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Grand Finales – The Greatest Movie Closers Ever

I confess: I’m one of those guys who prefers to stay all the way through the ending credits of a movie.

I don’t necessarily read every word, but I have always enjoyed hearing exit music while summarizing in my head everything I just saw and taking mental notes on familiar names from other movies I’ve seen.

I could never relate to those hasty folks who immediately bolt from their seats and shuffle to the doors at the first sight of a credits scroll, often blocking my view of the screen.

As far as I’m concerned, the credits are part of the film. I inherently knew this and respected this at a very young age, even before I started to be rewarded for my patience and dedication with extra bonus scenes and what nowadays gets called a “stinger.”

Just as a terrific opening title sequence can perfectly summarize and set the tone for the picture that follows, so too can a closing credits sequence allow a film’s thunderous impact to roll around just a little bit longer inside your head while you decompress. Some movies go far beyond simple bright scrolling credits on a pitch background. Some movies prefer to go out with a bang.

Below are some of my favorites, in a variety of styles.

All apologies to readers who might’ve thought my delving into opening credits sequences in my last Spasm was a bit, um, nerdy. This is where we separate the men from the boys, the true cinema geeks from the mere casual fans.

Plus, I’ll also recap some of your excellent suggestions I overlooked in my previous Spasm.

Star Trek (2009) 

As the Starship Enterprise warps away into infinity, the screen explodes with a two-minute-long state-of-the-art 3D rendering of a breakneck gallop through the cosmos, as envisioned by the most artistic space geeks in the galaxy. As the credits zoom along, the magnificent views will leave you gawping and gaping at strange new worlds, all of them a hint and a promise of where this rejuvenated series intends to take us in subsequent sequels.

Other films in the series use small musical doses of Alexander Courage’s immortal TV series theme, but this reboot—eleven movies into the franchise—marks the first time we ever hear a full-on symphonic presentation of it. Blended with new themes by Michael Giacchino, it’s a marriage made in the heavens.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” The ending credits for “Year 3” are presented as flipping-page extensions of the film’s signature magic trinket, the Marauder’s Map.

Integrated into the scrolling credits, the map is alive with moving nametags and traveling footprints (two pairs of which get cozy in an isolated corner of Hogwarts, a few seconds into this clip:

John Williams scored only the first three “Potter” movies but, as demonstrated here, his compositions for “Azkaban” are by far the most enthralling of the series. Closing with one of Harry’s signature lines of dialogue, the cheerful outro usually fills me with the urge to press “play” again immediately afterwards.

Watch the full sequence HERE.

Se7en (1995)
I wrote in my previous “Spasm” about how the opening sequence is a nightmarish classic, but the simple concept for the film’s end titles crawl is equally unnerving, if a bit more subdued.

Beginning with the well-guarded spoiler reveal of who starred as the unnamed killer “John Doe,” the scroll sinks down in reverse—from top to bottom, defying convention. Further, the film is scratched and mutilated, with chunks of credits and forensic photographs carved out and pasted back together imprecisely—the movie screen has become a giant paste board used to piece together one of John Doe’s demented notebooks. All the while, David Bowie’s hellish new song “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” roars and rumbles on the soundtrack, accidentally offering a timely and apropos commentary on the preceding film.

Watch the full end credits HERE.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The end credits of John Hughes’ breezy teen classic roll alongside a picture-in-picture epilogue that depicts one final scene of abject humiliation for Principal Ed Rooney.

The point at which this scene appears is a tip-off that it may actually be Ferris’ dream, but our final glimpse of Rooney shows him with his cheese most definitely left out in the wind, indignantly riding a school bus packed with his own insolent students while suffering offerings of Gummi Bears that are real warm and soft. It’s a proper dose of Rooney’s own private little hell.

Then, Ferris Bueller himself pops up again at the very end with a brief but memorable stinger encore to shoo the audience away. “Chick-a, chick-a!”

Body Double (1984)

The ending credits for Brian De Palma’s sensationalistic and controversial murder mystery scroll up without fanfare during an innocuous epilogue that nicely ties up a few loose plot threads.

It also affords renegade filmmaker Brian De Palma one more opportunity to throw in some gratuitous nudity as well as dish up some knowing commentary on schlocky movies and their makers. Poor schlub Jake Scully has conquered his claustrophobia, scored back his old starring gig in a cheap-o erotic vampire flick, made nice with the tyrant director, and appears to have won over the saved girl. All seems deceivingly well. As the filmmakers labor far too seriously between takes over how to stage the pivotal close-up of a nude shower seduction, Jake remains frozen in mid-pose while the big-breasted body double switches positions with the actress. As the production crew buzzes around in the background, the camera zooms way, way in on the stunt woman’s assets.

The director calls “Action.” The credits roll. There is much moaning and simulated passion. Then, the unmistakable wet crunch of a bite to her jugular, and the film fades to black as a torrent of very convincing “fake” blood cascades down her chest. In light of all the B-movie chicanery we’ve just witnessed, it all looks and sounds just a little bit too…realistic. Is Scully a whore and a vampire?

Or is De Palma merely indulging splatter-geeks in their mutual fetish for sex and gore? Possibly both but, either way, the closing sequence is a head-turner—one final perverse twist of the knife in a movie full of ’em.

This is Spinal Tap! (1985)
The modern day DVD outtake reel owes a lot to improvisational comedies like Rob Reiner’s influential “mockumentary,”where the characters linger through the ending credits as we watch the deleted “B-roll” footage unspool. The interview style format allows for the players to come back for one final encore, and you’d be surprised to recognize just how many of the movie’s most memorable and oft-quoted lines are featured in its final five minutes. (Sorrrry, folks, only one very brief clip available.)

Natural Born Killers (1994)
The closing credits sequence for Oliver Stone’s batshit-crazy film of Quentin Tarantino’s loony screenplay is an ADD channel-surfing re-run tour through its wild landscape of depravity.

We briefly see Mickey and a very pregnant Mallory with their brood driving away in a Winnebago, complete with absurdly fake rear projection. As the family presumably spreads its seed across the nation, dissonant and disturbing images are intercut with trippy stretches of time-lapse photography, recycled archival footage, alternate glimpses of familiar scenes from the movie and visions of a giant Hydra presiding over the Apocalypse. Leonard Cohen’s haunting and profane anthem “The Future” wasn’t written specifically for this movie, but it’s the perfect note to close out the sensory bludgeoning we’ve just endured.”

The Blues Brothers (1980)
My favorite comedies from John Landis close on a high note with a jubilant curtain call featuring the entire cast. I credit the early films of Landis for forming my first impressions of blues and soul and rock ’n’ roll. This particular comedy/musical classic is a bit nutty and slapstick but has remained one of my favorites. As the large cast of characters makes a farewell encore, the real-life artists who were featured in the film each riff a brief verse to a group sing-along of Jailhouse Rock.

You can’t help but marvel at all those great names, names, names: Aretha Franklin! Ray Charles! James Brown! Cab Calloway! John Belushi! Dan Aykroyd! John Candy! And more recognizable ’80s players that you can lob a beer bottle towards chicken wire at.

If you stick around ’til the tail end, the familiar Universal Studios logo reminds us to visit their theme park in Hollywood, and to “Ask for Babs”—this marked the first time I recognized something as a cross-movie joke, one you’ll only “get” if you remember what becomes of Babs from Animal House.

The Cannonball Run (1981)
Most of Burt Reynolds’ comedic efforts directed by Hal Needham (R.I.P., Hal!) close out with a series of outtakes and silly on-set bloopers.

It was a trend that has carried on through to the early films of Jim Carrey (especially Liar, Liar) and was resurrected again in Will Ferrell frat-boy comedies like Anchorman. For sheer star power, it doesn’t get any better than the blooper reel for Needham’s guilty-pleasure road-race classic.

The throwaway end-credits bits reveal the palpable camaraderie on the movie set, showing the actors getting along famously with the production crew and the stunt team, giggling through multiple mistakes and pranking each other as they generally poke holes at their own perceived egos. Plus, it’s got Roger Moore gamely spoofing 007 while dropping multiple “F” bombs, and features the late, great Dom DeLuise riffing as Captain America.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
The animated blooper reel that closes out Pixar’s adorable classic rates its own distinct mention purely on the merits of the filmmakers’ giddy heights of post-modern absurdity. Think about that again for a moment: the filmmakers composed an animated blooper reel. Ingenious.

We see a series of funny fabricated flubs as if we’re present on the actual movie set, Roger Rabbit-style, watching from behind the scenes and eavesdropping as the computer-generated ’toons trip over their lines, step out of focus, react to the virtual “camera” and burst into fits of infectious laughter.

Honor is due to the Pixar wizards who first introduced this gag in A Bug’s Life and then proceeded to up the ante with Toy Story 2 by cross-pollinating the blooper sequence with characters from across the their cinematic universe. For Monsters, Inc., Pixar truly perfected the gimmick—a trend that was, thankfully, short-lived.

Airplane! (1980)

The closing credits sequence for the zany Zucker/Abrams/Zucker classic kicks off with a standard curtain call scored to the “Notre Dame Victory March,” but the ensuing text scroll contains scattered nuggets of hidden tomfoolery, saucily punctuated at the tail end with a declarative “So there” inserted after the required legal disclosure.

In a final bit of sublime silliness—and the first time I can remember going to the movies and being rewarded for having stayed put through the entire end-credits scroll—an extra scene pops up, showing us the poor Ronald Reagan-looking guy who’s still sitting in the back of an illegally parked taxicab, having waited the entire movie for his long-flown driver to return. “Well, I’ll give him another twenty minutes, but that’s it!”

Behold, the birth of the modern-day “stinger.”

Aliens (1986) 

There’s nothing inherently remarkable about the style of the ending scroll for James Cameron’s incomparable “Aliens,” but those who sit tight through the closing credits are rewarded with a juicy audio stinger, the first of its kind to my knowledge.

The quiet but eerie music fades, we hear the low windy howl representing the vast void of space and then, at the very end, a brief but stomach-churning squish creeps across the soundscape. It is the unmistakable sound of an oozing alien face-hugger egg prying itself open, a subtle aural portent of more frightful things to come for Lt. Ripley and her companions asleep on the Sulaco.

Sweet dreams…

Honorable Openers:
I’m grateful that so many of you were so vocal about my previous Spasm and chimed in some of your own favorites—all of them excellent suggestions and egregious oversights on my part. Such as:

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) – A frightening panoramic view of a burning playground alight in a nuclear blast, ending on a shot of the resilient metal exoskeleton of the titular killing machine rising up from beneath the flames.

Watchmen (2009) – Decades of important superhero backstory are skillfully summarized during the gorgeous and harrowing opening sequence, scored to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. I honestly wanted to mention this one last time, but couldn’t find a proper link in English.

Beetlejuice (1988) – Perhaps Tim Burton’s finest hour, the opening sequence boasts a lively theme by frequent collaborator Danny Elfman and shows off a clever bit of forced perspective camera trickery. The view hovers over a very detailed model of a tiny town, ending on the house we’re in, just as a giant-looking spider creeps into the frame over the rooftop. It’s a playfully macabre beginning that perfectly sets the tone for the kooky ghoulishness that follows.

Innerspace (1987) – We don’t realize until the ending of the opening shot, but we begin deep within the frozen rainbow-colored recesses of an ice cube and slowly pull out to reveal the cube is in a drinking glass and we’re suddenly attending a swanky event. It’s a simple but effective shot, succinctly encapsulating and foreshadowing the movie’s miniaturization storyline. No video available unfortunately.

JFK (1991) – A précis of the marathon film we’re about to experience, the opening credits is a masterpiece of juxtaposition, skillfully blending history with speculation as a narrator (Martin Sheen, who’d already portrayed JFK before) gets the viewer up to speed on the political climate leading up to that fateful day in Dallas in November, 1963. Every subtle shift in film stock, each change in cinematographic style, all the toggles between black and white, every jump cut—they’re all representative of the myriad theories Oliver Stone is about to put up for debate. Take a deep breath…and take lots of mental notes.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – The inky and kinky intro is a dark, desolate peek inside tortured punk hacker Lisbeth Salander’s nightmare. Not for the squeamish.

Lord of War (2005) – A terrific and quirky drama about an arms dealer from the guy who made “Gattaca.” The opening shows the creation and journey of a bullet. Simply astonishing on so many levels. Check it out here:

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