Skip to main content

I love a good twist in a story – even better when I don’t see it coming at all but realise that I should have! Here’s ten of my favourites that caught me out and blew me away. Obviously, major spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen these movies.

No Way Out (1987)

Kevin Costner plays a navy officer assigned to the Secretary of Defence who unwittingly starts an affair with his boss’s mistress. When his boss (Gene Hackman) accidentally kills the mistress, his chief of staff concocts a story that the murderer is secretly ‘Yuri’, a legendary Russian mole, and assigns Costner to hunt him down. But an undeveloped polaroid of Costner found under the victim’s bed threatens to point to him as the killer – and therefore ‘Yuri’. Using a gift register, Costner manages to connect Hackman to the dead woman, and blackmails him into calling off the search. Instead, Hackman blames his CoS, who commits suicide at the betrayal.

The Twist

After everything seems to be wrapped up, we see Costner in a debriefing, and it turns out that he isYuri, the Russian mole.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

An iconic twist now, but a major shocker when it first came out. Kevin Spacey plays a meek criminal who retells the story of the movie to detective Chazz Palminteri. It’s a tale of a group of criminals who got on the wrong side of a legendary crime lord, Keyser Soze, and were all killed off as a result. Spacey takes us through the whole tale, as each one after another of his accomplices dies, leaving only him.

The Twist

As Spacey is released from custody, Palminteri realises that every element of the story he has just told was inspired by something in the room around them, including the name of Soze’s supposed fixer, Kobayashi, which is the name of the manufacturers of his own mug, that he’s been drinking from during the interview. Simultaneously, we see Spacey’s character lose his characteristic limp as he walks outside and steps into a waiting car, heavily implying that he is, in fact, Keyser Soze.

Scream (1996)

The first of this ground-breaking, self-aware horror was uniquely clever in its payoff. Set in a town haunted by the historic murder of Neve Campbell’s mother, the ghost-face killer is stalking Campbell and her friends. The movie is full of great pop culture references and conversations about how to behave in a slasher movie!

The Twist

There’s two of them! When the killer is finally revealed, it turns out that Campbell’s boyfriend, Skeet Ulrich, and the goofy Matthew Lillard have been working together as the ghost-face killer, essentially giving each other alibis for the murders. And Ulrich admits he was responsible for Campbell’s mother’s murder.

Fallen (1998)

The film begins with a voiceover by star Denzel Washington, saying “Let me tell you about the time I almost died.” Detective Washington witnesses the execution of a previously unrepentant serial killer, who at the last minute begs mercy and claims innocence. Not long after, new murders begin, mimicking the dead killer’s methods. And Washington keeps hearing people on the street whistling Time is on My Side, just as the killer had before dying. Washington learns that the real perpetrator is fallen angel Azazel, doomed to live on earth without form, but able to jump from body to body as long as he is not incorporeal for too long. With help, Washington sets a trap for Azazel, luring him out to a remote cabin where he shoots the host and then commits suicide, giving the angel no body to jump into.

The Twist

Azazel jumps instead into the body of a cat, and we realise that the opening line was spoken not by Washington’s character, but by Azazel.

Unbreakable (2000)

Bruce Willis is the only survivor of a train crash, miraculously unharmed. Samuel L Jackson’s disabled, comics-obsessed character tracks him down and pushes him to investigate whether he has super powers. Since Jackson has brittle bones, he reasons that a person opposite him must exist, one who would be unnaturally impervious to harm. Willis finally comes to accept his abilities, even tapping into a psychic ability that works through contact.

The Twist

After Willis rescues a family being held hostage by a janitor, Jackson finally removes the gloves he always wears and shakes his hand. Willis sees that Jackson has been methodically causing major catastrophes, killing huge numbers of people, in his search for someone like Willis. Jackson has been the villain to Willis’ hero all along.

The Others (2001)

Nicole Kidman plays a mother in the aftermath of WWII, living in a vast mansion with her two photosensitive children. It quickly becomes apparent that their house is haunted, with ghosts that do things like pull down all the blackout curtains designed to protect her children from the sun. But there are three creepy servants who seem to know more than they will say, and at one point her husband, believed lost in the war, appears home on a misty night, only to disappear again.

The Twist

The house is indeed haunted, but by them! They are the ghosts. Kidman had smothered her children in their sleep and then shot herself, and neither she nor the children knew they were dead. But the servants, who had died of TB earlier, knew the truth.

The Prestige (2006)

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play a pair of rival stage magicians in Victorian London, attempting to outdo each other to perform the ultimate illusion – the Transported Man. But they are also driven to destroy each other due to a previous accident which means that Jackman blames Bale for his wife’s death. But we’ve also seen, from the very beginning, that Bale in a later timeline is on trial for Jackman’s murder. There are twists aplenty throughout this one, but the best are saved for last.

The Twist #1

Jackman isn’t dead. He’s been performing the Transported Man trick by using a machine invented by Nikola Tesla that literally creates a duplicate of him in a second location, and every time he performs the trick, the first version of him is dropped through a trapdoor into a water tank to drown.

The Twist #2

As we see Bale hang for Jackman’s murder, we also see his assistant shooting the living Jackman – but he is also Bale! Bale’s secret to the trick was that he was in fact one of a pair of twins, who swapped lives back and forth as him and his assistant.

Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Brilliantly clever post-modern horror where five American college students, including a young Chris Hemsworth, go into the woods, only to find a creepy basement in their cabin, full of dark magical objects. It turns out that they are the unwilling cast of a real-life horror movie, being directed by an underground organisation. The five are being forced into the horror archetypes of Whore, Athlete, Scholar, Virgin and Fool, in a pattern designed to appease some ‘old gods’ and prevent them from destroying the world. And they are not the only one happening at the same moment, with other cultures around the world also running their own horror trope real-life events.

The Twist

After all the other events fail, it seems that the American one must succeed to save the world, but the Virgin (Kristin Connolly) turns out to be a Final Girl instead, whose survival is a choice for the gods, as long the other have all died, beginning with the Whore. But it turns out the Fool (Fran Kranz) has survived. A will-she-won’t-she moment ensues where Connolly debates killing Kranz, but she is interrupted by a werewolf attack, from which Kranz rescues her. After another unexpected attack that they survive together, the two sit down and light a joint. The last scene of the movie shows a giant hand emerging from the earth.

Us (2019)

Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Moss lead a brilliant cast in a chilling tale of a world where everyone has a doppelganger living in a sort of underground hell. Nyong’o’s character encountered hers once as a child, in the fun house of a local fair, and was traumatised for some time after. But now, as she is an adult with her own husband and children, the doppelgangers are emerging into the world to murder their opposites and take their place. The doppelgangers are brutal and primitive, with most of them, except Nyong’o, communicating only in grunts. Nyong’o’s ‘Red’ has basic speech, and is therefore their leader. In the end, the family manage to kill off their doppelgangers, but discover that the rest have emerged and are all for some reason forming a human chain across the world.

The Twist

In flashback, we see that when Nyong’o’s character encountered her doppelganger as a child, it was actually the double that emerged, and the original girl was taken down into the underground. That’s why she had basic communication abilities and led the revolution back up to the real world.

Glass Onion (2022)

Daniel Craig’s detective is inexplicably invited to a reclusive billionaire’s (Ed Norton) island, where he finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery when the billionaire’s friends, whom he mostly sponsors, seem to turn on each other.

The Twist #1

Janelle Monae is actually playing her supposed character’s twin sister. The other sister was already murdered by someone at the retreat. It was the twin who went to Craig and invited him to the island with her.

The Twist #2

Ed Norton’s billionaire turns out to be a complete fraud. He’s a total moron who stole the concept that made him from Janelle Monae’s sister, and killed her to keep it a secret. (Twitter has had a lot of fun speculating as to who might be the inspiration for this character…)

And in a twist, here’s a bonus movie!

Split (2016)

Misanthropic Anya Taylor-Joy and two other girls are kidnapped by James McAvoy, who gives an incredible performance as a deeply damaged man with 23 distinct personalities. Each personality talks about the coming of The Beast, a superhuman creature that will feast on the girls. As they try to escape, the others die until only Taylor-Joy remains.

The Twist #1

The Beast is real and does have superhuman abilities. But when confronted with Taylor-Joy’s equally damaged character, he spares her.

The Twist #2

The real twist – in a final scene, we see Bruce Willis’s character from Unbreakable watching a report of the kidnappings on the news and only then learn that Split was a secret sequel to Unbreakable!

Check Out Author Justin Lee Anderson’s Newest


Justin Lee Anderson

Justin spent 15 years as a professional writer and editor before his debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. It became a best-seller and won a 2018 Audie award. His second book, The Lost War, was shortlisted in the 2019 Booknest Awards and won the 2020 SPFBO competition. A new release is coming from Orbit Books as the first in the four-book Eidyn Saga.

Leave a Reply