20 Movie Cliffhangers That Were Never Resolved (and Likely Never Will be)


Famous movie critic Roger Ebert always said cinema was a perfect empathy machine. The medium allows viewers to experience emotions and feelings through several kinds of situations that they otherwise couldn’t. Movies allow everyone and arouse absolutely all viewers to turn into their favorite heroes and overcome dramatic conflicts, unlike any other medium. Of course, they vary in how effective they are, but if you can connect with a film, then chances are that a filmmaker’s work is complete.




One dramatic resource that films have always had is the ability to leave viewers with absolute expectations. Sometimes, the scene is edited to jump from doubt to resolution in a microsecond when the victim is saved. But sometimes, the director doesn’t answer the question. The use of cliffhangers was first seen in serials shown in movie theaters before a feature presentation, and in those cases, you literally had to wait a whole week to see if the hero survived the fall or if someone saved them. When cliffhangers transitioned to cinema, the empathy was more… aggressive. The white-knuckle techniques were streamlined into genre cinema, and suddenly they were everywhere. Why? Because they were designed to bring viewers back.


Only sometimes coming back isn’t quite fruitful. It isn’t even possible, as films sometimes comply with the dramatic turn point of cliffhangers, and they are never solved. Empathy towards the audience? It seems nonexistent at this point, at least from a traditional point of view, as they’re left with more questions and the eternal concern of their hero’s well-being. Did they make it? We will never know.

The following is a compilation of such moments. The resolutions that were left open and never solved in the eyes of viewers who were left mouth-agape and tearful because they never knew and never will. These are the cliffhangers that were never resolved and most likely never will be.

The following list contains major spoilers.


20 28 Weeks Later (2007)


28 Weeks Later, the sequel to 28 Days Later, takes us to a Great Britain ravaged by the epidemic that has turned most of the population into maniacal zombies. Two siblings reunited with their father are now in the custody of the military, but they break protocol and actually leave the safe zone to look for their mother.

When they find her and scientists realize she may have the key to a cure, there’s a glimmer of hope. But all hell breaks loose when she attacks her husband. The kids are now on the run, and military personnel protect them as they could be genetically linked to their mother’s importance in finding a cure for the virus.

A Standalone Sequel with a Resolution Based on Anything but Hope

The third act in 28 Weeks Later is realistically based on chaos. Tammy and Andy, Don’s children and lead characters, are in the custody of Doyle, who helps them escape and even sacrifices himself so that they can live. Tammy and Andy are able to escape with Scarlet and use the subway system, but then Don, who has turned into a killing machine, attacks them. He kills Scarlet and bites his own son. Tammy kills whatever’s left of her father and helps Andy get into a chopper that will take them to freedom.


However, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo doesn’t end things there. The real ending takes viewers 28 days after their escape. The abandoned chopper shows no remains of the survivors, and we simply hear a radio. Seconds later, shaky cam footage shows the infected running towards the Eiffel Tower, which means that the epidemic has broken through all of Europe. Stream on Hulu.

19 Take Shelter (2011)

In Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, Curtis LaForche (played flawlessly by Michael Shannon) starts having apocalyptic nightmares. His visions are invasive and too frequent, and he starts seeking counsel for what he believes is a mental condition. His wife and his daughter witness the man’s decline, but ultimately fall under the idea that there may be something to his lunacy. Take Shelter is one of the best obscure thrillers you’ve probably never seen.


The Mind Is All too Powerful

In the film’s ending, the family heads over to Myrtle Beach for a well-deserved vacation. Curtis’ visions are only that and his apocalyptic delusions only exist in his mind. But when the couple’s daughter points out that a storm may be coming, Curtis and Samantha realize a tsunami is coming while oily rain falls on them. Samantha acknowledges Curtis may have been right after all, but Nichols is pretty clever and cuts to black before we find out if this exists in their minds as hysteria or is something real. Stream on Prime Video.


18 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

In the Western buddy adventure film from 1969, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two outlaws are on the run after a botched train robbery leaves them on their own without their usual gang. Now with a posse on their heels, they will have to find a way to escape through Wyoming in the late 1800s, but eventually, they decide South America will be their final destination. The problem is that such an adventure won’t be an easy one.

One of the Great American Films of the 1960s

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a great Western from 1969, led by two very compelling characters played by icons of their era. It was eventually turned into a franchise with a made-for-TV sequel and a TV show, but the original film ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved.


The duo is surrounded by Bolivia’s local police and military. When they decide they can’t stay and must continue if they want to live, they charge. They run out of the building and just when gunfire is raining on them, the director decides to end the film with a freeze-frame shot that never confirms if they actually made it. Only sound is heard, but not even this will help you guess. You can rent Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Prime Video.

Related: 20 Horror Movies With More Than One Ending

17 Thelma & Louise (1991)


Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise tells the story of two friends, Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer, who go on a road trip in order to escape their mundane and boring lives. But the trip takes them to a roadhouse bar, where an unfortunate event turns them into fugitives from the law. The friends become the target of FBI agents, who go on the run to capture them and get justice for the crime they committed.

It Was Inevitable

The third act in Thelma & Louise is a cat-and-mouse chase through a wasteland. Their crimes, murder and robbery, are now in the open, and everyone’s chasing them. When law enforcement finally catches them, they don’t leave their Ford Thunderbird convertible. They simply hold hands and decide not to surrender.

Close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, Thelma asks Louise to keep going; the car speeds and goes over the cliff, and the credits roll. While it’s pretty clear what happens to them, the lack of answers just works as a fair conclusion. Rent on Apple TV.


16 La Haine (1995)

The 1995 French film by Mathieu Kassovitz, La Haine (Hatred), is the story of three friends who try to make a living and survive in the suburbs of Paris. They’re very poor and live in a neighborhood dominated by immigrants, hatred for others, and violence. It’s a depiction of 24 hours in the lives of the survivors of a riot. The three leads are played by Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, and Saïd Taghmaoui in an early role in one of the most important foreign films of the ’90s.


Hatred Breeds Hatred

In the film’s climactic ending, Saïd and Vinz are found by the police, while Hubert goes to defend his friends. Before Hubert decides to act, a cop accidentally shoots Vinz in the head. Hubert points a gun at the officer’s head, and the officer points at Hubert, all while Saïd looks desperate beside the car.

A clock ticks, and a close-up shot focuses on Saïd while he speaks in voice-over. The screen fades to black, and a gunshot is heard, but it’s not confirmed who shot who or who actually lived to tell the tale. You can stream La Haine on The Criterion Channel.

15 Us (2019)

Us

Release Date
March 22, 2019

Main Genre
Horror

Runtime
116 Minutes

In Jordan Peele’s solid horror filmUs, the Wilsons have gone on a beach trip. They encounter their friends in their beach town and prepare for a fun weekend. The problem is that the family of four finds doppelgängers of themselves outside their rental that same night. They wear red jumpsuits and communicate in everything but a spoken language.


When the Wilsons fight back and escape, they realize they’re not the only ones suffering the attack, as everyone in the United States seems to have a double that has decided to emerge and take over violently.

The One We’ll Never Know, and it’s for the Best

The Wilsons have managed to defeat their doubles, especially Adelaide, who has fought against the Tethered’s leader, Red. While they’re in their car, Adelaide has a memory flashback while her son watches. She realizes that when she was kidnapped as a child, the real Adelaide was left underground, and her doppelgänger took over.

This means she has always been the intruder. Her son suspects her and looks at her with a severe lack of trust. The truck is shown on the road, while an aerial shot confirms that thousands of doppelgängers are holding hands all across America. We’ll never know if the Wilsons found out Adelaide’s true identity. Stream on Fubo TV.


14 Inception (2010)

inception

Inception

Release Date
July 15, 2010

Runtime
148

Christopher Nolan’s epic action sci-fi film, Inception, is an astonishing film about a band of high-tech bandits who use technology to commit other kinds of crimes. Using a machine that allows them to navigate the dreams of their victims, they plant ideas and extract whatever information they need. When they’re assigned a high-profile gig that will allow them to retire, the leader, Dom Cobb, will face demons from his past, and this makes the mission crumble.


A Dispute That’s Still Going on

The film’s conclusion is pretty clear. Cobb’s team has implanted the idea deep inside Fischer’s mind, and the objectives have been met. Now a free man, Cobb is able to reconnect with his daughters, whom he hugs and kisses in a very sweet encounter. But there’s doubt. Cobb takes out his totem (the device that confirms whether he’s dreaming or not) and spins it.

The camera closes in, and Nolan makes a very divisive decision. He cuts before the audience can see if it’s all a dream by Cobb. People are still discussing this, but Nolan has provided some insight, allowing you to draw your own conclusions. But is he being honest, or is it all a ploy? Stream on Hulu.


13 The Thing (1982)

In John Carpenter’s The Thing, a group of researchers in Antarctica face the improbable. A parasitic alien has the ability to imitate human and animal life forms, and bodies are dropping by the minute. The group decides to test themselves, and while they find out who may be disguising the monster, all hell breaks loose, and a pilot by the name of R.J. MacReady decides he’s on his own on his quest for survival.

Paranoia Is the Monster

In the film’s final scene, MacReady sits hopelessly in the snow, waiting for a miracle, as everyone in the group has perished. Then the mechanic, Childs, arrives and asks MacReady a bunch of questions, trying to solve the riddle. MacReady does the same. They could each be the Thing, and no one would know.


Childs drops the gun and sits beside MacReady; the flames trickle, and they surrender to the idea that they won’t make it. It’s too cold, and the fire will die out at some point. They decide to wait and see what happens. Childs has a drink, MacReady grins, and Carpenter rolls credits. Rent on Apple TV.

12 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

Release Date
April 2, 1968

Cast
Keir Dullea , Gary Lockwood , William Sylvester , Daniel Richter , Leonard Rossiter , Margaret Tyzack

Runtime
141


Stanley Kubrick’s massive sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of humankind dealing with superb intelligence that comes from every spectrum. Monoliths appear in weird places, and artificial intelligence has found a way to rebel against man. In the center, a naive astronaut tries his best to survive, but finds evolution has a different structure in this futuristic setting that’s much scarier than everyone thinks.

Ending it All With a Question Mark

Dr. David Bowman has managed to defeat HAL, the robot that has already killed his partner after finding out the astronauts were going to disconnect his capacity for running the mission. He leaves the ship in a pod in order to investigate another monolith, but he goes through what can only be defined as something resembling a black hole.

Dr. Bowman finds himself staring at various versions of himself in a room, and ultimately, he sees himself dying. When another monolith appears in the room and Dave tries to touch it, he’s turned into a “star baby” and ends up floating as a fetus above Earth. Yeah, not exactly a cliffhanger, but an unresolved enigma that we’ll never get answers to. Stream on Max.


Related: 20 Celebrated Movies that Roger Ebert Didn’t Particularly Love

11 The Italian Job (1969)

The 1969 car-chase comedyThe Italian Job tells the story of a thief by the name of Charlie Croker who plans a hit just as he’s released from prison. Forming a whole new gang, Croker decides to steal a big bundle of gold that is being transported through Turin, Italy. How will he do it? With a non-traditional scheme of accomplishing a traffic jam that will deviate all attention from him and allow them to complete the mission.


A Risky Way to End it All

The gang has escaped and is now celebrating. They are dumping the cars all around, getting rid of the evidence that will connect them to the hit. When the bus carrying them breaks through the barriers on the road and swerves over the cliff, they are left balancing. The gold is too heavy, and Croker slowly moves, realizing they will have to do something if they want to survive.

But the loot is too heavy. Croker looks back and tells them, “Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea.” Then the bus is shown over the cliff, and credits roll. You can stream The Italian Job on Kanopy.

10 The Prestige (2006)

Once again, Nolan confuses everyone with a cryptic ending. In The Prestige, two magicians live in confrontation after a horrific tragedy. Their tricks are based on ridiculing and harming each other. Robert Angier resorts to desperate measures in order to claim victory over Alfred Borden, and he decides Nikola Tesla is the right man for the job.


Tesla creates a machine that allows Tangier to have a doppelgänger of himself every night to murder in order to accomplish his famous act. But this won’t solve how Borden did his trick on the Transported Man Act.

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold

The ending shows Borden and Angier revealing how they did their tricks. Angier is wounded but is ultimately revealed to be a greedy monster who killed himself every night for money. Borden burns everything in Angier’s quarters, and Angier passes. Rows of tanks showing Angier’s corpses are lined up, and the camera focuses on one that has his eyes open. Could this mean any of Angier’s versions are still alive? Could he have foreseen this? Nolan will never tell. Stream on AppleTV+.

9 Dawn of the Dead (2004)


Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a remake of George A. Romero’s classic zombie sequel. In the film, a bunch of survivors gather in a shopping mall in order to plan their next step in surviving the zombie apocalypse. But the undead are approaching, as if someone deep inside their minds drove them to the malls. Ultimately, the ones who remain plan their escape to drive out the mall amidst hordes of flesh-eating ghouls that are faster than before.

Running Is Futile

After a very long and frantic third act, the surviving party arrives at a marina, where they plan to grab a boat and sail towards freedom. Ana, Chips, Nicole, and Terry board a yacht and drift away, leaving the corpse of Michael, who has been brave enough to shoot himself after realizing he was bitten. As the film’s credits roll, we find out the fate of those who arrived on an island.


A camcorder’s footage shows them fighting zombies and perishing. But do we know if any of them actually made it? You can stream Dawn of the Dead on Netflix.

8 Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

In the comedy action fantasy by John Carpenter, Big Trouble in Little China, Jack Burton is just trying to help his friend rescue his girlfriend. This takes them to the underbelly of Chinatown in San Francisco, where the street gang Lords of Death is operating. They’re serving Lo Pan, a wizard who needs to break an ancient spell by betrothing a woman with green eyes and sacrificing her. This is not another day on the job for Jack Burton and Wang Chi.


The One that Could Have Used a Sequel

The gang’s celebrating after having come out alive from Chinatown on the wildest adventure of their lives. Egg offers some words of wisdom to Burton and leaves. Margo offers Eddie company, and Wang and Miao Yin celebrate their reunion. Jack and Gracie don’t end up together. What else could happen?

An eerie score accompanies Jack as he rides the Pork-Chop Express and narrates a story to himself. When the camera pans to the back of the truck, we see the Wild-Man growling and getting up, meaning Jack’s journey is still not over. Stream on AMC+.

7 Monsters Inc. (2001)


The Disney-Pixar collaboration Monsters Inc. is a fascinating children’s film about two monsters trying to deal with a very serious issue. In the city of Monstropolis, which hides beneath your closet, the duo Sully and Mike Wazowski are partners in transforming children’s screams of terror into energy for the city. Sully is a very successful worker, but during a gig, a little girl sneaks in and breaks through. Sully and Mike realize Boo isn’t exactly a demon like children are painted out to be, and they must find a way to get her back to safety.

What Does Friendship Sound Like?

In the climactic ending, the company’s CEO, Henry J. Waternoose III, is revealed to be the bad guy, but Mike and Sully do their best to bring the truth to light while also getting Boo back to the human realm. The happy ending shows the monsters capitalizing on children’s laughter, which is excessively more powerful than fearful screams.


Sully connected with Boo. He misses her terribly, and Mike knows this. He builds Boo’s door from the remains and allows Sully to visit her. Right as he opens the door, we hear Boo’s sweet voice, and Sully smiles. Does this mean they stayed in touch? How would this have worked in the future? Why has no one made a sequel with this storyline? You can stream Monsters Inc. on Disney+.

6 Upgrade (2018)

upgrade

Upgrade

Release Date
June 1, 2018

Cast
Logan Marshall-Green , Rosco Campbell , Richard Cawthorne , Michael M. Foster , Betty Gabriel , Harrison Gilbertson

Runtime
96


Leigh Whannell’s sci-fi action film Upgrade is the story of Grey Trace, a man undergoing grief after four men attack him and his wife after a car crash. Asha was killed, and Grey has been paralyzed for life. Grey is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to have a chip implanted in his body that will perhaps help him move again. But as it turns out, the system implanted in his body starts communicating with him and allows him to move in superhuman ways. Guess who goes on a revenge rampage?

Cyberpunk Action at its Best

The film is a wild action ride with a creative visual landscape that will leave you wanting more. In its conclusion, Grey finally rebels against STEM, the system that took over his body at some point. Thinking it will be the only solution, Grey shoots himself, only to wake up in a hospital bed. He sees Asha beside him, who tells him he’s been comatose after the crash.

But in reality, this is Grey’s consciousness. It lives inside his mind somewhere. Grey is actually under STEM’s control, and the killing machine goes on the run to kill everything it comes upon, while Grey keeps drifting off in limbo. Stream on Max.


5 Enemy (2014)

Enemy

Release Date
February 6, 2014

Runtime
91 Minutes

Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is a cryptic film in itself, with striking but confusing visuals that won’t exactly help you when providing answers. The film is the story of Adam Bell, a college professor who finds out he may have a doppelgänger. When Bell goes deeper, Anthony, his double, responds by recognizing they’re exactly the same but have different personalities. Unfortunately, the two men don’t have limits when exploring each other’s lives, and Enemy becomes a wild ride with many questions and no answers.

If You Thought the Film Was Confusing, Wait Until the Ending

The film shows Anthony and Adam entering each other’s lives and living life like each other. Eventually, Anthony and Mary (Adam’s girlfriend) die in a freak car crash after Mary realizes she’s not sleeping with Adam.


Adam takes over Anthony’s life, and just as he tries to begin his new life with his new wife, Helen (Anthony’s wife), it turns out she’s actually turned into a huge spider that coils at the sight of him. No explanation whatsoever. You can stream Enemy on Kanopy.

Related: 20 Horror Films That Bent the Rules and Became Iconic Because of It

4 Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness

Release Date
September 22, 2022

Director
Ruben Östlund

Cast
Thobias Thorwid , Harris Dickinson , Charlbi Dean , Vicki Berlin , Woody Harrelson

Runtime
2hr 27min


The 2022 satirical black comedy Triangle of Sadness is a fascinating attack on bourgeois values as a celebrity couple goes on a luxury cruise and an accident occurs. It capsizes, and survivors get stranded on a remote island where there’s not a soul. The chances of getting rescued vanish, and the tale becomes a gruesome power struggle between those who know what to do and those who think they deserve more because of who they were back inland.

“Ironic” Is an Understatement

The film’s long third act puts survivors under the control of one of the ship’s employees. Abigail was a cleaning lady aboard, but on the island, she shows her survival skills and her capacity to lead. She also coerces Carl, Yaya’s boyfriend, to have sex with her in exchange for food and a better sleeping place.

The ending shows Yaya and Abigail going on a hike to investigate, and coming upon an elevator for a luxury resort. It turns out the island isn’t deserted. Yaya and Abigail sort of celebrate, but Abigail has other plans. She raises a stone to drop on Yaya’s head. Carl runs through the jungle. To save whom, exactly? We don’t know, as the story ends right there. Stream on Hulu.


3 The Wrestler (2008)

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is the story of wrestler Robin Ramzinski, also known as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Once, he was a very successful wrestler, but decades later, he hasn’t found a way to make a comeback. Age is a big factor, and he’s beyond deterioration. But he doesn’t let his dreams vanish. When he tries to reconnect with his daughter and attempts to find love again, Randy faces a crossroads that will maybe force him to drop the act and survive as a regular dude.


The Only Place is Where the Spotlight Points At

The Wrestler is a complicated ride of self-harm, pride, and love. All seen through the eyes of a man who doesn’t know how to be someone else, and who society perhaps imagined he could be. In the final match, Randy is seen stumbling. He can’t continue. But he tries it all the same. His opponent can’t convince him to end the match.

Randy attempts to do his signature move, something very dangerous. Cassidy, his newfound love is nowhere to be seen, and Randy decides to jump, following the crowd’s cheers. Aronofsky decides to end the film right there, during Randy’s leap of faith. Stream on Hulu.

2 Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)


Sean Durkin’s film about the power of cults, Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a groundbreaking character study about Martha, a young woman who has managed to escape the cult she was trapped in. Now living with her sister and her sister’s husband, Martha tries to reconnect with her former self, but it turns out she’s still linked to the principles of the abusive leader who kept her under his dominion for years.

A Terrifying Open Conclusion

The film consists of Martha’s inability to cope with modern society and its basics. Her sister tries to help her, but it’s fruitless. After a violent outburst, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen in her feature debut), Ted, and Lucy decide to do something about Martha, even if it involves institutionalizing her.

This happens as Martha takes a dive in the lake while a man watches her. When the three board the car and drive off, Martha takes a look back and sees another car following them. It’s a mystery what happens after, as Durkin leaves the viewer in suspense. Rent on AppleTV.


1 The Birds (1963)

The Brids

The Birds

Release Date
March 29, 1963

Cast
Rod Taylor , Tippi Hedren , Jessica Tandy , Suzanne Pleshette , Veronica Cartwright

Runtime
1hr 59min

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is a disaster film and creature feature that terrified audiences in 1963 and confirmed nature can strike back for no apparent reason. In the coastal town of Bodega Bay in California, Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels face a horrific threat that they never expected. The whole town has been infested with birds, but they’re not the usual doves that get scared away when people get close to them. These birds are out for blood, and what appears to be a manageable situation turns into a terrorizing life-or-death quest.


We Know For Sure Who Doesn’t Win

The ending of The Birds is one of the darkest in Hitchcock’s career. The third act puts survivors in a family home in a state of complete lockdown as millions of birds wait outside. Melania gets furiously attacked and is left catatonic. Mitch decides they all have to try to make it out of town. As they open the door to get in the car, birds are shown to stand outside the home.

Completely silent, they represent victims in defeat, calmly walking to the car. Without making any sudden movements, they drive off while the flock of birds observes and probably realizes they’ve won by defeating humankind. We’ll never know if they actually made it. Rent on Apple TV.

Let’s take a look at some TV series from the ’90s that ended on a cliffhanger:



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