The all-time great plot twists in cinematic history have left audience members’ jaws firmly on the floor with unexpected revelations that changed the whole course of the film. Once the credits roll, audiences were left with a “Wow, I did not see that coming” moment that they could share (or spoil) with friends, online, or at the office.
But as we’ll see, some spoilers are so well-known that a large section of the audience will know them even before seeing the film. This could be down to the twist being an integral part of cinematic folklore, an antsy studio overstuffing their trailers in an effort to drive up ticket sales, or internet speculation following the casting of a renowned actor in a seemingly minor part.
Here’s our 15 Worst-Kept Spoilers In Movie History. We don’t need to give you a spoiler warning here, do we?
15. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
News of Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens hit the internet well ahead of the film’s release and spoiled the film’s most daring decision for many (even after many fans chose to undergo internet blackouts in order to avoid spoilers), but perhaps this was for the best. After all, killing off one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars is a gutsy call, a call that J.J. Abrams felt was necessary to establish Kylo Ren as a worthy successor to cinema’s greatest villain, Darth Vader. Han dying by his own son’s hand ruined the childhood of many an audience member, and some may have needed time to come to terms with this before they entered the movie theatre.
But give J.J. Abrams credit — he did what George Lucas couldn’t. Harrison Ford had originally asked for Solo to be killed off in Return of the Jedi. Lucas refused this request, ostensibly under the pretence of completing the Han and Leia story-arc. There was also the small matter of merchandizing, with Ford commenting: “George didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.”
Will there be another tremor in the force when Star Wars: Episode XIII comes out next year?
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Movie posters are great. They give us a sense of what to expect in an upcoming film, tantalise us with characters, and, well, they just look really cool. But how do you advertise a film that has a big twist? A twist that only comes in the final act of a movie defined by its clammy, nail-biting tension?
Well, the solution the marketing department for 10 Cloverfield Lane decided to take in several territories was to drop the twist front and centre on the poster. That’s right, the poster actually features Mary Elizabeth Winstead fleeing from an alien spaceship. For those of you who haven’t actually seen the film, the film’s whole setup is based on Winstead’s Michelle and another character being held in a bunker by a man who claims the outside world has come under a chemical attack. Is he telling the truth, or have Michelle and her new companion been taken hostage? Well, if you’ve seen the poster, you know the answer.
13. Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Never has a movie been as hyped as Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The coverage before its release was all-consuming. Speculation was rife over the plot, characters, and whether it would live up to the legendary first Star Wars trilogy. People even spent their hard earned money on tickets for turgid Bruce Willis/Denzel Washington thriller The Siege just to see The Phantom Menace’s trailer as early as possible. And if ever a trailer hid the quality of a film, it was that one.
Star Wars fans also went out in droves to buy the film’s soundtrack, released a few weeks ahead of the film. Unfortunately, this contained a piece of music non-too-subtly titled “Qui-Gon’s Noble End” — the same Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) who just so happens to be one of the film’s leads. Even a novice padawan would be able to guess Qui-Gon wouldn’t be around for the next two installments. Clearly, the force failed the Fox marketing department in regards to this self-inflicted spoiler.
12. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
We’re not going to get into the critical drubbing that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received. No, that dead horse has been beaten enough. What we are going to get into, however, is how spoilerific its third trailer was. First up, it reveals Wonder Woman’s in the film. Okay, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was a listed cast member. Also, there was a bunch of posters released featuring Gal Gadot dressed as Wonder Woman. Both giveaways that somewhat excuse the trailer.
Yet the trailer’s worst offense is actually showing Batman and Superman (and, ahem, Wonder Woman) uniting to fight Doomsday, our sparring heroes’ common enemy. That’s right, the trailer did exactly what fans were worried it had done — it revealed that the three heroes would come together to fight Doomsday in the end, thereby spoonfeeding viewers the final act before we even sat down in theaters. While it’d be naïve to assume Bats and Supes were going to duke it out until Krypton-come, there was no need to be so blatant about it. By contrast, the Captain America: Civil War trailer shows there’s no love lost between Iron Man and the Cap, but we’re also fairly certain that we haven’t seen the final fight yet.
11. The Usual Suspects
Simply put, the twist in The Usual Suspects is the stuff of legend. Throughout the film, you’re led to believe that Gabriel Byrne’s bent cop Keaton is really the master criminal Keyser Soze. Only at the very end is the rug completely pulled from under you with the revelation that it’s Kevin Spacey’s unassuming character Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint. And you’ve got to hand it to Verbal when he says: “Keaton always said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.’ Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.” That’s a fine piece of self-promotion. This twist turned a decent independent crime thriller from fledgling director Bryan Singer into a cultural phenomenon.
Nowadays, commentators presume everyone knows the ending and don’t even bother to hide the twist. Take the UK’s Guardian newspaper recent article ‘How we made The Usual Suspects’. The piece quotes Bryan Singer as saying “Soze was written with Kevin Spacey in mind” in its second paragraph. No spoiler warning.
Se7en’s a bleak film, there’s no getting around that fact. But it’s also one of the most memorable films of the ‘90s. Partly this was due to the excellent performances, incredible set design, and the innovative direction of David Fincher, who wasn’t going to let the Alien 3 debacle keep him down. But what most people remember is the shocking ending, which is right up there with the ending of The Vanishing (the original version, not the US remake). At the climax of the movie, captured serial killer John Doe (played by a scary-as-hell Kevin Spacey) reveals to Agent John Mills (Brad Pitt) and Agent Somerset (Morgan Freeman) that a certain box actually contains the head of Mills’ wife, Tracy. For audiences at the time, this revelation was like a punch to the gut, much like it was to Agent Mills, who proceeds to shoot John Doe dead. Now, pretty much everyone knows the ending.
With such a bleak finale, you won’t be surprised to know New Line, the studio behind Se7en, investigated some different endings. One has a more action-orientated ending, with Mills and Somerset in a race to save Tracey’s life. Another has Somerset kill John Doe in order to save his partner from a lengthy prison sentence. And in yet another version, Doe kills Mills then Somerset kills Doe.
But Fincher had an even bleaker ending in mind. Instead of the final scenes being Somerset’s reading of a line from Hemingway, which offered a slight bit of hope for the audience, Fincher wanted it to end with Mills shooting Doe followed by a few seconds of silence then, bam, roll the credits. Bleak.
9. Planet of the Apes
Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) crashes on an alien planet ruled by apes. The film’s shocking climax reveals the planet is actually Earth, which Taylor discovers the hard way by finding New York’s crumbling Statue of Liberty.
It would be hard for modern viewers to share in Taylor’s surprise, however. Almost every poster, DVD cover and pretty much everything else associated with the 1968 classic features a shot of a defeated Taylor kneeling next to the fallen symbol of America.
But Planet of the Apes is still worth watching today, despite the dated ape costumes and well-known ending. The film is subversive with surprisingly daring themes, tackling inequality in a thoughtful manner – once you get past the apes’s stiff-upper-lip English accents. It’s also worth watching to witness Taylor bellow one of the greatest lines in any movie ever made: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell.”
8. Shutter Island
Shutter Island’s trailer provides all the clues needed to work out that Leonardo DiCaprio’s U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is in fact a patient on the eponymous island for the criminally insane. Not only does it feature Daniels looking seriously unhinged, the trailer also talks about a manhunt for escaped inmate “patient 67,” before going on to show Daniels having some truly psychotic dreams about his dead wife. From there, it’s not too much of a jump to suspect that maybe this U.S. Marshal might have found himself on the right island.
It’s a pity the trailer gives so much away. Director Martin Scorsese cleverly peppers the film with clues as to Teddy’s real state of mind: The guards tighten their grip on their guns whenever Teddy comes near, a patient slips him a piece of paper saying “Run” (i.e. escape the mental asylum) and there are other telltale signs, as shown in our breakdown of Shutter Island’s ending.
7. The Empire Strikes Back
Today, everyone and their Wookiee knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad. But before the release of The Empire Strikes Back, this was a closely guarded secret. Well, it was until David Prowse, who played Darth Vader (his physical presence at least — James Earl Jones provided the voice), blurted out Luke’s paternity just before the film’s release.
A furious George Lucas has reportedly never forgiven Prowse for this blunder. In an interview with the UK’s The Sun newspaper, Prowse claims Lucas has gone so far as to ban him from official Star Wars conventions. He also claims that Lucas had initially promised Prowse that it would be the former bodybuilder’s face Luke sees when he removes Vader’s mask at the end of Return of the Jedi. Instead, Lucas hired Sebastian Shaw to take on the iconic scene. Prowse might be able to take cold comfort in Disney rejecting Lucas’s ideas for the Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens.
6. Soylent Green
Soylent Green is people. You know this, we know this, everybody knows this. Yet it takes two solid hours for Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) to utter “Spread the word. Soylent Green is people.” Dude, we know already.
Soylent Green is set in a future where an overpopulated Earth has exhausted most of its natural resources. As Thorn digs deeper, he begins to suspect that the company behind the the only thing left to eat on this rock, Soylent Industries, has something to hide. Turns out it’s a big something.
The ending of Soylent Green is one of those movie twists that are so infamous they’re no longer really twists. (Others that include the aforementioned The Empire Strikes Back and Planet of the Apes.) Soylent Green has also been parodied numerous times on The Simpsons – think Homer Simpson drooling “Mmm… Soylent Green.” No, Homer. That’s people. You’re eating people!
5. The Sixth Sense
‘90s audiences were spoilt for spoilers. The Usual Suspects, Se7en and, the granddaddy of them all, The Sixth Sense, feature some of the most stomach-turning twists ever committed to celluloid. The revelation that The Sixth Sense’s Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is in fact dead was a slam dunk of a twist, coming right at the end of the movie for maximum effect.
When The Sixth Sense first came out, audiences packed the cinema to discover the twist-ending for themselves. The film stayed atop of the US box office for a staggering five weeks – a feat rarely seen today. Sure, some people may claim to have guessed the twist before the end, but you’d definitely have to take their word with a huge pinch of salt and check whether their pants are on fire.
On subsequent viewings, all the clues are there: Willis is always in the same clothes, his wife ignores him, and he only communicates with Haley Joel Osment’s character. But the first time round, the ending was as unforeseen as it was shocking. Incredibly, this was director and writer M. Night Shyamalan’s debut film. Shyamalan went on to make a career out of twist endings (The Village, Unbreakable, Signs) before hitting the roughest of rough patches with The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth.
4. Star Trek: Into Darkness
When Benedict Cumberbatch was initially cast in Star Trek: Into Darkness, there was rampant speculation that he would be playing none other than Khan Noonien Singh. One of Captain Kirk’s most villainous nemeses, Khan occupies a special place in the heart of all Trekkies. Cumberbatch would also be stepping into a role immortalised by Mexico-born Ricardo Montalban in both the original television show and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, considered by many to be the best Star Trek film of all.
However, the filmmakers denied that Khan would make an appearance in Into Darkness. Cumberbatch was listed as playing the rather mundane sounding John Harrison, a character totally new to the franchise. And in a valiant but ultimately futile case of the lady doth protest too much, the filmmakers repeatedly swore that John Harrison was definitely not Khan.
Despite the denials, the question never went away. Apparently, cast and crew were under orders to keep quiet on Harrison’s real identity by the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, who wanted the reveal to be a surprise for the audience. Fair enough. Yet in this day of rampant internet speculation, hiding such a major character’s true identity is nigh-impossible. The debacle ended when Harrison was revealed as Khan in the movie, much to the irritation of many fans. Abrahams has since admitted that not being straight about Khan’s presence was in the movie was a mistake.
Like Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Christoph Waltz is another actor who tried to throw inquisitive fans off the scent when he was cast as Bond’s nemesis in Spectre. Why the charade? Well, in the Sean Connery classics, Bond goes up against an organization named SPECTRE. This nefarious group is headed up by one of the most iconic Bond villains of all-time, Ernest Blofeld. Yet the casting sheet revealed Waltz was cast as someone called Franz Oberhauser. Franz who?
Audiences were left neither shaken nor stirred by all this subterfuge. It didn’t take MI6’s top spy long to work out that Waltz was indeed Blofeld, and fans figured it out even sooner. However, the filmmakers behind this global conspiracy stuck to their master plan right up until the film’s release. When Waltz was asked “Are you playing Blofeld?” he replied “No. No. It’s more interesting than that.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Perhaps this is a case of internet speculation ruining a bit of nostalgic cinema magic. Another view is that it may have been better to be straight with fans and get them excited about speculating what two-time Academy Award winner Waltz would bring to the role.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
When Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard was cast in the inconspicuous role of Miranda Tate in The Dark Knight Rises, it didn’t take long for speculation to begin that Cotillard’s character was really Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Batman Begins’ big bad, Ra’s Al Ghul. In fact, it seems that the only person who didn’t work this out was Batman himself.
Although the true identity of Cotillard’s character may have escaped the Batman (aka the World’s Greatest Detective), the evidence was hard to ignore: Exhibit A: Production photos showing Cotillard in battle dress. Not exactly the typical attire one wears for board meetings. Exhibit B: Liam Neeson confirms that he will reprise his role as Ra’s al Ghul (together with news that The Social Network Actor Josh Spence had been cast as the young Ra’s). Exhibit C: Marion Cotillard was never going to be playing a normal civilian, c’mon now.
However, internet speculation was only half-right on The Dark Knight Rises. The buzz was that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character John Blake would be something other than a fairly ordinary cop. Turns out he was just that — unless you count the film’s last five minutes, in which a cute wink is made to the audience regarding his real name and he’s teased as the heir apparent to the Batman mantle.
1. Terminator Genisys
Nothing was left to the imagination by the second trailer for Terminator Genisys. Not only did it feature huge action set pieces, but it also gave away its biggest twist: that John Connor, humanity’s saviour for the last four films in the franchise, is now a terminator. The marketing team behind the trailer even doubled-down on the decision by showing Connor’s half-human, half-machine visage on the film’s poster. The reason behind spoiling the twist was down to an antsy studio. Concerned that audiences wouldn’t turn out to the film unless it could be differentiated from the previous installments in the series, they decided to play their hand early and let people know exactly what to expect – a decision director Alan Taylor was very much against.
We’ll never know whether holding back on the twist would have offset some of the critical drubbing the film received upon release. Unfortunately for the film’s marketing team, they can’t send someone back in time to stop themselves from giving the game away.
Have we missed any other poorly-guarded spoilers? Let us know in the comments.