The 25 best twist endings in movies we never saw coming

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.

You'll find some of these in our best Netflix movies list. 
And some on our
best Amazon Prime Video movies list. 

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.

Gem Seddon

Gem Seddon is GamesRadar+'s west coast Entertainment News Reporter, working to keep all of you updated on all of the latest and greatest movies and shows on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Outside of entertainment journalism, Gem can frequently be found writing about the alternative health and wellness industry, and obsessing over all things Aliens and Terminator on Twitter.