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50 best movie twist endings of all time

By / 01.18.14
best-movie-twist-endings-all-time

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Everybody loves a good twist ending to a movie. Sometimes they come seemingly out of nowhere and make you want to go back and try to catch all the little clues interspersed throughout the flick. And sometimes they serve as the final piece of a puzzle that’s been building throughout the entire film. And then there are the ones that don’t make a lick of sense, but are still so damn cool that they somehow work anyway. In the end, the best ones get people talking, and that’s what the following movies all managed to do with their endings, the 50 best twist movie endings of them all. Spoilers ahoy!

50 ‘The Mist’

The Twist: Pinned down and hopeless against a bunch of gnarly monsters, Thomas Jane does the only thing he can and offs his fellow survivors, including his own son. Moments later, the army shows up to save the day. Oops!

49 ‘Ocean’s 12′

The Twist: It’s revealed that Danny and the boys stole the egg before it even got to the museum, thus rendering all the ensuing hijinks pointless. Sure, it kind of makes their actions the rest of the movie seem completely unrealistic/unnecessary and the whole movie ceases to make any sense at all but they manage to make the arrogant French dude look like a gigantic fool and in the end isn’t that all that matters?

48 ‘Orphan’

The Twist: The creepy little girl they adopted is actually a thirty-something psychopath killer who naturally decides to get all stabby. This is why you should never take adoption advice from Webster.

47 ‘Dark City’

The Twist: The city is actually a giant spaceship, the people are all abductees being experimented on, and every memory they have, even the “real” ones are completely made up. I guess that explains why Jack Bauer thinks he’s just a creepy doctor and doesn’t just kill everyone and fly the ship back to Earth.

46 ‘The Devil’s Advocate’

The Twist: The twist isn’t that Al Pacino is actually the devil – you’d have to be a dullard not to realize that. No, the twist is that after the devil is outwitted by Keanu Reeves of all people (and how shameful is that?) he basically just goes back in time and starts playing Keanu all over again, revealing that he can never really lose. Also, that hot lawyer that Keanu spends the whole movie lusting after? Yeah, that’s actually his sister, but let’s not talk about that because… ugh.

45 ‘Donnie Darko’

The Twist: The only way for Donnie to save the world is to go back to the moment the jet engine crashed through his ceiling and allow himself to be smooshed to death. And not smooshed to death like the Ronnie banging Sammie into oblivion on Jersey Shore sense but in the fat guy stepping on a baby kitten sense. Poor baby kitten Donnie.

44 ‘Twelve Monkeys’

The Twist: Brad Pitt and his gang of eco-terrorist hippies are just harmless idiots and had nothing to do with the deadly disease outbreak that ruined the world of the future. Oh, and also Bruce Willis is nuts because the dude he watched get shot to death at the airport was actually the grown-up version of himself sent from the future which let’s be honest would give anybody a decent case of neuroses. Doc Brown just fainted.

43 ‘Saw’

The Twist: The dead dude who’s been laying there the whole time is actually the killer and he’s, uh, well he’s not so much dead as just a psycho who’s been faking and he’s about to get raw all up in there. One of the more recent entrees in the long and distinguished line of horror films with twist endings, it’s also one of the best.

42 ‘Presumed Innocent’

The Twist: After Harrison Ford is exonerated for the murder of the woman he had an affair with, his wife admits that she was the killer… and she gets away with it because, well, shit happens I guess? Truly, a wholesome message of family values that everyone can appreciate.

41 ‘Scream’

The Twist: The killer is actually two people – Sidney’s boyfriend Billy and his jackass best friend, Stu. The real twist is that everyone in the entire town let themselves be terrorized and outwitted by Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard, which is so embarrassing that they all pretty much deserved what they got. Also, Drew Barrymore needs to get caller ID.

40 ‘Unbreakable’

The Twist: Samuel L. Jackson is actually basically a supervillain who engineered all the catastrophic events of the film in order to lure out his opposite, Bruce Willis, because he’s completely friggin’ nuts. Then again, all anyone had to do was take a look at that hair and they could have probably figured that one out pretty quickly.

39 ‘American Psycho’

The Twist: Patrick Bateman may have just been imagining the whole thing. The ending is left open to some interpretation but the idea that Bateman is actually just some ineffectual suit with a depraved mind given to fantasizing about killing hookers and chasing ladies through the halls naked wielding a chainsaw might be even more disturbing than if he actually was a serial killer.

38 ‘Friday the 13th’

The Twist: The real killer is actually Jason’s mom, which means that anyone who made Your Momma jokes while Jason was growing up probably needs to watch their back. Oh, and Jason isn’t dead so much as just a mutant looking dweeb chillin’ in the lake, pulling girls out of boats. To be fair, it’s probably hard finding dates when you’re a maggoty dude who looks like he has severe encephalitis.

37 ‘Open Your Eyes’

The Twist: The dude is actually dead and contracted with a company to be cryogenically frozen so he can dream a new reality while he waits for science to come up with a way to fix his jacked up face. This is the movie that was remade by Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky, and what isn’t a twist is that the original is better – probably because it didn’t star Tom Cruise.

36 ‘Chinatown’

The Twist: Faye Dunaway banged her dad, and her “sister” is actually her daughter. And her sister, I guess. Then again, I’m sure Jack Nicholson’s been involved in worse.

35 ‘Source Code’

The Twist: Jake Gyllenhaal is actually pretty much dead. He’s just a torso and a head being kept artificially alive in a special chamber and his brain is hooked up to a computer system. Let’s face it, that pretty much describes 90% of us these days.

34 ‘Moon’

The Twist: Sam Rockwell is a clone and he keeps dying and being replaced by a new version of himself. All his memories are actually the memories of a man who lived decades before. Incidentally, Moon was directed by the same dude who directed Source Code, Duncan Jones aka David Bowie’s son, which in a weird way kind of explains a lot. Frankly, I’m surprised Sam Rockwell didn’t actually turn out to be a hermaphroditic alien.

33 ‘Color of Night’

The Twist: The hot chick that psychiatrist Bruce Willis is banging is actually the 16 year-old patient he’s been seeing. Oh yeah, I should mention that the 16 year-old male patient he’s been seeing was forced to pose as a dude by her killer brother which would make sense until you realize that she’s Jane March and, uh, I don’t remember too many of my dude friends looking like that when we were 16. If they did, I might be a little more, shall we say, confused.

32 ‘The Illusionist’

The Twist: Jessica Biel isn’t dead and the whole movie was one big plot by her illusionist childhood love Edward Norton to rescue her from the evil clutches of the dickish Prince Leopold. And yes, just about every dude reading this imagines he’s the illusionist and Justin Timberlake is Prince Leopold. Don’t front.

31 ‘Se7en’

The Twist: The box contains Gwyneth Paltrow’s head and in the end the whole thing was a setup by Kevin Spacey so that Brad Pitt would be the one to commit the seventh and final sin and murder. This was legit shocking to people when it first came out, but I think people would probably start cheering today if they went to a movie in which Gwyneth’s head ended up in a box.

30 ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

The Twist: The twist isn’t that the baby is actually the antichrist, or even that her husband and the neighbors were in on the fiendish plan. The twist is actually that our heroic Rosemary takes one look at her new baby boy and immediately turns to the dark side out of maternal love. This is probably Mrs. Bieber’s favorite movie.

29 ‘The Village’

The Twist: It’s present day and the village is really just a commune hidden away from the rest of the world, while the modern world is kept hidden away from its residents. This would probably rank higher except by the time it came out everyone was looking for the twist since it was an M. Night Shyamalan flick and everyone had caught on to his gimmickry. It’s still kind of a cool idea, though.

28 ‘Secret Window’

The Twist: The dude menacing writer Johnny Depp is a figment of his overactive imagination, and he’s actually been the one killing people. It happens. Look, having to be creative all the time is a lot of pressure. I get it.

27b> ‘The Machinist’

The Twist: The guy who’s been stalking Christian Bale is actually a hallucination haunting him for his part in the hit and run death of a little boy years before, as are many of the other characters in the movie. It’s probably the most messed up out of all the Batman movies. Well, except for the one with Arnold and the nipples on the bat suit.

26 ‘Matchstick Men’

The Twist: Conman Nicolas Cage’s long-lost daughter is actually a con-artist who teamed up with his partner in crime to bilk him out of his fortune, which is an especially mean thing to do to a dude with severe OCD. Then again, it’s an especially funny thing to do to Nicolas Cage, so double bonus points all around.

25 ‘No Way Out’

The Twist: Kevin Costner is Yuri, the Russian mole he’s spent the movie investigating. It’s a clever twist that would have been even cleverer if anyone could believe that Kevin Costner of all people could pull off a perfect American accent even though he’s supposed to be Russian. We’ve seen Robin Hood, we know Costner doesn’t do accents.

24 ‘Fallen’

The Twist: The dude who’s telling the story is actually the demon and Denzel Washington is dead. The demon wins. Too bad he’s trapped in the body of a house cat. Just give him a saucer full of warm milk and some string to play with and he’ll leave you alone.

23 ‘The Descent’

The Twist: Her escape is actually a hallucination and she’s still stuck underground, surrounded, and presumably about to be killed. This ending was so heavy and screwed with so many people’s heads that the American version of the film was actually changed so that she got away. We’re all about happy endings, no matter how fake.

22 ‘The Parallax View’

The Twist: Investigative reporter Warren Beatty spends the whole movie trying to solve the conspiracy behind a Senator’s assassination only to get shot and killed by that same conspiracy. Then the conspiracy pins the Senator’s murder on him. Just to be dicks, I guess. It’s always shocking whenever the hero doesn’t win.

21 ‘Lucky Number Slevin’

The Twist: Bewildered doof Josh Hartnett isn’t a victim of mistaken identity after all and is the contract killer behind everything. Also, he was taken in as a young boy by Bruce Willis’ menacing hit man and the two have kind of a father/son relationship. A really, really messed up father/son relationship, but really, who among us doesn’t?

20 ‘Angel Heart’

The Twist: Mickey Rourke is actually the dude he’s spent the entire movie searching for, only he didn’t know it thanks to a case of amnesia. Also, he accidentally banged his own daughter. And then killed her. Oops! Oh, and Robert De Niro is actually the devil but you knew that already.

19 ‘Shutter Island’

The Twist: Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t an investigator. He’s just a crazy dude who killed his wife, went nuts and was locked up on Shutter Island, and the whole movie has basically been him running around like a loon pretending to solve a made-up crime. Either that, or it’s just another Inception dream. Who’s to say?

18 ‘Jacob’s Ladder’

The Twist: The entire movie takes place in Tim Robbins’ head during the moment of his death in Vietnam. The screenwriter says the movie is a manifestation of his own spiritual transformation in Tibet, which would be pretty deep if it wasn’t for the fact that he said the same thing about the other hit movie he wrote – Ghost.

17 ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

The Twist: There is no missing girl. The dude was tricked into coming to the island so he could be sacrificed to the sun god so the crops can grow, which I guess is easier than just watering them. Also, in the remake it’s revealed that Nicolas Cage really, really hates bees. And also his acting coach.

16 ‘Arlington Road’

The Twist: Tim Robbins really is a terrorist and gets away with it after tricking Jeff Bridges into driving a car bomb into a federal building, which is a pretty screwed up thing to do to The Dude. Again, it’s always a haunting and effective twist when the bad guy wins.

15 ‘Primal Fear’

The Twist: Ed Norton was playing Richard Gere and was really guilty the whole time. The soft-spoken rube persona is just an act. This was the movie that got Ed Norton noticed, and for good reason. It’s an awesome performance that gives the twist at the end maximum impact.

14 ‘The Prestige’

The Twist: Christian Bale’s magician is able to perform his astonishing feats because he’s actually two people – him and his twin brother, which honestly makes him less of a magician and more of a sociopath. Then again, that means he’d fit right in with Criss Angel and David Copperfield.

13 ‘Wild Things’

The Twist: The whole movie is one twist after another, with everyone double-crossing everyone else at some point, until the twist at the end reveals that Neve Campbell is really a diabolical genius who was behind the whole thing from the start, along with Bill Murray’s ambulance chaser lawyer. The really big twist though is that I didn’t run out and immediately propose to Denise Richards after watching this as a teenager.

12 ‘The Crying Game’

The Twist: The girl he falls for is actually a dude. This is maybe the most famous twist ever and so everybody already knows about it. But imagine sitting in the theater when it first came out, knowing nothing about the movie and thinking “Hey, she’s pretty cute…” and then bam! Penises everywhere. Just like that one night back in college you don’t like to talk about.

11 ‘The Others’

The Twist: Nicole Kidman and her family are dead and they’re the ones haunting the place. Maybe Haley Joel Osment should set her up with Bruce Willis. They can discuss self-awareness over drinks while haunting Ghostbar. Ahem. Sorry.

10 ‘Soylent Green’

The Twist: Say it with me now – Soylent Green is people! Yes, the big twist is that Soylent Green, used to feed an overpopulated Earth is actually processed people, which means it probably has slightly less human parts in it than your average hot dog. One of Charlton Heston’s finest moments.

9 ‘Memento’

The Twist: Guy Pearce is the one who killed his wife and his “memory loss” is a result of him suppressing this knowledge, which completely turns the entire movie on its head. So the next time you can’t remember where you left your keys, consider the possibility that you actually murdered your wife.

8 ‘Oldboy’

The Twist: After being mysteriously and inexplicably released following 15 years of captivity, a dude meets and falls in love with a girl, only it turns out she is actually his long-lost daughter, and his kidnapper arranged the whole thing, just to be a dick I guess. This is the sort of thing nightmares are made of, and this twist haunts you if only because it is so unbelievably messed up.

7 ‘Psycho’

The Twist: Norman Bates’ murderous mother has been dead the whole time. Norman is friggin’ nuts and keeps Mommy dearest’s corpse in a room while he slaps on a wig and gets stabby. Oscar Bluth gives this twist two hooks up.

6 ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

The Twist: It was Earth all along, and ol’ Chuck Heston really went forward through time. One of the most famous twists of all time and one of the best, even if the main reason people remember it today is because of Heston’s ranting and raving about apes and damning everyone to hell while the Statue of Liberty looks on dispassionately.

5 ‘The Sixth Sense’

The Twist: Bruce Willis was dead all along and has been haunting the shit out of poor Haley Joel Osment. Everybody laughs at M. Night Shyamalan now – and with good reason – but this twist floored everyone when it first came out.

4 ‘Fight Club’

The Twist: Edward Norton is Tyler Durden. He has a split personality and they are the same dude. He has been fighting himself. I saw this in the theater and as soon as I saw the twist I wanted to just sit there and watch it all over again, which is always the sign of a quality twist. Also, I’m guessing Jennifer Aniston watches this movie every night with her imaginary husband, Brad Pitt.

3 ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

The Twist: The big bad evil Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. It’s kind of a big deal when you consider that the whole Star Wars universe is built around this twist. It almost seems crazy that this wasn’t common knowledge for almost the entirety of the first two films. Also, Luke figures out that Leia is his twin sister, although we never find out how he feels about the fact that he made out with her earlier in the movie. That’s what happens with an absentee father, I guess.

2 ‘Citizen Kane’

The Twist: Rosebud is the name of his childhood sled, thus revealing the humanity beneath the all-powerful media mogul. It might seem kind of quaint today, but this was really sophisticated stuff at the time and it holds up today as a piece of genuinely powerful storytelling. There’s a reason why it’s probably the most famous twist of all time.

1 ‘The Usual Suspects’

The Twist: Kevin Spacey’s gimpy loser, the one telling the story to the detective at the station, is really the infamous Keyser Soze, and he’s been making up the story as he goes along using items and names he sees scattered around the detective’s office. The twist is so good – and so damn cool – that it basically won Kevin Spacey an Oscar and caused everyone who watched it to want to go back and immediately watch it again. Now that’s a twist ending.

(Previously published on June 12, 2013.)

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Neil Bulson
About Neil Bulson... Neil Bulson is a freelance writer who lives along the shores of Lake Michigan in a majestic castle where he spends his days beating his serfs and his nights writing and drinking firewater. His life goals include seducing Angela Lansbury, hunting and killing Bigfoot and being named King of Canada. So far, he has accomplished one of the three.

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