10 steps to a great movie ending

by Allen Palmer on November 18, 2013

in Film analysis, Screenwriting tips, Story structure

Dead Poets Society Climax - Boys stand on their desks -

What are your favourite movie endings? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Dead Poets Society? Casablanca? On the basis of the clips I show in class, these seem to have an enduring and largely universal appeal.

Of the more recent films, my favourites would include Dead Man Walking, Brokeback Mountain, Lars and the Real Girl, and the German Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others. They all do it for me (and, in television, I’d give a special mention to the end of the Danish TV Series The Bridge Season 1 – which made me sob).

What’s going on in these great movies (and TV shows) that elevates their endings above the rest?

Over the next ten days, I am going to try to identify the things that tend to happen in the final reel of a truly Transcendent Story.

Great Endings #1: Hero Shouldn’t Get What They Wanted

Great Endings #2: Hero should get something more valuable

Great Endings #3: Hero should face difficult choice at climax

Great Endings #4: Hero can do in Act 3 what they couldn’t in Act 1

Great Endings #5: What sort of transformation moves us?

Great Endings #6: Two key moments that set up your ending

Great Endings #7: Want a massive high? First you’ll need a shattering low

Great Endings #8: What does your hero sacrifice?

Great Endings #9: Does your screenplay have a Bow and Arrow Moment?

Great Endings #10: The Ultimate Test

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