By Sean Nelson Special to MSN Movies [Spoiler alert: The following gives away the endings of many films. Stop reading now if you don't want to know.] People never fail to astound. Scan public reaction to the ending of the Coen brothers' masterful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" -- not unlike public reaction to the series finale of "The Sopranos" a few months back -- and you can be forgiven for thinking the average American moviegoer actually does want actors to reach off the screen and lead them by the hand to a world of unambiguous conclusions and happy resolutions. Well, there are plenty of movies that do just that. I say "No Country for Old Men" is a powerhouse, and in failing -- no, not failing, refusing -- to lead us where we think we want to go (i.e., into a confrontation between Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, or maybe a teary reunion for Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald, or maybe both), it makes a resonant, complex statement about a great many things, among them, the nature of fate, of good and evil, of the relationship between action and talk and, yes, of audiences' expectations of films to provide cathartic escape from life's unpredictable turns. In short, this is a fantastic ending, one you could never have seen coming (unless, uh, you've read the book). But the controversy has got me thinking about what constitutes a genuinely bad ending -- one that either betrays the promise of a good movie or reverses the tide in the interest of shock or simply fails to deliver the goods. There are no specific criteria: A lousy ending is a lousy ending. But as audiences grow increasingly segmented and increasingly accustomed to customizing their entertainment experiences, it's getting harder to determine what anyone can agree on. Even if you loved the endings of "No Country" and "The Sopranos," it's not hard to understand why people were angry about them. But people will gripe about anything: Dorothy could've gone home anytime she wanted to? (dude, bummer!); Rosebud is just a stupid old sled? (spoiler alert); and so forth. I guess the lesson is that judgments like this are all subjective. (I'm not sure I believe that, but let's go with it for now.) Here, then, with maximum subjectivity, is a list of films -- good, bad and otherwise -- that come to a terrible end. P.S. We already warned you, but if you don't like to know how movies end, you should really go read another article right now. "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) The second film Orson Welles directed -- the first was a little number called "Citizen Kane" -- is nine-tenths perfect. An adaptation of Booth Tarkington's melodramatic novel, "Ambersons" is a sweeping epic about America's journey into modernity as viewed through the lens of class, manners and two families whose intersections and divergences are heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. In short, the film was ready to be an improvement on its predecessor. Then, while Welles was in South America scouting locations for his next project, the studio decided the ending of "Ambersons" was a bummer and therefore hired editor Robert Wise to shoot a happier one -- a clumsily acted, turgidly written one that looked nothing like the gorgeous film Welles made. The result is not so much a compromise as a mutilation that cast a shadow over the rest of Welles' career and life. It's still a great movie, but it could've been the greatest. "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" (1983) One word: Ewoks. A few more: Ewoks dancing and singing on the forest moon of Endor to celebrate the destruction of the second Death Star, the toppling of the empire and its emperor, the burning corpse of Darth Vader, the rehumanity of Anakin Skywalker, the brotherhood/sisterhood of Luke and Leia, the imminent copulation of Han and Leia, the general good guy redemption of Lando Calrissian (and his friendship with the vaguelyJapanese fish guy co-pilot), C3-PO's elevation to deity status, something about R2-D2 and blah blah blah. If you are 10 years old or younger, this ending is perfect. If you are one second older, this ending is a perfect way to sully the memory of your childhood and convince you that nothing you ever believed was true. (Also, you could probably extrapolate the three misbegotten "Star Wars" prequels, episodes I through III, as extensions of the end of "Jedi," which obviously renders it the worst movie ending of all time.) "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003) At the risk of outing myself as a nerd, my response to the endings of the first two "LOTR" films was the urgent wish that they could have been twice as long as they were. After years of conjuring Tolkien's world of wizards, hobbits, elves and assorted other fantasy totems, I found Peter Jackson's realizations of that world to be even better than the ones in my own imagination. Then came "Return of the King," the multi-Oscar-winning anticlimax of the trilogy, a film that looked and sounded like its two prequels but felt nothing like them. A hundred million hours long and crammed with multiple, unsatisfying endings, "King" had the unenviable task of wrapping up too many threads of plot and character and of completing an odyssey whose pleasures are all about the journey, not the destination. Worst of all is the 79-hour denouement of dewy glances and glossy goodbyes, all following a series of increasingly incoherent and uncompelling battle scenes. I still wish "Fellowship" and "Towers" were twice as long as they were. "King," meanwhile, could easily lose an hour and a climax or two and I'd be just fine. Tie: "The Fury" (1978)/"Blow Out" (1981) Few '70s directors were as reliably bleak or cynical in outlook as Brian De Palma -- which is saying something. Often criticized for putting style before substance, De Palma was a filmmaker who actually elevated style into substance, in keeping with a fatalistic (and frequently violent) perspective about people, the world and other such concerns. But as the decade wore on, his films became both bleaker and more fantastic, concerning themselves less with human dynamics and more with humans being ground up in the gears of society (and cinema). To that end, witness 1978's "The Fury," a supernatural thriller with one of the most gruesome endings imaginable, and 1981's "Blow Out," a reconfiguration of Antonioni's "Blow Up" using sound instead of photography, in which John Travolta agonizingly fails to save Nancy Allen in the film's final moments. Both movies are signature De Palma, and both are monumental bummers whose endings feel like betrayals given that neither story boasts the kind of seriousness that a downer ending warrants. Still, they both serve as mirrors of the psychological underbelly of American culture at a miserable time. If ever a decade deserved a bad ending ... "Popeye" (1980) There probably aren't many people out there, even hard-core Robert Altmaniacs, who will stand up to defend the director's problematic 1980 musical version of the famous comic strip and cartoon figure. The film has charmingly deranged performances (Robin Williams hasn't been as good since, Shelley Duvall was born to play Olive Oyl), some fine songs (courtesy of Harry Nilsson) and an overarching air of unlikeliness that keeps things breezing along nicely ... until the last 15 minutes, when the money ran out and what began as a left-wing weirdo musical comedy with dance numbers winds up as a pseudo Ed Wood production with Popeye 'rassling underwater with a big fake rubber octopus off the coast of Malta. Blow me down indeed. "Titanic" (1997) A decade later, can you all just admit that this mega-Oscar-winning, billion-dollar profit center of a movie straight up sucked? The writing, the acting, the plot, the subplots, the dialogue, the sentiments, the framing device, the music, the EVERYTHING? No? OK. Well, at least admit that the ending is garbage. Kate Winslet's sell-out letting go of Leonardo DiCaprio's hand? The ludicrous dumping of the diamond into the sea? The millionth reprise of "My Heart Will Go On"? COME ON! How can everyone, how can anyone have liked stupid, horrible "Titanic" to begin with? Especially with an ending like that? "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) Michael Moore's reputation as a petulant, childish muckraker can probably be traced to the big ending of this misguided tract about gun control. Though many of the film's arguments about America's obsession with weaponry are sound and admirable, the presentation is smug, the humor is corny and small-minded and the presence of Moore is both annoying and unnecessary -- and never more so than when he confronts honorary NRA chairman/figurehead Charlton Heston, a confused and doddering old man whose appearances at NRA events, however deplorable, are hardly the real issue. It would be like opposing police brutality by confronting Robocop at a sci-fi convention: useless, meaningless but self-satisfied all the same. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) What begins as a sharp, surprising, cryptofeminist yarn about an unlikely female boxing prodigy and her grizzly old trainer takes a jagged left turn and becomes a bedside melodrama, dripping with bathos, corny caricature (at what "Hee Haw" stage show did they find the actors who played Hilary Swank's family?) and the deeply frustrating experience of watching the movie you want to see turn into something only a dumb Academy voter or credulous movie critic could get behind. "Broadcast News" (1987) Director James L. Brooks has a rare gift for unlikely love stories, crackling dialogue and the unabashed heart of gold that lurks in even the meanest of characters. And never mind what your mom tells you about "Terms of Endearment" or your dirty old grandpa says about "As Good as It Gets," "Broadcast News" is Brooks' masterpiece. Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt are perfect as the three sides of a truly misshapen triangle set against the backdrop of television journalism's sharply declining standards. Then Brooks makes the mistake of not letting the story end when it wants to; he insists on an epilogue to let us know that, a few years later, everybody really is OK. It only dilutes the drama (and the comedy) that comes before and strips the characters of all their charm, wit and -- in Hunter's case -- good hair. Special Prize: Steven Spielberg "War of the Worlds" (2005) "Schindler's List" (1993) "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) "Minority Report" (2002) "AI" (2001) I'm not one of those Spielberg bashers. In fact, I have good things to say about every single one of the above movies -- right up until their endings. Seems that in recent years, Spielberg has developed a bad case of anticlimactitis, an alarmingly common affliction among pop-culture artists that causes them to either (a) overstate the themes of the film in case anyone in the audience had missed them ("Minority Report"); (b) chicken out and deliver an unearned feel-good ending ("War of the Worlds"); (c) allow the film to drag on for an additional 45 minutes beyond its organic, satisfying ending and into a protracted, agonized, unconvincing epilogue that turns everything that came before into a pseudo-Freudian nightmare ("AI"); and worst of all (d) take all the artfulness out of a powerful piece of fiction and transform it into a weirdly ritualized, lily-gilding present day with real people doing real things like lighting candles and saluting gravestones, just to underline the film's nobility ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan"). It's a frustrating trend, one that makes it harder to defend one of cinema's most maligned directors. It also makes you long for the sight of Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider paddling for shore on the splinters of a blown-up fishing boat, great white shark guts bobbing in their wake. Now that's an ending.