My 15 Favourite Closing Shots in Film

The final shot of a film is important. It is the last thing we remember from a film, and I often find myself judging a film’s effectiveness based on how memorable their closing shots are. And I can recall quite a few great closing shots off the top of my head. So I wrote a shortlist and then decided to cut it down to fifteen. And here they are; my fifteen favourite closing shots.

15: North by Northwest (1959)

A gigantic middle finger to censorship, the famous train-going-into-a-tunnel shot that ends Hitchcock’s fantastic action movie is perhaps the most famous sexual metaphor in film history. Come on, who doesn’t smile every time they see it?

14: A Serious Man (2009)

The final shot of A Serious Man is just perfect. It symbolises all the pain and conflict the characters have experienced throughout the film, while also warning that the worst is yet to come. Epic.

13: The Piano Teacher (2001)

The last shot of Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher shows the side of a street as Isabelle Huppert exits a building and walks out of the frame. Then Haneke holds the shot a while longer, as he so often does, and if we study it closely we’ll see the gateway entrance to the building is lit so that it looks like a piano, with its white and black stripes. Haunting.

12: Vivre sa Vie (1962)

The final scene of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie is so desperately tragic and saddening that even the camera, in desperation after it has concluded, would rather look at the ground than the scene of the crime. Don’t watch if you haven’t seen the film.

11: The Fire Within (1963)

Like Vivre sa Vie, Louis Malle’s The Fire Within is a New Wave classic, and one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. Its conclusion, which I won’t spoil, leaves us with a shot of the hero Alain Leroy’s face, sad and desperately empty, an image which is overwhelming beyond words, and which for me is one of the most iconic images of the French New Wave.

10: Solaris (1972)

Anyone who has seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris will remember the stunning final shot, which adds yet another layer of deception to the film’s complex storyline. I still remember the chills that ran down my spine the first time I saw it. Don’t watch the clip if you haven’t seen the movie.

9: La Dolce Vita (1960)

The final shot of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, which is arguably one of the director’s most notable films and one of my favourites, is just beautiful. The film’s hero Marcello is on a beach and has caught a glimpse of a girl he once met and flirted with; he is then forced to make an aching decision: whether to go with her or remain in his world of alcohol and debauchery. The audience is heartbroken when he chooses the latter, fool that he is, but Fellini leaves us with a remarkable shot of the girl, looking longingly after Marcello, before turning briefly to look directly into the camera. This would be a strong contender for the most beautiful closing image in movie history.

8: Russian Ark (2002)

Before you jump to remind me that the entire movie is one shot so it technically can’t have a closing shot, I’ll clarify: with this film I am referring to the final image, though it is part of the entire 90 minute shot and not a separate shot. It is a majestic and wondrous conclusion that begins with a stunning pullback through hundreds of people in mere seconds and ends with a CGI image that gives new context to the film’s title. I love every second of this movie but the final minute or so really made it for me. Skip to two minutes into this clip to see the exact portion I’m referring to.

7: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Because it’s a 210-minute movie about a woman doing housework, Jeanne Dielman doesn’t get a lot of attention from mainstream audiences. A shame, really. This 1975 film from the then-25 year old Chantal Akerman is a staple of arthouse cinema and one of the most interesting, attention-grabbing, transfixing films ever to sound like the complete opposite. Delphine Seyrig gives a career-best performance as the titular character, and is fantastic for the entire duration of the amazing movie. Who could forget the film’s final scene, which concludes in the aftermath of a stunning, unexpected event. It simply shows Seyrig sitting at the dinner table. And sitting. And sitting. And sitting. And the knowledge of what she has done absolutely shakes the viewer to the core and makes this simple shot all the more amazing.

6: Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

I’m not giving this a spot here just because it’s my favourite movie. I’m giving this a spot here because it has one of my favourite closing shots, and that’s it. The five minute final take that concludes this groundbreaking film is such a simple but poignant scene. Uncle Gyorgy, still reeling from the tragedy that has swept his town, walks through the main square and makes eye contact with a dead whale. He regards it solemnly, before walking away – looking back once – and leaving us alone with the desolation of the dead town. Perhaps the best thing about this scene is the soundtrack; Mihaly Vig’s Old, one of the saddest pieces of music ever written, mourns the horror that has befallen the village, and continues epically into the credits after the film has taken its final breath.

5: Three Colours: Blue (1993)

Into the top five, and the final image of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue is up next. Like the previous entry on this list, the shot is scored to a wonderful piece of music, this time Zbigniew Preisner’s Song for the Unification of Europe [Julie’s Version], as the main character, played by a solemn and breathtaking Juliette Binoche, sits nude, looking emptily into the blue distance, her gaze constant and filled with stunning clarity.

4: Cachè (2005)

Perhaps one of the most talked-about final scenes in any movie, the conclusion of Michael Haneke’s Cachè provoked at Cannes more discussion and thought than anyone had anticipated. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? It won’t if you haven’t seen the entire film, but it’s definitely a scene you need to watch closely and see what you can see. The shot in question doesn’t begin until six minutes into this clip.

3: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

One of the most iconic images in horror cinema. Leatherface swinging his chainsaw in anger against the backdrop of the rising sun. How else do I describe it? Terrifying.

2: Andrei Rublev (1966)

The final image of Andrei Tarkovsky’s second film is an image which continues the theme of horses, which are often used as metaphors for the suffering of man, though never as strongly in the film as in this final image, which depicts four horses standing stranded on a small island in the middle of the rain, one of them tied to the dirt. Every time I see it I feel like breaking down; it’s just amazing.

1: The 400 Blows (1959)

I’ve talked a lot about images being iconic, but this time I’m serious. The final image of The 400 Blows is what defined the French New Wave and in extension, French cinema in general. Antoine Doinel staring despairingly into the camera after running out of room to run is simply devastating. For once, we actually feel the pain and sadness of a film character, and we feel it deep.

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Posted on July 13, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. That final image from the 400 Blows is perfect.

  2. Nice list! I love that you included The 400 Blows, Three Colours: Blue, A Serious Man, North By Northwest and Vivre Sa Vie. My favourites are probably Shame, Take Shelter, Inception, Gone with the Wind, Midnight in Paris, The Social Network…I think I might have to make my own list!

  3. I did the same list last year. Compared to yours it feels kind of… lightweight. Anyway: here’s a shameless plug for it. It’s always fun to compare your lists, isn’t it?

    http://thevelvetcafe.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/15-ways-to-leave-a-movie/

  4. Great list of unforgettable moments, I did a post like this ages ago. Totally agree that the last shot is pivotal

  5. Great to see 400 Blows and Texas Chainsaw in there. I’d have to have Fight Club in there too.

  6. I completely agree with the inclusion of The Piano Teacher, North by Northwest and La Dolce Vita, especially La Dolce Vita. I like that you included The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; though I’m not a fan of horror, I agree that the final shot of this film is absolutely beautiful. I have yet to see the other 11 films on the list (yikes!)

    Were it my own list, I would have included the closing shots of Sunset Boulevard, Amelie, 8 1/2, Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, and most of all Mulholland Drive. That final “silencio” scene in Mulholland still gives me chills.

    • I love all the films you mentioned, and the final shot of Mulholland Drive was damn close to making this list, as was 8 1/2, incidentally.

  7. Tyler, great topic. I would have thought you’d picked Red instead of Blue. I know I would have. That would be number one for me. It gave me goosebumps.

    I’d have to add The Shining (The photo), Underground (The electric wheelchair circling on fire), No Mans Land (The pullaway shot of the bunker), The Shawshank Redemption (The reunion on the beach), Take Shelter (spoiler), Aguirre, The Wrath of God (The spider monkeys), Mysterious Skin (The pullaway shot of the couch), The Long Good Friday (Harold Shand in the back seat of the car), A Midnight Clear (The push in on Will Knott’s face), 2001: A Space Odyssey (The starchild), Hard Core Logo (Joe Dick on the sidewalk), The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (The coffin floating on the lake), The Thin Blue Line (The shot of the tape recorder), The Thin Red Line (The shot of nature in all it’s stillness) and Koyaanisqatsi (The rocket falling to earth).

    What do you think the final scene of Cachè meant? You should do a topic on the most cryptic endings sometime. 2001, Cache, Lost Highway, Inception, etc.

    • I had to toss a coin between Blue and Red and decided it’s better to not to include them both on the list. I do love the final scene of Red, however.

      Great suggestions. The ones I’ve seen of the ones you mentioned are really good, and I did have The Shining, Aguirre, 2001 and Koyaanisqatsi all on my original shortlist.

      As for the ending of Cachè… ahh, so enigmatic. I’ll definitely think about doing a post on enigmatic endings.

  8. I found myself thinking of the closing shots of Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top and Michael Mann’s Collateral when I saw this post. Not sure if you agree though.

  9. Great list. The Third Man would be my choice. Brokeback Mountain has a classic shot too.

    • I love both of those. Seriously, you have no idea how close The Third Man was to making this list. I fucking love that final shot.

  10. Haven’t seen all of these, but I love the ones I have. Of the top of my head, I would add In Bruges, Naked, Vertigo, and Eyes Wide Shut.

  11. Wow… some of these are in my favorite closing shots of all-time. I also cite the closing shot of Lost in Translation as my favorite where the camera pans away from the city lights to the highway up ahead knowing that Bill Murray’s about to leave Tokyo to go back home. It’s just a beautiful moment for me personally. Another favorite is the closing shot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    • That’s a great shot in Lost of Translation, though on the subject of Coppola, I think Somewhere is a much better film. But I understand Lost in Translation is a very personal film for many people.

  12. Great choices especially The Piano TEacher and Cache – the latter ending scene is simply brilliant.

    • It is, isn’t it? I was one of those people who didn’t see the big twist in that final shot until the second time I watched the movie.

  13. I almost forgot to include my FAVORITE movie ending of all times: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The movie itself is highly polarizing, but that ending with Laura finally finding solace and crying is so heart-wrenching. Angelo Badalamenti weaved a beautiful soundtrack throughout the shot. David Lynch has a way to create some truly happy endings for his films though never in the conventional sense of the word (i.e. Inland Empire), which makes them so much more rewarding and in accordance with the rest of the film’s themes.

    • What a fantastic choice. I love that movie, and I think the final scene is amazing. Definitely an example of a stunning closing shot.

  14. Great idea,I thought of using it on my blog before but I was so afraid of the spoiler nature in it.I’m surprised you did not include the close shots of Landscape in the Mist,Through the Olive Trees and The Leopard since you just watched them.

    • Those films all have stunning closing shots but when you’re cutting a list down to 15 you have to be tough. Still, I do love those three.

  15. Christian Hallbeck

    I too have the closing shot from “La Dolce Vita” among my favourits. To me it’s not a hopeful ending (even though, as you pointed out, it’s one of the most beautiful closing shots in movie history), because we all know that one day the girl will cross that shallow water and unite with the decadent life of Marcello. We don’t know if she will find that life attractive or repulsive, if she will stay in it or leave it, but we know from her prayer and longing gaze that her mind is set on that life and that she will explore it when ever she gets the chance. Marcello recognizes the innocence and purity of life that she embodies, and pretends not to understand her, ashamed of the life he lives; a life she asks him to take her to. He turns his back to her, trying to save her that way, but knows that she will follow him one day. Fellini knows it too. But having her look straight at us during the last seconds of the film, he’s transmitting her to our own reality; asking us if we would want our own daughters to unite with Marcellos world of decay. Because “La Dolce Vita” is a reflection of the world we live in and have created ourselves.

    To fully understand this scene, you especially must have seen the previous scene, inside the house, where Marcello in a rage of moral decay humiliates an intoxicated woman by sitting on her back and spanking her with a pillow…

    But a very good choice, Tyler!

    • I haven’t seen La Dolce Vita in more than a year but much of it has stayed with me. You’ve provided an interesting and thorough breakdown of the scene and you’ve definitely inspired me to watch the entire film again.

  16. Great idea for a list, Tyler. I have only seen a few of these, but I am happy that The 400 Blows and North by Northwest both made it. My personal favorite closing shot is in The Third Man, which just blew me away the first time I saw it.

  17. Great list and topic idea. I love Blue, but have not seen it for a while. I’ll have to revisit. The shot that instantly popped in my head when I heard your topic is the closing of Raiders..

  18. You mad genius you, this is fucking brilliant. Shit man, seriously in love with these choices. Couldn’t agree more with Piano Teacher and Vivre sa Vie, and, well, everything here.

    Blue – Oh god, just kills me. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a perfectly inspired choice as well. Great work here Tyler.

  19. i’ve been following your blog for some time now — in short, it’s honestly one of my favorites, considering our very similar eclectic tastes –, and of course i’m well aware of your passion for paul thomas anderson’s ‘magnolia’, a deep and abiding appreciation i share. so you could imagine my surprise at the realization you did not include it’s lovely, aching, and hopeful final shot: a multi-faceted spectrum of emotions washing over melora walters’ face as an off-screen john c. reilly, barely audible to the audience, confesses the purity of his love for her, while aimee mann’s melancholic ‘save me’ croons on the soundtrack, climaxing with the first and only smile this poor fractured shell-of-a-woman has given in the preceding three hour masterpiece. she looks directly at and into us, and i can’t help but to smile with her every time i see the film, realizing with her that good people are in the world, and every new day is another chance. a hauntingly exquisite moment in the history of cinema. you should consider an addendum to your list 🙂 cheers

    • That’s a wonderful scene, I agree. I admire Anderson for focusing the camera solely on Walters instead of cutting between her and Reilly.

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