It ain’t my fault that this list, and video, which I scripted and B-rolled for WatchMojo back in 2014 mostly contains American movies. Hollywood has always had a knack to try to one-up its audience with gimmickry. Whereas European and Asian filmmakers are not interested as much, because, truth be told, twists are indeed gimmicks, but I’m a sucker for them and, sometimes, they work marvelously well.
Of note: I really do wish M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” could have been include, but I tried to limit to just a film per director.
#10: Who’s Crazy Now?
“Shutter Island” (2010)
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a criminally insane patient from a remote mental institution. With red herrings and cryptic clues driving him mad, Daniels begins to speculate that it might’ve been an inside job. But director Martin Scorsese turns the screws on us at the last minute, when it’s revealed that Daniels is actually a patient at the hospital himself, and that everything leading up to that point was a last ditch, radical treatment to bring him back to reality.
#9: Leonard is the Killer
Christopher Nolan’s neo-noir masterpiece has a twist that might completely bypass you at first viewing, but, once it clicks in your head, it has the power to haunt. Guy Pearce’s Leonard learns that his wife survived the attack, that he caught and killed the real attacker a year ago, and that that he is actually Sammy Jankis, who accidentally killed her, oh and that Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) is using him as a pawn to clean up his own mess .. “Now, where was I?”
#8: Be Careful Who You Love
Dae-su is kidnapped by a mysterious abductor, and spends the next 15 years imprisoned. He’s suddenly released without explanation, and embarks on a quest to find his captor. In the meantime, he meets and falls for Mi-do, a young girl with whom he begins a sexual relationship. Cut to the end of the movie, where Dae-su finds out that she’s actually his long-lost daughter and that this whole game was just a carefully calculated revenge plan concocted by a man he’d wronged in his youth.
#7: There Never Was an Aaron
“Primal Fear” (1996)
When a shy altar boy is accused of murdering a beloved Archbishop, a slick and opportunist lawyer takes on his high profile case. Martin Vail soon discovers that his client, Aaron Stampler, has had split personality disorder all along, a fact that wins him a trip to the loony bin. But the biggest spoiler comes when Mr. Vail finds out that the disorder was a ruse to keep him out of jail: once he convinces doctors he’s “cured,” Aaron – or Roy – will get released and get away with murder.
#6: Who’s Haunting Who?
“The Others” (2001)
A remote house in the foggy European countryside is inhabited by a mother and her two children. Because the kids are allergic to sunlight, the trio lives in isolation; and soon they begin to suspect that ghosts haunt their home when mysterious noises, randomly open doors and sightings of unknown people become increasingly common. By the end, the family finds out that they are not haunted, but are haunting: they are the ghosts disturbing the house, and the new tenants are trying to exorcise them.
“The Mist” (2007)
The downer to end all downer endings. Thomas Jane finds a way to flee the horror that lurks in the mist, but finally loses faith in his chances of survival when he sees a mistic predator slowly closing into his car. He only has four bullets left. There are four survivors in his car. They’d rather go down without a fight. He shoots and kills everybody, including his eight-year-old son, and sits a moment in the car with their bodies. But when the predatorial mist comes closer it turns out to be a rescue vehicle full of survivors. What chutzpah on the part of Frank Darabont to end his movie this way. I could not have liked it more.
#4: An Extra Puzzle Piece
“The Crying Game” (1992)
It begins as a psychological thriller involving kidnapping, murder and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. But about halfway through Neil Jordan’s Oscar-winning film, the movie becomes about something else entirely: a reformed IRA member begins dating the girlfriend of a British soldier whose death he indirectly caused. As the two get closer, Fergus begins to fall for Dil. That’s when he – and we – discover that Dil is a transgender woman. It’s a twist that’s talked about to this day. Hey, it’s not called “The Crying Game” for nothin’…
#3: One and the Same
“Fight Club” (1999)
Director David Fincher is known for mind-blowing last-minute twists, and if you need more proof, watch the last minutes of his earlier film “Se7en.” But “Fight Club”’s spoiler is an even bigger reveal: a depressed, unnamed insomniac and eccentric soap salesman Tyler Durden team up to create an unconventional new form of therapy, and end up living an anarchic existence filled with sex and violence. The moment we discover they’re actually the same person is a pretty big shock for first-timers, and a generation defining movie spoiler.
#2: He Sees Dead People
“The Sixth Sense” (1999)
By now, we all know that M. Night Shyamalan loves him some twist endings, as evidenced by films like “Unbreakable.” But “The Sixth Sense” was the first big surprise very few saw coming, even though it was spelled out in the trailers. Hayley Joel Osment sees dead people. Bruce Willis is the child psychologist that helps him. Together, they try to fight the spirits that haunt this troubled little boy, until it’s revealed that Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time.
#1: What’s in the Box?
A box delivered to the middle of the desert by sadsack UPS guy. You can feel the dread in the final moments of David Fincher’s “Se7en.” The showdown between Brad Pitt’s agent and Kevin Spacey’s killer feels like it’s going to be “anticlimactic,” and then that damn box arrives — kudos to Fincher for refusing to show us what’s in the box, because’s, quite frankly, Pitt’s reaction matches ours, total horror, when we soon realize that the box contains his wife Gwyneth Paltrow’s head.