Yesterday I showed my wife one of my favorite movies growing up: Explorers.
But we skipped most of the 3rd act because it is, quite simply, awful. The first 2 acts are full of wonder and imagination. The 3rd act is utterly stupid. And it is such a shame. If they had a even a semi-decent falling action, I think that Explorers would be as loved as movies like Goonies.
3rd acts are important. Not only do they give us resolution of emotion and character, but they are the last note that resonates when the movie ends. Even if everything else is great, that ending can ruin all of the good will the movie engenders.
But this got me to thinking about other movies that are great except for their 3rd acts.
BEWARE: SPOILERS BELOW
No Country for Old Men
The first 2/3 of this movie are absolute brilliance. It is visually stunning and emotionally thrilling. But then the movie comes completely off the rails. It was originally a story about a man who finds millions in drug money on the run from a killer. Then it becomes a ponderously tedious meditation on death. It is so disappointing because the Cohen Brothers could have made a great movie. Instead they made something exciting into something pretentious
The movie is essentially 2 stories: a Jewish girl out for revenge and an American group seeking to attack the Nazis. One of the most intriguing parts of the build-up is waiting for the 2 stories to intersect. But they don't. They merely overlap, which misses out on such a great opportunity and it feels like a horrible cheat.
The Great Escape
I know this might be movie blasphemy, but the 3rd act of The Great Escape is not nearly as awesome as the first 2. Yes, everyone remembers Steve McQueen on the motorcycle, but everything else is kind of slow and lacks the vim and vigor of the the actual escape.
There are so many good jokes in the first 2 acts. I can barely remember anything funny from the last act. I remember what happens, but I don't remember laughing at anything.
The Exorcist III
I think this is one of the most underrated horror movies of all time. Most of it is stunning in its visual scares and the dialog is terrifying. In fact, most of the frightening parts come from the killers monologues. But in the last act, the visuals are kind of silly and it ends rather abruptly
AI: Artificial Intelligence
There is actually much to admire about this movie. The emotional core is very strong. But when David finally reaches his destination, it is like the writers did not know how to handle the end. So they tacked on a 20 minute epilogue.
This is one of the most potent examples for me. This is an awesome movie until the 3rd act. Right after the St. Patrick's Day Parade, something is lost in terms of momentum. And the denouement feels lazy and contrived. When I watch this movie I usually stop before the 3rd act begins.
To be honest, the first act is all that great either. The middle act is fantastic, and it never is able to recapture that magic. When Chuck gets back from the island, the movie meanders with only a few great moments. I usually scan through most of it.
Catch Me If You Can
There are a lot of parts that can be edited out of this movie throughout. But after his time in prison, Frank's story line with the FBI plays out way too long. It feels like a retread of parts from the beginning of the film.
There is so much that I like about this movie. And there is an emotional resonance with the last moments. But there are too many story problems in the final act that makes me unable to enjoy it. The adult characters act so illogically and the alien is too monstrous.
So what do you think? What movies do think are ruined by their 3rd act?
Put it in the comments.