The Best and Worst Cliffhanger Endings in Movies
The “cliffhanger” is one of those beautiful terms of fiction whose meaning was initially literal. Supposedly, the word dates back to the 1870s, when a serialized novel novel by Thomas Hardy ended one of its chapters with its hero hanging off a cliff. Would he survive? You had to buy the next chapter to find out.
The early days of movies continued in that tradition with serials of their own, 12 or 14-part films that were released one week at a time. Each individual chapter left the audience wondering whether Pauline (of The Perils of Pauline, one of the most popular serials of the era) would fall to her doom, or if Batman would escape some dastardly death trap sprung by the serial’s masked villain.
Most feature films in the decades since ended in more conclusive fashion, but in recent years cliffhanger endings have seen a bit of a revival, as massive franchises and cinematic universes have created an environment where it’s good business to keep viewers wondering what will happen next. Sometimes that strategy really pays off; a great cliffhanger ending is about as good a way to get people into a movie theater as exists in cinema. Sometimes that strategy does not, particularly when a film bombs at the box office, a sequel never emerges, and customers are left with an unsatisfying finale that is forever left unresolved.
Below, we’ve assembled our picks for the best and worst examples of cliffhanger endings. Did your favorite (and least favorite) make the cut? I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.