There’s nothing like watching a movie for the first time and savoring a delicious plot twist that makes your jaw drop and changes everything that came before. So if you really hate someone, here are ten great movies that contain a twist and you can completely ruin someone’s first time viewing experience with just a quick one-sentence spoiler. Use these spoilers judiciously though, because once you ruin a great movie for someone there’s no turning back and they may never forgive you.
And SPOILER ALERT, everything you are about to read is a spoiler. Duh. You’ve been forewarned.
1. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Spoiler: Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze.
Kevin Spacey plays “Verbal” Kint, a stammering and crippled petty criminal who recounts a complicated heist that’s gone sour to a disbelieving customs agent played by Chazz Palminteri. Kint keeps referring to an enigmatic crime boss named Keyser Soze who is supposedly behind the whole caper. But in the end Kint proves to be the mastermind, and the final shot of the film where the hobbling Kint straightens up and walks away in confident strides is still a mind blower.
2. Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan with story by George Lucas
Spoiler: Vader is Luke’s Father
When Darth Vader says to Luke Skywalker, “No, I am your father” at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, you could hear an entire audience gasp. Luke was under the impression that Vader had killed his father as Obi Wan Kenobi had told him. But that old Obi Wan, he loved his metaphors, and when he said Vader had killed Anakin Skywalker it was just a figurative thing. Luke was sure pissed to find out the truth and the reveal cast the Star Wars saga in a whole new light.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Spoiler: Rosebud is Kane’s sled.
Orson Welles’ brilliantly innovative first feature opens on the deathbed of his main character Charles Foster Kane (a thinly veiled version of publisher William Randolph Hearst). Kane clutches and then lets drop a snow globe, and utters his dying final word, “Rosebud.” The entire film is a search to find out what the word means and at the very end we see a sled with the word “Rosebud” written on it being burned. It was one of Kane’s childhood possessions and it’s something of a key to unlocking the mystery behind this famous, powerful, and rich individual. And here’s a saucy little note of trivia from Gore Vidal (writing in his 1989 article for the New York Review of Books, “Remembering Orson Welles”): “On Kane’s deathbed, he whispers the word ‘Rosebud.’ This is thought to be the key, somehow, to his life. In the film it turns out to be a boy’s sled, which Mr. Steven Spielberg recently bought for $55,000. In actual life, Rosebud was what Hearst called his friend Marion Davies’ clitoris, the sort of item that producers of children’s films tend not to collect.”
4. Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Joseph Stefano
Spoiler: Norman Bates is Mother.
Alfred Hitchcock could be credited with giving us our first slasher/serial killer film with Psycho, a tense tale about a series of deaths that seem to be perpetrated by Norman Bates’ crazy Mother. But the twist is that it’s Norman who’s crazy. He killed his mum and then developed a split personality in which he became both mother and son. Gives new meaning to Oedipal complex. The end of the film, in which Mother has taken over Norman’s personality, is chilling and disturbing thanks to Hitchcock’s savvy direction and Anthony Perkins insanely good performance.
4. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers: Rod Serling and Michael Wilson
Spoiler: They’re on Earth.
Rod Serling, the creator of TV’s The Twilight Zone, was the master of the thoughtful twist ending so his involvement in one of the best twist movie endings ever should come as no surprise. The story appears to be about an American astronaut played by Charlton Heston who crash lands on some crazy planet where humans are mute and enslaved to talking, civilized apes. We’re convinced that the planet is far off in our galaxy so when Heston fashions what he thinks is an escape and comes across the Statue of Liberty in ruins on the sandy beach, you could feel the shock waves roll through the audience. One – among many reasons – why the remake of this failed so miserably is that there is no way to recreate that sense of astonishment once people know the twist.
5. The Prestige (2006)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan.
Spoiler: Borden has a twin brother.
The Prestige is all about sleight of hand, and even with our attention focused on magicians playing tricks on us and each other, we still oooh and aaah at the final reveal. Michael Caine plays a veteran magician and he even lays out what we need to be looking for by explaining that “every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called ‘The Pledge.’ The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called ‘The Turn.’ The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige.’” So Christian Bale’s character is allowed to pull off a seemingly impossible “trick” because he has a twin brother. Ta-da!
6. Oldboy (2003)
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writers: Park Chan-Wook, Lim Chun-Hyeong
Spoiler: Mi-do is Dae-su’s daughter.
Park Chan-Wook’s middle chapter in his revenge trilogy achieves the level of Shakespearean tragedy. Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) gets nabbed off the street one day, confined to a room for 15 years, and framed for the murder of his wife. While confined he learns from sensational TV news that his three-year-old daughter has been put in a foster home. Once he gains his freedom he goes on a roaring rampage of revenge that leads him to an old classmate named Woo-jin. But Dae-su has failed to see the intricacy of Woo-jin’s cruel plot. Woo-jin has raised Dae-su’s daughter Mi-do and contrived for the two to fall in love. So the final blow in Dae-su’s agonizing journey is to discover that the woman he’s been sleeping with and has fallen in love with is his daughter.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Spoiler: Bruce Willis is dead.
M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation for plot twists brought him praise when he made The Sixth Sense but became a gimmick as his films relied so heavily on twists that people just came to blandly accept it as routine. But in Shyamalan’s debut film The Sixth Sense it seemed fresh. Little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) explains quite plainly to his child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) that he can “see dead people.” But the surprise we get at the end is that Crowe is one of those dead people and has been since the beginning.
8. The Crying Game (1992)
Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: Neil Jordan
Spoiler: She is a he.
This gender-bending twist (that actually comes in the middle of the film rather than at the end) unhinges the main character and forces the audience to not only rethink what they have seen but also to rethink some of their stereotypes and ideas about gender. The IRA kidnaps British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) and puts him under the watch of Fergus (Stephen Rea). The two develop a kind of bond and Jody confesses his concerns for his girlfriend Dil (Jaye Davidson) and would Fergus look after her if anything happens to him. Of course something bad happens to Jody and Fergus keeps his word to check in on Dil. To his surprise he falls in love with her. But the real surprise comes when Dil disrobes and reveals she’s a he.
9. Soylent Green (1973)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Writer: Stanley R. Greenberg
Spoiler: Soylent Green is people.
Once again Charlton Heston stars in a sci-fi thriller in which the future is not too cheerful for humans. This time out he stars as a New York City detective looking into a murder but ending up uncovering a big disturbing secret. Seems that in this impoverished future people are forced to live off of a processed food known as soylent green. These green wafers are supposedly made from “high-energy plankton” but what Chuck discovers is that they are actually made from people! Ew!
10. Fight Club (1999)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jim Uhls from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Spoiler: There is no Tyler Durden.
David Fincher has made quite a few films that you can easily ruin with a spoiler. For Se7en, just tell people it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in the box, and for The Game just say it’s all an elaborate party gag by the main character’s brother. But Fight Club is the one where you can really spoil the fun with by just saying Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) doesn’t exist, he’s just the crazy other personality manifested by our effed-up Narrator (Edward Norton). Fincher pulls no punches and knocks us flat out with his ending (unless of course you had read the book). But if you tell someone going into a screening of this film that there’s no Tyler, you are robbing them of one of the best jaw-dropping twists on film.
Some runners up:
Friday the 13th (1980)
Spoiler: The killer is Mrs. Voorhees.
Spoiler: Esther is a 33-year-old.
The Third Man (1949)
Spoiler: Harry Lime is alive.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Spoiler: Jacob died back in Vietnam.
The Others (2001)
Spoiler: Grace and kids are ghosts.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Spoiler: Sergeant Howie is the sacrifice.
Now go and ruin someone’s movie-going experience. ;)