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Top 10 Most Shocking Movie Twist Endings of All Time

Avid filmgoers like myself are hard to be shocked or suprised what we see on screen. So when a movie manages to catch me off of my guard, it leaves an impression. Few things manage to do this better than a twist. A cinematic standby since the earliest day’s of the medium, they serve as the filmakers equivelent of the magician’s table cloth trick. If done well, it can create a magic movie moment that won’t soon be forgotten; if executed poorly, you’ve got a mess on your hands, often one that can wreck the remainder of the film.

However, a few of these twists elevate themselves to entirely new levels, leaving an impression on the viewer long after the movie is over. From the revelation of what Rosebud was in Citizen Kane to the closing shots of the spinning top in Inception, these twists create some of cinema’s finest moments, and today, I would like to showcase ten of what I feel are the best twist endings of all time.

Of course, it really goes without saying a list covering ten of the biggest movie twists of all time will come with quite a few spoilers, so for those of you who do not wish to risk a few spoiled endings, now is the time to click on a different article. However, if you are curious to see what I consider to be the biggest bombshells in cinematic history, please read on.

10) Primal Fear (1996) – Lawyers are a lousy judge of character, who knew?
This movie begins like any typical courtroom drama, with Richard Gere playing a slick Chicago attorney defending a meek, stuttering alter boy accused of killing an archbishop, whom was later proven to be involved in both sexual abuse and corruption. Things begin to get complicated when it appears that the alter boy, Aaron, suffers from multiple personality disorder, with a violent sociopath alter-ego called Roy – and that neither from can remember what the other does. Gere manages to get Aaron declared not guilty by means of insanity, only for Aaron to reveal he was faking multiple personality disorder – and that ‘Roy’ is his true personality, and that he committed the murder without remorse.

9) Inglourious Basterds (2009) – Eat your heart out Tom Cruise
One problem I always have with historical films, is that as a history buff, I almost always know what will happen in the movie. This proves to be quite annoying in the countless historical thrillers that Hollywood pumps out every year, especially ones with less then a Hollywood ending. Nowhere is this more true than the handful of movies following the various attempts to kill Hitler, which, just as in history, end horribly for the would-be assassins. So when I watched Inglourious Basterds, I expected to see it play out much like the earlier film, Valkyrie, and for a while, it looked like that would be the case. That is, until Eli Roth fired enough rounds into Hitler to turn his remains into paste while a fire consumed the rest of the Nazi high command. This delightful but of counter-factual history caught be completely off-guard, and had much of the theater cheering when it happened. I’ll be honest, it was nice to see the good guys win for once.

8) Fight Club (1999) – Do not talk about the fight club, especially to yourself
Cult-classic film Fight Club is a movie well-known for it’s trippy and daring storyline, and a big reason for that know doubt has to do with the big twist involving the main characters. The film follows an unnamed narrator suffering from insomnia who becomes acquainted with soap-salesman turned anarchist revolutionary Tyler Durden, whom organized fight clubs across the country which are then used to recruit members of what Tyler calls ‘Project Mayhem from. After a series of events, the narrator comes to realize that he IS Tyler, whom happens to be a dissociated personality of his that controls his body while he sleeps. this culminates in the narrator retaking control of his body by ‘killing’ Tyler and him taking the reigns of Project Mayhem himself.

7) Brazil (1985) – I suppose in a way, he still did escape
Terry Gilliam’s dystopic satire Brazil, which is about a man named Sam struggling to stay sane in an overly-bureaucratic 1984-style dictatorship, is widely regarded as a masterpiece. No doubt a large part of that is due to the ending, which begins to come to climax after Sam is arrested for helping the woman he loves escape from the regime permanently by changing her records. Just as he is strapped to a chair and about to be tortured for information, the resistance leader he helped earlier in the film comes to save him. After a prolonged fire-fight and chase sequence, Sam escapes the Ministry, blows it up behind him, and eventually we see Sam settling down in the country will Jill – only to reveal this happy ending has all been a figment of Sam’s imagination. In reality, the torture has left him essentially brain dead, and the film closes as his interrogators declare him to be a ‘lost cause’, leaving him alone, catatonic, still strapped in the chair humming the movie theme, at long last, free from the insane world around him.

6) Soylent Green (1973) – You are what you eat, literally
Though it’s warning of the ‘imminent dangers of overpopulation’ may seem a tad ridiculous by our standards, it remains one of the finest science fiction films of all time, in a large part thanks to it’s infamous twist ending. The movies follow Thorn, a detective played by Charlton Heston trying to solve the murder of a board member of the Soylent Corporation, eventually follows the trail to one of Soylent Corporation’s production facilities. Once here, he uncovers a horrifying truth: that the popular Soylent Green wafers are made from the only meat still in large supply, human cadavers. In the immortal words of Heston: Soylent Green is people!

5) Psycho (1960) – A boy’s best friend is his mother
Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of the unexpected twist, and of all his films, Psycho is the best. The rug is literally torn from beneath the audiences feet several times over the course of the film, with the most famous twist being how the films leading lady is killed off not even half way through the film in the films infamous shower sequence. However, as anyone who has ever seen Psycho knows, that is only the FIRST twist of the movie, and one that falls flat compared to the far bigger twist concerning Norman Bates. Toward the end of the mother, his all-too creepy relationship with his mother becomes infinitely creepier once it is revealed his mother died years earlier, and that she remains alive in some form by means of a portion of his personality that is also responsible for the string of deadly murders. Talk about a momma’s boy.

4) The Usual Suspects (1995) – The greatest trick the devil ever pulled
Keyser Soze, a criminal mastermind of near-legendary repute, has just gotten away with over $91 million in drug money, leaving 27 people dead in his wake, and leaving two survivors: one critically injured Hungarian thug providing details to a police sketch artist, and a crippled con-artist named Verbal Kint, who is providing details of surrounding events to the authorities in exchange for near total-immunity. After telling the officer everything, Kint makes bail and leaves – only for the officer to then notice that the details and names of the story were taken from various objects from around the room. Just as Kint – having dropped his feigned disability – gets into a waiting car, the officer gets the artist’s impression of Soze’s face, which turns out to be Verbal Kint.

3) Planet of the Apes (1968) – We blew it up!
Making the second Charlton Heston-centered science-fiction classic on this list, this one features a twist of, you might say, statue-esque proportions. Heston plays Colonel Taylor, an astronaut who lands on a planet run by sentient primates whom rule over feral humans with an iron fist – Taylor’s two shipmates are even stuffed and put on display and lobotomized. Taylor himself struggles to prove he is no dumb animal himself, as well as figure out where he is exactly. Though the thought that this ape-run planet may very well be Earth is very present throughout the film, and is almost obvious at times, nothing can really beat visual confirmation. As the movie closes with the shot of Colonel Taylor cursing his fore-bearers in front the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, you cannot help but feel your spirit drop and lament the fall of Mankind alongside him.

2) The Sixth Sense (1999) – I am dead people
M. Night Shyalaman may be a one trick pony entirely too dependant on twists in his movies, but considering that he was responsible for this particular gem, it could almost be forgiven (Sorry M. Night, The Last Airbender was unforgivable). The Sixth Sense is one of the most chilling and terrifying horror movies put to film, and it literally keeps on on the edge of your seat until start to finish. That is, until the ending where you will fall out of your seat following one of the most jaw-dropping twists of all time. The movie follows a child psychologist played by Bruce Willis as he tries to help a child who can speak with the dead come to terms with his abilities and use it to help the dead move on into the next life. Turns out to be a perfect job for Bruce, seeing as he’s been dead since the start of the movie. What a twist!

And the number one most shocking movie twist ending of all time?

1) The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Worst Dad Ever
This particular twist has become so legendary that it almost everyone takes it as a fact now, but for anyone who remembers watching the Star Wars Trilogy for the first time, the exchange between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader hit you harder than two proton torpedoes. After coming to Bespin to try and save his friends, Luke instead only succeeds in getting his ass handed to him after a brief dual that costs him his right hand. With Luke dangling over one of the endless chasms of death that seem to frequent the Star Wars universe, Vader offers Luke the chance to join him in ruling the universe. Luke refuses on the grounds Darth Vader killed his father, to which Vader utters five words that made the most legendary twist in movie history – No, I am your father. Not surprisingly, Luke’s and the audience’s reaction was one of utter disbelief and shock.

This twist was huge, greatly changing the entire dynamics of good and evil in the Star Wars trilogy, and affecting everyone who witnessed it. It was everything a good solid movie twist should be – memorable, unexpected, shocking, and changes the way you look at the film in the process. Though three crappy prequels and countless parodies/references may soften the blow for future generations, myself and millions of others will never forget that moment – just as we never saw it coming in the first place.

30 thoughts on “Top 10 Most Shocking Movie Twist Endings of All Time”

  1. Chii says:

    Haha in Inglorious Bastards, I was like,Did they put enough bullets in Hitler? But apparently,you can never put too many bullets in a bad guy, even if it was historically incorrect

    1. Korsgaard says:

      No, you can never put too many bullets in Hitler!

  2. The Illusive One says:

    Good picks, good ordering. This one has restored some of my faith in you movie critqing Korsgaard. Dosen’t excuse that other travisty you call a Top Ten List, (you know the one I’m referring to), but this one is good. Probably would have moved Phsyco up a few notches because most twist endings owe something to it but all around a good list. DON’T SHATTER MY FAITH IN YOU AGAIN!

    1. Korsgaard says:

      Glad you liked the list, though you’re faith in me tends to waiver pretty regularly.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why the fuck you put spoilers on the title? Dumbasses go fuk urself!

    1. Korsgaard says:

      One: Please watch your language.

      Two: I gave a spoiler warning near the top of the page. Read those things next time.

    2. Anonymous says:

      If you read the title and you didn’t know there were going to be spoilers, I think you are probably the ‘dumbass’.

    3. Korsgaard says:

      Normally, I’m not one of cursing, but it fits in this case.

  4. Princess4ever says:

    You young people…when it comes to twist endings NONE come before Witness for the Prosecution. Marlena Dietrich starred in this great movie. Made in 1957.

    1. Korsgaard says:

      I am well aware of this fantastic courtroom drama – I just felt that the end twist wasn’t one of the ten best. Certainly an honorable mention though.

  5. Tom says:

    Got to agree about the ending to Inglorious Basterds. I enjoyed it for the same reasons you did; knowing many aspects and areas of history that are frequently made into movies like the back of my hand thanks to my studies, shocking aspects and ‘unexpected’ twists are neither shocking nor unexpected.

    So it was a breath of fresh air to have a loosely historically based movie with its own plot and WWII ending!

    1. Korsgaard says:

      Yeah, for once being a history buff played against itself! It was oddly refreshing to not see the end coming for once.

  6. Betty Marsdon says:

    Actually the best movie twist is the movie –
    “The Others” duh! 🙂

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      It’s not a bad twist, but not one of the best. Especially since it came around the same time as the Sixth Sense, which, as far as supernatural twists go, is the reigning champ.

      Great movie all the same, it made my Best Horror Movies list.

  7. debbie says:

    What about Se7en?

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      Great twist, nearly made the list. Unintentional rhyme aside, it’s an easy honorable mention.

  8. susie says:

    One of the bests has to be “Others” with. Nichole Kidman

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      As I mentioned to the last person who mentioned The Others, great movie, great twist, but when it comes to supernatural thrillers with a twist ending where the main character has been dead since the start of the film, it never escapes the shadow of The Sixth Sense.

  9. susie says:

    Also, the Crying G

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      Now that was a great one, no doubt. Certainly an honorable mention.

  10. Pingback: 7 Plot Twists We Never Saw Coming | Raindance Berlin
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  12. who cares says:

    Weak list, so many spelling errors it looks like this was typed on a iPhone. Inglourious bastards really? Anyone with half a brain expected that from such a horrible REMAKE. You blow yourself for claiming to be a history buff and avid movie goer when it seems more like you are a hipster with the same generic knowledge as everyone else.

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      First, sorry you didn’t like the list – aside from Basterds, what didn’t you like?

      Second, feel free to point out these spelling errors and I will fix them.

      Third, let me point out that Inglourious Basterds is not a remake. It’s title was inspired by an old Italian war movie, but the plot is entirely original. As such, not a remake by any definition of the word. Go look up what defines a remake if you want to debate the point.

      Fourth, as a history buff, I was expecting it to end the same way the multiple attempts in Hitler’s life in real life went – unsuccessful, and ending with the conspirators either against a wall with a rifle to their face, or dancing at the end of a short rope. In real life, Hitler committed suicide before the Soviets captured Berlin, and much of the Nazi high command pictured in the film either survived the war or died in other circumstances. Thus, having the plot to kill Hitler in the film actually succeed to the degree it did, going against history, unlike a half-dozen films before, was a major twist. Looks like you need to brush up on your history after you look up what constitutes a remake.

      Fifth, I’m certainly not a hipster by any measure of the word, feel free to go read some of the articles on the site I wrote trashing hipsters if you don’t believe me.

      Lastly, evidently it’s not generic knowledge everyone else knows, as you yourself clearly did not know it. Unless you yourself are below average intelligence, which may be the case regardless. If you ever come back to troll the site, mind your language, watch your tone, and be sure to bring your A-game next time.

      1. jasonthekid14 says:

        it proves when a writer is good when a critic tries to put down the writer but the writer is not effected but it is better when the critic is made out to be a fool trying to make fun of something he knows nothing about

  13. Sid Hart says:

    I’m kinda surprised no mention was made of Jacob’s Ladder, Presumed Innocent or Angel Heart…but then again, I’m an old fart.

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      All three of them are great, but like I said to several others, I only had ten slots, so there are some great twist movies I had to leave off. Jacob’s Ladder in particular nearly made the list, if it’s any consolation.

  14. DES C says:

    Sleepaway Camp. Not a good movie, but one of the best suprise endings of any movie.

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      I agree on that for sure – that insane ending may not have landed it a spot on this list, but is ensured it got a spot on my list of Must See Horror Movies:

  15. jasonthekid14 says:

    You a a really good writer your work is quite good but your defense against critics is even better and being a history buff myself it is good to know that you know what you are talking about so if you make something similar to this i will be sure to read it and have another response so it is quite obvious you are not a hipster you have my highest respect a fan

  16. jasonthekid14 says:

    Hello me again you know what Hitler did is the worst thing ever and he deserves to die in the most gruesome manner but back in the old time we did a lot of killing and hating others races are selves so we didn’t do what he did but there is still a lot of blood on our hands as well still a fan

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