The greatest endings in superhero movies

Theaters are crowded with comic book adaptations—and with each one stuffed to the gills with blockbuster action and dazzling special effects, superhero movies have to work extra hard to make their final scenes stand out. Some rely on a tragic sacrifice, while others employ a shocking revelation, one last joke, or the time-honored comic book tradition of a clever cliffhanger. From big-budget blockbusters to obscure indies, here are the greatest endings in superhero movies.

Darkman (1990)

Hot off the success of Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi directed one of the weirdest films in superhero history. Based on Raimi's own idea, Darkman plays out like a 20th-century Phantom of the Opera, with a masked man lurking in the darkness, murdering his enemies, and losing his mind.

His name is Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), and he's a scientist looking for revenge against the crooks that turned him into a deformed monster. Seriously, this guy makes Two-Face look like Aaron Eckhart, but unlike Harvey Dent, Westlake has created a synthetic skin that can be fashioned into a human face. Unfortunately, it only lasts 99 minutes when it's exposed to daylight (so you can guess where he likes to hang out). Still, that's more than enough time for Westlake to impersonate his enemies and pick them off one by one. It also helps that he can't feel pain, has super strength, and gets angrier than the Hulk.

Of course, his powers can't stop his archenemy (Louis Strack Jr.) from kidnapping Westlake's girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), and taking her to the top of an unfinished skyscraper. But despite taking a nasty shot from a rivet gun, Westlake kills the bad guy in cold blood and frees his lady fair. However, there's no happy ending in sight for our disfigured hero. Even if he could get his synthetic skin to work in the sunlight, he'd still be a monster inside.

Knowing there's no future with Julie, Westlake puts on a new mask and slips into the crowd, disguising himself as Bruce Campbell. ("The Chin" was working on the sound for the movie, even providing some ADR work for Neeson's character, so naturally he got a cameo.) Frantic, Julie desperately searches the street, but with his new face, Westlake slips into the crowd, giving us as a downbeat monologue that Tobey Maguire would borrow from in Raimi's next superhero film. "I'm everyone and no one," Westlake says. "Everywhere, nowhere. Call me…Darkman."

Batman Returns (1992)

Following the success of Batman, Tim Burton returned to Gotham in 1992. Only this time, things were going to be weirder, darker, and sexier, and that was largely thanks to Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, the bedraggled secretary who's pushed out a window by her boss and licked back to life by cats before turning into the whip-cracking, leather-clad feline queen of crime: Catwoman.

Over the course of this zany movie—which involves missile-packing penguins, killer clowns, and four-wheeled ducks—Catwoman joins up with a crackpot Cobblepot, falls in love with Bruce Wayne, and gets a little hot and homicidal with Batman before confronting her old boss, the villainous Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). The white-haired psycho tries to bargain with the supervillain, but Catwoman doesn't want money, jewels, or a big ball of string. She wants revenge, and she's willing to use all nine lives to get it.

After taking several bullets to the body, Catwoman grabs a taser, finds an exposed cable, and moves in for an electric kiss, sending shockwaves up and down Shreck's spine and destroying the Penguin's lair in the process. Needless to say, Bruce Wayne is crushed after Catwoman's "death," but as he's driving home one wintry night, he spots a feline form slinking through an alleyway. Hopeful, he jumps out of the car, but only finds a lone black cat lost in the dark. Giving up hope he'll ever see the femme fatale again, Batman drives off into the night, accepting that he'll always be alone.

And just to confirm that Batman will always be Batman—vigilant, brooding, lonely—we watch as the Bat-signal hits the clouds, reminding us that Gotham will forever need its tragic Dark Knight. But then, like a Universal monster coming back from the grave, we watch as Catwoman pops up into the frame, running on the next of her nine lives and staring off at the spotlight in the distance.

Unbreakable (2000)

When people talk about the greatest closing lines of all time, they usually remember films like Casablanca and Back to the Future. And while those movies definitely deserve their spots in the pantheon of awesome dialogue, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable never gets enough love. In all seriousness, Elijah Price's final revelation is a bad guy line for the ages, up there with Verbal Kint's kiss-off and Hannibal Lecter's dinner reservation.

To set the scene, we have to travel back to 1961, when Price was born with a disease that makes his bones incredibly fragile. As a young boy, the other kids would mock him, calling him "Mr. Glass," but thanks to his mom and a stack of comic books, Price (Samuel L. Jackson) was inspired to search the world for his exact opposite: a superman who's, well, unbreakable. Eventually, he discovers David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard who survived a tragic train wreck, and under Price's tutelage, David taps into his superhero potential.

But after saving some kids from a serial killer, David makes a horrible discovery when he goes to shake Elijah's hand. David has psychic powers, and after making contact with his wheelchair-bound buddy, he realizes Elijah has been burning down buildings, blowing up planes, and yes, crashing trains in order to find a real-life superhero. Distraught, David calls the cops, but Elijah isn't concerned. As his protégé goes for the police, Elijah takes solace in knowing he's the supervillain to David's superhero. "I should have known way back when," he tells David, elated that he's finally found his place in the world. "You know why, David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr. Glass."

The Incredibles (2004)

Being a superhero is no easy feat. Just ask the Parr family. On the surface, they're your typical middle-class family, but these guys secretly possess powers like strength, speed, and invisibility…powers they're forced to hide from society. In a world of lawsuits and conformity, there's no room for heroes anymore, and the Parrs are forced to blend into the scenery. Denying their gifts has turned them into a miserable bunch, but everything changes when a supervillain named Syndrome (Jason Lee) shows up on the scene with a freeze ray, a giant robot, and a terrible hairdo.

When Syndrome plans on murdering the family and setting himself up as the world's deadliest arms dealer, the Parrs are forced to don their supersuits and become the Incredibles. Finally allowed to be themselves, the Parrs truly come together for the first time, save the city, and teach Syndrome about the dangers of capes. And when the smoke from the battle has settled, the family realizes they've just discovered the line between fitting in and standing out, between the good old days and the here and now.

It's all perfectly encapsulated in the scene when the Parrs attend their super-fast son's athletic meet and cheer him on to take second place, knowing full well he could win if he wanted. And as they leave the stadium, trophy in hand, they're faced with a new challenge when the villainous Underminer drills his way out of the earth and declares war on peace and happiness. Without a beat, the Parrs put on their masks and prepare for battle, and really, they're just going from one family function to the next. After all, the family that saves the world together, stays together.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Almost 15 years after Darkman, Sam Raimi gave comic book fans one of all-time great superhero films. (Just ask Roger Ebert.) Until Tom Holland came along, Spider-Man 2 featured the best depiction of Peter Parker ever put to film, giving us a character who had just as much trouble with his love life as his rogues' gallery. And in this 2004 film, we find Peter (Tobey Maguire) struggling with the pressures of being a superhero while trying to hold down a job, make good grades, and win over Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst).

However, after his powers start to fade, Peter ditches his Spider-Man persona, and things start looking up…until the homicidal Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) unleashes his tentacled terror on New York City. Forced back into action, Spider-Man once again rescues Mary Jane from the villain's clutches and saves the day, although in the process, MJ discovers the web-head's true identity. But despite the big reveal, Peter is convinced they can't be together, leaving Mary Jane to marry her astronaut boyfriend.

If Raimi had stopped here, it would've felt a little similar to Darkman's downbeat ending (or the heartbreaking graveside chat in the first Spider-Man), but instead of going out on a negative note, we watch as Mary Jane leaves her own wedding and—still wearing her bridal gown—rushes to Peter's side. She knows there will be risks in getting romantic with the wall-crawler, but she doesn't care. And as for Peter, he decides it's time to embrace both sides of his life. So after finally kissing the girl of his dreams, Spider-Man swings off into the city skyline, chasing down crooks and feeling truly happy for the first time in forever.

Iron Man (2008)

Up until 2008, a major plot point in most superhero movies revolved around the concept of the secret identity. Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman all hid their mild-mannered alter egos in order to protect their loved ones. And then Tony Stark came along and blew the whole secret identity thing to smithereens. If anybody was going to do away with the idea of the hidden hero, it was going to be the biggest narcissist in comic book history, a guy who wants the world to know just how awesome he is.

And honestly, he is pretty awesome.

After assembling some hot rod red armor and saving Manhattan from the mechanical machinations of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself in the tricky predicament of having to deny he was the guy flying inside the newly dubbed "Iron Man" armor. Cue cards in hand, and with Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard) whispering in his ear, Stark tries giving a prepared speech, but when questioned by reporters, the man's ego just gets the better of him. "The truth is," Stark says, savoring the moment, "I am Iron Man."

And that's when the reporters freak out. Black Sabbath kicks in on the soundtrack, and Stark just smiles. After all, he just did away with the need for alter egos and established the blueprint for pretty much every Avenger to follow.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Gary Oldman is an actor's actor, and if you give this guy a monologue, he's totally going to own it. So when The Dark Knight reaches its epic climax, Oldman is ready to go as Commissioner Gordon, giving a superhero speech for the ages. The soliloquy comes after Harvey Dent—transformed into Two-Face—threatens to murder Gordon's kid to get revenge for his fiancée's death. This bizarre revenge triangle is part of an elaborate scheme concocted by the Joker to destroy the district attorney and ravage Gotham's soul, but the Caped Crusader isn't going to sit by while there's a kid—nay, an entire city—in peril.

Jumping into action, Batman throws himself into Dent, hurling the newly-formed supervillain to the ground below and killing him instantly. Unfortunately, when the press learns that Gotham's white knight murdered cops and tried to shoot a kid, the progress Dent made during his time in office will all come crumbling down. But knowing that Gotham needs a hero more than it needs the truth, Batman takes the blame for the crimes, telling Gordon he'll become whatever Gotham needs him to be.

So the Caped Crusader runs as Gordon narrates his escape. And during the final montage, we watch as the commissioner destroys the Bat-signal, as Dent is eulogized and his legacy preserved. We see Batman escape into the city, with Gordon telling his son that Batman is "the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now….He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark knight." Bam. Cut to credits. And that's how you end a superhero movie.

Super (2010)

Before entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn had already made his mark on the superhero genre with the appropriately titled Super, a twisted tale of love, drugs, religion, and revenge. The film follows the world's biggest loser, an unlucky cook named Frank (Rainn Wilson). His life has been nothing but pain and humiliation, and tragically, he can only recall two "perfect moments"—the time when he married his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), and when he helped a policeman catch a thief.

Using crayons, Frank memorializes each of these moments with a childlike drawing that he hangs on his bedroom wall. Of course, the warm glow of nostalgia doesn't last long as Sarah, a recovering addict, is seduced by a sleazy drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Desperate to get his wife back, Frank becomes "The Crimson Bolt," a schlubby superhero with a crappy costume and a nasty pipe wrench. Together with his psychotic sidekick Libbie, aka "Boltie" (Ellen Page), Frank attacks the drug dealer's compound. In the raid, Libbie is killed, and Frank violently murders every thug in sight.

He's basically Travis Bickle without a taxi, but Super ends on a shockingly upbeat note. After Frank rescues Sarah, she goes on to help recovering addicts, marries another man, and starts a family. And while Frank is hurt at first, he comes to believe it was his mission to free Sarah so she could touch new lives and have kids who might change the world one day. And with his newfound lease on life, Frank creates a wall completely covered in crayon portraits, each one a new "perfect moment."

Logan (2017)

Bad-tempered bruiser Wolverine holds a special place in the history of superhero cinema, as he was the protagonist of 2000's X-Men, the production that launched modern-day comic book movies. And of course, the character is inextricably linked to Hugh Jackman, who played Wolverine for 17 years. So when it was reported that Logan was the last time Jackman would play the part, we all got incredibly sad because we had a good guess what that would mean.

And true, by the end of Logan, the adamantium-laced mutant gives up his last breath and is buried under a pile of rocks. Of course, if you're going to go, you might as well go out fighting. A man haunted by years of violence, Logan redeems himself in the end by saving a group of mutant children—including his clone/daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen)—from murderous mercenaries and another psychotic clone. And in his last moments, as Wolverine connects with his own flesh and blood, he finally realizes what life is about.

At the makeshift funeral, Laura sends her father off in a true hero's fashion. As the mutant kids gather around the gravesite, she recites the final speech from the western Shane, a monologue that perfectly captures Logan's tortured soul. But before escaping into the woods with her newfound companions, Laura pays tribute to the Wolverine in the most perfect way possible, taking the cross that marks his grave and flipping it on its side into an "X"—a fitting tribute for Charles Xavier's greatest pupil.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Not very superhero movie needs to end with action or tragedy. Sometimes, all the closing scene needs to do is send you into hysterics. And when it comes to last lines and last laughs, it really doesn't get any better than Spider-Man: Homecoming. Directed by Jon Watts, Tom Holland's first full-length outing in the Spidey suit finds Peter Parker trying to impress Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and date his high school crush (Laura Harrier), all while trying to stop a winged super-thief (Michael Keaton) from getting his talons on some top secret weapons.

And while the web-slinger hits some pretty big bumps along the way, he eventually gets the job done, putting the Vulture behind bars and earning Stark's respect. In fact, Iron Man is so impressed that he decides to return Peter's trademark suit, the one he confiscated earlier in the film when Peter got a bit reckless in his quest to bring down the bad guys. Excited to have his outfit back, Peter steps into his disguise and revels in the glory of being Spider-Man. The music swells, Peter takes off his mask and smiles, and that's when a confused Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) steps into the room and angrily asks, "What the f—" right as the Ramones cut her off with "Blitzkrieg Bop."