Everyone loves a shocking ending, right? You know, one of those endings that leaves you recounting every scene, every conversation, and every visual cue as you leave the theater or turn off your television set? A shocking twist in the final moments of a great crime movie will have you wanting to the watch it again and try to figure out if you can pick up on the "tell," which in itself makes it a more enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Movies like The Usual Suspects, Primal Fear, and more recently, The Good Liar all use clever tricks to have this desired effect.
And with having watched Bill Condon's 2019 crime drama, The Good Liar, I have been thinking about some of my favorite movies of yesteryear and the endings that stick with me after all this time. With endings that are shocking for the revelations and endings so outrageous, I thought I'd put together a list of 10 movies whose endings still bounce around my psyche all these years later. *And before we get started, please note that there will be extensive spoilers from here on out, so you have been warned. If you haven't seen one of the movies on this list, best to skip that section. *
The Good Liar
For most of The Good Liar, it appears that Roy Courtney (Ian McKellen) is gearing up to the pull off a con at the expense of the widowed Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), and while that is very much the case here, the shocking revelation in the film's final moments leaves you asking the question, who's conning whom? In the crime drama's final act, Betty admits that she knows what Roy is planning to do (essentially dupe her out of her life's savings) before revealing her true identity: the German girl that he raped, humiliated, and whose family was sentenced to death by Roy's (real name Hans Taub) actions when they were teenagers in Nazi Germany. Having broken down the man that destroyed her 80 years earlier, Betty (real name Lili) leaves the con man with £100,000, some unhappy former victims, and his own devices.
The Usual Suspects
There are movies with shocking twist endings and then there is Bryan Singer's crime mystery The Usual Suspects. Written by future Mission: Impossible - Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie, this 1995 thriller centers around a group of common crooks who are forced by the mysterious Keyser Söze to complete a job to make up for each of the thieves having stolen from him in the past. Everything seems like a normal, run-of-the-mill crime story until the final moments when U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) discovers the one surviving member of the team, Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), is actually the mastermind. As Verbal's limp that he had for the entire movie fades into a normal stride to a car waiting on him, Kujan slowly puts everything together and gets a fax revealing Verbal to be Söze all along.
David Fincher's 1995 classic psychological crime thriller centers around soon-to-be-retired detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and his young hot-shot partner detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) as they hunt down a mysterious serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as the inspiration for his heinous murders. After locating the victims representing all of the sins except for envy and wrath, the two detectives are greeted by the killer himself, John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who offers to take them to the location of the final two victims. The final moments of the movie see Mills receiving a special package ("What's in the box?") containing the head of his dead wife (the kill representing John Doe's Envy) and then the grieving husband's murder of John Doe (representing Wrath) for one of the most shocking and brutal endings of all time.
Lucky Number Slevin
Paul McGuigan's 2006 crime thriller Lucky Number Slevin centers around Slevin Kelevra (Johns Hartnett), and out-of-towner who is kidnapped when a New York City crime boss mistakes him for his missing friend. Over the course of the movie, Slevin finds himself in the middle of a war between two former friends turned brutal enemies The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) who are actively trying to kill one another while also trying to make Slevin pay off the debts of his missing friend. Near the end of the movie, Slevin reveals that he is actually where he wants to be as he has been planning on getting revenge against The Rabbi and The Boss for ordering the murder of his father 20 years earlier before killing them in the same manner in which they killed his father.
The 1996 legal thriller Primal Fear follows arrogant defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) as he takes on the case of Aaron Stamper (Edward Norton), a 19-year-old altar boy with severe issues who is accused of murdering the Archbishop of Chicago. Throughout the movie, Aaron acts as if he is suffering from multiple personality disorder in an attempt to get off with an insanity plea, but in the final moments, he reveals that it was all a ploy as his stuttering and sheepish demeanor suddenly disappears in one of the most genuinely shocking endings of all time. After his client admits that there was no "Aaron" and that he was actually Roy Stamper, a cold and vicious sociopath, Vail is stunned by the revelation and leaves as Roy mocks him in the holding cell of the courthouse.
Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho deals with the vicious murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) by what appears to be the mother of the film's main character Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). When Crane's sister Lila (Vera Miles) comes to find out what happened, she and her sister's boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) discover what's really happening: Ms. Bates has been dead in the cellar all along and Norman, who had developed a split personality where he believed he is his mother, is actually the murderer. The movie ends in shocking fashion with Norman staring into the camera with the "Mother" personality speaking about her psychotic son.
Oldboy, the 2003 psychological thriller from South Korean director Chan-wook Park starts off as a fun mystery around Dae-su Oh (Choi Min-sik), a man imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years for reasons unknown to him. As the story (and mystery) unravels, Dae-su and audience learn that he was held captive for so long as revenge for something he did in his past. But that's where things take an extremely dark tone from which there's no way of recovering. Near the end of the movie, Dae-su learns that the Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), the woman who helped him on his journey and with whom he fell in love, is actually his daughter. Yeah, there's no coming back from that one.
Clint Eastwood's 2003 crime drama Mystic River tells the story of three childhood friends from the streets of Boston whose relationship is forever changed by a traumatic incident. More than two decades afterward, the teenage daughter of one of the friends, James "Jimmy" Markum (Sean Penn) is brutally murdered and all signs point to Markum's childhood buddy Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) being the killer. When Dave is pressured into the admitting that he killed his old friend's daughter, he is viciously murdered and his body left in Mystic River. Not until after that does the third friend, Detective Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) learn that the younger brother of the girl's boyfriend was responsible for the murder and disposal of the body. By then it's too late to change anything.
Bill Paxton made his directorial debut in the 2001 thriller Frailty in which he stars as a religious zealot who becomes a vicious serial killer all in the name of God. Paxton's scenes are mostly told through the flashbacks from Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) who shows up at an FBI office to inform investigators that his brother Adam has taken over for his dead father in the hunt for demons. Near the end of the movie Fenton reveals that he is in fact Adam, having killed his younger brother prior to the events of the movie. The strangest and most shocking aspect of the ending, however, is the fact that no one remembers Adam coming to the FBI office and all video of him is distorted, leading the viewer to think that he was in fact talking and being protected by God.
And then there's Wild Things, which has perhaps one (or like three) of the most shocking endings in any movie that came out in 1998. The movie starts out with Kelly Lanier Van Ryan (Denise Richards) and Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell) accusing their guidance counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) of assault, but soon the truth is uncovered revealing that the three were in on it together to get a large settlement from Kelly's family. That would be a crazy ending, but that's barely the beginning. Suzie gets "killed," Kelly gets killed (for real), and it turns out the lead investigator, Sergeant Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) is part of the plan. But it gets crazier from there when it's revealed that Suzie is alive and pretty much responsible for everything. Wowza.
Well, that about does it for this rundown of some of the most shocking endings of all time. Some were pretty twisted while others were downright wrong, but they all caught viewers by surprise. If you I left off your favorite shocking twist ending, make sure to let me know in the comments below.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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