I was always told that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended with the title characters getting killed, but when I sat down to watch it, the film ended before any shooting could start. Are we to assume they get gunned down by the Bolivians?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were real outlaws. The movie is based on their actual lives. Below, I've copied what wikipedia says about their death and possible survival.
It is generally accepted that they were in fact killed in Bolivia, however there are theories that they survived. The ending of the movie showing the freeze frame is most likely done in an attempt to leave the question of their survival open ended, just as it is in real life.
The facts surrounding Butch Cassidy's death are uncertain. On November 3, 1908, near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, a courier for the Aramayo Franke and Cia Silver Mine was conveying his company's payroll, worth about 15,000 Bolivian pesos, by mule, when he was attacked and robbed by two masked American bandits believed to be Cassidy and Longabaugh (Sundance). The bandits then proceeded to the small mining town of San Vicente, where they lodged in a small boarding house owned by a local resident miner named Bonifacio Casasola.
Casasola became suspicious of his two foreign lodgers. A mule they had in their possession was from the Aramayo Mine, identifiable from the mine company's brand on the mule's left flank. Casasola left his house and notified a nearby telegraph officer who notified a small Bolivian Army cavalry unit stationed nearby, the Abaroa Regiment. The unit dispatched three soldiers, under the command of Captain Justo Concha, to San Vicente, where they notified the local authorities. On the evening of November 6, the lodging house was surrounded by the soldiers, the police chief, the local mayor and some of his officials, who intended to arrest the Aramayo robbers.
When the soldiers approached the house, the bandits opened fire, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another. A gunfight then ensued. At around 2 a.m., during a lull in the firing, the police and soldiers heard a man screaming from inside the house. Soon, a single shot was heard from inside the house, whereupon the screaming stopped. Minutes later, another shot was heard.
The standoff continued as locals kept the place surrounded until the next morning when, cautiously entering, the authorities found two dead bodies, both with numerous bullet wounds to the arms and legs. One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet hole in the temple. The local police report speculated that, judging from the positions of the bodies, one bandit had probably shot his fatally wounded partner-in-crime to put him out of his misery, just before killing himself with his final bullet. In the following investigation by the Tupiza police, the bandits were identified as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport, but the Bolivian authorities didn't know their real names, nor could they positively identify them.
The bodies were buried at the small San Vicente cemetery, near the grave of a German miner named Gustav Zimmer. Although attempts have been made to find their unmarked graves, notably by the American forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow and his researchers in 1991, no remains with DNA matching the living relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh have yet been discovered.
In 2017 a new search was launched for the grave of Cassidy. It zeroed in on a mine outside Goodsprings, NV. DNA was taken from a nephew of his (via birth by Cassidy's Sister).The dig managed to find human remains, but did not match the DNA provided.
However... there are theories that they survived
Claims of survival
In his Annals of the Former World, John McPhee repeats a story told to geologist David Love in the 1930s by Love's family doctor, Francis Smith, M.D., when Love was a doctoral student. Smith stated that he had just seen Cassidy who told him that his face had been altered by a surgeon in Paris, and that he showed Smith a repaired bullet wound that Smith recognized as work he had previously done on Cassidy.
In a 1960 interview, Josie Bassett claimed that Cassidy came to visit her in the 1920s "after returning from South America," and that "Butch died in Johnnie, Nevada, about 15 years ago." Locals of Cassidy's hometown of Circleville, Utah claimed in an interview that Cassidy worked in Nevada until his death.
Western historian Charles Kelly closed the chapter "Is Butch Cassidy Dead?" in his 1938 book, The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch, by observing that if Cassidy "is still alive, as these rumors claim, it seems exceedingly strange that he has not returned to Circleville, Utah, to visit his old father, Maximillian Parker, who died on July 28, 1938, at the age of 94 years." Kelly is thought to have interviewed Parker's father, but no known transcript of such an interview exists.
A second-season episode of the television series In Search of... (1978) casts doubts on Kelly's conclusions, examining the claims and possible evidence for Butch Cassidy's return to North America during the 1920s. In a series of interviews with residents of Baggs, Wyoming, a popular destination for the Wild Bunch during their raiding years, Cassidy was said to have visited for several days in 1924, driving a Ford Model T. Among the residents interviewed is the town sheriff, Ross Moore, who claims it was common knowledge locally that Cassidy did not die in South America, stating that his own grandmother saw Cassidy in 1924. In the episode, author John Rolfe Burroughs recounts several interviews he conducted in the 1950s supporting the claims of a 1924 visit to Baggs.
Notably, this episode also interviews Cassidy's sister, Lula Parker Betenson (died 1980), who states Cassidy returned to the family home in Circleville, Utah during this same period. Betenson states that Cassidy picked up his brother Mark Parker in a Ford automobile, then drove to the home of their father Maximillian Parker, where she also lived. She reports the elder Parker having said to her "I'll bet you don't know who this is. This is your brother Robert LeRoy." Betenson observes that her brother's life was full of regrets, particularly at having disappointed his mother so terribly, with Cassidy having reportedly stated "[A]ll I done [sic] is make a wreck of my life." Betenson claims that Cassidy lived out his years in "the Northwest" and died in 1937, and that the family had agreed not to disclose his final resting place since "they had chased him all his life, and now he's going to rest in peace." This story is also recounted by W.C. Jameson in Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave, referencing the 1975 book Betenson authored with Dora Flack, Butch Cassidy, My Brother.
There is every indication that they died. They were wounded and couldn't move quickly (a quick initial burst, sure.) But where are the horses to escape? How can the Bolivian army miss such easy targets with multiple volleys? Unless you favor magical thinking, they died. I know I was incredibly sad.
Why didn't the director show them being shot to pieces in the end? I always thought it was for empathetic reasons: it would be too painful to see the two protagonists lying there dead and full of bullets. It's not a slasher film or a war film, it's a Western. That's good enough for me. Bloody deaths isn't the point. It was "the journey" that was fun.
Another reason is that at the time of filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, there were a number of directors influenced by French Film (which remains true today), and one very influential one was The 400 Blows where the ending is a freeze frame before a death.
Julian Cornell, who has a PhD in Film Studies and has taught at several universities, has this to say:
But primarily it ends in a freeze frame for thematic reasons. We don't want to see their defeat. The movie is consciously mythic, so a myth can't end in defeat. And if it does end in defeat, it has to be uplifting, or it has to affirm values in some way. There are plenty of war movies where everybody dies at the end, [and the end still affirms our values.] It’s very unusual for mainstream big budget Hollywood film like Butch Cassidy to end with the main characters being dead, but you have the historical problem, which is that those guys died. It’s not a war movie, so you can't have heroic defeat. Part of the point of the movie is to think about the mythology of the Western, the mythology of the Western characters, especially the mythology of masculinity in the West. Having that freeze frame so we don't see them die allows the myth to live on, even as the people, the human beings, die. Because that was the fate of the actual Butch and Sundance, who I'm sure were not quite as nice as they are in the movie and not quite as handsome as Redford and Newman... (Emphasis mine)
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are, as they say, larger than life.
The version I've seen has the video freeze after they run out and fire a shot or two towards the camera without showing what actually happens to them. But the audio goes on, indicating multiple volleys of gunfire, presumably aimed toward the two main characters.
Just before, we've seem dozens of soldiers take positions covering the building they are holed up in. Given that previously they've shot a number of officers while trying to steal horses for their getaway, it's highly unlikely the army would allow them to leave without shooting back.
So yes, there's a very strong indication that they are shot down and killed.
There's a clip of this version of the ending in youtube, right at the end:
Based on that presentation, I would say, yes, we are to assume they get gunned down by the Bolivians.
I also found another, longer clip, where we see the two protagonists shoot some officers, and the army lining up while they are holed in the building. In this one, the audio switches to the ending theme instead of the sounds of gunfire making the slim chance of a miraculous escape at least slightly open, even though still unlikely (in my opinion).
While I understand that the death of the real-life criminals Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was never confirmed, I don't know that the circumstances surrounding their reported death was similar to the movie. In the movie, with an entire army squad training their rifles on the only door of escape, two figures emerging from that door would surely be mowed down in short order . . . unless this were a Monty Python skit.
The director's choice to go with a freeze-frame ending could have been done to serve either or both of two purposes -- it leaves their death ambiguous as in their legend, and it avoids showing the carnage of the kill which would end the movie on a very dark note while the movie itself was light-hearted and the main characters, though criminals, were portrayed as likeable and sympathetic.
Note that a different director might have chosen a much different approach. In the movie "Bonnie and Clyde", director Arthur Penn portrayed the infamous pair as much more sympathetic characters than history has generally known them but in the end he portrayed their death quite graphically and violently. Predictably, the effect was much different than the ending of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."