Last week, we looked at the movie endings that did away with anything bittersweet or reigned-in and gave us some of the most joyful triumphs in cinema history. (http/ Here, now, is part two, the five most triumphant finishes I’ve ever seen (spoilers):



 5. Rudy: For every inspirational sports movie about a one-in-a-million triumph over the odds, there’s a crowd of cynical people rolling their eyes. “It was nice to see a story be honest and say ‘no, sometimes you can’t do it,’” said one of the guys in my literature class after reading The Chocolate War. (Strange how nobody seems to question a contrived and forced ending when it’s done so the bad guys win, for those of you who haven’t had the, ahem, pleasure of reading that particular literary classic.) But here, read-‘em-and-weep, is a near-irrefutable testament to the value of optimism and following your dream, because, one, Rudy is a true story, and, two, it’s a story about the only kind of dream worth following, which is never just a quest for wealth or glory. Rudy is about a man’s journey to be a part of something he loved, however much or little he could.



Daniel “Rudy” Ruetigger was the undersized son of a steelworker, of average academic intelligence and “hardly a speck of athletic ability,” who wanted nothing more than to attend The University of Notre Dame and play football. His journey could have ended at various stages – the nearby college he studied at to gain acceptance to Notre Dame, his first tryout for the team – but, as the movie gently stresses, what he achieved while working to overcome each roadblock was worth his while regardless. Instead, however, it took him all the way to his senior year with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, whose players decided that they wanted their hardest-working teammate to suit up with them for the last game, instead of one of the more talented substitutes.



The Fighting Irish, pulling off one of their most impressive victories over Georgia Tech, starts to wonder, now, if their biggest source of inspiration could be given the chance to do more than watch from the sidelines. They encourage the crowd, interspersed with Rudy’s friends and family – who no longer doubt him – to begin cheering his name. With seconds to go, the skeptical coach relents and puts Rudy in for the kickoff, even allowing him to stay on for Georgia Tech’s final desperation play. With the crowd cheering harder than ever, Rudy bursts through the line at full steam and sacks the quarterback, ending the game. The joyous team picks him up and carries him off the field, the first of two times this ever happened to a player in Notre Dame Football. There you have it; in pursuing your dream for the right reasons, you have nothing really to lose and everything to gain – and to give.



I would go so far as to call this, as sports movies go, my favorite moral with my favorite delivery. But I only give the ending 5th place, because by this point, we all know Rudy had won long before we got here. This is merely where he proves it to the rest of the world.





 4. Kiki’s Delivery Service: You might remember my old series on Hayao Miyazaki vs. Don Bluth. In the round matching Kiki’s Delivery Service against All Dogs Go To Heaven, I ranked them as my favorite movies from their respective director and noted their endings as two of my favorites, in animation or otherwise. I also, to the annoyance of some, declared the polarizing All Dogs Go To Heaven the superior of the two. But matching the endings plays to the strengths of Kiki, which is only one of the better examples of Miyazaki’s standard until it reaches one of the strongest third acts I’ve ever seen. And where All Dogs Go To Heaven is equal parts triumphant and bittersweet at the end, Kiki’s Delivery Service is an overwhelming victory.



One of Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest talents is his ability to capture the “magic” of everyday life, as seen in My Neighbor Totoro and, less frequently, Ponyo. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, he explores some of life’s most dismaying challenges, such as adolescence and falling out of touch with one’s talents. It leads to an inspiring triumph that will make you believe living life is a blessing.



Kiki, the young witch in training, has lost her powers, but spending time with a friend has left her encouraged that she will find them again. Her heart just might not be in it for the time being. But she finds herself in a dire situation when a dirigible accident leaves the craft flying out of control and her friend Tombo clinging to it by a rope, several hundred feet in the air.



Summoning everything she can, Kiki borrows a push broom and tries to fly once more. After a moment, she achieves her first takeoff in weeks, though she’s still not as steady as she once was. She races to the rescue, barely preventing herself from spiraling out of control, and finds Tombo, who she manages to catch in midair, just short of the ground. They touch down to safety, and what she’s done begins to sink in. Kiki has found her strength, not just to fly, but in all aspects of her life, where insecurity was holding her back before. We move on to a beautiful end montage of Kiki in the town, following the rescue, looking up to enjoy the simple pleasures of each day, as put into words by the heartfelt song I’m Gonna Fly. (Yes, I know it wasn’t the song in the original dub, and, yes, I think Disney made an improvement with that particular change.) The shy little delivery witch has learned to see life for the possibilities, not the detriments, and it is glorious.





 3. Jerry McGuire: This movie delivered some of the most pessimistic hurdles to its main character of any movie in recent memory. Jerry McGuire, fired and written off as a loser after he dared object to (not oppose, just object to) the way sports agents such as himself act as sharks in suits. He ends up married to the woman who was willing to walk away with him, though both are unsure soon afterwards if they did it for the right reasons. Meanwhile, the only client he’s managed to hold onto is a skilled but small (and cocky) wide receiver named Rod Tidwell, who isn’t a fan favorite and is unable to net a decent contract with the Arizona Cardinals before his current one expires.



Part of the movie’s strength is that you don’t know where it’s going. Jerry may be able to work with Rod as a friend, the type of agent work he’d wanted to do from the start, but he’s far more worried about his career – just a hair away from crashing – than he is grateful. He never wanted to be the rebel going against the grain, but it’s the only role he has left to play, and it doesn’t look like it can work. The movie also makes a point of the likelihood of Rod getting hurt before he can secure a new contract, which would end Jerry’s career, and in the Cardinal’s final game, with Jerry on his last legs, we’re all but counting down the time until it happens. And then it does.



Rod catches a pass in the end zone and gets hit so hard that he’s summersaulted through the air, coming down on the back of his head. Paramedics gather around, Rod’s wife, watching from home, calls Jerry in a near-panic over, and Rod doesn’t move. After several minutes, they manage to stir him and he opens his eyes, which they see as the go-ahead to get him off the field. Rod, however, tells them “just let me enjoy this moment.”



Rod slowly gets to his feet on his own. Then he takes off his helmet and raises it into the air, and the crowd loves it. Then he begins some end zone dancing that says he could take another ten hits like that without slowing down, and the standoffish, undersized receiver becomes a fan favorite, just the way his agent suggested. The media flocks to him, his next contract is both his and Jerry’s dream come true, and following his family, Jerry is the first person he wants to thank in the interviews. This is great publicity, of course, but it has one curious effect in particular: It has some of the other players wondering why they don’t have that kind of a relationship with their agents. But before the big night comes to a close, Jerry realizes something is missing.



He races home to his wife, who is hosting her weekly support group for divorced women, now on the verge of joining them herself. He comes in and tells her that their little business had a great night, but it wasn’t complete without her. He’s not complete without her, in this cynical world that we live in. She stops him, however, telling him “you had me at ‘hello.’”



 Jerry Maguire is the kind of movie that may leave you with tear in your eye to go with that smile, because you believe it. We see exactly what Jerry was up against, and how close he was to a very real failure, but thankfully, director Cameron Crowe wanted to prove what’s right, not just what’s easy. That goes a whole lot further.





 2. Rocky: Now here is a whole series that specialized in triumphant endings (with the exception of the failed attempt in Rocky 5). If this were a list of the most “epic” endings of all time, Rocky 2, which put all of its chips in the ending sequence, would probably take the win. However, as far as a sheer triumph goes, there’s no topping the one that did it first and did it best (even with the trivial detail of whether our hero actually won the fight).



Rocky, the club boxer who trained as hard as he could just to see if he could go the distance with the heavyweight champion of the world, fights the fight of his life. After a brutal 14th round, both corners are considering stopping the match, but both Rocky and the champion, Apollo Creed, refuse. They go out tagging each other with everything they have left, and it’s Rocky who wins out, pounding Apollo against the ropes with the last of his strength before the bell sounds.


The trumpets blare and the crowd rushes in to congratulate both men. The announcer begins declaring the winner, but who cares about that? (It’s probably Apollo.) The only thing Rocky wants now is to be with his girlfriend, Adrian, and sure enough, she makes her way through the crowd and into the ring. They embrace and declare their love for each other, and we know that every second Rocky spent training, every ounce of faith he put in himself, was worth it. The story of Rocky boils down to a hero investing himself 100% in the chance to prove himself, and that’s exactly what he has done. As the final movie in the series, Rocky Balboa, put it so well, “you get through that and you find the only kind of respect that matters in this world, self-respect.”





 1. It’s a Wonderful Life: I don’t think I need to bother building this one up. (And if I do, please stop reading and go watch this classic that you’ve clearly been missing out on for far too long.) After breaking down the triumphant aspects of 9 movies, I feel like I’d be doing this one a disservice with any description that could possibly come across as more of the same. No movie before or since has dared close with such a celebration, such a reward, for goodness and decency, probably because no movie has locked on to some deep, innate truth so well; no movie could convince its audience the same way that what we’re seeing at the end is just… right. It’s a Wonderful Life is the ultimate testament to looking on the bright side, and, oh, look at that, I started building it up anyway without even realizing. I guess I love it that much without even trying.



When George Bailey finds what his life would be like if he’d never been born, it’s not just the memorable gimmick (George revisits an earlier plot point that is now worse than before) that keeps us invested. What seems to register most to George is how alone in the world he is now, how everything he’d built has left both himself and his loved ones isolated and detached. He keeps trying to turn to something he can latch onto, only to be shot down every time by a loved one who no longer knows him.



When his prayers to live again are answered, we know exactly what he’s won back, because George is even happier about it than we are, running through the streets and blessing everything, good or bad, in his life. He’s finally seen the full extent of his own goodness, which is its own reward. But when he gets home, it turns out that his wife has managed to convince everyone to rescue the man who stood behind them so many times from his financial troubles, and just this once, they are able to give him the reward he deserves. George Bailey has indeed lived a wonderful life, as has everyone who lives each day inclined to simple acts of goodness.



 Honorable Mention:





 Spiderman 2: Still one of my favorite superhero movies, with what I would argue is the most triumphant ending of all the ones to date. Cynics accused the romance between Peter and Mary Jane of being predictable, but just because we can guess that it will probably end well doesn’t mean that we’re not invested in the dynamic and how this could earnestly work out for the both of them. Mary Jane is finally the one to save Peter, asking him to respect her when she says she wants to be with him, Spiderman dangers and all. It’s probably the single greatest joy that any superhero, burdened with great power and great responsibilities, has achieved at the end of any movie, but it’s not as weighty as the ones I decided to put on the list.






 Secretariat: The record-setting Belmont run from history’s greatest race horse is one of the greatest moments in sports history, and the movie plays it just about perfectly. Still, the set up to it, like much of the movie, is filled with melodrama that was almost too artificial to swallow, and, besides, it’s hard to believe that there’s much to add when you’ve already broken the record on the other two essential races, as much as the movie tried to convince us otherwise.




 The Karate Kid: A great sort of teenage Rocky movie, with a fun and endlessly watchable payoff, in which the bullied hero proves his karate prowess. The ending, in which he overcomes an injury to win with the memorable “crane kick” is certainly triumphant, but there’s not much more to it than the self-explanatory aspects.




 WALL-E: My personal favorite Pixar movie (and that’s saying something) ends with my personal favorite resolution (and that’s also saying something). The human race has returned to earth to learn that living, not just surviving, is a blessing, and WALL-E is saved from deletion by his gently intimate relationship with another robot. It’s a great happy ending capped off by a great song, but somehow “triumphant” just feels like the wrong word to describe it. It’s just too… delicate?




 Singing in the Rain: I have Les to thank for reminding me of this one. It’s not quite what I was looking for, but it is a very happy and satisfying victory, in which the hero exposes his parasitic fraud of a leading lady, gets the woman he loves all the recognition she deserves, and finally turns the two of them into stars in the new world of talking pictures. Singing in the Rain is almost a happy-enough song to describe it.

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