Cliffhangers are nothing new for a Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” film: In the film’s action-packed climax, Cruise literally hangs off a train car that is dangling precariously from a cliff.
Big stunts and death-defying sequences are a staple of Cruise’s filmography. But wrapping up “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” in a crowd-pleasing manner while setting the stage for the next film was “something that really kept Tom awake at night,” says co-writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. “You wanted to feel a definitive end. And we weren’t sure how that would work.”While Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt saves the day in “Dead Reckoning,” a larger threat to the world looms in “Part Two.”
It’s a different kind of cliffhanger in a summer movie season that’s unusually full of them. In May, “Fast X” concluded with franchise star Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his young son at the bottom of a dam and an explosion that could seal their fates as the credits began to roll. And “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” released last month, left superhero fans with a lump in their throats when teen web-swinger Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) became trapped in an alternate universe, at the mercy of a ruthless doppelgänger.Cliffhangers were popularized in early twentieth-century superhero and science fiction serials: A suspenseful ending, often with a main character in danger, piques viewers’ (or readers’) interest in the next installment or leaves them wondering what happens next.
It’s become a go-to device for movies, and especially for TV show season finales, though films have used it less frequently in recent years than in the past.”Fast X” director Louis Leterrier attributes the lack of movie cliffhangers to modern storytelling and audiences’ expectation to walk out of a movie theater with a sense of completion rather than being left, well, hanging.
“We’re definitely in an age of expected instant gratification,” Spider-Verse” producer Chris Miller adds. But “the anticipation is the thing that audiences don’t realize is the fun part.” The anticipation of the next chapter adds to the enjoyment of the experience.” For Letterers, the ultimate cliffhanger was Thanos’ finger-snap climax in “Avengers: Infinity War,” which turned half of the Marvel heroes into ash and shocked their super friends (and fans). “It completely pulled the rug out from under the audience,” the filmmaker says. “Seeing it in a crowded theater was a truly visceral experience.” Strangers were crying in each other’s arms. “I will never forget this moment.”
The “Fast X” ending leaves the “Furious” fans in a similar position. Not only are Dom and his child in mortal danger, but other members of his crew are shot down in a plane by the villainous Dante (Jason Maomao), leaving people to worry about the “family” until “Fast X Part Two,” which is expected in 2025. “It was always intended to be a multi-part film to wrap up this saga,” Leatherier says. “We considered the entire story we needed to tell, the character arcs, and collectively decided when it was the best time to pause our film.”