A good plot twist provides a unique type of thrill. Many TV shows, including Game of Thrones, have mastered the art of the unexpected character death or bombshell revelation, or the big twist that changes the entire structure of the plot. A truly memorable twist is one that you will never forget.
Plot twists work best in the horror or thriller genres; they can be especially effective in these genres because they serve as the ultimate shock or surprise for an audience that has already agreed to be on the edge of their seat.
Whether it’s a twist ending or a mid-story twist, a film that throws you off is one you won’t soon forget.
The twist ending of some of the greatest iconic horror films (and those of other genres) distinguishes them as such. Seeing dead people, the killer being closer than they look; whatever the story twist, when done well, will always enhance the audience’s movie-going experience.
Of course, we can’t discuss the finest movies with a twist without issuing a major spoiler alert, so consider this your warning: you’ve been forewarned. These are the finest movies with a surprise ending.
Top 5 Movies With Unexpected Endings
1. US (2019)
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
The Catch: Adelaide is a Tether, and Red is the original Adelaide.
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is just as conceptually complex as the first. Us used the concept of doppelgängers to depict the aspects of ourselves that we both conceal and ignore, on both a personal and social level, which is why the final twist is so effective.
Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) drives away with her family after killing her Tether “Red” and saving her son Jason. She recounts the night she first encountered Red as a youngster.
The true Red suffocated Adelaide, carried her to the subterranean, and chained her to a bed, taking her position in the surface world.
This explains why “Adelaide” couldn’t speak as a youngster after that occurrence and why “Red” is the only Tether who can speak. While driving, “Adelaide” recalls this, and her son Jason gives her a look, as if he is aware of her real character.
The film concludes as the Wilsons drive away and Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” plays in the background, as the Tethered hold hands in unending lines throughout America, their twisted plot realized: a frightening sight that follows an unnerving and psychologically weighted denouement.
2. Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer
The Twist: Teddy Daniels is actually Andrew Laeddis, and he murdered his wife.
DiCaprio plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels, whose current task, together with his sidekick, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), is to investigate a mental institution on Shutter Island and recover a missing patient, Rachel, who was there for drowning her three children.
Daniels has a hidden agenda: he wants to locate Andrew Laeddis, the guy who set fire to his house and killed his wife Dolores, and he believes he can find him in the hospital.
As Daniels and Aule dig deeper into their inquiry, they come upon a sequence of intriguing and contradictory incidents. Rachel arrives unexpectedly at the hospital; Daniels suspects that the patients are being transported to the lighthouse to be lobotomized and is determined to investigate.
On his way there, Daniels discovers Rachel hiding in a cave near the lighthouse for the second time, pretending to be a doctor at the institute who was erroneously accepted. It’s all a little scary.
But when Daniels arrives at the lighthouse, he is forced to confront the truth: he is Andrew Laeddis, a violent inmate at the mental institution who murdered his wife Rachel after she drowned their children.
Laeddis was having a hallucination, and the entire medical staff was in on it to assist him in making a breakthrough. The next day, Laeddis looks to be still on board with his new findings and comprehends his circumstances.
But, in the closing scene, Daniels wonders, “Which would be worse: living as a monster or dying as a good man?”
Does he accept that he is insane and that what he thinks is his life are just hallucinations, or does he continue to indulge in his own dreams, ones that may make him a monster to the rest of the world but give his own life a meaningful narrative?
3. Oldboy (2003)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung
The Twist: Mi-do is Dae-su’s daughter
In Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s infamous translation of Tsuchiya Garon’s famed Japanese manga, Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) can’t seem to catch a break.
First, he is abruptly sentenced to 15 years in jail, kept in a windowless cell, and forced to watch television to learn how he has been framed for his wife’s murder. And his three-year-old daughter has been placed in foster care.
Naturally, as Dae-su is released from prison, he embarks on a vicious rampage to find out who set him up and ice the fools, all while meeting and finally sleeping with Mi-do, a pretty, young sushi chef (Kang Hye-jeong).
His vengeance-seeking attempts lead him to an old grade school classmate named Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae), who screwed Dae-su over as punishment for a decades-long animosity centered around playground allegations that Woo-jin was sleeping with his sister, causing her to commit suicide.
But what is the most heinous aspect of Woo-diabolical jin’s plan? While Pops was away behind bars, he reared Mi-do, Dae-daughter, su’s and brainwashed her to fall in love with Dae-su once they met.
Dae-su, naturally terrified and embarrassed, atones for his transgressions by cutting off his tongue with rusted scissors. Which Park exemplifies in all its awful, look-away-now evil.
4. Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder
The Twist: Nina actually kills herself, and is psychotic
Black Swan is an odd and difficult film that explores the often-overlooked narrow border between skill and obsession.
When Nina (Portman) competes for the main part in her company’s performance of Swan Lake against Lily (Kunis), a more carefree and sensual dancer, she finds herself gradually sinking further into a mental break.
Nina resorts to devious measures to obtain the position, but Lily is named her understudy, which irritates Nina.
Nina is tormented by weird hallucinations—she imagines going to a bar, taking ecstasy, and hooking up with Lily—and she sees Lily preparing to take over her role on the show’s opening night. Nina stabs Lily, consumed by envy and hatred.
Nina immediately rushes on stage and gives the best performance of her life, but we soon find she stabbed herself and was acting despite her injuries. Nina dies when she discovers her performance was flawless; Nina’s preoccupation with attaining perfection is her undoing.
5. Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
The Twist: Nick takes Amy back after she frames him for her murder.
Gone Girl is an *exciting* ride. Gillian Flynn’s narrative is as bizarre as it is original: Amy, a shockingly self-aware woman, resolves to exact revenge on her unfaithful husband Nick by staging and framing him for her death.
And I mean an elaborate plan: she creates a weird scavenger quest particularly for Nick and murders an ex-boyfriend along the way, all while exhibiting little to no remorse.
We get some fantastic feminist talks along the way about what a modern woman should be and how she should act—the notorious “cool girl” phenomenon—but the ending is more twisted and vicious than anything Amy has done before.
She ultimately goes home, and her odd victory lap involves informing Nick that she artificially inseminated herself with his sperm, and is, surprise: pregnant. Nick is on the verge of murdering her. Then… he doesn’t. He returns to her.
It’s an exasperating and interesting climax to this dark psychological thriller, and while it’s split both book-reading and movie-going audiences, it’s still a powerful gut punch.
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