Depending on how much you value your brain, there are some of us who delight in having our minds completely fucked. And there are some movies that do this better than others…But what makes a good twist?
In some cases, it’s complementary to the story – one that’s already immersive and character-driven but is made titanically better thanks to a big ol’ curveball. In other examples, the film hinges on it; it’s in the warping of our frail little movie-going minds that we find our love for the story, and whilst we may have been fidgeting with confusion for 100 minutes out of 110, it’s all worth it for that sweet, sweet twist, baby.
In this list, you’ll find a few classics, being twists you’ve known about for years. Others will be further off the beaten track but no less deserving of your attention. We recommend skimming over those titles you aren’t familiar with, otherwise, you’ll be missing out on having your brain blown out the back of your skull – and we wouldn’t want that. So here it is, without further delay, Man of Many’s Top 20 Movies With A Mind-Bending Twist (in no particular order).
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
For its time Psycho was a revolution. Famed not only for its stylistic horror elements, Pyscho featured one of the first ever ‘twists’. It could even be the twist. No matter what era you’re from; when you discover that it’s Norman Bates himself donning a wig and pretending to be his mother whilst murdering innocent patrons, it’s impossible not to be gobsmacked.
Back when John Cusack was a still a bit of a heartthrob, he wasn’t impartial to the odd thriller – and this is his best. Identity is almost two films. A classic ‘Whodunnit’ mixed-in with a grey-matter melting conceptual twist that makes Shutter Island look like an episode of Dora the Explorer, Identity takes place in a creepy motel – and simultaneously within the mind of a deranged individual with multiple personality disorder, whose personas are fighting for dominance.
In the end, we think the ‘right’ choice has made it into the hot seat, but alas, it was the psychopathic, murderous child.
The Sixth Sense
Forever etching “I See Dead People” into the minds of millennials everywhere, The Sixth Sense was a trailblazer in the twist category. Backed by a powerhouse cast of both child megastar (Hayley Joel Osment) and mega adult star (Bruce Willis), when we discover that the main character was dead the whole time, we can’t help but accept that our brains are now a smouldering pile of rubble.
Immortalising the phrase “What’s in the box?”, David Fincher’s Se7en was a twist-pioneer. Introducing its key villain in the final 25 minutes of the film was already a bold move in its own right, however, it was somewhat dwarfed when Gwyneth’s head was found in a FedEx box, turning a grief-stricken Brad Pitt into the 7th deadly sin (Wrath) and thus completing the villains plan at his own hand. Ouch.
Whilst Inception is full of twists and turns, it’s closing few seconds of the film that really take your brain out of its natural habitat and gives it a good kicking. Inception brilliantly establishes that its key characters each have a ‘totem’ which help them understand if they are in a dream state, or in the real world – Leo’s is his former lovers spinning top, which twirls without end in the dream-world.
At the end of his arduous journey back home, and after struggling with his grip on reality for the full-length of the film, Leo runs out to see his kids – but not before spinning his totem out of habit. As the camera zooms in on the device, we hear the sound of it beginning to waver; but before we get the clarity we wanted, nay desperately needed, the film cuts to black. Thanks for that one, Nolan, you bastard.
Planet of The Apes
Chock-a-block full of iconic quotes such as “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” and “They blew it up! God, damn you! Damn you all to hell!!!” the original Planet of The Apes starring Charlton Heston blew peoples fragile little minds way back in the ’60s. With the audience believing that the planet in question was alien, we see in the final frames that it is the original Earth, now overrun with dirty, albeit intelligent, monkeys.
Starring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy, this film is neither a thriller nor an action flick. Instead, this romantic drama takes you on a twisted path of class warfare, the death of love and teaches us the price of guilt. During the film, we follow the romance of the two star-crossed lovers but later find that the two never made it out of the gate so-to-speak.
Thanks to a damning false accusation that leads to the pair being separated, we discover right at the end of the film that two characters never ended up together. Instead, they die completely alone and very much apart, confirming that everything we had seen didn’t actually happen; making for a twist that is made up of heartache rather than thrills but with no less impact.
The film that millennials hold dear as the movie that fucked with them the most when they were in school, SAW is a low-budget thriller that packed a severe punch. Set in one room, for the most part, a pair of supposed strangers overcome a series of riddles and harrowing tasks to find their freedom. In the final minutes, they find that the dead man resting on the floor the whole time was their captor (Jigsaw).
Jigsaw rises and leaves the sole survivor to starve in the dark, making for a brilliant last-second twist ending. If only the movie studio had stopped there before franchising it to death.
A film that’s all about misdirection and the art of deception, The Prestige follows rival magicians Angier and Borden. Over time, we learn that there isn’t much that the two wouldn’t do to outperform the other, including emotional manipulation, physical harm – and even murder. Both, however, are baffled by each other’s main and final trick, spending their entire lives trying to outperform the other.
In the end, however, we learn that Borden is really two people; twins living a half-life in order to sustain the greater illusion. Angier, on the other hand, is generating clones with the help of Nikola Tesla and killing them at the end of each performance. Now that’s a magic trick.
A movie that’s as confusing for its audiences as it is for the amnesia-afflicted main character (Leonard, played by Guy Pearce), Memento is a schizophrenic memory trip – in the best possible way. Searching for his wife’s murderer through a series of complicated and vague clues that he leaves himself, but ultimately forgets, we find out in the end that his Paramore survived the home invasion he’d initially thought had resulted in her death. Turns out she was killed later by Leonard himself and once again, Nolan fires a direct hit at our frontal cortex.
Have you ever wondered if your neighbor had a sinister secret? Well, imagine if all of them did and at the centre of their evil plan it was you. Addressing themes of paranoia, domestic restraint, and the occult, Rosemary’s Baby (directed by the controversial Roman Polanski) shows its cards pretty early on in the piece, meaning we know that something satanic is going on from about a third of the way through.
This, however, does not detract from the shock of finding out that the leading lady’s neighbours are satanist witches who have summoned the devil to defile and impregnate her with the antichrist. If that weren’t enough, it turns out her husband was in on it the whole time. Yikes.
Directed by the eternally excellent, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Bladerunner 2049) Arrival features one of the most clever twists on this list. Arrival tells the story of language expert Louise (played by Amy Adams) who is brought in to make first contact with a mysterious (and proper-creepy) pair of aliens. Throughout the movie we are exposed to a series of moments between Louise and her daughter Hannah, who we assume through suggestion has passed away.
It’s not until the end of the movie, after discovering what the aliens were trying to say, that we find out that these moments were actually taking place in the future and that the man who Louise had been working with was Hannah’s father.
A dark satire on race and equality in America today, Get Out was an instant hit when it arrived in theatres. Riffing on the awkwardness of meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, Get Out unfolds a layered story wherein the main character Chris goes from feeling like the odd one out to being auctioned off to a rich white man who wants to take over his body, and push Chris’s subconscious down into ‘the sunken place’.
Caught up in the path of long-standing business of kidnapping African-American’s in order to supplant ageing rich white people in their minds, Chris escapes and satisfyingly murders the whole lot of them.
The Skin I Live In
This one is crooked, even for a list full of movies that are meant to be a little twisted. The Skin I Live In follows skilled plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, as he perfects a new ‘skin’ that could save and renew the lives of burn victims. Sounds pretty good right? Alas, his test subject is also his prisoner: a beautiful, clever woman named Vera.
During the film, Robert remembers moments from the night he discovered that a man called Vicente had raped his daughter at a party. Vera dreams of the same night from a differing perspective and as the film reaches climax we learn that Vera was Vicente all along and that Robert had performed a sex change on him against his will – ‘Vera’ kills Robert and escapes home to her family, unrecognisable. Chilling stuff.
The Empire Strikes Back
Needing no introduction, the twist in The Empire Strikes Back rattled brain cells across the world. In what is a total classic moment in cinemas, Darth Vader extends his hand and tells Luke what he knew deep down to be true all along: that Darth is his Father, Anakin Skywalker. Talk about daddy issues.
Starring Nicole Kidman as Grace, The Others does an amazing job of flipping a classic ghost story on its head. Grace takes her two children to the English coast during World War II, to live in a big creepy house and await word on her missing husband. The house is always dark too, as Graces children suffer from a rare photosensitivity disease that causes them to burn severely in the sun.
Not long after, shit gets spooky in the big dark house and the kids claim that they are seeing ghosts. For the length of the film, we believe we’re seeing this family tortured by the otherworldly until right at the end we discover that Anne and her kids are the real ghosts – and that the noises and moving objects around the house are the living and the new owners of the house.
There are many films since who have copied the formulae, and yet none have come close. Starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, Fight Club explorers themes of nihilism, depression, worthlessness, and anarchy. Tying these grim elements together, however, is the revelation that the main characters are one and the same, two halves of an extremely unwell whole.
Whilst this movie divided audiences and critics – with the latter adoring it and some viewers deeming it too disturbing – Hereditary is without question, a brilliant attempt at horror. However, to make this list a movie is only as good as its twist; luckily, Hereditary delivers on this in spades. Set right after the death of the Graham family matriarch, her daughter and grandchildren deal with the aftermath and begin to unravel an intricate web of secrets.
Following Annie (mother), Peter (son) and Charlie (daughter), Hereditary hints throughout the film that the grandmother might be some kind of the witch; it’s even mentioned that at one point she tried to ‘put people’ in Annie’s late brother. Long-story-short, and after some extremely graphic and terrifying imagery, it turns out that the Grahams were simply pawns in the covens grand plan to summon one of the eight kings of Hell (Paimon).
The movie ends with Peter becoming possessed by Paimon and the ritual is cemented in the family treehouse which is host to the decapitated corpses of the Grahams, demonic statues and butt-naked witches.
Another Denis Villeneuve classic, Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover: a father on a desperate search to find his abducted father. Pissed off by a lack of diligence from the police, namely Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) he takes things into his own hands with his No.1 suspect, Alex Jones. He tortures him in order to break him, but we learn that Jones is a victim of kidnapping himself, raised by his captors as their own – and completely innocent.
It is, in fact, Jone’s ‘Aunt’ Holly, who is taking and murdering children, as part of her ongoing ‘war against God’. Go figure.
The Usual Suspects
Directed by Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects is hailed as one of the best movies that hinge on its twist. A story of a group of cons told via a series of flashbacks is narrated by Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), and we learn throughout the film about the terrible deeds of crime lord Keyser Soze. After Kint makes bail, we find out that he is Soze – a seemingly obvious twist, but Singer does a great job of making sure the devil is in the details.