The thing about twists in our favorite movies is that the most brilliant ones, you are blind to until they strike. Over Hollywood’s century-long tenure into storytelling, a solid handful of films manage to score in the twist department. Some of Movie Fanatic’s favorite films are those that possess this elusive plot point. Some even contain a multitude of twists that leaves us breathless.
Compiling a Top 10 Movie Twists is tricky. But, after careful consideration and a whole lot of soul searching, we have narrowed it down to ten. What’s number one? Will it be a twist of the unexpected? And we must say, spoiler alerts ahead!
What’s in the box? Don’t open it Brad Pitt! The sixth and seventh deadly sins arrive in one fell swoop as the twist of Seven had the markings of director David Fincher all over it. In hindsight, you can see it coming. Yet, at first viewing… the film’s ending hits like a ton of bricks.
9. 12 Monkeys
Give a film like 12 Monkeys its moniker, set up the story and unleash the power of Terry Gilliam and a painstaking thriller already has huge pedigree. The 12 Monkeys did not cause the pandemic. Yet, you think they did as the audience’s eyes are firmly off the ball as the twist slips right past you like a Major League fastball. What the audience gets is a wild tale whose ending is not anticipated in the least until the filmmaker unveils it.
8. The Others
One of our favorite films to watch on Halloween is The Others starring Nicole Kidman. Her icy performance in the spook-fest is an enormous foreshadowing to a movie conclusion that has you screaming, “They’re all ghosts!”
7. Fight Club
We don’t talk about Fight Club. You know what we mean, Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, as your souls are much closer than appear to the naked eye.
6. Planet of the Apes (1968)
As Charlton Heston falls to his knees on the beach, the Statue of Liberty is only visible from the neck up in a sea of sand. Fans of the film still extol the virtues of the film's final image that has become iconic.
5. No Way Out
Kevin Costner was famously told not to do an English accent for Robin Hood, but when he appeared as Yuri at No Way Out’s pivotal moment, a world of moviegoers sat shocked as his Russian accent came through. How a national hero, that we believe is what Costner’s Tom is for 90 minutes, suddenly reveals himself to be what it is we as an audience have been chasing the entire film, is one successful twist.
4. The Sixth Sense
I see dead people, indeed. A certain someone has been dead the entire time. Didn’t see that coming and it has become so resonant for many, M. Night Shyamalan’s first film gave us a twist for the ages as Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment did a dramatic dance that will go down as one of the most unforgettable in movie history.
3. Primal Fear
Ever wonder how Edward Norton became Edward Norton? After checking out his first screen performance in Primal Fear, it is easy to see the career he has built since. He managed to not only fool the expertly drawn Richard Gere character, a lawyer who is representing his accused murderer, but us in the theater as well.
2. The Usual Suspects
Only the film that spawned our passion for movies (see below!) could surpass the cinematic experience of witnessing the last ten minutes of The Usual Suspects as it unspooled. Try rolling with a story that is so intense and palpable that the viewer does not blink. Then, what if we told you that everything known is unknown and the truth is more jaw-dropping than anyone could imagine? The Usual Suspects were anything but usual.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
After Star Wars ushered in the world of Luke, Leia, Darth Vader and Han Solo, the world was onboard for whatever George Lucas brought our way. Yet, to this day no film has managed to pull a story right turn as achieved in The Empire Strikes Back. You mean to tell us that Leia is Luke’s sister and Darth Vader is their father? All in one movie? And audiences had to wait how long until Return of the Jedi arrived for answers? No film in history pulled the twist punches as The Empire Strikes Back.
Honorary mentions: The Crying Game and the O’s have it: Psycho and Momento.