20th Century Fox
You often go into thrillers or mystery movies not knowing what to expect, but every once in a while, a plot twist will shake up everything you thought you knew so much that it changes the entire movie, even in the last few seconds. Director M. Night Shyamalan is known for throwing plot twists in all of his movies, like The Village and Glass, the recent sequel to both his 2000 film Unbreakable and 2016’s Split. But screenwriters and directors of all genres — although maybe not rom-coms as much as thrillers — have been fans of the twist ending for decades, aiming to shock fans and audience members at the last second. Sometimes it’s fun to get that shock from a movie. Predictability can get boring. So if you’re in the mood for a twist that will leave you shook, here are 37 of the best movie endings we didn’t see coming. But be prepared, and read at your own risk of spoilers.
I stand by the fact that Fight Club has the greatest twist ending of all time: the unnamed narrator and Project Mayhem cult leader Tyler Durden are the same person. There are a few little hints throughout the movie, like the fact that the narrator “knows this because Tyler knows this,” beating himself up in his boss’s office reminded him of his first fight with Tyler, and lines such as “Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth.” However, if you weren’t previously familiar with the film or the book by Chuck Palahniuk, it’s easy to overlook all of that and be just as shocked as the narrator himself when he finally pieces it together.
Verbal Kint was one of only two survivors of a massacre, and the film takes place in the police office where he’s being questioned in an attempt to catch the crime boss — who he says is called Keyser Soze. The majority of the movie is told from the perspective of Verbal’s memories, or so we’re led to believe. In both present day and all of his flashbacks, we see him walking with a limp. In the last few seconds of the film, he’s walking away from the police station, and all of a sudden the limp starts to go away. Meanwhile, the cop who questioned him is looking at the bulletin board behind his desk and pieces together that everything Verbal said was made up on the spot using words and images he saw while sitting there. The entire story was a very well-told lie, and Verbal is Keyser Soze.
Gone Baby Gone was first a book in a crime detective series written by Dennis Lehane, famous for some of his other books like Shutter Island and Mystic River. Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, gets an honorable mention on this list, but honestly, Gone Baby Gone deserves more recognition. When a little girl goes missing, her aunt turns to private detective Patrick Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro to help find her when she feels the police aren’t doing enough. Police Captain Jack Doyle, played by Morgan Freeman, makes it known from the beginning that he doesn’t want Kenzie involved in the case. Surprise! The entire kidnapping was a staged plot to get the girl away from her drug addicted mother, and Kenzie finds her happy and healthy living with Captain Doyle. If that twist wasn't enough, the last few seconds of the film shows Kenzie sitting with the girl at her mother's home after returning her, realizing he made a mistake when she corrects him on the name of her favorite doll that her mom had been calling by the wrong name the entire time she was missing.
Similar to The Usual Suspects, a good chunk of The Life of David Gale is told through flashbacks from a narrator we’re not sure if we can trust. David Gale is on death row for the murder of his friend and colleague Constance Harraway, and has requested to tell his story to a reporter, Bitsey Bloom, in the final three days before his execution. We learn through his stories that both he and Constance were activists campaigning against capital punishment, and Bitsey starts to believe that another activist must have killed Constance and framed David in order to prove that the system is broken and innocent people get put to death. Toward the end of the movie, Bitsey finds a VHS (because this is 2003) showing Constance killing herself. Unfortunately, she’s too late to the execution, and David is put to death before she can save him. In the final moments of the film, Bitsey receives another VHS, this time showing that David was in the room as Constance committed suicide. He was in on the plan the whole time and knew he needed to be executed in order for Bitsey’s discovery of his innocence to be enough to change the system.
Three years before Ed Norton played a character who didn’t know he had split personalities in Fight Club, he played a character whose split personality was responsible for the murder of an Archbishop in Primal Fear. Richard Gere plays his attorney who believes he’s innocent and tries his best to get him set free in court. When the violent personality shows itself during the trial, the jury finds him not guilty by reason of insanity. However, toward the end of the film, it’s revealed that he faked the split personalities the whole time, and was always the violent, murderous, manipulator that “personality” appeared to be.
New Line Cinema
In Se7en, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play cops tracking down a serial killer who is murdering people by way of the seven deadly sins. A man is forced to eat until his stomach ruptures (gluttony), a lawyer has a pound of flesh taken from him before being killed (greed), and a sex worker was raped by a bladed strap-on (lust). The big twist at the end of the film is that Brad Pitt’s character represents wrath, while Kevin Spacey, who plays the serial killer, represents envy. Shooting him actually completed his plan, and while he died, he still somehow won.
Memento’s a fun movie about memory loss, and it’s told in a very unique way. Scenes jump back and forth between black-and-white scenes in chronological order, and color scenes in reverse order, ultimately meeting in the middle. Leonard Shelby can’t store recent memories, and he believes this is due to an attack by two men who were also responsible for the death of his wife. He is determined to find and punish the attacker, but it’s eventually revealed that his own inability to store memories is what killed his wife. She didn’t believe his condition was real and asked repeatedly for her insulin shot to see if he would remember that he already gave it to her, and he gave her too many until she fell into a coma. However, even when Leonard is reminded of this, he still wants to blame someone else, so he leaves messages for himself about who to kill next so he can deceive himself once he loses his memories again.
Okay, hear me out on this one. Anyone who saw Twilight: Breaking Dawn, pt. 2 in theaters — or really at all — was there because they were fans of the books, or at the very least the previous movies. So a majority of the audience already thought they knew what was coming, up until that fight scene when Carlisle’s head gets ripped off, followed by many more shocking deaths that weren’t included in the book. Of course, we shortly found out that it was all a vision telepathic Alice was sending to head vampire Aro, and none of it actually happened. But seeing those heads rolling on the screen when we knew those characters couldn’t possibly die left audiences everywhere very shook.
This twist is one of the most often incorrectly quoted lines in movie history. It’s not “Luke, I am your father,” but “No, I am your father.” Either way, audiences in 1980 were shocked to find out that Darth Vader was actually Luke Skywalker’s father. Of course it’s not so shocking anymore, but it’s a classic twist.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play rival magicians trying to one-up the other with the best stage illusion. Bale’s character, Alfred Borden, successfully attempts a teleportation trick. Jackman’s character, Robert Angier, is determined to find out how he did it, and winds up convincing Nikola Tesla to create a machine for him that allows him to also “teleport.” The machine was actually creating duplicates of Angier, and the original was killed every night. In the end we find out that Borden was actually a twin the whole time, two people living one life, and the unknown brother helped to pull off the trick.
The Weinstein Company
Slevin Kelevra finds himself stuck in the middle of a feud between two crime bosses, The Boss and The Rabbi, when they’ve mistaken him for the friend whose apartment he let himself into. They don’t seem to care that he’s not who they think he is, so they force him to do their bidding regardless. The big twist at the end is that Slevin wasn’t just unlucky in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it was all part of his plan to kill the mobsters responsible for the death of his parents.
Identity starts like any other murder mystery whodunit. Strangers arrive at a motel in the middle of nowhere and slowly start being killed off. Two big plot twists happen in this one: First of all, all the characters at the motel are different personalities of a man named Malcolm, who is being tried for murder. His doctors believe his homicidal personality is gone and get him sent to a mental institution rather than prison, but in a final twist, it’s revealed that the killer at the motel was actually a young boy, who kills the final alternate personality and takes total control of Malcolm.
The twist in Gone Girl wasn’t exactly at the end, but it’s a big enough plot twist that it’s worth including anyway. Based on the book by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is about a man, Nick Dunne (played by Ben Affleck), whose wife has gone missing. Obviously, he’s the main suspect. The big twist in the film was that Amy was alive, and ran away, framing Nick for her murder. But beyond that, the movie was so filled with twists and turns along the way, including Amy murdering an ex-boyfriend she was hiding out with and running home covered in his blood, claiming she had escaped her kidnapper. At the end of the film, Amy forces to Nick to stay with her rather than expose her. I guess the twist was really that the “missing woman” is crazy, devious, and violent.
Donnie Darko is a cult classic sci-fi psychological thriller from 2001 starring Jake Gyllenhaal. There’s a giant scary looking rabbit named Frank who tells Donnie the world’s ending in 28 days. An airplane crashes into his bedroom while he’s not home, chaos ensues, and people die. Somehow in the end, Donnie time travels back to the day of the plane crash and this time he’s in his room and dies, so therefore the entire movie leading up to that point never even happened.
Lions Gate Films
The ending of American Psycho is pretty vague, and there are differing opinions out there about what actually transpired over the course of the film. But regardless of how confused we are by the end, finding out that Paul Allen, who we saw get axe-murdered on screen, has been in London and is still very much alive, is a massive twist. Did Patrick Bateman actually kill Paul Allen? Did he actually kill anyone? Were all the murders just psychotic fantasies taking place in his head? Maybe some were real and some weren’t — we can’t know for sure — but opening up that debate was pretty unexpected after all the brutal murders we were sure we witnessed.
Dream House is a psychological thriller from 2011 starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Will Atenton and his wife and two daughters move into a new house, where they keep seeing a man outside their windows watching them. They find out that a man named Peter Ward once lived in the house and killed his family there five years earlier before being sent to a mental hospital. He was recently released, so they worry that Ward is who is watching them. The first big twist is that Will is Peter Ward, and his wife and daughters are dead. Unable to cope with losing them, he has fabricated that they are still with him and their house is still in perfect condition. But the real twist in the movie is that Peter Ward did not kill his family. A neighbor hired a hitman to kill his wife, but the hitman went to the wrong house. So messed up.
In The Uninvited, Emily Browning plays Anna, a girl being discharged from a mental hospital after a ten month stay following a suicide attempt due to the death of her mother. She returns home where she is reunited with her sister, Alex, her father, and her father’s new girlfriend, Rachel, who he had an affair with before his wife died. Anna starts getting hallucinations that she and Alex believe are from their mother trying to tell them that Rachel killed her. They piece together that Rachel is really Mildred Kemp, a nanny who murdered three children in her care. Ultimately, Alex kills Rachel in supposed self-defense, but when Anna tries to explain it to her father, he tells her that Alex died in the fire that killed her mother. The bigger twist is that Anna was responsible for the fire, and had intended on killing Rachel the whole time. Mildred Kemp was a fellow patient at the mental hospital.
Now You See Me is one of those few exceptions in that the movie isn’t really a thriller. It’s a fun heist movie about a group of magicians, the Four Horsemen, who pull off major bank robberies during their shows with the help of an unknown fifth horseman. In the final moments of the film, it’s revealed that the fifth member of the group who’s been helping them pull off the heists was none other than the FBI agent supposedly tracking them the entire time.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror film Psycho was the original classic twist ending. Norman Bates’s controlling mother seems to be murdering women staying in their hotel who interact with Norman. Of course, Mrs. Bates has been dead for ten years already, murdered by her own son. He’s now creating his own alternate personality of his mother, wearing her clothes and wigs, while he kills other women.
The Sixth Sense was the Shyamalan movie that started it all when it comes to his famous twist endings: Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. We all know the famous line, “I see dead people,” yet for some reason, it was such a shock to realize that his character was in fact a dead person, only to be seen by the kid, played by Haley Joel Osment.
Mutant Enemy Productions
Dark Castle Entertainments