Everything Everywhere All at Once may be the most recent entry into the pantheon of great sci-fi movies, but as a genre, science fiction has always remained concerned with pushing the boundaries of the possible and asking viewers to inhabit strange and often unsettling new worlds. The mark of a good science fiction movie, as is the case with many genres, is a final scene.
In the best examples that the genre has to offer, a truly powerful final moment can leave the viewer feeling uncomfortable or challenged by what has come before. Fortunately, there are many examples of science fiction movies, both new and old, which have managed to nail their final scene, highlighting the tremendous power of this perpetually popular genre.
Like all good science fiction movies, Annihilation poses tough questions for its characters and viewers. Its central characters, a group of scientists who investigate an anomaly known as “the Shimmer,” quickly find their bodies beginning to change at the cellular level as a result of an alien entity’s presence.
Filled with more than a little horror, the movie’s final scene is especially disturbing, as the main protagonist, played by Natalie Portman, realizes that she may not be quite the person she was when the movie began.
Children Of Men (2006)
Children of Men is widely, and rightly, regarded as one of the best post-apocalyptic movies of all time. Set in a world in which humans can no longer reproduce, it focuses on a young woman who has finally given birth and is sought after by various people and institutions.
Its ending, in which Clive Owen’s Theo Faron is guided by the young woman to safety, is riddled with ambiguity about what the future of this fictional universe will hold. While Theo dies from a gunshot wound, his charge is found by a group dedicated to curing humanity of its infertility. It’s a moment of profound sadness and hope mixed into one powerful moment.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Many movies have dealt with the terror of alien invasion, but few with as much disturbing panache as the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the movie’s final scene, one of the few characters to have survived the aliens’ takeover sees someone she believes to be her friend, only to realize, when he starts emitting the creatures’ signature scream, that he is one of them.
It’s a moment that is designed to stay with the viewer, suggesting as it does that there is no hope, and no help, for humanity. Ultimately, the body snatchers are beyond the possibility of defeat.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter is one of the most respected directors working in the horror and science fiction genres today. His movies frequently push boundaries, but few have done so quite as effectively as The Thing, which focuses on a group of researchers in Antarctica dealing with a monstrous being that can change its appearance.
Though it is eventually defeated, the movie’s last scene shows the survivors of the attack slowly freezing to death. As with so many science fiction endings, it mingles failure with success to stunning effect.
12 Monkeys (1995)
Widely regarded as one of the best science fiction movies of all time, 12 Monkeys is a fascinating and troubling rumination on the nature of time, as well as a reflection of humanity’s collective fear of the power of a pandemic.
The ending, as is so often the case with the best science fiction movies, is riddled with ambiguity, as Bruce Willis’ character of James Cole witnesses his own death, even as the plague begins its inevitable conquest of the planet. The ending crystallizes many of the themes about inevitability and the power of choice that have been raised throughout the movie.
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes is another science fiction movie that has been rightly regarded as one of the best of the genre. In significant part, this stems from the movie’s ending, in which Charlton Heston’s character, an astronaut named Taylor, realizes, upon seeing the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand, that he has been on Earth all along.
It’s the type of ending that reshapes everything that came before in the movie, and it has seared itself into the pop-culture imagination. More than anything else, it is a reminder of humanity’s collective ability (and desire) to destroy itself.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
In addition to being a great movie in its own right, Planet of the Apes has also inspired several reboots, including Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This version is a prequel to the original story, focusing on the character of Caesar, a chimpanzee who gains extraordinary intelligence because of an experimental Alzheimer’s treatment.
It is the movie’s final scene, however, which packs a powerful emotional punch, as a pilot infected with a deadly virus–an unintentional side effect of the Alzheimer’s treatment–sets in motion the pandemic that will ultimately lead to the apes taking over the planet. The scene is notable for using such simple imagery to foreshadow what viewers know will be world-altering events.
Solaris is a haunting movie about a man who goes to a space station orbiting above the planet Solaris. As he spends more time on the station, he begins to feel his own sense of reality bend and warm, largely as a result of the planet itself. In the movie’s final scene, he believes he has been reunited with his family, only for the camera to reveal that, instead, he has somehow ended up on the planet itself.
As with so many great science fiction endings, it radically reshapes the entire movie, leading the viewer to question their sense of what is real and what isn’t.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is the first in a venerable and very successful movie franchise that continues to this day. With its story about an island full of dinosaurs that have been brought into the modern world, it is still a technological marvel.
It is the movie’s ending scene, however, which leaves an impression on the viewer, as the survivors–including Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, and Dr. Malcolm–flee the island on a helicopter, after which they witness a flight of birds, a reminder that dinosaurs still exist in the modern world, even if not in the same form as on the island they’ve just left.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick made several classic movies and was one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and he brought many fantastic visions to the screen. Among these is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which would go on to become one of the best movies of all time. It is a rumination on the limits and perils of the human experience.
It is the movie’s final scene, however, that most stands out, as a being known as the “Star Child” gazes with wide-open eyes at the Earth and its future potential. The scene perfectly captures the bizarre sense of the unknown that permeates the movie and, indeed, all great science fiction.
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