Into the Sunset

1 Apr

It’s a cliché of the western movie genre. The hero has lived through some adventure, and, when it’s over, he gets on his horse and rides into the sunset. I have watched that scene dozens of times, and it fascinates me every time.

What happens when they disappear over the horizon? What happens after the “The End” placard covers the screen? Does the hero take time off before finding another adventure? Does he die of wounds suffered during the movie? Does he live happily ever after in some frontier town?

All of those questions go through my mind because I have to know the rest of the story. It doesn’t matter how bad the movie is. I still want to know what happens after the credits roll. However, something else goes through my mind, as well. The “into the sunset” scene isn’t always the same.

One of the greatest “into the sunset” scenes doesn’t even have a horse. In The Searchers, Ethan Edwards spends years attempting to rescue his niece from her Comanche captors. When he returns with her, everyone goes into the house except for him. He turns and walks into the desert as the door closes behind him.The Searchers

Where did Edwards go? Did he leave because most of his family was dead? Did he wander because there was no purpose in his life? All of the wars were over. Or, did he think back over the past years before turning around and coming back?

John Wayne walked away in The Searchers, but Clint Eastwood could be the king of “into the sunset” rides. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, he is bleeding as he rides away. Does he live? If so, then does he go back to the friends that he has gained throughout the movie? Or, does he disappear from history?

Sometimes, he completely disappears because we really don’t know what he is. In Pale Rider, Eastwood evaporates from the scene. Is he some kind of spirit or is he just a mysterious gunman?

Those were great, but my favorite Eastwood ending comes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Blondie leaves Tuco with a noose around his neck and gold at his feet. After an impossible rifle shot to save Tuco, Blondie rides away to one of the greatest movie scores of all time.

A more recent western has an “into the sunset” scene at the end. The difference is the adventure that precedes it. In Cowboys and Aliens, James Bond defeats aliens with the help of Indiana Jones. Oh, Boyd Crowder helps out, too. This time the hero is truly a loner. His wife is dead. His alien love interest is dead. He is considered dead. Heck, the dog doesn’t even go with him. In this one, the hero probably went somewhere and cried.

The cool thing about “into the sunset” scenes is that they are no longer reserved for westerns only. Remember what happened at the end of The Dark Knight? He agrees to be the fall guy and live life as a villain. Then, he hops on his jacked out motorcycle and rides into a tunnel. There is no sunset, but there is a cool speech and some kind of light up ahead. I hope it’s not a train.The Dark Knight

Everybody knows what happened to him after that because we have sequels now. There should not have been a sequel to this one. Wondering what happened to Batman was a lot better than knowing that he faked his death and ended up with Catwoman.

Ok, so John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Bond and Batman all have had great scenes to end movies. However my favorite “into the sunset” scene comes from a movie that isn’t very good. At the end of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Don Johnson, as Marlboro, goes back to his roots and enters a rodeo. At the same time, Mickey Rourke, as Harley, rides his motorcycle into the sunset with an 80s vixen on the back and Black Eyed Susan playing in the background.Harley Ending

Why is that my favorite? Because it’s the only one that seems like a happy ending. He’s not alone. He’s not wounded. And, there is no doubt that something good is going to happen further down the road.

113 Responses to “Into the Sunset”

  1. DyingNote April 1, 2013 at 04:52 #

    I think at the end of Cowboys And Aliens, he hitched a ride to the alien planet

    • Rick April 1, 2013 at 05:09 #

      That could be. I figure if the hot alien could regenerate herself in a fire, then she should be able to regenerate herself after an explosion. I would go looking for her.

      • L. Palmer April 2, 2013 at 19:57 #

        I agree. Maybe they woke up in Tron’s grid?

      • Rick April 2, 2013 at 20:00 #

        Tron is another great movie. Now that I think about it, the second Tron movie had them riding into the sunrise, and it was the first time that one of them had ever seen the sun.

  2. segmation April 1, 2013 at 21:25 #

    I think if Mickey Rourke, rode a horse instead of a Harley that would make a different twist to this story!

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:01 #

      No doubt. I tend to think that it’s a western set in the future of the 1990s anyway. In fact, most buddy movies could be considered westerns. Thanks for your comment.

  3. slamadams April 1, 2013 at 22:47 #

    Clint Eastwood’s cowboys had such a knight-errant quality to them that each of his westerns could have very well began with a coming out of the sunset scene.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:02 #

      That’s true, and a few of them did. Pale Rider has him coming in from a mysterious horizon, and High Plains Drifter may have the same type of beginning. Now that I think about it, almost all of my favorite Clint westerns has him riding into the “sunset”. Thanks for your comment.

  4. becomingcliche April 1, 2013 at 22:53 #

    I always assumed they rode off somewhere to take a bath because they were usually filthy by the end of the movie.

    Congrats on FP!

    • Wiley Schmidt April 2, 2013 at 01:00 #

      Well done, well written and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I love happy endings so your take on the cliché really brought a smile to my soul.

      • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:19 #

        Thank you for the compliment. I am glad that you enjoyed it. I hope that everyone who has ridden into the sunset has found happiness past the horizon. Thank you for commenting.

      • Wiley Schmidt April 2, 2013 at 01:21 #

        I agree wholeheartedly! Bring me that horizon! I see opportunity. 🙂

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:03 #

      Thanks. They were definitely dirty. However, as a historian of the American West, I am certain that it was more dirty in real life.

  5. sittingpugs April 1, 2013 at 22:56 #

    The marvels of cinematic off-screen space.

    The image of riding/walking/traveling into the sunset makes me think of Mary Poppins. She’s no gunfighter hero, but she stays until the wind changes (which likely refers to after a family has undergone some kind of awakening to what really matters in life).

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:05 #

      You know, I never thought about that. There are cases of people riding into the sunset in other types of movies. I was stuck on the action ones. Mary Poppins is a perfect example of this. Rhett Butler walked into the fog in Gone With the Wind, and Dorothy kind of rode into the sunset out of Oz and back into Kansas. Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it.

      • sittingpugs April 2, 2013 at 01:37 #

        Rhett Butler, yes!

        And Jim’s reminder of Shane…oh my gorgonzola. When I first saw it in a film class, I kept saying, “Shaaaanne! Shaaannnne come back!” the whole day through.

      • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:47 #

        I cried when I watched it as a kid. Shane that is. Not Gone With the Wind.

  6. Jim Hilton April 1, 2013 at 23:12 #

    Dang! Ya fergot to mention Shane! He rode off bleeding – did he make it to his next gunfight?

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:06 #

      Thanks for the reminder. Shane never entered my mind, and it is one of the great endings of all time. How could I forget “Shane! Come back!” That was a powerful scene in a powerful movie. Thanks for your comment.

  7. TJ Johnston April 1, 2013 at 23:28 #

    Does anyone note if the hero is walking farther west in his sunset walk? Or if he’s heading in the wrong direction? Heh heh.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:08 #

      Consider it duly noted. In fact, one of the scenes I mentioned is definitely going in the wrong direction. Mickey Rourke rides away from the sunset at the end of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. I wonder if anyone has ever ridden into the sunrise. Thanks for your comment.

  8. marymtf April 1, 2013 at 23:32 #

    Most movies these days don’t leave much to the imagination for viewers. Those riding off into the sunset stories at least gives you a chance to imagine or write your own ending. 🙂

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:12 #

      I think that’s what I like about them. However, sequels are taking that away from us. Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  9. leejacobs April 1, 2013 at 23:42 #

    Well I can tell you right now that Clint Eastwood died from blood poisoning not too long after he rode off in Outlaw and Josey Wales! And I firmly believe John Wayne is still out there somewhere, with Maureen O’Hara. Nice read!

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:14 #

      Thank you. I always hoped that Josey Wales was too tough to die, but that would have been a better fate than coming back in that other movie, The Return of Josey Wales. Like you, I believe John Wayne is still out there and Maureen O’Hara, the woman as tough as him, is by his side. If not, then maybe it’s Vera Miles. Thanks for your comment.

  10. alexanderschimpf April 2, 2013 at 00:51 #

    Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man gets an “isn’t very good” while Cowboys and Aliens escapes without criticism? You were just testing me, weren’t you?

    Now I have to go watch The Searchers for the 20th time.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 01:16 #

      You caught me. I completely forgot to write about how goofy Cowboys and Aliens actually was. Honestly, I think Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man was a lot better. As for The Searchers, it can never be seen too many times. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

  11. mrtso1989 April 2, 2013 at 04:02 #

    i think movie/drama focus on the ‘spark’ of life. the fate of the hero? not their concerns.
    an interesting is also Django Unchained: What happened after Django burned estate? Would he join the Civil War against the South? Or he would be happy enough to live a peaceful quiet life with Hildi (which is highly unlikely)

    and also lawrence of arabia: we see a dejected Lawrence being drive away back home in the sunset of the arabian desert. But we do know his fate – he died unheroically in a motorcar accident.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 04:16 #

      I wondered the same things about Django. The main issue was how he was going to convince people that he wasn’t a slave in the pre-Civil War south. There was a population of Free Blacks, but they were few and far between.

      As for Lawrence, it reminds me of a line from Brian’s Song ,”They say that all true stories end in death, and this is a true story.” Sometimes the death of a heroic figure does not match the actions of their lives.

      Thank you for commenting.

  12. scriptsmotion April 2, 2013 at 04:43 #

    Nicely written. What do you think of Pride and Prejudice? The couple walk towards each other during sunrise. Not the final scene, but I think it should have been.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 04:50 #

      Thank you. I know what you mean about scenes that should be the end but are not. Some movies just don’t know when to stop. Thank you for commenting.

  13. Ado Bajic April 2, 2013 at 04:49 #

    Hope is all, isn’t it, be it riding into the sunset or away from it. The ending should represent change for the better. A clichee as you say exploited in its various dimensions.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 05:21 #

      Very true. Hope is everything. Perhaps that is what riding into the sunset is all about. Instead of an end, it is a new beginning. Thank you for your comment.

      • Ado Bajic April 2, 2013 at 19:38 #

        Thank you Rick 😉 Hope you read my new post too 😉

      • Rick April 2, 2013 at 19:58 #

        Don’t worry. I will be reading.

  14. moodsnmoments April 2, 2013 at 07:11 #

    Some curiosity about what happens next…i admit, it never occurred to me ever. I know that I love seeing sunrises and sunsets and maybe that is why i never cared about what happens after 😛
    Very well written and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 17:04 #

      Thank you. I agree that looking at sunrises and sunsets is an enjoyable experience. But, just one time I would like to ride into one like the people on the screen. Thank you for commenting.

      • moodsnmoments April 3, 2013 at 04:06 #

        that even i would like to try 😛

  15. darkseed226 April 2, 2013 at 07:16 #

    Reblogged this on walidsite.

  16. beachcoffee April 2, 2013 at 07:20 #

    With “into the sunset” scenes.. I think the writer is achieving his goal of letting the audience’s imagination run wild. And you’re right, I believe these scenes make great movies too simply because the mystery is there. And as an audience I don’t feel an ending is forced on me. Rather I am left wondering what happens next long after the credits have rolled. Now that’s a great movie.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 17:06 #

      That is definitely a great movie. Unfortunately, a lot of great movies with great endings get messed up because someone has to cobble together a story for a sequel. I like for the story to end and leave the rest up to my imagination. Thank you for commenting.

  17. jerzeyvjake April 2, 2013 at 11:32 #

    Reblogged this on Sky with no limit..

  18. williamw60640 April 2, 2013 at 13:16 #

    Thanks for your creative and fun romp on this rarely-mentioned, often-used movie tool. I love that, if memory serves, Bond movies have a consistently positive ‘into the sunset’ ending for James. Congrats on being FP! Cheers!

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 17:07 #

      You are right. I have never known James Bond to come to a bad end. Usually, he is stranded somewhere with a Bond Girl. Thank you for commenting.

  19. CV ARISTON KUPANG April 2, 2013 at 14:46 #


  20. Invisible Mikey April 2, 2013 at 18:39 #

    Nice collection of sunset conclusions! I rather liked when Mel Brooks satirized the convention at the end of Blazing Saddles, when the hero buddies start off on horseback, then pass the horses to wranglers, get into a limo, and speed off into the sunset leaving the equally familiar cloud of dust.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 19:22 #

      Thanks. Actually, I have never seen Blazing Saddles. It’s always been one of those things that I meant to do. I know it’s hilarious, and I have to watch it. Thanks for commenting.

  21. mirrorgirl April 2, 2013 at 19:59 #

    When I was small I cried at the end of the book, I wanted to know what happened with the characters I Came to love!

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 20:02 #

      I feel the same way about books. When one is finished, I feel that part of me is finished with it. It’s like I got to live in another world for a while, and that world is suddenly gone. Thank you for commenting.

  22. L. Palmer April 2, 2013 at 20:10 #

    I think a great, almost opposite ending is in the Third Man, where the main female walks past the protagonist and off into the distance, leaving him behind and alone. The protagonist, Holly, writes western pulp novels, making this ending even more ironic.

    • Rick April 2, 2013 at 20:14 #

      I haven’t seen that one, but that is a great twist on the typical ending.

      • L. Palmer April 2, 2013 at 20:38 #

        It’s a great classic and part of the Criterion Collection. There are several other twists of classical Hollywood narrative structures that add to the overall film. It’s a great film noir in post-war Vienna.

  23. devilhunter309 April 3, 2013 at 02:43 #

    nicely written

    • Rick April 3, 2013 at 03:54 #

      Thank you for the compliment, and thank you for commenting.

  24. bhuwanchand April 3, 2013 at 11:30 #

    Great post, and thanks to freshly pressed I got the opportunity to read it. Let me also use some cliches…

    Are there truly any happy endings? Is there such a thing like ‘happily ever after’?

    Every ‘end’ is a new ‘beginning’ therefore one can only speculate which direction the wind will blow.

    I love Japanese anime, many of them end not with a complete resolution but hinting at multiple possibilities that one can keep speculating about after watching the movie.

    • Rick April 3, 2013 at 14:12 #

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. I found your anime comment interesting because there was an anime convention here last weekend. A few of my students went and were talking about how great it was. Now, I wish that I had gone.

      • bhuwanchand April 4, 2013 at 04:49 #

        🙂 Yes do try some movies from Ghilbi Studios of Japan, Princess Mononoke. is one of my favorite. All are available with English dubbing/ sub-titles. There is also a book by Prof. Susan J Napier on Anime – she’s an expert on Japanese literature, culture and anime.

  25. matthewhyde April 3, 2013 at 12:09 #

    Nice post. I guess Indiana Jones rides off into the sunset at the end of The Last Crusade (some say he returned to fight aliens and communists, but they’re crazy people).

    Also, Frodo Baggins sails off to the Undying Lands to the west – into the sunset, in other words…

    • Rick April 3, 2013 at 14:13 #

      That’s true. I forgot about the sunset of Indiana Jones. They had to make a sequel to mess that up, too. Thank for reading and for commenting.

  26. Connor Moir April 3, 2013 at 18:24 #

    Reblogged this on CFD.

  27. paintlater April 3, 2013 at 20:44 #

    Hi Rick, Freshly Pressed! I feel like I know someone famous. Congrats, it just goes to show you’re not completely surrounded by imbeciles. Cheers Sue

    • Rick April 3, 2013 at 21:56 #

      Thank you. I got pressed on April 1, so I thought it was a prank. There are a lot more deserving bloggers out there than me.

  28. Mrs. Ralf April 4, 2013 at 08:48 #

    Great reflection on the cliche movie ending. I always hated these endings as a kid. I wanted to know what happened next. But now that I’m middle aged, I like the infinite possibilities of the open ending. Favorite open ending “Sliding Doors”. After all that back and forth between two possible paths, it ends the doors sliding open again to a new beginning.

    • Rick April 4, 2013 at 12:16 #

      I haven’t seen that one, but I will watch it now. I think the best movies and books leave something to the imagination. Thank you for commenting.

  29. opendialogue4themasses April 5, 2013 at 15:44 #

    Hehe, I enjoyed most all of these movies! Please feel free to check out my blog, I’m sure you’d enjoy it !

    • Rick April 5, 2013 at 18:08 #

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ll definitely check you out.

  30. MikesFilmTalk April 6, 2013 at 11:41 #

    LOVE IT! (Yes, all caps equals excitement) 😀

    • Rick April 7, 2013 at 02:05 #

      Thanks for reading and for such an exciting comment.

  31. Lone Trail April 7, 2013 at 09:48 #

    Isn’t that the point? Leaving room at the end allows for the individual to make up his or her mind on what happened next.

    • Rick April 7, 2013 at 15:07 #

      That’s exactly the point. I wish more films would do it rather than giving us definitive endings and sequels. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  32. OyiaBrown April 7, 2013 at 11:20 #

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  33. lscripsit April 7, 2013 at 14:58 #

    I always thought the hero passed into the sunset or over the horizon so that he could ask for directions without looking foolish.

    • Rick April 7, 2013 at 15:09 #

      That’s an excellent viewpoint. He would have to be desperate though because we men will never ask for directions. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  34. Infer April 7, 2013 at 21:01 #

    this is really cool 🙂 Thought provoking actually 🙂

    • Rick April 7, 2013 at 21:43 #

      Thank you very much. It’s something that I have always thought about. Then, it popped into my mind that I should write about it. Thanks for commenting.

      • Infer April 9, 2013 at 10:35 #

        you’re welcome 🙂

  35. Zane Wylde April 8, 2013 at 15:51 #

    Reblogged this on pci compliance and commented:
    good post!

  36. Indian Ad Divas April 9, 2013 at 07:27 #

    Why not Rambo? He finishes off a mission and goes into isolation, just to be dragged into something more devastating!

    • Rick April 9, 2013 at 14:50 #

      That’s a great one that I never thought of. Thanks for your comment.

  37. hastywords April 22, 2013 at 19:20 #

    I loved The Good The Bad and The Ugly. My dad always loved to watch it and we had the soundtrack lol.

    • Rick April 22, 2013 at 21:30 #

      Ha. I have the soundtrack on my iPod. I can’t count the number of westerns I’ve watched with my dad. Thanks for reading.

      • hastywords April 22, 2013 at 21:30 #

        A fistful of dollars was another one.

      • Rick April 22, 2013 at 21:33 #

        And, For a Few Dollars More

  38. Bob May 2, 2013 at 04:37 #

    Reblogged this on PATCO BLOG IT ALL… and commented:
    Go Clint “Into the Sunset” it was good.

  39. Angie Z. May 3, 2013 at 17:59 #

    Wow! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! What an interesting, original post at that. I’ve seen a few, not all of these movies, but now I think I need to see them again! If you’ve seen the newish Ryan Gosling film Drive, you’d definitely zero in on the ride off into the sunset scene there — it’s a good one.

    • Rick May 3, 2013 at 21:55 #

      Thanks. I’ve seen drive and remember the lat scene. However, I was still thinking about him smashing the guy’s head in the elevator.

      • Angie Z. May 3, 2013 at 22:25 #

        Yeah, not good. Violence makes my stomach ache.

  40. Marilyn Armstrong February 3, 2014 at 22:17 #

    Garry has a lot to say about this … especially The Searchers … so I sent him the link. He can speak for himself. In the book, Ethan dies. It’s a clue.

    • Rick February 3, 2014 at 22:47 #

      I know the book well. He needs to read The Searchers: Making of an American Legend. I’m having my class read it this semester.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 3, 2014 at 22:55 #

        He just slogged through Three Bad Men, the one about Ford, Wayne and Ward Bond, the big bad buddies. He’s still gasping for breath. But he has a birthday in April so I might just gift him with this one. His kind of book.

      • Garry Armstrong February 4, 2014 at 17:23 #

        I’ve read “The Searchers: Making of an American Legend”. Interesting stuff. Read it before “Three Bad Men” which we would be a good read for your class.This is a wonderful post and you obviously know your stuff. I got to know Charlton Heston a little and he told me “Will Penny” was his favorite movie. Heston said that Will’s ride off into the sunset WITHOUT the lady and her son was reality versus sentiment. I see another post coming soon with you as the catalyst, Pilgrim.

      • Rick February 4, 2014 at 18:38 #

        Thanks. I read “Three Bad Man” as well. I like the book about The Searchers because it shows my class the process of how a real event can be mythologized. It didn’t start with the movies. It started almost immediately. I would like to read more about all of the interesting people you have met.

  41. Marilyn Armstrong February 3, 2014 at 22:28 #

    Forgot Shane! Oops. Did he ever find a second name? Did he ever change his jacket? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Rick February 3, 2014 at 22:49 #

      I must admit that Shane is not a favorite of mine.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 3, 2014 at 22:53 #

        It’s only a favorite of mine because it was the first western I ever saw. I was 5 and it was showing at the Valencia, one of those extragant movie palaces with stars in the ceiling. I don’t know whether or not I was so much impressed by Shane as I was by the Valencia. Ah, what a palace it was!

      • Garry Armstrong February 25, 2014 at 16:46 #

        Revisiting this post and terrific comments. Rick, how can you NOT like Shane? I’ve heard about you….(How about Eastwood’s ride off in “High Plains Drifter” and “Unforgiven” among others..).

      • Rick February 25, 2014 at 18:17 #

        It is true. I am not a big fan of Shane, and I cannot pinpoint why. It has just never been enjoyable to watch. Clint Eastwood is the king of “into the sunset” scenes. He rides off in those movies, plus in the Man With No Name trilogy and in Hang ‘Em High. Heck, he even walks “into the sunset” at the of Trouble With the Curve. He does it in Million Dollar Baby, too.


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