Surprise is often the best way to both wrap up a story and provide satisfaction to the viewer. Or, reader, depending. But today we are talking about movies, and have you noticed a pattern? Those good, cult classic movies almost always involve a surprise twist ending that leaves you gobsmacked. The director, you’re absolutely convinced then, is a pure genius.
And some directors love this technique more than others. For example, M. Night Shyamalan (The Village) is notorious for his twisty endings to the point that it’s sometimes a negative for him. Others have dabbled in the art of the plot twist too, most notably Christopher Nolan (The Prestige, Memento), but also David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, etc.). Needless to say, there are many, many more, and today’s collection (courtesy of Ranker) is just a small part of the cinematic genius that’s out there.
So, let’s get this intro out of the way then and get to the meaty bits. Of course, there will be massive SPOILERS ahead, so you’ve been warned.
Ready? Here we go.
1. The Sixth Sense
Anxious and perpetually scared Cole (Haley Joel Osment) claims he sees dead people in this famous psychological thriller by M. Night Shyamalan. Released back in 1999, The Sixth Sense radically changed the way ghost stories get told. Bruce Willis joins the cast in the role of Dr. Malcom Crowe, renowned child psychologist, trying to help Cole with his issues. Seeing ghosts, or a mental disorder? Well, little did the doctor know that he too is a ghost himself – which is why the kid sees him. Mind? Blown.
2. Fight Club
It seems that 1999 was a very good year for mind-bending movies. Fight Club shares the same year as the aforementioned The Sixth Sense, and Shyamalan had to contend with the genius of David Fincher. This postmodern classic warned us about the dangers of consumerism and the consequences of the feminization of males in today’s complicated greedy world. Fight Club simultaneously horrified, shocked and enlightened audiences – maybe more than any film in the decades before it. The questionable narrator (Edward Norton) meets the typical alpha male Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who plans to destroy the entire world in order to start over. But the twist reveals that the narrator suffers from a psychological disorder, called a dissociative identity disorder – effectively projecting his inner personality outside of himself, creating people who are in fact hallucinations. And so it turns out that the feminized, weak character of Edward Norton is actually one and the same with Brad Pitt’s macho character. What follows is a literal mind-blowing, because the narrator shoots himself in the head in order to kill his other, less pleasant half.
3. The Usual Suspects
In this iconic movie, there is only one question: Who is Keyser Soze? He’s a cruel criminal genius, but no one has ever seen him. Or, wait… Actually, everyone’s seen him. This is a classic case of “hiding in plain sight.” In a genius twist, we find out that the evil genius everyone’s hunting for is actually Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), a stuttering, handicapped, feeble person who is so anxious he can’t even look anyone in the eye.
Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) is forced to shoot serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) after being taunted for the entire movie about a special box. “What’s in the box? What’s in the box?” Mills keeps hysterically yelling – until he finally opens the goddamn box, and finds the head of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). But, having killed Doe, the officer finds himself in a bind – he got his revenge (by killing a murderer), but he lost his wife and he’s also guilty of murder.
5. The Prestige
Christopher Nolan’s 2006 spectacle of competing magicians who will stop at nothing to one-up one another. Is seeing believing? How can Alfred, the magician, be at two places at the same time? Throw a ball and then catch it? Well… It’s either magic or… He has a twin brother, and they’re scamming everyone.
6. The Others
Another ghost story, but this time a bit creepier. Nicole Kidman plays Grace, a mother who is obsessed with keeping her children safe at all costs because they suffer a disease when exposed to sunlight. They live in a cold, dark mansion, which proves the perfect place for her children. Occasionally, though, Grace and the kids keep hearing weird noises, objects get moved, and they have a haunting on their hands. Little do they know that it’s the other way around – they are the ghosts, seeing the living as if through a veil.
Ah, the iconic Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, it tells the story of a psychotic murderer Norman Bates who is probably one of the creepiest characters in the history of all cinema. But a story of merely a murderer would be dull – in the final act, we discover that he believes he is his own mother – who he actually murdered.
What do you do when you wake up, remembering nothing, except a note saying that you have to avenge your wife? Well, naturally, you want to find out more, and of course – catch the killer. Buuuuuut… In the end, you discover that it was you who actually killed your wife. The trauma being too much to bear, you suffer memory loss, and then start it all over again…
9. 12 Monkeys
What happens when you are a time-traveller, sent from the future to warn everyone of the impending apocalypse, but no one believes you? Well, you get put in a mental hospital, that’s what happens. And that’s what happened to James Cole (Bruce Willis) in 12 Monkeys, directed by Terry Gilliam. The dilemma is – is he really a time traveler, or simply a crazy person? In the end we find out that the nightmares that Cole suffers are actually memories from his childhood when he actually died. Scratching your head? Good.
10. Planet of the Apes
One of the greatest science-fiction classics, the 1968 Planet of the Apes posed some great (and grave) questions. Astronauts crash-land on an Earth-like planet only to find it inhabited by apes, with humans as their slaves. However, at the end we see The Statue of Liberty, learning that it was Earth after all – only 2000 years in the future, which is how much they spent during space travel.
Well, those are all for now. Which one is your favorite? Or maybe you know of other movies like these and you can suggest some to us? Feel free to do so and… Damn, I want to rewatch 12 Monkeys now!