Top 10 Most Confusing Movie Endings Explained

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Top 10 Most Confusing Movie Endings Explained

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These endings aren't easy to explain, but we'll do our best. For this list, we'll be attempting to explain various movie endings that left viewers frustrated and confounded. Our countdown includes “No Country for Old Men”, "Tenet", “Mulholland Drive”, and more!
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Top 10 Confusing Movie Endings Explained


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Confusing Movie Endings Explained.

For this list, we’ll be attempting to explain various movie endings that left viewers frustrated and confounded. Naturally, this entails a lot of spoilers.

What do you make of these endings? Let us know in the comments below!

#10: “No Country for Old Men” (2007)

Adapted nearly word-for-word from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, “No Country for Old Men” is basically an anti-thriller. It defies most of the genre’s conventions. In the end, the hero fails to catch the bad guy and retires out of frustration. In the movie’s iconic final scene, Bell recounts a dream he had to his wife. To some, this was a frustratingly anti-climactic ending. But it’s all in keeping with the story’s themes. Bell can only find comfort in his dreams, with a false impression of his long-dead father. His use of “Then I woke up” seems to suggest that he realizes the falsity of the dream. For Bell, there is no comfort to be found in the cold and dark reality.


#9: “Enemy” (2013)

Before he became famous for his sci-fi epics, Denis Villeneuve directed a Canadian drama called “Enemy.” In the movie’s famous provocative ending, Adam goes to tell Helen that he’s leaving, only to find a gigantic spider in her place. The spider cowers against the wall, and Adam sighs in disappointment. The spider is a symbol of Adam’s commitment - or, more accurately, his lack thereof. He’s stuck in Helen’s metaphorical webs, so he sees her as a creature that generates literal webs. But even more important is the spider’s reaction. It recoils in fear because Helen discovers the startling truth of Adam’s infidelity. Adam realizes that he has hurt Helen and that he cannot commit, so he sighs in resigned defeat.


#8: “Life of Pi” (2012)

This movie is based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, which was the recipient of the esteemed Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The ending is ripped straight from the novel, presenting two different scenarios. One scenario is what we saw, with Pi and the animals. In the second and arguably more realistic scenario, the animals are replaced with humans. The older Pi then asks the writer which story he prefers, and both he and the insurance agents like the animal version better. The movie isn’t about which “version” is right, but how the viewer became enraptured by an imaginative story. It teaches us about the power of faith and believing in the improbable - even if a more realistic outcome is presented.


#7: “The King of Comedy” (1982)

Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” bears many similarities to “Taxi Driver.” One of the most obvious is the ambiguous and dream-like ending. Rupert is sent to prison following his crimes, but this isn’t what we see. What we get instead is Rupert’s big comeback, as he writes a popular memoir and becomes a successful comedian. Unfortunately, we don’t know if this actually happened or not. However, it likely occurred in Rupert’s head. Many “clues” have been brought forward that seem to suggest its fantastical nature. This includes Rupert’s past daydreams throughout the movie, his prison-like suit, the curtain that looks like prison bars, and the bizarre way the announcer keeps repeating his introduction. Rupert wants to be famous, and it cost him his freedom.


#6: “Tenet” (2020)

Viewers need an evidence board and some string to make sense of “Tenet.” Even for Christopher Nolan, this one is out there. We learn that Neil was actually recruited by a future version of the Protagonist, so the Protagonist in turn caused the events of the movie to transpire. The Protagonist then realizes that he began the Tenet organization, and he kills Priya before she can kill Kat. Essentially, the movie’s events were preordained before they even began, as the Protagonist set everything up and knew exactly what would happen. The Protagonist was pulling the strings the entire time and he didn’t even know it. Darn time manipulation…


#5: “Donnie Darko” (2001)

If this list is any indication, Jake Gyllenhaal loves him some confusing endings. Like “Tenet,” “Donnie Darko” deals with the manipulation of time. Donnie learns that he was supposed to die in the plane crash and that his survival has opened up an alternate timeline. This alternate universe is throwing the very space-time continuum off its axis, and the time loop needs to be closed in order to save the world. And in order for it to be closed, Donnie has to die in the plane crash. So, that’s exactly what he does. Donnie travels back in time and sacrifices himself for the good of the universe, allowing himself to be crushed by the falling jet engine.


#4: “Blade Runner” (1982)

The ambiguity of “Blade Runner” is compounded by multiple factors. For starters, like eight million versions of the movie exist! There’s also the fact that neither Harrison Ford nor Ridley Scott can agree on its meaning. Ford believes that Deckard is a human. However, Scott has said that Deckard is a replicant. That seems to be the end of the argument, as Scott directed the film. This is made even more evident in the director’s cut from 1992, which shows Deckard receiving a paper unicorn from Eduardo Gaff. While most of the evidence points to Deckard being a replicant, the ending continues to be debated to this day.


#3: “Mulholland Drive” (2001)

People get headaches trying to figure out David Lynch. He’s just one of those directors that places atmosphere and tone over straightforward storytelling. In the final act of “Mulholland Drive,” Lynch introduces the characters of Diane and Camilla, who are carbon copies of Betty and Rita. The leading theory is that most of “Mulholland Drive” takes place inside Diane’s addled mind. She imagines a better life for herself, one in which she is happy and fresh-faced rather than washed up and jaded. In the real world, Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla, and when this is done, she shoots herself out of grief. The end.


#2: “Inception” (2010)

Christopher Nolan appears again, only this time the answer is a little more straightforward. For “Inception,” Nolan deals with the subjectivity of reality, and this theme is perfectly explored in the final seconds of the movie. Dom Cobb returns home to his children and spins the top to determine if he’s dreaming or not. But when he catches a glimpse of his kids, he abandons the top and runs to them. We don’t know if Cobb is dreaming or not, but that isn’t the point. The point is that Cobb intentionally chooses to abandon his totem. Dream or not, Cobb is deciding what is real for him. His reality is entirely subjective, and he’s deciding to live in a reality with his children.

#1: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

Everyone knows the ending to this film, even those who haven’t actually seen it. Bowman is pulled into some sort of interdimensional vortex, quickly turns into an old man, and then reaches for the monolith before transforming into a giant space fetus watching over Earth. It sounds like Stanley Kubrick directed this thing on acid, but there is some meaning behind it. The entire movie is about the evolution of humanity, and this ending explores that concept further. By interacting with the alien monolith, Bowman takes the next step in human evolution and is reborn as the Star Child. The star child is then sent back to Earth to help its citizens transcend and unlock the next great evolutionary step in their biology.
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