The essential predictability doesn't diminish Zero Dark Thirty's supreme tension one bit, which got us thinking about all the other films that have succeeded in spite of a forgone conclusion.
Digital Spy takes a look back at ten movies where knowing the ending isn't a bad thing.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
While it was Arthur Penn's crime drama that really made Depression-era outlaw couple Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker the stuff of modern mythology, their reputation preceded the film's release. While famously fudging many details of the couple's lives, and vilifying the Texas Ranger who hunts them down so much that his family successfully sued for defamation, the script makes up in gusto and wit what it lacks in factual accuracy, and everybody watching is anticipating the operatic, bullet-riddled conclusion long before it comes.
Ed Wood (1994)
While it's more niche knowledge than a lot of these picks, any film fan worth their salt will know how the saga of Edward D Wood Jr, held up by many as the worst filmmaker of all time, is going to end. "This is it," Johnny Depp's Wood beams, surveying the organised chaos on the set of his legendarily rubbish sci-fi Plan 9 From Outer Space. "This is the one I'll be remembered for." He wasn't wrong, but what's touching about Depp's portrayal is that he really believes he's making gold. Instead, as a post-script at the film's ending reminds us, Plan 9 secured Wood's historical status as the poster boy for "So bad, it's good".
Apollo 13 (1995)
"Houston, we have a problem." If you've heard this line, you more than likely know the true story behind it, much as the phrase itself is a misquote. Three astronauts (here played by Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton) were aboard doomed moon mission Apollo 13, when an oxygen tank exploded two days after their launch and crippled their ship. It's also widely known that the crew returned safely to Earth after a total of six increasingly perilous days in space, but there's enough tension in Ron Howard's thrilling, painstakingly detailed docudrama to keep you biting your nails regardless.
To be honest, even if you've somehow missed the real-life tragedy of 1500 people dying onboard the RMS Titanic, James Cameron's script goes out of its way to signpost the impending doom. The minute you hear Billy Zane's creepy rich kid Cal proclaiming "God himself couldn't sink this ship," you know things are going south. But it's our knowledge of what's to come that gives Cameron's indulgent behemoth of a film its moments of real power. Forget Kate and Leo's schmaltzy romance - it's the largely anonymous doomed faces that resonate, the mother reading to her children, the musicians who refuse to stop playing. We've got something in our eye now.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
A film that's billed as chronicling "the final twelve hours" of anybody's life has a pretty definitive end point, but there aren't many individuals whose final hours are taught in schools. It's hard to look at Mel Gibson's controversial biblical drama now without being coloured by what we know about the writer-director's own fairly unfortunate religious views - especially since the film was accused of anti-semitic overtones upon its release, two years before Gibson's infamous outburst. But if you can separate the man from the art, and if the ultra-violent portrayal of Jesus Christ's far-from-peaceful death doesn't put you off, there are things to admire here.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Look, there's just no getting around this. While it may be the best of George Lucas's ill-advised Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is mostly a clunky, emotionally stunted mess. It would be easy to give Lucas a pass on the grounds that he had a tough corner to write himself out of, given that we all know the Darth Vader story going in, but the film's problems have nothing to do with its lack of dramatic tension. In fact, one of the only effective sequences is the last battle between the recently-turned Anakin/Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) and his erstwhile mentor Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), in which a small amount of actual acting managed to sneak under Lucas's radar.
United 93 (2006)
To say that Paul Greengrass's painfully detailed, real-time portrait of events onboard United Airlines Flight 93 is a tough watch is to vastly understate the sheer horror you'll feel, watching the nondescript passengers shuffle through departures. This was the only plane that failed to reach its intended target on September 11, 2001, instead crashing into a field after several passengers took action against the hijackers. Nobody on board survived. This astonishing feat of heroism en masse seemed uncomfortably primed for a textbook Hollywood manipulative treatment, complete with A-list stars, sweeping orchestral score and a shoehorned-in love story. Thank God, then, for Greengrass's meticulous approach, which is closer to documentary reconstruction than drama.
While it's arguably the least widely known story of the ten, the one fact most people know about the Zodiac Killer is that his identity remains unknown. So watching Jake Gyllenhaal's cartoonist, Robert Downey Jr's reporter and Mark Ruffalo's detective struggling to catch the killer after he sends a series of cipher-based taunts to the San Francisco press should by all rights be a frustrating and anti-climactic experience. Instead, thanks to David Fincher's shrewd, deceptively unshowy direction and a script by James Vanderbilt that turned the killer's ambiguous identity into a strength, it's one of the century's finest crime thrillers.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The clue's in the title, innit? We're pretty confident going in that Andrew Dominik's mesmerisingly bleak modern western is probably going to end with Brad Pitt's outlaw being taken out by Casey Affleck's socially awkward devotee. But this is yet another example of a story in which knowing the ending only heightens the emotion, and Dominik weaves a fascinating, terrifying tale of obsession, idolatry and the fine line between the two, while Affleck gives a performance so striking and vivid that we temporarily forgot he even had a brother.
Sean Penn's performance as Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay public official, is so endearing and soulful that you're half-hoping director Gus Van Sant has opted to rewrite history. Sadly, he sticks with the facts, and after a long uphill battle into City Hall, Milk is gunned down by his colleague Dan White (Josh Brolin), who would go on to plead the more-than-slightly dodgy Twinkie Defence. Van Sant even has Milk predicting his own death at the film's start, recording his last will and testament into a dictaphone in a wry self-account that becomes an intermittent voiceover for this very smart, very sad biopic.
Zero Dark Thirty opens in UK cinemas tomorrow (Friday, January 25).