Please name your all-time favorite awful endings. Grease, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Tim Burton‘s Planet of the Apes…you choose.

For me, the conclusion of Steven Spielberg‘s War of the Worlds (’05) is easily among the worst.

Having survived the Martian onslaught Tom Cruise and daughter Dakota Fanning arrive at the Boston home of his ex-wife’s parents, who are annoyingly played by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, costars of George Pal and Byron Haskin‘s War of the Worlds (’53). The ex-wife (Miranda Otto) is also there; ditto Cruise’s son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who’d impulsively joined the military in a brutal battle with the aliens and obviously had no chance of survival…and yet there he was. Bullshit. No Sale.

Jett and I saw Spielberg’s film at the Ziegfeld press screening. During the closing credits Jett said, “God, what did Spielberg do that? He had it and he blew it.”

Back in the day Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds was roundly despised for ending without any sort of resolution or catharsis. In so doing Hitchcock was essentially telling his audience that The Birds is an art film, and that it’s saying something about a permanent feature in the human brain — complacency.

I still say that the worst ending of 2020 was delivered by Pete Docter‘s Soul

My original complaint: “Soul betrays its audience by (a) encouraging them to identify with and believe in Joe Gardner‘s long-denied dream about becoming a jazz musician instead of a frustrated middle-school music teacher, only to (b) pull the rug out on Joe’s dream in Act Three and end things with Joe feeling uncertain about what he really wants to do with his remaining time on earth. Possibly jazz, possibly teaching…who knows?

“And what of our jazz-loving protagonist changing his mind at the last minute so he can save Tina Fey’s ’22’? I hated that. A major audience betrayal. I didn’t hate that he cared for and wanted to save 22, of course, but his whole big dream is to escape the perceived mediocrity of being a middle-school music teacher. We’re encouraged to identify with his quest to become a real musician and to share the joy of being in the groove.

“And then, after interminable delays, temporary blockages and goofy complications, he finally gets to play with the hot jazz group. And finally, all is well.
But then Joe changes his mind! He decides to go back to the celestial nether realm to ‘save’ 22 from her hellish deflated existence, and in so doing sacrifices (according to the Great Before rules) his own chance at life.

“And THEN the Picasso-like powers-that-be decide to bend the rules because he’s inspired them.

“And THEN when he’s back on planet earth Joe is STILL not sure what really matters to him. Will he continue to gig with the jazz group? Or will he embrace his full-tine teaching job? He’s not sure, but one thing he’s ABSOLUTELY sure of is that he’s going to treasure each & every day of his life from then on.”