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The 50 Greatest Movie Endings of All Time

42. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Director: Milos Forman
Screenwriter: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman

R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is the kind of guy you'd want to have a couple of beers with...if only he weren't locked up in that pesky mental institution, where every one of the patients' movements are watched by the eagle-eyed and evil-eyed Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). And she's got a beef with McMurphy, both because she realizes he doesn't belong here and because, unlike the others, he's immune to her attempts to use humiliation and unnecessary medical practices to control the men in her ward. McMurphy's only there as an alternative to prison, but he plans to make the most of his time there and his fellow patients are immediately ready to follow. Their days of staring at walls and doing what they're told are replaced by challenging the rules that Ratched has laid out, with raucous poker games, unauthorized group "field trips" and one booze-and-drug-filled party that pushes Ratched over the top and McMurphy out of the ward.

While the group tries to maintain some semblance of their newfound freedom, it's not the same without McMurphy, who the patients want to believe made a triumphant escape but know is probably upstairs in the medical ward. When "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson) sees McMurphy being returned to his room late one night, he believes that he has come back in order for them to escape together as they had planned (Chief will lift and throw a huge plumbing fixture through the window and they'll simply make a run for it). Chief's hopes are dashed when he finds a lobotomy-scarred McMurphy in a vegetative state. Knowing that this wild man-child would never want to live like this, Chief smothers him with a pillow then continues with their escape plan. As he runs off into the distance, his fellow inmates cheer him on. —JW

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