How a movie closes is what the audience will remember as they leave the cinema, and maybe in some cases, forever. Closing shots enable a wide variety of options for a filmmaker. Many directors can instill differing techniques on the final shot and apply their own style; posing unanswered questions, picturesque endings or occasionally something truly shocking.

You should have seen all these! But if you have not, spoilers ahead.

 

Here’s my list of the 5 best closing shots and scenes and what makes them so iconic. In no particular order…

1.The Searchers (1956) “Lets go home Debbie”

After completing his 7-year pursuit of his abducted niece, Ethan Edwards returns Debbie to her home and family in a bid to return to normality. We see the doorway to the home open as members of the family all rush in. Behind them, the backdrop of the vast West that Ethan has spent years navigating through extends out of shot. The audience cannot help but feel that Ethan’s venture has been overshadowed. Ethan momentarily thinks to join his family, but turns away back out into the Wild West. He is a man without a cause, a lost wandering soul. The door shuts behind him sealing his fate. Such a frustrating yet poetic moment is truly a final shot for the ages.

2.Inception (2012) “Look who it is”

 

As Dom Cobb returns home after being picked up from the airport by his father-in-law, an already confusing film is rounded off in unrivalled final shot that has left audiences in disbelief and become the subject of fierce debate since its release. The centerpiece of the shot is Dom Cobb’s totem, which previously belonged to his wife Mal. The premise being that if said totem, a spinning tractricoid, stops spinning Cobb is awake, and if it continues he is still dreaming. Upon finally reuniting with his family, Dom becomes distracted by his children’s laughs and giggles after spinning the totem. The camera pans across the screen to reveal Dom and his family embracing each other, suggesting that he has returned to reality, yet as the shot widens to include the spinning totem, it momentarily wobbles, a wobble that threatens to bring Doms new utopian reality crashing down. The film ends. Dream or not? The audiences do not know. We do know that Inceptions final shot leaves a lasting cinematic effect.

3. Toy Story 3 “So long partner”

This may come as a surprise entry and I certainly hold a bias to the trilogy. Toy Story 2 being the first movie I ever saw at a cinema. Yet make no mistake, this closing shot is arguably the most moving of the trilogy. Andy is set to leave for college and must as we all do grow up. He parts with Woody, his childhood hero, and gives it to young Bonnie, who does not wholly understand the importance of this moment but embraces the toys with a love that brings the films full circle. Andy’s speech to inanimate Woody is poignant as we see Woody almost come to life in a growing smile. Yet as Bonnie heads inside leaving her toys strewn across the garden, Andy drives down the road and Woody wakes. As he is comforted by Buzz, he speaks the tear jerking words “so long partner”. We pan up to the blue sky, and fade out. The toys are safe, and Andy will never forget them nor them he.

 

4. Raging Bull (1980) “ I could have been a contender”

The increasingly uncomfortable shot sees Jake La Motta – the films protagonist’s – beginning to prepare for a performance in front of the dressing room mirror. The camera remains still for its entirety, as we see Jake recite memorable lines from ‘On The Waterfront’, asserting that he is repentant for his actions.  The audience’s remorse is not lasting, as Jake’s animalistic bullish nature takes over, beginning to shadow box as the self professed “champ” leaves us with a mixture of sorrow and anger. The closing image leaves the audience with starkly contrasting emotions. The fade to black embodies what is to come – dark days ahead.

 

5. The Shining (1980) “The Overlook Hotel Ball 1921”

The Shining’s genre sits between a physiological horror and a mystery movie. Jack inherits the winter caretaker position at the hotel in hopes of getting over his writer’s block. Yet as progress stalls and his son Danny has increasingly disturbing visions, things seemingly get way out of hand. Jack soon finds himself surrounded by the dark secrets of the hotel. The films climax is a chase through the snowy wilderness; Danny and Wendy are reunited with each other and escape Jacks murderous rage. It is assumed Jack freezes to death, yet in a final shot inside the hotel, the camera begins to zoom in on an old image dated 1921. We see Jack, in front of all his guests at a 4th July party. Stanley Kubrick is quoted to have confirmed the reincarnation theories that surround the movie. It is a final scene that questions the entirety of what came before it and has shaped how it is watched after.

 

This is brief over view and merely some of my favorites’. What do you think? Comment below.

Have a look at this other Raindance article on opening shots…

The 5 Best Opening Shots in Film

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About 

Sam is an English and Film undergraduate at the university of Reading. He currently works as an intern for the Raindance Film Festival. Before his current position Sam completed work experience with various independent film companies and 'Aardman Animation'.
His favourite film for the 10th year in a row is still Pulp Fiction.