The usual suspects (now there is a movie with a great surprise ending) are the world blowing up in Dr. Strangelove, Michael Corleone shutting a door in the face of his wife in The Godfather, Charlton Heston discovering the planet of those “damn, dirty apes” was actually earth, or Bogie putting Ingrid Bergman on a plane in Casablanca. (Sorry for the plot spoilers, but you really should have seen all those movies by now.)
My vote goes for something much older and surprisingly tender. I’ll put the end of Charlie Chaplin’s film, City Lights, up against them all. I don’t want to say too much about it (my guess is you’ve never seen it) but suffice it to say that I believe one way to view the ending of this movie is as a retelling of the gospel story. I may be weird, since I’ve never seen any critic reference this, but I believe it’s there. Watch it and tell me what you think. About the ending and the gospel, that is, not about me being weird.
A few words about City Lights: It was made in 1931, two years after The Jazz Singer revolutionized the movie business with sound. What was a silent auteur like Chaplin to do? He took advantage of sound by writing the score to the movie, but did not include dialogue. City Lights is a sort of anachronism then, a silent movie that didn’t need to be silent. It is also widely regarded as the best of all of Chaplin’s films. Do yourself a favor–watch City Lights, written, directed, produced, and edited by Charlie Chaplin, with music by Charlie Chaplin. Oh yeah, it stars Charlie Chaplin as well.
Why not enjoy a genius at the top of his game?