The 31 Most Mind-Blowing Movie Twists of All Time, Explained

CEO Tam DT
Being caught off guard by an effective twist is a cinematic joy like no other. Over the years, writers and filmmakers have dreamed up fresh ways of keeping audiences on their toes. Some remain astonishingly...

Being caught off guard by an effective twist is a cinematic joy like no other. Over the years, writers and filmmakers have dreamed up fresh ways of keeping audiences on their toes. Some remain astonishingly bold by today’s standards, while others have had the gleam worn off by the movies they’ve gone on to inspire.

There are some filmmakers who have attempted to make the twist their trademark, like M. Night Shyamalan, while others have impressively shaped a film around its rug-pulling denouement, similar to Christopher Nolan’s magician drama The Prestige. Either way, they make for memorable viewing. Intriguingly, twists are mostly prevalent in horror films, which is what makes it so breathtaking when they show up mid-way through a drama - or, even rarer, a comedy.

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The Independent has curated a list of 31 of the greatest twists ever, from Planet of the Apes and Spider-Man: Homecoming to Oldboy. Read on to discover what has made the cut. Naturally, spoilers abound - so don’t go ruining the surprise for those who haven’t seen any of these films.

Arrival (2016)

The Set-Up:

The services of linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) are called upon when aliens arrive on Earth. While experiencing visions of her daughter, who we learn died from cancer in her teens, Louise attempts to communicate with the race in a bid to discern the purpose of their visit.

The Twist:

Louise deciphers the aliens' language, which gives her the ability to see into the future. What we thought were flashbacks are, in fact, flash-forwards - her daughter is yet to be born.

Atonement (2007)

The Set-Up:

Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) falsely accuses the housekeeper’s son (James McAvoy) of raping her cousin when she becomes jealous of his relationship with her older sister (Keira Knightley). He’s sent to prison, but is eventually freed to enlist in World War II - and the audience is told that he eventually rekindled his romance with Cecilia and lived happily ever after.

The Twist:

Only, they didn’t. We learn that this is another lie from an older Briony - both Robbie and Cecilia died in the war.

Chinatown (1974)

The Set-Up:

Having been hired to investigate her husband’s death, JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) discovers the existence of someone crucial to the case: Evelyn’s sister, Katherine.

The Twist:

After being confronted by Gittes, Evelyn reveals that Katherine is also her daughter - and the result of being raped by her father when she was 15.

Dark City (1998)

The Set-Up:

Having awoken in a bathtub, and discovering he has telekinetic abilities, John Murdoch attempts to find the truth behind a dystopian world that’s inhabited by an evil group who can stop time and implant memories.

The Twist:

His search for meaning sees him reach the end of the city. With nowhere left to go, he breaks through a wall and finds the city is actually an island floating through outer space.

The Departed (2006)

The Set-Up:

Cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) infiltrates the organization of gang chief Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) at the same time that criminal Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrates the police force - and both soon suspect they have spies in their midst.

The Twist:

Both end up dead. A shocking sequence sees Sullivan kill Costigan, who believes he's got away with it. Sergeant Sean Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) sees to that in an equally shocking climactic scene.

Gone Girl (2014)

The Set-Up:

When Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) becomes the prime suspect behind her disappearance.

The Twist:

Mid-way through the film, all becomes clear - Amy faked her abduction and spent months framing her husband in revenge for his extra-marital digressions.

Goodnight Mommy (2014)

The Set-Up:

Brothers Elias and Lukas (played by real-life siblings Elias and Lukas Schwarz) believe their mother to be an imposter after she returns home having had her face reconstructed due to a car crash.

The Twist:

One of the twins actually died in the crash. The other, unable to accept his brother's death, has merely imagined him to be alive the whole time and exacts revenge, blaming their mother for his death.

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Identity (2003)

The Set-Up:

As a convict awaits execution for several murders, 10 strangers find themselves stranded in a rainstorm at a remote Nevada hotel. Soon, they start getting killed off one by one.

The Twist:

The strangers comprise the split personalities of the convict. The motel is a fabricated reality via which doctors are attempting to find out which one is causing his murderous tendencies. They zone in on limo driver Ed (John Cusack) without realizing they've selected the wrong one: the murderous personality is a nine-year-old kid named Timmy.

Kill List (2011)

The Set-Up:

Two contract killers are given a list of people to dispatch. Their journey leads them to a cult ceremony where one of the men, Jay (Neil Maskell), must kill one final victim known as The Hunchback.

The Twist:

The Hunchback is actually his imprisoned wife with their son strapped to her back. After he kills them, he is crowned by the cultists.

Memento (2000)

The Set-Up:

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. However, his search is stunted by his short-term memory loss. Throughout the film, he tells the story of Sammy Jankis, a man who accidentally killed his diabetic wife; she kept requesting more insulin as she didn't believe he had memory loss.

The Twist:

The man responsible raped his wife, but didn’t murder her, and Leonard killed him years ago - he just can't remember it. His wife's actual killer is... himself. His real name? Sammy Jankis.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

The Set-Up:

A grizzled boxing trainer seeks atonement by helping Hilary Swank's underdog amateur boxer, Maggie, achieve her dream of becoming a professional.

The Twist:

Mid-way through the film, Maggie breaks her neck after being sucker-punched during a fight. What was a feel-good underdog story swiftly turns into a hard-hitting drama about euthanasia.

These 12 twists are just the beginning. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we unravel the mysteries behind more mind-blowing movie twists.

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