In a story, the climax is the pivotal moment that can make or break a film's impact. While many movies succeed in building tension and excitement to a satisfying resolution, some fumble the ball, and it can ruin the entire cinematic experience. From unexpected twists to narrative missteps, join us on a journey through the world of cinema's climactic stumbles.
1. Glass (2019)
In Glass, director M. Night Shyamalan brings together characters from his previous films, Unbreakable and Split. The film builds towards a climactic showdown between these superhuman characters, but the climax is criticized for feeling anticlimactic and overly reliant on exposition. It leaves audiences hoping for a more spectacular resolution to the trilogy.
2. Downsizing (2017)
Downsizing starts as a unique sci-fi comedy-drama in which people can shrink themselves to reduce their ecological footprint. However, the movie's climax takes an unexpected turn, abandoning its core premise and message, and leaving viewers puzzled and unsatisfied. It could have been much more interesting for a belief with so much potential, but it felt largely unused. Removing the shrinking aspect would leave the movie unchanged.
3. Spectre (2015)
The climax of Spectre in the James Bond franchise disappoints due to its overly prolonged torture sequence, reliance on clichéd villain dialogue, underuse of supporting characters, and anticlimactic resolution. The film's slow pacing and lack of innovative action left some viewers wanting a more engaging and memorable conclusion to the story.
4. Hancock (2008)
Hancock begins as a promising superhero movie with a unique premise but takes a strange twist in the climax when the origins of the titular character are revealed. The revelation leaves audiences divided, as it alters the tone and direction of the film unexpectedly. The problem with Hancock is that they suddenly shifted gears and tacked on new rules regarding his powers too late in the movie.
5. Wonder Woman (2017)
While Wonder Woman is generally praised for its strong storytelling and Gal Gadot's performance, some viewers found the film's climax underwhelming and formulaic, failing to live up to the movie's earlier moments of brilliance. It's faulted for its predictable showdown with the god Ares, who is criticized as an underdeveloped villain lacking depth and motivation. The emotional impact of the climax is deemed lacking, and its heavy use of CGI detracts from the film's earlier grounded moments.
6. Alien: Covenant (2017)
Alien: Covenant is part of the iconic Alien franchise, but its climax veers into a predictable and somewhat clichéd territory for the series. The film fails to deliver the same level of suspense and horror as its predecessors. The film spent so much time creating an interesting universe and backstory, only to turn into a generic action movie in the final act. It also becomes frustrating to watch scientists act so willfully stupid to advance the plot.
7. I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic thriller with a gripping narrative. Still, its climax features a CGI-heavy showdown with mutated creatures that some viewers find less engaging than the tension built throughout the movie. The ending of the movie differs from the novel in a fundamental way. The film concludes more optimistically, with the protagonist discovering a potential cure for the virus and sacrificing himself to save humanity. In contrast, the novel ends on a darker, existential note, with the protagonist's execution by a society of evolved vampires, challenging perceptions of morality in a post-apocalyptic world. Many feel the more sanitized studio film version watered down the overall message.
8. Passengers (2016)
In Passengers, a science fiction romance, the climax takes an unexpected twist that divides audiences. The resolution of a central ethical dilemma raises questions about character motivations and leaves viewers with mixed feelings. It had great potential to be a gripping psychological thriller, but then it turned into The Notebook in space.
9. Last Night in Soho (2021)
Last Night in Soho builds a mesmerizing psychological thriller but stumbles in its climax by introducing supernatural elements that some viewers find confusing and disconnected from the rest of the story. Some described it as a movie that “felt like a horror movie made by someone who isn't into horror movies.”
10. In Time (2011)
While In Time explores an intriguing concept of time as currency, its climax, involving a heist, is criticized for lacking the depth and complexity needed to realize the film's potential fully. There was room for a Nolan-esque philosophical deep dive on existentialism, but instead, the third act transformed into a cheap Bonnie & Clyde imitation. The film also could have benefited from a less recognizable face than Justin Timberlake.
11. It Chapter Two (2019)
The second part of Stephen King's It adaptation features an intense showdown with the cosmic entity. However, the climax is criticized for feeling rushed and losing some of the psychological horror elements that made the first part of the story so compelling. It was dragged out, over-reliant on CGI, and shifted towards action over the psychological horror that made the first film so creepy.
12. Limitless (2011)
Limitless starts as an engaging thriller about a wonder drug, but its climax takes a more conventional route, with a predictable resolution to the protagonist's problems that most find disappointing. The first half is exciting, but then it just becomes mindless action.
13. The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
While the film features interconnected stories and a solid first act, its climax is disjointed and fails to resolve the complex narrative satisfactorily. The abrupt shift in focus, incomplete character arcs, and predictable outcomes made it less engaging than the earlier parts of the film. The narrative lost momentum, and the lingering questions and ambiguity left me wanting more.
14. Ad Astra (2019)
Ad Astra explores the psychological toll of space travel, but its climax is criticized for feeling disconnected from the film's emotional core and for not fully delivering on the promise of its stunning visuals. The heavy use of voiceovers and reliance on visual effects are distracting, and the abrupt tonal shift from introspection to action causes an emotional disconnect.
15. War of The Worlds (2005)
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic novel is praised for its suspense and tension, but the climax, involving a sudden resolution to the alien threat, feels too abrupt and convenient. The first two acts are mesmerizingly creepy, but the final act is unavoidably boring. It also makes zero sense for his son to have survived, inhibiting my suspension of disbelief.
16. Sunshine (2007)
Sunshine takes a thrilling journey to save humanity by reigniting the dying sun, but its climax shifts the film's tone (and arguably genre) dramatically, leading to a divisive and unexpected resolution that viewers either love or hate.
17. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan's reboot of the Batman franchise is generally well-received, but some viewers found the climax, involving a train derailment and the fate of Ra's al Ghul, less compelling than the rest of the film. This grand final action sequence felt forced and more like a studio decision on how to end a Batman film rather than the thoughtful, intentional ending that Nolan is usually known for.
18. Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
While the film's premise of a man seeking revenge against a corrupt justice system is intriguing, its climax is criticized for straying into implausible and over-the-top territory, undermining the film's earlier tension and realism.
19. Thank You for Smoking (2005)
The satirical comedy Thank You For Smoking follows a tobacco industry lobbyist, but some consider its climax too abrupt and lacking in resolution for the various character arcs. One interesting perspective is that the movie would have benefitted from sticking to being irreverently pro-smoking.
20. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 3 faced several problems, primarily due to the overcrowding of villains (Venom, Sandman, and the New Goblin), leading to underdeveloped characters and rushed plotlines. The film struggled with tonal inconsistencies, particularly in its portrayal of Peter Parker's behavior while influenced by the symbiote suit, which many found unintentionally comical.
21. Iron Man (2008)
While Iron Man is the film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some viewers found its climactic battle between Iron Man and the Iron Monger suit to be formulaic and less engaging compared to the rest of the film. The third act is noticeably weaker than the rest of the movie, and Iron Monger's cliched depiction of an evil villain could have been done much better. While this doesn't ruin the movie, the third act is the weakest of the film.
22. Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan's epic space exploration film is generally praised, but some viewers found the climax, involving complex time dilation and a journey through a black hole, to be overly intricate and challenging to follow. I don't see it as difficult to follow; it's just hard for me not to cringe at the whole “love is quantifiable” speech as they're traveling through wormholes that transport you to a magic bookcase to communicate with the one out of two children that Matthew McConaughey's character cared about for some reason using morse code.
23. Man of Steel (2013)
Man of Steel reimagines Superman's origin story. Still, its climax, featuring a destructive battle between Superman and General Zod, is criticized for its excessive collateral damage and lack of emotional depth. General Zod's motivations are one-dimensional, and the film's treatment of the aftermath of the extensive destruction has been seen as inadequate. While the visual effects are undeniably impressive, their extensive use may contribute to a sense of visual fatigue for some viewers.
24. Oppenheimer (2023)
Christopher Nolan's latest film, Oppenheimer, enjoyed an extensive social media hype campaign thanks to its simultaneous release alongside Barbie, creating a mimetic event unlike anything we've ever seen. However, after all the buildup surrounding this retelling of the story about how the atomic bomb came to be and how its architect came to regret it as the biggest mistake humanity ever made, most left the theater feeling somewhat disappointed.
The trial proceedings were less than riveting and were a real drag on the story. Most viewers did not care what shady business Lewis Strauss had been up to following the buildup around the atomic bomb, which saw little payoff. After the release of the bomb, the film tonally shifted to being about betrayal.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.