The Great Ending has become an unexpected casualty of Hollywood’s franchise era: Because a sequel is always strongly implied, the final moments of most big movies are now just temporary breaks in action, instead of definitive conclusions. But the movies on this list each left a mark, whether they ended with a bang or with a graceful coda. (One of them even managed to set the stage for a sequel and suggested the end of an emotional journey.) Here are our five favorite movie endings of 2012:
5. The Grey
“What? The film where Liam Neeson punches a wolf?” Well, yes and no. The most mismarketed movie of the year is actually a reflective examination of mortality — and it ends on a note that’s simultaneously ambiguous and fiercely life-affirming.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
The runaway romance between two precocious tweens ends not in a church but on one. But just as disaster strikes, writer/director Wes Anderson rescues his lovebirds in a way that shocks the audience into realizing just how much it was rooting for them. In the aftermath, the simple line, “See you tomorrow,” wraps up the tale as neatly and satisfyingly as one of the heroine’s charming storybooks.
3. Life of Pi
The film’s young shipwreck survivor discovers a surprise on his lifeboat — why look, a hungry Bengal tiger — and no, this is not a short-subject subtitled “The Dinner Cruise.” Ang Lee’s 3-D epic is a deep-blue sea of riddle and revelation, and in the end, it’s the audience that decides where the anchor should drop as they answer the question, “What did you see?”
2. The Cabin in the Woods
After a third act that plays out like an encyclopedia tour through the whole history of onscreen horror, the gonzo meta-movie ends the only way it possibly could: With the absolute and total destruction of, well, everything.
The beginning is the end is the beginning. Three adventures after Daniel Craig revitalized the Bond brand by digging into the secret agent’s grittier early days on the job, 007 walks into a home office to find all the nostalgic pieces of the Bond franchise we know and love shifting into place.
Written by Geoff Boucher, Darren Franich, and Jeff Labrecque
More Best of 2012:
The couples we’re shipping
The 5 best non-Adele songs of the year
Episodes we can’t erase from our DVR
On-screen couples with great chemistry
Say what? The worst movie lines of the year
The year in lyrics, from Taylor Swift to Carly Rae
The crying game