A twist ending can make or break a movie’s plot. Audiences love the feeling of shock, the grand reveal that forces them to rethink an entire film. Of course, pulling off a successful twist ending isn’t easy; viewers are smarter than some screenwriters give them credit for, and oftentimes the supposed surprise is seen from a mile away. However, when executed successfully, a twist ending can turn a film from good to iconic.
Here are five of the most shocking twist endings in movies. Given the nature of this list, it should go without saying that massive spoilers are ahead.
The Plot: In what is possibly the greatest South Korean thriller, Oldboy sees a man named Oh Dae-su kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. Upon being set free, he still has no idea who or what motives were behind his capture. The film follows his quest for answers and revenge. Along the way, he develops a relationship with a young chef named Mi-do, who assists him in his quest.
The Twist: Mi-do is actually Oh Dae-su’s daughter. Their romantic relationship was arranged by his captor, a wealthy businessman named Lee Joo-win, who Oh Dae-su had spread damning rumors about years before the kidnapping. The film ends with Oh Dae-su cutting out his tongue as a sign of repentance.
The Plot: Told in reverse chronology, Memento is the story of a man named Leonard, who, due to a traumatic head injury, suffers from anterograde amnesia, meaning he is unable to make new memories and has short-term memory loss every few minutes. He uses DIY tattoos and polaroids to keep track of progress in his mission: to exact revenge upon the man who killed his wife and gave him his head injury.
The Twist: While a culprit did injure both Leonard and his wife, it was Leonard who actually killed his wife, as he could not bear to see her living in critical condition following her attack. On top of that, he killed the culprit over a year ago. Throughout the film, he is being manipulated by an undercover cop into killing a series of criminals; this cop, Teddy, takes advantage of Leonard’s condition and convinces him that these criminals are behind his wife’s death.
The Machinist (2004)
The Plot: An utterly bleak film through and through, The Machinist follows a factory worker named Trevor suffers from severe insomnia. It has led to his developing delusions about an enigmatic stalker named Ivan. Despite his detachment from reality, he manages to develop a relationship with a prostitute named Stevie and attempts to act as a father figure to her son. However, the lines between reality and fantasy blur, culminating in a shocking twist.
The Twist: Trevor’s insomnia is the result of a repressed memory: a year ago, he was the culprit in a hit-and-run that resulted in the fatality of a child. Stevie and her son are merely fantasies, his mind’s way of establishing some normalcy in his life. Ivan, on the other hand, is a representation of his guilt, following him wherever he goes. Upon remembering his crime, he turns himself into police, finally attaining mental peace.
Shutter Island (2010)
The Plot: On the surface a run-of-the-mill crime thriller, Shutter Island follows Edward Daniels, a detective investigating a mental health facility on the titular island, where a patient has escaped. His real mission, however, is to capture Andrew Laeddis, who killed Daniels’s wife and who Daniels believes is on the island. It becomes abundantly clear that hospital staff are hiding something from Daniels, who is beginning to suffer migraines.
The Twist: Edward Daniels does not exist. The character we thought was Edward is actually Andrew Laeddis, suffering from guilt after the murder of his wife and their children. The film’s main storyline was a figment of his imagination. Laeddis opts to have a lobotomy as penance for his crimes.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Plot: Police are interrogating a man calling himself Roger Kint, the sole survivor of a band of thieves who attempted a heist for their mysterious boss, wanted criminal mastermind Keyser Soze. Kint claims to have no knowledge of who Soze actually is, but he is willing to share with investigators the story of the heist. Told in a series of flashbacks, The Usual Suspects convinces the viewer that it is a straightforward crime thriller until the very end, when Soze’s identity is revealed.
The Twist: Roger Kint spends the entirety of the movie posing as a dim-witted small-time crook. At the end, however, it is revealed that not only is he actually Keyser Soze, but he fabricated his entire story, basing details off of objects in the interrogation room. He narrowly escapes being arrested.
What are some twist endings that shocked you? Let us know in the comments!