A great film can be made even better through a twist that no one expected. Plot twists can either be used to shock your audiences or make them feel incredibly good about themselves when they figure out the twist that no one else could. Some of the best plot twists have left audiences staring at their screens in absolute horror as everything clicks into place and the story’s truth is revealed. Let’s look at some of the best plot twists in movie history.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name, this film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who arrives home on his fifth wedding anniversary to find this his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. As the mystery unfolds and the truth emerges, the story becomes convoluted and dark.
Like the characters, audiences become increasingly suspicious of Nick as the investigation into Amy’s disappearance progresses. However, you soon learn that Amy is alive and well, having meticulously designed her sudden disappearance to frame Nick for her murder. When she decides to return to him, she murders an ex-boyfriend and artificially inseminates herself to ensure Nick’s loyalty to her.
The film and many of those involved won several awards for what they’d produced. Gillian Flynn, in particular, won Best Adapted Screenplay at several awards ceremonies.
12. Se7en (1995) – The Final Two Victims
Andrew Kevin Walker wrote this crime thriller that became a major success, much to the surprise of its executives and studio. The film follows two detectives, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt), as they follow and try to stop a serial killer who bases his victims on the seven deadly sins.
Eventually, the two find John Doe (Kevin Spacey), the serial killer who turns himself in after murdering his fifth victim. After threatening to plead insanity, Mills and Somerset take Doe to an undisclosed location where they receive a package. Doe reveals the final two victims: himself, taking on the role of Envy and he envied Mills’s life with his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Mills, taking on the role of Wrath by killing Doe after learning that he had killed Mills’ wife and unborn child.
While the film was initially criticised for its violence and bleak ending, in later years, it became regarded as one of the best crime, mystery and thriller films ever, and its twist has been named one of the best in cinema.
11. The Sixth Sense (1999) – Malcolm Crowe is Dead
M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed this psychological thriller. It follows Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist shot by one of his former patients, Vincent, who claimed that Malcolm failed him. He decides to rectify his mistake with Vincent through Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), his most recent patient.
Cole reveals that he can see ghosts that are unaware that they’re dead, and Malcolm suggests he help the ghosts find closure. They part ways, with Cole suggesting that he talk to his wife (Olivia Williams) while she’s asleep to communicate with her better.
When he gets home, Malcolm realises he’s dead, recalling what Cole said about only seeing dead people who didn’t know they were dead. He accepts his fate and tells his wife he loves her. Now at peace, she bids him goodnight, and Malcolm disappears in a flash of light.
The film and some of those involved in the project received several awards. Osment won a few for his performance, and Shyamalan won for his direction and screenplay. In addition, the film won People’s Choice Awards for Favourite Motion Picture and Favourite Dramatic Motion Picture and a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.
Based on William Diehl’s 1993 novel, Primal Fear follows Martin Vail (Richard Gere), a defence attorney known for taking on undesirable but high-profile clients. He agrees to defend Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a meek, stuttering altar boy prone to amnesia, pro bono after he was seen fleeing the scene of Archbishop Rushman’s murder.
While questioning Aaran about his past, specifically his encounters with the Archbishop, the altar boy becomes violent and calls himself “Roy”. He admits to the Archbishop’s murder but won’t let Vail show an incriminating VHS in court. It is concluded that he has Dissociative Identity Disorder.
After winning his case, Vail lets Aaran know he will be placed in a psychiatric hospital for treatment and has a strong chance of being released. Aaron then reveals that he had been faking his personality and that Roy had been who he truly was.
Edward Norton won several awards for his outstanding performance.
9. Arrival (2016) – The film is Palindromic
Based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story, Story of Your Life, the film follows Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist whose daughter Hannah dies from an uncurable illness at 12.
When twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft arrive on Earth, Banks and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are recruited to study the one in Montana. They establish communication with the beings inside, and Banks begins to have visions of her daughter.
Banks comes to understand the alien’s language alters human’s perception of time, allowing them to experience the future. Banks’ visions of her daughter are premonitions of her future. She then uses this knowledge to prevent a war. Donnelly expresses his love for Banks, and she knows she will accept it, despite knowing her bleak fate.
The film was well-loved by critics and academics who praised Adams’ performance and the accuracy of linguistics. Arrival won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at the 89th Academy Awards.
8. Shutter Island (2010) – Teddy Daniels is Andrew Laeddis
Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name, Shutter Island was directed by Martin Scorsese. It follows Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Deputy U.S. Marshal who arrives on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. However, he later admits that he’s also there to find Andrew Laeddis, the man he believes responsible for killing his wife Dolores, who he has vivid dreams of.
He experiences headaches and flashbacks, and one of the patients warns him of the doctors’ experiments and the lobotomies they perform on patients in a lighthouse. After a misadventure on the cliffs and caves on the island, Teddy makes his way to the lighthouse, where he learns that he is Andrew Laeddis, a U.S. Marshal sent to Ashecliffe for murdering his wife after she drowned their children.
The film was well-received and named one of the best films of 2010.
7. The Others (2001) – Grace and Her Children are Ghosts
The film is written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar and tells a creepy ghost story. It follows Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), a woman living in a remote country house with her two children, Anne and Nicholas, waiting for her husband to return from war. Strange things happen in the house, and Grace fears ” others ” are present.
As the strange events continue, Grace plans to rid the house of any supernatural presence; however, she’s stopped by the arrival of her husband, who disappears after a brief stay at the house, insistent that he must return to the front.
After the curtains are left open, which endangers her children, who suffer from a photosensitivity-based disease, Grace banishes her servants from the house. The night her children learn the servants are ghosts, they run inside and try to hide but are found by “the other” elder woman.
Grace goes to confront the intruders at the prompting of one of her servants and discovers she and her children died after she smothered them and then committed suicide, and the “others” are the new family that has moved into their house.
It was well-received by critics who thought the film showed that expensive special effects weren’t necessary to make a film creepy. The film won several awards, including Goya Awards for Best Film, Best Production Design, Best Production Supervision and Best Sound.
Nicole Kidman was named Best Actress for her performance at several Awards ceremonies.
6. Psycho (1960) – Norman Bates is the Psychotic Killer
Based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, Alfred Hitchcock directed and produced this 1960 masterpiece, considered one of his best films. It centres around the events following Marion Crane’s encounter with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).
After she steals $40 000 from her job, Marion (Janet Leigh) stops at the Bates Motel, where a shadowy figure murders her. Her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), demands to know her whereabouts while a private investigator, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), looks for the stolen money. He stops at the Bates Motel and, after some investigation, asks to speak to Norman’s mother, but he won’t allow it. After Arbogast breaks into the Bates home, he is stabbed to death.
Worried when they don’t hear back from him, Sam (John Gavin), Marian’s boyfriend, and Lila call the police, learn that Norman’s mother is dead and go on their own investigation. Together they discover the mummified remains of Norman’s mother and subdue Norman, who has been disguising himself as his mother and recreating an alternate personality after he’d killed her and her lover out of jealousy. Now the “Mother” personality takes over to murder the woman Norman is attracted to.
5. The Prestige (2006) – Borden Uses His Twin; Angier Uses His Clones
Based on Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel, The Prestige was directed by Christopher Nolan and co-written by him and his brother Jonathan Nolan. It follows the rivalry of two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), as they try to pull off the perfect teleportation trick.
Initially working under the mentorship of John Cutter (Michael Caine), the two magicians bitterly part ways after Angier blames Borden for the death of his wife during a water tank trick. After losing two fingers to a sabotaged bullet catch trick, Borden develops a trick called “The Transported Man”.
Angier is determined to learn the trick and is sent on a journey to find Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Though initially a distraction, Tesla builds a machine for Angier and delivers it to him with a warning that it will bring him nothing but misery.
Angier performs “The Real Transported Man” trick with Tesla’s machine and seemingly teleports across the theatre. Borden sneaks backstage to figure out how the trick is performed, and witnesses Angier drown in a water tank. He is then found guilty of his rival magician’s murder and hung for murder. Finally, Angier is shot by Borden, an identity shared by a pair of identical twins who went as Borden and Fallon offstage.
Angier’s tricks worked a bit darker than Borden’s. A new Angier was created during every performance, while the original was drowned in a tank beneath the stage. Critics praised the film and the actor’s performances, though some did feel that the two magicians had very little personality when you “remove their obsessions”.
4. Fight Club (1999) – The Narrator and Tyler Durden are the Same Person
David Fincher directed Fight Club, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name. It follows the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton), who forms a fight club with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman.
While life is mostly uneventful for the narrator, things quickly spiral out of control as his home is destroyed, he leaves his job, and the fight club becomes a way for Tyler to recruit people to Project Mayhem. While trying to stop Project Mayhem, the Narrator realises he is Tyler Durden.
3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – “I Am Your Father.”
The Empire Strikes Back still holds the title of the movie with one of the most shocking reveals. It wasn’t every day that a film villain revealed to a hero that they were their father, so Darth Vader’s claim to Luke Skywalker was highly unexpected.
Deep in the Cloud City of Bespin, Luke has just lost his hand and lightsaber to Vader and is now hanging over the city’s central air shaft, refusing to join the Dark Side or Vader as the villain had killed his father. “No,” the villain claims slowly, holding the audience’s attention. “I am you father.” The audience erupts, and Luke refuses to believe the villain, dropping into the air shaft hoping to escape the new revelation that has just shattered his and the audience’s worlds.
2. The Usual Suspects (1995) – Kint is Söze
This neo-noir mystery film earned Christopher McQuarrie an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Kevin Spacey an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film follows the events that play out on board a ship supposedly holding Argentinian drug dealers and $91 million worth of cocaine, as told by Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a physically disabled con artist.
Verbal explains that he and a few others were instructed to destroy the cocaine aboard the ship to appease Keyser Söze, from whom they had all stolen. He then explains the legend of Söze. Verbal confesses that Dean Keaton, one of the men who had stolen from Söze, was behind everything but refuses to testify and is eventually released.
As he leaves the station, Verbal loses his limp and flexes his disabled hand. Then a fax comes in with the artist’s facial composite of Söze, revealing that Verbal was Söze.
1. Knives Out (2019) – Harlan Thrombey’s “Murder” and Ransom’s Confession
Rian Johnson created one of the best comedic mystery films through Knives Out. The film follows private detective Benoit Blanc as he tries to solve the murder of Harlan Thrombrey and Harlan’s nurse, Marta Cabrera, who accidentally killed Harlan when she mixed up his medications.
It is then revealed that Harlan instructed her to create a false alibi before slitting his own throat to protect her. It’s a small reveal that makes the events a bit more interesting. Finally, after trying and failing to create an alibi and being blackmailed, she confesses to the murder.
What follows after this confession is one of the most satisfying reveals ever. Blanc goes through all the evidence, revealing to Marta that she hadn’t poisoned Harlan and that his death had resulted from suicide. He then goes on to reveal that Ransom had been the attempted murderer. Ransom, ever confident, says that his lawyers will help him escape all his charges, and Marta reveals that one of his victims, Harlan’s housekeeper Fran, who had been blackmailing Ransom with the fact that she knew he was Harlan’s attempted murderer, is dead, meaning he has just confessed to a murder.
It’s a fantastic moment that will leave you satisfied, especially since Marta’s reveal is accompanied by her throwing up all over Ransom due to her inability to lie without vomiting.