Screenplays are like rollercoasters in reverse. A roller coaster starts with the biggest hill and then the hills get lower and lower until the roller coaster finally coasts to a stop. You don’t want that in a screenplay. You want to end with the biggest spectacle possible. The ending must be bigger than anything else in your story or else the ending will seem disappointing.
Back in 2011 there was a movie called “Hanna,” which was about a little girl trained from birth to be a lethal assassin. The first half of the movie is filled with action as the little girl draws attention to herself so the government comes after her since they’ve been looking for her since she was born. As soon as the government forces arrive, Hanna and her father ruthlessly slaughter most of these highly trained commandos.
The father takes off running and tells Hanna to meet him later. Hanna gets taken prisoner so the government can study her. That’s when Hanna reveals her skills by killing all of the guards and escaping a heavily fortified underground building. Now Hanna shows her resourcefulness by escaping and making her way back to Europe.
At this point, “Hanna” is an interesting action thriller. Then everything goes downhill from there.
In the first half of “Hanna,” she’s fighting multiple soldiers and defeating them. In the second half of “Hanna,” she hardly fights anyone and the end is merely her confronting her mother who’s the villain. Compared to the first half of the movie, the second half is extremely dull with little action and almost no threats from trained soldiers trying to capture or kill Hanna.
Imagine if the first half of “Star Wars” started off with starships shooting lasers at each other, and then the second half of the movie abandoned all types of fighting where the ending involves Luke facing Darth Vader in a hallway and shoots him with a dart gun. That would be boring and anti-climactic, and that’s exactly the problem with “Hanna” and that’s exactly the reason why stories need to keep building momentum and giving us bigger action and spectacles than we’ve ever seen before.
The beginning of “Saving Private Ryan” shows the D-Day landing invasion that’s bloody, but the ending shows Allied troops fighting to hold a town against German troops in a desperate battle that’s even more violent and gruesome. In the beginning, the American soldiers are getting slaughtered trying to get on the beach, but few Germans are around. In the end, the Germans are all around and we can see them attacking and killing the Allied troops.
“Fury” is another war movie that keeps building up. The beginning shows the tank commander ambushing a single German officer on horseback. The end shows the tank commander planning an ambush against an entire division of Germany’s dreaded SS soldiers who are known to be the most vicious Nazi soldiers around. The ending is bigger than the beginning because that makes the story more exciting.
You don’t want your story to start off like a roller coaster where the biggest thrills come right at the beginning and everything goes downhill from there. You want your story to start off with a bang, but then you want it to end with an even bigger bang.
Sometimes the ending doesn’t have to be bigger physically but more emotionally. In “Die Hard,” one of the biggest battles occurs when the villain has the hero nearly trapped and shoots out the windows so the hero will step on broken glass with his bare feet. Another huge battle occurs when the hero blows up the detonators to kill some terrorists trying to kill the SWAT team, and winds up blowing out the sides of an entire skyscraper.
Physically, those two scenes are the biggest, but the ending is more emotional because now the hero must face the villain with limited ammunition. Not only must he kill the villain, but he must also rescue his wife and kill the second terrorist guarding the villain. It’s not a huge battle scene, but it’s more emotionally intense.
So your ending must be emotionally more intense than any other scene, and preferably much bigger as well. If it can’t be bigger physically, it must be bigger emotionally. The ending must be like a fireworks show that saves the grand finale for last.
In the same way, your ending must save the grand finale for last. Make your ending bigger than anything that’s come before and you should have a fitting and satisfying conclusion to your story.