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Confusing Endings from Hollywood films and Directo...

Confusing Endings from Hollywood films and Directors

We’ve all left cinemas before, scratching our heads as to what the film’s ending truly meant. Was there another dream within a dream? Was the narrator insane all along? So, unable to work it all out, we turn to Google to tell us the meaning.

We investigated what 50 Hollywood films end in the most confusing fashion. We took search data from the first half of 2022, amalgamated it together, and these are the results:

  • Drama films have the most confusing endings, with 37 films out of the 50 analysed making the list.
  • Despite its name, films in the ‘mystery’ genre only make up 18 of the most confusing endings.
  • In terms of Directors on the list, notable auteurs such as Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky both appear frequently, with 5 of Nolan’s epics making the list and 3 of Aronofsky’s.
  • Nine of the top 10 most confusing endings belong to films released after the turn of the millennium, highlighting that films truly are becoming more confusing.

The results…

Position Film title Year of release Searches relating to the film’s ending 
#1 Tenet 2020 478,170
#2 Shutter Island 2010 319,200
#3 Midsommar 2019 191,410
#4 American Psycho 2000 160,000
#5 Inception 2010 144,100
#6 Donnie Darko 2001 119,070
#7 Us 2019 108,400
#8 Nocturnal Animals 2016 97,080
#9 Hereditary 2018 92,700
#10 The Shining 1980 89,600

Top 3

  1. In first place is the 2020 science fiction epic Tenet, helmed by British director Christopher Nolan. The near 3-hour film took place in multiple timelines, the narrative twisting back on itself towards the end of the film. A remarkable spectacle, but a concept that viewers struggled to understand fully. Indeed, with a huge 478,170 searches by people struggling to understand the film’s ending in just a five month period, Tenet truly baffled as much as it did entertain.
  2. In second place is a filmic masterclass of intrigue and mystery: Shutter Island. Directorial master Martin Scorsese utilises high-angle camera techniques to ingrain the feeling of being watched into the viewer, just one of a myriad of ways the director weaves a sense of discomfort throughout the film. However, what was most discomforting to a lot of viewers was the ending, with a shock main character revelation putting the whole film into a new perspective. 319,200 search results for a confused ending places Shutter Island second on the list, a remarkable 158,000 results behind that of Tenet in first.
  3. Third place goes to Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’. Released in 2019 and produced on a very small budget of $9million, this horror-drama centres on a group of friends who travel to a Swedish festival but get caught up in a Scandinavian pagan cult, with truly horrifying consequences. The unsettling film ends very cryptically, forcing some audience members to search for deeper meaning (via Google). Midsommar garnered 191,400 searches regarding its controversial ending. We’ve all left cinemas before, scratching our heads as to what the film’s ending truly meant. Was there another dream within a dream? Was the narrator insane all along? So, unable to work it all out, we turn to Google to tell us the meaning; and these are the results:
  • Drama films have the most confusing endings, with 37 films out of the 50 analysed making the list.
  • Despite its name, films in the ‘mystery’ genre only make up 18 of the most confusing endings..
  • In terms of Directors on the list, notable auteurs such as Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky both appear frequently, with 5 of Nolan’s epics making the list and 3 of Aronofsky’s.
  • Nine of the top 10 most confusing endings belong to films released after the turn of the millennium, highlighting that films truly are becoming more confusing.

The results…

Position Film title Year of release Searches relating to the film’s ending 
#1 Tenet 2020 478,170
#2 Shutter Island 2010 319,200
#3 Midsommar 2019 191,410
#4 American Psycho 2000 160,000
#5 Inception 2010 144,100
#6 Donnie Darko 2001 119,070
#7 Us 2019 108,400
#8 Nocturnal Animals 2016 97,080
#9 Hereditary 2018 92,700
#10 The Shining 1980 89,600

Top 3

  1. In first place is the 2020 science fiction epic ‘Tenet’, helmed by British director Christopher Nolan. The near 3-hour film took place in multiple timelines, the narrative twisting back on itself towards the end of the film. A remarkable spectacle, but a concept that viewers struggled to understand fully. Indeed, with a huge 478,170 searches by people struggling to understand the film’s ending in just a five month period, Tenet truly baffled as much as it did entertain.
  2. In second place is a filmic masterclass of intrigue and mystery: Shutter Island. Directorial master Martin Scorsese utilises high-angle camera techniques to ingrain the feeling of being watched into the viewer, just one of a myriad of ways the director weaves a sense of discomfort throughout the film. However, what was most discomforting to a lot of viewers was the ending, with a shock main character revelation putting the whole film into a new perspective. 319,200 search results for a confused ending places Shutter Island second on the list, a remarkable 158,000 results behind that of Tenet in first.
  3. Third place goes to Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’. Released in 2019 and produced on a very small budget of $9million, this horror-drama centres on a group of friends who travel to a Swedish festival but get caught up in a Scandinavian pagan cult, with truly horrifying consequences. The unsettling film ends very cryptically, forcing some audience members to search for deeper meaning (via Google). Midsommar garnered 191,400 searches regarding its controversial ending.

Which directors feature the most?

Position Director’s name Number of  confusing films Cumulative confusing film ending  searches
#1 Christopher Nolan 5 759,490
#2 Darren Aronofsky 3 89,510
#3 Denis Villeneuve 2 92,680
#3 Martin Scorsese 2 343,990
#3 Stanley Kubrick 2 127,060
#3 Coen Brothers 2 80,810
#3 Ari Aster 2 284,110

Remarkably, Christopher Nolan has five Hollywood films featuring on this list! Considering he’s directed 10 feature films in his lifetime, having half of those be on the list of ‘most confusing endings’ is surprising. It’s a testament to the reach his films have, alongside their complex nature.

After that is cult director Darren Aronofsky, with three of his Hollywood feature films on this list, and then those below him all feature twice on the list, therefore taking joint third. Honourable mention goes to Martin Scorsese, who only has two films on our list of 50, and yet at 343,990 cumulatively scores above all other than Nolan, highlighting just how confusing viewers find the end of his films.

Which directors feature the most?

Position Director’s name Number of  confusing films Cumulative confusing film ending  searches
#1 Christopher Nolan 5 759,490
#2 Darren Aronofsky 3 89,510
#3 Denis Villeneuve 2 92,680
#3 Martin Scorsese 2 343,990
#3 Stanley Kubrick 2 127,060
#3 Coen Brothers 2 80,810
#3 Ari Aster 2 284,110

Remarkably, Christopher Nolan has five Hollywood films featuring on this list! Considering he’s directed 10 feature films in his lifetime, having half of those be on the list of ‘most confusing endings’ is surprising. It’s a testament to the reach his films have, alongside their complex nature.

After that is cult director Darren Aronofsky, with three of his Hollywood feature films on this list, and then those below him all feature twice on the list, therefore taking joint third. Honourable mention goes to Martin Scorsese, who only has two films on our list of 50, and yet at 343,990 cumulatively scores above all other than Nolan, highlighting just how confusing viewers find the end of his films.


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