A good plot twist can make or break a film. If done correctly, some plot twists outlive the popularity of the movies they’re in – ask M. Night Shyamalan. However, not every filmmaker has mastered the technique so that it doesn’t feel like a betrayal of what we’ve already seen in the film – and that might be why satisfying plot twists are such a rare sight.
When done correctly, however, a plot twist can elevate the film’s overall quality to new levels of complexity. Some movies are even remembered for their surprising endings rather than for everything that preceded them. That’s why, on this list, we’ll go over eight of the most astonishing plot twists ever seen in a film – the kind of revelation that makes you see flicks with an entirely new perspective.
8. Friday the 13th (1980)
The plot twist in the first Friday the 13th movie is rather strange. As you might know, the series became a top-rated horror franchise, spawning dozens of sequels, all featuring the menacing visage of the iconic Jason Voorhees. That said, things worked a bit differently in the first film.
If you’re familiar with the series, the fact that Jason is probably going around killing teenagers in Camp Crystal Lake should be no surprise to you. However, at the end of Friday the 13th, we learn that Jason wasn’t responsible for all the carnage – this time, at least; it was his mother, Mrs. Voorhees.
As we think we have everything sorted out, Friday the 13th goes on a rampage with a second plot twist – implying that the deceased Jason is still alive and kicking (and also killing.)
7. Planet of the Apes (1968)
As we mentioned earlier, some plot twists have become landmarks of pop culture in and of themselves – and there’s no better proof of this than the one at the end of the original Planet of the Apes. The film follows a group of astronauts who crashland on a supposedly remote planet where humans are seen as little more than pets to the ruling class of highly-intelligent primates.
However, the last surviving astronaut comes to a haunting realization right at the end of the film: the “planet” they’re on is none other than Earth itself. When the astronaut comes across the half-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty, everyone watching the film when it was released was left speechless. The twist at the end of the Tim Burton remake is also quite good, although the “Ape Lincoln” statue might have been a bit sillier than the 1968’s ending.
6. Citizen Kane (1941)
While most plot twists are meant to “elevate” the meaning of some seemingly inconsequential detail presented in the film, Citizen Kane goes for the opposite with its clever twist. The movie opens with Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed, uttering one single word before his passing: “Rosebud.”
Of course, a good chunk of the film focuses on discovering who or what “Rosebud” means. Knowing Kane’s ruthless and borderline heartless nature, no one would expect that “Rosebud” would be the name of Kane’s beloved childhood sled. The movie’s final scene sees the sled thrown into a furnace, with the mystery behind the meaning of “Rosebud” going up in flames.
5. Arrival (2016)
Denis Villeneuve has steadily become the new face of sci-fi greatness in the entertainment industry, and Arrival is excellent proof of his genius. The movie follows the efforts of linguist Louise Banks to communicate with a strange alien race that has just arrived on Earth.
As she tries to decipher their strange language, Louise eventually realizes that the alien’s perception of time is warped, allowing them to see into the future as if it were the present. The aliens share this ability with Louise, which eventually becomes one of the most shocking plot twists in a modern sci-fi flick.
Throughout the film, it’s implied that Louise is dealing with depression after the passing of her young daughter. However, what we learn at the end is that the aliens are allowing her to see into the future: Louise sees the daughter that she’ll have someday, and she’s tormented by the knowledge that she’s going to die young.
4. Psycho (1960)
There’s more than one surprising plot twist in Alfred Hitchcock’s spectacular Psycho. First of all, the character prominently shown as the protagonist of the story, Marion Crane – spoiler alert – dies right in the middle of the film.
All signs point towards the reclusive mother of Norman Bates, the owner of the motel Marion was in when she was killed, as the killer in this case. However, the truth is much more sinister: Norman killed his mother years ago and has been living with a murderous case of split personality for years.
3. Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher’s rebellious Fight Club might be one of the films that most effectively captures the spirit of the 90s. What begins as an exploration into masculinity and vicious consumerism quickly becomes trippier as we learn the truth behind the film’s narrator’s identity and the impossibly cool Tyler Durden.
At first glance, the unnamed narrator (played by Edward Norton) and Tyler (Brad Pitt) are entirely different people. They look different, act different, and even hold radically opposite beliefs for most of the film. However, near the movie’s climax, we suddenly understand that the narrator and Tyler are one and the same.
The best part about this plot twist is that Fincher left some clues scattered throughout the film for keen-eyed fans to discover, such as the narrator flinching when Tyler gets hit and some other blink-and-you-miss-it moments.
2. Star Wars V- The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
A twist that lives engraved in the hearts of any Star Wars fan, the revelation at the end of Empire Strikes Back remains one of the most memorable moments in a franchise that’s virtually composed of iconic scenes. This plot twist, however, completely changes the course of the rest of the franchise, as it establishes the true relationship between two legendary characters.
The first Star Wars film establishes that Darth Vader killed Luke Skywalker’s father. This gives Luke more than enough reason to hold a vendetta against the ruthless Sith Lord. However, during their first proper fight, Vader easily defeats Luke and eventually drops the mother of all bombs for the Star Wars saga: he is Luke’s father.
George Lucas handled the revelation as a top secret on the set of The Empire Strikes Back. Only a handful of people knew about the twist before they filmed – the rest of the cast believed that Darth Vader was going to tell Luke that Obi-Wan was the one who killed his father. It’s safe to say that we got the best possible ending.
1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Remember at the beginning of the list when we mentioned M. Night Shyamalan? Well, that’s because the filmmaker is well-known for his love for plot twists – and there’s no better twist than the one at the end of The Sixth Sense.
The movie follows a child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who investigates the case of a seemingly neglected child who claims that he can see dead people. The film has its fair share of bizarre and disturbing moments, but it’s mostly an endearing drama worth watching.
However, the true genius of The Sixth Sense happens right at the end: as it turns out, Bruce Willis’ character has been dead since the beginning of the film, when one of his patients killed him in his bedroom. In retrospect, some of the things that his character does don’t make too much sense – like seemingly always wearing the same clothes – but it all adds to the superb air of uneasiness that permeates the whole film.
And there you have it! Some of the best plot twists in cinema history. Do you agree with the list? Is there any other movie with great plot twists? Let me know in the comments.
I was very much surprised by the end of the movie “No Way Out” with Kevin Kostner because I didn’t see it coming. The problem with these kinds of endings is that they are less effective if you know ahead of time they will change an expected outcome.
The Mist with Thomas Jane had a shocking endng twist.