Even the best movies can be derailed by a terrible ending. That’s true of any genre, but especially so for sci-fi. Far too often, a film will come along with such a great science fiction premise that it seems like it just can’t miss. But if the creative team behind the movie doesn’t meticulously craft its ending, then it can all fall apart faster than you can say Honest Trailers.
In honor of The Marvels, a future inductee on this list, we’re picking seven of the worst sci-fi movie endings of all time. If you’ve seen these movies, you know full well how these endings played out. But for anyone who wants to avoid spoilers, then consider this your first and only spoiler warning.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
The most aggravating thing about A.I. Artificial Intelligence is that it almost has a great ending. Stanley Kubrick tried for years to make the film, which was ultimately directed by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick’s death. The story follows David (Haley Joel Osment), a lifelike android who desperately wants to become a real human to win back the love his “mother,” Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor).
Because David is so taken by the story of Pinocchio, he spends most of the movie looking for the Blue Fairy to turn him human. The Kubrick-style ending would have been to stop the film after David is trapped underwater, forever out of reach from a Blue Fairy statue as he prays for her help until his power runs out. That would have been the perfect conclusion. Instead, Spielberg had to go way out of his way for a heartwarming ending in the distant future as alien-like androids revive David and temporarily clone Monica so they can have one perfect day together. Tonally, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, and it just didn’t work.
Watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence on Paramount+.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Spielberg couldn’t resist another happy ending in his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The film’s depiction of the invading aliens dying from Earth germs is straight from the novel. But Spielberg added his own flourishes with the story of Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his two kids, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin).
As the aliens destroy their world, Robbie is so overtaken with hatred for them that he abandons Ray and Rachel and seemingly runs off to his doom while fighting alongside the marines. I say “seemingly,” because in the final scene of the movie, Ray and Rachel finally make their way to the home of Ray’s ex-wife, Mary Ann Ferrier (Miranda Otto), when, lo and behold, Robbie was already there waiting for them. Then the hugging the starts. This twist wouldn’t have been necessary if Robbie hadn’t run off earlier, and it’s a bizarre way to exit the film.
Watch War of the Worlds on Netflix.
I, Robot (2004)
In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to turn Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot into a Will Smith action movie. The credits say that the premise was “suggested by I, Robot.” Perhaps it should have said “very, very loosely suggested.” Smith’s character in the movie, Del Spooner, is a detective who absolutely hates robots. He’s called upon to investigate what appears to be the first instance of robot-on-human violence: the death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) at the hands of an advanced android called Sonny (Marvel’s Spider-Man 2‘s Alan Tudyk).
Sonny professes his innocence of the crime throughout the movie, until late in the film, when he confesses that he really was Lanning’s killer. It was all part of a convoluted plan by Lanning to warn Spooner about a renegade AI that was attempting to take control of humanity. So, Lanning committed suicide by robot, and Sonny was free to go. It’s a completely flat resolution to the story that undermines almost everything that came before it.
Watch I, Robot on Hulu.
I Am Legend (2007)
Yea, this is another Will Smith sci-fi adaptation with a terrible ending — what a coincidence. There are actually two endings for I Am Legend, but we’ll go with the theatrical ending since that’s how the director, the screenwriters, and studio saw fit to close out the story. The premise of Richard Matheson’s original novel found Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) as seemingly the last normal man alive after the rest of humanity was transformed into vampire-like creatures.
The film ends with Neville sacrificing his life to allow survivors Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan) to escape with a sample of his blood that may lead to a cure for humanity. Neville blows himself up real good as a legion of creatures attacks him. The problem is that the novel had a more poignant conclusion that tied back to its title. As Matheson envisioned it, Neville really was the last man and the creatures were the new humanity. After they capture him, Neville realizes that he’s the real monster in the eyes of the creatures, and he accepts that he will become a legend in their retelling of history. Without that conclusion, the rest of the film just doesn’t hold together.
Watch I Am Legend on Fubo.
For most of its runtime, Knowing is an intense sci-fi thriller about John Koestler (Dream Scenario‘s Nicolas Cage), an MIT astrophysics professor who discovers that his son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), comes into the possession of a strange numerical message from Lucinda (Lara Robinson) that was sent 50 years earlier. Much to John’s horror, he realizes that it’s a countdown of disasters culminating with the end of the world in two days.
John convinces Lucinda’s daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne), and her daughter, Abby (Robinson), that the warning is real. But the twist ending is that the revelations were sent by angels so that children like Abby and Caleb can survive. Diana dies in a horrific car accident, while John burns with everyone else on Earth when a solar flare destroys the surface of the planet. It’s super bleak, and the ending was off the rails as soon as the aliens showed up.
Watch Knowing on Max.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
J.J. Abrams earned a lot of good will for reviving the Star Trek franchise in 2009 with Star Trek. Then he burned most of that away four years later with Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that does everything it can to remake Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan without fully understanding why the previous film worked so well. There are some changes from Star Trek II — for example, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) dies in engineering saving the ship instead of Spock (Zachary Quinto).
Spock’s scream of despair at Kirk’s demise starts the death spiral for this movie. But before Kirk even gets put in the ground, Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) discovers that Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) has enhanced blood that can literally bring Kirk back from the dead. It’s an incredible copout ending that kills the stakes for the film. It takes a lot to render death meaningless, even after Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Into Darkness did exactly that in the most flat and boring way possible.
Watch Star Trek Into Darkness on Paramount+.
The Forgotten (2004)
Don’t you just hate it when aliens come down to Earth to make you forget about your dead son? If you’re upset about this spoiler of The Forgotten‘s twist, keep in mind that the film is nearly two decades old now. Julianne Moore stars as Telly Paretta, a woman who is so convinced that her son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski), was real that another parent, Ash (Dominic West), also recovers his memories of his child.
It’s a looney premise, but the conclusion is even crazier. When the alien overseeing the experiment tries to permanently wipe Telly’s memory of her son, she clings to the truth and the alien is whisked away. Shortly thereafter, Telly and Ash are back with their respective children. It’s an absolutely flat way to end the movie, which may be why few people talk about it nowadays.
Rent or buy The Forgotten on Google Play, Prime Video, YouTube, or Apple TV+.