In many cases, a well-executed twist ending instantly transforms a good movie into a great movie. It takes great screenwriting to string the audience along for an entire two hours, only to pull back the curtain to reveal things were not what they seemed the whole time. Below are ten of the most memorable movie twist endings of all time.
Warning: Spoilers galore!
Photo credit: YouTube/20th Century Fox
Since Memento starts at the end, would this be considered a twist beginning? The answer, obviously, is “No,” but regardless, this detective thriller sees amnesiac detective Guy Pearce searching for the person who killed his wife. The twist, as we eventually discover, is that Pearce himself is the one who did the deed.
9 Fight Club
As with many movies with twist endings, re-watching Fight Club once you know the ending can be a rewarding experience. Of course, the massive twist in the film is that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are actually the same person (with Pitt being a split personality of Norton). While the viewer has to look past a couple small details for this fact to make complete cinematic sense, the uniqueness and bigness of the twist is rewarding and impactful enough to earn it a spot on the list.
8 Rosemary’s Baby
Rosemary’s Baby is a thriller classic with one of the most memorable movie endings of all time. In the film, Rosemary slowly discovers the child growing in her stomach is actually the son of Satan. While this isn’t exactly a twist, the fact that the demon offspring eventually comes to term is. More over, while she was horrified about the idea throughout the film, one look into the demonic eyes of her own little man, and Rosemary surprises everybody by instantly coming over to the dark side courtesy of her motherly instincts.
What’s in the box? This is yet another thriller that keeps the audience guessing until the very end. In the film, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are one step behind a shadowy killer (who we eventually find out to be Kevin Spacey). In the end, we discover that Spacey has cleverly planned it so that he himself will be the final victim, to be killed by Brad Pitt. To ensure Pitt’s unwilling involvement in Spacey’s demented plan, Spacey informs him that he’s killed Pitt’s wife -– which sends Pitt into a fit of rage.
Psycho comes with a fairly early twist in that the main heroine in the film (Janet Leigh) gets murdered well before the film’s conclusion. However, the big twist is, of course, reserved for the end. While we are led to believe that the murderer is the mother of Norman Bates, we eventually discover that Bates himself has been dressing up in drag and doing the deeds himself. In fact, it is revealed that Mother Bates isn’t even alive, as Norman’s got her skeleton happily propped in a rocking chair in the basement.
5 The Prestige
Christopher Nolan sure is a fan of twist endings… and there are actually a few in this one. Several times in the film, a twist within the cat-and-mouse game between Christian Bale’s character and Hugh Jackman’s character seems to give one or the other the upper hand. This all leads up to the revelation that Hugh Jackman is not actually dead. Rather, he’s been cloning and killing himself on a near nightly basis all for the sake of a magic trick. That would be enough to make a good twist ending, but the cherry on top reveals that Christian Bale’s character is actually a set of twins who have been living as one person for most of their adult lives.
4 Planet of the Apes
Charlton Heston standing before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic and recognizable moments in film. Throughout the film, Heston is hellbent on getting off the Planet of the Apes so he can go home to planet Earth. Surprise, surprise –- as it turns out that is impossible because he’s actually been on Earth all along.
3 Soylent Green
Even if you haven’t seen this movie, it is highly likely that you know the twist at the end. In the year 2022, the world is overpopulated and undernourished. Citizens survive by eating a government foodstuff by the name of Soylent. Where does this mysterious food come from? Well, as Charlton Heston eventually uncovers, IT’S PEOPLE!
2 The Usual Suspects
This film’s ending was one of the greatest tricks a movie ever pulled. Throughout the film, gimpy Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) recounts the events of a crime gone wrong to police investigator Chazz Palminteri. Only in the final moments does Chazz (and the rest of us) realize that unassuming Kint is none other than the enigmatic Keyser Soze himself.
1 The Sixth Sense
When people think, “twist ending,” this is likely the first movie to come to mind. When the movie was released in 1999, The Sixth Sense blew the minds of everyone who saw it. At the time, director M. Night Shyalaman (a man known for his twist endings) was relatively unknown. This fact allowed the twist ending –- the fact that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead for most of the film — to sneak up on you. Not only is the twist surprising, but it also makes sense and adds a great deal to the meaning and message of the movie.