The conclusion is always one of the most essential segments of the entire movie. Though most movies have a clear and undisputed ending, there are a few exceptions that tend to finish with a divisive moment that allows the viewers to interpret the scene according to their own perceptions. Here are the 15 great movies with ambiguous endings:
15. Broken Flowers (2005)
Starring comedy icon Bill Murray, Broken Flowers centers on Don Johnston. While enjoying his retirement, he gets shocked after receiving a letter from an unnamed girlfriend who alleges that he has a nineteen-year-old son who is searching for him.
In the hopes of finding his son, Johnston reaches out to four former girlfriends who could potentially be the mother of their child. After all four visits end up fruitless, he sees a young man in a Volkswagen Beetle. The song playing in the car is the same one Johnston listened to on one of his previous trips.
Though the movie never explicitly states that he had witnessed his son in the car, it is interesting to note that the young man was portrayed by none other than Murray’s real son, Homer Murray.
14. Total Recall (1990)
When construction worker Douglas Quaid (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to implant fake memories of himself visiting planet Mars for a secret mission, the operation immediately backfires. As it turns out, the memories were real and he soon discovers that he was once a secret agent by the name of Carl Hauser.
The plot gets even more complicated as the movie progresses but just as it’s about to end, Quaid wonders if it’s all just a dream. Instead of searching for answers, he kisses Melina, a woman from his dreams.
13. The Graduate (1967)
21-year-old Williams College graduate Benjamin Braddock cannot bear the love of his life Elaine Robinson getting married to someone else. Merely seconds after she gets married in the church, Benjamin crashes the wedding and runs away with her.
As the two lovebirds hurriedly sit in the backseat of a bus passing by, they seem to be overjoyed. As the bus drives further, their facial expressions gradually alter from cheerful to low-spirited as if they have regrets over what they had just done or seem to have anxiety about what the future might hold.
12. Lost in Translation (2003)
Veteran movie star Bob Harris is in Japan to shoot an ad for Suntory whiskey but is distracted due to his tumultuous marriage. He soon finds comfort by befriending a young college graduate Charlotte who is staying in the same hotel as him.
The crux of their friendship is witnessed in a heartfelt moment as the two hug in a crowded street to say goodbye. Before Bob departs, he whispers something in the ear of the weeping Charlotte. His inaudible words definitely consoled her but left the viewers distressed about what he said.
11. American Psycho (2010)
To say that New York investment banker Patrick Bateman is a man of violent tastes would certainly be an understatement. He spends a great deal of his time murdering people in extremely brutal ways. Or does he?
One day, he leaves a long confession about his misdeeds on his lawyer’s answering machine but the next morning, it is discovered that none of his violent actions ever occurred and he would always escape the punishment he deserves.
10. Shutter Island (2010)
United States Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels travels to Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to track down the escaped resident Rachel Solando. However, the entire scenario is revealed to be a clever scheme planned by the doctors to capture him, who himself is a patient, in order to medically treat him.
It is revealed that Teddy’s real name is Andrew Laeddis and he had become insane after murdering his wife who had drowned their children. As a result of his insanity, he lost the entire track of his life, and the scheme was plotted to remind him of reality.
Just when it seemed that Andrew is cured, he apparently relapses and is escorted to be lobotomized. Prior to being taken away, he asks what would be worse – to live as a monster or to die as a good man. Upon closer inspection, the question spells out the possibility of Andrew actually pretending to have a relapse so he could be lobotomized because he cannot bear to live with the pain of what he had done.
9. The Wrestler (2008)
Professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson is no longer the superstar he once was during the 1980s. Past his prime and wrestling in the independent circuit, it is apparent that he should have retired long ago as age is definitely catching up to him.
Following a hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack and undergoes coronary artery bypass surgery. The doctor reveals that his heart can no longer bear a strenuous activity and he might not be so lucky if he wrestles again.
In an attempt to revisit his glory days, Randy wrestles a rematch with his most memorable opponent The Ayatollah. Despite experiencing chest pain during the match and The Ayatollah suggesting ending the match prematurely, Randy valiantly insists to continue as planned.
As he dives off the top turnbuckle to execute his finishing move known as the Ram Jam, the screen abruptly cuts to black, leaving the audience wondering whether Randy would have survived or not.
8. Memento (2000)
Who can ever forget the jaw-dropping directional debut made by Christopher Nolan when Memento was released? The psychological thriller movie showcases the amnesiac insurance investigator Leonard Shelby on the hunt for his wife’s murderer.
His search was not without its stumbles as Leonard is incapable of forming new memories and relies on the notes he pens down on a piece of paper. Though a cop reveals that it was none other than Leonard who had killed his wife, Memento beautifully persuades the viewers in believing that the mystery is yet to be solved.
7. Zodiac (2007)
Directed by David Fincher and based on the manhunt for the real-life Zodiac serial killer, the movie has a clear and linear storyline but leaves more unanswered questions with every passing moment.
Leading actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal pulled off their dramatic performances astonishingly well but they were overshadowed by the mysterious serial killer who kept the audience guessing about his unrevealed identity.
6. The Thing (1982)
A group of crew members in an Antarctic base find themselves stuck in quite a predicament when they encounter a shape-shifting alien. Things get even more complicated when the creature impersonates one of the crew members.
Brilliant and horrifying, The Thing ends with the alien seemingly dying as a result of an explosion but what makes the movie a memorable one is that it hints towards one of the two surviving crew members possibly being the creature.
5. Blade Runner: Director’s Cut (1992)
Ten years after the much-deserved critical bashing, Ridley Scott was allowed to release a director’s cut of his iconic movie, Blade Runner. Hailed as one of his best works to date, the movie daringly balances neo-noir, science fiction, and criminal elements in an exquisite manner.
Apart from the addition of the unicorn dream scene and the removal of detailed voiceovers, the director’s cut is best remembered for the ambiguous ending that suggested that Rick Deckard can possibly be one of the bioengineered androids known as replicants.
4. Birdman (2014)
Throughout Birdman, washed-up actor Riggan Thomson is occasionally shown to have destructive superpowers and the ability to fly. Though it is apparent that such scenes were merely his imagination, the movie’s ending suggests otherwise.
When his daughter Sam visits him in his hospital room, she finds it empty, sees the window opened, and quickly gazes outside. After realizing that her father has not committed suicide by jumping out of the window, she steadily looks up at the sky with amazement as a smile forms across her face.
The fascinating ending implies that Riggan actually had superpowers all along or Sam – being a drug addict – was merely hallucinating.
3. The Shining (1980)
Jack Torrance’s descent into madness was bound to happen while staying in the isolated Overlook Hotel. With ghosts roaming in the hotel, the ending of The Shining made the movie even more frightful.
As the camera steadily steers toward a black-and-white photograph of a crowd displayed in the hallway, the viewers see none other than Jack in it. What makes the scene even more disturbing is that the photograph dates decades back to 1921; meaning that Jack could have been a ghost throughout the movie.
2. Inception (2010)
In the modern era of Hollywood, no one comes close to Christopher Nolan in terms of ambiguous endings. The critically acclaimed director beautifully displayed them in the aforementioned Memento and even in The Dark Knight Rises to some extent but Inception takes the cake.
As the movie ends, Dominick Cobb spins his totem just before he meets his kids to make sure he is in a dream or not. As the camera pans closer to the totem, it keeps spinning and the film abruptly ends.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1967)
Nominated for four Academy Awards and winning one for Best Visual Effects, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a timeless masterpiece and one of the finest works by American director Stanley Kubrick. The groundbreaking movie flawlessly terrifies, engages, and amazes the viewers but it all pales in comparison as far as confusing them is concerned.
The ending scene displays Dr. David Bowman transforming into a fetus in a transparent orb of light and gazing at Earth while floating in space. The iconic scene is still perplexing as it was more than forty years ago and still holds its legendary status as the most ambiguous movie ending of all time.
Hope you enjoyed our list of great movies with ambiguous endings. Feel free to share your views in the comments below!