Wait... what just happened?
You know that moment when you're watching a movie, confident that you've understood every detail of the plot so far, when... just before the credits roll... WHAM! The filmmaker does the unthinkable, and delivers a sting that you never saw coming. Up is down, down is up, and it's highly likely that M. Night Shyamalan is involved. Welcome to the twist ending, folks!
Handled badly, a twist can be cringe-inducing and sometimes capable of totally derailing the entire movie. But when utilised by a skilled filmmaker, that shock and surprise can transcend a good movie into a great one. Read on to see my picks for the 25 best twist endings cinema has to offer. Be warned: there are ALL THE SPOILERS ahead.
25. The Vanishing (1988)
The movie: When his girlfriend is kidnapped by a stranger whilst backpacking in France, Dutch traveller Rex becomes obsessed with what happened to his lost love. Some three years later, he comes face-to-face with her abductor. Inviting Rex to the same cafe where his girlfriend was taken, the kidnapper tells him he will discover what happened to her if he drinks the cup of coffee in front of him...
What's the twist? Having drunk the coffee, Rex awakens to find himself buried alive in a coffin somewhere beneath the ground. Yeah, that's not what you're expecting at all. Plus, twinned with the knowledge that this is what happened to his girlfriend too? Nasty.
24. The Wicker Man (1973)
The movie: Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is offered an out-of-town assignment, and heads to a remote Hebridean island in order to investigate the bizarre case of a missing girl.
What's the twist? The missing child was simply a hoax concocted to lure someone to the island from the mainland. Fearing another poor harvest, the nut-nut locals were looking for a human sacrifice to appease their Sun God. One might have suspected the islands 'colourful' inhabitants were not all they seemed, but the magnitude of their deception is startling, as is the extent of their apparent madness.
23. Arrival (2016)
The movie: Aliens touch down on earth. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor, is leading the effort to communicate with the race known as heptapods to try to understand what they want. As she works, she has visions of time with her daughter, who died from cancer as a teenager.
What's the twist? The movie had been positioning the scenes of Louise and her daughter as flashbacks. But her knowledge of the heptapod language - which is so advanced it includes time travel - has enabled her to see into the future, and the visions are actually flash-forwards.
22. Friday The 13th (1980)
The movie: 22 years after young Jason Voorhees died at Camp Crystal Lake, someone is menacing the camp counsellors. Given that Jason's body was never recovered, the hapless teens suspect he's returned to take his revenge...
What's the twist? As Drew Barrymore recalls a little too late in Scream, it isn't Jason doing the killing, it's his dear old mum Pamela (Betsy Palmer)! That said, Jason's corpse still isn't quite as lifeless as it ought to be.
21. Now You See Me (2013)
The movie: A quartet of crowd pleasing magicians perform a series of showstopping stunts across the globe, but they're really just a front for pulling off various Robin Hoods heists against the world's super rich. Mark Ruffalo's FBI agent spends the majority of the film trying to bring them to justice.
What's the twist? Ruffalo was in on the gig all along. Posing undercover within the FBI, his character Dylan Rhodes-Shrike is actually a fellow illusionist all along, and has been behind the entire heist mission from the the beginning.
20. American Psycho (2000)
The movie: Manhattan trader Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) spends his days doling out fashion tips, eating in the city's finest restaurants, and occasionally hacking people to pieces with his trusty axe. He's an American psycho, you see.
What's the twist? Having confessed to his murders, Bateman realises that many of his supposed victims are still alive and kicking, the suggestion being that his crimes have only played out in his head. So, he's not a psycho, just very unhinged.
19. The Orphanage (2007)
The movie: A couple moves into a former orphanage, only for their young child to go missing soon after. When the mother spies a ghostly boy with a bag over his head, she suspects something spooky has been going on.
What's the twist? The ghost-boy is actually the spirit of her son, who she had accidentally trapped in the cellar. The noises she had heard in the house were the sounds of him struggling to free himself. Well it is a pretty dark movie.
18. Oldboy (2003)
The movie: After being kidnapped and held in captivity for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik) is out for answers and on the cusp of tunnelling out when he's unexpectedly released. As he sets about planning his revenge, he meets and falls in love with a young girl named Mi-Do (Kang Hye-jung).
What's the twist? Mi-Do is Oh Dae-Su's daughter. The kidnapper engineered their meeting and courtship as part of a fiendish and diabolical plan. What an utter bastard!
17. Memento (2000)
The movie: Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man with anterograde amnesia, incapable of making new memories. As he hunts for the villains who made him this way and killed his wife, he sets about tattooing himself with clues to help keep track of the case.
What's the twist? Leonard's wife actually survived the attack. Leonard was the one who killed his diabetic partner by bungling her insulin injections. Rather than face up to his guilt, Leonard has chosen to exploit his condition to restore meaning and purpose to his life.
16. Shutter Island (2010)
The movie: US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is despatched along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to Ashcliffe, an isolated psychiatric facility on Shutter Island. The pair are tasked with investigating a murderer who has seemingly vanished without a trace from within its walls...
What's the twist? Surprise! Teddy's not an agent - he's actually Andrew Laeddis - a convicted killer who murdered his wife after she murdered their three children. Yeah, not a happy twist, this one.
15. The Others (2001)
The movie: It's 1945 and World War II has just ended. Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children live in a dusty old mansion in Jersey. To make matters worse they seem to be sharing their country home with some uninvited guests from the spirit world.
What's the twist? Grace is dead, as are her children. Not only are all three of them ghosts, but Grace is the one responsible. Driven mad with loneliness waiting for her husband to return, and struggling with the difficulties of having photosensitive children, she smothered her kids with a pillow and then shot herself!
14. Primal Fear (1996)
The movie: In the dock for a grisly murder, altar boy Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton in his first-ever role) pleads diminished responsibility on account of his split personality, a condition that causes him to veer between stammering innocent and twisted killer. That's alright though, he's got defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) to help him achieve justice...
What's the twist? Once his lawyer has got him off the hook, Stampler reveals that the innocent side of his personality was mere performance. There is no "Roy": he's a killer to the core.
13. Split (2016)
The movie: Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) is a man suffering from a serious case of multiple personality disorder. He has 23 of them, in fact, and the less friendly identities living within his body have decided to kidnap three girls for rather nefarious purposes.
What's the twist? It's an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so you spend the entire movie waiting for the twist, but no one expected this. The final shot is one of Bruce Willis in a diner, looking warily towards the TV as news of Kevin's crimes are exposed. Willis' character's name, it's revealed, is David Dunn... sound familiar? Yep, you've been watching a spin-off to Unbreakable this entire time.
12. Chinatown (1974)
The movie: Hired as a private investigator to pry into the business of a big wheel in the L.A. power and water industry, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) becomes embroiled in the convoluted affairs of femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).
What's the twist? When pushed to explain her relationship with her husband's mistress Katherine, Evelyn reveals that the girl is both her sister and her daughter, the result of a childhood liaison with her father, Noah Cross.
11. The Prestige (2006)
The movie: Two rival stage magicians spend their lives trying to out-magic each other in 19th century London, to devastating results. But how is it that Christian Bale's Alfred Borden always seems able to be in two places at once?
What's the twist? It turns out that Borden isn't one person, but two twins playing the same role on the stage and indeed in real life. This comes as a shocker to Hugh Jackman's jealous illusionist, who ends up being shot and killed by one of the twins at the end, after the other has found himself hanged at the gallows.
10. Citizen Kane (1941)
The movie: The Orson Welles classic that's usually on around Christmas, details the life and times of a famous media mogul. It all plays out through the experiences of a reporter who tries to get to the bottom of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Welles)'s last word, Rosebud.
What's the twist? Rather than referring to a lost love or a valuable artefact, Rosebud is revealed to be the name of Kane's childhood sled. In dying, Kane was pining for his lost youth, the one time in his life when he was truly happy.
9. Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The movie: Having crash-landed on a foreign planet, gruff astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crew discover a strange society in which a group of apes has evolved into humanoid creatures with the power of speech.
What's the twist? This strange planet is none other than Earth itself, turned into a post-apocalyptic nightmare by the greed and foolishness of mankind. The half-submerged Statue of Liberty in the last shot is what tips him off. Since then that iconic shot has made its way onto the DVD cover, so not much of a twist anymore...
8. Soylent Green (1973)
The movie: Far away in a distant, dystopian future, the all-powerful Soylent Corporation feeds the resource-stretching populace with tasty wafers known as Soylent Green. Meddling copper Charlton Heston is suspicious of where these wafers are coming from, leading him to question just what's going into his diet...
What's the twist? All together now: "SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!" Yes, those wafers are made from corpses.
7. Fight Club (1999)
The movie: The narrator (Edward Norton) goes along with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)'s escalating antics until people start dying. As Project Mayhem begins to spiral out of control, the narrator sets about attempting to shut down the movement, following Tyler's paper trail from city to city...
What's the twist? Wherever the narrator goes, he's greeted as Tyler by the members of the project. Soon enough, Tyler turns up to spell things out: he and the narrator are two sides of one split personality.
6. Saw (2004)
The movie: Lawrence (Cary Elwes), a doctor, and Adam (Leigh Whannell), a photographer, awake to find themselves trapped in a dingy bathroom, with only a corpse, a saw, and some instructions for company. Told that one must kill the other in order to survive, the pair realise a grisly task lies ahead.
What's the twist? When one of the men finally makes his escape (having sawn off his foot to do so), the other is left with the corpse as he waits for help to be sent. Suddenly, the corpse rises to its feet, revealing itself to be none other than the Jigsaw killer himself. Game over, he snarls as he locks the door behind him.
5. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The movie: Bright-eyed boy wonder Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) comes face to face with Darth Vader at Cloud City, engaging the Sith lord in a fearsome lightsaber battle that costs him his hand.
What's the twist? Darth Vader, embodiment of all that is evil, reveals himself to be Luke's old man. Luke does not take the news well.
4. Psycho (1960)
The movie: Mad old Mrs. Bates has been preying on the guests of the Bates Motel, sneaking up on them during their most intimate moments before hacking them to pieces. As plucky Lila Crane (Vera Miles) goes prowling around the old Bates house, she spies Mrs. Bates sitting in the cellar and prepares to confront her.
What's the twist? Mrs. Bates is nothing more than a mummified corpse. Her son Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) on the other hand, is alive and well. Er, he's alive at least.
3. Se7en (1995)
The movie: Having worked his way through five of the seven deadly sins, serial killer John Doe inexplicably turns himself in to detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman), promising to show them where the last two bodies are hidden. As the trio reach the wasteland Doe has led them to, a delivery van arrives to bring them a package.
What's the twist? The package contains the severed head of Detective Mills' wife. Consumed by jealousy of the investigator's happy home life, Doe becomes envy and kills Tracy. Mills then becomes wrath, shoots Doe in the head, and completes the madman's sick master plan.
2. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The movie: Young Cole (Haley Joel Osment) suffers from an unusual condition. That's right, he sees dead people. Fortunately, Malcolm (Bruce Willis), a friendly psychologist is on hand to help him through it. Not that things are all roses for the doc, whose relationship with his wife has got so bad that she barely seems to acknowledge his presence.
What's the twist? Bruce was dead all along, which is why only the boy could see him. Ta-daaaa! M. Night Shyamalan sprinkles the film with clues aplenty (the marital dinner scene seems shamelessly blatant on second watch), and yet it's easy to get totally hoodwinked first time around.
1. The Usual Suspects (1995)
The movie: When a botched heist leaves a boat full of corpses at the door of inspector Dave Kujan (Chazz Palmintieri), he ropes in limping con-man Verbal Kint for a protracted haul across the coals. As he leans on the hapless Kint, he learns the legend of a monstrous crime lord known as Keyser Soze.
What's the twist? Convinced he has wrung the source dry, Kujan sends Kint on his merry way before realising he's just been fed a pack of lies - Kint IS Keyser Soze. Meanwhile, out on the street, Kint shakes off his limp, lights a smoke and rides off into the sunset. And like that, *poof*, he's gone.