The 25 Best Movies With A Twist
A good plot twist, the kind that leaves people’s jaws on the floor for hours and has you talking about it for days to come, is a special kind of thrill. Many TV shows—Game of Thrones immediately comes to mind—have mastered the art of the sudden death or bombshell revelation that changes the entire structure of the plot. But the device has been a hallmark of movies present throughout pretty much all of cinematic history, and a truly good twist is the kind you never forget.
Plot twists tend to work best for the horror or thriller genres, not just because the plots, already full of deceit and disbelief, are naturally more inclined to include narrative shifts and dramatic turns. These can be especially great for these genres primarily because a good plot twist can be the ultimate shock, effectively creating an extra layer for an audience that already signed up to be surprised.
But any twist must be earned; the worst kiss of death for any screenplay is a predictable, cheap plot twist. Just think of the ridiculous, clearly manufactured storylines in a classic soap opera and you’ll get an idea of what a bad ending looks like. It’s infinitely more satisfying for the audience to watch every last one of their expectations crash against a brick wall, but that brick wall must have been meticulously constructed via great writing scene by scene. In reality, the task of naming the 25 best movie twists is an exercise in identifying some of the best screenplay writing: a writer who can set up the appropriate amount of tension and expectation and then finally shatter everything in a satisfying way is a writer who knows what they’re doing.
So, with that said, enjoy this carefully curated list of 25 of the best movies with a twist. Please keep in mind that everything that follows involves MAJOR spoilers for the films involved, so keep scrolling at your own caution.
25. Skyfall (2012)
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw
The Twist: M dies.
M has been at the epicenter of every James Bond movie ever, and Judi Dench had been the franchise’s M for six movies before Skyfall. She seemed as integral to a Bond movie as a Bond girl, like one of those characters that will always be there, no matter what. But Skyfall subverted all expectations and killed her off (just Dench, though, not the character—the role was taken up by Ralph Fienne’s Mallory). It’s a fitting twist for Skyfall, a movie that departs slightly from the traditional Bond formula by having Craig play a jaded version of the international spy who has to be coaxed out of a self-imposed retirement/fake death.
24. Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer
The Twist: Teddy Daniels is Andrew Laeddis, and he killed his wife.
DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, whose latest mission alongside his partner, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), is to investigate a mental hospital on Shutter Island and find a missing patient, Rachel, who had been at the hospital for drowning her three children. Daniels has a secret ulterior motive: to find Andrew Laeddis, the man who set fire to his home and killed his wife Dolores, who he believes is also at the hospital. As Daniels and Aule deepen their investigation, they encounter a series of mysterious and conflicting events. Rachel suddenly reappears at the hospital; Daniels believes the patients are taken to the lighthouse to be lobotomized, and is determined to investigate. On his way there, Daniels finds Rachel—a second time—hiding in a cave near the lighthouse, claiming she is a doctor at the facility who was mistakenly admitted. It’s all rather creepy. But when Daniels finally reaches the lighthouse, he is forced to face the truth: he is Andrew Laeddis, a dangerous patient at the mental facility who murdered his wife Rachel after she drowned their children. Laeddis was living out a hallucination and the entire hospital staff were in on it, in an attempt to help him reach a breakthrough. The next day, it appears Laeddis is still onboard with his new discoveries, and understands his situation. But in the final scene, and in what can be perhaps interpreted as yet another twist, Daniels asks, “Which would be worse: To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Does he accept that he is crazy and that what he believes is his life are only hallucinations, or does he continue to indulge in his own fantasies, ones that might make him a monster to the world but that give his own life a meaningful narrative?
23. Oldboy (2003)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung
The Twist: Mi-do is Dae-su’s daughter.
Poor Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) can’t catch a break in Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s notorious adaptation of Tsuchiya Garon’s popular Japanese Manga. First, he’s unexpectedly sent to prison for 15 years, confined in a windowless cell, and forced to learn about how he’s been framed for his wife’s murder andhis three-year-old daughter has been sent to a foster home all on the television.
Naturally, once Dae-su’s out of the clink, he immediately goes on a brutal rampage to find out who set him up and ice the fools, all while meeting and eventually sleeping with cute, young sushi chef, named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong).
His vengeance-seeking efforts lead him to an old grade school classmate named Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae), who screwed Dae-su over as payback for decades-old grudge revolving around schoolyard rumors that Woo-jin was banging his sister, chatter that caused her to commit suicide. But the worst part of Woo-jin’s evil scheme? He’d raised Mi-do, who’s actually Dae-su’s daughter, while pops was locked up and hypnotized her to fall in love with Dae-su once they met.
Dae-su, understandably horrified and ashamed, atones for his sins like any sane man would: He cuts off his tongue using rusty scissors. Which Park shows in all of its hideous, look-away-now horror.
22. Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
The Twist: Nina actually kills herself, and is psychotic.
Black Swan is a strange and complicated movie, exploring the often ignored fine line between talent and obsession. Portman plays Nina, a devoted yet troubled ballerina who finds herself slowly falling deeper into a psychotic break when she competes for the lead role in her company’s production of Swan Lake against Lily (Kunis), a more carefree and sensual dancer. Nina goes to destructive means to land the role, but Lily is named her understudy, which doesn’t sit well with Nina. Nina is troubled by strange hallucinations—she imagines going to a club, taking ecstasy and hooking up with Lily—and on the show’s opening night, she sees Lily preparing to take over her role. Consumed with envy and rage, Nina stabs Lily. Nina then quickly goes out onstage and performs the most perfect performance of her life, but soon we realize Nina actually stabbed herself and had been performing through her injury. She dies as she realizes that her performance was perfect; Nina’s obsession with achieving perfection is her eventual undoing.
21. Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
The Twist: Nick takes Amy back after she frames him for her murder.
Gone Girl is a *wild* ride. Gillian Flynn’s story is as original as it is insane: Amy, a surprisingly self-aware woman, decides to take revenge on her cheating husband Nick by elaborately staging and framing him for her murder. And I do mean elaborate: she invents a twisted scavenger hunt designed just for Nick and kills an ex-boyfriend along the way all the while showing little to no remorse for all of it. Along the way we get some great feminist discussions of what a modern woman should be and how she should act—the infamous “cool girl” phenomenon—but the end is more twisted and cruel than anything Amy has done prior. She eventually returns home, and her strange victory lap includes telling Nick she used his semen to artificially inseminate herself and surprise—she’s pregnant. Nick is almost ready to kill her. And then… he doesn’t. He takes her back. It’s both an infuriating and fascinating ending to this dark psychological thriller, and although it has divided book-reading and movie-going audiences alike, it’s still a mighty effective gut punch.
20. Arrival (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
The Twist: The flashbacks are actually the future.
When/if aliens to make contact or descend on Earth, chances are the major issue at hand won’t immediately be an apocalyptic hostile takeover. Instead, the more logical, and infinitely interesting question is, how will we even communicate with them? Arrival gets at this issue by following top linguist Louise Banks’ (Adams) attempt to communicate with the alien life forms that have landed on Earth. She’s a quiet, lonely woman; we see in flashbacks that she lost her young daughter, and we know she is divorced, and these are explanations for her current state. The movie depicts this process with remarkable intelligence, and your mind is already doing laps around the mere concept of language and how intricate and fascinating it is before you see the plot twist coming. Basically, the alien language is unlike our own in that it evokes feelings rather than words; the way they communicate is not linked to time, and therefore their experience of life is non-linear. When Banks realizes she has become fluent in the language, she realizes that she can now see the past and future as well. We realize that what we thought were flashbacks that explained her loneliness and sadness are really premonitions of the futuret. Perhaps even more fascinating is her choice to continue with her own life path, even though she knows the despair it will bring. In essence, Arrival’s true plot twist is lending a sense of meaning and hope to what initially looks like a bleak movie.
19. American Psycho (2000)
Director: Mary Harron
Starring: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Chloë Sevigny
The Twist: Patrick Bateman didn’t really kill all those people.
The majority of the plot of American Psycho sees the charming, successful businessman Patrick Bateman killing his way through New York City. He’s a homicidal psychopath—everything anyone does in his twisted eyes is reason enough to deserve death, and even though Bateman is cruel he’s highly meticulous, careful, and, ultimately, completely lacking in remorse. However, his final murder goes wrong. There are many witnesses. He doesn’t see a way out. He calls his lawyer and confesses. But Bateman is so admired and loved within his community of rich people that no one believes him. In the movie’s final scene, we learn for the first time, alongside Bateman, that many of the people he confessed to killing are, apparently, very much alive. The movie doesn’t exactly provide any concrete answers, but the Occam’s razor solution is that Bateman was perhaps more insane than we thought all along: he only imagined his murders.
18. Soylent Green (1973)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson
The Twist: “Soylent Green is people!”
Soylent Greengives the age-old police procedural template a very welcomed shot of science fiction austerity. Charlton Heston stars as a New York City detective who’s investigating the murder of the Soylent Corporation’s director while living in a futuristic and impoverished society in which the middle- and lower-class citizens have to live off of processed food.
The most talked-about items of edibility are known as “soylent green,” little green wafers that are said to be made from “high-energy plankton.” Oceanographic reports eventually divulge a cannibalistic secret, though: Barren oceans can’t produce plankton anymore, meaning that soylent green wafers are made of something else. And just what else, exactly? Try dead human bodies. Or, we’ll let the late Chuck Heston explain: “Soylent green is people!”
17. Memento (2000)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano
The Twist: Sammy Jenkis’ story is really Leonard Shelby’s.
The popular reputation of Christopher Nolan’s magnificent breakthrough film, Memento, is that it’s the movie that’s sequenced in reverse order—a hook that’s worthy of attention and praise, no doubt. But the psychological thriller, about a man named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), whose post-attack mental disability (he suffers from repeated amnesiac attacks that render new memories impossible to obtain) makes the task of finding his wife’s killer all the more difficult, is also home to a dynamite end-game reveal.
Throughout the film, the backwards story is repeatedly interrupted by paranoid black-and-white scenes set in Leonard’s cluttered hotel room; little do we know, though, that the B&W moments are actually presented in chronologically accurate order, a fact that Nolan divulges just as he drops dime on Leonard’s having indirectly killed his wife by forgetting to give her an insulin shot. And that his confidante/shady cop Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) knew the truth all along, though he was unable to prevent Leonard from making the whole find-her-killers bit up and make himself believe that the innocent Teddy, who Lenny eventually shoots in the head, murdered her.
Confused? Just be thankful that we didn’t write all of that backwards.
16. The Wicker Man (1973)
Director: Robin Hardy
Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento
The Twist: Sergeant Howie is the virginal sacrifice, not the “missing” girl.
For this entry’s purpose, do yourself a favor and forget that Nicolas Cage’s remake of The Wicker Man exists. It’s out of your minds? Cool, now we can acknowledge director Robin Hardy’s original 1973 horror classic without any distortion.
On its way to one of the best gut-punch endings of all time, The Wicker Man follows the never-been-laid, morally astute Scottish police officer Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) as he searches for a missing girl on the remote island known as Summerisle, where the inhabitants are always perky and the dread is palpable to everyone but poor Howie.
The lawman thinks that the missing schoolgirl is about to be offered up as a virginal sacrifice on May Day, when the residents of Summerisle participate in a pagan ritual that appeases “the gods” and brings on a fresh harvest. Little does he know, unfortunately, that he‘s the virgin sacrifice—the girl was just the bait to make him visit Summerisle.
By the time Howie wakes up and smells the burning wicker, it’s far too late—the island’s creepy citizens encircle the massive Wicker Man in which Howie is trapped as it burns him alive, with his killers holding his hands and chanting happy-go-lucky folks songs. And, no, Woodward doesn’t yell out, “The bees! Aaaah!” That dishonor went to Cage, 33 years later.
15. Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, Janet Leigh
The Twist: Norman Bates killed his mother and pretends to be her whenever it’s time to kill.
In the simplest terms, Psycho is just a story about a boy and his mother—that is, a completely insane boy and the skeleton of a mother who was murdered by said boy. Not exactly fodder for a Hallmark card.
Thankfully, cheesy greeting cards were of no use to author Robert Bloch and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock when they both hatched their incarnations of the classic horror tale Psycho, about roadside motel proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins in the film) and the brutal, in-the-shower killing of a beautiful, criminally minded guest (Janet Leigh).
When the poor woman is knifed to death in the bathroom, all we see is a shadow of what appears to be an old lady—presumably Norman’s said-to-be invalid mom. The same woman who the murder victim’s sister and lover learn was killed by Norman ten years earlier, after he found her in bed in with a man and incestuously got to slaying.
That shadow of a womanly figure? Norman in a dress and wig, acting as his mother in a fit of fractured psychosis. The moral of the story: On long, by-yourself road trips, spend a few more bucks and opt for the nearest Hilton.
14. Fight Club (1999)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto
The Twist: There is no Tyler Durden—he’s simply a product of the narrator’s split personality.
The “split personality” trick has been done to death in both movies and literary fiction, so it takes a really mad genius to make thatgambit a visceral knockout of a reveal. Chuck Palahniuk, fortunately, is just that, and Fight Club, the singularly electric author’s cocktail of violence, machismo, and male insecurities, has one of the best multiple identity twists of them all.
One that filmmaker David Fincher, fortunately, did great justice to with his stellar 1999 adaptation. Throughout the story, our unnamed, depressed, and generally messed-up narrator (Edward Norton) slowly gains confidence via an underground fighting circuit, overseen by the super-cool Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). The brawling ring escalates into a terrorist plot in which Durden threatens to blow up credit card companies’ buildings, unless the narrator shoots himself in the face.
Yes, the narrator and Durden are one in the same, with Tyler representing the narrator’s manning-up side, so to speak. Talk about beating yourself up over personal inadequacies.
13. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, James Earl Jones
Back in 1980, nerds everywhere emitted gasps of disbelief. Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), the villainous mastermind behind George Lucas’ landmark science fiction classic Star Wars, goes toe-to-toe against the heroic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in an especially tense light saber battle; Vader, getting the upper hand (literally), slices off one of Skywalker’s hands.
But that’s not the crazy part: In what’s become one of the most universally known and admired plot twists of all time, Vader then tells his opponent that, “Luke, I am your father.” And just like that, an already epic tale of intergalactic drama evolved into a much more intimate, and ultimately tragic, story about a truly dysfunctional family.
12. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Haley Joel Osment, Olivia Williams
The Twist: Cole really can “see dead people,” primarily lead character Malcolm Crowe.
Putting the words “movie” and “twist” next to each other quickly brings to mind M. Night Shyamalan’s polarizing The Sixth Sense, an effective supernatural thriller that’s been debated and criticized for its twist ending. Some feel it’s a masterful and impeccably executed gotcha moment; others, however, feel it’s overrated or contradictory, or both.
We, for our part, can’t help but remember our reaction the first time we saw The Sixth Sense, which was thankfully before anyone could spoil the story’s true colors. The clue comes when little man Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) tells his child psychologist doc, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), that he can “see dead people,” a crazy skill that the soft-spoken and tormented doctor learns firsthand when he realizes that he is a ghost.
Which explains why no one ever looks at him in any of the previous scenes, and why Cole’s the only character who talks with Crowe. Gradually, Shyamalan, who made his auspicious debut with The Sixth Sense, sullied his Mr. Twist reputation with the lame switcheroo dud The Lady In The Water, officially running his own trend into the narrative ground. But as far as The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan definitely got that one off.
11. The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
The Twist: Sook-hee and Izumi are actually plotting against Fujiwara and Uncle Kouzuki.
The Handmaiden is full of deceptions, so it’s no wonder that the movie revels in its plot twists (yes, plural.) From the same director who gave us another excellent plot twist in Oldboy, comes The Handmaiden, a lush, beautiful erotic thriller and one of the best films to come out of 2016. The film is divided into three parts. First, we meet Tamako, a poor girl who gives up her family to work at a mansion as a handmaiden to Izumi, a Japanese heiress. Izumi’s evil uncle, Kouzuki, plans to marry her to inherit his niece’s wealth. But not really. In the second part, we learn Tamako is not her real name: she is is actually Sook-hee, an experienced con-artist hired by Count Fujiwara, a criminal seeking to marry into Izumi’s family for the status and wealth, to befriend Izumi and feed him information and get her to fall in love with him. But… that’s also not quite right. Finally, the film’s grand deceitful conclusion: although Sook-hee and Izumi are initially two women pitted against each other, in the end, they are the ones who are conspiring against the two men, Fujiwara and Kouzuki.
10. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tiersten
The Twist: Young, seemingly sweet Angela is both the killer, and, yes, a dude.
Sleepaway Camp is the kind of batshit horror flick that could only come from a year predating 1990. On the surface, it’s your run-of-the-mill slasher movie, with a group of unlucky, and mostly horny, campers and counselors getting sliced and diced by a mysterious killer. The motive traces back to eight years prior, when protagonist Angela’s (Felissa Rose) brother Peter, their father, and his gay lover were, apparently, murdered in a boating accident.
Or so you’re supposed to believe. In the film’s genuinely holy-shit finale, Angela’s pants drop and all of her manhood is shown, because, get this, Angela is actually Peter, who, years before, underwent a transgender switch. And as if that reveal isn’t bonkers enough, long-haired and trouser-less Peter lets out a strange, highly disturbing “hiss” sound while coldly staring and resembling a cardboard cutout of a pint-sized Cro-Magnon caveman.
Yeah, Hollywood isn’t about to do a shot-for-shot remake of Sleepaway Camp anytime soon.
9. Primal Fear (1996)
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Alfre Woolward, Frances McDormand
The Twist: Aaron Stampler is actually Roy, who’s guilty of murder and not crazy.
Defense lawyers, by nature, need to check their morality at the door before starting new cases—that’s the way it goes for people whose career thrives upon clearing the names of potential criminals, murderers, and other baddies. But for Chicago defender Martin Vail (Richard Gere), no amount of prior soul-searching could’ve prepared him for the whopper of a realization that caps off 1996’s slept-on Primal Fear.
The case that Vail is assigned to is a dark one: His client, stuttering altar server Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), is behind bars for the killing of the local archbishop. Complicating matters is Aaron’s multiple personality disorder, which pairs the “normal” Aaron with the more dangerous “Roy.”
Well, it’s actually the other way around: Roy is Norton’s character’s true identity, not “Aaron,” and, even shitter for Vail, Roy isn’t even crazy. The whole “Aaron” routine was just a clever ruse designed to mask the fact that he slaughtered the priest in cold blood, knowingly and happily. Norton’s performance in Primal Fear is so damn excellent that we’re right there with Gere’s Vail in feeling duped.
8. Se7en (1995)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C McGinley
The Twist: Mills kills John Doe, fulfilling the serial killer’s plan.
Two detectives, Somerset (Freeman) and Mills (Pitt), are on a deadset mission to uncover the identity of a serial killer, John Doe, who is on a killing spree correlated to the seven deadly sins. In gruesomely symbolic ways, Doe forces his victims to succumb to their most vile vices: a 400 lb pound man is forced to continue eating until he dies (gluttony); a man rapes a prostitute with a knife (lust), and so forth. When there are only two more sins left, namely envy and wrath, the unexpected happens: John Doe turns himself in, with still some 30-odd minutes left to go in the movie, a sure sign if there ever was one of a gnarly plot twist to come. Doe’s confession involves meeting the two detectives in the middle of the desert where they find a single cardboard box. While Somerset goes to open the box, Mills and Doe are left alone, giving Doe the opportunity to explain his final two crimes to Mills. Doe envies (a sin!) Mills’s relatively normal life: his beautiful wife, his baby on the way. So, to complete his twisted mission, Doe tells Mills he has raped and decapitated Mills’ pregnant wife out of envy. Although we never get proper confirmation of it, the cardboard box in the middle of the desert probably contains her head. Mills is beyond enraged, but even though Somerset tells him that if he does so, he is only fulfilling Doe’s quest (to kill him is to fulfill wrath, the final sin on the list), Mills shoots Doe several times. He’s arrested for the murder, and Doe’s sick master plan is complete.
7. The Crying Game (1992)
Director: Neil Jordan
Starring: Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson, Forest Whitaker
The Twist: Dil has a dill, so to speak.
There’s a certain level of comfort attached to watching The Crying Game—you know, that wall that keeps what’s on the television, or big multiplex, screen separated from the viewer. So when it comes time for the film’s potential love interest, Dil (Academy Award nominee Jaye Davidson), to disrobe in front of protagonist, Fergus (Stephen Rea), we only have to endure the romantically uncomfortable scenario indirectly.
Fergus is quite attracted to Dil, though he’s yet to admit to such feelings, and they’re complicated to the umpteenth degree once Dil drops the drawers and shows her/his masculine member (i.e., wiener)—a.k.a., every straight man’s worst morning-after-a-drunken-evening nightmare.
6. The Others (2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Elaine Cassidy
The Twist: Grace and her two kids are ghosts.
Insane twist aside, The Others remains one of the most underrated films, genre or not, of the new millennium—frankly, any ghost story that’s come after it has, unbeknownst to the respective filmmakers, attempting to reach its heights of quality. The acting is sharp, the costumes and set design are flawless, and the scares, which come at a steady clip, are maturely paced and patiently earned.
And then comes that aforementioned twist. The whole film, Nicole Kidman’s stay-at-home mom, Grace Stewart, is doing her damndest to remain sane while investigating the spirits that continually scare her two children, neither of whom can be exposed to sunlight. Is the fancy mansion haunted? And are the three newly hired servants all malevolent specters?
Sadly for Grace, that’s not the case: She and the kids are the ghosts, not the other way around. And those bumps in the night and creepy kids’ voices have been caused by the still-living residents of the home. Even worse, Grace and the youngsters are dead by her own doing—after her hubby left for war, Grace smothered her kids with pillows before blowing her brains out with a shotgun.
Hopefully you’re reading this after having seen The Others, because, frankly, the film’s twist is devastating if unknown or undetected.
5. Saw (2004)
Director: James Wan (2004)
Starring: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung
The Twist: Jigsaw is the guy who’s been lying “dead” in the middle of the room all along.
For about 97% of its running time, the genre-invigorating Sawplays like a straightforward piece of hardcore horror. There’s a killer on the loose, and, in the midst of setting up elaborate death traps for his victims to escape from and make up for immoral transgressions, the villainous “Jigsaw” (only heard through voice and represented by a proxy creepy puppet) has kidnapped two unfamiliar guys (Cary Elwes and screenwriter Leigh Whannell), locked them in a dirty room, and only left them with a saw and cryptic clues.
As the plot unfolds, it’s believed that Jigsaw is a weirdo hospital orderly (Michael Emerson), but then Jigsaw can still be heard after he’s offed. So what gives? There’s no way that the orchestrator of evil can be that bloody, lifeless corpse that’s been lying in the middle of the two dudes’ room the whole time, right? Yes, that’s exactly the deal. The thought-to-be-deceased man (Tobin Bell) slowly gets up, walks toward the exit, and slams it shut, leaving Whannell’s screwed character to sit there with his jaw scraping the floor. Can you blame him?
4. Les Diaboliques (1955)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
The Twist: Michael isn’t dead.
Les Diaboliques, the classic shocker from acclaimed French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, was a real trailblazer for every cinematic twist that has proceeded it. Back when third-act narrative bents were mostly unheard of, Diabolique (the film’s common stateside title) sent audiences into cold, shivery panic attacks with one simple, slowly developed shot: the supposed to be dead body of philandering and abusive schoolmaster Michel Delassale (Paul Meurisse) emerging from a water-filled bathtub like he’s in Weekend At Bernies II and there’s music playing, with rolled-up and vacant eyes.
His wife, Christine (Vera Clouzot, the director’s beautiful wife) thought she’d killed him in a murder plot hatched along with Michel’s mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret), but, after a series of sightings and paranoid feelings, Christine finds herself face-to-face with Michel’s “corpse,” and the fright gives her a fatal heart attack. The truth is, Michel and his side piece teamed up against Christine, faked his death, and planned on murdering her, but the sudden stopping of her blood-pumper thwarted their mission in the best, most effortless way possible. Who says cheaters never prosper?
3. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring; Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palmintieri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey
The Twist: “Verbal” Kint is Keyser Soze.
It’s the cool, confident walk that continues to blow viewers’ mind to this day. In the densely plotted and incredibly clever The Usual Suspects, crippled criminal “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) recounts a complicated, botched, and tragic heist to an increasingly more agitated Customs Agent (Chazz Palminteri), alluding to a mysterious kingpin named Keyser Soze as the unknown, enigmatic man behind the whole ordeal.
Unable to convict Kent of anything, Agent Kujanlets the gimp go free, and Kint’s stroll toward his new life starts off in a limp but, brilliantly, culminates in a straight leg—because, wouldn’t you know it, he‘s in fact Keyser Soze. And poor Kujan is left to realize that nearly every detail in Kint’s story was lifted, by name, from the various knick-knacks in the agent’s office.
It all wraps up with the pitch-perfect closing line, voiced by Kint/Soze: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist; and like that, he’s gone.” And we’re floored.
2. Planet of the Apes (1963)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly
The Twist: The titular “planet” is Earth.
It should come as no surprise that the greatest twist ending of all time was written by Rod Serling—after all, he’s the same mastermind who created The Twilight Zone, the venerable breeding ground for mind-blowing twists and unforeseen narrative turns.
The ending of the 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes is such common knowledge nowadays that it’s difficult to process just how brain-melting it was for audiences back in ’68, but let’s try to put ourselves in their shoes: You’re watching a movie about an American astronaut, George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who crash-lands on a distant planet that’s inhabited by talking and civilized apes, and everything about it says that the setting is located somewhere else in our galaxy.
And when Taylor and gorgeous cave woman Nova (Linda Harrison) ride off into the sunset on horseback, having escaped the tyrannical primates’ clutches, Taylor notices a large object sticking out of a beach’s sand, and not just any old object—it’s the top-half of the Statue of Liberty. He’s been on a future, post-nuclear-war Earth all along. “Goddamn you all to hell,” he shouts in a fit of fiery sadness. He’s clearly unaware that, 33 years down the line, Tim Burton will direct a painfully bad Planet of the Apes remake. Had he known, there surely would have been more curse words in that statement.
1. Get Out (2017)
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Catherine Keener, LaKeith Stanfield
The Twist: They’re all a bunch of homicidal racists.
Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out is a multi-layered triumph. On the most basic of levels, it’s a horror movie about what happens when a young black guy meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. On a more political level, it’s a quiet but searing criticism of the “casual liberal racists” of our time, the “I want to pick and choose the aspects of black culture that I experience but I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could,” kind. And yet it is also a psychological thriller full of twists. Chris (Kaluuya) knows there is something off about his girlfriend Rose’s (Williams) family from the very beginning, but he doesn’t put his finger on it until it’s much too late. When he finds hidden photos of Allison with other black boyfriends—even though she insisted he was the first black man she’d been with—and he recognizes some of the faces as current friends of her parents, he knows he has to leave, but that’s also when he realizes he’s trapped inside a homicidal scheme to lobotomize black people and replace their brains with those of rich white people. It’s an effort to subscribe to the “cool” and “interesting” parts of black life without the hassle of examining and criticizing race or racism. After a bloody battle against his fate, Chris escapes, but it’s a simultaneously electric and traumatic twist all the same.