Generally, a postscript — that pesky on-screen text that acts as an epilogue before the credits roll — is not a good way to end a film. But they work in these films.

But First: On Using Postscripts and Epilogues

The problem with epilogues is that they sometimes spell out something the previous two hours should have made clear, or pack in story details that we might have liked to see in the film.

Sometimes, as in American Graffiti (above), they add depth to an already satisfying story. And they’re great for documentaries, especially when a story keeps going after filming has wrapped.

But the five films that follow make particularly great use of postscripts, aka epilogues. Since we’re talking about the endings of movies, spoilers follow.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee’s masterpiece closes with one of the most iconic postscripts in film history, juxtaposing dueling messages from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, followed by a photo of the two smiling together.

But one suspects Lee is leaning toward Malcolm X’s perspective, since he is given the last word. And then a few short years later, in 1992, Lee gave him the biopic treatment with Malcolm X.

A Hidden Life (2019)

Film Postscript Postscripts Epilogue Text Before Credits Do The Right Thing Barry Lyndon

Terrence Malick’s latest is a three-hour march to the executioner’s chair for protagonist Franz Jägerstätter (played with conviction by August Diehl). Jägerstätter is a simple but noble farmer, whose steadfast refusal to swear an oath to Hitler comes at great expense to him and everyone he loves.

The closing postscript is a line from George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch. If A Hidden Life‘s long lead up to this fateful endnote isn’t enough to induce waterworks in you as a viewer, then this closing line (which reveals the title’s origins) should push you over.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

postscript post-script dewey cox do the right thing epilogue text before credits

The laugh per minute ratio (an unofficial statistic) for this gleefully irreverent comedy is impressive, especially when considering the runtime of the superior extended version. In this regard, The Dewey Cox Story rewards repeat viewings. For a movie that spoofs everything from Walk the Line to Ray, the text that appears right after Dewey Cox’s epic return is a wonderful sendup of the behind-the-music house style.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

post-script text at end of movie epilogue barry lyndon do the right thing

Stanley Kubrick’s tenth feature is known for its sense of humor, epic length, and NASA lenses, which captured candlelight in a manner that hasn’t been duplicated since. It’s also notable for this cheeky epilogue text which illuminates the three-hour-plus proceedings — which track one Irishman’s journey from nobody to somebody back to nobody  — within a broader historical context.

Similar to A Hidden Life’s postscript, the text here invokes the vast expanse of time and how likely we are to forget an individual’s story amongst the sweep of history. Where Barry Lyndon differs is in its seemingly cheeky dismissal of these stories: We all die, therefore we are all insignificant — which then acts as something of a twistedly optimistic view on our hero’s journey. If one feels that they have failed in their life’s mission, it does not matter — failures and successes alike, we are “all equal” in the end.

Army of Shadows (1969)

French moviemaker Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 masterwork about the French resistance during World War II finally saw a physical release in 2006, where it promptly made a number of critics’ “Best of 2006” lists. The end of the film finds the small band of French partisans reach the conclusion that one of their own, Mathilde, has been forced by the Germans to sell them out.

Once the unfathomable decision to eliminate Mathilde has been made, the group of four ride together in solidarity to where Mathilde appears walking down a sidewalk. The partisan Bison shoots Mathilde twice. And after a cold “Go” from the character Luc Jardie in the backseat, they speed off. As they drive away, images of each resistance fighter’s emotionless face are intercut with text over black that explains their eventual fates.

The text informs the viewer that all of the men die before the war ends, either at the hands of Germans or by suicide. It’s a bleak end to a incredibly powerful film, and this text paints their difficult decision to end Mathilde’s life in complete futility.

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