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The greatest endings in action movie history

The action genre is all about fistfights, gun battles, and blowing stuff up. These movies are cinematic thrill rides that take us on exciting car chases or put us in the middle of martial arts showdowns. They get our adrenaline going from the very first scene, and the action just escalates from there… and that makes ending an action film a pretty tricky proposition. How do you top all the knife fights and sword duels that came before? Well, perhaps the film will end with a catchy one-liner. Maybe the hero will sacrifice himself for the team. Or perhaps the show will close with some righteous revenge. And when a filmmaker crafts that perfect finale, you've got yourself an action movie that will stand the test of time (and the force of any gunshot or explosion). From super spies to sci-fi showdowns, these are the greatest endings in action movie history.

The Bourne Supremacy - Get some rest, Pam

How do you find a spy like Jason Bourne? You don't. He finds you. That's a lesson that Pamela Landy learns in The Bourne Supremacy. Played by Joan Allen, Landy is a high-ranking CIA agent who suspects Bourne (Matt Damon) of terrorism. Eventually, the amnesiac assassin convinces Landy he's one of the good guys, and she helps the spy clear his name, bring down a government bigwig, and stop some serious shenanigans.

So in the final seconds of the film, Bourne calls Landy for a little chat, and she gives the forgetful spy some info about his past. Little does she know that Bourne is right outside her office, watching her every move from a nearby building. (It's a bad habit of his.) Thankful for her help, Bourne decides to give his new buddy a little advice: "Get some rest, Pam. You look tired." As the startled CIA agent whirls around to find Bourne, that's when "Extreme Ways" kicks in, and as the song plays, the enigmatic agent disappears into the crowd, vanishing forever… or at least until The Bourne Ultimatum, anyway.

Casino Royale - The name's Bond

If you want to take care of yourself, there are certain things you should never do. Never look directly into the sun. Never mess with a mama bear's cubs. And never kill James Bond's girlfriend. That's something Casino Royale's Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) finds out the hard way. A member of a terrorist group called Quantum, Mr. White is the true author of all Bond's pain. After a twisty plot involving an African warlord, Texas hold 'em, and a bloody-eyed Hannibal Lecter, Mr. White makes off with a case full of money and leaves Bond's lady love (Eva Green) to drown.

Needless to say, Bond (Daniel Craig) isn't going to let White get away with this. The money-grubbing terrorist thinks he's safe at his lakeside villa, but then he gets a mysterious phone call. When he answers the phone and asks who's calling, that's when he gets a bullet in the leg. The bad guy goes down hard, and he tries to crawl away, but before he can escape, who should be standing over him but 007 himself. Machine gun in one hand and phone in the other, Bond answers Mr. White's question with maybe the most iconic line in movie history: "The name's Bond, James Bond."

Cut to black. Cue theme song. And that's how you end a James Bond movie.

Die Hard - Christmas miracles

One of the all-time great action movies, Die Hard ends with every good guy getting their moment and every bad guy getting their just desserts. After letting Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) fall to his death, John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his estranged wife Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) stagger out of the smoking Nakatomi tower. They've just been through holiday hell, but the action isn't over just yet.

Looking like a wild-eyed zombie, Karl the not-dead terrorist (Alexander Godunov) stumbles out of the tower, machine gun in hand. But that's when Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) steps in to save the day. The desk-duty cop pulls his gun for the first time in forever and fills the bad guy full of lead. But we're not done handing out justice quite yet. When the world's most obnoxious reporter — a jerk of a journalist whose reporting put John and Holly in danger — shoves a mic in McClane's face, Holly rears back and socks him on the jaw.  

With all the villains put away, Holly and John get in a limousine and drive off, accompanied by the cheerful refrain of "Let It Snow." It's a magical and murderous ending to one of the bloodiest Christmas movie ever made.

Django Unchained - Destroying Candieland

The climax of Django Unchained is the very definition of the word "catharsis," both for the characters and the audience. For over two and a half hours, we've seen slaves beaten to death with hammers, torn apart by dogs, and hung upside down by their ankles. So when Django (Jamie Foxx) returns to Candieland, we're ready for some fiery revenge.

Decked out in burgundy duds and packing not one but two pistols, Django turns Billy Crash (Walton Goggins) into a soprano, sends Ms. Laura (Laura Cayouette) flying through the air, and takes pleasure in kneecapping Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). As the elderly yet evil house slave lies screaming on the ground, Django takes his cigarette and lights a trail of gunpowder and then watches as the Candieland mansion — along with old Stephen — goes up in a big ball of flame.  

With the bad guys vanquished, now it's time to celebrate. Accompanied by a catchy spaghetti western theme song, Django impresses his wife (Kerry Washington) with his fancy horse-riding skills. Then, "the fastest gun in the South" and his liberated bride ride off into the darkness, heavily armed and ready for any bounty hunters who might come their way. Sure, most slave revolts didn't have happy endings, but that's what makes Django Unchained so awesome. Nearly 150 years after slavery ended, we finally get some cinematic justice.

Drive - A real human being

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive finds Ryan Gosling playing "the Driver," a man of few words who spends his spare time driving criminals around town. But while he likes to act all tough, the Driver is really a big softie who grows fond of his next-door neighbors, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos).

Unfortunately, Irene and her kid get unwittingly mixed up with some vicious mobsters, but the Driver isn't going to let anyone hurt his two favorite people. So he dons his scorpion jacket, puts the pedal to the metal, and drives to a fateful showdown with the head honcho mobster (Albert Brooks). He offers to cut a deal with the gangster: a million dollars from a robbery gone wrong for Irene and Benicio's safety. It sounds like a sweet bargain, but there's no honor among thieves.

When the Driver shows up with the cash, the mob boss stabs him in the gut. But even though there's a blade in his belly, the Driver grabs his own knife and puts the mobster down. Covered in blood, the Driver slides into his car, and the camera lingers on his face for what feels like forever. Seconds tick by, and he doesn't move a muscle. We're convinced he's dead… and then he blinks.

With the '80s-style soundtrack kicking in, the Driver takes off into the night. Yeah, he's leaving Irene behind — after all, wherever the Driver goes, trouble always follows — but at least he knows they're safe as he disappears down a highway and into the horizon.  

Inglourious Basterds - Aldo Raine's masterpiece

History doesn't usually have happy endings. Take World War II, for example. In real life, most of the high-ranking Nazis escaped justice, but Quentin Tarantino doesn't let Hans Landa get off so easy. Played by Christoph Waltz, Landa is the diabolical bad guy from Inglourious Basterds, a monster who uses his skills as a detective to track down and murder Jews. And at the end of the film, it looks like he's going to get away scot-free after cutting a deal with the U.S. government, but Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) isn't going to sit by while some Nazi tosses his SS uniform, escapes his past, and retires to Nantucket Island.

Wanting to make sure everyone knows about Landa's crimes, Aldo "the Apache" and his diminutive sidekick Smithson "The Little Man" Utivich (B.J. Novak) toss Landa to the ground and give him one nasty Nazi tattoo. With his Bowie knife in hand (and plenty of experience under his belt), Aldo carves a swastika into Landa's forehead. Now, no matter where Landa goes or what he does, everyone will know exactly what he did during the war. He's marked for life. And when Aldo is finished with his World War II tattoo, he takes a few seconds to admire his handiwork and proudly proclaims this might be his masterpiece. And we have to say the same thing about this gloriously gory ending.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Furiosa's return

Mad Max: Fury Road might have the most upbeat ending of the entire Mad Max franchise. This post-apocalyptic thriller finds the titular road warrior (Tom Hardy) teaming up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed truck driver trying to save a group of sex slaves from dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). After nearly two hours of epic car chase sequences, Max, Furiosa, and their ragtag bunch of young brides and elderly bikers defeat Joe's automobile army and ride into his citadel victorious.

In fact, they've got Joe's corpse on the front of their car, which Max tosses down into the dust. The desert-dwelling peasants are absolutely elated that Joe's been defeated. After all, he was a brutal murderer who kept control of his citizens by hoarding water. Now that he's dead, they can't wait to celebrate their new freedom by opening up the wells, desecrating Joe's corpse, and crowning Furiosa as their new leader.

After so much pain, suffering, and sacrifice, it's a triumphant moment for the people of the citadel, with the destructive patriarchy giving way to a kind, benevolent queen. The people adore Furiosa, but as she literally ascends to the throne, she notices Max disappearing into the crowd below. His job is done, and hers is just beginning, and the two action heroes exchange nods before parting ways, with one ruling and one no longer running.

The Night Comes for Us - Going out with a smile

The Night Comes for Us is one of the greatest and goriest martial arts flicks to come out of Indonesia. Written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto, this crazy killfest follows a Triad enforcer named Ito (Joe Taslim) who grows a conscience and decides to protect a little girl (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez) from a legion of gun-toting, kukri-carrying, axe-wielding gangsters. In his desperate attempt to keep this kid safe, he battles assassins, butchers, and his ex-best friend, and by the end of the film, he's drenched in blood and cut to pieces, but at least the girl is alive.

Ito manages to get the kid aboard a ship and sends her off to safety. But as he wheezes and groans behind the steering wheel of his car, a small army of gangsters shows up, all packing serious heat. There's no escaping for Ito. He's got the ocean at his back and wall of firepower in front of him. But if he's going down, he might as well go in a blaze of glory. Grinning like a madman, the gore-soaked hero throws his car into gear and drives straight at the bad guys. The gangsters riddle his car with bullets, but that doesn't stop Ito from letting loose with a war cry right before the screen cuts to black. Sure, he died a gruesome death, but at least he went out smiling.

Point Break - The 50-year storm

Point Break is the ultimate bromance movie, a story about an FBI agent and an outlaw who form a bond over surfboards and skydiving. The FBI agent is Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), a college football player-turned-fed who infiltrates a gang of bank-robbing surfers called the Ex-Presidents. But soon, Johnny falls under the sway of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the leader of the gang. Known among his friends and acolytes as the Bodhisattva, Bodhi preaches a philosophy of riding waves and living in the moment. It's an addictive philosophy and one that turns Johnny from a straight-laced agent into a man conflicted about his true nature.

So when Johnny finally tracks a runaway Bodhi to a beach in Australia, he's torn. Should he haul Bodhi off to jail? Or should he let him ride one last wave? After all, the ocean is perfect. The fabled 50-year storm is raging off the coast, creating once-in-a-lifetime waves. After a waterlogged wrestling match, Johnny lets Bodhi paddle out into the sea where he dies doing what he loves, and for Bodhi, that's way better than rotting in a cell. As for Johnny, he's gone full surfer dude and tosses his badge into the sea. There's no more chasing bank robbers for Johnny Utah. Instead, it's all about chasing that adrenaline rush.

Shooter - Justice, American-style

In real life, corrupt politicians get away with all sorts of horrible stuff, and there's nothing the average Joe can do about it. But in Shooter, those politicians have to answer to Bob Lee Swagger. Played by Mark Wahlberg, Swagger is a retired and reclusive Marine sniper who's framed for the murder of the Ethiopian archbishop. As Swagger goes on the run to clear his name, he discovers a dirty senator (Ned Beatty) and a shady colonel (Danny Glover) killed the archbishop to cover up their involvement in some serious war crimes. But when the legal system fails to serve justice, that's when the all-American Swagger goes red, white, and bloody.

Loaded down with a bunch of guns, Swagger tracks the two villains to an isolated cabin, where the senator and the colonel are smoking cigars, drinking brandy, and cackling about their evil plans… until bullets start whizzing through the air. Swagger drops the colonel with a single shot, picks off all the bodyguards, and then steps inside to personally execute the politician. Beatty's character threatens and blusters, hoping to scare off Swagger with his congressional clout. But Swagger is less than impressed. Ever the freedom-libertarian, when the bad guy indignantly declares that he's a United States senator, the sniper shoots back, "Exactly," before removing him from office… permanently.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day - Thumbs up

Terminator 2: Judgment Day finds Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of his career, playing a much friendlier version of the T-800. Sent back in time to protect a teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong), the Terminator battles a shape-shifting robot, learns some human lingo, and comes to understand human emotions like love and sadness. By the end of the film, he might look battered and beat up, but he's become such a good dude that he's won over Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a woman with good reason to hate Terminators.

In fact, the T-800 has come so far, emotionally speaking, that he realizes he must sacrifice himself for the greater good. If scientists ever get ahold of the chip inside his brain, they'll use it to create the A.I. that will one day start a nuclear war and try to kill John and Sarah. Despite all the tears, the T-800 puts the fate of his newfound family — and all mankind — ahead of his own life. He asks Sarah to lower him into a pit of molten metal, and as the heartbroken Connors watch their robo-buddy submerge under all that lava, the Terminator gives them a thumbs up, telling them the future is going to be okay. Who would've thought a movie about a time-traveling murder-bot would make so many action fans start sniffling?

Upgrade - STEM is here to stay

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, Upgrade walks a fine line between sci-fi and horror, but it's 100 percent an action movie. Set in the not-so-distant future, the film follows a mechanic named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) who's left paralyzed after being attacked by criminals. Worse still, these crooks murdered his wife, and the cops can't seem to catch them. So now, it looks like Grey is going to spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair mourning his wife, until an eccentric inventor installs an A.I. chip named STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) into Grey's body.

With STEM's help, Grey can walk with ease. He can also violently murder people, as STEM is pretty skilled at fighting. With the A.I.'s help, Grey hunts down the thugs who ruined his life, but eventually, he realizes STEM might not be his BFF. As it turns out, the A.I. has been pulling the strings all along as part of an elaborate plot to take over Grey's body and become human. Naturally, Grey isn't crazy about this plan, and he fights back the best he can. But when you're playing a mental tug of war with an artificial intelligence, the human brain doesn't stand a chance. The strain is too much, and Grey snaps, becoming lost in a limbo-like world where he imagines his wife is still alive. But back in reality, STEM is completely in control, free to live his new human life. In a weird kind of way, it's a happy ending for Grey's brain but a major bummer for his body.