After teasing your audience for the past hour or so, how do you end your movie? You don’t want to end it too soon or too quickly because that’s like standing in line for a roller coaster ride, only to have it end 10 seconds later, making you feel like you wasted your time waiting. Instead, drag out your ending to tease the audience into thinking it’s over when it’s not.
I just saw “Captain America” and less than 24 hours later, I can’t even remember how Captain America defeated the Red Skull, the main villain. They were fighting inside some huge airplane on its way to bomb the East Coast and somehow Captain America defeated the Red Skull and crashed the plane into the ice to save the country. Why was this ending so fleeting and forgettable? Probably because it ended too quickly.
Here’s how not to end your movie. Have your hero face your villain and have your hero win. End of story. Sound exciting? Here’s how the two Terminator movies ended their stories.
First it appears that the hero has defeated the Terminator. Then the Terminator appears for one last attack. This false ending makes us feel that the story is over, but when we find out it isn’t, now our attention is riveted to the movie to find out how it really ends and how can the hero defeat the villain a second time around?
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis defeats the head terrorist, rescues his wife, and we think everything is all right. Suddenly one of the other terrorist charges out of the building and is about to shoot Bruce Willis when the black cop guns down the terrorist. That brief second ending grips us momentarily before we realize that the hero is finally safe, but even then , there’s a lingering suspicion that it may not be over until it’s over.
In “Star Wars,” Luke defeats Darth Vader once by surviving with Hans Solo’s help. Then the Death Star fires at the rebel base and Luke fires his photon torpedoes, blowing up the Death Star.
When Luke survives Darth Vader, we feel the story is over, but suddenly the firing of the Death Star jolts us back to the suspense of the moment before Luke finally blows up the Death Star for good.
When you end your own screenplay, don’t let it end too quickly. Drag out the ending and provide a false ending if possible to lull your audience into thinking everything is fine when it really isn’t.
In the first “Alien” movie, Ripley escapes from the starship after setting off its self-destruct mode. We think she’s safe until we realize that the alien has stowed away on her escape pod.
In “Thelma and Louise,” we feel that the end has come when the women are trapped on the edge of the cliff. Then the real ending comes when they drive off the cliff.
End your story once, and then end it a second time. By doing so, you’ll make the ending more memorable and your story more exciting as well.