Science fiction is a vast realm of limitless possibilities, where fantastical worlds and societies of the future await our exploration. While some stories paint a picture of utopian bliss, it is the dark and twisted dystopian futures that truly captivate our imagination.
In the realm of sci-fi cinema, endings often bring resolution to our heroes’ immediate challenges. Yet, these conclusions don’t always guarantee a better world. Even as our protagonist survives and basks in the tranquility of a setting sun, their overall circumstances can remain overwhelmingly grim. Such films can leave us with a sense of melancholy and contemplation.
But fear not! We have uncovered a treasure trove of lesser-known sci-fi gems that have left us in awe. Prepare to be enthralled by these underrated flicks as we take you on a journey through their memorable endings.
Before we embark on this thrilling adventure, we must offer you a word of caution – be wary of spoilers ahead! So, brace yourself and let the cosmic odyssey unfold before your eyes!
1. The Road
The Road, a 2009 film, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where plant life and most animals have vanished. The story revolves around an unnamed man and his son, who embark on a perilous journey towards the coast in search of safety. Along the way, they scavenge for supplies while constantly evading cannibals who are desperate to kill and consume them.
Throughout the film, the relentless hopelessness of their situation unfolds through a series of encounters that vividly portray the extent of their desperation – and it’s absolutely grim.
In a heart-wrenching conclusion, the man tragically succumbs to an arrow wound, leaving the boy to fend for himself. Eventually, the boy encounters a man, his wife, two children, and their dog. This group had been trailing the boy and his father, filled with concern for their well-being, and they generously take the boy under their wing.
The film concludes abruptly, leaving us uncertain about the true intentions and integrity of this newfound family. Ultimately, The Road offers very little in terms of inspiration or hope, as it starkly portrays the imminent demise of humanity just before extinction becomes inevitable.
2. Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go is a heart-wrenching 2010 film set in an alternate history where humans can live beyond 100 years due to a scientific breakthrough in 1952.
The story revolves around Kathy H, Tommy D, and Ruth C, who are students at the Hailsham boarding school in the late 1970s. Shockingly, they discover that their purpose in life is to become organ donors and eventually die for the sake of others.
Ruth and Tommy become romantically involved, believing that their love could grant them a deferral from their fate. Tommy expresses his love through artwork, and they also engage in a sexual relationship, which leaves Kathy feeling left out. Consequently, Kathy decides to end her friendship with Ruth, and they go their separate ways.
As the film unfolds, the protagonists come to the shocking realization that they are clones, specifically created for the purpose of organ donation throughout their lives.
Eventually, the film unveils the devastating truth that there are no deferrals available, and the protagonists’ destiny is sealed. Tommy’s exploration of art was not so much about proving his capacity to love, but rather about non-donors questioning whether clones possess souls.
In a heart-wrenching climax, Ruth and Tommy meet their tragic end on the operating table as they give their organs to save others. Ultimately, Kathy is left alone, waiting for her turn to have her organs harvested, concluding the film in an incredibly sorrowful manner.
3. The Fly
The Fly is a well-known 1986 remake of a film from 1958, with the newer version being more popular among the general public.
The story revolves around Seth Brundle, a scientist who is determined to conquer his fear of transportation by creating a teleportation device. He meets a journalist named Ronnie, and together they explore his invention: two telepods that can transfer inanimate objects between them. While they develop a romantic relationship, Brundle focuses on transporting living matter.
Eventually, Brundle succeeds in using the telepods, unaware that a housefly accidentally enters the pod with him during one of the experiments. Gradually, the fly’s DNA starts to merge with Brundle’s, resulting in unexpected consequences. Initially, Brundle gains extraordinary abilities like a superhero, but over time, these strengths diminish, and he transforms into a grotesque humanoid fly monster, a creation unique to David Cronenberg’s imagination.
The film concludes with Brundle losing his remaining humanity as he becomes obsessed with recreating the experiment alongside Ronnie. His goal is to merge themselves and their unborn child to form the “ultimate family.” Understandably, Ronnie is far from enthusiastic about this idea.
Fortunately, Brundle’s plans don’t go as expected, and he ends up fused with the telepod, suffering excruciating pain. In desperation, Brundle pleads with Ronnie to end his torment, so she shoots him in the head, putting him out of his misery. Overwhelmed by grief and horror, Ronnie falls to her knees.
Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia is part of his “Depression Trilogy,” falling between Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. The movie centers around two sisters and their lives leading up to a cataclysmic event – the collision of a rogue planet with Earth.
The film is divided into two parts. The first part follows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as she gets married to Michael. However, their joyous occasion quickly takes a turn for the worse due to family conflicts and work-related problems. Eventually, the marriage falls apart, Justine quits her job, and the presence of the star Antares disappears from the night sky.
The second part of the film shifts focus to Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who battles severe depression. It is revealed that Antares vanished because a rogue planet called “Melancholia” has obstructed its view. Scientists assure that Melancholia will only pass close to Earth without colliding. Initially, their predictions hold true, but the planet will return and ultimately collide with Earth.
As the impending disaster looms, various characters contemplate suicide, encounter electrical problems, and grapple with the impending “end of the world” scenarios. In the end, Justine, Claire, and her son, Leo, sit and await the apocalypse as Melancholia crashes into Earth, causing the demise of all life.
5. Event Horizon
Released in 1997, Event Horizon is set in 2047 and follows a spaceship bearing the same name. The ship had vanished seven years prior while on its mission to Proxima Centauri, only to inexplicably reappear in orbit around Neptune, emitting a distress signal.
Due to its deteriorating orbit, a rescue vessel called the Lewis and Clark is dispatched to provide aid and unravel the mystery surrounding the Event Horizon’s maiden voyage.
Upon arrival, the rescue team is met with a scene of devastation. The ship’s gravity drive activates, causing severe damage to the Lewis and Clark and ironically turning the Event Horizon into a refuge for its would-be saviors. The crew quickly realizes the severity of their predicament when one of their own is transported through a portal and returns with the intent to end his own life.
Soon after, the crew begins experiencing hallucinations, prompting an investigation that uncovers two unsettling truths: the original crew of the Event Horizon had succumbed to madness and taken their own lives, and their descent into insanity was somehow connected to a dimension resembling Hell, accessible through the ship’s gravity drive.
In essence, the crew inadvertently opened a portal to Hell and suffered the consequences, a fate that befalls the crew of the Lewis and Clark as well. Some manage to escape this horrifying fate by entering stasis within the ship’s forward section, which functions as a lifeboat following a series of encounters with black holes. These survivors are “rescued” 72 days later.
However, despite their rescue, the damage has been done, and the survivors are left to grapple with the harrowing knowledge of Hell’s existence for the rest of their lives.
Released in 2013, Snowpiercer takes us on a journey aboard a constantly moving train known as the Snowpiercer. This thrilling film portrays a class struggle and a resistance movement within the train, which serves as a self-sustaining refuge for the last remaining humans on Earth.
The lower-class individuals, who reside at the back of the train, live in abject poverty and are subjected to the authority of the upper-class passengers towards the front. Eventually, the simmering resentment erupts into a full-blown rebellion, as many storm the cars occupied by the wealthy.
As the rebels progress through the train, the stark contrast between their lives and those of the privileged becomes painfully apparent. The wealthy passengers enjoy every conceivable luxury, while those at the back are forced to resort to drastic measures such as cannibalism just to survive.
As the rebellion reaches the front of the train, the true nature of the system is exposed. The lower-class individuals are being sacrificed to keep the train running smoothly, and it becomes clear that the rebellion was actually inspired by the need to control the population.
In a devastating turn of events, the train derails and the majority of its passengers perish. However, amidst the wreckage, one survivor catches a glimpse of a living Polar Bear, a symbol of life still existing on the planet.
The movie leaves us with a grim reality, as it does not explore how any of the train passengers could possibly survive. There seems to be little hope for their survival in the harsh, freezing conditions outside the train. Just because a Polar Bear survived does not necessarily imply hope for the handful of people fleeing the impending end of the world. As a result, Snowpiercer concludes on a profoundly somber note.
7. I Am Legend
The 2007 film I Am Legend is about a man named LTC Robert Neville who is the last human survivor in New York City. He explores the deserted city with his loyal dog, trying to find a cure for a deadly virus that wiped out most of humanity.
The virus turned some people into aggressive vampire-like creatures called Darkseekers who can’t tolerate sunlight and are determined to kill Neville. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the film involves Neville having to kill his infected dog, Sam. It’s a sad moment that makes you want to hold your own dog tightly and show them extra love.
As the story unfolds, Neville realizes that he may be the true monster. He has been capturing and experimenting on the infected, who see him as their enemy.
In the theatrical cut of the film, Neville discovers the cure just as the Darkseekers attack his fortified home. In a tragic ending, he sacrifices himself by giving the cure to Anna and Ethan while killing both himself and the Darkseekers with a grenade.
However, an alternate ending was later released where Neville survives and delivers the cure to humanity. This ending is less depressing and also sets the stage for a potential sequel, as it is now considered the official ending of the film.
The 2009 film Moon takes place on – you guessed it – the Moon. It revolves around a man named Samuel Bell, who has been living alone on the Lunar surface for three years overseeing the helium-3 mining operation. His only companion is the base’s AI, GERTY, which assists him throughout his time on the Moon.
Just two weeks before his scheduled return to Earth, Sam has a mishap where his lunar rover crashes into a harvester, causing him to lose cabin pressure and lose consciousness.
When he wakes up in the infirmary, Sam has no memory of the accident and begins to question the management’s instructions not to fix the harvester. Against their wishes, he decides to repair it and stumbles upon another version of himself. It is revealed that the Sam in the infirmary is a clone, created to replace the original Sam who crashed, and the two Sams struggle to understand each other’s existence.
Adding to the confusion, their memories are proven to be false, and they discover that their three-year contract is, in fact, their entire lifespan.
The film concludes with Sam sending the other Sam back to Earth on a ship to expose the unethical practices on the Moon. News reports then describe how Sam’s testimony has unveiled the controversial issue of cloning.
Although Sam successfully reveals the truth, the ending is bittersweet. The viewer is aware that Sam’s time is limited, his life has been built on lies, and he is nothing more than valuable corporate property.
Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil takes a critical look at various societal issues, ranging from bureaucracy and corporate statism to hyper-surveillance and capitalism. The movie is undeniably surreal and revolves around the journey of Sam Lowly, a bureaucrat who becomes obsessed with finding a woman from his dreams.
The society depicted in the film heavily relies on malfunctioning machines, amidst domestic terrorism and an ongoing struggle for liberation from the control of these machines, which the upper class conveniently ignores.
Lowly’s quest leads him to cross paths with the woman from his dreams, Jill, and he gets entangled in the ongoing conflict. In an effort to help her escape the system, he manipulates her records, effectively erasing her existence. However, the government he serves quickly captures him and places him in a cylindrical room, where his friend Jack is preparing to torture him.
Just as all hope seems lost, members of the resistance come to Lowly’s rescue, and he embarks on a series of unbelievable events that ultimately lead him to escape the city in a truck driven by Jill, culminating in what appears to be a happy ending.
But here’s the twist. In reality, Lowly is still trapped in the torture chair, his mind fractured and descending into insanity. Oblivious to his surroundings, he lives in a dream world. The film concludes with Lowly blissfully humming “Aquarela do Brasil” to himself, wearing a wide smile on his face.
On one hand, Lowly seems to have achieved his happy ending, albeit solely within his own mind. In reality, however, the bureaucratic system remains intact, and none of the events that unfolded have made any true positive change. Ultimately, the film leaves us with the protagonist lost in his own shattered psyche.
The 2008 film Blindness explores the consequences of a sudden loss of sight for a few key characters. The blindness strikes abruptly, causing the affected individuals’ vision to be completely obscured. Scientists soon determine that it is an infectious disease, leading to the newly blind being confined to a rundown asylum, away from the rest of society.
As time passes, the situation deteriorates rapidly, turning the asylum into a grim concentration camp. The blind inmates receive little to no care or food, and some take advantage of others’ vulnerability. The guards become increasingly hostile, further exacerbating the tension. Eventually, the blind manage to escape the confines of the asylum, only to discover that society has completely crumbled. The few remaining survivors outside are reduced to mindless, desperate beings in search of sustenance.
Guided by a doctor and his wife, who had been able to see all along but chose to join her husband in the asylum, the blind find refuge in a basement storeroom beneath a grocery store. They create a safe haven, well-stocked with provisions. Then, just as suddenly as they lost their sight, their vision returns, bringing relief and hope.
The film concludes on a positive note as the protagonists survive and regain their sight. However, beyond their sheltered bubble, civilization has completely collapsed.