5. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Will Sampson as Chief Bromden hugging Jack Nicholson as McMurphy at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the story of Randle McMurphy, who pretends to be insane to avoid prison. He’s sent to a highly secure psychiatric hospital, but he still can’t help but cause trouble. McMurphy cannot resist riling up the inmates to spark rebellion against the tyrannical Nurse Ratched.

Over the course of the film, McMurphy tries desperately to improve the other inmates’ outlook (including the deaf-mute Native American known as Chief). However, Ratched sees McMurphy as a threat to her authority, and events continue to escalate. After Ratched’s manipulations lead another inmate to commit suicide, McMurphy attacks the nurse, almost killing her. However, he’s stopped, then lobotomized for his troubles. The Chief is heartbroken by McMurphy’s condition, but is inspired to finally escape, and he breaks free of the institution. The film ends with the Chief running off into the night.

What makes it one of the best movie endings of all time is the emotional weight of it. McMurphy thought he could manipulate the system, but found himself trapped within it. Unable to ignore its injustices, he eventually becomes a victim himself, but not before inspiring a little rebellion in those around him. It’s a small victory, but it’s a poignant one, and it makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest truly unforgettable.