One of the hallmarks of a great movie is the inclusion of an unexpected plot twist that makes viewers gasp in surprise and leaves them thinking about it long after the twist is revealed. Not every film can achieve this with success and most twists are cliche at best but there are some that completely blindsided us and set the bar for films yet to come. Or at the very least showed us that while it has all been done before, it doesn’t have to all be done the same.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a child psychologist working with a young boy Cole named Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who believes he can see the dead. Near the end of the film, however, it is revealed that Dr. Crowe actually died at the beginning of the movie, and is, in fact, one of the dead people Cole can see. It was the twist heard around the world and seared The Sixth Sense in movie history as one of the best films ever made.
The Departed (2006)
Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) plants newcomer Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as a mole within the Massachusetts State Police at the same time the police assign Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to go undercover in the very same crime organization led by Costello for the same purpose. The film shocks viewers in a cruel twist of fate when Costigan is suddenly shot in the head shortly after capturing Sullivan, whom he discovered was the mole inside the police force. The death of Costigan also reveals that Costello had planted more than one mole. The movie takes another unexpected turn when Sullivan, seemingly getting away with his crimes, is shot in the head immediately after entering his apartment just as the credits roll.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Con artist Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) undergoes a police interrogation after he is one of the only two survivors of a massacre and fire aboard a ship docked at the port of Los Angeles that killed several known criminal figures. Kint is also involved in an investigation regarding the mysterious and well-known crime lord Keyser Soze who seems to be pulling all the strings. Verbal looks to be an unassuming character with cerebral palsy, but looks can be deceiving and at the very end of the film the audience learns that Verbal is none other than the mastermind, Keyser Soze, himself. The Usual Suspects set a precedent for unassuming twists in crime thrillers, but as the saying goes: often imitated, never duplicated.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This Sci-Fi classic is famous for one of the most memorably shocking and iconic twists in movie history. It begins with “Luke,” and ends with “I am your father.” The dark Darth Vader reveals to our hero Luke Skywalker that he is much more than just his nemesis, he is his father: Anakin Skywalker.
The gruesome Saw thrills to the very end when we discover that a corpse seen lying on the floor throughout the entirety of the film–presumed to be another victim of the twisted Jigsaw Killer– is not only alive but is a cancer patient of oncologist and fellow captive Dr. Lawrence Gordon. The real kicker though, is that said corpse/cancer patient, is also the Jigsaw Killer.
This classic suspense horror takes an unexpected turn when it is revealed that the one committing the horrific murders at Bates Hotel is not Norman Bates’ mother as we believe but the peculiar Norman Bates himself, who murdered his mother years before the events of the film. Traumatized by his mother’s abuse and possessive behavior, Bates develops an alternate personality where he becomes his “mother” and dresses the part before killing his victims.
Shutter Island (2010)
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), dealing with the loss of his wife and 3 children who were killed in a fire by arsonist Andrew Laddeis, travels to Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient who was incarcerated for drowning her three children. At the end of the film we find that Teddy is Andrew Laeddis, a patient sent to the hospital for the murder of his manic depressive wife after she drowned their children. Laeddis created an alternate personality to escape what he had done, and the events of the film are merely a part of a test given by the doctors trying to treat him.
Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club presents to us an unnamed protagonist/narrator (Edward Norton) who is severely unsatisfied with his life and battling a severe case of insomnia. The Protagonist meets a man by the name of Tyler Durden, and soon the two form a Club for recreational fighting. The pair are total opposites; the Protagonist a spinless, mediocre man and Durden a tough, exceptional fighter. However, they aren’t as different as we suppose, in fact, they are two halves of the same whole. See, Durden isn’t a real person but a fabrication; an alternate personality idealized by the Protagonist that takes over his body while he is asleep.
Insurance investigator Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers not only from the loss of his diabetic wife but a head trauma that prevents him from storing new memories. After killing who he supposes is his wife’s murderer, Shelby goes on a hunt for the man that caused his head injury. As more pieces to this fast-paced psychological puzzle are put together it turns out that Shelby’s wife survived the night of her supposed murder but was later killed by Leonard’s own hands. Not believing his head injury and the resulting memory loss, his wife asks for repeated doses of insulin as an attempt to get him to break his “act,” but her game only results in her death when he continues to gives them to her.
Homicide detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) discovers that the recently executed serial killer he helped capture was not actually the one committing the murders, but rather the culprit is a demon named Azazel, who hops from vessel to vessel by touch. Before the end of the film, Hobbes learns that Azazel must find a new host soon after losing his previous vessel or he will die. He isolates Azazel in a cabin, kills his current host, and then poisons himself to prevent Azazel from surviving. It’s just too bad the plan didn’t work. In an O-M-G revelation we discover that voice narrating the film we believe belongs to Hobbes actually belongs to Azazel, who possessed a nearby cat just before Hobbes died.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Surviving humans George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nora (Linda Harrison) discover at the end of the film that they were not on an “alien” planet ruled by apes, but were in fact on Earth the entire time. An Earth overthrown by the apes.
The Others (2001)
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) and her two children move into a remote mansion in Jersey during the aftermath of World War II and soon strange things begin to occur. The family believes their new home is haunted by the dead, but the twist is that they are actually the deceased inhabitants haunting the house they live in.
Righteous Kill (2008)
New York City police officers David Fisk “Turk” (Robert De Niro) and his partner Tom Cowan “Rooster” (Al Pacino) investigate a series of murders committed by a man known as the “Poetry Boy,” a vigilante who takes it upon himself to kill criminals who escape the justice system. Throughout the film, the viewer is led to believe that David Fisk is the Poetry Boy, and that he looks up to his partner of 30 years, Tom Cowan. Viewers are later thrown for a loop when they find out that Turk is actually Tom Cowan and Rooster is David Fisk, revealing that Rooster is the Poetry Boy and not Turk.
Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are pitted against each other in this realistic superhero thriller. David Dunn (Willis) discovers he has a nearly indestructible body when he is the only survivor of a train accident that killed 131 people. Soon after, he is approached by Elijah Price (Jackson) who believes that David’s supernatural indestructibility parallels his own odd physical state. Price suffers from a disease which renders his bones incredibly fragile. The two develop something of a friendship but we later discover that Elijah orchestrated many of the fatal accidents that occurred in the film, including the train accident in order to find David insisting that his purpose in life is to be the “Archvillain” to David’s “Superhero.”
A down-on-his-luck account manager (James McAvoy) discovers he is the son of a recently-killed professional assassin and former member of a secret guild created to kill those will cause destruction in the future called “The Fraternity.” After an offer from Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the head of the guild, Gibson decides to join The Fraternity in an attempt to seek revenge on Cross, the assassin said to have murdered his father. The twist comes when a now specially-trained Gibson learns that Cross is in fact in his real father, who left the guild after discovering the evil intentions of Sloan. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late as Gibson doesn’t learn this until after he has already killed him.