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.
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.
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.
4. Ghost in the Shell -1995
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.