Plot twists and major reveals are extremely handy tools filmmakers use to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and always guessing about what will happen next. When handled properly, twists can add a healthy amount of substance to the final narrative, giving viewers a new aspect to chew over, leading them to see certain elements in a different light. They also, by definition, all but warrant repeat viewings, since the revelations change the perception we have of a movie and how we interpret key scenes and moments.
But even if twists are played up for the surprise factor, it doesn’t mean they come out of the blue to mix things up. Directors have shown they’re willing to include little hints of what’s to come, giving attentive viewers a head start on learning all the deep secrets. Here are Screen Rant’s 10 Best Movie Clues You Totally Missed.
Twin Pines Mall – Back to the Future
The big shocker at the end of Back to the Future is that the 1985 Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returns to is not the same one he left in the beginning of the film. His father is a rich and famous sci-fi author, Biff has a job washing cars, and Marty has the truck of his dreams to go cruising down the highway. However, director Robert Zemeckis made his great reveal a little earlier in the film, well before it was spelled out via Marty’s new family history.
Sparing himself enough time so he can warn Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) about the impending Libyan terrorist attach, Marty sprints back to the location where he went back in time: Twin Pines Mall. But when he runs by the sign, you may notice that the shopping center’s name has been changed to “Lone Pine Mall,” a direct result of Marty running over one of Farmer Peabody’s pine trees with the Delorean when he first arrived in 1955. This was an indication that his actions had far greater implications than just getting his parents back together, and Marty had seriously changed things while he was 30 years in the past.
A Familiar Flavor… – 21 Jump Street
In Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are two undercover cops looking to unravel a high school drug operation. Their mission is simple: infiltrate the dealer, find the supplier. Thanks to a helpful sticker with a phone number, getting to know dealer Eric (Dave Franco) is easy, but the two spend the rest of the film struggling to find out who the mastermind of the operation is before it’s too late. If the heroes had only just remembered what they said, they would have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble.
Shortly after taking some of the drug HFS, Jenko notes that the substance has a cool ranch taste to it, a throwaway line that few probably even noticed. While the duo walk back to their classes, they run into Coach Walters (Rob Riggle), who is snacking on a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos during his conversation with Schmidt and Jenko. In the film’s third act, we learn that Walters is the supplier, hoping to make a big score at the school’s prom night. Granted, Jenko was high on drugs at the time of their initial encounter, but he still should have been able to put 2 and 2 together and at least investigate Walters at some point in his assignment – instead of almost losing his job.
Big Tippers – Reservoir Dogs
After a jewel heist goes horribly wrong, Quentin Tarantino’s cast of thieves are convinced that there’s a rat in their midst, with the survivors left to find out which one of their team may be working with the police. A collection of bottles hints that Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) isn’t on the same side as Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) or Pink (Steve Buscemi), but the undercover LAPD officer actually lets his secret slip in the very first scene.
First, he changes his mind to fit in with his fellow thief. Then when the group is asked who didn’t tip for their breakfast, Orange immediately squeals, showing he doesn’t subscribe to the same code as his partners. If only they’d caught it, the movie’s ending might have been a lot less messy.
Flashes of Tyler – Fight Club
Even though Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the Narrator (Edward Norton) spend a majority of Fight Club seemingly as two people, they are actually one and the same, with the former being a split personality the latter created to escape his boring everyday life. Though the Narrator is in sheer disbelief after learning this fact, it honestly wasn’t all that surprising for eagle-eyed viewers. In the film’s first act, director David Fincher practically gives the big twist away through a series of little hints that act as a trail of breadcrumbs for those paying attention.
During the beginning of the film, when the Narrator is struggling with his insomnia, Tyler makes extremely brief appearances that last for a single frame (1/24 of a second) five times. These include Mr. Durden standing by the photocopier at the Narrator’s job and in the hallway outside the doctor’s office, when the Narrator first learns about the testicular cancer support group. This is a sign that the Narrator is clearly imagining Tyler and is close to unleashing him on the world. If the flash frames weren’t obvious of a clue enough, consider the fact that Tyler calls the Narrator on a pay phone that explicitly states it does not accept incoming calls. It seems like the secret was the last thing Fincher cared about with this story.
An Unfriendly Ghost – The Sixth Sense
At the end of The Sixth Sense, audiences famously find out that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is actually a ghost, and learn that the story was just as much about the young Cole (Haley Joel Osment) helping Crowe deal with his new condition as it was about Crowe aiding Cole master his gifts. It’s one of the most mind-blowing twists in cinematic history that caught many viewers off guard, making them immediately want to see the movie again. But throughout the film’s running time, director M. Night Shyamalan sprinkled in some little details to suggest that Crowe wasn’t amongst the living. Chief among them is his limited interaction with human beings.
Since Cole is Crowe’s “patient,” it makes sense for them to spend a lot of time with each other, but even Crowe had to think it was a little odd that he didn’t have any direct conversations with anyone other than Cole after the film’s opening scene (when he is shot to death). A famous example is when Crowe arrives late to an anniversary dinner, and his wife doesn’t even acknowledge his presence before leaving the table. Crowe is also ignored in the doctor’s office, when Cole’s mother is being informed about her son’s injuries. The clues are subtle enough to not ruin the surprise upon a first viewing, but repeat viewings make it far more clear.
A Glass Half Full – Shutter Island
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) believes that he and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are two federal Marshalls tasked with finding Ashecliffe’s missing patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The film’s plot is revealed to be an elaborate role playing game set up by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to help Teddy (real name: Andrew Laeddis) come to terms with his condition as one of the inmates at Ashecliffe. It’s a heartbreaking moment for the character, as he is confronted with the gut-wrenching realities of his actions (which caused the deaths of his family members), but attentive viewers had a long time to prepare for the big blow.
Early on in the film, Teddy and Chuck interview Ashecliffe patients about “Rachel,” an a major hint is dropped that Teddy’s experience is less than reliable. When a patient requests a drink during her interview, the glass she drinks from is non-existent, returning only when it has been completely drained. Teddy’s fear of water may be actively censoring what he does, and doesn’t see, but regardless, it’s just one of the clues that show the investigation is not what it seems.
Keyser’s Gold Lighter – The Usual Suspects
Audiences were stunned to learn that the unassuming, seemingly gullible Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) had fabricated the story he told Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) and is actually the ruthless criminal mastermind Keyser Soze. It’s a great and shocking twist that few saw coming, but viewers who have high attention to detail had their big “a-ha” moment a little before Kujan did. Bryan Singer sprinkled little hints throughout the film, chief among them a gold cigarette lighter.
In the movie’s opening sequence, Soze has a brief conversation with Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) before killing him. During their talk, Soze lights a cigarette using what is clearly a gold lighter. Towards the end of the drama, when Verbal is checking out of the police station, his belongings include a gold watch, a pack of cigarettes, and a gold lighter. Call it coincidence if you want, but it seems odd for Singer to specifically give Verbal that item if it wasn’t meant to be a clue about the bomb he was about to drop. That the lighter is lingered on for a moment while Kint lights up on the street proves that the director was testing our memory.
No Strike, He’s Out – The Big Lebowski
Since the film’s starring duo spends most of their time dismissing their fellow bowler, Donny (Steve Buscemi), viewers might not notice that every time he’s shown bowling, he gets a strike – until his final game. He seems as confused as anyone when he leaves pins standing, but exits the bowling alley to face off against a group of violent nihilists, where he succumbs to a heart attack and dies. Turns out, his last bowl was an ominous piece of foreshadowing. What would have happened if he’d thrown a gutter ball? The Coen brothers did send Buscemi through a wood chipper, after all…
Look to the Birds – The Prestige
Throughout The Prestige, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is obsessed with trying to learn how Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is able to pull off his greatest trick – the Transported Man. He eventually recreates the trick by using sci-fi technology to copy himself, destroying the evidence by drowning himself each time the new copy appears to wow audiences. In the end, Borden’s explanation is a twin brother, not actual magic – a secret discovered early on by a young boy unconvinced by a ‘disappearing bird’ trick, wondering “where the birds brother is.” The boy sees what the audience doesn’t, but even Borden’s rival and his horrifying loop of suicide is explained using the same dead bird, claiming that the bird who cued the applause was “the lucky one today.” Not only a massive clue as to exactly what Angier is up to, but a major theme of the entire film.
The Mark of Shadows – The Dark Knight Rises
The third of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films finds Bruce Wayne surprised and devastated, discovering his corporate ally and lover “Miranda Tate” (Marion Cotillard) is actually Talia al Ghul, daughter of Batman Begins villain Ra’s al Gaul (Liam Neeson). But her membership in the League of Shadows is foreshadowed long before she confesses it. Bruce makes a note of a triangular scar on her back which is never explained, but is eerily similar to those covering Bane’s head, implying a link between the two.
Some fans have even argued that the scar resembles the brand of the League seen in Batman Begins, but whatever the case, having a villain covered in scars suggested there was more to “Miranda” than met the eye.
Plot twists are arguably an overplayed element of filmmaking, but when they’re handled right, they lead to excellent results that add layers of intrigue to the movie. Especially in an age where set photos and videos run rampant on social media (spoiling certain sequences months before release), directors are always looking for ways to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. And that means that along the way, they’ll want to provide clues within their projects so people can piece the elements together. It makes movie watching more fun and immersive, so this practice is certainly welcomed.
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share some of your favorite movie clues in the comments section below and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos!