Greatest Film Plot Twists
Film Spoilers and
Surprise Endings


Introduction

Written by Tim Dirks
Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings
(alphabetical by film title)
Intro | A1 | A2 | B1 | B2 | B3 | B4 | B5 | C1 | C2 | C3 | D1 | D2 | D3 | E1 | E2 | F1 | F2 | G | H1 | H2 | H3 | I | J-K | L1 | L2
M1 | M2 | M3 | M4 | M5 | N | O | P1 | P2 | Q-R1 | R2 | S1 | S2 | S3 | S4 | S5 | S6 | T1 | T2 | T3 | U-V | W1 | W2 | W3 | X-Z

Greatest Plot Twists, Spoilers, Surprise Endings: Avid filmgoers often speak about seeking rare movie surprises in the movie-going experience, such as discovering films that have cunning plot twists, a shocking surprise ending, an unexpected revelation about a particular character, or some other unknown or unsuspected narrative element.

Compiled here in this comprehensive collection is a detailed set of films
with the greatest movie twists, spoilers, and surprise endings.

During and after the 1970's, major motion pictures began to "play tricks" more regularly on audiences, partly in homage to the "Master of Suspense" Alfred Hitchcock, but also after the re-discovery and appreciation of acclaimed B-films - film noirs in particular that used plot twists fairly regularly - and found that audiences reacted well to them. For example, Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) was one of the first films to caution audiences to not reveal the "shocking secrets" - other films were to follow, e.g., Planet of the Apes (1968), Presumed Innocent (1990), The Crying Game (1992), The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Others (2001), though unlike Hitchcock's carefully devised marketing ploy, these were grassroots campaigns by the filmgoers themselves.

Plot twists often help to make film-viewing a renewed experience, because a lot of the hints and red herrings in the film (that were missed during the first viewing) take on new meaning during a second screening. However, some plot twists have become so over-used that they have become tiresome and expected cliches (Halloween (1978) - the "undead dead", or Open Your Eyes/Abre Los Ojos (1997, Sp.) - reality is only a dream). Directors who are best known for film twists include Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Pedro Almodovar, M. Night Shyamalan, and Dario Argento.

A Word About Spoilers: When narrative elements, usually reserved for late in a film's plot development, are divulged to others who have not yet seen the film, they are termed spoilers. It is usually considered malicious, unfair and a major faux pas to reveal 'spoilers' without a warning, because their publication can 'spoil' or ruin the enjoyment of experiencing a film's twists and surprises for oneself - without advance warning. Film critics often fastidiously avoid providing spoilers in their reviews, in order to not offend their readership.

Spoilers may generally include the revelation of the criminal or culprit, some other secret identity, or some other major plot event that changes the entire direction or perception of the film.

However, some advance marketing of teasers and other ads have often revealed a film's entire plot. And some spoilers have become very common knowledge, i.e., Planet of the Apes (1968), so that they are no longer considered real spoilers. Sometimes, a spoiler has been embedded in a famous line of dialogue or tagline, such as "Soylent Green is people!" Many spoilers are inexplicably revealed explicitly on (1) video/DVD box covers and its cover art (i.e., The Letter (1940), Random Harvest (1942), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Planet of the Apes (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)), (2) the DVD menu itself (i.e., Barton Fink (1991), The Shawshank Redemption (1994)), and (3) the trailer.

See also Greatest Film Death Scenes (with additional spoilers or surprise endings)




Major Types of Plot Twists - With Examples
Plot Twists
(some are overlapping, not mutually exclusive)
Some Film Examples
(not exhaustive)
Some films are placed in more than one category
Time Period or Place shifts, or Virtual Reality
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Total Recall (1990)
  • Strange Days (1995)
  • 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • Dark City (1998)
  • eXistenZ (1999)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
  • Donnie Darko (2001)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Pandorum (2009)
  • Triangle (2009)
  • Inception (2010)
  • Source Code (2011)
  • Predestination (2014)
False (or Decoy) Main Protagonist - Usually Killed Off Early (or Substantially Replaced by Another Character)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Dressed to Kill (1980)
  • Executive Decision (1996)
  • Fargo (1996)
  • Scream (1996)
  • Cube (1997)
  • Deep Blue Sea (1999)
  • The Hurt Locker (2008)
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Story told from Perspective of an 'Unreliable Narrator' who basically fabricated much or all of the entire preceding story
  • Brazil (1985)
  • The Usual Suspects (1995)
  • Primal Fear (1996)
  • Fallen (1998)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • American Psycho (2000)
  • Memento (2000)
  • A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  • Haute Tension (2003)
  • The Machinist (2004)
  • Premonition (2007)
  • Shutter Island (2010)
  • Life of Pi (2012)
  • Enemy (2013)
  • Goodnight Mommy (2014)
  • The Lego Movie (2014)
Flashbacks (usually in the 'third act' with previously unseen or unknown elements) or a sudden and surprise revelation, uncovering hidden elements, explanations or motives, often of a past event, that helped to solve mysterious circumstance(s)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Les Diaboliques (1955)
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Marnie (1964)
  • Scream (1996)
  • Swimming Pool (2003)
  • The Machinist (2004)
  • The Village (2004)
  • The Prestige (2006)
  • Safe Haven (2013)
  • Arrival (2016)
Unexpected Ending About How The Truth Has Been Shockingly Hidden or Subverted by Lies
  • Witness For the Prosecution (1957)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • F For Fake (1973)
  • Friday the 13th (1980)
  • Dead Calm (1989)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • The Mist (2007)
  • Exam (2009)
  • Remember Me (2010)
  • Kill List (2011)
It's a "Conspiracy" or "Con-Job" - All Part of a Plan
  • The Stepford Wives (1972)
  • The Sting (1973)
  • The Parallax View (1974)
  • April Fool's Day (1986)
  • Disclosure (1994)
  • The Game (1997)
  • The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
  • Enemy of the State (1998)
  • The Truman Show (1998)
  • Ocean's Eleven (2001)
  • The Life of David Gale (2003)
  • The Da Vinci Code (2006)
  • Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
  • The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
  • Get Out (2017)
Death-Dreams ("It was all a dream"), or Fantasies at the point of death
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962)
  • Phantasm (1979)
  • Brazil (1985)
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
  • Jacob's Ladder (1990)
  • Total Recall (1990)
  • Boxing Helena (1993)
  • Open Your Eyes (1997)
  • eXistenZ (1999)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • American Psycho (2000)
  • Mulholland Dr. (2001)
  • Vanilla Sky (2001)
  • Identity (2003)
  • The Descent (2005)
  • Atonement (2007)
  • Repo Men (2010)
Crucial character(s) acknowledged as dead; presumed dead, but actually (due to a faked death or faux death), still alive and not dead at all; or the reverse in which characters are actually dead (but are made to appear alive); or the situation (or ploy) of taking over a dead person's identity
  • Laura (1944)
  • And Then There Were None (1945)
  • The Third Man (1949)
  • Les Diaboliques (1955)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999)
  • Saw (2004)
  • Taking Lives (2004)
  • The Illusionist (2006)
  • The Prestige (2006)
  • Tell No One (2006)
  • Gone Baby Gone (2007)
  • Gone Girl (2014)
A Sudden Reversal of Fortune for a character, or change in circumstances, or reversal of motivation
  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
  • The Game (1997)
  • A La Foile...Pas Du Tout (2002, Fr.) (aka He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not)
  • Saw (2004)
  • The Skeleton Key (2005)
  • Sunshine (2007)
  • Hancock (2008)
Sudden Revelation of the True Nature or Identity of a Character(s) Revealed, an Unexpected Reversal of Identity, or Revelation of a Character Mix-Up
  • Witness For the Prosecution (1957)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Charade (1963)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • The Conversation (1974)
  • Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
  • Deep Red (1975)
  • Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • Friday the 13th (1980)
  • Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
  • No Way Out (1987)
  • Shattered (1991)
  • The Crying Game (1992)
  • Malice (1993)
  • Color of Night (1994)
  • The Usual Suspects (1995)
  • Primal Fear (1996)
  • Arlington Road (1999)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999)
  • Unbreakable (2000)
  • Frailty (2001)
  • The Others (2001)
  • Basic (2003)
  • High Tension (2003)
  • Identity (2003)
  • Matchstick Men (2003)
  • Oldboy (2003)
  • Secret Window (2004)
  • The Man From Earth (2007)
  • Orphan (2009)
  • Carbon Copy (2010)
  • The Tourist (2010)
  • The Ward (2010)
  • The Skin I Live In (2011)
  • Unknown (2011)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Enemy (2013)
  • The Visit (2015)
Non-linear films, constructed in non-chronological order or reverse chronology, and revealing truth outside of a clear timeline
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Lost Highway (1997)
  • Memento (2000)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Irréversible (2002)
  • Identity (2003)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Inland Empire (2006)
  • Premonition (2007)
  • Arrival (2016)



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