The 50 Greatest Last Shots in Film History


Filmmakers have understood the value of an unforgettable last shot since at least 1903, when Edwin S. Porter ended "The Great Train Robbery" with a scene divorced from the main narrative in which one of the outlaws comes back from the grave, stares down the lens of the camera, and fires a couple of rounds directly at the audience. In many prints, that footage opened the film, but the fact that it's since settled into its place at the end speaks volumes as to its profound effect as a coda. Like the final sentence of a novel, the closing image of a film has the power to color the entire narrative, echoing just a little bit louder than everything that has come before it. Unlike the final sentences of a novel, the last shot of a feature film has, in the medium's brief lifespan, already acquired its own formal language, certain camera movements and musical cues ("the camera cranes up, the soundtrack swells!") having conditioned viewers to read some final shots in a different way than they do the hundreds of others that comprise the movie. There's a unique weight to the last shot – a burden, but also a sense of infinite possibility, as though the cinema inherently realizes that its greatest potential doesn't live on screen but rather in those who stare at them, the moment at which a movie hands its narrative off to a viewer one of the great cruxes of the medium's power.

Earlier this year we brought you our list of the 50 Greatest Opening Scenes in Film, and while this new list was partially intended to close the circuit opened by that one, it's important to stress that this isn't a countdown of our favorite movie endings. This list explicitly deals with our favorite final shots, the (usually brief) time between when the director calls "action!" and the closing credits begin to roll. This list isn't intended to reflect our love for these movies as a whole (though that certainly played a part), but rather to measure the contributions of their final images, and their value to the work as a whole.

While all lists of this kind are inherently arbitrary, this one felt especially vulnerable to forgetting obvious favorites. In the event that we forgot one of yours, well... as the final shot of one omitted movie might say, "shut up and deal" (translation: share your picks with us in the comments!)

Without further ado, we present you with's list of the 50 Greatest Last Shots in Film History.

Oh, and beware spoilers. Duh.

#50.) THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) 2007

At the end of his ruthless oil mogul climb to the top, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is last seen from behind, with the hunched back of a child that’s just uncomprehendingly thrown a toy to destruction. Plainview always wanted to make enough money to “get away from all these people,” but evangelist Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) came to visit him one too many times, and Blood ends with his bowling-pin bludgeoning to death. What makes the finale’s fulfillment of the title promise really work isn’t just that final shot but how it transitions to the end credits with Brahms’ “Violin Concerto in D Major,” leaving first time viewers to contemplate the unexpectedly pulpy end they’ve just seen against the ironically classical/mock-triumphant music cue. – Vadim Rizov

#49.) STRAY DOGS (Tsai Ming-Liang) 2013

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Tsai Ming-liang’s latest/maybe last feature devotes the bulk of its last half-hour to just two shots, both of which monitor, from different angles two people regarding a mural of a riverbed on a rundown tenement wall. After staring into the inscrutable faces of the people for a time,Tsai reverses to end looking at the mural from behind them, where the backs of the characters’ heads say as much (or little) as the fronts. What about the mural transfixes them? The simplicity of nature versus the urban sprawl that physically suffocates them? An escape from that development’s symbolic accompaniment, economic marginalization? Whatever it is, they cannot find it, and the long but barely changing shot that ends “Stray Dogs” sends it off on as quiet and unrevealing a note as anything else in the movie. – Jake Cole

#48.) PINK FLAMINGOS (John Waters) 1972

The final scene of “Pink Flamingos” is an epilogue of sorts. By the end of this debauched 1972 miracle, the case for Divine as “the filthiest person alive” has been pretty effectively made. But, just in case, John Waters includes this last moment of revolting cinema. It’s what turned Divine into a legend and “Pink Flamingos” into a cult classic. What’s impressive isn’t so much the coprophagia itself, which is obviously quite something, but Divine’s smile as she mugs for the camera with the filthiest teeth in the world. – Daniel Walber

#47.) FIGHT CLUB (David Fincher) 1999

“Fight Club” is an (overlong) joke about aggressive men running unproductively amuck as late ‘90s-consumerism spreads its inane tentacles around them; in retrospect, the men are like quirkily individualized riffs on Tom Arnold’s many ‘90s male incarnations of rage. The movie’s shots are individually sharp and Fincher-y while uncharacteristically slack, his mpw characteristic rapid-cutting urgency not yet developed. The impulse behind the final shot of a couple in mutual hock looking on as the credit card record repositories blow up is even more understandably utopian now. – VR

#46.) SLEEPING BEAUTY (Clyde Geronimi) 1959

We don’t often think of animation in the context of “greatest shots,” but we should. Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is one of the best, and his first made for 70mm presentation. Its final moments are a beautiful example of the possibilities of experimentation with the idea of “shot” within animation. With Tchaikovsky’s score rapturously celebrating the final union of Aurora and Prince Phillip, they dance in a regal ballroom. And then, while the motion of the lovely couple remains entirely uninterrupted, they are moved from the earth to the heavens where they dance amongst the clouds. – DW

#45.) BIG NIGHT (Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci) 1996

... I'm starting to think that Louis Prima might not be coming. – David Ehrlich

#44.) YOYO (Pierre Etaix) 1965

Compressing nearly 50 years of European history and comedy’s evolution into one dense narrative, “Yo Yo” climaxes with the title successful TV comedian fleeing a party in honor of the restoration/reopening of his circus clown father’s mansion. Étaix is both dad and child, with the long-separated pair kept apart in the finale — presumably to avoid the expense of shooting them together, but also a chilling finale to a narrative about a son trying to restore his absentee father’s legacy, only to be rebuffed. The final shot is the son exiting his mansion party on the back of an elephant, part of his father’s long-ago circus legacy still lurking in the woods after all these years. The beast crosses the lawn for parts unknown, abandoning a party full of wealthy social bores for more primitive/welcoming entertainment. – VR

#43.) HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN (Nelson Pereira dos Santos) 1971

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Perhaps the greatest Brazilian film ever made (and hopefully the angriest), "How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman" finds the cinema at its most devious, unspooling like a historically accurate Tupi riff on "Avatar" that ends with Neytiri eating Jake Sully. The year is 1594, French and Portuguese forces are fighting each other for control of the verdurous Guanabara Bay area, home to the supposedly cannibalistic Tupinambra people. The Tupinambra capture the titular Frenchman, and are quick to inform him in no uncertain terms that he’s allowed to roam the village as a resident, but will only be their friend until they’re ready to make him their feast. The Frenchman, however, is so arrogant as to think that he can tame the Tupinambra’s wild ways, and he’s sure that the submissive wife that the tribe has provided him (not Zoe Saldana) has been sufficiently awed by his civilized charms. But perhaps he should have paid closer attention to the title of the film. The beauty of the last shot, a palette cleanser after the inevitable climactic scene, restores the village's beach to a tabula rasa, stamping out the horrific sights to which we've just been witness and inviting us once again to make this place our own. – DE

#42.) THE PIANO (Jane Campion) 1993

Ada (Holly Hunter) makes it to the end “The Piano” in one piece, but not for lack of trying. Her brief, chilling suicide attempt in the penultimate sequence of Jane Campion’s Palme d’Or winning film is thwarted, barely. Yet later she will look back fondly on the experience, and she says the idea of this death “lulls her to sleep.” How is that possible? Well, because the image is breathtaking. Campion ends with a shot of this theoretical demise, a piano sunk to the bottom of the sea and Ada suspended just above it, tied permanently to her greatest and most troubling joy. – DW

#41.) FAT GIRL (Catherine Breillat) 2001

Fat Girl

The last shot of Catherine Breillat’s “Fat Girl” is one of great defiance. In the immediate aftermath of a sudden tragedy, Anaïs finds herself in a state of shock. Yet it isn’t the shock of a victim, or at least not someone whose victimhood is purified and idealized by the camera. Breillat’s freeze-framed on her young actress’s is like a brutal inversion of “The 400 Blows,” a challenge to both the audience and cinema to alter their pre-existing notions of girlhood. – DW


#40.) OUT OF THE PAST (Jacques Tourneur) 1947

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After Robert Mitchum’s inevitably killed, innocent Virginia Hudson comes to grill his adoring deaf friend The Kid (Dickie Moore) at his grill station. She wants to know whether Mitchum died running away with femme fatale Jane Greer or not. The Kid lies: he tells her yes, covering up Mitchum’s last-minute redemption so Hudson can join her policeman boyfriend with minimal regret about the missed connection. It’s one of the saddest white lies in film history. – VR

#39.) DANCER IN THE DARK (2000) Lars von Trier

"This isn't the last song

There is no violin

The choir is quiet

And no one takes a spin

This is the next to last song

And that's all..." – DE

#38.) ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (James William Guercio) 1973

It’s hard to conceive of “Electra Glide in Blue” as anything other than a response to “Easy Rider” — it sets itself up so conspicuously as a companion piece, the story of 60s radicalism told from the other side. Robert Blake is John Wintergreen, shortstop cop on the desert highway beat, conscripted in essence to harangue the hippies of the era for no good reason. “Easy Rider” ends when the dreams of the dissident youth explode in a ball of bike-riding flames, the riders shot down by rednecks out for a good time. “Electra Glide” answers in kind: the good cop is taken out by beatniks, every bit as capable of pointless acts of violence as the law. So much for the revolution.  – Calum Marsh

#37.) IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (Nagisa Oshima) 1975


Repurposing an immortal slice of Japanese folklore as the cinema's most intense portrait of all-consuming lust, "In the Realm of the Senses" is the most controversial film that Nagisa Oshima – a legend of anti-establishment cinema - ever made. A fiercely monogamous romance that ends with a proprietor's maid killing her boss / lover, amputating his penis, and carrying it around pre-war Japan like a primitive Tamagotchi, Oshima's landmark film positions sexual consumption as a subconscious attempt to resist Japan's militarization, the lovers in his film retreating into a small room wherein their bodies were remapped as the edges of the world. The movie's indelible final image, in which we see that Sada has used her dead lover's blood to write "the two of us forever" on his bare chest, recasts sexual obsession as an act of mutually assured destruction, capping off this jaw-dropping love story with an uneasy grace note that forces viewers to reconsider what constitutes a happy ending. – DE

#36.) NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Alfred Hitchcock) 1959


One of the least opaque metaphors for intercourse on record: just as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are two decorous seconds from tearing each others’ clothes off, a cut to a train entering a tunnel. That ending’s part of an exceptionally economical three-shot-sequences: first Grant pulling Eva Marie Saint out of danger on Mount Rushmore, a time-/space-advancing cut of her pulling her up to the upper-bunk-bed after, and then a scenic metaphor for what the pair are about to do in the last scene. – VR

#35.) THE LONG GOODBYE (Robert Altman) 1973

long goodbye

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe found his best friend on the wrong side of the law and snapped into action to clear his name, only to learn, ruefully, that the whole thing was a setup from the start. But as Robert Altman reconceived of him, in the early 1970s, Marlowe didn’t much snap to anything: he found himself strolling lazily into crimes and their contrivances on his way to and from the grocery store, where picking up catfood seems no less urgent a task than whisking a wanted man out of the country. But at the last second even Altman’s Marlowe got fierce: the last straw wasn’t pain or suffering but the fact that this his friend made him lose his cat. Marlowe shoots his former friend dead in Mexico before strolling off, “Modern Times”-like, into the horizon. No regrets. – CM

#34.) MORVERN CALLAR (Lynne Ramsay) 2002

The last shot of “Morvern Callar” finds its brilliance in the art of juxtaposition. The elements are these: 1. Strobe lights in a crowded club, with added flickers between white and red. 2. Samantha Morton’s enigmatic face, capable of capturing an almost impossible number of tones at once. 3. “Dedicated to the One I Love,” performed by The Mamas and the Papas. The last glimpse that director Lynne Ramsay gives us of her title character is a complicated, fragmented thing of beauty, followed by a simple but equally brilliant trick of sound. – DW

#33.) HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter) 1978

As a matter of fact, it was the boogeyman: Michael Myers makes his last stand, is presumed defeated, and the retreats to live another night (and another sequel). “Halloween” could have ended in more obvious ways, even only seconds earlier — the shot of Donald Pleasance’s face, scared but accepting; the shot of Laurie lying crumpled and crying on the floor; the shot of the empty ground where Myers was a moment before. But Carpenter knew better. The ending, as is, is perfectly calculated: the montage of empty houses and empty streets, Myers’s breathing heard subtly beneath the score, sets exactly the right tone to end on. The last shot, of a house boarded up and lingered over, suggests a fear that’s never-ending. What could be better?

#32.) ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (Sergio Leone) 1984

Sergio Leone’s four-hour epic ends with a freeze-frame of Robert De Niro’s Noodles opening his mouth for a prolonged, unsustainable hysterical laugh. That giggle might be the bookmark to one long hallucination (a common interpretation of the narrative) or just one final glimpse of the instigating anti-hero’s final moment of self-reckoning before death. Either way, it’s the kind of moment justifying the showy ‘70s histrionics of De Niro, Pacino, Jon Voight, Shampoo’s Warren Beatty or a number of other of attention-demanding male divas: that terrified laugh is truly eerie and unnerving (the more unexpected coming after nearly four hours of often brutish, lumpy gangland drama). The infamous original American release cut the movie nearly in half and rearranged in chronological order, which presumably would have wasted this sequence in the middle. – VR

#31.) CABARET (Bob Fosse) 1972

“Cabaret” is the best adaptation of a musical because it is exactly that: an adaptation. Bob Fosse knew that simply transposing a theatrical work to real-life locations and bigger sets wouldn’t work in this case, and directed a film that exploits all of the tools of the medium. This last shot is a perfect example. The Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) is ostensibly going to finish his last number, an inversion of the opening “Wilkommen.” He gets to the very end, and jumps backstage without singing the expected last line. But the drumroll continues, and Fosse continues to invite our anticipation as he pans to the right, over a mirrored wall in which we can just barely make out Swastikas in the audience. The final payoff never comes, and we are left in frustrated silence. – DW


#30.) CHILDREN OF PARADISE (Marcel Carné) 1945

Children of Paradise

“Children of Paradise” is sort of like a French “Gone with the Wind.” (Actually, “Gone with the Wind” would be on this list if the last shot of Part One were eligible.) It was a gigantic production, set in the 1800s and it feels almost like a founding epic. Marcel Carné couldn’t end it with any old shot of Parisian rooftops. The final image of the city overtaken by a carnival, brimming with joy but sweeping Baptiste into despair, is a thing of great beauty. – DW

#29.) NASHVILLE (Robert Altman) 1975

Has a film ever been more nakedly eager to flee itself than at the close of “Nashville?” Having presided over a miniature apocalypse of American culture, Altman’s camera cranes upward away from the implosion before it turns away and looks to the clouds, eager to find somewhere, anywhere, to hide. Nowhere else in New Hollywood’s fraught decade of social anxiety was post-Nixon inchoate rage and despair more succinctly communicated. – JC

#28.) ACE IN THE HOLE (Billy Wilder) 1951

The cynicism of Billy Wilder’s caustic 1950 satire, about a rotten newspaper man who lets a man trapped in a mine languish for the good of his own career, is shocking even today. So corrosive is the film that even its comeuppance holds no vindictive power. Instead, the perfectly executed drop of Kirk Douglas’ belatedly penitent yellow journalist, a collapse that starts with Douglas’ legs giving out in the middle distance until he face lands within inches of the lens, is one last merciless jolt, taunting the audience who should feel some kind of moral order restored. – JC

#27.) 8 ½ (Federico Fellini) 1963

Otto e mezzo

The last sequence of “8 ½” might be the most effectively life-affirming scene in the history of cinema. Guido’s life, and by extension all of our lives, is a circus. It’s hectic but in an embraceable way, musical and aware of its own ridiculousness. And then it quiets down for the evening. It’s been said that the last image of this film, the young Guido in his white costume playing the flute as the lights finally dim for good, is a turn away from the immediately preceding joy and is about the dark and inevitable loneliness of every human being. I’m not so sure. It has to do with death, but also youth. The circle remains open, even if when lights are off. – DW

#26.) THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick) 1980


It’s common enough, especially in the horror genre, for films to end on a note of surprise — last shot’s often knock a curveball back our way, encouraging us to walk away pondering a last-second twist. “The Shining” seems, in its final moments, to be doing just that: its last shot is a glacial zoom into a close up of a mysterious black-and-white photograph hanging on some inner wall of the hotel, one which, we assume, will reveal something remarkable and strange. Well, it sort of does: we find Jack Torrence smiling wide in the front row of a group party shot, dating anachronistically from 1921 — roughly sixty years before the action of the film takes place. But what we’re meant to glean from this photograph isn’t clear. Jack has been cast back into the history of the hotel? He’s “always been here”, as Grady tells him? We’d need a crack team of conspiracy theorists working on the case. What’s great is that, as with so much in Kubrick, the moment doesn’t solve anything — it simply compounds the intrigue. – CM

#25.) THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed) 1949

Joseph Cotten’s Holly Martins has “betrayed” his longtime friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) — the verb in scare quotes because it’s been demonstrated that Harry’s a conscience-lacking post-WWII black-market bloodsucker, charismatic and sympathizable but whose actions still justify capture by the for-once-trustable authorities. Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) — Lime’s ex, Martins’ best-possible future — will never understand that, refusing to have anything to do with Martins. The famous finale has him waiting as she approaches with historic slowness. Martins is passed and stares after her without surprise, embarking on the first phase of an unjust but necessary penance. – VR

#24.) THE THING (John Carpenter) 1982

The Howard Hawks original had a hardy team defeat an alien invader through military ingenuity and morale-sustaining repartee. The John Carpenter remake is more laconic and attendantly despairing. The final shot of two raging fires from Arctic bases suggest the first image of total global apocalypse, expanding from this quiet test zone to the world. It’s as if the entire Arctic were lit by a gigantic trash can fire. – VR

#23.) BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater) 2004

Sometimes, the most satisfying endings are simply new beginnings in disguise. "Before Sunset", now understood to be the middle chapter of Richard Linklater's unprecedentedly expansive portrait of a single relationship, abruptly resolves as soon as it's unforgettable final line offers a thrillingly oblique answer to the "will they or won't they?" question that looms over the entire film. While the slow fade out as Celine croons along with Nina Simone feels at first like an unreasonably sadistic cliffhanger, but it isn't long before you begin to understand how the protracted dismissal doesn't feel like a punch to the gut because it deprives us of information, but rather because it leaves us at a perfect moment – "Before Sunset" is a film that's told in real-time but dominated by its dual obsessions with the past and the dwindling minutes before Jesse is set to leave for the airport, but only in its final shot does the film truly arrive at the present. – DE

#22.) IKIRU (Akira Kurosawa) 1952 

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In some ways, the ending of “Ikiru” is just as ironically tinged as the conclusions of Kurosawa’s more action-packed features. As the camera takes stock of the accomplishment of the terminally ill bureaucrat who decided to make a change to the world around him before he went, the snow-covered playground against an ink-black night can seem like such a small, insignificant work. Yet Kurosawa’s natural pessimism is overpowered by both the film’s earlier chronological tweaking (revealing the act’s impact before the audience can see it) and the childlike contentment in Takashi Shimura’s face as he sits in a swing singing softly to himself. Kurosawa’s films are ones of passions and sorrow, but as the camera looks on at the old man, it communicates only tranquility and reverence. – JC

#21.) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper) 1974

Ending a horror movie is no easy business — you’ve got to sort out not only who lives and who dies, but how spectacularly the both are seen through. The impulse is to do something really shocking: have something burst up or clamp down before that last cut to black, say, or have a presumed-dead baddie show himself alive and well once more. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” doesn’t mess around with any of that: it ends in a flurry of crazed abandon, its villain spiralling roadside at sunrise as if he could slice the film itself to shreds. Our final girl gets away, besting Leatherface at the last minute — but what’s gained? There’s no relief for us. A quick death might have even been safer. As it stands we can only feel unsettled: murder might have shocked, but this silhouetted dance disturbs and lingers. – CM


#20.) AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (Yasujiro Ozu) 1962

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The last shot of Yasujiro Ozu's last movie wasn't intended to be remembered as such (Ozu would die the following year, but had no formal plans to retire before he was stricken with cancer), but the legendary filmmaker couldn't have designed a more perfect farewell had he tried. "An Autumn Afternoon" closes with one of the auteur's most sublimely composed pillow shots, framing Ozu's most iconic actor (Chishu Ryu) in the light of his own loneliness, his widowed character – as per many Ozu films – facing a life alone in the hours after marrying off his only daughter. It's not just an astonishing final image because of how nimbly it walks the line between bittersweetness and tragedy, but also because it resonates as one of the cinema's most lucid moments of self-portraiture. – DE

#19.) L'ECLISSE (Michelangelo Antonioni) 1962

Basically the entirety of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’eclisse” is a prelude to this single shot. The last sequence of the film is about emptiness in space and time, a tour through Rome in the wake of a rendezvous abandoned by two lovers. Does it represent or imply a nuclear Holocaust? Maybe, but I think such an interpretation is too narrow. This is, after all, the final film in Antonioni’s “Trilogy of Alienation.” What’s more alienating than a vaguely explained nod to science fiction in the form of a lone streetlight? – DW

#18.) PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson) 1959

“Oh, Jeanne”, goes the infamous last line, “what a strange way I had to take to meet you.” Indeed — this meeting takes place behind the bars of a jail cell, to which the young antihero Michel has been finally banished. It’s one of the few explicitly poetic moments in Bresson’s otherwise rigorous cinema of restraint, permitting the film’s first outward expression of bottled-up inner life. The verve and rhythm of “Pickpocket” is strictly nonverbal — its pickpocketing sequences are a masterclass of montage, piecing together elegant movements of hands and limbs in a way that’s almost balletic  — but here the emphasis is the power of a single exchange, one sentence delivered before a sentence is taken up for life. – CM

#17.) CACHE (Michael Haneke) 2005


The real answer to the mystery at the heart of “Cache” is that there isn’t one — nobody was sending tapes because nobody was filming them but the director himself. Haneke wants us attuned to the camera at all times, trying to determine if it’s diegetic or not, if what we’re seeing is being filmed in the world of the film or being filmed outside of it. But what’s the difference? Everything we see in a movie is mediated. In the final seconds of “Cache”, as the credits begin to roll, we see two characters meeting and talking — two characters who shouldn’t know one another at all. There is nothing significant to be gleaned from this. Haneke is only complicating things further, pushing the abstraction of his narrative to the extreme. And the point, as always, is that in the process he’s driving us mad. –CM

#16.) BLOW-UP (Michelangelo Antonioni) 1966

Apparitions and overactive imaginations take over the last shots of Michelangelo Antonioni’s moddish English-language debut, doubling down on the film’s feverish paranoia and the notion that David Hemmings’ murder “witness” has become lost in his own delusion. Witnessing a group of mimes ape a game of tennis, Hemmings’ Thomas looks on with vacant eyes, and as the camera stares at him, the sound of a tennis ball being thwacked back and forth fills the speakers, the objective fact of the photographic image, the anchor to which Thomas ties all of his convictions, erodes. It’s a point made more explicitly by the last image, in which Thomas becomes an apparition just like the missing body that torments him. Truth, it seems, is no matter for post-production. – JC

#15.) PLANET OF THE APES (Franklin J. Schaffner) 1968


The routine disaster-movie destruction of national landmarks was a pioneering idea in 1968, when “Planet Of The Apes” introduced the novelty of a defaced Statue of Liberty and realized humanity was the secret real bad guy along. We’ve included the recent “Mad Men” clip in which Don Draper watches the film with his son, simply because it preserves the original aspect ratio of the film: another clip made available by a user on YouTube is pan-and-scan, meaning many TV viewers of the original saw the final shot as an inelegant pan from Heston out to him against the Statue. – VR

#14.) BRIEF ENCOUNTER (David Lean) 1945

By the time you get to the last shot of “Brief Encounter,” you are probably already weeping. You’ve watched Laura and Alec try to say goodbye, interrupted by “poor, well-meaning, irritating” Dolly Messiter. The final scene is also the first scene of the movie so you knew it had to end this way. You’re bawling anyway. You’ve seen Laura rush to the meet the passing express train only to come to an abrupt stop, windswept. Then David Lean cuts back to the Post-War present, leaving behind this vivid dream of 1938. Laura, quietly distraught in her armchair, is comforted by her husband Fred. “Thank you for coming back to me,” he says, and the camera closes in on this impeccable, beautifully warm shot. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 swells. You have melted into a puddle on the floor. – DW

#13.) THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES (Abbas Kiarostami) 1994

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“Through the Olive Trees” caps off Abbas Kiarostami’s increasingly expansive yet ouroboric Koker trilogy with a shot that gradually pulls back from the film’s central couple—or at least, a young man and the woman he pesters for her hand—as the boy continues to plead for the girl’s attention until they become specks in a field. The Godlike position the camera ultimately assumes fits the complex, layered narrative of the trilogy, with the actors on screen themselves playing actors living out the scripted drama of their performance in the previous film, but the scope only emphasizes the limitations of Kiarostami’s successive steps outward across the three films. Kiarostami’s Bressonian use of space outside the frame has always made his canvases feel vast, but in stressing the proscenium that lines his own seemingly free form, he confirms himself as the true heir to the modernist humanism of Rossellini. – JC

#12.) BREATHLESS (Jean-Luc Godard) 1960

Jean Seberg won the world over with a gaze that broke the fourth wall, just two years before “Breathless”, in Otto Preminger’s “Bonjour Tristesse”. Godard saw in that loaded stare the possibilities of a Brechtian cinema: one that would confront the audience directly, a playful challenge that would define the nouvelle vague and change the rules of the game. In the last moments of “Breathless” Seberg makes one gaze break free from the frame, conveying everything and nothing all the same — hard to say exactly what, if anything, she’s thinking at the end of it all, having just given up her boyfriend to the police and effectively dragged him to his own demise. Regret? Relief? Ambiguity is its own end: that we can never know is the point. – CM

#11.) STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky) 1979

The simmering crisis of faith that underpins “Stalker” reaches its apex in the seemingly extraneous scene that concludes it. With the spiritually broken protagonist having retreated from his beliefs, the camera turns to his young, possibly mutated daughter as she stares blankly at a glass. Suddenly, the table, then the house, rumbles, and what follows is carefully positioned to lend equal credence to the idea that one witnesses either a miracle or a totally explainable occurrence. Yet as the shot holds on the girl’s impassive face, it becomes clear that what is happening is irrelevant, and that the Stalker has forgotten that faith is not a matter of transcendent events but of a worldview that can find them in the mundane. In puncturing the mythic, Tarkovsky only strengthens it. – JC


#10.) CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz) 1942

A shot that has effectively become a universal shorthand for classic Hollywood, the foggy final moments of the big screen's most iconic love story are imbued with a magic that transcends one piddling little romance. Rick's final line to Louis cements the achingly wistful act of sacrifice with which he sent his beloved Ilsa away from the cursed place that gives the movie its name, the resigned but fiercely heroic grace note of a tragic affair that is forced to end so that the film can arrive at the immortal harmony between love and loss. Writing about "Casablanca", Umberto Eco argued that "Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us." As the ending of the film proves, the best cliché's in "Casablanca" are the ones it invented. – DE

#9.) CITY LIGHTS (Charlie Chaplin) 1931

“City Lights” has the most uplifting ending in cinema: the Tramp, the survivalist who always seems to find himself giving to others, has helped restore the sight of the woman he loves and must face her full knowledge of his poverty. The full effect plays out through a cluster of close-ups that jump between the faces of Chaplin and Virginia Cherrrill as her dawning recognition is juxtaposed with his terror of rejection. Yet one can glean everything from the last image, as her acceptance plays out over Chaplin’s face. For someone so eager to please, Chaplin always put a sardonic, impish glint in his smile, but that is nowhere to be found in the pure, elated grin that breaks out from behind the thumb he nervously chews, and if so many romantic movies are about goofy types getting the girl to say yes, none captures the blood-rushing thrill of that happening like this one. – JC

#8.) A SERIOUS MAN (Ethan & Joel Coen) 2009

Would that every film ended with this shot: characters caught stupefied before a reckoning of biblical proportions. In a film governed by cosmic logic, in which a man struggles to stay true to himself and to his god, how better to end things than by having one tiny slip up rewarded with an end to it all? Larry Gopnik changes a grade in his own best interests and a moment later is told, more or less, that he will die. And what’s more, his son will too: a storm is brewing and it’s on his way over to the local school. Everything before this is portentous, suggestive of some cataclysm to come. But nobody, not even the most cynical, could have guessed it would end this badly. – CM

#7.) AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD (Werner Herzog) 1972

Klaus Kinski, on a raft, talking to monkeys. Toward the very end of “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” there is a particularly fine image of the famously crazed German actor spouting delusions of grandeur at an innocent little primate, who he then tosses off screen. Werner Herzog could have ended with that. The film is, after all, about plumbing the depths of madness. Yet there are two more shots: one brief image of the sun in the sky, and a final tour around Aguirre’s raft floating down the Amazon. It shows in one image both the full, strange scope of the conquistador’s accomplishment and the complete impossibility of taking his quest any further. He stands alone, but for a few dead companions and a hoard of indifferent monkeys. He has gone to war with nature itself and has been spectacularly defeated. – DW

#6.) BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis) 1999

Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail” concludes its narrative of repression and calcified masculine aggression with a single shot (broken up by some credits) that liberates its character from his denial of self. Denis’ cinema is one of impressionistic, layered close-ups, but her camera remains at arm’s lengths to take in Denis Lavant, erstwhile muted in Stoic brutishness, performing an interpretive dance to Corona’s early-’90s house anthem “The Rhythm of the Night.”  Latent homosexuality charges Lavant’s performance in the film, a loose nod to Melville’s even more ambiguous “Billy Budd,” and as he slowly starts to sway and spin to the rhythm, all the inhibition falls away into a display even freer than the actor’s work for Leos Carax. A preceding shot of Lavant’s broken soldier holding a pistol thoughtfully adds an annihilating context to the dance, but that only makes Lavant’s complete spasm all the more gripping and unbound. —JC

#5.) PSYCHO (Alfred Hitchcock) 1960

What left is there to say about “Psycho”? Anthony Perkins is legendary, especially in this final scene of insidious delirium. Hitchcock’s brief, almost subliminal addition of a skull might be the single most influential superimposition of all time. But you’ve heard enough from me already. I’ll let Mother do the rest of the talking herself. – DW

#4.) THE 400 BLOWS (Francois Truffaut) 1959


It’s funny that one of cinema’s most iconic endings should be so pointedly without a resolution: it’s a bittersweet reminder that this is how real-life stories tend to close. Antoine Doinel does what we all want to do so often, running away from a life of newfound hardship and discord, but all he finds at the end of it all is the resolute shoreline and the great nothing that lies beyond it. That would have been brutal enough, I expect. But Truffaut takes it a step further — Doinel turns around, stares straight into the camera, and throws the pain back at us. It’s a fatal blow. – CM

#3.) THE SEARCHERS (John Ford) 1956

Departing the household he helped restore with a wistful parting gesture (itself lifted from Harry Carey, Jr.), John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards may seem like the usual Western hero riding off into the sunset. But Ford’s composition, looking out into a backlit shot that casts most of the frame in shadow, highlights the Mosaic side of Ethan, the leader who is denied entry into the promised land he helps create, left to flounder out in the void. It is one of cinema’s simplest but most resonant arguments that repentance and redemption are two different things, and that one cannot guarantee the other. – JC

#2.) SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa) 1954

The extended climax of “Seven Samurai,” with its carefully choreographed yet ragged defense of a village by a ragtag group of warriors, is such a draining, harrowing experience that to emerge from it even as a spectator is a relief. Yet the film’s final shot undercuts any sense of victory, trained on the burial mounds of the samurai who perished as the few survivors look on, unable to feel the same joy as the now-safe farmers. That the mounds almost look fertile, the dead fighters’ katanas jutting out of the soil like first sprouts as the farmers merrily pick rice out in the fields below, adds an ironic tone that finds more despair in victory than during the moments of battle where defeat seems most possible. – JC

#1.) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Stanley Kubrick) 1968

Those who went to “2001” looking for “the ultimate trip,” as it were, must have exited the theater in either blissed out rapture or unending terror thanks to the film’s last shot, in which Keir Dullea’s dimension-traversing astronaut is reborn as a giant alien baby. It’s a bewildering sight, as repugnant as it is inviting, and it remains to be seen if this new form of humanity will lead the old one to enlightenment, or if it will eradicate its inferior model. (And by transforming mankind into something else, is that not itself a kind of extinction?) If nothing else, it shows that Kubrick was shrewd enough to save the final straw for a casual audience’s willingness to play along for the last shot. – JC