Dawn of the Dead
Whenever anybody brings up the original Dawn of the Dead, horror purists delight in boring the shit out of everybody by talking about it very loudly and with great authority.
If they're not claiming that the remake has thrills, where the original has a heart, they will be proving with solid evidence and diagrams that it should have ended with the deaths of everybody involved.
They may have a point, but they are still wrong. The fact that the film ends with that thinnest slice of hope in the bleakest of takes turns the ending right around.
Five minutes from the end of the movie and it's all turned to hell. The shopping mall fortress, bought with a huge sacrifice, has been breached and the dead are coming for the living, led by a recently-deceased main character.
All hope is gone. Peter, the staunch and angry hero who always did what he had to do to survive, is tired and can't go on. He's shut out the horror of the new world for so long, but he can't do it any more. Telling Fran to go, he leaves her to be the last woman standing as he moves to a nearby room and prepares himself for death.
Fran gets up to the helicopter, but just sits there, as the dead come closer. The final survivor, she isn't sure if she has that strength to go on, especially when she is about to bring another life into the world. So after hearing Peter shoot himself in the head, she ends the film by thrusting her head up into the helicopter blades, killing her instantly and confirming that she won't return to plague the world.
This ending was still part of the plan late into the making of the film, with various documents and photographs confirming the creation of prosthetics and script changes. But then Romero changed his mind, and decided to have a happier ending. Whether he was forced into it by producers who would not stand with a bleak ending, or whether he made the move for artistic reasons, it was still a fantastic idea.
As the dead close in on Peter, and he's about to pull the trigger, he snaps and you can almost see the thought bubble appear over his head: “Nah! Fuck it! I ain't going out like that!”
Firing the bullet he was about to use to end his own life into the face of the nearest zombie, Peter makes his break for survival, punching and kicking his way past a horde of zombies, the music swelling to preposterous degrees. With impossible skill, he fights his way to the roof, just manages to get on the chopper with Fran and together they escape the death below, and literally ride off into the sunrise.
Giving horror endings a bleak denouncement is part of the genre and still lives on today in films like The Mist or a plethora of low-budget gorefests. But the fact that Fran and Peter escape to the end credits is one last blast of hope into the film, right at the end.
They don't have much fuel, and there is a good chance they will soon die anyway, but they will go down fighting for their last breath. They are alive and following the one impulse they have over the creatures that overrun their world: the need to survive.
In a world of the dead, they are alive.