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This article is about the 'cliffhanger' plot device in works of fiction. For the movie of the same name, see Cliffhanger (movie).

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 of) 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 consistant 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.

In the US it was the phenomenal success of the "Who shot JR?" cliffhanger on Dallas, which closed the show's second season, that led the cliffhanger to become a popular staple on TV dramas and later sitcoms as well. 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

See also

Last updated: 02-24-2005 14:53:12