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Warning: spoilers for a ton of movies are present in this article. More specifically, 13 movies, including Last Christmas, are going to be ruined for those who haven’t seen them. If you see a title that you haven’t seen yet on this list, breeze right past it and head to familiar shores.
Whether you’re watching a movie that’s hailed as the best of a generation, or the worst of any particular box office season, you’ll sometimes find a film with an ending so wild, it manages to drop your jaw right to the floor. We saw such an ending make its way to theaters in recent times, with director Paul Feig’s Last Christmas taking a pretty big turn in its narrative; one that some folks on the internet called out pretty quickly. In the spirit of that corkscrew of an ending, we’d like to talk out some of the biggest twists in movie history.
In some instances, that’s the sort of thing that makes or breaks a movie, as the right ending can save everything that’s come before it, or dash all of the good work done prior to the final twist. Let it be said that when it comes to the endings we’re about to discuss, each one of them has made things interesting and kept these particular films in the pop culture conversation for some time.
From the moment the first trailers for Last Christmas had dropped, audiences called the film's twist simply by knowing the song it was based off of. And sure enough, what started out as a cute romance between Emilia Clarke’s Kate and Henry Golding’s Tom turned out to be, as people had predicted, a ghostly affair.
The year prior to the events of Last Christmas, Kate was deathly ill and required a heart transplant. That heart, obviously, came from Tom, who was killed in a bicycle accident around that same timeframe. So, technically, last Christmas, Tom gave Kate his heart. And the very next year, she was haunted by his ghost to be a better person.
So to the smart cookies that called that twist, we issue a hearty tip of the hat, and the challenge to see if you can recall these other wild endings that have vexed the imaginations of audiences for some time now.
When being marketed to the public, last year’s Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway-led thriller Serenity looked like an erotic thriller you’d expect out of late ‘90s Cinemax. With McConaughey’s character being paid by his ex, played by Hathaway, to kill her husband, tinges of sex and neo-noir seemed to have audiences thinking this was a totally different film than it turned out to be.
In actuality, Serenity takes a pretty wide turn, when we find out that the world we’ve been seeing Matthew McConaughey’s navigate around is actually a video game. What's even crazier is that McConaughey’s character is a new addition coded into a fishing simulator, thanks to a boy trying to deal with the death of his father and an abusive stepfather who's terrorizing him and his mother.
In both the fishing simulator and real life, this abusive presence is killed, leaving the boy to be charged with murder and Matthew McConaughey’s digital consciousness to meet a new character: his son from the real world.
Most audiences are more familiar with director James Mangold’s work on films like 3:10 To Yuma, Logan and more recently Ford v Ferrari. But one of his lesser known gems is the horror mystery Identity, a movie that pits John Cusack, Amanda Peete and a motel’s worth of recognizable faces against an unknown killer on a dark and stormy night.
The overall twist to this film hides in plain sight, as the criminal case of convicted killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is the real story. The motel caper we’ve been witnessing turns out to be one of Rivers’ multiple personalities killing off the rest of the lot.
The entire murder mystery has been playing out in his mind, with the hunt for the murderous personality ending in one final twist. Rivers’ true personality is the killer, as it resembles his traumatized self as a child, who then kills the final innocent persona within his psyche and escapes police custody.
The twist to David Fincher’s Fight Club is one of the obvious choices we had to throw into this rundown of wild endings we’ve seen in pop culture. It’s a twist that’s as influential as it is mind-blowing, and that last part is pretty literal when all is said and done. So sing along if you know this one.
As we’ve presumably been following our unnamed protagonist (Edward Norton) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an escalating tide of anarchic activity known as “Project Mayhem,” we soon learn the deep and dark truth: they’re both the same person. Tyler is a manifestation of our lead character’s frustrations with the world, and has only existed to allow him to play havoc on everything he despises.
Ending with a gigantic explosion that takes out a whole bunch of financial institutions, and one last dirty image spliced into the film’s reel, Fight Club goes out on one hell of a needle drop that compliments its subversive ending.
Oh, Saw, the torture porn hit that launched a thousand imitators and the twist ending that inspired a franchise to keep trying to top itself. Depending on who you are and what sort of fan you are when it comes to this house of horrors, you may think it’s never matched these heights.
With Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) trying to figure a way out of the abandoned bathroom that’s supposed to be their prison, they settle on two different bids for survival. The good doctor saws off his foot, while Adam kills another pawn in Jigsaw’s big game.
But that murder reveals one last trip to Bananaville, as the dead body that’s been in the room throughout the whole movie? That’s Jigsaw, a.k.a. John Kramer (Tobin Bell) himself. And he wasn’t dead, he was just resting. Oh, and the solution to the room’s “puzzle?” That was the key you saw go down the drain in the film’s opening. Game over, man.
Edward Norton must be a fan of twist endings, and who could blame him when his career started out with a role as intensely rewarding as Primal Fear’s Aaron Stampler. But, of course, as anyone who knows the movie would tell you, in order for that statement to be totally true, there’d have to be an Aaron in the first place.
With “Aaron” turning out to be a fabricated personality, we find out that Norton’s character, Roy, was trying to get away with murder by pretending to have a fractured psyche. And it worked too, as he’s sent to a maximum security mental facility and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Throughout the whole film, Roy had fooled the audience and his own laywer (Richard Gere) into believing one version of the truth. When, in fact, it was all one big shell game that allowed him to uncover a church abuse scandal and be a somewhat free man in the process.
The Sixth Sense
Talking about the greatest hits of twist endings almost requires we mention M. Night Shyamalan’s career, as the man has built an industry off of turning a plot on its head towards the end of his films. And if it wasn’t for the whopper of a reveal at the end of The Sixth Sense, a lot of movie history may have never happened!
Haley Joel Osment’s Cole learns to accept his gift to see ghosts thanks to psychologist Malcolm Crowe’s (Bruce Willis) help and understanding. In turn, Cole tries to help Malcolm by telling him to confront his supposedly distant wife, which leads to the legendary ending audiences are still talking about over 20 years later.
We learn that Malcolm’s wife hasn’t been ignoring him throughout The Sixth Sense. Rather, Malcolm has been dead since the beginning of the film, when he was shot by a former patient. And now, he’s free to cross over to the realm of spirits after getting his closure in life.
It’s hard enough to keep a story straight when it’s told in linear chronology. But Chrisopher Nolan’s Hollywood debut Memento not only had the honor of telling a story in reverse order, but it used that device in service of a story that had a kicker of a finale. Or is that a kicker of an opening?
Retrograde amnesiac Leonard (Guy Pearce) has been using notes, tattoos and clues to try and hunt down the killer of his wife. And throughout the film’s unfolding narrative, we find out that not only is our hero being led astray on purpose, he’s already gotten his revenge a year prior to the film’s events.
As luck would have it, Leonard’s “friend” Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) actually led him to his wife’s killer and let him get his revenge. But thanks to that retroactive amnesia he’s suffering from, “Teddy” (whose real name is John) has been using him as his own personal hitman ever since. So his death at the beginning of the film not only makes sense, but it’s well earned.
Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man? That’s the question that Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island asks its audience throughout its adaptation of author Dennis Lehane’s mystery thriller, and it does so with some very subtle misdirection from the word go.
What looks like a routine investigation under the control of federal agent Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) actually turns out to be an elaborate form of role playing therapy that sees our protagonist confronting his own heinous acts. Because, as it turns out, Teddy is really Andrew Laeddis, a mental patient who had a dissociative event after killing his wife (Michelle Williams), who had previously killed their children.
It’s a deception that, upon subsequent viewings, is a truth that was staring the audience right in the face. Which makes Andrew’s decision to “die as a good man” all the more painful to watch when Shutter Island arrives to its bittersweet conclusion.
Christopher Nolan?! What are you doing on this list again? It’s probably not a shock that Nolan has another jaw dropper on this list, and for those of you who were wondering if The Prestige would be on this list, your moment has come.
A tale of two magicians with a bitter feud, the narrative of this particular film revolves around an alleged murder and a trick known as “The Transported Man.” With Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) accused and convicted of the murder of his former partner Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), we eventually learn that it wasn’t Angier who supposedly drowned to death – it was a copy made as part of his version of the trick.
However, just as we’re led to believe that Robert Angier has let Alfred Borden wrongfully hang, we find out that it wasn’t Alfred that died. His secret twin, Fallon, was the one who died; just as it was he who helped him fool the audience into thinking he transported.
The Usual Suspects
The identity of Keyser Soze is one of those wild endings that has stayed in the pop culture conversation ever since The Usual Suspects debuted in 1995. Writer Christopher McQuarrie’s neo-noir pot boiler surrounds the hunt for the infamous Soze, in connection with a horrific fire that leaves only two survivors.
One of those lucky souls, Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) tells the story of the so called Usual Suspects, and how each of them was led to that boat by Keyser Soze himself. Just as it looks like Kint is in the clear, and he’s released into the wild, that story is discovered as a total fabrication.
Oh, and in a grand finale worthy of a Saw movie, Verbal Kint is revealed to be Keyser Soze himself. His whole story was pulled together with details he spotted in common view and turned into a crime tale that was pure fiction, allowing for him to disappear once again and continue his criminal enterprises.
Yes, we’ve previously covered an entry written and directed by twist master M. Night Shyamalan. That being said, if we’re going to really get into shocking twists that have come out of this man’s pen, then The Village is a movie that really needs to be discussed, as it’s a pivot point in the man’s own career.
Fans were split down the middle when it came to how this tale of terror in a bygone era panned out, as throughout the entirety of The Village, we were led to believe that the action was set in the 19th century. But, through some exposition and chance encounter, we’re shown that it’s actually panning out in present day America.
As for the “beasts” that roam through the perimeter of The Village’s main setting, we find out that this is another fabrication, as it turns out the elders that crafted this village as a way to escape the modern world depend on such a legend to keep people in this idyllic setting.
To close out this mammoth compilation of twists that had us reeling in our seats, we have the mother of all endings that had our heads spinning. If you’ve never heard of [The Sperig Brothers’ Predestination](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predestination_(film), we highly recommend you back out and avoid this one, as it’s the most shocking of this bunch.
Still here? Good. So what if we told you that Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook were the same person? Ready to go one question deeper into the rabbit hole? What if we told you there were two Sarah Snooks, one male and one female, who gave birth to another Sarah Snook; who would in turn become Ethan Hawke?
In a nutshell, this is the twist to Predestination, as a lot of time travel and physiology are involved in this story of a temporal agent from the future who is tracking down a rogue bomber in 1970s New York. And in perhaps the greatest turn of all, it’s that very temporal agent that turns out to be the culprit referred to throughout the film as “The Fizzle Bomber.”
Like we said, it’s a nutso twist, but it’s one that totally makes sense in the film’s narrative. And it’s also the best of this pack of wild endings to finish off this conversation. Of course, if this were a movie, this would be the perfect time to lay down some sort of twist of our own. But seeing as you’re probably still digesting everything we’ve laid down here, we’re going to leave you with the standard happy ending. Or are we?