We love happy endings. In fact, a big part of why we devour stories is to escape from reality, where endings are by definition unhappy. And a really wonderful happy ending can make you turn your bullshit detector all the way off. Here are 10 somewhat contrived happy endings we can't help falling in love with.
Warning: Spoilers for old stories ahead!
1) Stardust (the movie)
This movie has a strong claim to being a modern classic. But it definitely boasts a more upbeat, conventional fairy-tale ending than the book, which has a much more muted resolution of the conflict with the witch. In particular, the triumphant coronation scene is completely unbelievable, given the rules of the world that have been set up thus far. Check out And We Shall March for a detailed rundown of the differences with the book, and the logical problems with the ending — which is nevertheless beautiful and sweet, and lovely.
2) Monsters Inc.
We almost picked on Wall-E instead, because of the weird "one green shoot means the entire Earth is habitable again" thing — but what the heck, it's a parable. And maybe all the humans died but the robots were happy. Peter Gabriel sings a happy song, so it's probably fine, right? And Monsters Inc. has always seemed a bit unreal to me — it's just awfully convenient that laughter is a much more potent energy source than screams. And nobody has ever noticed this, in the years of dealing with humans. It's a beautiful, poetic, lovely ending — that seems a bit tidy.
3) The Avengers
Tons and tons of people have already picked on this — but the fact that the Chitauri all fall down when they're disconnected from their mothership is, well, kind of easy. And rather unlike the way that armies usually function. On the other hand, an ending where our heroes have to herd all the Chitauri into internment camps where they have to be fed and entertained forever could also be problematic, and nobody wants to see the Marvel version of District 9. I also want to give a shout-out to Guardians of the Galaxy, which has a wonderful uplifting ending that doesn't entirely wash. (If you wish to discuss GotG below, please put it below a "spoiler warning" comment, please.)
4) Every Doctor Who Finale Since 2005
Old-school Doctor Who had more than its fair share of implausible resolutions, but the new series has done a lot more season-length story arcs, which require bigger payoffs and thus even more ridonkulous deus ex machinas. There's Rose's sudden apotheosis in "Parting of the Ways," the fact that the Daleks and Cybermen can all be hoovered up in "Doomsday," the "Tinkerbell Jesus" thing in "Last of the Time Lords," the Doctor-Donna in "Journey's End," the fact that Amy can basically rewrite reality with her mind in "The Big Bang," the Tesselector in "The Wedding of River Song," the Impossible Girl and so on. The thing these endings tend to have in common is that they're poetic but not entirely earned or grounded in any sense of a world that has rules.
5) Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
This is another one that tends to turn up on a lot of lists of nonsense endings, but it's well deserved. Everything pretty much depends on the Ewoks taking out all the Stormtroopers. Without the Ewoks pwning the Empire's finest, the assault on the shield generator fails, and Lando can't take out the new Death Star. There's also Darth Vader's sudden change of heart, but let's not be cynical. Point is, Return of the Jedi's ending is sweet and magical, but relies on the Empire being kind of pants.
6) The Stand by Stephen King
This post-apocalyptic is King's first big magnum opus, and it's won praise for its well-rounded, fully-formed characters who grow and develop over its massive length. But it's also gotten some flak over the years for its actual "deus ex machina" ending. Sure, the whole story is suffused with the supernatural and the battle between God and the Devil, but God sure does take an active role in sorting the whole mess out.
Fry and Leela finally get the beautiful ending that they deserve — and it relies on some pretty amazing plot-devicery which we won't go into too much here because it's only about a year old. In particular, Farnsworth pops up to fix everything in a rather hard-to-swallow twist. But hey, it made us believe in the Fry-Leela relationship at long last, and gave the show a nice send-off without actually closing off the story.
8) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The final episode of Buffy is a beautiful send-off that gives us a clever resolution of the whole "chosen one" bugaboo. Buffy not only triumphs over the First Evil, she solves the problem of her heroic destiny. But as various people have pointed out, the final victory depends on a telepathic teleconference among Buffy, Willow and Xander, something they never seemed to be able to do before. And even more than that, the magic medallion — which comes randomly out of a spin-off show — is a miraculous fix-all. And those previously unkillable super-vamps suddenly seem fairly easy to kill. But who cares? It's a superb ending, for everyone except fans of a certain vengeance demon.
9) The Princess Bride
Pretty much the world's most perfect movie, in which everything works incredibly well. And yet, whenever I rewatch it, I can't help feel like rather a lot depends on Westley, still unable to move below the neck, psyching out Humperdinck. It works because of Cary Elwes' twinkling performance, but this is so obviously a total bluff and he's so clearly bedridden that you wonder why Humperdinck doesn't notice that Westley can't even sit up. I know, I know, I'm a killjoy. But as with all the other endings on this list, it's one we can't help loving.
10) Lilo & Stitch
This movie is our jam. But it's somewhat amazing that the family gets to keep Stitch, after he's supposed to go back to the alien facility. The aliens' change of heart is somewhat, shall we say, surprising. And Cobra Bubbles, the previously hostile government agent-turned-social-worker, becomes part of the family. But again, this is such a splendid ending to a splendid movie, we don't actually care. At all.
Thanks to Nicola Griffith, Grant Menmuir, Wendy Kloiber, Lilian Wolf, John Bowker, Chris Palmer, Meghan Bee, Gillian Daniels, Vinnie Tesla, Josiah Shoup, Michael Bishop and everyone else who helped with this!