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Is The Cliffhanger Ending Cinema’s Crappiest Cop Out?

Dune Cliffhanger
Warner Bros.

Over the past month, moviegoers have seen the release of both the films “Dune” and “Halloween Kills.” Two peas in a pod, am I right? At first glance, these films have nothing to do with each other. They might as well be completely separate movies, because frankly, they are completely separate movies. But, they share one commonality. They both leave things off on a cliffhanger.

Dune” was part one of a two part film. It’s obvious when you watch it. The movie, while a satisfying ride for the viewer, leaves things off on a very uncertain and open note. “Halloween Kills” is the second part of a planned trilogy and when you watch it, oh boy, can you tell that it was supposed to be filler. Both films begin a story without finishing them. This is usually considered bad storytelling as you want a film to be able to stand on its own merit.

So, this begs the question. Are cliffhanger endings and the films that have them, cop outs? In “Dune’s” case it’s close. Nothing is really settled by the end of “Dune.” The thing is though, It’s still a good film all the same. The scenes are captivating, the characters are well written, and the action and world are visually spectacular. So, when you reach that uncertain leaving-off point with the characters, you’re actually excited to see what comes next and can anticipate its sequel. In “Halloween Kills” the same cannot be said. 

“Halloween Kills” was not “Empires Strikes Back.” It was just mediocre at best and had little more to offer than padding for the third one. In “Dune’s” case, it was still a satisfying watch and thus the uncertain ending didn’t spoil the experience. So, to answer my question, are cliffhanger endings cops outs? Yes, but only when they are used by farsighted storytellers. If you’re going to leave your story off with a cliffhanger, the story better be more about the journey than the destination. 

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