There’s this wrong idea that Hollywood movies have to have happy endings, that audiences need happy film endings and won’t pay to see depressing or open ones. This is not borne out by the statistics:

A film where the story is entirely resolved doesn’t exist.

– BILLY WILDER

Down-ending films are often huge commercial successes….For the vast majority doesn’t care if a film ends up or down. What the audience wants is emotional satisfaction–a Climax that fulfills anticipation….Who determines which particular emotion will satisfy an audience at the end of a film? The writer. From the way he tells his story from the beginning, he whispers to the audience: “Expect an up-ending,” or “Expect a down-ending” or “Expect irony”. Having pledged a certain emotion, it’d be ruinous not to deliver. So we give the audience the experience we’ve promised, but not in the way it expects.

– ROBERT MCKEE

On the ending to the Sex and the City movie, from John Truby:

Unfortunately this event left me quite ambivalent. I too wanted the fairy tale ending; boys watch Disney movies too. But emotionally it wasn’t right. It wasn’t earned. Here is a guy who has “jilted” Carrie for the entire TV show, then does it again at the altar, and she takes him back one more time. The writer justifies it through the Miranda subplot with Steve (also fake), with the statement that “You’ve got to forgive.” Well, no, you don’t. If the guy keeps blowing you off and humiliating you time and again in the process, at some point it’s the mark of a mature person to say, “Get the hell out of my life.”

Of course, Carrie’s marriage to Big does set up the inevitable sequel to this blockbuster film. Anyone want to place bets on Big being faithful?

On the ending of Pretty Woman:

The original script for that film (then called 3,000 after the amount the prostitute is paid for the week) had a much darker ender — where the couple didn’t get together. Says Gere of that original ending, “It does exist, but I’ve never seen it. It was a dark movie,” he adds. “But I think Jeff Katzenberg saw something in it and didn’t want to make that movie, but he saw this other movie in it.”

Richard Gere

black swan film endings

And on the ending of Black Swan:

The end of the dance and the film shows screenwriting as the height of dramatic art. Nina, as the White Swan, runs up the platform to commit suicide and we think she will do it for real since the real has by now melded so completely with art. She jumps. But wait, there’s the mattress. We feel release, victory; she has defeated her demons. And then we’re flipped again. She’s already done the deed, given herself the fatal wound. It’s the act she had to take to get the performance of her life. We plummet. But she knows; “it was perfect.” She’s the perfectionist taken to her logical extreme, given a self-revelation that is at once brimming with truth and utterly without understanding.

Related Links:

  1. Perfectly Happy, Even Without The Happy Endings from Go Into The Story
  2. Movies struggle to find ‘the end’ from the LA Times
  3. The Worst Movie Endings Of 2012
  4. Script Pages From The Shining Reveal Kubrick Had A Different Ending In Mind, from io9
  5. Realistic/Better Movie Endings, Oh Noa
  6. 12 Movies That Filmed Happy Endings You Never Saw from io9
  7. What happens to Disney princesses after their movies end from 22 Words
  8. The Director of Three Hunger Games Movies on Resisting a ‘Squeaky-Clean’ Ending from Time
  9. Unfinished Business: how Disney and Marvel killed happy ever afters by Nicholas Barber at The Guardian
  10. Was Star Wars Saved In Editing? from The Awesomer. There’s a rumour that Star Wars was a real mess until it got to the editing room,  but this comes largely from the idea that the stories we love tend to arrive fully formed and perfect in the mind of the creator. All movies require a lot of editing, because storytelling is hard work.