6. Teddy Daniels – Shutter Island (2010)
Director Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller film Shutter Island, which was released in 2010, had audiences stumped upon its release with its surprising character twist. The film follows U.S Marshal Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who goes to investigate a psychiatric facility on Shutter Island after a patient there goes missing.
As Daniels becomes more and more deeply involved into the investigation, it is eventually revealed that Daniels is in fact killer Andrew Laeddis – one of the most disturbed patients on Shutter Island, and his supposed investigation is actually a delusion that he has been encouraged to act out by his doctors.
This twist caught many audiences by surprise, so much so that the character’s real identity and intentions are still a topic of discussion amongst film fans. A lot of this discussion primarily relates to a single line uttered in the film by Daniels.
Before he is taken away, possibly to be lobotomised, Daniels says “This place makes me wonder, which could be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” This utterance has been seen to have several different meanings, including that Daniels/Laeddis was actually aware of what he was doing the whole time and faked his delusions.
Scorsese has refused to say what the line means either way. The film was adapted from author Dennis Lehane’s bestselling novel, but as that line is not in the book – Lehane has also expressed that the meaning is unclear. Either way, Shutter Island definitely satisfies those looking for a film with a surprising character twist.
Character trivia: Leonardo DiCaprio admitted to Martin Scorsese that the character of Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laeddis completely confused him and that he often had no idea how he was supposed to be acting.
7. Louis Bloom – Nightcrawler (2014)
Louis Bloom may well be one of film’s most despicable characters. And although his character is always opportunistic and less than honourable, by the time that the credits roll, he has gone to such extreme lengths that it is shocking for the audience. We may have predicted that Louis would fall further down the rabbit hole, but just how far down he goes shows how his character’s arc takes a surprising turn.
Louis is a petty thief who becomes a stringer who records violent events that take place late at night in Los Angeles. As he becomes more involved in the job, he goes to increasingly greater lengths to get the ‘money shot.’ This eventually leads to him being involved in the death of one of his employees. A death which he shows absolutely no remorse over.
Character trivia: Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis Bloom, spent around three months in pre-production discussing the character with the film’s director Dan Gilroy. One of the important aspects that they discussed was the character’s appearance.
Gyllenhaal said of the discussions, “I knew that Louis was literally and figuratively hungry. So, I got into a mode where I was always a bit hungry.” Gyllenhaal lost thirty pounds to play Louis Bloom and described the process as extremely draining – both physically and mentally.
8. Elijah Price – Unbreakable (2000)
Unbreakable, which would turn out to be the first film in director M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable film series (also referred to as the Eastrail 177 Trilogy), saw the creation of a character who masqueraded as one type of character and then did a one eighty and turned out to be a completely different type of character.
This surprising character twist was one of the reasons that saw Unbreakable receive overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. That character of course was Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose alter ego is revealed to be Mr Glass – a supervillain.
Immediately after the film’s release, rumours of possible sequels began to circulate. But it wasn’t until Split was released in 2017 and Mr Glass was referenced in the film that it became clear that Unbreakable would not be the last time that the character of Mr Glass appeared. Mr Glass will appear back on screen in upcoming film Glass, and audiences will be eagerly anticipating more twists from the character.
Character trivia: Many of the scenes involving the character of Mr Glass include glass. As a baby, he is primarily seen reflected in mirrors, as a child, he is seen reflected in a television screen, he leaves his calling card on David Dunn’s windscreen, he is reflected in a glass frame in the art gallery and his walking stick is made of glass.
9. Alfred Borden – The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan from a screenplay by his brother Jonathan, has become renowned for its clever character twist. It follows the story of two rival stage magicians – Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who become obsessed with creating and performing the best stage illusion. Eventually going to increasingly dangerous lengths with tragic results.
When it comes to magic and stage magicians, the theme of misdirection and playing tricks on your audience is widely used. The same can be said of Nolan’s film, which cleverly plays a trick on its audience to magical effect. This trick mainly revolves around the character of Borden, who is able to deliver the surprising twist that only becomes better on a second viewing.
Character trivia: Christian Bale, who plays Alfred Borden, worked with magicians Ricky Jay and Michael Weber in preparation for the part. They refused to reveal any full tricks to Bale, not wanting to give away any secrets, whereas the magicians that worked with Hugh Jackman who plays Robert Angier let him in on all the full methods behind the tricks. Bale is frequently asked if he can perform magic tricks and his answer is always that he cannot perform any whatsoever and that he did not learn any magic for his role.
10. Everyone – Murder On the Orient Express (1974/2017)
Based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, many audiences may already be familiar with the famous murder mystery, yet even if you know the outcome, the character twists still make an impact. Murder On the Orient Express follows world renowned detective Hercule Poirot as he tries to solve a murder that has taken place on trans-European train The Orient Express. Poirot must work out which of the passengers has committed the crime.
As the plot unfolds, it comes to light that none of the characters are who they are first presented to be. For those that are not familiar with the novel, these character twists do come as a surprise and eventually lead to a massive reveal. This use of the film’s characters to provide the primary twists is very effective for the audience.
Character trivia: Director Kenneth Branagh decided to have the cast film their interview scenes on the first day in order to capture the first day excitement of being on set. Michelle Pfeiffer loved the idea whilst Penelope Cruz hated it.