April 1st is a time for japes, jokes, gaffs and guffaws, but only until midday, with anyone playing such tricks after this time is considered a fool by jolly folklorists. Throughout cinema, however, such tricks are played on a consistent basis, with filmmakers and writers often dotting twists, turns and narrative Helter Skelters in their otherwise conventional films.
This can lead to moments of cinematic brilliance, such as in the forthcoming list of ten films, or instances of pure nonsense as a narrative is derailed in favour of pointless insanity. Whilst the lunacy of 2003s High Tension or 2013s Now You See Me won’t make this list, they may indeed make it onto an article that compiles the worst twists of all time, retaining a strange level of charm in the process.
For now, let’s focus on the films that do a good job in deceiving their audience, with the likes of David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch featuring in our carefully compiled collection.
From horrors to thrillers, comedies to sci-fi, take a look at our list of the ten greatest movie twists of all time, below.
The 10 greatest movie twists of all time:
10. Crazy, Stupid Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2011)
The most recent film to be released on our list of the greatest twists of all time, the total narrative surprise of Crazy, Stupid Love written by Dan Fogelman, doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Whether it’s because you wouldn’t expect a rom-com to deliver a plot twist, or if the film settles you into a sense of security, the baffling twist of the Steve Carell-led comedy is a real riot.
Involving each of the lead cast of characters, the twist sees Carell’s relationship advisor (Ryan Gosling) unexpectedly pair off with his daughter (Emma Stone) in a hilarious scene that heightens into a massive fight.
9. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
Perhaps the most famous twist in all of cinema history, The Sixth Sense’s “I see dead people” line has become one of the most iconic lines of dialogue in the history of the medium. Hitting the viewer sideways when it’s revealed that the main character, played by Bruce Willis, is actually a ghost who doesn’t realise he’s passed away as he continues his job as a child psychologist.
Though it may seem baffling, M. Night Shyamalan cleverly engineered the moment and lays secret clues throughout the film, which, if you rewatch it, works perfectly to set up the classic twist.
8. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
With several twists throughout its sprawling story, the subversive values of David Fincher’s Fight Club were recently substituted in a Chinese cut of the film that saw the characters seeing justice to their rebellious crimes. Told from the perspective of Edward Norton’s Narrator, Fincher’s story is one of personal autonomy and modern masculinity, with the protagonist creating the alter-ego of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to help him navigate the tribulations of contemporary society.
It’s a solid twist that’s teased several times throughout the film, though never enough that you can predict the shocking moment coming.
7. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001)
Sharing many comparisons with M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, we believe the twist in The Others is merely a better version, making the narrative turning point a truly haunting moment. Telling the story of a woman and her to children who become convinced their house is haunted, as fate would have it, it turns out that they are in fact the ghosts of a house that is trying to be sold.
Leaving a more long-lasting impression than Shyamalan’s counterpart, Alejandro Amenábar’s film is a classic 21st-century chiller, starring Nicole Kidman and Christopher Eccleston.
6. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
Once an iconic film of 1990s popular culture, The Usual Suspects has more recently been disowned from movie fandom following the allegations of sexual assault against both director Bryan Singer and lead star Kevin Spacey. Nonetheless, the 1995 Oscar-winning film contains one of cinema’s greatest ever twists, inspiring countless parodies, copycats and contemporary crime movies.
Searching for a sinister crime boss, Spacey’s Verbal is interviewed by police throughout the whole film, only to walk out the front door before the officers work out that the killer was in front of them the whole time.
5. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
American filmmaker David Fincher is a great fan of a twist, with several of his films including Fight Club, The Game and Gone Girl containing thrilling narrative turning points. None are better than in his dark 1995 crime film Se7en, however, which sees a serial killer (once again played by Kevin Spacey) dispatch his victims using the story of the seven deadly sins.
Keen to finish off his seven-body plan, Spacey’s character organises for the wife of the lead detective (Brad Pitt) to be killed, placing her head in a box. “What’s in the box,” Pitt’s character screams at the film’s climax, before opening it up, seeing his wife and murdering the serial killer in an act of ‘wrath’, completing the villain’s evil doings.
4. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Often deceiving his audiences with frequent trips to the dreamworld that disorientate the viewer and provide moments of visceral horror, Lynch’s greatest trick came in his 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive. Joining Naomi Watts’ Betty as she tries to piece together events from a tragic night, the director takes us on a journey of confusing hallucinations that all makes sense come the film’s conclusion.
Usually, the cliched ending of ‘it was all a dream’ is a hated trope of popular cinema, but it works here, with the overwhelming madness of the central character leading her to kill herself in the final moments.
3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
Is “No, I am your father” the most iconic line in movie history? Quite possibly. Shocking audiences back in 1980 when it was revealed that the protagonist of the 1977 film Star Wars was the son of the galaxy’s most evil villain, Darth Vader, the climax of Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back still continues to thrill younger generations to this very day.
Coming out of the complete blue, it was at this moment that Star Wars became the cultural juggernaut it is today, instilling the importance of family lineage in the series that is still being honoured to this day.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was famously the ‘Master of Suspense,’ and in some ways, he popularised the movie twist with his 1960 classic Psycho. Starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, the film takes place at the Bates Motel where a peculiar killer is dispatching guests in a brutal manner. Not only does Hitchcock provide an early twist by killing off his lead actor in Leigh, but he then bookends his story by revealing that the killer wasn’t indeed the suspected mother, but her deranged son.
A classic of the horror genre, Hitchcock’s film has entered the history books of 20th century Hollywood for all its contributions to the twists and turns of modern narrative cinema.
1. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Revenge, deceit and malevolence are the order of the day in Park Chan-wook’s venomous crime thriller, Oldboy, following a man who is released from unexplained captivity only to be told that he must find his captor in five days. Following him on his frenetic journey, we discover that the characters he meets along the way may not be the people they claim to be.
In fact, it transpires that the young sushi chef who he falls in love with is actually his own daughter, with his captor punishing him after his own sister took her own life in their youth when the protagonist revealed their incestual relationship.
Is revenge really worth it? After watching Oldboy, you’ll realise it really, truly, isn’t.