A movie that banks on a last-minute twist in order to wow the audience is always a gamble. After all, if the twist works, you’ll feel as though you just watched two movies for the price of one. But if it fails, you’ll wish you had just turned the movie off with twenty minutes to go.
With anything subjective, the devil is always in the details, and a twist that works for one film isn’t a sure thing for another. Take for instance the revelation at the end of Fight Club, where we discover that the Narrator and Tyler Durden are indeed the same person. While this means that many of the previous moments weren't as they seemed, the turn of events still makes complete sense considering that we’ve been inside of the Narrator’s head from the get-go.
In other words, a good plot twist lends itself to repeat viewings -- allowing the audience to pick up on all the subtle details they missed the first time around. Then there are those movies that try way too hard to be clever, tacking on a shocking last-minute reveal that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the story.
Here are 8 Plot Twists That Saved Movies (And 8 That Ruined Them).
16 Saved: Shutter Island
Though it’s far from one of Martin Scorsese’s benchmark films, Shutter Island is still a masterfully crafted movie that careens from its straightforward mystery premise to an exploration of insanity thanks to the story’s third act.
The film begins with U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels traveling to a remote insane asylum to investigate the disappearance of a patient — though he has secondary plans to confront his wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis.
It doesn’t take long to realize that something is awry on Shutter Island. While Teddy suspects that the doctors are up to no good, in an unbelievable turn of events we learn that Teddy is actually Andrew — the insane patient who killed his wife.
In lesser hands, this turn of events could have felt downright contrived, but the truth unfolds so convincingly that the audience can't help but feel that they've also been blinded by insanity the entire time.
15 Ruined: Source Code
For a film with a premise that requires multiple scenes of painstaking exposition, Source Code ultimately proved to be a surprisingly poignant, though this was sadly undercut by the film’s final scene.
The story revolves around Colter Stevens, a wounded Army pilot who is forced to relive the last eight minutes of someone else’s life in an attempt to thwart a terrorist. However, throughout the film we learn that even if Colter can complete his mission, his real body — which is in a comatose state — will be disconnected from life support.
Therefore, after Colter completes his task he asks to be sent into the Source Code again so he can appreciate being alive one last time. But when his real body is unplugged, Colter’s consciousness continues to live within this alternative timeline, rewriting the film's own logic and undermining what was already a beautifully tragic ending.
14 Saved: Orphan
From The Exorcist to The Others, there’s no denying that popping a couple of creepy kids into your horror movie will make things that much more terrifying. But at this point, it’s also a bit of a cliche, which is what makes the revelation at the end of Orphan that much more disturbing.
The film follows a husband and wife who adopted a nine-year-old Estonian girl named Esther after the loss of their baby. You don’t need to look beyond the film’s poster to know that something is horribly wrong with Esther.
Instead of being yet another child that is possessed by demonic forces, Esther isn't a child at all, but rather a 33-year-old woman who has hypopituitarism — a condition that stunts the growth of your body, which she uses as her guise to get away with murder.
13 Ruined: Now You See Me
This 2013 heist thriller follows a group of stage magicians, known collectively as the Four Horsemen, who are being investigated by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) after they incorporated a bank heist into their act.
Much like the magicians in the movie, Now You See Me prides itself in deceiving the viewer time and time again. While this is entertaining for a majority of the film, an unexpected twist at the film’s end left many viewers scratching their heads.
The moment in question comes when Agent Rhodes reveals himself to be the Fifth Horseman and the mastermind behind the magicians’ elaborate revenge plot. The problem is that the film does almost nothing to set up this reveal, and the jarring shift in character opens up far too many holes in the plot and the character's motivations upon repeat viewing.
12 Saved: The Book of Eli
This 2010 post-apocalyptic film finds Denzel Washington playing Eli, a nomad who is tasked with carrying the last remaining copy of the Bible to the West Coast. Throughout his travels, Eli crosses paths with a number of savage bandits, who he is able to defeat single-handedly, before coming up against his greatest threat: a man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who oversees a ruined town and wishes to harness the power from Eli’s mysterious book.
Despite receiving aid from one of Carnegie’s subordinates (played by Mila Kunis), Eli eventually loses possession of the book before reaching his destination. But in an unexpected twist, we learn that Eli has not only committed the entire Bible to memory, but that he has been blind the entire time. Thus, Carnegie's victory proves futile as he is unable to read the braille text within the stolen book.
11 Ruined: The Village
It’s impossible to talk about twists endings without bringing up M. Night Shyamalan — the writer/ director who floored audiences with The Sixth Sense, only to try and recreate the same mind-bending twist in his subsequent films to diminishing returns.
But where things really started to go off the rails was with his 2004 film The Village, which follows the inhabitants of a 19th-century community who cannot leave due to the monsters that lurk in the surrounding woods. By the film's end, we learn that the two most obvious twists that could possibly take place both come to fruition.
The story actually takes place in the present and that the monsters aren’t real.
It's a massive letdown considering how creepy and visually striking the rest of the film is. It also diminishes any of the story's tension the second time around.
10 Saved: Ender’s Game
Based on 1985 military sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game follows a group of gifted children as they train to prepare for an impending alien invasion. Asa Butterfield plays Ender, the most skilled cadet, who distinguishes himself during simulated combat for his ability finds solutions to previously unsolvable problems.
As a result, Ender is put in charge of his own squad, and the cadet is forced to prove himself in a final simulation that pits his dwindling fleet against the alien homeworld.
Upon completion, Ender learns that the battle was 100 percent real.
While his superiors are pleased that he won the war, Ender is devastated over the act of genocide. Though the film may not quite live up to its source material, it does succeed by sticking to the original twist ending — which may not be upbeat, but is certainly more impactful.
9 Ruined: Ocean’s Twelve
Picking up where Ocean’s Eleven left off, Ocean’s Twelve finds casino owner Terry Benedict tracking down Danny Ocean’s gang and insisting that they pay back the money they stole. Thus, the gang embarks on a competition with fellow-thief “The Night Fox” to see who can steal the Faberge Imperial Coronation Egg first.
An elaborate heist plan ensues involving everything from a holographic egg to Danny’s wife posing as a pregnant Julia Roberts (played by an actually pregnant Julia Roberts).
None of this matters at the end, as the gang reveals they'd already stolen the egg.
Everything we watched was an elaborate act to fool The Night Fox. On top of this turn of events being totally contrived, it also makes the audience feel like they've been left out of the heist, which was what made Ocean's Eleven so enjoyable in the first place.
8 Saved: Final Destination 5
Usually, when you get five installments deep into a horror franchise you can safely assume that the story will be taking a backseat to jump scares and bloody effects. Who would’ve thought that the fifth Final Destination film would’ve ended up being the most creative and enjoyable entry to the series? In fact, it's the only installment to earn a "Fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
While Final Destination 5 does indeed retread the same formula from previous films, the over-the-top kill sequences are slickly designed and masterfully shot, which was only amplified by the film’s effective use of 3D.
The most delightful surprise by far is the twist ending, which involves two of the surviving character boarding the doomed plane from the original film, revealing that the story was a prequel all along.
7 Ruined: Hancock
In Hancock, Will Smith plays the eponymous superhero who would rather drink and cause destruction than have the public look to him as a symbol of hope. But all of this changes when Hancock saves Ray, a public relations specialist who agrees to revamp the superhero’s image to return the favor.
The film has a promising first half, complete with an intriguing premise and solid performances from the film’s leads, but things become overly complicated when it is revealed that Ray’s wife is Hancock's immortal ex. Suddenly the slick story that was once filled with biting humor and original action sequences becomes bogged down with exposition and unexpected love triangles.
It's no wonder that Hancock spent over a decade in development hell.
We can only imagine what the film could've been without this unwelcome turn of events.
6 Saved: Friday the 13th
While the Friday the 13th franchise has become synonymous with Jason Voorhees and his signature hockey mask and blood-soaked machete, these trademarks don’t actually show up until the third film in the series — although the character does make a brief appearance in the final shot of the 1980 film.
By all accounts, the original Friday the 13th is your run of the mill slasher film — that is, until the final act.
Jason’s mother is revealed to be the deranged killer after all.
Though the film was initially panned by critics, subverting the expectation that every slasher movie antagonist needs to be a hulking man in a mask no doubt made the movie a favorite amongst horror buffs. Unfortunately, we can't say the same about the film's eleven sequels.
5 Ruined: High Tension
This 2003 French horror film begins with two female friends, Marie and Alex, traveling to Alex’s parents' house to spend the weekend. When a mysterious man shows up in the middle of the night and starts slaughtering family members, Marie is left fighting for her life.
As the title implies, Hight Tension features a number of effectively tense scenes that will even leave lifelong horror fans on the edge of their seats. But the suspense is completely ruined when Marie is revealed to be the killer, which effectively rewrites everything we’ve already watched unfold, including a number of scenes between Marie and the imaginary killer that could have never taken place.
While High Tension is infamous for its NC-17 rating and extremely graphic violence, it’s ultimately this unnecessary plot twist that ruins what could have been a near-flawless film.
4 Saved: A Perfect Getaway
This 2009 film stars Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich as Cliff and Cydney, a newly married couple who have decided to undertake an adventurous hike through the Hawaiian wilderness for their honeymoon. There, they run into a number of mysterious hikers while also learning of a grisly double-murder that has taken place in Honolulu, leading them to wonder if the killer is in their midst.
By the end, we learn that Cliff and Cydney aren't the innocuous newlyweds they seem to be.
Instead, they are a pair of drug-addicted psychopaths who steal the identities of their victims in an attempt to achieve some kind of immortality.
Even if the twist is ruined for you, A Perfect Getaway still provides its fair share of thrills, laughs, and engaging performances from Zahn and Jovovich, as well as the supporting cast of Timothy Olyphant and Chris Hemsworth.
3 Ruined: Identity
No plot twist is more disappointing than the whole story taking place in one character’s mind — which is exactly what you get halfway through this 2003 thriller.
Identity begins as an Agatha Christie-style mystery: ten guests are stranded at a Nevada motel during a rainstorm when one-by-one they begin to meet their demise.
Meanwhile, a convicted mass murderer, Malcolm Rivers, awaits execution while his psychiatrist tries to prove that he is, in fact, legally insane. But exactly how insane is he? Apparently so insane that the entire ten-person murder mystery is unfolding in his head.
By the time the psychiatrist suggests that Malcolm try to discover which one of his personalities is responsible for carrying out the real-life murders, the viewer already feels too cheated to re-engage with a totally new narrative — especially one that is far less intriguing than the original motel mystery.
2 Saved: Soylent Green
Even if you’ve never actually sat through this 1973 dystopian sci-fi film starring Charlton Heston, there’s a good chance that you’ve already heard the iconic line that gives away the twist ending (which is almost impossible to say out loud without pretending to shout it).
Soylent Green takes place in 2022, where the world is overcome with pollution, global warming, and over-population. To compensate for these problems, assisted suicide has become legal, while the Soylent Corporation single-handedly prevents the world from starving with their “high-energy plankton” wafers.
It's only a matter of time before we find out the protein in these wafers doesn’t come from plankton.
Soylent Green is a clear-cut example of a plot twist that truly makes the movie. Without it, the film would’ve become a mostly forgettable affair about the grim prospects of the human race.
1 Ruined: The Dark Knight Rises
While The Dark Knight Rises may have succeeded in bringing emotional closure to the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the script was unfortunately plagued with a number of plot holes and muddied character motivations.
These inconsistencies really begin to show themselves when Bruce Wayne finally climbs his way out of his prison-pit halfway around the world and inexplicably makes it back to Gotham in the nick of time without the money or resource to get there. But the biggest unanswered question by far is how Bruce ever manage to escape the blast radius of the nuclear bomb?
Maybe the twist ending that shows Bruce Wayne alive and well in a European cafe alongside Selina was a nice touch for sentimental fans of the series. But for others, it was an illogical plot hole that we can only hope existed within Alfred's imagination.
Which plot twists do you think either make or break their movie? Let us know!
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