The 30 Greatest Plot Twists in Movie History
“Spoiler alert”. A good plot twist can turn a good movie into an excellent one, but an awesome plot twist turns a movie into part of cinema history. This list contains some of the greatest plot twists ever created for a film, while others are just awesome and audiences can’t avoid loving them.
This list tries to avoid ambiguous endings. If the directors wanted the interpretation to be left open, they deserve to be that way.
Finally, there is the idea that what the viewer didn’t totally see coming makes the entire film worth watching. From Alfred Hitchcock to M. Night Shyamalan and David Fincher, these directors are all known for twists that turned their movies into some of the most recognized of all time.
Nothing satisfies us more than seeing a story shift upside down in a blink of an eye.
This list contains spoilers.
30. Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1980)
This is a case in which a great plot twist turns an awful movie into one that should be seen just because of the ending. Angela is a shy child sent to a summer camp. After she arrives, a number of sliced and diced bodies start appearing, courtesy of a mysterious killer.
The plot twist: Angela’s name is actually Peter and he/she is the real killer.
29. Orphan (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009)
In this underrated movie, a young couple (played by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who recently lost a child adopts a little nine-year-old from Russia named Esther, who reveals a certain inability to fit into her new family.
The plot twist: Esther is a 33-year-old named Leena Klammer with a growth disorder and mental disability who is trying to kill her new family.
28. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are detectives looking for a missing girl named Amanda. The search leads the pair through a circle of Boston’s drug dealers, including members of the police force. They end up thinking Amanda has fallen off a mountain and died.
The plot twist: Amanda is alive, safe and has been hiding in Captain Jack Doyle’s (Morgan Freeman) house the entire time.
27. Secret Window (David Koepp, 2004)
Based on a Stephen King novel, this film concerns a depressed writer, Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), who has isolated himself for six months after he caught his wife cheating on him.
Now in the process of a divorce and struggling to come up with an idea for a new book, he is surprised by the sudden appearance of a stranger from Mississippi named John Shooter (John Turturro). The man claims that one of Rainey’s most successful novels (“Secret Window”) is in fact a plagiarism of something Shooter wrote several years ago.
As Mort digs around searching for proof that he wrote his story before John Shooter wrote his version, this mysterious man becomes more threatening and aggressive. First he kills Mort’s dog, a couple of people die, and Mort’s old house where his soon-to-be-ex-wife lives is burned down.
Along the way it is also revealed that Rainey is not only an insomniac but also suffers from schizophrenia as he talks several times with voices in his head.
The plot twist: John Shooter is actually a hallucination of Rainey’s psychosis, and the things John Shooter did were actually Mort Rainey’s actions. Also, “Shooter” actually means “shoot her” as an expression of Mort’s inner desire to kill his wife.
26. The Game (David Fincher, 1997)
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy banker and a workaholic alienated from everyone, including his wife and brother. Suddenly, his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) appears offering him a present for his 48th birthday, which was their father’s age when he committed suicide.
The present is a ticket to a game, which Conrad promises will change Nicholas’s life. Due to a series of scary events during the course of this game, Nicholas starts to fear for his life and ends up cornered on a roof where he kills his brother.
The plot twist: The game itself is really just a game and nobody really died. It was all a big prank orchestrated by Conrad and a company named CRS to prevent Nicholas from repeating his father’s fate.
25. The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004)
This bleak thriller showcases Christian Bale in one of his best performances. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is a factory worker who has not been sleeping for more than a year. Now, his body and mind suffer the consequences of his lack of rest (Bale lost more than 60 pounds for this role).
Trevor finds himself stalked by a guy named Ivan who sends several malicious messages to his apartment. Reznik starts to believe Ivan wants to kill him.
The plot twist: Ivan is a product of Trevor’s troubled mind and represents a feeling of guilt from a previous episode in Trevor’s life (a hit and run involving a small boy).
24. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
After an airplane crashes into the bedroom of a schizophrenic high school student named Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a messenger of the apocalypse visits him, a life-sized rabbit named Frank who has some bad ideas.
The plot twist: The entire movie is left open to the viewer, and what’s fascinating in “Donnie Darko” is that it’s all revealed that what is experienced by the main character throughout the movie was an hallucination he had right before the airplane’s jet engine crashed into his bedroom.