2016 was a surprising year for both films and TV series, and the world in general. Some surprises were met with praise and wonder, and others left us with a sense of morose hostility. This has been the year that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, the year we lost some fantastic actors who reached through the cinema screens and into our hearts, and the year that the world’s political climate surprised almost everyone. But this was also a year for thrillers, epic sci-fi adventures, and breathtaking television programs. There were many twists and turns this year in terms of motion picture and television plots, but there were 15 specific twists that had us reeling months after they blew our minds.
It’s impossible to discuss twist without spoiling, so herein lie heavy spoilers for the most surprising shows and movies of 2016. You’ve been warned!
So without further ado, these are the Top 15 Biggest Movie And TV Twists Of 2016.
15. Passengers – Stockholm Syndrome in Space
The marketing for Passengers sold the film as a rom-com/space action flick in which two of the most attractive actors on the planet solve the mystery of how they woke up 90 years too early from space hibernation. Those who went in expecting a charming and heartfelt mystery caper were confused when the film took a very dark and undeniably creepy turn in the first act of the film.
Chris Pratt plays Jim, a man who wakes up 90 years before all the other passengers on a spaceship. He discovers there is no way to contact anyone outside the ship, and so is doomed to live a life of isolation onboard. While attempting to commit suicide to end his alienating nightmare, he comes across a pod containing Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora.
The big twist is that he ferociously stalks her sleeping body for a while before deciding that dying alone is too difficult, and wakes her up to die alongside him. And they say chivalry is dead. Aurora learns of Jim’s actions, and rightly tells him that his plan was akin to murder. They eventually find out that the ship has been damaged, repair it (with some help), and discover that they can re-hibernate Aurora, so that she will wake up with the remaining crew.
14. The Accountant – Two Bloodthirsty Brothers
The Accountant is directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) and stars Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, and Jon Bernthal. One of the many great aspects of this film was its somewhat obvious but still impactful twist towards the end of the movie. The film is about a man named Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), who is a forensic accountant who also moonlighting as an auditor for some of the most dangerous men and organizations on the planet. As a child, he was diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism, and was taught by his father to master martial arts as a way to move forward in the world. He and his brother were subject to massive amounts of physical abuse growing up, as their father believed it would make them stronger people.
Through a series of interesting events, Christian finds out that the man whom Anna Kendrick’s character, Dana Cummings, works for was embezzling money in order to raise the stock of his own company. Her boss kills the woman that Christian initially suspects, and in doing so, reveals that he is the mastermind, as he barely escapes from the crime scene and heads home for protection. Christian breaks into the mansion in which he is hiding, killing every assassin in his path, except one.
The final assassin is revealed to be Jon Bernthal’s character, Braxton, who is actually Christian’s brother. The reveal is a very emotionally charged scene, as the brothers try to reconcile all of their previous actions and lifestyle choices.
13. 10 Cloverfield Lane – The Cloverfield Connection
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane is tense down to its very core. It’s wonderfully moving with its incredible range of performances, and it’s undeniably scary and mysterious. But for most of the film, the movie’s connection to 2008’s kaiju found footage hit Cloverfield is bafflingly unclear.
The movie starts as an abduction thriller when Winstead’s Michelle is driven off the road and brought by Goodman’s Howard to his survivalist bunker. Howard claims that the world outside has ended and he’s saved Michelle’s life. The first twist: he’s right. The second twist: he’s also a psychotic murderer. And the final twist: the world outside is actually under attack from aliens– thereby providing the tenuous Cloverfield connection. 10 Cloverfield Lane veers from kidnapping film to apocalyptic horror and then finishes as an alien invasion flick, but the strong emotional through-line of Winstead’s character makes it all work.
12. The Walking Dead – Glenn Dies
The Walking Dead has been a show on the slow trajectory downward since its very premiere episode. Many of fans have fallen in and out of love with this program about 10 times since its inception, and that’s because the show strings us along with mere crumbs of excitement, and dares us to tune in to the following episode because maybe, just maybe, someone we love will die. Well, that all changed when Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan entered the program. His performance was so grandiose, so raw, and had such epic build-up, that the show finally delivered like it never had before.
Negan came, he saw, and he made sure Glenn wouldn’t see anything else ever again. The last true semblance of hope that “the group” had left was the relationship between Maggie and Glenn, and the showrunners tore it to shreds in the most incredible fashion. The murder itself was so brutal and unnerving that it was actually physically hard to watch.
11. Don’t Breathe – Don’t Go Into The Basement
Don’t Breathe is easily one of the most intense films of this year. It keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout its entire run time. The basic premise: a couple of kids try to break in to a blind man’s house and rob him, well… blind. But they encounter more than they bargained for when they discover he is an incredibly dangerous military man.
The twist for this film occurs when the protagonists, Rocky (Jane Levy) and Alex (Dylan Minnette), run into the basement in an attempt to escape. They discover something terrifying and haunting: a pregnant woman locked up downstairs. They discover that the blind man (Stephen Lang) had captured and raped this young woman, and is waiting for her to give him a child.
It is also revealed that the young woman actually killed his child in a car accident. The blind man ends up accidentally shooting his captive when she attempts to escape with Alex and Rocky, and he is so distraught that he attempts to employ the same strategy to Rocky when he gets a hold of her. The film ends with Alex being killed by the blind man, and Rocky knocking him down some stairs and leaving him for dead. This was a film that went from being a simple cat and mouse-style thriller to a creepy and surprising kidnapping story, and it’s a truly brilliant one at that.
10. The Handmaiden – The Con Artist Gets Conned
In The Handmaiden, a film directed by Park Chan-Wook, and starring Kim Min-Hee and Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-Hee’s character, Lady Hideko states, “You can even curse at me or steal things from me. But please don’t lie to me. Understand?” And this series of sentences basically sums up the film as a whole.
The film lies to us from the very start, presenting a mutual cooperation between Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) and Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri). This is proven to be a falsehood when Sook-Hee is seemingly betrayed by both Lady Hideko and Count Fujiwara. However, this is another deception, as it’s shown later that Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko were also working together to trick the Count. This film is basically a drift-con story about two crooks trying to steal the inheritance of a wealthy lady. But love forms a stronger connection than material wealth, and the Count ends up getting tricked by both leading ladies.
The film tries to trick you into believing that it is only the story that is about persuasion and trickery, when the film itself is actually conning the audience with unreliable narration and confusing plot devices. It’s a beautifully crafted work of art that basically begs to be carefully rewatched.
9. Mr. Robot – Tyrell Wellick Lives
Mr. Robot is brilliant television that manages to stand out in the golden age of groundbreaking TV. It is the Fight Club of TV, and it’s not afraid to beat us over the head with that fact. It’s a commentary on corporate structure in America, a statement on privacy in our modern culture, a deconstruction of masculinity, and a true look at the lives of hackers. There were two giant twists this season, and we’re talking about the “please return your seat backs to their full upright and locked position” level twists. The first one was discovered quite hastily by the internet. This twist was the fact that Elliot was not taking shelter at his mom’s house, but had in fact voluntarily gone to prison.
It was a satisfying twist that took many of the uninitiated by surprise, but but the second (and best) twist of the season was one that was much harder to guess. The twist we’re referring to, of course, is that Tyrell was indeed real, not a second manifestation of Elliot’s subconscious, and that he was not dead, but was instead seeking helping Mr. Robot all along. Mr. Robot is a reliably unreliable show where the only true lesson is that we must trust that we can’t trust what we see.
8. Game Of Thrones – Hold The Door
Game of Thrones is epic mythological storytelling that is only possible in this modern age of technological advancement, and it’s so damn good too. In the fifth episode of season six of the show, “The Door”, we learned of Hodor’s tragic backstory, and we also learned that Bran had basically primed Hodor to save his life later on, while also causing Hodor to only be able to say his own name.
While Bran was in the thick of his training to become a Warg, he just so happened to mess with the past along the way. Basically Bran is forced to warg into both present day Hodor and past Hodor (Wylis), in order for them to barely escape with their lives, and this action causes Wylis to hear and see his future, and that his greatest feat in life will be holding a door. He keeps repeating the phrase “hold the door” over and over again until he can only utter the word, “Hodor”.
It’s a really emotional scene, and we as viewers are stuck realizing that this giant man that we felt for and trusted along this arduous journey was really stuck in a forward trajectory that would ultimately lead to his demise. It’s yet another giant payoff that keeps Game of Thrones at the top of the television totem pole.
7. Kubo And The Two Strings – Monkey and Beetle
Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of a one-eyed young storyteller who uses his magic shamisen to move origami in order to relay epic tales to the villagers that live beneath the mountain that he lives on with his mother. He tells the story of his father, Hanzo, and how he tried to defeat the vengeful spirit of his grandfather. Kubo becomes wrapped up in an adventure to find his father’s magical armor, and to defeat his grandfather once and for all. Kubo befriends a Beetle and a Monkey along the way, and the three of them are faced with peril around every corner, as they must rid the land of his grandfather’s darkness.
The biggest twist in the film is that the Beetle is revealed to be Kubo’s father, Hanzo, and the Monkey is revealed to be his mother, Sariatu. He ends up filling the hole in his heart that he had for so long when he is finally reunited with his mother and father, and he uses this love to vanquish his grandfather’s presence, and to save the village. It is a truly moving movie, and it is easily one of the most visually stunning films of 2016.
6. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them – GrindelGraves
Gellert Grindelwald is considered to be the second most powerful evil wizard in the Harry Potter universe, second only to the villainous Lord Voldemort. He has a looming presence throughout the original seven novels, and it is said time and time again that he and Albus Dumbledore had somewhat of a sordid past.
For many fans around the world, this was the first time they saw a Harry Potter film without having read the novel first. And that simple fact paid off huge with the reveal in the final act of Newt Scamander’s film debut.
The big twist of course is that Percival Greaves, the villain played by Colin Farrell, was actually just Gellert Grindelwald in disguise. And the second surprise that came along with that reveal was that Johnny Depp was actually portraying him at the end of the movie– it created a great moment for the next films in the series.
5. The Witch – Black Phillip
It can be hard to get excited for modern horror. Horror fans get burned time after time in recent years from films that are supposedly groundbreaking horror movies. However, a couple films this year did surprise us, and they’re both on this list. We’ve talked enough about Don’t Breathe, but the second film this year that surprisingly scratched our horror itch was The Witch. It is a film that is directed by Robert Eggers, and stars Anya Taylor-Joy.
The Witch is a story of a simple family in 1630s New England that is ravaged by witchcraft, the use of black magic, and even the Devil. The big twist of the film is that the family’s goat, which had been acting strangely throughout the movie, was actually the Devil himself. It’s such a bold and monumental choice for such a quiet horror movie and leads to a haunting and oddly triumphant final scene. The Witch proved that we could once again be excited about the possibilities of modern day horror films.
4. Stranger Things – Will’s slug and Hopper’s Eggos
It’s no wonder Stranger Things ended up being one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of this year. It’s concentrated nostalgia that had something to say. Stranger Things is the story of a group of boys who love playing Dungeons & Dragons, and who befriend a telekinetic Eggo-loving science experiment of a girl, named Eleven. It’s just the kind of crazy plot that the ’80s thrived on. It has elements of Close Encounters, E.T., The Goonies, and did we mention Eggos! The show kept us on the edge of our seats as we tried to guess what supernatural force was haunting the small town in Indiana where the events of the series take place.
There were actually two big twists at the end of the program, and they both involved the looming involvement of the mysterious “Upside Down”. It is revealed at the end of the final episode that Will still has some of the Demogorgon lurking inside of his body, as he spits up a parasite into his bathroom sink. And the most intriguing twist is that Chief Hopper is shown bringing Eggos to a mysterious area of the forest. Does this mean that Eleven is still alive? Or maybe it just implies that Hopper is hoping she might be? The second season of the show cannot get here soon enough.
3. This Is Us – One Family, Two Timelines
This is Us is the most brilliant piece of family drama introduced to TV in 2016. It is a show that is full of humor, suspense, stakes, heartbreak, and the entire remainder of the emotional spectrum. It makes us want to be better people, it helps us to reconcile with the fact that nobody in this world is perfect, and it teaches us to be tolerant of every human being around us. It is not just great television, it is important television.
There was some great escapist entertainment presented this year, but This Is Us taught us more about ourselves and our world. And the twist that is presented in the premiere of the show was so elegant and seamless, that it blew our minds by hitting us directly in the heart.
At the end of the premiere, it is revealed that the show takes place in two separate timelines, one in the past and one in the present. It also shows that everyone that you’ve come to know in the first episode all know each other, and are a single family. And if for some reason you aren’t currently watching this show, don’t fret, this reveal does not ruin the show in the slightest. If you are looking for something to binge and you’re not afraid to make a couple of runs to the grocery store to pick up extra tissues, this show is for you.
2. Westworld – Basically Everything
That’s right, viewer. You’re in a dream.
Westworld is groundbreaking entertainment. Westworld is escapist fiction that makes us truly realize that at our most basic, we are animals with desires that drive us. We wish to know all, create all, and apparently have sex with all. There are so many twists along the way; realizing that Delores is lying to Bernard, finding out that The Man in Black was actually William all along, and when Ford takes his own life to become “his music”. But the biggest twist of season one has to be that Bernard was actually the “host” version of Arnold the entire time. Nothing made us reel like this single reveal did. It’s pretty crazy to think that in one season this show became one of the most exciting shows on television, but it id. Here’s hoping that the magic that Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams were able to build remains in its follow-up season.
1. Arrival – Flashbacks are flashforwards
Denis Villeneuve has yet to make even a mediocre film. Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario; these are all brilliant and diverse films that moved us with their intensity and drama. Arrival, his most recent film starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner continues his hot streak and allows him to create a very different kind of sci-fi encounter story. Arrival tells the story of Dr. Louise Banks. The entire film is based around her attempts at communicating with an alien presence that has touched down on Earth in 12 distinct locations.
The big twist in the film occurs when the aliens allow her to see time as a “constant figure” rather than as a timeline, and she is able to see into her own future. She is able to help to quell the other governments’ plans to bomb the spacecrafts. We also realize that flashbacks the audience has been privy to throughout the film were actually flashforwards to the death of her daughter, who is revealed to be the future child of Louise and Ian. It’s hard to touch such basic human emotion when dealing with a story of this magnitude, but Villeneuve appears to do it effortlessly. Here’s hoping he can bring the same kind of magic to Blade Runner 2049.
So what do you think of this list of the craziest twists of 2016? Were there any that you would have wished to see make an appearance? Sound off below with your own list of shocking films and television programs.