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Cliffhanger is mainly associated as an open end to an episode at its peak with serials , television series , soap operas or, less often, with planned movies. The plot usually continues in the next or an even later episode.


The English word cliffhanger literally means "cliff hanger". The term comes from Thomas Hardy's novel A Pair of Blue Eyes from 1873, which was published as a monthly series in a magazine: In one scene on the steep slopes of the Bristol Channel , Henry Knight can only hold on to a tuft of grass to not to fall to one's death.

A cliffhanger scene tape reader to the serial novel , because the resolution of the hanging ( Suspense ) suspense was learned only in the next issue of the magazine or newspaper. This method of customer loyalty was adopted by other contemporary authors, especially those of trivial literature ; the term cliffhanger spread.

Expanding the genre, countless US series (serials) of the 1930s ( Flash Gordon , Buck Rogers ) then used this form of striking exaggeration. These films usually lasted around 30 minutes and were shown alternately each week before the main film. If a viewer wanted to follow the plot of the series, he had to go to the cinema every week, regardless of which main film was being played.

A special feature was the cartoon series Mighty Mouse (German also Oskar, the supermouse ): Instead of ending with a cliffhanger, the episodes began with a scene typically used as a cliffhanger.

Psychologically, the phenomenon was already investigated in the 1920s by the research group led by the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin . His colleague Bluma Zeigarnik proved experimentally that, under certain conditions, interrupted actions are better remembered than completed ones ( Zeigarnik effect ).

Movies with cliffhangers

There are now some movies that end with a cliffhanger and have another part. It is often the case that the follow-up part has already been planned or even shot. Examples are:

A special variant is the film Charlie dusts off millions ( The Italian Job , 1969), because its ending is a "cliffhanger" in the literal sense, but an initially planned sequel was never shot.

TV series with cliffhangers

In television series in particular, the authors like to work with cliffhangers in order to induce the viewer to watch the upcoming episode as well. There are particularly ingenious cliffhangers at the end of a season, as it is difficult to assess how many viewers will remain loyal to the respective series over the summer break. Often the writers then work with extreme surprises in the plot and with dicey situations in which the life of one or more of the main characters is in danger. This also makes it possible to let certain people drop out during the relay break due to failed fee negotiations. This form of the season finale shaped especially the big evening soaps in the 1980s, such as Dallas and The Denver Clan . The television play of Durbridge's six divider Das Halstuch also worked with this effect. Series with an existing cliffhanger are repeatedly discontinued (e.g. My Name Is Earl , Heroes , What's Up, Dad? ). The reason for this is often that series, whose audience numbers are decreasing, end the season with a cliffhanger in order to increase the audience number again. Nevertheless, the series will be discontinued after all. For example, the series Alf caused a stir, as the last episode is heading for a perfect series finale and in the end it ends in a cliffhanger. This series was discontinued anyway; the cliffhanger, however, was dissolved by the movie Alf - The Film . The Emmy- winning AMC series Breaking Bad or the series The Walking Dead , also produced by AMC, work a lot with cliffhangers. The German TV series Lindenstrasse and Rote Rosen also end accordingly.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Cliffhanger  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Definition at