question of how Thade made his way into the past without a ship. Fans have posited the idea that Thade fixed the broken escape pod from Leo’s ship and managed to create his own time machine. Although this was never shown onscreen, it’s a logical conclusion.
Fight Club does a fairly good job of explaining its confusing ending, but we’ll rehash it for you anyway. The film centers on unnamed protagonist Edward Norton, whose life gets turned upside down when he meets the violent Tyler Durden.
At the end of the film, however, it’s revealed that Edward Norton’s character and Tyler Durden were always one and the same. The narrator was suffering from a sort of split personality dynamic. While he was “sleeping”, Durden was wreaking havoc on his life. The scenes where they’re together are simply figments of the narrator’s imagination.
Black Swan follows professional ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) who tries to be the best she can be when cast as The Swan Queen for a ballet company. Throughout the film, Nina struggles with her role, fighting not only herself, but also Lily (Mila Kunis) – a talented ballerina cast as the Black Swan.
In the end, Nina performs the ballet and collapses on a mattress, exhausted and bleeding. The final scene is about how far a person is willing to push the boundaries of their own sanity in order to be the best at what they do.
At the end of Citizen Kane, the audience finds out that Kane had a childhood sled named Rosebud. That one reveal is one of the central mysteries of the movie, so the discovery that it is just a simple sled is somewhat underwhelming.
However, the sled does play a purpose. It shows that, underneath his viciousness, Citizen Kane always had a human side. His cherished childhood toy represents the softness inside of him, and a past he’s still holding onto, no matter what.
Silent Hill exists in a universe that includes both our world and a creepy otherworld filled with monsters. The two worlds are separated by a sort of mist, which is at first confined to the town of Silent Hill. At the end of the film, however, when Rose and Sharon return home after defeating Alessa, the fog follows them.
The reason that Sharon and Rose can no longer escape is that Alessa now lives on in Sharon and other characters. The director explained this dichotomy, noting that Alessa is like the town itself – full of different dimensions.
The third installment of the Matrix saga ends with Neo sacrificing himself to allow the robots to use him to defeat Agent Smith. However, Agent Smith is supposedly part of the machine, which makes Neo’s decision confusing. Thankfully, we have the answer.
While Agent Smith is part of the machine, he also wants to take over the real world. By sacrificing himself and becoming a martyr, Neo creates a sense of peace between man and machine. He dies, but the robot leader is able to use his body to destroy all the clones. It’s not the happiest ending, but it works.
The ultimate question sitting on everyone’s tongue at the end of Blade Runner is whether or not Rick Deckard himself is a replicant. The answer, it seems, would be yes. In the final scene, Deckard finds an origami uniform left for him by Eduardo Gaff.
Earlier in the film, Deckard dreamed about a unicorn. The only way Gaff could have made that connection and supplied an origami unicorn is if the dream itself was implanted into Deckard. Since Gaff knows the contents of Deckard’s private dreams, Deckard must be a replicant.
While some movie endings are a little too ambiguous, Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe has complained that his ending wasn’t vague enough. The film follows Tom Cruise’s character, who suffers a terrible experience that leaves him horribly disfigured.
As the movie progresses, we learn that Cruise’s character is actually in a dream. In the end, he can choose to live the dream again, or he can fall off a building and wake himself up. The final scene is Cruise opening his eyes, showing that he chose to live in the real world rather than existing in his fantasy.
The director of Birdman once stated that the ending “can be interpreted as many ways as there are seats in the theater.” At the end of the film, Riggan (Michael Keaton) jumps out the window to his supposed death. When his daughter rushes to the window, however, she looks up instead of down.
Some fans took this to mean that Riggan found the freedom he was searching for and flew away. In reality, his daughter’s upward glance is likely a red herring. The ending is probably exactly what it looks like, with no redemption for this destructive character.
Taxi Driver stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a former U.S. Marine who takes on a new job as a taxi driver in New York City. Struggling with a severe lack of sleep, Bickle goes on a killing spree that ends with him trying to shoot himself. Before he can take his life, the police arrive on the scene.
The very next scene, however, shows Bickle back to business as usual. While fans thought that the killing spree was a dream, director Martin Scorsese confirmed the murders did happen, though he didn’t say if Bickle died or not.
Any movie that deals with space and time paradoxes will always be confusing. Interstellar uses the ideas of quantum physics to push its main character, Cooper, into a black hole. In this fourth dimension, Cooper can interact with the past.
To help save mankind, Cooper chooses to interact with a past version of his daughter, giving her the equation she needs to save the earth. By the end of the movie, he’s reunited with his little girl, who is now a much older woman. Although they have little time left together, their prior work succeeded in saving the human race.
Another time travel movie, 12 Monkeys focuses on the idea that time travel can’t change the past. At the end of the film, Cole goes back in time and ends up getting shot when he attacks Dr. Peters, fulfilling the scene from the beginning, when young Cole watches an unknown man die.
Although Cole didn’t change anything for himself, he was able to get some information to the future that helped create a vaccine. The movie focuses on changing the future, not the past. Hence the “insurance agent” who follows Peters at the end of the movie.
Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow’s conclusion doesn’t really make much sense. The movie follows William Cage, who is sent back to the same moment in time every time he dies. In the end, he dies in the process of defeating the aliens, which should send him back to the beginning of the timeline and undo all his hard work.
Instead, Cage wakes up where he started, but his victory over the aliens still stands. The big Hollywood ending results in a happily ever after, but it’s missing some crucial logic.
When Vietnam War veteran Jacob Singer returns home, he’s plagued by strange visions. Throughout the course of the movie, we learn that the military gave their soldiers psychedelic drugs, which made each man particularly violent and aggressive.
As the movie comes to a close, however, Jacob’s visions switch to calmer, more peaceful hallucinations. The shift is explained by Jacob’s chiropractor, who states that you must come to terms with death and realize that it’s a freedom from the earth, rather than a punishment. Although it’s a bleak explanation, it makes sense within the narrative of the movie.
The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke as Randy Robinson, a pro wrestler who’s warned that he’ll kill himself if he continues fighting. Robinson, however, cares very little for his life, especially since he’s ruined every relationship he has had outside of the ring.
He continues to fight, ending with one last jump from the ropes where the breath finally leaves his body. Before we reach a full conclusion, however, the film cuts to black. While fans like to debate whether or not Robinson survived, the director confirmed that Robinson did indeed pass away in the arena, where he felt most alive.
Annihilation offers plenty of confusion throughout the film, and it might have you scratching your head when you reach the end. While the explorers look into the Shimmer, Lena (Natalie Portman) engages in a fight with her doppelganger. When the winner emerges, we can’t be sure it’s the real Lena. She later reunites with her husband and their eyes change to match the Shimmer.
While the ending left viewers wondering whether the characters were real or alien, it doesn’t really matter. The Shimmer only represents the self-destructive nature that lives inside all of us, so it will never truly be gone.
After a confusing film involving dreams, and dreams within dreams, Inception ultimately ends with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character returning home to his family. But it is a scene that has often appeared in his dreams throughout the movie. He spins his wife’s top to make sure he’s actually in the real world, but runs to his children before the top falls down.
While most fans assumed that this meant he was actually in a dream, actor Michael Caine promised that wasn’t the case. According to Caine, the director stated during the final scene that the characters were in the real world. Case closed.
The Witch follows a Puritan family who settles at the edge of a forest. Throughout the film, supernatural horrors affect each member of the family, as they slowly succumb to the witchcraft that dominates the forest.
By then end of the movie, eldest daughter Anya Taylor-Joy is the only one left. She’s forced to kill her own mother in self-defense, and the rest of her family members have been taken away by supernatural forces. Although she manages to survive, she still steps into the forest, proving that no one can truly escape the witchcraft that resides there.
A Scanner Darkly
In A Scanner Darkly, Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover cop trying to find the source of an illegal drug called Substance D. At the same time, New Path – the company who makes the drug – plots to get him hooked on Substance D so they can ruin his brain function and use him for labor.
At the end of the film, that’s exactly what happens. However, Arctor manages to steal a flower to send to his superiors that will blow the case wide open, proving that his brain isn’t as dead as New Path believes.
The 1972 film Solaris follows Kris Kelvin during his time on a spaceship that orbits the strange, somehow sentient planet, Solaris. The planet has the ability to see into an astronaut’s memory and create clones of people based on what they desire.
Knowing that, it’s all the more confusing when, at the end of the film, Kris walks into his childhood home and reunites with his father. While the moment has the potential for a happy ending, Kris is still on Solaris, choosing to live in the fantasy the planet created rather than the less-appealing reality.
With three separate timelines included in the film, The Fountain is bound to be confusing. This 2006 movie prompted viewers to demand an explanation for the many bewildering elements when they first saw it.
However, director Darren Aronofsky refused to ruin the symbolism of the film by giving a clear answer. He stated, “It’s a film that’s a journey and it’s a trip and it’s an experience throughout the meditation of a lot of these questions.” If you look at the movie through that lens, you can see that it’s about the process of coming to terms with one’s mortality.
The Graduate is a love story finished off with an incredible warning. When Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) starts an affair with his older neighbor, he promises not to fall in love with her daughter, Elaine. Unfortunately, he can’t keep his promise.
In the end, Benjamin ruins Elaine’s wedding and they run away together, ready to start a relationship. When they board a bus, however, reality sets in and the two characters look highly unhappy with their impulsive decision. It’s a clear warning to think before you act, as the consequences might not be worth it.
The Machinist follows a gaunt, sickly insomniac named Trevor who believes that he’s being tortured by a man named Ivan. Much like Memento, however, the movie includes a shocking twist at the end.
It’s finally revealed that Trevor and Ivan are one and the same. Trevor created his own tormentor in an attempt to punish himself for a previous hit and run that resulted in a child’s death. That’s why no one around Trevor has ever seen Ivan. If there’s a character no one else can see, you can pretty much guarantee that they’ll be part of a big twist.
In After Darkness, the world faces a disaster of epic proportions – the sun is burning out. Raymond Beaty is trying to escape the crises and find a way to survive with his wife and two children. However, the ending of the movie shows the Beaty family falling asleep together without any hope for help, only to emerge into a restored world the next morning.
Unfortunately, the ending scene likely isn’t real. Instead, the Beaty family passed away together after eating some poison berries and the sunny morning was simply symbolic of their afterlife.
The Tree of Life
It wasn’t just the ending of The Tree of Life that was a little confusing—it was the whole movie. It centers primarily on a family living in a Texas town, though their lives are intercut with other scenes that represent everything from the dawn of time to the afterlife.
Director Terrence Malick never specified exactly what the movie was about. However, film critics have suggested that the movie prompts you to reflect on all the good and bad in your own life, and how it fits into the bigger picture.
The Babadook features a mother and son who accidentally summon a terrifying monster out of a children’s book. The monster possesses the mother, and the child is forced to beat the demon on his own.
After the son sends the demon away, however, it appears to disappear into the basement. At the end of the film, the mother brings a bowl of worms downstairs to feed the Babadook. While some fans took this to mean that the monster never disappeared, others assumed that the monster was simply a manifestation of the mother’s own grief at the loss of her husband.
In Arrival, Amy Adams's character is haunted by visions of what we assume to be her past, while trying to communicate with a new alien race. In the end, however, we find out that her visions of the past are actually visions of Louise’s future, which become vital in her journey to save the world.
After successfully saving mankind, Louise chooses to live her future, knowing that the pain of losing both her daughter and her husband awaits her down the line. Her “happy ending” is bittersweet because both the viewer and Louise know what’s coming.
After his ex-wife Susan (Amy Adams) leaves him because she doesn’t believe in his talent, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends a copy of his new book for Susan to read. She’s quickly caught up in the story, and ends the film asking to meet with Edward again, in part to tell him she’s impressed with his manuscript.
When the day of the date comes, however, Susan is stood up. The entire movie is simply a metaphor for Susan and Edward’s relationship, that allows him to finally get his feelings out about their dissolution.
The Shining director Stanley Kubrick decided to throw a big twist into the ending of the movie by showing Jack Torrance in an old picture of the Overlook Hotel. For years, fans have debated what the photo means, but they haven’t been able to come up with a logical answer.
Considering Kubrick likes to mess with his audience, it’s likely that the picture doesn’t actually mean anything. Instead, it was just an attempt to add a little intrigue at the end, without contributing to the overall story. It has certainly kept people guessing, which is precisely what Kubrick wanted.
Yet another time travel conundrum, Primer follows Aaron and Abe, two friends who accidentally create a time machine. While messing with their device, the friends create overlapping timelines and versions of themselves that have the capability to cause some serious damage.
By the end of the film, the friends take opposing viewpoints. Aaron works with his former self to revamp the original time machine, while Abe tries to prevent his former self from learning of the time machine at all. You’ll probably have to watch this movie more than once to truly get it.
No Country For Old Men
No Country For Old Men ends on a rather calm note, with a long monologue from Sheriff Bell, where the policeman discusses his dreams. However, his speech isn’t just about filling some empty space.
Instead, Bell recognizes that he tried to make a difference, but that he’s now too old and tired to fix the world around him. He let Anton Chigurh get away and failed to make the world a better place. His monologue about his dreams outlines his own feelings about his failures, drawing out the true meaning of the film.
The plot of Hereditary is somewhat straight-forward, but it leaves viewers with one big question – who are the cultists who appear at the end of the film? Well, the answer is found in the very beginning of the movie, when Annie is confused why so many people showed up to her mother’s funeral.
The cultists are actually friends of Annie’s mother, who all found each other through their shared love of demon worship. That’s certainly one way to bond with your neighbors.
Honestly, all of Donnie Darko is pretty confusing. Throughout the film, Donnie is haunted by an evil spirit in a bunny costume. What the movie fails to clear up – and what the director has stated in the aftermath of the film – is that Donnie Darko actually involves parallel universes.
Donnie himself is living in a parallel universe. The film follows him as he tries to fix a time rift in “Universe Prime.” When he dies at the end of the film, he acts as a sacrifice that then saves everyone he loves. It’s really a heroic story.
The premise of the 2014 film It Follows is already a little ridiculous. It centers on Jay, who catches a “sexually transmitted ghost” and must pass on her curse by sleeping with someone else. By the end of the film, Jay manages to pass the ghost onto Paul, who then passes it on to a prostitute.
In the final scene, however, Jay and Paul are followed by a dark figure as they walk down the street. The film’s director, David Robert Mitchell, says the scene was purposely created to be open to interpretation.
In Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play old and young versions of the same hitman, who are trying to take down a crime boss who ruins their lives in the future.
When they come face-to-face with the crime boss – who at the time is just a child – Levitt’s character realizes that he’ll turn into the monster he becomes if his mother dies. In order to prevent that, Levitt kills himself, thereby killing Willis as well. That way, the boy’s mother survives and the kid never turns into the crime boss of the future.
When an aspiring actress moves to Los Angeles, her plans are slightly derailed when she finds an amnesiac woman living in her aunt’s home. The film sets itself up for a solid story, but it goes off the rails, especially when it shows random vignette’s about other, seemingly random characters.
Director David Lynch refused to comment on the meaning of the movie, but one critic claimed that the film is meant to be about nothing. Roger Ebert said, “The movie is hypnotic. We’re drawn along as if one thing leads to another, but nothing leads anywhere.”
Drive finished on an interesting cliffhanger. As Ryan Gosling’s driver speeds away at the end of the film with a painful stab wound, viewers are left wondering if he lives or dies.
Unfortunately, the driver doesn’t make it. Earlier in the movie, Gosling asks the mob boss if he is familiar with the story of the Scorpion and the Frog, which ends with both animals dying because they must be true to their natures. By asking this question, the driver makes it clear that he knows he’s going to die, because neither he nor the boss will resist their nature.
Grease is a fairly realistic movie about two high school teenagers who fall in love. It’s filled with musical numbers, but there’s nothing to suggest any sort of supernatural element in the film...except the ending. After Danny and Sandy finally decide to be together, they get into a car that then drives into the air and flies away.
While some fans have suggested that Sandy was actually dead for the entire film, the filmmakers have rebuffed their ideas. It’s likely that the moment was simply a bad editing decision to end the film on a high note. Literally.
While Darren Aronofsky has appeared on this list more than once, his directorial debut proves that he’s always been a fan of confusing endings. In Pi, Max Cohen believes that everything can be solved by numbers, though he can’t fix his own medical problems.
While Cohen spends his life making stock predictions, he can’t overcome the headaches and hallucinations that plague him every day. Eventually, he is driven to total madness and performs a lobotomy on himself to end the pain forever. While it’s a dark ending, it’s the only way Cohen believed he could save himself.
A Clockwork Orange
In typical Stanley Kubrick fashion, A Clockwork Orange takes a much darker turn than the book it’s based on. In the story, Alex undergoes conditioning and brainwashing after his suicide attempt in an effort to rid him of his violent ways.
In the movie, however, Alex seemingly makes a return to his aggressive behavior by the end of the film. The book, however, takes a happier approach. It shows that Alex does clean up his life and moves forward after realizing the toll his behavior has taken on those around him.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Put most simply, 2001 tracks humanity’s evolution. It starts with primitive peoples who resemble apes creating tools, and ends with Bowman transforming into a super being and being sent back to Earth.
Director Stanley Kubrick explained the ending of the film with more finesse, stating that Bowman was studied by a team of super-beings and sent back to Earth after he made his final evolution. As for what happens when he returns to Earth with his new powers, viewers can only guess.
The Dark Knight Rises
The controversial ending scene in The Dark Knight Rises features Albert seeing Bruce Wayne across a crowded cafe in Florence. However, Bruce supposedly died when he flew a nuclear bomb out of Gotham City. Because of that, fans started to speculate that the Bruce in the ending is simply a figment of Albert’s imagination.
You have to notice, however, that Lucius Fox learns in the ending scenes that Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot in the Bat-plane. Knowing that, it’s safe to assume that Bruce exited the aircraft and went on to live a quiet life with Selina (aka Catwoman).
Life of Pi
Life of Pi follows a boy stranded on a boat with a tiger. In the end, he manages to make it to shore, where he recounts his story to a fictional Yann Martel.
Although he first tells Martel the story we saw in the film, he then recounts a bloodier tale where he had to kill and eat the ship’s cook to stay alive. When asked which story is real, the young man only gives a vague answer. But the ending itself is about forcing you to question your own reality, rather than worrying about the trials of the characters.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this psychological thriller as a college history professor who switches places with his doppelgänger. While the two men weave a tangled web, the ending of the film provides more questions than answers.
While Gyllenhaal is living his doppelgänger’s life, he suddenly finds his wife transformed into a tarantula. The movie’s director, Denis Villeneuve, described the film as a “puzzle”, stating that it was supposed to provide more questions than answers. If that was the goal, he certainly accomplished it.
Shutter Island follows U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels as he investigates a disappearance at an eerie mental hospital. The film first suggests that the doctors on the island are the real villains, only to reveal that Teddy himself is a patient who struggles with delusions to block out the memory of killing his wife.
While the movie leaves you scratching your head as to whether or not Teddy is really unstable, the logical conclusion is that he indeed killed his wife, but he chooses to go through with the lobotomy because he can no longer live with the memory.
Directed by the Coen Brothers, Barton Fink centers on a playwright hired to write scripts for a big studio in Hollywood, and who soon becomes disillusioned with the entertainment lifestyle. While Fink deals with the trials and tribulations of screenwriting, he has a picture of a woman hanging in his hotel room as a decoration.
At the end of the film, Fink is sitting on a beach looking at a woman who looks exactly like his picture. It’s the final scene before the screen fades to black, and Joel Coen explained that it is representative of Fink’s psychological state at the time.
Director Christopher Nolan loves a good twist, and Memento is no exception. Instead of following a successive timeline, the movie moves in a backward sequence to show Leonard trying to unravel the mystery of his wife’s killer, Sammy Jankis.
At the end of the film, which is really the beginning of Leonard’s journey, we find out that Leonard is Jankis and his memory loss issues allowed him to create a mystery in order to cope with his own guilt. He keeps solving the mystery, only to forget and start the process of working the case all over again.
While the American Psycho movie is a little confusing, the book offers a bit more clarity. In short, Patrick Bateman is going through a severe mental breakdown, so his entire narration of events is unreliable. That’s why Bateman eventually finds out that he never went on a killing spree, though he’s completely convinced that he did.
While the movie is meant to leave a little gray area that opens up the possibility that he did actually kill someone, the most logical conclusion is that Bateman’s mental breakdown is over and his narration is somewhat reliable again.
Now You See Me
Now You See Me is a very engaging movie about four magicians who pull off baffling heists. At the end of their journey, the magicians are offered entrance into The Eye, an ancient group comprised of only the most talented magicians. When they agree to join, they step onto a moving carousel and disappear.
While the moment is filled with drama, it suggests that the magicians completed their audition in the form of their many tricks, and are now members of The Eye, who fight for the greater good of all people.