THE 50 GREATEST FINAL SHOTS IN FILM HISTORY
Filmmakers have understood the value of an unforgettable last shot since at least 1903, when Edwin S. Porter ended “The Great Train Robbery” with a scene divorced from the main narrative in which one of the outlaws comes back from the grave, stares down the lens of the camera, and fires a couple of rounds directly at the audience. In many prints, that footage opened the film, but the fact that it’s since settled into its place at the end speaks volumes as to its profound effect as a coda.
Like the final sentence of a novel, the closing image of a film has the power to color the entire narrative, echoing just a little bit louder than everything that has come before it. Unlike the final sentences of a novel, the last shot of a feature film has, in the medium’s brief lifespan, already acquired its own formal language, certain camera movements and musical cues (“the camera cranes up, the soundtrack swells!”) having conditioned viewers to read some final shots in a different way than they do the hundreds of others that comprise the movie. There’s a unique weight to the last shot – a burden, but also a sense of infinite possibility, as though the cinema inherently realizes that its greatest potential doesn’t live on screen but rather in those who stare at them, the moment at which a movie hands its narrative off to a viewer one of the great cruxes of the medium’s power.
Earlier this year we brought you our list of the 50 Greatest Opening Scenes in Film, and while this new list was partially intended to close the circuit opened by that one, it’s important to stress that this isn’t a countdown of our favorite movie endings. This list explicitly deals with our favorite final shots, the (usually brief) time between when the director calls “action!” and the closing credits begin to roll. This list isn’t intended to reflect our love for these movies as a whole (though that certainly played a part), but rather to measure the contributions of their final images, and their value to the work as a whole.
CHECK OUT THE LIST ON FILM.COM!