WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE.
By not simply rolling to "The End," "They all lived happily ever after," etc. after Frodo made a three-pointer chucking The One Ring into Mount Doom, Peter Jackson set a pretty bad precedent in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." Every time it seemed like all was well and we were fading to credits, another five-minute scene would roll in. Toss in a few Oscars and you've got a bunch of blockbuster directors wanting to add 20 endings to their genre films, too.
With "Man of Steel" currently keeping people from validating their parking for way longer than they should, let's take a look at five recent flicks that just kept going and going and going ...
'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (2011)
Ending #1: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) discovers the killer was Martin (Stellan Skarsgård), goes to his house and is almost murderized by the dude, but Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) saves the day. Salander chases Martin on her motorcycle, but his Swedish SUV winds up engulfed in flames like so much IKEA furniture. *Crowd Cheers*
Ending #2: Blomkvist deduces that the murdered Harriet's cousin Anita (Joely Richardson) is actually Harriet herself, long-hidden after she murdered her molester father. Harriet tearfully reunites with her Uncle Henrik (Christopher Plummer) after 40 years. All right.
Ending #3: Salander digs up dirt on Blomkvist's enemy Wennerström (Ulf Friberg), who flees the country, then she goes to Switzerland to get all the dude's money and (probably) kills him. She returns to Blomkvist only to find him shacked up with his girlfriend, and she rides away on her bike all pissed. Yay?
Was That Really Necessary? No, straight up no way. Stieg Larsson's story overstays its welcome by wrapping up every loose end in extensive detail long after we stopped caring. The original Swedish adaptation with Noomi Rapace went on even longer, something like 40 more minutes after the killer is done away with.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)
Ending #1: After defeating Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) pilots the massive HYDRA ship into the drink. Heartbroken, Peggy (Hayley Atwell) files him as MIA, and his legend lives on in the hearts of all freedom-loving Americans.
Ending #2: Rogers wakes up in a hospital room made to look like the '40s but is actually present day. He realizes something's up, punches his way through a few walls and winds up in the middle of modern-day Times Square. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) quickly briefs him about his long coma, and Rogers realizes despondently that he missed his date with Carter by about 70 years.
Ending #3: In a post-credits sequence Fury approaches Rogers with a new mission, a scene which quickly turns into a montage trailer for "The Avengers."
Was That Really Necessary? In terms of the corporate synergy involved in making a Marvel movie it was, but narratively all these other endings do is set up the next entry in the franchise long after the story at hand had been wrapped up tidily. There were rumors that Joe Johnston didn't even direct the final scene with Fury and Rogers, and if they were just making one satisfying stand-alone movie it could have ended right after the V-E Day celebrations.
'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012)
Ending #1: With only minutes left on the ticking clock, Batman (Christian Bale) pilots the megabomb in his Bat-Copter, or whatever that thing was called, over the ocean where it detonates in a giant mushroom cloud. Whoa, Batman is freakin' dead, dude! AWESOME!
Ending #2: We see a statue erected in Batman's memory in Gotham City Hall, with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) giving a moving eulogy to his dead friend. At the private funeral of Bruce Wayne, only Gordon, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Alfred (Michael Caine) mourn him, especially his faithful butler who tried to keep him from harm.
Ending #3: LuciusFox (Morgan Freeman) discovers that Wayne had actually fixed the autopilot on his Bat-plane-thingy, so he could have ejected (although how he escaped the nuclear fallout in time is beyond us). Gordon finds the Bat-Signal restored. We see Alfred in Italy where he spots an alive-and-happy Bruce Wayne enjoying the sweet life with former cat-lady Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Turns out Blake has inherited some of Wayne's property, specifically the Bat Cave, and he will (probably) take up the mantle and start crusading with a cape.
Was That Really Necessary? Yes. For all the weird lapses in logic this sequel lazily resorted to (you can fix a broken back by punching it?), it was all worth it to get to this incredibly satisfying finale that enforces the notion of Batman as an ideal more than a single person.
'Iron Man Three' (2013)
Ending #1: With the help of Rhodey, an army of autonomous suits and Super Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) saves the President and defeats genetically-enhanced Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is revealed to be The Mandarin and perhaps the mastermind behind all of Stark's troubles these last three movies. Hooray!!! … wait, what?
Ending #2: Okay … (*deep breath*) JARVIS destroys all of Tony's suits as an act of good will towards Pepper, then she gets surgery to stabilize her Extremis enhancements, then Tony gets surgery to remove the shrapnel from his heart, throws his chest arc reactor into the ocean and moves out of his wrecked Malibu Point mansion, summing all that up by saying "I am Iron Man" again.
Ending #3: In another Merry Marvel post-credits scene we discover that Stark was telling this whole story to Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who had been asleep the whole time.
Was That Really Necessary? Yikes. Here we have director Shane Black (and undoubtedly a legion of other cooks in the kitchen including Robert Downey Jr.) force-feeding us a ton of really important events in Tony's life via something like a minute of screen time. Did we need to dwell on these things longer to get the point? Hell no. Did they need to happen right after the elation of the final battle? Probably not. The stinger with Ruffalo is a piece of utter fan wankery, but a welcome one … Science Bros 4-EV-R!!!
'Man of Steel' (2013)
Ending #1: After Superman's lengthy attempt to put a cork in the World Engine's tailpipe on the other side of the planet, Lois Lane and company fire the super missile at Zod's ship, sending all its inhabitants back to the Phantom Zone. Now Metropolis can finally heal from all this senseless destruction.
Ending #2: No time for healing! Superman and the left-on-Earth-for-some-reason Zod go at it mano-a-mano in an epic high-flying brawl that knocks down skyscrapers and murders tons of innocent people. When Zod directly threatens a family of four innocent white people, Superman suddenly grows a conscience and offs Zod, something he could have probably done ten minutes before.
Ending #3: Changing tones completely, we cut to a whimsical scene involving Superman destroying an expensive government spy satellite, irking General Swanwick (Henry Lennix), who doesn't seem that bothered by all the buildings Superman knocked down. We then see Supes in his new identity as Clark Kent, stringer reporter for the Daily Planet.
Was That Really Necessary? This is a strange case of their actually being NOT ENOUGH to the ending. The cut from Zod's death to the satellite scene feels jarring, like we're missing a reel that explores the aftermath of the Metropolis devastation. Superman has saved the world, no doubt, but the dude has a lot of explainin' to do. Guess we'll have to wait until they release the bonus fourth ending called "Man of Steel 2."