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Hollywood's Fondness for Surprises: 12 of the Biggest Plot Twists in Movie History And Why No One Will Forget Them

Updated on August 14, 2013
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What is a plot twist? Is it something based in reality or something solely for shock value? According to the dictionary, plot twists are something that gives people a break from following a predictable story. Usually, the twists are easily predictable, but there are some moments that truly cause jaws to drop to the floor and won't be forgotten anytime soon. It's those rare moments that really cause cynics to believe in the art of good storytelling. Everyone loves a good shocker that they tend to overlook everything else, even the stories that shouldn't be ignored.

When it comes to Hollywood, the movie industry seemed to thrive more on shock and awe than actual substance. With an added focus on special effects and explosions, it was the script that often got left on the cutting room floor. There are rare instances where the movie stars have aligned: plot, casting and genuine surprise. It's those key elements that make those movies stand the test of time, even after decades have gone by. Look at 2010s Inception, which was filled with more special effects, plot twists and a unique story that hooked moviegoers from start to finish. That played much better than a lot of M. Night Shyamalan's recent movies, which focused on obvious plot twists and minimal scares. In terms of finding a happy medium between shock and the routine, the movie industry is still trying to work out the kinks with some mixed results.

It's hard to boil down the most unforgettable movie plot twists without leaving a few behind, because there were a lot to choose from. After some careful consideration, 12 plot twists have been chosen based on the fact that they were unexpected and were also part of a stellar story to boot. It also discussed how the twists impacted the movies overall as well. You might be under the misconception about why certain films were chosen and why others were overlooked. There were also a few surprises that made the cut as well. Read on to see if you agree or disagree with the list and come up with your own opinions.

The Simply Unexpected

The Gender Bender-The Crying Game (1992)- Okay, this might be considered a cliché to be chosen on the list, but the moment that Jaye Davidson's Dil was revealed to be a man instead of a woman came completely out of left field. The reveal was so unexpected that the movie was remembered for that moment than the actual plot itself. Of course, many movies have attempted to recreate that level of shock value, but the results were never quite the same. Rent this movie to see why.

The Multiple Shocker- Psycho (1960)- Legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock was the master suspense for good reason, because he knew what the viewers wanted. They wanted a good thriller and to be scared senseless. With Psycho, Hitchcock broke all of the rules to give the viewers want they paid for. The movie might be an obvious choice, but this was the movie made it possible for horror films like Scream to break their own rules. Hitchcock took a huge risk by allowing his star heroine Janet Leigh (Marion Crane) to be killed off early in the film, but her shower death scene will never be forgotten. The movie also revealed an iconic movie villain in Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates who oozed insanity at every turn. Sadly, the movie also spawned a few forgettable sequels that were best left forgotten.

Killer Identity- Dressed to Kill (1980)- Okay, this movie might be considered an unofficial remake of Psycho, but the movie had its own twists to speak of. The movie explored the bounds of sexuality and marriage by testing how far one woman went to feel desirable. Instead of being a woman on the run from her past, Angie Dickinson's Kate was an unhappy housewife who went on an adventure that would only end badly. Director Brian De Palma seemed to enjoy exploring the bonds of love, death and human sexuality. He teased viewers with a brutal killer who murdered a harmless housewife for questionable reasons. When Michael Caine's mild mannered shrink was revealed to be Dickinson's killer, viewers were thrown a huge curveball. The shock was justified because there was no indication that it was coming, but the tease of the killer was actually much better than the killer's true identity. The build-up was what made the shock all the more jaw dropping. Sadly, De Palma has attempted to repeat his plot twist success before in lesser films, such as The Black Dahlia and Blow Out. His next film Passion has some potential, but only time will tell if that's the case.

Donnie's Fate- Donnie Darko (2001)- Director Richard Kelly created a trippy film atmosphere that seemed to cross time, space and even logic. The story focused on a troubled teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) who seemed destined for something greater than he expected. It was just a question of how badly things will end for him and his loved ones. The real surprise was that the film's ending revealed a surprisingly logical conclusion that explained what Gyllenhaal's true fate was. Viewers were surprised that Gyllenhaal's Donnie died early in the film in a senseless accident that proved his character was an iconic anti-hero from start to finish. Something that Kelly has tried to unsuccessfully repeat in his disappointing follow-up films (Southland Tales and The Box). Hopefully, Kelly will find the right balance in his next film that will viewers a new hero to root for.

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Demise-To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)- Director William Friedkin has been known for creating some risky stories (Cruising and The Exorcist) that explored how everyone had a little darkness in them. In L.A., the hero (William Petersen) did some questionable things to finally catch a lethal villain (Willem Dafoe) who murdered his partner. Their final confrontation scene delivered a major surprise for viewers that left the hero a casualty of his own making and his partner catching the villain. Sadly, it was what followed that shocking moment that should've been forgotten. The film treated Petersen's death like a passing moment that viewers had to rewind repeatedly to make sure it happened. The ending should've had a better build-up to make that unexpected moment possible and used it as a way to tie up all of the movie's loose ends. Even though the ending was flawed, the movie still delivered a major storyline punch that viewers won't forget.

Harry's Twisted Reality- Angel Heart (1987)- This film was chosen simply for the fact that the ending was a shocker for multiple reasons. Mickey Rourke's grizzled gum shoe was forced down a dangerous rabbit hole that he couldn't escape from. He chewed the scenery with a disturbingly creepy Robert De Niro who had an ulterior motive from the very beginning. When he revealed Rourke's Harry was behind everything, the audience were rightfully stunned. It was also very unnerving that Rourke's character had accidentally committed an act of incest with Lisa Bonet's character. As his character had made his way down to the hell of his own making, viewers remained silent even as the end credits started to roll. The movie might've gotten off to a slow start, but the ending definitely made up for lost time.

Truth and Consequences- The Departed (2006)- This movie will be solely remembered for giving Director Martin Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar, but it also should be remembered for an ending that let no one escape the long arm of the law. It seemed like Matt Damon's deceptive cop was going to get away with everything, but the film's final minutes proved otherwise when Mark Walhberg's character returned to end Damon's freedom for good. All it took was for the perfect crime of opportunity and a planned exit to make viewers surprised at how high the body count was. The violence could have been considered over-the-top, but it was that way for a purpose, which was that everyone dies whether they want to believe it or not.

Gideon's Swan Song- All That Jazz (1979)- The movie might be considered an unofficial biography on Director Bob Fosse's life, but the tale still had its own merits. Roy Scheider played a womanizing dancer who was the victim of his own folly. He enjoyed everything to excess, but he was never prepared for the consequences of his own failing body. His death after a failed open heart surgery culminated in an unforgettable final number that proved memorable and tragic at the same time. It was a sad end that proved how even the talented can die a lot earlier than expected.

Guilt/Innocence

Carolyn's Killer Revealed- Presumed Innocent (1990)- Author Scott Turow created a legal world full of twists, turns and liars at every turn in the book Presumed Innocent. The film version also took painstaking efforts to bring Turow's book to life by depicting a picture of a family man who made a mistake that would cost him everything. Harrison Ford played Rusty Sabich with the right amount of everyday man affection and moral ambiguity that made moviegoers root for him while being completely disgusted by his actions. Ford's character was accused of murdering his former mistress, which the evidence seemed to point out a little too much. When the killer's identity was revealed, viewers were stunned as to someone so close to Rusty would set him up for a crime he might not have committed. This is a movie that should be seen and not have the ending revealed too soon. Rent it and find out immediately.

Everyone was in on the scheme- Wild Things (1998)- Sure, there were a lot of whodunit thrillers to choose from, but this movie stands out due to a killer script and an equally willing cast who went the distance. The story started out as a simple case of a rape accusation against a promising high school teacher and a wealthy student. As the movie progressed, it turned out that the story was a ruse to con millions out of the girl's unsuspecting mother. The twist was that no one was safe, especially the film's high profile leading men (Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon). Viewers would definitely be surprised as to who ended with the money, but it was the execution that made all the more unforgettable. The twist was so successful that it spawned a few less than memorable sequels on top of that. In this case, the original was definitely the better one to see.

An Affair With Deadly Consequences- Damage (1992)- A high powered man (Jeremy Irons) entered an affair with a woman (Juliette Binoche) who he should've stayed away from. She was engaged to his son and the affair would ruin the family. Unfortunately, neither of them wanted to stop and face reality. Director Louis Malle tended to explore how desire often conflicted with reality and that it could lead to shocking consequences for everyone. In the case of this film, the affair gets exposed by a shocking player, but there was an unexpected tragedy that will definitely ends things once and for all. Something that people should think about when it comes to questionable extra-marital activities.

Julia's Happy Ending- My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)- When it comes to romantic comedies, the leading lady was always supposed to get the man of her dreams. The only question that remained was which man would she end walking off into the sunset with. In this 1997 hit, Roberts played her usual romantic heroine persona that made her famous (Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride) about a girl trying to find love before it's too late. Unfortunately, her character waited too long and she watched him marry someone else. Don't feel bad for Julia's character though, because she did walk off into the sunset with someone. It was just her gay best friend (Rupert Everett) that she ended up sharing an important laugh when the chips were down and proved that she was ready to move on to her next adventure.

In terms of plot twists, Hollywood seemed to be focusing more on re-examining the past than finding new ways to keep viewers interested. Remakes are becoming more of a cinema staple than many would be willing to admit. The ultimate cure to the movie copycat blues would be to explore surprising indie films that might be what the doctor ordered, such as Donnie Darko or Drive. Those films allowed viewers to expect the unexpected in all the right ways. It's just a matter of time before Hollywood gets the hint and decides to follow suit, until the summer blockbuster season makes them forget once again. Allowing the cycle to continue repeatedly. You can break the cycle by avoiding conventional films; unless that's what the evening called for. Make it your own blockbuster night.


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