From Academic Kids


A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in which a movie or novel contains an abrupt ending, often leaving the main characters in a precarious or difficult situation (for instance, hanging from the edge of a cliff).

Although a cliffhanger can be enjoyable as a page turner at the end of a chapter in a novel, a cliffhanger at the very end of a work can be frustrating. Cliffhangers can build anticipation for (and, subsequently, profits for) sequels. However, if no sequel follows, effective suspension of disbelief can leave the audience or readership wondering what happened in the work's fictional realm.

Cliffhangers were especially popular in 1930s serials when movie theaters filled the cultural niche now primarily occupied by television.

Cliffhangers are often used in television series, in the last episode of a season, to be continued in the first episode of the next season. This is to ensure consistent viewer ratings in the new season. Prior to the early 1980's season-ending cliffhangers were rare on US television, although several Australian soap operas such as Number 96 and Prisoner had ended each year with major and much publicised catastrophies such as characters being shot in the final seconds of the closing episode for the year.

Where does the word's origin lie? Cliffhangers were used way back in the time of silent movies, but the word was first used as of only 1937. More on this subject can be found on Word Detective (

In the US it was the phenomenal success of the "Who shot JR?" cliffhanger on Dallas, which closed the show's third season, that led the cliffhanger to become a popular staple on TV dramas and later sitcoms as well. Another notable cliffhanger was the "Moldavian Massacre" on Dynasty in 1985, which fueled speculation throughout the summer months regarding who lived or died (in the story, almost all the characters attended a wedding in the fictional country of Moldavia, only to have revolutionaries topple the government and machine-gun the entire wedding party). The "Best of Both Worlds" episode of Star Trek: TNG in 1990 is also cited as a reason that season-enders are popular today.

Cliffhangers are also sometimes deliberately inserted by writers uncertain of whether a new series will be commissioned, in the hope that viewers will demand to know how the situation is resolved.


Examples of films with cliffhanger endings

Examples of television series with cliffhanger endings

  • Alias -- the structure of episodes in the first season had the last ten-fifteen minutes spent on setting up the next episode with a cliffhanger, usually with the main character(s) in life-threatening jeopardy.
  • ReBoot - (first totally computer generated) animated series
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) - cartoon
  • Dallas - soap
  • Dynasty - soap
  • Twin Peaks - supernatural drama
  • Caroline in the City - sitcom
  • The West Wing - political drama
  • 24 - drama/action: Every episode ends with a cliffhanger in the last five seconds.
  • Doctor Who - British Sci Fi show
  • King of the Hill - The second and third seasons ended with cliffhanger episodes.
  • JAG often featured cliffhanger episodes at the end of seasons.
  • Lost - drama/action: most episodes end with a cliffhanger

Unresolved cliffhangers

Some tv shows were cancelled in between seasons, and viewers were left wondering what happened.

  • Peyton Place when this evening soap opera was cancelled in 1969 the final episode made no attempt to tie-up the various story threads in the expectation another network would pick-up the show.
  • Models, Inc.
  • Twin Peaks
  • Benson - The famous "Who Won?" cliffhanger featuring a gubernatorial race between the title character and his former employer was never resolved.
  • XIII In the last ten seconds of the game, the ultimate conspirator is revealed and the hero is left in a potentially deadly situation. Poor sales of the game led to the conclusion that the story would not be completed, in game format at any rate.

More can be found (including details of what happened) at To Be DIScontinued! - The Hall of Unresolved TV Cliffhangers (

The Animorphs series of children's books also ends with a cliffhanger, which disappointed many fans.

See also

ja:クリフハンガー (海外ドラマ用語) pl:Cliffhanger


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