Knowing didn’t invent bugshit endings by any stretch of the imagination; hitting your audience with a wild curveball in the final act is a storied Hollywood tradition. Thousands of movies come out every year, so the instinct to try and make your film stand out with a mind-blowing twist makes total sense. But there’s an extremely fine balancing act between “clever” and “ludicrous,” and movies like Knowing fall so hard on the latter end of that seesaw that cleverness gets catapulted into the sun in favor of sheer ludicrosity.
In the spirit of paying proper tribute to the 12th anniversary of Knowing, I’ve assembled a list of movies with some of the daffiest, most out-of-left-field endings I have ever seen, Knowing included. I realize this is a popular topic around the internet, so I did my best to include movies that I don’t normally see get the recognition they deserve for their terrible finales, as well as a few recent ones. Truly, I can think of no better birthday present to give Nicolas Cage’s Knowing.
To be perfectly honest, the timeline of human existence should be divided into “Before Nicolas Cage’s Knowing” and “After Nicolas Cage’s Knowing.” The 2009 thriller imagines Cage as an astrophysics professor whose son discovers a series of numbers in a time capsule that seem to predict every major catastrophe of the modern era. But there are three dates not yet accounted for, which sends Professor Cage on a mission to unravel the secret behind the numbers. It’s one of those ancient puzzle mysteries that became extremely popular after the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code, except Knowing manages to rise above the pack thanks to a perfect alignment of Cage’s unique brand of melodrama and an absolutely buck wild ending.
You see, the numbers were whispered to a child in the 1950s by a race of interstellar aliens, who included a final equation containing a date and coordinates to meet them and be transported off of Earth just before a solar flare destroys all life on the planet. But the aliens are only taking children – everyone else is essentially told to fuck off down the road and wait for oblivion, Professor Cage included. So Cage and the majority of the Earth get nuked by a solar flare as the aliens transport his son and thousands of other children to a celestial paradise closely resembling the Garden of Eden. It is positively breathtaking for exactly none of the reasons the filmmakers intended, which elevates Knowing to the pantheon of B-movie science fiction.
What can be said about Serenity that hasn’t already been said about a divorce hearing? It’s a disappointing meeting between several adults that winds up harming a child in ways you couldn’t possibly predict. The movie follows estranged dad Matthew McConaughey, who is living the good life fishing in a small island community off the coast of Florida. His ex-wife Anne Hathaway shows up and asks him to murder her new husband Jason Clarke, playing one of the roles he excels at: sweaty hulk. On paper, this is a standard neo-noir plot featuring an impressive cast, which makes it all the more shocking when Jeremy Strong suddenly appears to tell McConaughey he is trapped in a computer game. As it turns out, McConaughey was killed in Iraq several years earlier, and his son recreated him as a fisherman in a digital South Florida heaven.
That would be wild enough, but that reveal is dropped on us around the halfway point. You see, the kid also programmed his mom and stepdad into the game, and is responsible for sending his fake mom to ask his fake dad to murder his fake stepdad. Meanwhile, he is mustering up the gumption to kill Jason Clarke in real life. It all culminates in McConaughey killing the virtual version of Clarke at the same instant his son stabs the real-world Clarke to death. It’s an extremely bizarre movie made infinitely more strange by the fact that its core premise requires us to accept that an adolescent boy created a erotic thriller starring his mom and dead dad.
The Devil Inside
The Devil Inside is yet another demonic possession movie from the late aughts/early teens that would’ve been doomed to obscurity were it not for two important distinctions: one, it made over $100 million on a budget of around 1% of that; and two, it has one of the most shockingly terrible endings in cinema history.
A found-footage horror film following a woman as she attempts to make a documentary about her mother, an alleged victim of demonic possession, The Devil Inside follows all the same story beats and genre tropes as every other possession movie until the thrilling climax. In the film’s final moments, the main characters are racing to the hospital when the driver is suddenly afflicted by the Unholy Spirit and steers their car into oncoming traffic. And… that’s it. The movie abruptly ends, as if the filmmakers simply couldn’t think of anything else to put onscreen and cut their losses in the most dramatic way possible. It’s more or less the exact same finale as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the only difference being the ending of The Devil Inside is an accidental practical joke. It pissed people off so badly that the movie’s attendance dropped almost 80% in its second week of release and regularly finds itself circling the top spot of Worst Horror Movies Ever Made lists.
Duets is a romantic dramedy about the take-no-prisoners world of competitive karaoke featuring Huey Lewis in one of his only film roles, and that should be more than enough to convince you to rent it immediately. But Duets goes so much further trying to one-up its own completely deranged premise, adding scores of baffling characters with wholly unbelievable arcs, that by the time we reach the truly unhinged climax the movie has effectively transported us to an alternate dimension. Reggie (Andre Braugher), a fugitive stickup artist who teams up with disillusioned traveling salesman Todd (Paul Giamatti) to dominate karaoke duets across the country, takes the stage in the finale to sing an a cappella rendition of “Freebird” as the police file in to arrest him. Reggie finishes the song and pulls a gun on the police, who shoot him dead onstage, saving Todd from being implicated in his crimes. Now, if you are shocked to hear that the karaoke romcom Duets ends with Andre Braugher committing suicide by cop, imagine how everyone who took a date to see this movie felt.
The Mummy (2017)
Tom Cruise’s 2017 reboot of The Mummy began its life with the disadvantage of being a movie that nobody asked for or wanted. The canary in the coal mine of Universal’s aborted Dark Universe project, The Mummy was meant to be the first in a series of interconnected films uniting the studio’s roster of classic monsters in an epic action-adventure franchise. That franchise never happened for various reasons, most of them related to the fact that The Mummy is a dull, crowded mess with none of the B-movie charm or excitement of Brendan Fraser’s 1999 outing. Cruise’s film is also saddled with an absolute toilet clog of an ending that was clearly meant to set up his involvement in future films.
You see, the mummy Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) needs to use Cruise’s body as a vessel to reincarnate Set, the Egyptian god of death. So, essentially, her entire plan is to summon unfathomable supernatural power and then give it away to some dude. In the finale, she successfully imbues Cruise with Set’s death magic, only to be immediately killed when Cruise uses said death magic to destroy her. Imagine, if you will, that the ultimate goal of the titular mummy in the 1999 version had been to give Brendan Fraser all of his power, and that, after successfully doing so, he’d had the gall to look surprised when Fraser used that power against him. We would have never mentioned that movie again. It would be haunting bargain bins and weird corners of eBay alongside VHS copies of Torque. And yet, somehow, that’s the exact game plan Universal concocted for its franchise-building 2017 reboot: a sweaty-ass prologue whose only mission was to give Tom Cruise mummy abilities.
Tag is a wholly forgettable comedy based on the infinitely more interesting true-life story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for decades. In the film, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) announces that he will be quitting the game for good after his impending wedding, leaving the rest of his friends (Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, and Jon Hamm) scrambling to try and tag him before the big day. The movie itself is extremely fine, a by-the-numbers comedy only too happy to coast on the likeability of its strong cast without ever actually giving them much to do. Where it really flies off the rails is in its final few minutes, after Hoagie (Helms) collapses following a failed tag attempt at Jerry’s wedding and has to be rushed to the emergency room. Hoagie gathers his friends around his hospital bed and reveals that the reason he’s been so gung-ho about keeping their game of tag going is because he was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and has no idea how much longer he has to live.
Please bear in mind that, up to this point in the film, Tag has been a fairly zany slapstick comedy. Hoagie’s condition is never even so much as hinted at until the moment he drops his cancer in our laps literally minutes before the closing credits. The movie ends with the group joyfully chasing each other through the hospital, committed to keeping the game going in Hoagie’s name. It is, for lack of a better word, completely insane.
Son of Kong
You’d be immediately forgiven for admitting that you’ve never heard of Son of Kong, the utterly baffling sequel to 1933’s King Kong that was conceived, produced, and released while the original film was still in theaters. Son of Kong follows Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) after the disastrous events of King Kong as he returns to Skull Island in search of a mythical treasure that will help him pay off the numerous lawsuits filed against him on behalf of the victims of Kong’s Broadway debut. Back on the island, he befriends a gentle, childlike giant ape he names Little Kong. In sharp contrast to the dark, violent tragedy of the first film, Son of Kong is essentially a G-rated comedy adventure that plays closer to Land of the Lost than anything else. Little Kong is an adorable scamp who wants nothing but to help his new best friend Carl, so you can imagine the audience’s surprise when Little Kong slowly disappears beneath the ocean’s waves and drowns in the film’s final reel. Yep, the loveable star of Son of Kong grimly sacrifices his life to hold Carl Denham above water until help arrives. It’s arguably more gut-wrenching than Kong’s death, if for no other reason than Kong is actively engaged in angry monkey violence when he gets blasted off the Empire State Building. Little Kong is a rambunctious lil’ tyke right up to the moment he chokes to death on seawater. We should all hold our collective breath in solidarity until Peter Jackson releases a $300 million Son of Kong remake.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
There’s plenty to dislike about the Fantastic Beasts series, beginning with the fact that each new installment indirectly funds a transphobic propogandist. But arguably the strangest part of the Harry Potter spinoff is its thunderously baffling ending, which sees villainous wizard Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) reveal himself to be Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a different villainous wizard, in disguise. Farrell then transforms into Depp, leaving the audience thoroughly confused as to why a different actor was needed. Couldn’t the villain just have been Graves? He has more than enough motivation to do what he does in the film without needing to also have secretly been Grindelwald the whole time. And if it were truly important to have Graves be Grindelwald in disguise, why not glue some crazy eyebrows or a fake nose to Farrell’s face? This decision grows increasingly more baffling in hindsight, after Depp was ultimately released from the franchise and replaced by Mads Mikkelsen. Hopefully the next Fantastic Beasts begins with Depp dramatically revealing he’s been Mikkelsen this whole time, before blowing our minds a third time by transforming back into Farrell in the finale.
Listen, I’m not going to split hairs – Identity is a perfect film. The 2003 whodunnit follows a group of people trapped together at a lonely highway motel with a vicious killer who is carving through them one by one. It’s essentially a loose remake of Agatha Christie’s classic yarn And Then There Were None, with one important caveat: as the night progresses, the characters realize they are all connected to each other in impossible ways, leading to a “mind-blowing” reveal that is so gloriously silly I can’t even really be upset about it. You see, the ten “guests” stuck at the motel are actually all different personalities of the same person, a convicted murderer on death row who is about to be executed for his crimes if his defense team can’t prove that he is legally insane. His different personalities are effectively fighting for dominance, with one of them determined to wipe out the others in this motel slasher movie scenario. It’s a bizarre hat to hang on a premise that doesn’t really call for any extra twists, but in the year of our lord 2003 we were still chasing that Shyamalan high (this was before The Village, you see). The end result is a competently-made murder mystery with an extraordinarily silly third act awkwardly stapled to it. in other words, it’s a movie that demands to be watched.
The Book of Henry
To be honest, every scene of The Book of Henry deserves a spot on this list. It is a rare example of a film that continuously outdoes itself with bonkers plot twists and inexplicable character developments, to the point where I would assign The Book of Henry to anyone looking to learn all of the things you should never, ever do when making a movie. It’s about a teenage genius named Henry (Jaeden Martell) who lives with his single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry is the parent, managing the family’s finances and generally running the household while Susan and Peter goof off. Henry is also an inventor, spending hours drawing detailed schematics of his inventions in a notebook and building them in his backyard clubhouse. He has a crush on his neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler), but soon discovers that she is being abused by her stepfather, Hank from Breaking Bad (Dean Norris). After failing to get the school or child protective services involved, Henry decides to build an invention to kill Hank from Breaking Bad and rescue Christina.
Then, midway through the film, Henry gets brain cancer and dies.
After Henry’s death, it’s up to Susan to use his notebook to finish building his invention and rescue Christina. Because I’m writing about daffy endings and not movies that bleed unhinged plot twists into every single frame, I’ll skip to the end, when Susan finally completes Henry’s intricate plan. What was that carefully constructed scheme, you ask? To buy a gun and shoot Hank from Breaking Bad. That’s it, that’s the entire plan. Henry, the boy genius, spent the final hours of his life sketching out detailed instructions in his notebook full of fantastical inventions for his mom to withdraw money from an ATM and buy a gun at a gunstore. That’s it, that’s the entire plan. I cannot stress enough how much the rest of the film prepares us to expect some grand machine or brilliant series of orchestrated events to unfold as a result of Henry’s plotting. Instead, the fact that he was a genius inventor winds up having absolutely no bearing on the finale, in which Susan ultimately decides not to kill Hank from Breaking Bad, leaving him to shoot himself after he finally gets reported by the school principal. Christina goes to live with Susan, because apparently she has no other living relatives to speak of, and moves into Henry’s old room. The Book of Henry undoubtedly believes this is meaningful, but it’s really just the shrieking cherry on a batshit sundae.
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