It may or may not surprise those who haven’t seen the film that 2001: A Space Odyssey’s middle sequence is the only one that could be described as “traditional.” The beginning and the end of the film are both genre-bending feats of filmmaking, and the latter is especially powerful as an unexpected and profoundly compelling finale.
David Fincher is now respected as one of the leading voices in dramatic thrillers. However, back in 1995, Fincher was still getting started. Se7en, starring Brad Pitt as a young detective in search of a killer basing his crimes on the seven deadly sins, features an ending that practically cemented Fincher’s status as a force to be reckoned with for decades to come.
Francis Ford Coppola will always have the praise of countless critics for his bangers back in the 70s and 80s, specifically The Godfather series. The first film, released in 1972, has an ending so unexpected that it still resonates with viewers even after nearly five decades.
John Carpenter is one of a few kings of practical effects that remains from the 1980s—Joe Dante is another, Paul Verhoeven is a third. The Thing is one of the very best examples of how good Carpenter’s films hold up, punctuated by a truly killer ending.
When it comes to twist endings, The Usual Suspects might have the upper hand over all these five films (even though Se7en comes pretty close). It’s the type of truly jaw-dropping drama that’s hard to come by today.