1. The Birds (1963)
Written by: Evan Hunter
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
What it’s about: The town of Bodega Bay, including socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), is terrorized by birds that begin attacking for no discernible reason.
How it all ends: Though badly injured, Melanie escapes along with Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and his family. But the radio reports that bird attacks are spreading, and the final shot shows thousands of birds ready to swoop.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Written by: George A. Romero and John A. Russo
Directed by: George A. Romero
What it’s about: Zombies attack as a group of survivors, led by Ben (Duane Johnson), seek shelter in a farmhouse.
How it all ends: Everyone dies except Ben, who somehow manages to make it through the night. In the morning, he hears the police arriving to kill the remaining zombies — but they mistake Ben for one and shoot him dead.
3. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Written by: Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
What it’s about: Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) finds himself stranded on a planet where intelligent talking apes experiment on mute humans.
How it all ends: Taylor rides off into the distance — and stumbles on the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. The planet was Earth all along, everyone Taylor knew is long dead, and mankind was responsible for its own destruction.
4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Written by: Roman Polanski
Directed by: Roman Polanski
What it’s about: Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) suspects that her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and others around her are forcing her to carry a demon spawn.
How it all ends: Rosemary is told her baby died in childbirth. Soon she finds the real baby and learns that he is the child of Satan. Unable to destroy her son, Adrian, Rosemary joins the cult and accepts her role as mother of the Antichrist.
5. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Written by: Waldo Salt
Directed by: John Schlesinger
What it’s about: Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a naïve would-be hustler from Texas, is taken in by ailing con man “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).
How it all ends: Joe robs a trick to get money for bus tickets to Florida, where he hopes Ratso can receive medical treatment. When Joe realizes Ratso has died on the bus, the driver refuses to stop, leaving Joe holding his friend’s corpse.
6. Easy Rider (1969)
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
What it’s about: Hippie bikers Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) smuggle cocaine into California and use the profit to ride to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
How it all ends: Wyatt and Billy plan to ride to Florida and settle down with the money they have, but they’re attacked by angry locals, who shoot Billy. Wyatt tries to save him, but the locals shoot his bike’s gas tank and he dies in the explosion.
7. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Written by: Paul Dehn
Directed by: Ted Post
What it’s about: Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) follows in the footsteps of George Taylor (Charlton Heston) as the militant gorillas prepare for war.
How it all ends: The apes kill Taylor’s human companion, Nova (Linda Harrison). Brent is shot and killed. Taylor is mortally wounded but uses his final moments to launch a doomsday bomb, destroying the entire planet and everyone on it.
8. The Wicker Man (1973)
Written by: Anthony Shaffer
Directed by: Robin Hardy
What it’s about: Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to the island of Summerisle to locate a missing little girl, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper).
How it all ends: Howie rescues Rowan from ritual sacrifice — only to learn that he was always the intended sacrifice, and Rowan was in on it from the beginning. He is placed in a giant wicker man and burned alive.
9. Chinatown (1974)
Written by: Robert Towne
Directed by: Roman Polanski
What it’s about: Private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) finds himself mired in a conspiracy with mysterious Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) at the center.
How it all ends: Jake learns that Evelyn’s sister, Katherine (Belinda Palmer), is also her daughter, the child of rape by her father, Noah Cross (John Huston). Evelyn ends up shot dead by police, and Cross takes Katherine away.
10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Written by: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Directed by: Miloš Forman
What it’s about: Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) rebels against authority at a mental institution, particularly cruel Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
How it all ends: After Nurse Ratched humiliates Billy (Brad Dourif), he kills himself. McMurphy attacks her and is punished with a lobotomy. The Chief (Will Sampson) smothers a now catatonic McMurphy to put him out of his misery.
11. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Written by: W.D. Richter
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
What it’s about: Health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) learns that humans are being replaced by emotionless alien pod people.
How it all ends: Matthew’s friend Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), who has avoided being replicated, finds Matthew. But when she calls out to him, Matthew responds with a high-pitched alien scream, indicating that Nancy is the only human left.
12. Brazil (1985)
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
What it’s about: In a dystopian future, government employee Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) tries to rescue a woman (Kim Greist) from his dreams.
How it all ends: Sam escapes from a bizarre dream world to find himself in a trailer with Jill, and the two of them drive off happily. In reality, Sam is still strapped to the chair where he was questioned earlier, having gone fully insane.
13. Miracle Mile (1988)
Written by: Steve De Jarnatt
Directed by: Steve De Jarnatt
What it’s about: Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) fall in love at first sight then struggle to find one another again as nuclear war approaches.
How it all ends: Harry and Julie are reunited, but as their rescue helicopter flies off with them, it’s shot down and sinks into the La Brea Tar Pits. They realize all hope is lost just as a nuclear warhead hits.
14. The Vanishing (1988)
Written by: George Sluizer and Tim Krabbé
Directed by: George Sluizer
What it’s about: Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) searches for his girlfriend, Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege), after she suddenly disappears on vacation.
How it all ends: Saskia’s kidnapper, Raymonde Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), says he will reveal what happened to Saskia by having Rex experience it. He drugs the claustrophobic Rex, who awakens to find himself buried alive.
15. Se7en (1995)
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by: David Fincher
What it’s about: Detectives William Somerset (Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) track a serial killer murdering his victims as homages to the seven deadly sins.
How it all ends: In a final confrontation between the detectives and killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey), Doe reveals that he has killed Mills’ pregnant wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has her head in a box. Mills shoots him, fulfilling the final sin, wrath.
16. Funny Games (1997)
Written by: Michael Haneke
Directed by: Michael Haneke
What it’s about: Two young men, Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch), hold a family hostage, torturing them mentally and physically.
How it all ends: The men shoot the family’s son, George Jr. (Stefan Clapczynski). Husband George (Ulrich Mühe) and wife Anna (Susanne Lothar) nearly make it out, but their tormentors kill George and drown Anna the next morning.
17. Arlington Road (1999)
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Directed by: Mark Pellington
What it’s about: Professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) becomes convinced that his neighbors Oliver (Tim Robbins) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack) are terrorists.
How it all ends: Oliver inadvertently tricks Michael into delivering the bomb to its intended target, at which point Michael is killed along with 183 others. Michael is painted as a terrorist by the press, and the Langs escape with no one the wiser.
18. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Written by: Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby, Jr.
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
What it’s about: Harry (Jared Leto) and his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), fall into heroin addiction, as his mother (Ellen Burstyn) gets hooked on amphetamines.
How it all ends: Sara, the mother, loses touch with reality and undergoes electroconvulsive therapy. Harry is arrested for drug possession and has his arm amputated. And Marion is forced to perform in live sex shows for drugs.
19. Memento (2000)
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
What it’s about: Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who has no short-term memory from an attack during which his wife was raped and murdered, seeks revenge.
How it all ends: Leonard kills Jimmy (Larry Holden), the man he thinks murdered his wife, then learns he killed the actual attacker a year before. In fact, his wife survived the attack, and Leonard accidentally killed her with an insulin overdose.
20. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Written by: Lars von Trier
Directed by: Lars von Trier
What it’s about: Kind-hearted Czech immigrant Selma Ježková (Björk) is forced to kill a police officer (David Morse) who was stealing money from her.
How it all ends: Selma is labeled a communist sympathizer at her trial and is ultimately convicted of murder. She is given the death penalty and sings as she makes her way to the gallows. Her song is cut short by the rope breaking her neck.
21. Donnie Darko (2001)
Written by: Richard Kelly
Directed by: Richard Kelly
What it’s about: Troubled teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is pursued by a creature in a rabbit suit that tells him the world will end in 28 days.
How it all ends: When Donnie’s girlfriend, Gretchen (Jena Malone), is hit by a car and killed, Donnie shoots the driver — who turns out to be Frank (James Duval), the man in the rabbit suit. Donnie travels back in time and dies so everyone else can live.
22. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Written by: John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
What it’s about: John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his girlfriend, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), are pursued by a new Terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken).
How it all ends: John and Kate think they’ve reached Skynet’s core in a bunker, but it turns out to be a nuclear fallout shelter. The long-awaited judgment day begins outside with a nuclear war that John realizes could never have been avoided.
23. House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Written by: Shawn Lawrence Otto and Vadim Perelman
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
What it’s about: Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) tries to get her house back from the struggling Iranian family that has purchased it.
How it all ends: The son from the Iranian family, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout), is wrongly shot by police. Father Massoud (Ben Kingsley) kills his wife, Nadereh (Shohreh Aghdashloo), so she’ll never know, then lies next to her and commits suicide.
24. Oldboy (2003)
Written by: Hwang Jo-yoon, Im Joon-hyeong, and Park Chan-wook
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
What it’s about: After 15 years in captivity, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) seeks revenge on Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), who held him for no discernible reason.
How it all ends: Dae-su learns that his love interest, Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), is actually his daughter, and that she will soon learn the same horrible truth. To spare her, he cuts out his own tongue as atonement, and Woo-jin commits suicide.
25. The Descent (2005)
Written by: Neil Marshall
Directed by: Neil Marshall
What it’s about: Six women with fraught relationships are trapped in a cave and hunted down by mutant creatures.
How it all ends: Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) cripples Juno (Natalie Mendoza) after learning she left another friend for dead. Sarah is able to escape and drive off — but when she pulls over, she sees Juno next to her and realizes she’s still in the cave.
26. The Mist (2007)
Written by: Frank Darabont
Directed by: Frank Darabont
What it’s about: Artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) tries to protect his family from an encroaching mist that’s filled with bloodthirsty monsters.
How it all ends: David is left stranded with his young son (Nathan Gamble) and three other survivors. With just enough bullets left, David kills them all. And then the mist clears, revealing that they were all moments from being rescued by the army.
27. Atonement (2007)
Written by: Christopher Hampton
Directed by: Joe Wright
What it’s about: Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) spreads a lie that causes a split between her sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and Cecilia’s lover, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy).
How it all ends: After telling the story of Cecilia and Robbie reuniting and getting married, an older Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) reveals that it was all fiction. Cecilia and Robbie both died during the war before they could find each other again.
28. The Wrestler (2008)
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
What it’s about: Aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) tries to reclaim his former glory and reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).
How it all ends: After giving up wrestling due to his serious heart condition, Randy decides to go back in the ring. The film ends in the middle of his final match, with Randy delivering his signature “Ram Jam,” a move that will surely kill him.
29. Knowing (2009)
Written by: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, and Stiles White
Directed by: Alex Proyas
What it’s about: Astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) discovers a series of numbers that correspond to disasters and predict the end of days.
How it all ends: John and Diana (Rose Byrne) realize the end is near. Their children are abducted by aliens. Diana is killed in a car accident, and John dies along with everyone else on the planet when a solar flare destroys all life on Earth.
30. Shutter Island (2010)
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
What it’s about: U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates a mental hospital on Shutter Island where a patient has gone missing.
How it all ends: Daniels learns that he is actually a patient, Andrew Laeddis, committed after murdering his bipolar wife (Michelle Williams) for killing their children. The investigation was a role play that failed, and Laeddis is lobotomized.
31. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Written by: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
What it’s about: Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) realizes there is something deeply wrong with her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).
How it all ends: Kevin murders his father (John C. Reilly) and little sister (Ashley Gerasimovich), then massacres his classmates with a bow and arrow. Eva visits Kevin in prison and asks why he did what he did, but Kevin says he no longer knows.
32. Melancholia (2011)
Written by: Lars von Trier
Directed by: Lars von Trier
What it’s all about: Depressed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) lives with her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who worries the planet Melancholia is about to collide with Earth.
How it all ends: After insisting that they’ll all be OK, Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) discovers the truth and kills himself. Justine, Claire, and Claire’s son, Leo (Cameron Spurr), sit together in peace as Melancholia hits and Earth burns.
An earlier version of this post misstated the ending of Oldboy. It is Woo-jin who commits suicide, not Dae-su.
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