M. Night Shymalan’s new movie, Split, opens in theaters this weekend, and if history has taught us anything, it’s that the director most likely has a monster of a twist to unveil before the film’s end. Shymalan has become synonymous with surprise endings, and why not? Audiences love a good twist. They confound our expectations and have to power to elevate or change the story that you’ve been watching for the last two hours. Though a good twist ending seems to come out of left field, often times you find yourself watching the credits, thinking, “I should have seen that coming.”
The next 15 movies on this list are examples of twists that you should have seen coming, either through the clues, the casting decisions, the scripts or the directors behind the cameras. They can be the kind of twists that reveal themselves on a second or third viewing or ones that are so obvious that you can predict them in the first five minutes. These aren’t necessarily the best or worst movie twists ever, just the ones that left you kicking yourself for not figuring out sooner.
And if you couldn’t see this coming, since this article deals with twists, there are obvious spoilers ahead!
Here are the 16 Huge Movie Twists You Should Have Seen Coming.
15. The Village
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 mystery centers around a quiet isolated town in Pennsylvania. The residents of the village keep to themselves, and never leave the community for fear of mysterious creatures that occupy the surrounding woods. The outside force is so unnerving, that no villager dare leave the town border lines, that is until Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) gets himself wounded. Out of options, his lover Ivy (who is blind) journeys out into the woods in search for help. Unknowingly, Ivy stumbles onto the modern world, revealing to the audience that the tale told of olde has actually occurred in modern day.
Shyamalan has become a filmmaker known for incorporating twist endings into his movies, some of them stronger than others, with The Village being somewhat easy to predict. For starters, the fact that the opening credits depict a town in Pennsylvania, but does not show what year, is a dead indicator that it’s probably not in the period it suggests. The mere fact that this is a Shyamalan movie alone proposes that the “creatures” aren’t what they appear to be. The Village is unfortunately a twist that is not only predictable, but one that has very little payoff.
Most psychological thrillers have a twist ending that are meant to change the audience’s perception of what they’ve been watching for the past few hours, and Identity actually has two of them. James Mangold’s mind-bender has two different storylines developing throughout; that of a murderer, Malcolm Rivers, who is on trial, and a tale of eleven strangers who are held up in a hotel being killed off one by one by an unnamed killer.
Midway through, it is revealed that the strangers in the hotel are merely differently personalities that occupy Rivers’ mind. Each are being killed off by his psychotic personality so that it is the last one standing. In the end, it seems that Ray Liotta’s character is the killer and is finally dispatched of. However, it is revealed in the end that the killer personality has actually been a small boy named Timmy, who kills the last remaining personality so he is the only one left.
Given that the movie seems to be going with a relatively positive ending, the audience can smell a twist coming a mile away. Most viewers had it pegged halfway through that the killer would be the least obvious suspect, and who’s less obvious than a ten-year-old kid as a psychotic murderer? Couple that with the fact that the film is titled Identity, and the twist becomes fairly obvious in hindsight. Let’s hope that Mangold doesn’t rely heavily on a too obvious reveal with Logan.
13. Angel Heart
One part horror and one part mind-bender, Alan Parker’s Angel Heart is a crime/mystery with excellent performances from Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, but has a twist ending that lays on the clues maybe a little too thick. The reveal in the end explains that Rourke’s character, Harry Angel, has really been that of Johnny Favorite, a jazz/blues singer who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for stardom and riches. It’s also revealed that De Niro’s character, who is the devil, has corrupted the soul of Angel to take claim over both personalities.
Though Angel Heart is a fantastic thriller, one of the best from the ’80s, its shocking twist isn’t that hard to forecast. For one, Robert De Niro’s name is Louis Cyphre, which doesn’t make it that difficult to predict that he’s the Devil incognito. The second reveal, that the character of Johnny Favorite actually stole the soul of soldier Harry Angel, is obvious on hindsight, given the enormous amount of flashbacks that setup the plot point. Though it is certainly a spooky thriller worth you time, Angel Heart is a movie that practically spells out its twist, both metaphorically and literally.
12. Saw 3D
Though Lionsgate is still planning to move forward with Saw: Legacy, the long-running horror franchise was originally going to wrap with Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, in which we see Detective Hoffman end up in the bathroom where the story first began. The man who put him there was Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), who sawed off his foot to escape Jigsaw’s trap and wasn’t seen or heard from again. It’s revealed in The Final Chapter that Jigsaw nursed Gordon back to health, and recruited him as his final accomplice.
There’s several reasons why Gordon is obviously in cahoots with Jigsaw; for one, Gordon shows up early in the movie in a bit part at a self-help group for Jigsaw’s victims. This heavily implies that the character will play a major role down the line, otherwise why bring Gordon back at all? It was also speculated that Gordon would return to the franchise as the sole survivor from the first film, and there would be little to no reason to explain his return if he wasn’t involved with Jigsaw in some way. The Saw movies have certainly become infamous for their gimmicky endings, but Saw 3D was one surprise finale where the twist wasn’t the best kept secret.
11. The Number 23
Jim Carrey has proven to not only be a powerhouse comedic actor, but a well-accomplished dramatic performer with hits like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If there’s one genre that Carrey does not gel with however, it’s that of horror, evident by Joel Schumacher’s 2007 thriller, The Number 23.
Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a man obsessed with a book he finds about the number 23. Suddenly, Sparrow sees the number everywhere he goes, and embarks on a quest to find the person who wrote the book. It turns out that the author of the book, Fingerling, was Sparrow all along, who wrote it out of grief after he killed his cheating girlfriend.
The Number 23 doesn’t take too long to figure out from the get-go. The gimmick that the main character is actually the killer is something that’s been done in thrillers for years, and it’s only made further apparent when Sparrow and Fingerling are revealed to be so much alike. The excuse that the character can’t remember anything by amnesia is also a plot device that has become cliché, and by the movie’s end most viewers probably wished they could wipe the thoughts of this predictable twist from their memory banks as well.
10. Phone Booth
Another Joel Schumacher production, Phone Booth is a surprisingly effective claustrophobic thriller that revolves around Stu Shepard, who is being held at sniper-point in a phone booth by a mysterious gunman. After being terrorized for the better part of an hour, it finally appears as though the gunman has been caught by the police, having killed himself inside the hotel room he was hiding out in. The audience is made to think that the killer is a pizza guy Stu had an altercation with at the beginning of the movie, but we later find out that the bad guy is really someone else who framed the pizza boy and got away free.
While the twist is rather clever in its own right, Schumacher made the mistake of casting Kiefer Sutherland to voice the gunman. Sutherland, as good and creepy as his performance is, has a pretty distinctive voice, which leads the audience to believe that the real killer isn’t a pizza guy who talks with a heavy New York accent. Though we commend Shumacher for trying out a surprising reveal, maybe next time go with an actor whose voice isn’t as recognizable as Sutherland’s.
9. The Dark Knight Rises
When Christopher Nolan announced that he was going to be making a follow-up to his smash hit, The Dark Knight, the hype level for Batman fans was at an all-time high. There was so much speculation surrounding The Dark Knight Rises that fans everywhere were dissecting every second of trailers, photos and casting decisions to find hidden clues about the story. One of the more obvious clues was when actress Marion Cotillard became attached to the project, and even though she was reportedly cast as a character named Miranda Tate, fans predicted from day one that she was really playing Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul.
Although Cotillard and Nolan both denied the casting rumor, it seemed obvious that such a big a name as Cotillard’s wouldn’t be playing a larger role in the movie. As it so happens, fans were proved right when it was revealed in the third act that Tate was really Talia, out for revenge for the death of her father. If the casting decision wasn’t enough to warrant suspicions, the scene where Talia opens up about her past to Bruce foreshadows her true identity, almost mirroring Liam Neeson’s monologue from Batman Begins. It was a twist that most already saw coming and one that wasn’t well received, given that it significantly reduced Bane’s role to that of a lackey, and resulted in one of the more awkward death scenes when Talia finally bit the big one.
More than 50 years later, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains as one of the most effective pieces or psychological thrillers. The director’s movie broke ground by killing off the main character at the midway point, having scenes of intense violence (even though nothing is really shown) and for having one of the most shocking twist endings in all of cinema when it is revealed that the deranged Norman Bates, who dresses up as his deceased mother, has been the killer the entire time.
No doubt this ending floored audiences upon its release in 1960, and still shocks viewers today for Hitchcock’s brilliant technique in suspense. However, on repeat viewings there is a subtle clue given by Bates himself that foreshadows the inevitable conclusion. When Marion Bates first has a conversation with Norman, he describes his mother by saying, “But she’s harmless. She’s as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.” We don’t realize it at the time, but what Norman is saying is factually true, as he keeps his dead mother’s corpse in the basement just like he would one of his stuffed fowl. It’s a subtle hint of foreshadowing, but makes all the more sense after that shocking reveal that stunned an entire generation of moviegoers.
7. The Prestige
A true modern-day auteur, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker that has never skimped on delivering a surprise ending. His neo-noir Memento ends on a note that our protagonist has caused his own downfall, and his sci-fi epic Interstellar has its hero discover that he was the one sending messages to his daughter from the future. While there are an array of Nolan films with mind-boggling climaxes, we think the one that is the most rewarding is Borden’s magic trick reveal in The Prestige.
Throughout the entire movie, the audience has been kept in suspense how Christian Bale’s Alfred Borden has been able to pull off his disappearing magic trick. In a stunning reveal, Borden confesses that he actually has a twin brother, Fallon, and they have been taking turns playing the magician. This explains several things in the story, such as why Borden couldn’t remember what knots he tied, why his fingers kept bleeding, why he changed his mind when buying a house, and why it appeared he loved his wife some days but not others.
It is because the character was actually two brothers that Borden’s personality kept changing. Indeed, the biggest foreshadowing is Michael Caine’s speech in the beginning, which details the process of the magic trick Borden is able to pull off. Though the twist seems to come out of nowhere at first, Nolan leaves several clues sprinkled throughout the narrative that only heighten the payoff. We just wish that his rival’s cloning machine was as easy to see coming.
6. The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan is considered the king of movie twists and The Sixth Sense is the one that kick-started the director’s reputation 18 years ago. In it, a small boy played by Haley Joel Osment can inexplicably see the ghosts of dead people who often don’t realize that they’re deceased. He eventually seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist played by Bruce Willis, who appears to be neglecting his wife and devoting most of his time to the child. As it turns out, Willis’s character has been dead for the majority of the movie, and only in the final few minutes does he realize that he’s actually dead.
The Sixth Sense if often considered one of the most effective examples of twist endings. Indeed, on a first viewing going in cold, you probably didn’t see the twist coming, but on a second or third viewing, the clues will start to add up. Willis’s Dr. Crowe doesn’t interact with a single character except for Osment’s, a fact that is easy to miss based on his tumultuous relationship with his wife. And while we believe that Crowe is having marital problems, his wife is simply trying to move on from his death. Also on hindsight, the opening when Crowe is shot makes more sense, as does the fact that an explanation is never given on how he survives or why he ever brings the incident up. Though Shymalan has had an up-and-down career, The Sixth Sense’s twist only seem to get better on repeat viewings over the years.
5. Shutter Island
In Martin Scorsese’s 2010 Shutter Island, Leonardo DiCaprio plays U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels, who is investigating a disappearance at a mental hospital located on a secluded island. Teddy spends most of the movie trying to unravel the mystery on Shutter Island, wandering down dark hallways and interviewing suspicious staff and patients. Eventually, the audience gets clued in on the twist: the entire movie has transpired only in Teddy’s mind, who suffers from a mental disorder after murdering his wife for killing their children.
Any time there’s a mystery set inside an insane asylum, it’s usually assumed that someone who is initially thought to be sane will be revealed to be crazy. That person in Shutter Island is the main character, Teddy, who only imagines the plot of the movie as a form of experimental therapy. Scorsese drops several clues that indicate Teddy’s mental instability, like the character constantly seen fearing water, a trigger he associates with his family’s demise. One of the patients also identifies the character as a marshal before he introduces himself as one, which explains the charade everyone is going along with. Perhaps the biggest clue is the staff trying to cover up the existence of a Dr. Sheehan. This is actually Teddy’s partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), who is really his therapist in real life. In the end, Teddy accepts his fate, and opts out of it by deciding to get lobotomized, which is no doubt how most audiences felt by the movie’s finale.
4. The Book of Eli
Set in a post apocalyptic future, The Book of Eli follows a drifter, Eli, who wanders around with a unique book he keeps closely guarded that may hold the secret to saving mankind. As word spreads, other more dangerous people also become interested in obtaining Eli’s book, and he must fight through a murderous gang if there’s any hope to preserve the story it tells for future generations.
As it turns out, the book that Eli has been carrying around has actually been the Bible, but that’s not the real twist. It’s revealed that our hero, Eli, has been blind the entire time, and that the book he carries around is written in brail. Given his impressive fighting and shooting skills, Eli turning out to be as blind as a bat might have surprised audiences on the initial viewing, but on repeat watches there are several clues in scenes that hint at this key information. Eli takes the time to listen to observe his surroundings, like when he senses a cats heartbeat. He also uses his hands and his sense of smell to navigate around, and only shoots in the directions he can hear a sound. Though the twist is cleverly set up, it doesn’t much explain how Eli manages to avoid all those bullets that are constantly being fired at him.
3. The Usual Suspects
Audience were left shocked when they first saw Bryan Singer’s thriller, The Usual Suspects, a movie that ends with the reveal that the harmless cripple, Verbal (Kevin Spacey), was actually underworld kingpin, Keyser Soze, the entire time. And while most of us sat there scratching our heads by the film’s end, Singer actually sets up a fair amount of clues that reveal the infamous twist on repeat viewings.
For one, Soze constructs his fabricated story, which takes up the bulk of the movie, from the random clippings and pages posted on a bulletin board. Though a viewer wouldn’t pick up on it on a first viewing, the bulletin board is in plain sight, and we can actually see how Soze is able to piece together the information. Even more obvious, is that Kevin Spacey is clearly seen and heard as the shooter in the beginning of the movie, and the remaining runtime tricks audiences into thinking what we’ve just seen happen, didn’t actually happen at all.
But perhaps the most obvious of clues is in Keyser Soze’s name itself. Turkish speakers might have picked up on the twist more easily than others, given that in Turkish the translation of Soze means “talks too much” or translated more closely, “verbal.” Verbal is the name that Soze goes by in the film, which means that if you were first watching the movie with a friend who could speak Turkish, you might have had the twist ruined for you before it was ever set up.
2. Fight Club
It’s hard to believe that almost 20 years have gone by since Fight Club first bended audiences’ minds with its shocking twist ending. David Fincher’s neo-noir tells the story of a lonely office worker, who is simply described as “The Narrator,” and an underground cult he starts with an eccentric soap salesman, Tyler Durden. Of course, the big reveal is that Durden doesn’t exist. He’s merely an extension of the Narrator’s imagination. Though it’s certainly known as one of the best twists in movie history, if you rewatch the film, you’ll notice that Fincher hid a bunch of clues that give away the reveal.
For starters, there’s the numerous cases of subliminally flashing Tyler across the screen before he ever shows up. Quick edits of the character can be seen in the group therapy scenes and while the Narrator is in the hospital. You can also see Tyler in a commercial that the Narrator is watching while in a hotel room. Other clues in the movie are a bit harder to find, such as when Tyler calls the Narrator back on a payphone. If you look closely at the pay phone, it clearly says “no incoming phone calls allowed,” indicating that Tyler can’t call back because he isn’t real. There’s also that confusing scene between the Narrator and Marla in his kitchen, which makes way more sense when it’s revealed that Tyler and the Narrator are one in the same.
1. Planet of the Apes
In addition to being one of the most enduring sci-fi films, Planet of the Apes is also one of the smartest, with a script that explores the conflicts and inequalities of the 1960s. The ending shot of Charlton Heston pounding his fists into the sand as he gazes up at the charred remains of the Statue of Liberty is one of cinema’s most memorable moments. How stunned were audiences in 1968 when they learned that instead of pushing onward, the human race instead imploded, leading to a civilization ruled by primates.
Though the reveal that Heston and his fellow astronauts had been stranded on Earth all along left audiences gasping, there are indicators from the beginning that the explorers have been home all along. When the story starts, Heston’s Taylor states that the ship they were was already set to journey back to Earth, and the “artifacts” discovered of dolls and glasses are perhaps a tad too coincidental to come from an alien world. Perhaps the most glaring giveaway in the movie however, is that the apes speak the same language as Taylor does: English! Though the ending scene will still send a shiver down your spine, it’s hard not to at least consider the possibility that the “maniacs” on the mysterious planet have been humans from Earth all along.