In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Top 10 Surprise Twists

Top Ten Tuesday

I'm way behind on my movie and theater reviews, so I'm going to make short work of this list. I've chosen a topic where the less said the better. Often, even knowing that a surprise twist is coming has already ruined the surprise. This was the reaction of many to Unbreakable, where the shocking ending was heavily advertised before the movie's opening. What a mistake. So, I'm going to list below the movies that most blew my mind when some revelation occurred, and I'm going to be brief.

10. Clue (1985)
I'll say it now to get this out of the way: Clue is my favorite movie. I've been working hard to keep from mentioning it in every paragraph on this blog, but it seems to actually belong on this list. I recently listened to an interview with the screenwriter who gave compelling reasons why the film's structure, novel though it is, decreased ticket sales. I can only imagine the confused delight that must have erupted in the movie's wake for those not in the know, comparing notes with people who had seen it separately. This is the unique surprise twist where the twist doesn't even happen in the movie; it's only afterward when talking with someone else that the gimmick reveals itself. The home video experience, which is all I've ever known, holds up as well. "So, everything's been explained."

9. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
You've probably never heard of this little indie film, nor do you suspect the truth. Vader: "Obi-Wan would never bother, telling you about your father." Luke: "He told me enough, he told me you killed him." Vader: "There is something that I must explain then . . ."

8. The Matrix (1999)
Neo takes the red pill, and sees how far down the rabbit hole goes.

7. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
This one got me, despite my heightened suspicions from other movies on this list.

6. Fight Club (1999)
I knew going in, and still enjoyed it. Really good surprise endings are good even once the secret is out. In this particular case, I think I would have been too anxious not knowing the truth.

5. Dark City (1998)
Blew my mind.

4. The Usual Suspects (1995)
This method of revelation has been adopted by many films since, and typically is an insult to the audience's intelligence, as if we need extensive flashbacks to help us understand slight twists to simple films. But this movie definitely needs the recap, because the film does such a good job of keeping the evidence in the background.

3. The Sixth Sense (1999)
No way. No effin' way.

2. The Crying Game (1992)
Another one I knew going in, otherwise it would be number one on this list. This is a famous twist, humorously revealed in the credits of one of the Zucker movies.

1. Color of Night (1994)
My jaw hit the floor. Unlike most mysteries, here we have all the same evidence our detective character does, and we're just as surprised as the detective is.


  1. "Awwwwww! Why'd you slice off my hand?"
    "It's imperative that you understand..."

  2. This is full of spoilers so any reader who might watch one of these films should pass this comment by.

    Clue: I watched Clue for the first time at home where all three endings were included so I never knew this was a twist. Are you telling me theaters randomly showed only one ending?

    The Empire Strikes Back: Never felt this twist since I knew about it long before I was sentient .

    The Matrix: This was a good twist, and I am so familiar with this movie I tend to forget it was one. But it sure took me by surprise the first time. This “simulation in a computer” was all the rage then, with eXistenZ (1999) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999) coming out the same year. Had I seen one of those two first, I probably would have saw it coming in the Matrix. (actually, I never watched eXistenZ; my sister told me about that one).

    A Beautiful Mind: I had mostly figured this one out. After one particular scene with Ed Harris going unnoticed by others I was very suspicious if he was even real. What I didn’t see coming though was that his friend from college wasn’t real.

    Fight Club: Before going to this movie I was told there was a twist as big as the Sixth Sense. I’ll take this time to mention that we should never be told there is a twist coming because it always lessons the impact if not outright lets us figure it out. Still, a movie should be good from beginning to end with any twist just being icing on the cake. Any movie that is dependent on the twist for its core entertainment will usually be disappointing. This movie was good and though I wished I had gone in a bit more blind I still liked it. And honestly even though I knew a twist was coming, I didn’t guess what it was in this case. This twist actually made me a bit sad. Brad and Ed’s very existence in that beat up old house was so depressing, the only thing that pulled me through was that they had each other. Then you see flashbacks where in reality it is just Ed all the time, all by himself. The chemical burn scene which later reveals Ed simply burning himself was the pinnacle of that disparity.

    In hindsight, this movie trope is actually quite common.

    Shyamalan become synonymous with having twists which ruined any chance that any would have the impact of Six Sense. As you mentioned, the Unbreakable twist didn’t have the same effect. I still like Unbreakable, another movie that was just good through out the whole movie. I don’t think of the ending so much as a twist as just wrapping up what I think is a beautiful mapping of the comic book world to an “almost” real world. The blue cloaked “Security”, the bright orange uniformed “Maintenance”, and finally the purple clad eccentric cane wielding “Mr. Glass”.

    By the time we get to the Village, the twists are so expected that between Jackie and I we figured long in advance that the monsters were actually the adults and that the Village took place in modern times (and that “The Cities” where are modern day cities). Despite this, this movie was so good it is probably my favorite of Shyamalan’s.

  3. Dark City: That they are actually in outer space . . . good twist. That his fragmented history never actually happened . . . better twist. That everyone’s history and interaction with him (including his wife and uncle, etc) actually took place for the first time that evening . . . excellent twist. That he relives his whole life training to use his powers and with the specific goals of defeating his enemies . . . . mind blowing AWESOME!

    The Usual Suspects: Up til this point I have agreed with your rankings though in this particular instance I would move this one back a few notches. It certainly took me by surprise by I think since the format is somewhat familiar like you had mentioned I wasn’t reeling about it for days after. This is another example where a good twist finishes off what is already one of the best movies ever.

    I never saw the Crying Game, and I believe either you or your brother told me about the twist. I have never even heard of the Color of Night and now it is ruined because I know there is a twist coming.


    So I’ll be concluding with what indeed was the biggest mind blowing experience of my movie career.

    The Sixth Sense: Blew my mind and it never came together again. Becs, Jon and I were on our way to Great America and stayed the night before at a hotel. We decided to go see a movie and this was it. The next day, at Great America, I walked around like a zombie for most of day, mulling over and over again this ending. Becs and I kept repeating to each other “He was dead . . . and he didn’t even know it!”. I simply couldn’t find the ground again after the carpet was ripped from under me. Watching the movie a second time revealed the near brilliance, how no other character actually interacts with him though it certainly seems like they are. The scene in the restaurant with his wife would be the most famous but my favorite would have to be the moment where he first meets the boy. He had been sitting there talking to the mother when the boy came in. . . or was he(?) indeed this was what was hinted but in reality we never actually see that and the mother is not making eye contact with him.

  4. Clue was shown in theaters with only one ending per showing. In an audio interview with writer/director Jonathan Lynn, he shares the following at the seventeen minute mark:

    So when the studio said to me we're not sure how we can promote this … and John [Landis] … brushed them aside with his great enthusiasm, and said "It'll be great. It'll be great. What a gimmick. What a new way of getting people to come and see the film more than once", it never sort of occurred to me that perhaps it would stop people going to see it altogether … on … some very good grounds. First of all, that if the film makers can't make up their minds how the film is going to end, why the hell should I pay money to see it? And secondly, I don't know which of these endings to go to see, so I think I won't go and see any of them because I might pick the wrong one. … The cleverest thing about he film was the multiple endings and you couldn't appreciate that cleverness unless you saw them all, together, one after another. So in fact, you were being denied the value, the selling point of the whole thing, if you only saw one of them.

  5. In A Beautiful Mind, even when the truth began to surface about Ed Harris, I was wondering how on Earth Russell Crowe had kept this secret from Paul Bettany; surely Russell's ever astute roommate would have noticed that Russell was talking to imaginary people, right?

    In The Village, I suspected neither surprise. In fact, I had spotted a few what seemed like anachronistic objects and phrases, and concluded it was carelessness on the filmmaker's part. The monsters are a bit of a cheat, because it's possible the main characters, without all the camera angles and tricks of light, would not have been fooled as easily as we were. Still, I would place the film in Shyamalan's top 5 (an arbitrary cut off to divide The Happening from everything else).

    The Usual Suspects kept me reeling afterward, because the revelation at the end calls the entire narrative into question. Is it possible to cross reference the objects in the office with the narrative, and anything not present in both is the truth? Trying to figure out what really happened is quite intriguing.

    Color of Night's R rating for "strong sexuality", among other things, is well deserved. The sex scenes are too graphic for me to recommend this movie casually. After the eighteenth sex scene, you will forget all about the surprise twist; you'll think the surprise is that two human beings could have such stamina.

  6. Shutter Island wasn't high on my list to watch, but I have to take issue with a recent advertisement. Now almost all horror movies conclude with some sort of "twist", usually discovering how the little kid phantom who is killing everyone was himself killed. This usually entails seeing how all the ways they looked or terrorized people are related to details right before the died.

    So yes, you can expect this kind of twist, but one short blurb for Shutter Island announced, "everyone is steal reeling from the mind blowing twist". And now I can't reel. DON'T TELL US THERE IS GOING TO BE A TWIST!

  7. Maybe that's the surprise, that there is no surprise. It'll keep you guessing all the way through the credits and out the door, wondering, "Wait, I thought there was a twist. Was it that one scene? No, couldn't have been. Did I miss something?"