Best horror movie endings of this century

In Secret Window, Johnny Depp famously said the most important part of the story is the ending. While that might be a slight exaggeration, it is safe to say that a good ending can make or break a horror movie. Fortunately for fright fans, the 21st century has been full of fantastic finales that have sent us scrambling under the covers in fear—and from ghostly apparitions to bloodthirsty vampires, here are the greatest. And no, Secret Window won't be making the list, but you should be aware that we're about to dish out a lot of spooky spoilers.

The Others (2001)

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, The Others is an atmospheric film that follows the unfortunate Stewart family—Roman Catholic Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her creepy kids (Alakina Mann and James Bradley)—as they slowly but surely realize their home is haunted. Doors are closing by themselves, and the piano is playing on its own. There's a couple roaming the hallways, a dead boy hiding behind the curtains, and—worst of all—a freaky blind lady lurking in the shadows.

But when Grace and her children stumble upon a séance in the attic, they suddenly realize they're the ones who are dead. As the memories come flooding back, Grace remembers that she murdered her children after temporarily going insane. After realizing what she'd done, Grace killed herself, damning her family to an eternity inside their creaky mansion.

It's a gut-punch of a twist, especially thanks to the look of horror on Kidman's face. It also changes the entire film when you realize the so-called ghosts that have been scaring the Stewarts are actually living people who've moved into Grace's old home. They're the ones being haunted by Grace and her kids, and they were so freaked out that they even asked a spiritualist—the blind lady—for assistance. It's a pretty brilliant ending, and we've got to give Amenábar credit for pulling it off just two years after The Sixth Sense shocked moviegoers with a similar twist.

Saw (2004)

These days, Jigsaw is one of the most famous bad guys to ever torture someone on the big screen, but in 2004, when the first Saw film hit theaters, audiences had no idea what the infamous serial killer actually looked like. In fact, for most of the movie, everybody suspected that Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson of Lost fame) was the psycho who chained up poor Adam (Leigh Whannell) in that bathroom dungeon.

But after our hero bashes Zep to death, he discovers a cassette that reveals the hospital orderly was just another victim in Jigsaw's game. And as Adam begins to process this new bit of info, we watch in horror as a dead body—which has been lying on the bathroom floor for the whole movie—crawls up off the floor. Yep, this corpse is the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), and when Jigsaw walks out of the bathroom, he leaves his latest victim chained to a pipe, parting with his trademark line: "Game over."

The Mist (2007)

Honestly, the ending of The Mist needs no introduction. It's bleak, ugly, nihilistic, and far darker than Stephen King's original story. If you're at all familiar with scary cinema, then you know the movie involves a supermarket full of people surrounded by an otherworldly mist. Unfortunately for the people trapped in the store, this freaky fog is full of Lovecraftian monsters with some pretty sharp teeth.

However, things aren't much better inside, especially with a religious nut (Marcia Gay Harden) encouraging the crowd to perform a human sacrifice. Deciding to take their chances with the flesh-eating bugs, a group of survivors led by artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) drives into the mist, but they don't get very far before realizing escape is futile. With no hope in sight, David and his crew agree that death by pistol is far preferable than death via demon spiders.

Cue one of the most controversial finales in horror history when David mercifully executes his friends and his own son. Out of bullets, he staggers into the mist, hoping some creature will end his life. And that's when the mist clears and the military rolls by, ready for battle. If only David had waited just a few seconds, his son would've been okay, and we all could've been spared that emotional devastation.

You're Next (2011)

From the twisted minds of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, You're Next is equal parts horrific and hilarious. The plot follows a group of upper-class people traveling to an isolated mansion for a family reunion. But hey, family reunions are often awkward and uncomfortable, and that's especially true if a trio of killers show up sporting animal masks and carrying all sorts of weapons.

With a little inside help, the murderers begin picking off the family members one by one, but they meet their match in Erin (Sharni Vinson), an Australian who grew up in a survivalist compound. In other words, she's the perfect person to have around when mercenaries show up, as she can take villains down with everyday items like screwdrivers and blenders. Unfortunately, her tactics backfire after she sets an axe trap above a door. In the final minutes of the movie, a police officer finally shows up and mistakes Erin for one of the killers, putting a bullet into our hero. But things get even grislier when the cop tries to come inside. Despite Erin's warnings, the officer steps through, the axe swings down, and a bloody title card pops up onscreen as we're treated to the wonderfully ironic "Looking for the Magic." Accidental death has never been this entertaining.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Possibly the most meta horror movie ever made, The Cabin in the Woods follows a bunch of college students who foolishly spend a weekend in a creepy forest. Naturally, their little getaway doesn't go as planned, and they quickly discover they're meant to be sacrifices in an elaborate ritual to please some angry ancient entities.

With a family of undead rednecks hot on their trail, the two remaining survivors (Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz) find themselves trapped in an underground bunker, surrounded by a bunch of goons with machine guns. Without any other choice, our heroes unleash an army of monsters, resulting in one of the wildest, you-won't-believe-it-until-you-see-it sequences in horror cinema.

Pretty much every creature you can imagine shows up, ready to do some damage. We've got a knockoff Pennywise, an imitation Pinhead, and masked murderers straight out of The Strangers. There's a giant snake, an enormous bat, and one unfriendly unicorn. By the time the zombies, ghosts, and werewolves are finished slaughtering everyone in sight, the walls are caked with blood, the earth is doomed, and audiences have had a gory good time.

Kill List (2012)

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Kill List starts off as a disturbing little thriller that takes a shocking turn into Wicker Man territory. The story follows two hit men—Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley)—hired by a mysterious organization to murder three seemingly random people. Stranger still, the victims all thank Jay before he ends their lives, leaving the assassins completely confused.

Ultimately, their "kill list" leads them into the English countryside where they're attacked by a creepy cult. Gal is savagely murdered, and Jay is forced to battle against a hooded, hunchbacked man. As you might assume, this knife fight is no problem for Jay, who's had plenty of killing experience. He dispatches the hunchback with relative ease, but after stabbing his deformed foe multiple times, he's shocked when the cloak is pulled back to reveal his dying wife (MyAnna Buring).

Worse still, the "hunchback's" bump is actually their young son (Harry Simpson), strapped to his mom's back as part of an occult ritual. Absolutely stunned that he's just butchered his family, Jay disappears into his own mind as the cultists applaud the kill and place a crown atop his head.

Long story short: Kill List is one messed-up movie.

The Guest (2014)

The Guest feels like a movie that John Carpenter might've directed in his prime, complete with a madman that just can't be killed. The chaos begins when veteran David Collins (Dan Stevens) visits the family of a fallen comrade. At first, David seems like a cool guy, and he's invited into the family's home, but under that charming, hunky exterior, there's an ultra-aggressive super soldier waiting to explode.

Several plot turns and a whole lot of sexual tension later, David is chasing our sibling heroes—Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer)—through a high school haunted house. And as he's just murdered their parents, chances are pretty good David didn't follow them there for the Halloween dance.

Unfortunately for David, he's majorly underestimated his prey, and Luke stabs the psycho in the heart, vampire style. The authorities soon arrive on the scene, and it looks like Anna and Luke are finally safe…until a familiar-looking fireman walks out of the gym, giving Anna a meaningful glance before disappearing into the darkness, Michael Myers-style.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Two of the sexiest and strangest people on the planet, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton were born to play vampires. So naturally, they're perfect as Adam and Eve, the undead protagonists of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Brooding, mysterious, and artistically inclined, this vampire couple has spent the last several centuries making music, reading books, and hobnobbing with the most creative minds in history.

But their erudite existence is threatened after the death of Adam's familiar (Anton Yelchin) and the arrival of some nosy music groupies. The two take off for Tangier, but that poses a bit of a problem. Unlike, say, Count Dracula, Adam and Eve don't drink blood straight from human victims. Fearing they might get sick after slurping down a bad batch, they instead buy their supply from hospitals and blood dealers.

However, when they arrive in Morocco, the duo quickly runs out of clean blood. Unable to find a new supplier, they begin wasting away until they spot a couple making out. Even though biting necks is so 15th century, the desperate creatures approach the young lovers, and right before the screen cuts to black, we see Adam and Eve with their fangs exposed, ready to feast.

It Follows (2015)

The second movie starring Maika Monroe to make our list, It Follows did something very few horror films ever do: create a truly original monster. Basically an STD on two legs, the titular "It" is spread via sex, and if you contract the curse, this enigmatic monster will mercilessly hunt you down. And if it kills you, it then goes after the person who gave you the curse…and so on and so on forever.

Sure, the creature moves pretty slowly, but this thing can take any form necessary to get close enough for the kill. And no matter what, it never stops following—unless you push it into a pool and electrocute it. Well, that's what our hero Jay (Monroe) hopes, anyway. After picking up the curse courtesy of a one-night stand, she does her best to fry the monster with every electronic device she can get her hands on. And just to play it safe, she has sex with her friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who then passes the curse on to a prostitute, just in case the thing comes back.

And that leads us to the final eerie image of Jay and Paul walking down a neighborhood street, thinking maybe their terror is finally over. But in the distance, there's a man slowly coming down the sidewalk. Maybe it's just a guy getting some exercise, maybe it's someone looking for directions…or maybe it's a creature that can never die, coming back for round two. We never learn for sure as the screen cuts to black, leaving Jay's fate to the imagination.

The Invitation (2015)

A powerful examination of grief and suffering, Karyn Kusama's The Invitation is like Manchester by the Sea with a lot more murder. The story focuses on a man named Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who's grappling with the loss of his young son. Will's life only gets more complicated after he receives a dinner invitation from his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard). He isn't the only one to show up at the party, either—Eden has invited all their old friends from back in the day, but this isn't exactly a fun affair.

Beneath the polite conversation and idle chitchat, Will can sense there's something strange going on (even though no one else has the courage to say so). Eden and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) are promoting some bizarre cult, and there's an incredibly eerie giant who looks like John Carroll Lynch lurking in the background, keeping an eye on everyone at the party.

As the evening wears on, Will begins to suspect there's foul play afoot, and he's particularly baffled when he spies David walking into the back yard and lighting a red lantern. But Will kind of forgets that little detail when Eden, David, and two cult members (Lynch included) go into Charles Manson mode, butchering every guest they can get their hands on. Fortunately, Will survives the assault, but as he steps outside, he sees that almost every house in sight has a red lantern shining outside. It's a simple yet haunting image—one that may keep you from attending many dinner parties in the near future.

Krampus (2015)

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's hard to enjoy the holidays when your family won't stop bickering. Fed up and frustrated with his unruly relatives, young Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) loses the Christmas spirit, tears up his letter to Santa, and tosses the shreds out the window. Little does Max know he's just summoned the biggest Scrooge of all, a horned beast named Krampus who plans on punishing Max's entire family.

Soon enough, the Engels and their extended kin are forced to band together in order to fight off waves of satanic toys, killer cookies, and angry elves. But despite their best efforts, Krampus wins the day, casting poor Max down into the underworld…or does he? Shortly after encountering the Christmas demon, Max wakes up to find the whole invasion was just a dream, and soon, he's peacefully celebrating Christmas with his entire family

However, the upbeat mood takes a sharp nosedive when Max finds a little bell with the word "Krampus" etched into the side. It's a gift from the big guy himself, a perverted present that lets Max and his family know they'll have plenty of time to enjoy the holidays because they'll be trapped in Christmas hell for all of eternity.

The Witch (2016)

Life in the 17th century wasn't a lot of fun, especially if you were living next to a wicked witch. That's something William (Ralph Ineson) and his Puritan family find out the hard way when they're kicked out of their community and forced into the wilderness. Out in the woods, there are demonic forces everywhere, but while the family's prayers go unanswered, the Prince of Darkness is keeping pretty busy.

Showing up as the murderous goat Black Phillip, the devil does a pretty good job of tearing the family apart—quite literally in some cases. Soon, the only member who isn't dead or missing is eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Left all alone in the middle of nowhere and feeling cut off from the Almighty, Thomasin strikes a deal with Satan, exchanging her soul for the chance to live deliciously.

Following Black Phillip's commands, Thomasin strips nude and wanders into the woods, where she discovers a coven of witches convulsing around a fire. Soon, the crones begin to rise into the air, with Thomasin flying right behind them. It's every Puritan's greatest fear come true, but for Thomasin, it's probably the first time she's felt truly free.

Get Out (2017)

A modern-day masterpiece, Jordan Peele's Get Out almost had a radically different ending. Originally, Peele planned on having his main character, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), arrested after escaping the clutches of the mind-controlling Armitage family. Fortunately, the writer-director had a change of heart and crafted a new ending that left audiences cheering instead of crying.

To set the scene, Chris has just narrowly avoided the lobotomy to end all lobotomies, and during his getaway, he murders every evil white person who steps into his path. This eventually ends with Chris standing above his psycho ex-girlfriend as she's bleeding out on a country road. Suddenly, flashing lights appear in the distance, and we assume the worst is about to happen. But instead of the law showing up to cart Chris away, who should step out of the car but Chris's best friend, TSA Officer Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery). As Rod takes Chris back to safety, everyone in the audience breathes a sigh of relief, knowing full-well this kind of upbeat ending rarely happens in real life.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Granted, most horror films end on a downbeat note, especially zombie movies. For proof, just check out George Romero's entire undead filmography. But fortunately for moviegoers, Edgar Wright decided to break that tradition with Shaun of the Dead.

This horror-comedy does have its fair share of terrifying moments (like when David is eaten alive), not to mention scenes that will leave you emotionally wrecked for days (like when Shaun is forced to shoot his mom). Honestly, Shaun of the Dead's climax is one of the darkest moments Edgar Wright has ever directed, culminating with Shaun (Simon Pegg) tearfully saying goodbye to his friend Ed (Nick Frost) who's dying of a zombie bite.

But in the last scene of the film, Wright sends the audience off with a lighthearted moment between old buddies. After surviving the apocalypse, we see Shaun has somehow corralled a zombified Ed into the garden shed behind his house. And sure, Ed might try to take a bite out of his old pal every now and then, but for the most part, the two are content to sit back, relax, and play video games, just like they did in the good old days.

The Descent (2005)

The Descent has everything you'd want in a horror film: plenty of gore, great performances, practical effects… and two endings? That's right. There are two versions of this British horror film, one released in the U.K. and one in the US. And while both are equally dark, the original British version is far superior and far more heartbreaking.

The Descent follows six women who head into an unexplored cave system and find themselves being hunted by a legion of cannibalistic "crawlers." The gory film comes to a close after our last surviving character, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), spots a shaft of light atop a hill of bones. Covered in blood, Sarah makes a mad scramble for the exit, leaving the cave-dwelling creatures behind. Emerging into the sunlight, Sarah hops in a car and makes her great escape, but that all comes to a screaming halt when she sees the ghost of her old friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza), a woman Sarah just murdered for having an affair with her husband.

That's where the U.S. version ends, with a terrified Sarah haunted by the guilt of her crime. But in the original U.K. version, there are a few extra seconds that reveal Sarah never escaped the caverns. That whole sequence was just a dream Sarah had after tumbling down a shaft and hitting her head. Once she wakes up, she loses all touch with reality. In her last moments, Sarah sees her long-dead daughter sitting a few feet away, greeting her mother with a birthday cake. (The kid died on her birthday, and that trauma has been following Sarah for the entire film.) Of course, there's no little girl, and the flames from the birthday candles are really Sarah's torch. Worst of all, there's no exit nearby. Sarah is still trapped, and there's no escaping the crawlers as they move in for the kill. But at least she'll get to share her last few seconds with her daughter, even if it's all in her head.

Let the Right One In (2008)

At first, it might seem like Let the Right One In ends on an upbeat note. In fact, you might be tempted to describe it as romantic. Two star-crossed lovers — Oskar, a 12-year-old boy, and Eli, a vampire who looks like a young girl — have just escaped a Swedish town filled with sadists and snow. They're bound together by murder and romance, and now they're on a train heading for freedom. Light-sensitive Eli (Lina Leandersson) is hidden away inside a box, but Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) keeps the creature company by tapping out sweet Morse Code messages, letting Eli know they'll always be together.

This is not a happy ending.

We've already seen what happens to people who pledge their lives to Eli. In the first half of the film, Eli was palling around with an adult named Hakan, who had the grisly job of hunting down humans and draining them of their blood in order to keep Eli fed. But Hakan eventually botches a job so badly that he knows his arrest is imminent; wanting to keep Eli safe, he disfigures his own face so the cops can't identify him and won't trace him back to the vampire.

In fact, Hakan's dedication to Eli is so extreme that when the vampire shows up for a late-night hospital visit, he lets the undead beast feast on his blood. And really, that's exactly what's in store for Oskar. We already know this kid has both a love for Eli and an obsession with murder. Sooner or later, Oskar will dedicate his life to draining people dry, and sooner or later, he'll find himself haunted by his deeds and replaced by somebody younger after ending up the next meal for an undead adolescent. So much for all that cute Morse Code.

The Babadook (2014)

Directed by Jennifer Kent, The Babadook belongs to a very unique subgenre of scary films: movies about parents who can't stand their kids. But unlike other movies in that genre — e.g. The Shining and We Need to Talk About Kevin — The Babadook actually ends on an upbeat note. The terrorized mom overcomes her demons and starts a new life for herself and her son. Of course, the ending leaves audiences wondering just how real those demons actually are. Is the titular spirit a real-life monster or simply a metaphor for the destructive power of repressed grief? Well, the answer is yes.

Amelia (Essie Davis) has a lot of bad stuff happening in her life. She was widowed the same day she gave birth to her pint-sized monster of a son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Now, whenever she sees her kid, she can only think about her dead husband. Needless to say, Amelia isn't handling her grief well. She's let it fester and grow for so long that there's now a fanged creature with a fondness for pop-up books hanging around her house. The Babadook even possesses Amelia, forcing her to try and murder Samuel. But after driving the demon out, Amelia comes to terms with her grief and sends the Babadook scurrying down to the basement.

In the film's final minutes, we see a transformed Amelia in her garden. The aching sadness is gone from her eyes, there's a smile on her face where there wasn't before, and her anger towards Samuel has disappeared. Together, the two search their yard for worms, and after filling a bowl with the creatures, Amelia takes the dish down to the basement, where she offers the worms to the Babadook. Even though she's exorcised the beast, he's still lurking down there, and just like Amelia's grief, he'll never go away completely. But he can't possess her anymore. He's still around, but he's beaten, and while he might roar from time to time, he'll never get out of the basement again.

Split (2017)

Fair or not, M. Night Shyamalan movies are always judged on the strength of their endings. The Sixth Sense had one of the all-time best plot twists, and since then, audiences have been hoping Shyamalan would top himself someday. But while he's occasionally struggled with sticking the landing, Shyamalan recaptured some of that Sixth Sense glory with Split, a horror film that was secretly a superhero movie the whole time (well, a supervillain movie, if you want to get technical).

This 2017 hit follows a disturbed dude named Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 personalities bouncing around his brain. Some are friendly, some are dangerous, but the dreaded Beast is a straight-up monster — a cannibalistic creature who can scale walls, bend metal, and deflect gunshots. In the final three minutes of the film, after the climactic showdown with kidnapping victim Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), we watch as Kevin examines himself in a mirror, awestruck that he's just survived a shotgun blast to the chest. And that's where the movie proper ends, with Kevin's evil personalities basking in their new abilities and plotting their war on the impure.

That right there would be a killer ending, but as the Split title card gives way to an after-credit scene, a familiar soundtrack kicks in, and the film suddenly cuts to a diner. The horrified patrons are watching a news report about the Beast, and this superpowered creature reminds one customer of a previous supervillain called Mr. Glass, the mad genius from Shyamalan's 2002 film, Unbreakable. And that's when see David Dunn (Bruce Willis), sipping coffee at the end of the bar and realizing it's time to grab his green raincoat. In just one minute, the entire fabric of the film has been changed. This isn't just a horror movie, it's a stealth sequel to Unbreakable — and one that promises an epic showdown between an unstoppable villain and an immovable hero.

A Quiet Place (2018)

Directed by John Krasinski, A Quiet Place was a critical and commercial smash when it hit theaters in 2018, and one of the reasons the film was so successful is the fact that it features one of the most badass endings in horror movie history.

Set in the near future, A Quiet Place focuses on the uber-resourceful Abbott family trying to survive in a world plagued by monsters. These extraterrestrial creatures are blind, but their sense of hearing is incredibly acute. Knock over a lantern, trip on the stairs, or shout in pain, and they'll slice you in half. On top of that, they're covered in a natural bulletproof armor, making them impossible to kill. As a result, the Abbotts must adapt to live in a world without sound, keeping as quiet as possible at all times.

Of course, that's just everyday life for Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds). She's deaf, so communicating every thought with sign language is nothing new for her. Still, her father (Krasinski) desperately hopes to help with her disability, so he spends his spare time designing cochlear implants. Sadly, the devices never really work, but at the end of the film, Regan discovers her hearing aid is actually the super weapon she needs to fight back against the creatures.

See, the creatures' ears are incredibly sensitive, and they can't stand the feedback from Regan's implant. So when she and the surviving family members are trapped in a basement by one of the beasts, Regan turns into Rambo, using her hearing aid to drive one of the monsters crazy. The monster starts to freak out and writhe in pain, allowing Regan's mother (Emily Blunt) to kill the weakened creature with a shotgun blast. Of course, the gunshot attracts the other nearby aliens, but the Abbotts aren't afraid. For once, they've got the upper hand, and as the evil E.T.s make a beeline for the basement, Regan gets her new weapon ready — and her mom racks another shell into her shotgun, ready to make some noise.