Mike Ryan decided to use his lockdown time to catch up on old movies he'd always meant to watch. He thought he would see twenty movies, but as the pandemic dragged on, he caught up on 602 movies! One of the things he noticed is how movies in the 21st century end very differently from older films. Before 2000, the movie went to credits when the plot was resolved. What happened to the characters after that was left to our imaginations. Modern movies can resolve the main plot and spend another 40 minutes tying up every loose end and explaining where the characters then went. Talking to screenwriters and filmmakers, he came up with several reasons for this.
“Well, I think it has a lot to do with CinemaScore and the testing process,” says a screenwriter. “Movies are looking for that little boost at the end to get that final impression up a bit right as people leave the theater. That’s why post-credit sequences work. You can see that movies that end ambiguously score lower in testing and on CinemaScore. So the longer endings remove all ambiguity.”
He continues, “There is a screenwriter guru person. She says people don’t care about victories; they respond to people celebrating the victories. That’s what makes audiences happy. Hence the medal scene at the end of Star Wars. That’s what gives people joy, not the Death Star exploding. I think maybe we’ve overlearned that lesson.”
And that medal ceremony scene at the end of Star Wars? Do you know how long that scene is? It’s one minute and forty seconds long. That’s it. Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star and they wrap everything up in a tidy scene less that two minutes long. It’s perfect. Compare that to the ending of The Rise Of Skywalker that I think is still going. Every little thing had to be resolved, even Chewbacca finally getting a medal from this aforementioned medal ceremony. Think about watching the first Star Wars in a vacuum in 1977, without all the sequels that would come later. Do we think Han will stick around? Darth Vader got away, what’s he up to? What happened to Ben, why did he just disappear? This created discussion and it created a more satisfying experience because, we, the viewer, could think about those questions and it made us think about the movie more.
You know what they say: nothing succeeds like excess. There's more to be said about how movies have changed, which you can read at Uproxx.