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Top Five Movie Cliffhangers

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers

To Be Continued?!?

Endings. They are easily one of the hardest things to nail in a story. Trying to wrap up all the major plotlines on a satisfying note is a challenge every writer has to face, especially in movies. One way writers have found a way to end a story is through a cliffhanger, an ending where the story is unresolved with the conclusion expected to happen in the next installment. Many film studios will use cliffhanger endings to build hype for the next movie they have planned. With all that in mind, here are the top five best movie cliffhangers. Major Spoilers Ahead! 

5. “Back From The Future” From Back To The Future Part II (1989) 

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers
Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back To The Future Part II” | Amblin Entertainment

At the end of Back To The Future Part II, Doc Brown (Christopher Llyod) is suddenly struck by lightning while in the DeLorean, thus vanishing in the air. Before assuming the worst, Marty (Michael J. Fox) receives a letter from the Doc that was written in 1885. Marty then realizes to get back home, and subsequently rescue Doc, he must find the 1955 version of Doc Brown. Just the 1955 Doc sends Marty from the first film back to 1985, Part II Marty catches up and tells him he is back from the future before Doc collapses. 

One thing that makes this ending work is how much it sets up the next movie. Present Doc Brown gets sent back to 1885, Marty is seemingly stuck in 1955, and 1955 Doc now has to help Marty once again get back to the future. What makes this even better is the film even has a trailer for Part III, something films hadn’t really done before. Nowadays, this kind of thing is done a lot more, particularly in comic book movies with some instead showing just a scene from the next movie. Another great thing about it is how much this raises the stakes. Not only does Marty have to find a way to get back home again, but he has to find a way to rescue Doc as well. It all makes for a satisfying setup to an exciting finale.

Back To The Future Part II can be rented or purchased on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, and Apple TV. 

4. “John Is On The Run” From John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) 

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers
Keanu Reeves as John Wick in “John Wick: Chapter 2” | Summit Entertainment

The second chapter of the John Wick franchise concludes with the aforementioned John Wick (Keanu Reeves), after completing a mission, killing his employer, Satino, (Riccardo Scammarcio) in the Continental Lounge. Because Wick broke the rules of killing someone on Continental grounds, the head of New York Continental, Winston Scott (Ian McShane), has to expel him from the organization by declaring him as “excommunicado,” which means every assassin in the organization is now tasked with killing John. However, Winston gives John one hour before he activates it, leading to John going on the run. 

Something that makes this ending great is how it doesn’t end on a happy note. John doesn’t kill the bad guys with no consequences. He breaks a rule and accepts what is going to happen next, even if he may not like it. It is a good contrast to a lot of films, especially action films, where after the villain is defeated, everything is fine. Here, that isn’t the case. Also, having John being hunted by every assassin who works for the organization is a fantastic way to end the film while still leaving more room to explore. It is the literal definition of “man vs. the world” and it is awesome to see here. Then there is also the fact that Winston strips John of using any of the Continental resources, so John is completely on his own and audiences are left to wonder what is going to happen to him next. The uncertainty of his fate adds to the anticipation of the next chapter. 

John Wick: Chapter 2 can be streamed on Netflix.

3. “Wrong Universe” From Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023) 

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers
Shameik Moore as Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” | Sony Pictures Animation

After escaping the Spider Society, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) seemingly returns home and reunites with his mom, Rio Morales (Lauren Vélez). But when Miles tries to tell her he is Spider-Man, she has no idea what he is talking about. Miles soon realizes he is in the wrong universe. This is further evident when he finds out his father is dead, his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is alive, and this universe has its own Miles Morales (Jharrel Jerome), who goes by The Prowler. Miles is then captured and in another universe, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is mounting a rescue for Miles with a group of Spider-People, including Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). 

When this film came out, some audiences didn’t like the cliffhanger ending as it left the film inconclusive. The thing is, that is what a cliffhanger is supposed to do. But at the same time, some audiences probably don’t want to have the story stop in the middle, which is fair. As for the cliffhanger itself, it’s amazing. Like with Back To The Future Part II, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Miles is stuck in another universe with no apparent way of getting back home and even if he tried, he still has to find a way to escape from the other Miles and his Uncle. Of course, Gwen and her Spidey Squad could come to the rescue, but who knows? As of now, the third film, Beyond The Spider-Verse, hasn’t come out yet, so it is unclear as to what will happen next. Either way, the hype for the next movie is there, so the cliffhanger did its job.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse can be found on Netflix. 

2. “Thanos Wins” From Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers
Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Paul Bettany as The Vision, and Chris Evans as Captain America in “Avengers: Infinity War” | Marvel Studios

Despite the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Guardians of the Galaxy’s best efforts, Thanos (Josh Brolin) gets ahold of all six Infinity Stones and uses them. After Thanos retreats, some of the heroes on Earth start turning into dust. Soon after, some of the characters on Titan also begin to fade into nothing, including Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who, despite trying to fight it, eventually succumbs to his demise. All those who remained are left both confused and distraught. Thanos is then seen on a faraway planet, staring off into the sunset while smiling. 

This ending left many Marvel fans in shock. It was the first time in the MCU that the heroes actually lost. Even when they were at their lowest points, such as in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) where Thor loses both his world and his father, or Captain America: Civil War (2016) where the Avengers essentially disband, there is still some sense of optimism in those films and that is not in Infinity War. The villains win and the heroes are left wondering what to do next, while also reeling over what just happened. This is one of the best examples of how cliffhangers build hype for the next film. The anticipation for the next film, Endgame (2019), was unreal and led to that film temporarily becoming the highest-grossing movie, according to Variety, before Avatar (2009) took the spot back. Still, this cliffhanger was something else.

Avengers: Infinity War can be streamed on Disney+.  

1. “A Literal Cliffhanger” From The Italian Job (1969) 

Top Five Movie Cliffhangers
“The Italian Job” | Oakhurst Productions

After finishing a heist, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) and his team get away with a bunch of gold in a getaway bus. Eventually, the driver loses control of the bus, which leads to the vehicle on the edge of a cliff. The crew is on one side of the bus and the gold is on the other. Charlie then tries to carefully move over to the gold before saying, “I got an idea.” 

This film is on several lists of best cliffhanger endings and for good reason. There aren’t too many films or any story for that matter that have a cliffhanger ending with the characters literally hanging from a cliff. The fact that this was done alone is worth commending the filmmakers for such a distinctive ending. It does a wonderful job of leaving the audience wanting to know what happens. Does the bus topple over, what is Charlie’s idea, and does the crew make it to safety? It leaves quite an impression, and that isn’t something to ignore. According to IMDb, this ending was made for two reasons. First, the censorship at the time wouldn’t allow the characters to get away with the gold since they were criminals. The second reason is that the producers put the cliffhanger ending in there to maybe do a sequel later. However, for reasons unknown, a follow-up never materialized, so similar to Across The Spider-Verse, this ending remains unresolved, although unlike that film, this movie probably won’t ever have a continuation. Ultimately, it still stands as the best cliffhanger ending to a film. 

The Italian Job can be purchased or rented on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Apple TV, and Vudu.

The Italian Job (1969) Official Trailer

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I am from Michigan. I am a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University majoring in Film Production with a minor in Media Production.
Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.