If there's one film trope that isn't going anywhere, it's the always divisive cliffhanger. While TV cliffhangers help keep audiences invested in weekly adventures, film cliffhangers can often throw the entire movie's message into chaos. Moviegoers tend to want a clear resolution and ending to their experience, so when filmmakers end their projects on a cliffhanger it can often lead to heavy debate. This is actually a rather brilliant aspect of marketing, as buzz for the film will continue to grow as more folks head to the movies. Here are 5 of those movies whose cliffhanger endings are still talked about years later.
Christopher Nolan's Inception is a purposefully trippy sci-fi adventure with an untrustworthy narrator. Dealing with the world of dreams and the human consciousness, we see Cobb and his crew attempt to infiltrate the target's mind in order to plant an original thought of their making (aka Inception).
The Cliffhanger: Following an adventure across multiple minds and dreams, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) accomplishes his mission, and is able to finally return home to the states with his children. In the final moments of Inception, Cobb turns his spinning top totem, which he typically uses to make sure he's not still in a dream. But as the totem momentarily hits a bump, Cobb ends up walking away and joining his children.
What We Think Happened: This cliffhanger was discussed ad nauseam when the film was released, but I've got a theory that helped me grapple with it at the time: Cobb isn't dreaming, the entire movie actually happened. And the top's bump was actually Chris Nolan performing an inception on the audience. That one shot put doubt in our minds, which then spread and became a moment of pop culture.
Blade Runner has become one of the most universally acclaimed sci-fi movies of all time. Directed by the legendary Ridley Scott, we are shown a world occupied by both humans and human-like androids called replicants. Replicants look just like us regular folks, which adds a level of mystery and tension to any scene between two characters.
The Cliffhanger: After Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) navigates through his adventure and ends up on the right side of things, he returns home to his replicant lover Rachael. But as the happy couple prepare to run away together, Dekcard finds a foil origami unicorn, while hearing Gaff's final words to him replay for the audience. Is Deckard actually a replicant? That is the question.
What We Think Happened: I'm going to go with the majority of Blade Runner audiences, and assume the worst with this one. The final scene feels too purposeful and important for Deckard to actually just be a regular human. This cliffhanger is one of the reasons why the fandom is so excited for Blade Runner 2049 to hit theaters, although the filmmakers have already revealed that it won't be solved in the sequel. So let the debate continue on.
Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is an intimate and heartbreaking story about an aging professional wrestler attempting to find his place in the world. We see as Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) tries to keep his financial life afloat despite health problems, while also trying to mend his relationships with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and woo exotic dancer Cassidy (Marisa Tomei).
The Cliffhanger: Despite the best medical advice, Randy once again steps into the ring to be with his fans, who he believes are the only people who truly love him. Randy begins having cardiac issues during the match, but refuses to end it. The final moments of the film see Randy climbing the rope and flying into the air in an attempt to recreate his most famous move.
What We Think Happened: To be blunt, Randy is totally dead. Earlier in The Wrestler we see him suffer a heart attack, so attempting to wrestle was a fool's errand. Audiences have since debated whether or not he survived his final match. But after seeing Darren Aranofsky's following film Black Swan, I think it's clear the director is passionate about stories where athletes take a fatal turn in order to perform their passion. Natalie Portman's Nina died, and so did Randy.
Lost In Translation
Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is an acclaimed dramedy set in Tokyo. Bill Murray plays an aging American movie star who has traveled to the country for a Japanese Ad campaign, where he meets a recent college grad Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). The unlikely duo end up sharing both friendship and flirtation throughout the film, leaning on each other to avoid their isolation and mutual unhappiness.
The Cliffhanger: In the final moments of the film, the two leading characters embrace in the busy streets of Tokyo before Bill Murray's character Bob departs. It's in their embrace that he whispers something in Charlotte's ear, which can't be made out by the audience. Debate has raged ever since as to what the mysterious line could be, and Sofia Coppolla reportedly doesn't even know what it was, as Murray improvised their on screen goodbye.
What We Think Happened: I'd like to think that the whisper is Bob encouraging Charlotte to change her life, before its too late. She's in a terribly unhappy relationship, and Bob has seen how quickly time passes by. While the two clearly have a romantic connection, I doubt that he'd be professing his love for Charlotte and planing their future together. Instead, I hope that he showed her one final act of kindness that would help her move on.
American Psycho is a black comedy psychological thriller that may go down as Christian Bale's most iconic non-Batman role. The film follows Patrick Bateman, a successful and painfully vain investment banker who has psychotic tendencies. Throughout the film we see Patrick's penchant for violence and murder escalate, ultimately ending in a crazy rampage through New York City.
The Cliffhanger: In American Psycho's final scene, Patrick Bateman finds his lawyer Harold after leaving him an incriminating message the night of his rampage. But it turns out Patrick didn't ever get a message, while he also reveals that one of Patrick's victims Paul Owen was actually alive and well. The audience (and Patrick) are left wondering if any of the events in the film actually happened.
What We Think Happened: In contrast to my theory on Inception, I think that Patrick didn't actually murder anyone. Paul Owen was the first big kill we saw in the movie, so if that didn't happen then I doubt anything else did. Not that it makes the protagonist any less sick, as he's thought about the violence and his assistant Jean (Chloe Sevigny) finds his journal filled with murderous images.
Which Unresolved Cliffhanger Is Your Favorite?