See What Happens: The 5 Greatest Horror Movie Endings

Nowadays horror movies tend to struggle when it comes to granting audiences a satisfying conclusion. Afraid that movie-goers will leave the theatre disappointed if they’re not shocked or surprised up until the very last moment, modern horror flicks tend to force the same ending upon audiences over and over again. You know how it goes: after the terrifying events that took up two hours of your time, the characters have seemingly made it out alive. Oh, wait. Just seconds before the credits roll, the monster or ghost or threat or whatever was plaguing them is back, presumably putting them through the paces all over again or just killing them off for lack of a better idea.

It’s tired, it’s dull, and it compromises the movie that came before it. Why did we watch these characters struggling if they’re just doomed anyway? Sometimes it works, sure, but mostly it’s just a lazy way to tie up a story – audiences think they’re shocked and amused by these sudden moments, but it ultimately just reduces the impact of the film. Especially if said character isn’t given a chance to even react and is cut off by the end credits and an extremely loud heavy metal song.

A truly great horror movie should take time with its ending and consider it as the most important part of the movie – and many horror movies have, of course. Here we’ve assembled 5 horror movies with absolutely brilliant endings, none of which employ that godawful “here we go again” mentality. Some of these endings are brutal, others are actually amusing, and a couple are just plain weird. However they end, these flicks prove that you can give your audience an ending that will stick with them… one that doesn’t just reduce its characters to nothing, but leaves you with something to think about.

Note: Though it probably goes without saying, major spoilers within for all the movies featured.

Comments (101)

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  1. Jedgentrysays:

    An American Werewolf in London should definitely have been on this list.

  2. The Mist! Another Stephen King, with an ending I didn’t see coming, but was really fantastic.

    1. rubbish film, great ending tho

      1. Inga Turnersays:

        Horrible ending! I read the book and loved it, watched the movie, yelled at the tv (something I don’t normally do) and threw the dvd in the trash. The ending in the movie was trite, all shock value, and horrid. The book’s ending was perfect; a little ambiguous but offering eight letters of hope for a little boy whispered into his sleeping ear by his father: Hartford. I would MUCH rather have a story that ended like that than how that trash movie ended.

      2. Barrysays:

        Agreed….I remember the line in the book, but for the life of me, could never figure out what he said to his kid. But the book ending was fantastic, because you never actually know how far they got..but the movie ending was garbage.

    2. Glen3says:

      Seriously? The ending was forced and retarded. So they run out of gas and don’t even wait it out for a few hours? Totally unbelievable.

      1. Remy Carreirosays:

        Even King says the movie ending was better than his book, and he wish he thought of it, so really, your argument is null.

    3. coukiesays:

      Didn’t we already talked about that? 🙂

  3. Sludgesays:

    The endings of Alien and Poltergiest are just the endings you were whining about in the opening article. Just when you think everything has settled down, BOO!, here we go again. So, I don’t know what your point is on selecting those two.
    Pretty dumb list. Besides, Exorcist should be there, great ending with redemption, faith and all that cerebral stuff.

    1. Callumsays:

      No they’re not? What do you mean? None of those endings send the characters back into the fray. Poltergeist ends with a joke and the evil vanquished. Alien ends with the monster defeated and Ripley going into sleep. What do you mean?

    2. No They're Notsays:

      What are you, stupid?

    3. Kaitainsays:

      I think you’re getting confused. What you’re talking about here is a ‘fourth act’, a final reel that involves an unexpected, protracted extra fight. The article is talking about a shock final moment where e.g. the protagonist is suddenly killed by the returned antagonist leaping out of the shadows unexpectedly, followed by a crash cut to the credits.

  4. StyrofoamTumorsays:

    I think the original Paranormal Activity deserves a mention. Sure we new what was going to happen, but it was still quite unsettling.

  5. Augumansays:

    Invasion of the body snatchers, the one with Donald Sutherland, great ending!

    1. Loyal_Determined_Oppositionsays:

      I saw that in the late 70s and still get a chill when I see Sutherland in a movie. I’m just certain he’s going to lean his head back and point his arms out at me. Bad dreams for weeks.

  6. coukiesays:

    “The Thing definitely”! and I think “The Descent” which was pretty disturbing.

    1. Kaitainsays:

      Which ending to The Descent, though? The North American one, or the original European one?

      1. coukiesays:

        The horrible one:

        SPOILER

        She gets out, gets into the car, gets away and then she wakes up in the cave again because she was obviously dreaming the whole thing. Horrible ending and of course great one 😉

    2. Kaitainsays:

      I think this re-edit of The Thing manages to improve on the ending. But then, I’m biased…

      http://tinyurl.com/2wynk7s

    3. Olinsersays:

      The author kind of misses a lot of the ending in “The Thing”.

      He asks, “but how will these men ever learn to trust each other after everything that’s happened?”

      Uh… they won’t. Because they’ll be dead. They are in a literal frozen wasteland, with no transportation, no supplies, and now no protection from the elements. They are literally going to sit there and freeze to death in a few hours.

      THAT is the greatness of the ending. They’ll both be dead… but is one of them actually The Thing? Will it just freeze for a few more centuries until somebody finds it under the ice again?

      1. Inga Turnersays:

        Exactly.

        Childs: “Temperature’s up all over the camp. Won’t last long though. How will we surivive?”

        MacReady: “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

        They don’t survive, that’s part of the poignancy of the ending. The lingering horror is that one of them *might* survive… as the Thing. The great part is we’ll never know.

  7. I would say that the original Saw film should have been on the list no one saw that ending coming. And it was quite satisfying.

    1. Diviavampsays:

      I immediately thought of Saw as well. Till this day, I think it has the best “most unexpected” ending EVER. I was left thinking what the hell!!

    2. Inga Turnersays:

      This wasn’t necessarily about surprise endings though, it was about satisfying endings, even more about the rare ending that can give both shocking and satisfying, even adding in emotionally touching, lingering, and haunting. That’s why they said the five ‘greatest’ endings of all time. It’s about magnitude as well as just ‘better than good’.

    3. Lucinda Blacklettersays:

      Those movies were just terrible and milked for everything they could just sh*t together in them, BUT i absolutely have to agree with you that the ending to the first one was fantastic.

  8. Augustus7669says:

    One of my favorite horror movie endings ever has to be The Howling.

    1. Keetsays:

      Good one..

  9. rabbitwithfangssays:

    The Vanishing…

  10. tobysays:

    The Exorcist?!?

  11. How, how is The Mist not on this list?

    1. ‘Cause it sucked

      1. coukiesays:

        No it didn’t! you can think whatever you want about the movie but the ending is very very good…

      2. verclearsays:

        When Stephen King was talking to Frank Darabont about how he (Darabont)
        planned to end the movie, Darabont said that he changed it and explained
        it to King. King’s response: “I wish “I” had written that ending”. The
        ultimate compliment. All the “cause it sucked” people need to wake up. It was a realistic and brilliant ending.

  12. w h o k n o w ssays:

    The Thing is definitely the best… although it could have been a better movie I liked Final Destination’s ending a lot

  13. Mugwompsays:

    No “Scanners”?

  14. with the wickerman, there is no way people could keep disappearing and no one would come along and figure out why. the giant pile of fucking ash with bones it is would be a dead giveaway.

  15. troysays:

    Wrong Turn 4…escape on snowmobile scene. Check it out.

  16. andysays:

    Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. It has one of the most shocking ending’s I’ve ever seen.

  17. Beulahsays:

    I totally agree with putting the ending to The Thing in the #1 spot, but An American Werewolf in London should have made this list over one of the other movies.

    1. Inga Turnersays:

      How? Watching it, it came as really no surprise at all that he was shot to death by the police. This was an ending you saw coming, and it wasn’t anything that epic. It was poignant, yes, but that’s it.

  18. It means Jack’s been claimed by the ghosts of the hotel. That’s it.

    1. D2Kvirussays:

      I’d say there’s a little more to it than that – after all, Grady says Jack’s “always been the caretaker” which implies the darkness in him was always there, and whatever it is in The Overlook knew all about it.

  19. skunkybeaumontsays:

    I always believed the ending of The Shining simply meant that Jack Torrance had been incorporated into the evil of the Overlook Hotel. If the evil exists outside of ‘time’ as we know it then it makes sense that ‘Jack’ would transcend time as well. Although it attacked all three family members, Jack was the only one it fully claimed (since he died) and he was either destined or doomed to be at the hotel for all of eternity. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

  20. Kaitainsays:

    “Ridley Scott could’ve easily gone for an ending where it’s revealed that there are more eggs on board (ala Aliens)”

    That is absolutely not true. There are no more eggs on board in Aliens. Alien3 *asserts* that there are more eggs on board, but this is essentially a retcon. It makes absolutely no sense, as the queen has long since detached herself from her egg sac, and would have had no time to secrete any eggs in the locations shown at the start of Alien 3. Alien 3 basically lies, to get a new story moving.

    1. squareWavesays:

      My personal “Alien” canon ends right there. Alien 3 and everything after was craptastic. Lots of people defend Alien 3, but to me its attempt at doubling down on the nihilism and bleakness of that universe (e.g. by killing off two of the survivors from Aliens at the very outset) just came across as hamfisted and pretentious.

      That series could have gone in so many much cooler directions at that point.

    2. Private Hudsonsays:

      Well, what about the sound of an opening egg at the end of the credits for Aliens? Even though I disavow any knowledge of any sequels after Aliens, that sound alone is enough to suggest that at least one egg was on the Sulacco.

      1. Lucinda Blacklettersays:

        The coolest thing i ever saw in regards to Alien 3 was it was up for some award on MTV and when announcing it as a nominee, a clip was shown of the scene when they are running thru the corridors trying to get the aliens to chase them. It was set to the song Wish by Nine Inch Nails and it was absolutely amazing. I would love to find it somewhere.

  21. TimOsays:

    Now go watch John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” (1966) with Rock Hudson. Middle-aged man gets a new, younger life then in the end finds out how they get replacement bodies. Final scene is a chiller….

  22. Hypnotoadsays:

    You did not know eggs were on the ship until Alien 3. The queen snuck aboard

  23. Hello? What about Carrie? Night of the Living Dead (original)?

  24. Mikesays:

    Cabin in the Woods had the best ending. Not only did it achieve it’s goal to make fun of horror films of the last 20+ years, it did so while still managing to have a great ending.

  25. Robert Nevillesays:

    I never thought it’s ending was THAT good…but overall, The Thing is a very solid sci-fi/horror flick.

    John Carpenter was the man back in the day.

    …and Morricone’s score is insanely perfect for the movie.

  26. Mespelbrunnsays:

    Return of the Living Dead. Best horror movie ending ever. This is a movie where the stupidity of all the living characters is their greatest enemy, rather than the undead. In desperation, they finally reach out to be saved by the secret military group who supposedly knows just what to do (by calling the 1-800 number stenciled on the side of the oil drum that contained the first zombie they let loose that started the whole thing), only to have them drop a nuke on the town. This blows the zombie toxins into the atmosphere, and infects an area many times larger. The End.

  27. Snowysays:

    Don’t forget that as the end music plays, we see the screen of the rejected TV briefly, faintly, flicker to life, then fade away again.

  28. Chrissays:

    Evil Dead 2, anybody?

  29. Really surprised no one’s brought up The Sixth Sense yet. That one should’ve been on the list for sure.

  30. Gavinsays:

    Halloween (1978) in my opinion has the best ending.

    1. Goku50ksays:

      Agreed

    2. Lucinda Blacklettersays:

      ABSOLUTELY.

  31. Anonsays:

    Mouth of Madness ends with a terrific scene at a movie theatre. IMO best horror movie ending ever.

    1. Dean Transiencesays:

      I agree 🙂

  32. Earychsays:

    To me, Jeepers Creepers has one of the best endings. It was daring and really broke the mold when it came to thrillers. Threw me for a loop considering how jaded I am when it comes to horror.

  33. Thad Malleysays:

    I dunno…the ending of “The Strangers” made me jump a country mile!

    1. Lucinda Blacklettersays:

      exactly how far is a country mile?

  34. Ric Kaplansays:

    what about Soylent green, best ending to a movie ever!!!

  35. Mitchell DeVilliersays:

    Best horror movie ending ever: The Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman 1978. Donald Sutherland’s pig scream at the end alerting the “snatchers” of a human in their midst.

  36. tonysays:

    leaving out The Exorcist is insane. Aliens was by far the best of the franchise. Classics like Night of the Living Dead are better than most of those you named and Body Snatchers belongs somewhere in there. Given the time I could name another fifty good horror movie endings and I certainly agree with everything you said and have said it so many times that the writers, directors etc usually take the easy way out on the endings, You should publish a top twenty or more of this genre

  37. Luv Harpersays:

    I just love the ending of “The Thing”. We never know which one of the guys was infected,or if the thing had died. It was a amazing ending to an awesome film.

    1. aprince66says:

      But we do know. Spoiler of sorts….

      Carpenter revealed at the end, you can see McReady’s breath. Not so much with Childs.

      1. solraksays:

        So why did they go to all the trouble of testing each others blood to find out who The Thing was?

      2. WILLIAMDWYERsays:

        The Thing video game, endorsed by Carpenter, clues you in as to who was the Thing.

  38. Carnifexsays:

    lol

  39. Iam_Spartacussays:

    Originally in Alien, Dan O’ Bannon wrote an ending where the creature does kill off Ripley in the shuttle. Then it shows the creature operating the controls and sending out a message in her voice. Scott thought it was too farfetched and not to mention a real downer.

  40. pauljsays:

    A comedian (I think it was a comic but memory fails) commented on The Thing and made a suprisingly good point.

    MacReady has icy breath, he exhales and it comes out white (condensation or something or other). But Childs does not, his breath is invisible!

    Ofc it could easily be an FX failure or something to do with the lighting, then again Childs was suspiciously absent during a crucial sequence of events!

    In fact having just checked it out on youtube one commentator states that Carpenter himself said that “one of them is breathing, the other isn’t”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA4Ozqt7338

    1. WILLIAMDWYERsays:

      The Thing video game, endorsed by Carpenter to be the canonical sequel to the film, clues you in as to who was the Thing.

    2. Petesays:

      1:26-1:30 I can see his breath

  41. Remy Carreirosays:

    I would have to add the wonderfully ambiguous Martyrs.

  42. Kevin Gradinsays:

    Didn’t Carpenter score The Thing? I’m almost certain he did.

    1. Iam_Spartacussays:

      No, that was Ennio Morricone. You’d think it was Carpenter being how minimalist the music is like he usually does so I can understand why people would think that. I guess John decided to take a break from those duties.

  43. iammattelamsays:

    I think SAW should be on here

  44. tedh754says:

    Ripley “trapped in a room?” It was the shuttle! Who vets these lists?

  45. Kwacksays:

    Is there a reason that all of the “best” ones are from the late 70’s to early 80’s?

  46. DKendraFransays:

    The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (based on the book “Harvest Home” by Thomas Tryon). Bette Davis is outstanding as Widow Fortune.

  47. Jackie Jormpjompsays:

    Actually the Indian burial/cult leader thing, I’m pretty sure, didn’t show up until the second movie. In the first film it was a cemetery where they only moved the headstones.

    1. Inga Turnersays:

      You’re right, the details weren’t added until the second movie. Which personally I think was a little overkill. In the first it was built over a cemetery where only the headstones were moved. In the second, they added an Native American burial ground presumably under the cemetery, and also this cave that this cult leader and his followers sealed themselves into (before or after the N.A. burial ground?). As in a lot of cases, they shouldn’t have tried to cash in on the success of the first one by making sequels. They didn’t work.

  48. its rj not jr

  49. Simon Nicollsays:

    The thing 2013 is a prequel to the thing, the game on the ps1 also named The Thing cannonically dealt with what happened to them after they stopped to rest in the snow after killing the larger thing at the end.

  50. mike mcguiresays:

    how about the sixth sense!! who knew he was dead??

  51. cwwjsays:

    The Haunting, with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn. The greatest ghost story ever filmed, and a shocking ending that sees Julie Harris, the one whom the haunted house wanted, killed by the ghosts as she is trying to escape. Harris realizes at last that she belongs to the house forever.

  52. ChampMirasays:

    It is difficult to choose as the acceptable is forever changing in what movies can show. Carrie was at the time of release probably the best ending of a horror movie, yet I remember the ending of Bonnie and Clyde, and the shocked silence as the audience left the theater. not a horror

  53. ascharksays:

    I saw Carrie at the drive-in the Seventies. When that arm came out of the grave at the end, yeah, we both jumped. It couldn’t have been the illegal substance that we smoked, because years later I saw it straight, knew it was coming, and still jumped.

  54. Ryan Collinssays:

    Original “Halloween.” The “Shape’s body has disapeared and you can here him breathe but you can’t see him. Awesome!

  55. suprd1982says:

    1979…When a Stranger Calls. Granted, a movie of intense bookends, but WHAT BOOKENDS!

  56. Graham Ian Mann Gogssays:

    How will these men trust each other again? well they’ve got a couple of hours to work things out before they freeze to death so i don’t suppose it matters really.

  57. Shavalesays:

    The Thing’s ending made perfect sense. Watch that ending again… notice how you can only see the breath from one of them. I think that it’s pretty clear.

  58. Billsays:

    With The Thing.. they’re both sitting out in the freezing cold having a last smoke… or is it? You can only see one man’s breath. One isn’t breathing.

  59. Warren Zeigler Sr.says:

    The famous John Campbel wrote the story. Why no credit or mention of the story’s ending?

  60. dav dansays:

    I love the Wicker Man and while it is bleak, it is kind of funny – like one big evil practical joke. What really drives it home, in my opinion, is how self assured he is of his moral high ground only to see it all come crashing down. I actually have the DVD and no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I almost always forget The Wicker Man is a musical until I start watching it. The Shining is one of my ultimate horror films for sure. I still think, though, that the best ending in a horror film has to go to Don’t Look Now.

  61. Kaitainsays:

    I never would have agreed with you about ‘Aliens’ 20 years ago. These days, while I am not as harsh on it as you are, I don’t view it as being a patch on Alien. It feels like an upmarket TV movie with some good one-liners. I admire it as an IP-building franchise movie, but it is not a masterpiece of cinema or a work of true art like ‘Alien’. A 7/10 film; Alien gets a rare 10 from me.

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