Monday, July 22, 2013

Top Ten - Science Fiction Film Endings

Well John Kenneth Muir is at it again, asking for reader opinions on the top 10 greatest endings in Science Fiction film history. The responses were interesting and seemed to have a certain slant toward John Carpenter of all people! Check out the results here.

I had to throw in my 2 cents, but this one was a bit tougher to decide on. Unlike my lists for greatest science fiction characters in film or greatest science fiction films, I found I had to mull this one over a bit. I also didn’t have a favorite versus greatest list situation this time. Because let’s face it, a great ending is a great ending. I did have to throw some anime for good measure.

So here is my list with some accompanying remarks:

10. Galaxy Quest – 1999
The ultimate in fan wish fulfillment makes this one of my favorite endings to a movie. Not only does the goofy super-fan get to help his heroes save the day, but those same heroes crash land in the middle of a huge sci-fi convention, in a working spaceship, and then defeat the villain once and for all. It’s the perfect ending to one of the best sci-fi comedies I’ve ever seen.

9. The End of Evangelion  - 1997
While you could consider this entire film to be the ending of the series, the final minutes make a huge impact on the viewer. Shinji Ikari literally destroys the world and remakes it to suit him. Since he is a depressive, shattered human being, his ideal world is desolate except for an ocean of blood, crucified Evangelions and a girl who says she loathes him. Director Hideaki Anno creates some of his most vivid imagery in this film but that final scene is both horrifying and sad as all hell.

8. Close Encounters of a Third Kind – 1977
We achieve contact with an alien life form, and all the wonder and amazement that it entails unspools before the viewer. Spielberg creates a dazzling visual display of light and darkness, and John Williams amazing score for the film comes to its climax. An amazing ending to a tough journey, and yet it implies that Roy Neary’s journey has just begun.

7. Back to the Future – 1985
Zemeckis stages one of the most fun and exciting set pieces of the 1980s, as Marty attempts to catch lightning and get back to 1985. But then the actual ending is wonderfully perfect as Marty returns to a home that is even better than before, because of his “tampering with the space time continuum”. It all ends with one of my favorite quotes to end a film, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need… roads.” I grin every time.

6. The Empire Strikes Back  - 1980
I don’t think anyone viewing this film for the first time expected this ending. Luke defeated and maimed, Han Solo captured, Darth Vader victorious. The heroes barely escape with their lives. The final word in the film is literally “Ow!” Ouch indeed! But for all the trial, the movie ends with a glimmer of hope, with new allies, Luke restored and with friends. John Williams even sums up the scene with a glorious crescendo of Han and Leia’s theme – hinting that Solo will return. An excellent finale and my favorite of the series.

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – 1982
The bold step to kill Spock and cripple the crew of the Enterprise is still effective to this day. For anyone who grew up with the characters, the final scenes in the film are some of the best in the history of the franchise. As painful as the death scene is, the blow is cushioned by a wonderful epilogue scene where Kirk reflects, a planet is born and then Spock says the final lines… “To boldly go where no man has gone… before.” Perfect.

After an extended philosophical exploration, Major Kusanagi and Project 2501 decide to merge. This cyborg/synthetic mind combination awakens in a new child like body. But the body is nothing more than a shell, because the voice is Kusanagi’s, with hints of 2501 within. As she steps out onto the cliff overlooking the city below her, the new being’s eyes seem to light up with the wonder of new possibilities. “The net is vast, and infinite.” We have a woman who’s an efficient killing machine fused with a being created “in the vast sea of information”. It is impossible to know what she is going to do next… and that is why I always get the shivers when she says that final line. I suspect the world is in for a rude awakening.

3. Blade Runner -1982
Deckard’s encounter with Batty has left his broken and reflective. But it also opened his eyes. He races home to get Rachael and escape into the world – perhaps to be hunted by another Blade Runner. As they leave he see the unicorn origami, and it just adds that final question mark to the character of Deckard. Then the elevator doors shut and Vangelis kicks our 1980s asses. Great stuff.

2. Planet of the Apes – 1968
Oh the rich rich irony of those final minutes. It does not surprise me in the least that Rod Serling worked on this screenplay, because his Twilight Zone series was filled with moments like this. But the build up and execution of the scene give it additional power. Of particular note is Jerry Goldsmith’s innovative and amazing musical score. In those final moments he builds tension and atmosphere very subtly, we subconsciously are waiting for something to happen. But when the moment arrives, he wisely lets the scene play out without any music at all. This masterstroke makes the moment have an even greater impact. I’ll say it again, Goldsmith was a master of film scoring.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey - 1968
Love it or hate it, the ending has had a huge impact on so many different films in so many different genre’s it is impossible to ignore. The mind blowing stargate sequence is both unsetting and numbing in it’s own way. But those final scenes of “the Infinite” are an amazing surreal and yet visual exploration of the concept of first contact. Something truly alien coming in touch with our consciousness, how could our minds even comprehend it? The style and execution of these scenes are nothing short of spectacular. That is why it’s my number one pick.


  1. Solid list. I agree about Galaxy Quest being a marvelous film -- much better film than most critics have noticed. Comedies often get overlooked on any list other than "comedy." Clarke's novels explain some of what is going on (the monoliths are purpose-built AI) in 2001, but Kubrick opted to for mystery over exposition. I like it too -- more now than when I first saw it. My first view, btw, was in a theater in Boston where the marquee read "for stoned audiences." Hey, it was 1968.

    I'll play. 10. Since John Carpenter seems to be de rigueur, let’s get him out of the way with the still invisible Chevy Chase at the end of Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992): I highly recommend the book, by the way, which is an amazing first novel by HF Saint. 9. Out There (1995): This is by no means a good movie, but I like that the aliens are just entrepreneurial marketers. 8. The Time Machine (1961): What books would you take? 7. I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958): Surprisingly open-minded for the time; after all, Marge, who saves the day, has been getting it on with an alien imposter all this time. 6. The Illustrated Man (1969): a man sees his own death in the tattoos – oops, “skin illustrations.” 5. World without End (1956): Restarting civilization requires the same sort of will to power that probably was responsible for destroying the last one – well, it beats dying off in a fancy bunker. 4. Jurassic Park (1993): Alan doesn’t endorse the park 3. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957): the protagonist accepts his journey into an unknown realm. 2. Charly (1969), the film adaptation of Flowers for Algernon: just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. 1. The original The Thing from Another World (1951): “Watch the Skies!”

    1. "Galaxy Quest" gets better and better each time I revisit it. They achieved a wonderful balance of parody and straight up sci-fi adventure. I love that the parody isn't mocking, but more like "isn't it kind of silly when this would happen on 'Star Trek"". It has a great mix of different types of humor, some of it obvious and some of it only sci-fi veterans would catch. it is just a fun ride all the way through, and the cast just nails the parts. I don't run into films that are as rewatchable as that one too often.

      What I love about "2001" is that everything about it is distilled through the visuals, including plot, theme and concepts. It makes the whole thing more mysterious, because there is obviously a common thread to the sequences, but it is not obvious. It makes you dig a little deeper, and I always appreciate a film that does it. It's a tricky game, but I think Kubrick did a fine job. Oh and your story about the sign "for stoned audiences" well my mother in law told and almost identical story. She was not a fan of the film. ;)

      Great list Richard. A few of these were mentioned by the folks over at John's site. "The Incredible Shrinking Man" got quite a few votes. I've never seen the flick, but with so many folks talking about it, I'm intrigued. I've only seen about half the movies on your list, I need to check some of these out. "The Illustrated Man" sounds like a really interesting concept. And "World Without End" sounds like a good one too.

  2. So Roman, you know how I feel about The End Of Evangelion. It's simply a phenomenal production from Production I.G.. Blew me away. It's a great choice for your Top 10.

    Now, look forward to investigating your site further, but I check with you given our mutual affection for all things anime - Ghost In The Shell (another great choice by the way) - Mamoru Oshii.

    Have you seen Assault Girls or Avalon by Mamoru Oshii? I'm interested. I'm particularly interested in Assault Girls because Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) is in it. Any thoughts?


    1. I have some more Oshii on my docket to watch and review. I need to tackle "Ghost in the Shell: Innocence". It's been a few years since I've seen it, but it left me kind of cold (something Oshii's work can do).

      I've seen "Avalon" and it was an intriguing premise, but once again, left me a bit cold. The score by Kenji Kawai certainly caught my attention though. I've got it in my Netflix cue to watch again, and I'm sure to give it a review.

      Sadly I haven't seen "Assault Girls" yet. Since it is connected to "Avalon" I want to check that movie out first, and then pick up with "Assault Girls". Sounds like I might have an Oshii-a-thon coming up. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!