The twist ending is an easy way to give your audience something to remember, and a good twist ending is one they will always cherish. Almost all the short films I’ve seen end with a twist — and structurally, this can be reasoned out since pretty much every short works towards sending a point home, and a twist can help you with achieving that quite easily.
When it comes to feature films, the case is different, because so much happens within the time frame of a movie that a twist has to complement everything that precedes it, so that it will make sense, in however subtle a way that may be. Mostly used in thrillers, twists can work well in just about any film genre, notable ones being drama, comedy, and horror. The twist ending should allow the audience to understand the elements of a story in a different way, while providing further details about the characters and their surroundings. I’ve discovered with my exposure to filmmaking that while it isn’t very difficult to come up with a twist ending, it is terribly hard to think one up that fits a story to absolute perfection. With all that said now, today we are going to list down the greatest twist endings in cinema. You can watch several of these movies with twist endings on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
‘Predestination’ is a film that toys with complex physical ideas including Time Travel, Temporal Loops, Discontinuities, Paradoxes, concepts that have, till now, caught the fancy of physicists, mathematicians, story tellers and film makers for close to a century. It may not end up satisfactorily answering a lot of the questions it raises, but it is bound to raise a brow or two with the flawed genius behind the big idea of it all, the idea of a timeless soldier, free from the ideas of ancestry, birth, death, conception, and time itself: a predestination paradox. For those who like to think and prefer their films with a side of thought-fodder, this film is a haven among the woods. For those who don’t, it will either blow up your brains, or you will when it ends.
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‘Identity’ rates among the best murder mysteries you will ever see. The film also doubles up as a brilliant psychological thriller. Heavily inspired by Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’, characters stranded at a motel are killed of one by one with a murderer on the loose. The twist is unpredictable but completely believable and ingenious. Watch this one alone for the complete experience. It also features an all-star cast comprising the likes of John Cusack and ‘Goodfellas’ Ray Liotta.
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23. The Vanishing
The ending to ‘The Vanishing’ was one that I thought was suffocating. On the one hand, it’s a classic film twist that comes in the form of a realization. The protagonist is in search of his missing wife, a year on following her disappearance. The audience is provided with a fairer idea of what happened to his significant other than he is, which helps add to his character, a man frustratingly hopeful, though deeply troubled inside, probably because he has drawn his own conclusions regarding the mystery. The twist is one that our protagonist sees coming. The suspense to the film is one that is felt by the boyfriend more than it is by the audience, up until the final moment when he is made to cave, shortly before a shocking revelation is made. Few films communicate the essence of a twist this way, adorning upon the viewers an intrusive characteristic, which makes the ending to this Dutch film that much more unnerving.
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22. Carnival of Souls
Often regarded as one of the most influential horror films of all time, I don’t find it particularly great, but I think the final reveal is wonderfully done. The film works into it an effective B-cinema inspired style, with creepy, weird imagery, as well as this attempt to scare brought on by inducing a sense of claustrophobia. There’s a lurking trait throughout that, despite the film raising so many questions, it doesn’t really need to concern itself with providing any answers, mainly because of the surreal ambiguity ever-present in the $17,000 budget picture. The final scene is a cutaway from everything else that takes place before it (most of which is the inebriated definition of a ‘trip’), coming back to reality in a way.
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21. 3 Women
Robert Altman’s masterwork is confusing as it is, and little is revealed in the ending if you do not read in between the lines. Heck, I can even spell it out for you without spoiling the film! The three heroines have settled their differences and live together, but after a considerable amount of time spent tracking the women, the camera pans away to shift focus onto this cluster of tires. That’s literally it. The brilliance of this twist comes in the way the tires are arranged, at which point I made a mental note, taking a character count, when I was hit by the morbid reality of events, which presents itself with this high-handed composedness, making it all the more effective when it finally clicks.
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20. Funny Games
I like the sudden twist of events in Michael Haneke’s depressing classic ‘Funny Games’, because it is not predictable by even a bit, and it doesn’t really make sense, though if you think about it, the distance from reality that the film has going for it at that point is one that is heavily referred to (sort of like a forewarning) in several scenes preceding it, with fourth wall breaks and other forms of audience interaction. The way the film closes the gap with its viewers is by presenting the medium of cinema as a platform for one-to-one communication, addressing the people watching directly and attempting to get them to side with the villains, with a menacing undertone that specifies that they don’t really care if you choose to stay free from this attempt of theirs.
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19. The Others
There are horror movies that rely on jump scares and sound effects. Then, there are horror movies like The Others that are purely about building tension and completely blowing you away with an unexpected ending. In case of ‘The Others’, the ending turns the whole movie upside down; it so unexpected that you don’t believe what you have just seen. Supported by an excellent Nicole Kidman performance, ‘The Others’ is not only a horror movie, but a movie with a mind-bending twist that will stay with you forever.
18. The Illusionist
Presented as a period drama and directed by Neil Burger, ‘The Illusionist’ is actually a cleverly crafted thriller. It’s an entertaining story, using politics and magic as the underlying themes. Eisenheim The Illusionist, is a mysterious character with an agenda buried deep down in his heart. He dares to oppose the tyrant crown prince, using the only weapon in his armoury – Magic. Ed Norton poured his heart out while playing this role and you could feel the same, when you see a broken man seeing his dead beloved. Wait, did I say she was dead? Well, before we spoil the surprise, go and watch it for its mind-blowing ending, if you haven’t.
17. Twelve Monkeys
One of the best science fiction movies of the 90s decade, ‘Twelve Monkeys’ is a tense and unassuming thriller. Directed by master director Terry Gilliam, ‘Twelve Monkeys’ gives us a world plagued by a deadly virus. It is up to our protagonist James Cole (portrayed brilliantly by Bruce Willis) to figure out the mystery behind the virus and help find the cure. Of course, the plot is not as simple as that, as it also involves elements of time travel. Watch the movie carefully and you will be shocked by what happens in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.
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Simply put, ‘Brazil’ is the greatest piece of political satire I’ve ever seen. It is as frightening as it is clever and witty, and it tells a quirky tale in the greatest way possible. Using neo-noir elements to create a bleak future with surreal imagery meant to trick the viewer, ‘Brazil’ primarily deals with the problems that sprout out of excess control and the existence of a personal utopia. The final scene acts as a meld between both these elements, a mix of fantasy and a dreaded reality that could very well happen, subtly hinting on the way the elements that build a society can secretly work behind your back, which I guess is the primary theme of the film. The way it hits you is pretty fascinating, because Gilliam’s frantic style suddenly comes to a halt, and there’s that mind-numbing closing shot with a quick dolly out, isolating the protagonist and making him helpless.
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15. Shutter Island
Team Scorcese-DiCaprio delivered another fine thriller. ‘Shutter Island’ builds up slowly and steadily, with exquisite camerawork, Scorcese’s hallmark filmmaking, and above all, DiCaprio’s edgy and honest performance. On the one hand, this film has a classic ‘I’m-one-of-them’ sort-of ending, which we’ve seen plenty of times in movies that preceded this. It’s the way that Scorsese presents the concept here that makes it effective, perhaps better than all similar twists, because it brings into play human emotions relating to confusion, embarrassment, and acceptance.
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14. The Sixth Sense
This is the movie which immortalized the above quote. The debut film of M. Night Shyamalan, ‘The Sixth Sense’ is gripping from the start to the end. Yet again, we have Bruce Willis who is haunted by his own demons and is at his wit’s end to figure out what is happening with the little boy who sees dead people all the time. The ending to ‘The Sixth Sense’ ended up becoming one of the most popular film endings ever, because of how well it worked with the rest of the film upon re-watches. The ending makes sense in the best way possible. Shyamalan also began to work in twist endings into all of his later pictures, though not all of them have been this good, save for maybe ‘Unbreakable’ (2000).
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13. A Clockwork Orange
‘A Clockwork Orange’ puts forth a strong social criticism with its plot twist. With a line of dialogue that’s easily one of the most quotable lines in the cinema of Stanley Kubrick, the ending is something of a dream sequence, and its purpose is to shock, give the audience a clear idea of where its protagonist stands with respect to his ideologies and thinking. It’s an interesting finish to the film because it helps to round the story off quite brilliantly, and is actually more comedic than anything else, which is an interesting way of carrying out the plot twist.
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12. The Prestige
‘The Prestige’ is probably Christopher Nolan’s most well rounded and emotionally satisfying movie. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give moving performances as two competing magicians, who’ll do anything to best the other. With a twist that now has acquired a legendary status, ‘The Prestige’ is one big magic trick of a film unto itself, incorporating the pledge, the turn and the ‘prestige’ into a well-acted, visually pleasing film that builds and builds until its full, and reveals everything in a crescendo of unprecedented events, ones that are sure to take your breath away as they reveal themselves. The staging of the magic tricks, the secrets behind how they work and simple details behind their execution astounded me as a viewer, adding to my appreciation of a Nolan film that I feel is somehow piled under more successful and crowd friendly Nolan blockbusters.
Christopher Nolan started out with the low-budget thriller ‘The Following’, but it was ‘Memento’ which established him as one of the most promising directors of his generation. The rest is well, history. ‘Memento’ is a movie which gets as non-linear as they come. It is in fact, entirely backwards. Boasting of recurring themes like grief, deception and the nature of memory, Memento is a subtle, neo-noir thriller. I find it interesting that the film manages to reveal its twist at the end of its runtime, because chronologically that only becomes the halfway point of the events transpired.
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This Korean film took the world to storm by its violent and vicious take on revenge saga. I still get shudders when I think about its mind numbing revelation in the end. Praised by the critics and audience alike for its graphic imagery, ‘Oldboy’ is a tale about a man who is kept locked in a room with wantons for food for 15 years is suddenly let out to look for his captor. On his course to the truth, it becomes evident that vengeance can be absolutely cruel and perhaps a little poetic. ‘Oldboy’ is a harrowing, at times beautiful and disgusting gore-fest. It is also a classic. ‘Oldboy’ is one of those movies where the plot twist itself speaks volumes about the themes the movie is trying to convey.
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Master of the modern thriller, David Fincher gave us this masterpiece twenty years ago. It still feels fresh and the ending still terrifies us. The twist at the end doesn’t have a shock value, but rather speaks to our senses and our innermost desires. Quick and interesting fact: Nobody knew that Kevin Spacey was cast in the movie as the killer. His name doesn’t even appear in the casting. His subsequent appearance owed to the movie’s now cult following, as it banked on the success of ‘The Usual Suspects’, which is next on our list. Sidenote, while we say that ‘Se7en’ lacks shock value, we are also open to the argument (as we do not want to be one-sided here) that that’s all the ending to this film is, with the unexpected Kevin Spacey-entry, the unconnected box in the close (the contents of which don’t really provide the story with depth or further meaning, and in that becomes merely a tool to catch the audience by surprise). Perhaps, it’s Fincher’s meticulous approach to it all that ultimately makes this ending work.
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8. The Usual Suspects
Before X-Men, Bryan Singer made his mark with this neo-noir thriller. Unable to convict Kent of anything, Agent Kujan lets him go free, and Kint’s stroll toward his new life starts off in a limp but, brilliantly, culminates in a straight leg. Kujan is too late to realize that nearly every detail in Kint’s story was lifted, by name, from the various knick-knacks in the agent’s office. It all wraps up with the pitch-perfect closing line, voiced by Kint/Soze: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist; and like that, he’s gone”. An intelligently written and directed caper, this movie features one of the most famous plot twists in cinematic history. Kevin Spacey went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Roger ‘Verbal’ Klint.
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7. Fight Club
You know your ending is something of a masterpiece when it becomes a meme and stays relevant even in 2018. I know people say you shouldn’t talk about ‘Fight Club’, but since there probably isn’t anyone reading this who doesn’t know of the famous twist, I guess I’ll do some talking, though I won’t spoil anything in here. The ending to David Fincher’s thriller-classic is one that makes you interpret the entire film in a different way, and the final shot just before the film ends – set to ‘Where Is My Mind’ by Pixies – is considered to be one of cinema’s most memorable moments ever.
6. The Holy Mountain
‘The Holy Mountain’ has an ending that has gotten people divided, and I guess I can understand why that is so, to a degree, at least. The film, which up until then shows a surreal tale like no other, dealing with human representatives from all the planets in our solar system coming together to take on a spiritual journey led by a know-it-all alchemist in order to pursue immortality, suddenly changes itself, not in style, but in the narrative. Some viewers feel this was director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s big cop-out, purposefully providing a lack of closure since he might have run out of ideas, but others, like me, find this ending to be perfect to a story that, for the most part, seems like it is attempting to make sense of its own fantastical caricature of the world in existence.
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Alfred Hitchcock taught the world how to do thrillers and ‘Vertigo’ is his finest movie. Criminally overlooked at the time of its released, ‘Vertigo’ was a box-office flop. But it now ranks as one of the best films ever made. It replaced ‘Citizen Kane’ in the Sight & Sound poll as the greatest film in cinematic history. ‘Vertigo’ is a story about manipulation, obsession and the fragile nature of love. It has a twist which is quite subtle and cerebral in nature, its shock only evident in the eyes of our protagonist, played brilliantly by James Stewart.
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The best example of neo-noir genre, ‘Chinatown’ is undoubtedly one of the best movies of all time. A great script which became a benchmark for screenplays, and to this date is studied by all aspiring scriptwriters to understand the craft of the genre. Densely structured, and elevated by excellent performances by Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, ‘Chinatown’ grips you by the neck, takes you on a cliff, and in the end, just lets go. The moody and unexpected climax wasn’t in the script originally, but thought by director Roman Polanski. It brought the film to a bleak yet satisfying conclusion.
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3. Citizen Kane
With the ending of ‘Citizen Kane’, largely considered the greatest film of all time, the beauty of a twist has become extended further to a communicative tool, allowing the filmmaker to hammer his prime message in a way that doesn’t seem preachy or forced. This is what the film is about, so to speak. The main reason I believe the ending to Orson Welles’ magnum opus works so well is because of how personal it suddenly gets, in comparison to the rest of the picture, which ironically is more or less a character study, of an individual who rises to power from humble beginnings, the prevailing mystery being the meaning behind his last word, ‘Rosebud’. The film pokes the frailty of human life, how we imagine it to be a lot more than what it really is, and to deliver such a theme with the help of a twist ending is really something, isn’t it?
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘Diabolique’ ends with a disclaimer, begging the audience to keep what they’ve just seen unfold in front of their eyes a secret, and so, I will not tell you anything about this film’s close. I will tell you though, that the big reveal that happens during the final minutes of this chilling thriller made me feel stupid, because it was right there in the open, obvious (probably) to those who were smarter than me, and made more sense than any other twist ending I’d seen up until then. Part of what works here is the simplicity with which Clouzot presents the last scene, which follows some moments of tension and utter confusion, which should make this ending a sigh of relief, though it ends up acting as the cherry on top. I personally felt mocked by the picture, which communicates its twist with an ardent surety, like I was supposed to know it all along. It’s one of my favorite thrillers of all time for this very reason.
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Alfred Hitchcock’s career was at a crossroads. People had monumental expectations from the master of thriller, after the success of ‘North by Northwest’, but many were skeptical that he would go loony and deliver another box office flop like ‘Vertigo’. Things went so bad that he was denied funding for his next movie. The producers didn’t like the fact that he was adapting ‘Psycho’ from a relatively unknown book. Hitchcock gathered his old crew – colleagues and associated from his television show – and decided to go black and white. With minimum funding, Hitchcock delivered ‘Psycho’, which is now counted as the finest thriller ever made. I won’t talk about the twist here. You have to watch it to experience it.
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