Sticking the landing is hard for a lot of shows and films. You set up an engaging premise, throw some convoluted action and plot twists in there, and then aim to tie it all up at the end in a conclusion that leaves all questions answered and some moral message to think about.
Infuriatingly, not all of our favourite shows and films are able to pull off this stunt. While a film is at most only a few hours, TV shows arguably have the bigger struggle of trying to satisfy often years of viewers’ concerns and hopes, leading them to usually be the biggest offenders when it comes to bad endings. Here we’ve wrapped up 10 of the biggest screen fails to show you how not to do it.
How I Met Your Mother
For a show entitled How I Met Your Mother, you would think that it would eventually answer the question of how exactly Ted Mosby met the mother of his children to whom he is explaining the plot of the show to in retrospect.
Over nine seasons we follow Ted, Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin as they play out their late-20s, early-30s in New York. It’s funny and heart-warming, with some of the best character acting coming from Neil Patrick Harris. The whole show basically leads the viewer along to thinking that Ted is going to end up with Robin, even though he often refers to her as “Aunt Robin”.
At the end of the show we find out it’s not her, despite being the most obvious logical conclusion. Turns out, it’s some other woman named Tracy who we only see in the final episode of the series and who has been dead for the past six years. The show ends with Ted going to pursue Robin as his true love and then kind of leaves us hanging as to what really happened.
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
A hot contender for the most unnecessary reboot in film history. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade left the original trilogy wrapped up so nicely with our heroes riding off into the sunset. It was just a great way to finish up an incredible series of films.
Then, 20 years later, along came Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to squeeze some more money out of their old friend Indy. The film itself is fine, we suppose. It’s your standard grumpy but reckless professor fighting bad guys and exploring ancient temples with his wit and his whip. Where the film really falls down is the super cheesy, forced passing-of-the-torch to, presumably, the next intended Jones to lead another franchise, Shia La Beouf.
The film ended so poorly that this, thankfully, never happened. What did happen was a massive alien spaceship rose out of the jungle and flew off, apparently never to be seen again. Yes, the other films dealt in mysticism and the occult, but bringing real-life aliens into the mix just felt really out of place. Plus that wedding scene with Indy’s hat rolling toward La Beouf was just crass.
If you managed to follow Lost right to its grand finale, you are a far more dedicated fan than most. While the show was famous for its bizarre twists and, uh, polar bears, the plot became so convoluted that it was barely watchable. Even the writers reported not knowing what exactly was happening.
Over six seasons we followed Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Walt, along with about a hundred other people, as they struggle to work out just what is happening on this strange island somewhere in the Pacific where they all crash-landed. There are sinister beings at work called The Others, a shadowy research group called The Dharma Initiative, and a lot of time-travel and multi-dimensional trickery.
The ending of the series doesn’t really tie it all together, although, how could it? It’s revealed that the show follows two parallel worlds, both of which are real, and one of which is apparently purgatory. The cast have both been dead and alive the whole time and at the end of the show seem to all move onto the next world. Or something. It’s a lot.
1978’s Superman is the first really successful, big-screen adaptation of the comic book legend. While others had tried before, nothing really hit the target like the cinematic success of the late 70’s film, with Christopher Reeve becoming synonymous with the Kryptonian hero.
The film is a great one for many reasons: not only does it cover Superman’s origin story, it introduces us to all of the classic characters like Lex Luthor and Lois Lane in a timely and concise way. Thwarting Luthor’s evil plan to blow the West Coast of America off the map, Superman reroutes nuclear missiles and seals the San Andreas fault line that is crucial to the collapse of the West Coast (that… might have consequences).
However, he is unable to save Lois who is killed by falling debris. Superman decides to do the only logical thing and… fly really, really fast around the earth. He moves so quickly that the planet itself begins to rotate backwards. Instead of killing everyone on Earth, it actually turns time itself backwards, giving Superman enough time to save his girlfriend. Talk about deus ex machina.
The Matrix is one of the best films ever made, period. The sequels though? Not so much. While it’s cool to see and learn more about the world of the matrix and the robots that enslave humanity, the sequels basically turn what is a deeply philosophical action film into more of a simple shoot ’em up.
The final ending of The Matrix: Revolutions however really leaves a sour taste since it just fails to answer so many of the questions we have. Neo sacrifices himself to fuse with the programme and reset the matrix, creating a better, more peaceful world for everyone. But does that leave the humans all still plugged into the system? Is the matrix now just an option people have of living in the real world or the virtual world? What happens to all the people who have now just been freed?
And the oracle at the end telling the little girl that we’ll see Neo again? That didn’t happen, although some 20 years after this line was spoken, it does look like we might actually see Keanu Reeves don his leather coat and tiny glasses once more.
The War of The Worlds
It’s 2005 and Tom Cruise is being chased by alien invaders. War of the Worlds is one of the most famous works of literature by the eminent H.G Wells but for all of its ground-breaking, genre-defining thrills, the ending is a little too neat for many readers.
When Steven Spielberg decided to take on the project of bringing the book to life for the silver screen once again, he had to make some pretty big decisions over what to include and what to leave out of the source material. Weirdly, he decides to add in the historical element of the aliens, who buried their spaceships deep underground way back in ancient history, apparently just waiting for the perfect time to invade (why not before?).
He also decides to keep the rather twee ending of the aliens all being defeated by the common cold. As off-screen narrator Morgan Freeman informs us, all of humanity’s weapons couldn’t stop them, but nature itself could. While it’s a little too prescient for our liking, it also just sweeps any real conclusion under the rug in a final little speech. If Spielberg could change the history of the aliens, why not change the source material ending too? Or at least foreshadow this and not wrap it all up in a narrated bow.
After eight seasons of hiding his true identity from the rest of the world, the finale of Dexter finally reveals the opportunity for fans to see the titular character come to terms with his horrific serial-killing behaviour. Perhaps he could be outed and face justice for his crimes?
Nope. At the end of the series, Dexter manages to slip the net as the heat grows, faking his own death with the apparent sinking of his boat and starting a new life as a lumberjack.
Yep, instead of having to face the music and be given the reckoning that ought to be given to the most prolific serial killer of all time, one working within the Miami Metro police no less, Dexter just… leaves? He seems to start a new, albeit sadder life in the Pacific North West with a new beard and a lot of contemplation. If anything it just prompts more questions than it answers and left viewers thoroughly underwhelmed.
I Am Legend
An iconic Will Smith film from 2007 that features a desolate New York City filled with vampires, lots of Bob Marley, and a German Shepherd named Sam (but don’t get too attached).
It’s a pretty good film in which we see Smith hunting deer in the post-apocalyptic city and trying to find a cure for the virus that has turned all the humans into vampiric creatures known as Darkseekers. There are vampire attacks and lots of top-quality brooding going on. It’s all based on the 1954 Richard Matheson book of the same name which inspired The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971).
The book however reveals that the vampires are pretty happy being vampires whereas the movie’s human, played by Smith, is actually the bad guy who keeps kidnapping them and experimenting on them – hence the title. The 2007 film sidesteps this twist by instead having Smith blow himself up in a final stand against the vampires and the humans (maybe) being saved by a vial of blood taken to a secret human resistance compound. No learning, just death. Did Sam really have to die for this?
The Devil Inside
This 2012 found-footage horror (remember those?) centres on Isabella, a woman investigating demonic possession after learning that her mother, Maria, is hidden away in an Italian asylum for apparent paranormal behaviour.
The film then follows the crew as they struggle to escape demons that have been unleashed on them through connection with Maria. It’s a pretty good film up until the ending where the three crew members are driving to try and find a priest to exorcise them and the possessed Isabella passes the demon onto the driver who then unbuckles his seatbelt and drives into oncoming traffic.
The film ends with a title card saying “no one knows what happened next but if you want to find out more, check out this website”. It literally just passes over any kind of resolution and tells you to go and do your homework. And people paid to watch this. In cinemas.
Game of Thrones
You all knew this was coming. Worst endings to things lists have been created solely for the opportunity to ridicule how bad this ending was.
It kind of went downhill when the huge battle we’ve all been waiting for all series is over with little to no consequences. The White Walkers are all defeated with a simple stab of a blade from Arya to the Night King and now… everything’s good? No, the real ending is down in King’s Landing and the real baddie appears to be Daenerys, a character who has always championed rationality, who goes nuts and torches the whole city, fulfilling her father’s legacy.
Then Jon Snow kills her and is sent off to The Wall, basically ending up back where he started, Bran becomes king, for some reason, and Tyrion never gets his happy ending. Arya just wanders off and the whole thing feels super rushed.
We just feel sorry for all the little girls out there named Daenerys or, worst of all, Khaleesi.
It’s hard to forgive a film or a TV show that string you along only to let you down at the last moment. Even though they’re often enjoyable, fun, and engaging, being unable to tie it all up and even turn the whole show on its head for a memorable conclusion is a great way to frustrate your audience.
When it comes to drink driving, it’s the same. Bad decisions can redefine your life, even though you never imagined there could be a bad outcome. When it comes to drink driving, it’s not all good, it’s all bad.