Features | Written by STARBURST Team 23/07/2021

SPOILER ALERT! [22 Most Interesting Twist Endings]

We pay tribute to some of the most notable plot twists from genre film and TV.  They can't all be winners though...

 

STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

There’s a point when a movie twist becomes that impactful it cements itself in pop culture, and while you can say that about many of the movie’s listed in this feature, none are as iconic as Irvin Kershner’s space sequel. Four words: “I... am your father”. This one line became a cinematic contribution without comparison. Even if you’ve never watched the film, you know the quote, the twist, or have seen it referenced in movies ranging from Toy Story 2 to Gulliver’s Travels. This monumental reveal at the climax, whereby villain Darth Vader reveals he is the hero’s dad, is a moment carbonite-frozen in time. And for those not around in 1980 to witness its initial impact, it’s unfathomable just how wild audience reaction was. This twist not only changed Star Wars lore exponentially but cinema too. Just try to ignore pesky memories of Luke snogging Leia, as the family plot thickened further come Return of the Jedi. Eww. | JB

KILL BILL: VOL. 1

While the argument of which of Quentin Tarantino’s movies is the very best will forever rage on here at Moonbase Alpha, those of us who champion Kill Bill Vol. 1 will always be sure to include the twist ending of the picture as part of our argument. Having sliced her way through Vernita Green, O-Ren Ishii, the majority of The Crazy 88, and the arm of Sofie Fatale, audiences were left jaw-dropped as the movie ends with David Carradine’s Bill asking Sofie whether The Bride knew that her daughter was still alive. Said daughter being the baby that Uma Thurman’s Bride was carrying when Bill shot his beau square in the face. You know, the same baby that The Bride thought she’d lost upon waking up from her Deadly Viper Assassination Squad-induced four-year coma! This would, of course, all come to a (literal) heart-stopping conclusion as Thurman’s Bride continued her roaring rampage of revenge in Kill Bill Vol. 2. | AP

 

TERMINATOR: GENISYS

Ahead of Terminator: Dark Fate arriving later this year, many longtime franchise fans are more than happy with the decision to ignore each of the three movies that have taken place since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Let’s face it, we all thought that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a dud upon its initial release, yet that film was left looking actually okay in comparison to the turd-tastic Terminator: Salvation. And then, of course, there’s 2015’s Terminator: Genisys. Not only was the film’s key plot twist utterly ridiculous, it was also spoiled in full in its own trailers. That twist was that John Connor – as in, yep, the future saviour of mankind in its apocalyptic battle against the machines – was actually a no-good T-3000! Not only was this a head-slapper of a twist, this only serves as a prime example of how modern-day trailers so often give away far, far too much away. | AP

 

PSYCHO

Were it not for the shower scene, the alternate personality twist of Psycho would be the most memorable thing about Hitchcock’s pioneering slasher classic. Even the thought of a mentally disturbed, cross-dressing man plagued by the personality of his murdered mother would not have washed before. Hitchcock, however, pushed the boundaries of thought, revealing all with an incredible twist that ties everything else in the film up well. It’s one of those moments where you can feel the cogs in your brain whirring furiously trying to wrap your head around what just happened, fuelled by pure shock and horror. Such intelligent thinking let Psycho live on in sequels, reboots and more recently the TV series prequel Bates Motel. But the true nature of Norman Bates is just one reason why it is that the original lingers in movie history. | JH

 

SCHOOL-LIVE!

School-Live! is a cute and friendly looking anime series that poses as a comedic slice-of-life story that possesses one of the best twists ever by quickly turning itself on its head and becoming one of the most heart-breaking and harrowing tales that one can witness. The School Living Club has four members – the energetic and innocent Yuki, the badass Kurumi, the well-read Miki, and the stern but welcoming president Yuri. These four girls, joined by their dog Taroumaru, live at the school, and by the end of the first episode it becomes apparent why, as they are, in fact, amid a zombie apocalypse! The first episode is seen primarily through the pure eyes of Yuki who, after witnessing the brutality of the outbreak, has had a devasting mental breakdown and her mind cannot fathom the reality she now lives in. But that is not all, as the rest of the twelve episode series ramps up the emotion and heartache through each chapter, with not only our characters’ willpower starting to deteriorate, but also the opening credits too. Even though this incredibly well-done and mind-blowing spoiler has now been revealed, we still urge you to check out the series (or manga) as, by the end, you will be so attached to these characters that you will not want it to end. | JP

 

MEMENTO

Even now, it’s hard to fully explain the entire details of Memento’s twist. The problem here is that, essentially, the whole movie is one giant twist, told delicately and elaborately through the hazy memories of Guy Pearce’s Leonard. In Christopher Nolan’s 2000 offering, the narrative of the story plays out in reverse as Pearce’s Leonard tries to find the man responsible for raping and killing his wife. During this same attack and murder, Leonard is left with a condition that gives him short term memory loss and means he is unable to generate new memories. As such, he leaves himself notes, takes plentiful photos, and even has tattoos that all remind him of important information in his ongoing search to find his wife’s killer. Of course, it would be revealed that Leonard himself accidentally murdered his wife, then was conned by an exploitative cop into killing other people who Leonard was duped into believing were the people behind his wife’s death. | AP

 

SPECTRE

When the twenty-fourth Bond movie was announced in 2014, we were assured that Christoph Waltz was playing a character named Franz Oberhauser. The only problem was that he blatantly wasn’t. Look, if you call a James Bond movie Spectre and cast a famous European actor (this is a Bond movie after all) who has won an Oscar for playing a great villain, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who he’s playing. So, when he casually announced mid-film that he was none other than Ernst Stavros Blofeld, no one was even remotely surprised. Not only was it done in such a half-hearted manner that you got the impression director Sam Mendes wasn’t sold on the twist, but Star Trek Into Darkness had pulled exactly the same trick (to only marginally better effect) a couple of years previously, to similar audience apathy. Add to that the fact that – in this incarnation of Bond – 007 has never even heard of Blofeld, the reveal comes across as pointless as, well the rest of the movie actually. | IR

 

CARNIVAL OF SOULS

Featuring eerie, black and white cinematography and one of the most creepy soundtracks ever composed for a film, Carnival of Souls is half-horror, half-arthouse, and all entirely amazing. Director Herk Harvey conceptualised the 1962 film after seeing the abandoned Saltair Pavilion in Salt Lake City, UT and asking Centron Films co-worker John Clifford to write a movie around the climax taking place at the unsettling location. Harvey, who also played the main ghoul, then employed creative guerrilla filmmaking tactics to complete it. What results is a low-budget masterpiece featuring the horrifying ending he envisioned with an unforgettable twist as we learn our heroine Mary didn’t survive a car crash as we’re led to believe and has, in fact, been dead the entire time; the souls chasing her are trying to bring her ‘home’. Initially failing to make waves at the box office, it’s now a cult classic and should be in every horror fan’s library. | VB

 

THE HAPPENING

2008’s The Happening is one of those times M. Night Shyamalan has disappointed us since The Sixth Sense, this time in an incredibly frustrating way. The film itself is actually pretty suspenseful and mostly well-acted thanks to stars Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. But when one of the other characters guesses that plants have found a way to attack humanity in some kind of revenge-plot carried out with assistance from the wind, the idea initially seems laughable to anyone sitting in the audience… until it’s revealed to be true, making the entire film feel like one huge joke. What could have been a promising, suspenseful mystery then quickly dissolves into something eye-roll-inducing, leaving us wondering why we just wasted 90 minutes of our lives. | VB

 

KILL LIST

Ben Wheatley’s Kill List is one of the most disturbing British horror films in years. What really lingers isn’t just the sickening moments of brutality but the evil ambiguity. The final trick Wheatley pulls showcases both. As hitman Jay (Neil Maskell), defends his family from the cult that hired him. The film is split into chapters named after the various marks Jay and his pal hit, and in this final scene, he fights ‘The Hunchback’, a misshapen knife waving concealed figure who Jay stabs to death to the delight of the cultists. It’s then revealed to be his wife with their young son on her back! His wounded wife maniacally laughs, as their son lies dead and the cultists crown an emotionless Jay. It’s a weird, unsettling final jolt that seemingly comes from nowhere but retracing the plot, there are many clues leading to this gruesomely polarising climatic shock. | JB

 

ARRIVAL

The sci-fi films with the biggest impact not only take their speculative, scientific stories and their character-based, emotional stories equally seriously, but tie the two together so one couldn’t exist without the other. Arrival does this astonishingly. Linguist Louise Banks has been struggling to decipher the cryptic writing of Earth’s alien visitors, while having dreams of her daughter Hannah’s childhood and tragically early death. Then she figures out the secret of the extraterrestrial language – it changes perceptions of time. Louise has not been having flashbacks, but flashforwards; Hannah has not yet been born. This raises the profound question – if you could see the tragedies of the future, would you let it affect you or your life choices? Arrival is also well worth a rewatch to see how amazingly Eric Heisserer’s script sets up the twist – the very first line, over one of the supposed flashbacks, is “this isn’t the beginning of our story.” | KM

 

DONNIE DARKO

Theatrically released just one month after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. World Trade Center and prominently featuring a plane crash in both the plot and the advertising, Donnie Darko’s commercial success was as doomed as its titular character. But this incredible story, told with Richard Kelly’s brilliant writing and direction, a fantastic soundtrack by Michael Andrews, and a talented cast featuring Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, and Patrick Swayze, made it a critical success that quickly gained a cult following after its home video release. In a world of remakes and tired tropes, Donnie Darko shines as a truly original, thought-provoking film featuring a must-see performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as a young man who can only save everyone he loves by allowing himself to be killed by a plane crashing through his bedroom; it’s not to be missed. | VB

THE PREDATOR

Shane Black’s return to the Predator franchise - this time behind the camera - ought to have been a cause for fans to celebrate louder than a Predator with a big new head and a spinal column for their trophy collection! Alas, The Predator was confused and littered with tonal, narrative, and technical issues. But what stung worst of all was the ending. At the climax of a very messy final third, the film’s rogue Predator left a capsule for humanity housing ‘The Predator Killer’ weapon, and promising a big twist. Many hoped Schwarzenegger’s Dutch would emerge, but endings were actually shot for a young Ellen Ripley or adult Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden to emerge, hence re-linking with the Alien franchise. Cool, right? Well, forget that. They went with a boring gauntlet that turned into a Predator-meets-Iron Man armoured suit. One last inappropriate disappointment in this R-Rated sequel-cum-reboot. | JB

 

SAW

James Wan’s film spawned a franchise which may have lost some of its ideological dimension but which never lost its penchant for ingenious traps and a good ol’ twist ending backed by Charlie Clouser’s exciting score. The best, however, remains the original, whereby Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes’ leads have gone through hell, confined in the abandoned bathroom. Tortured and battered by sadistic killer Jigsaw’s twisted games of life and death, they believe they’ve finally dispatched their antagoniser. Think again. Not only was ‘killer’ Zep another pawn in Jigsaw’s deadly game, remember that glowing light that went straight down the plug hole in the tub at the start? That was the key to their chains. Better still, that dead body in the middle of the floor the whole time ain’t dead, it’s Jigsaw himself! The reveal was masterful, and it made the protagonists’ failure at the end all the more horrifying. GAME OVER! | JB

 

THE WICKER MAN (2006)

With the right director and script, Nicolas Cage is one of those rare actors who can successfully embrace camp often with great success, as he does in 1987’s Raising Arizona or 1997’s Con Air and Face/Off. Unfortunately, the completely unnecessary remake of The Wicker Man wasn’t one of those times in his career. Featuring a ridiculous performance that becomes comical due to his over-the-top histrionics, this remake mostly sticks to the original with Cage’s character ultimately being betrayed by the girl he came to save, but this time adding the senselessly cruel twist that she also happens to be his daughter. Cage and director/screenwriter Neil LaBute take a genuinely creepy 1973 classic and well, throw it into a giant Wicker Man and burn it to the ground. We highly recommend the original, but this horrible excuse for a remake should be avoided at all costs. | VB

PLANET OF THE APES

One of the genre’s true classics, Planet of the Apes rests on a brilliant and haunting idea revealed only in the film’s dying moments. The Statue of Liberty, poking from the sand in a world apparently incapable of sustaining human life, confirms that this is actually Earth. Cue Charlton Heston slamming the sand, damning everyone to hell and the whole bit. The apes, stronger than humanity, nonetheless marvel at the wondrous technology that mankind was capable of - best demonstrated by Dr Zaius’ admiration for the likes of dentures and a talking doll. Coming amidst the 1960s Cold War paranoia, Planet of the Apes was not the only film to deal with nuclear armageddon. But few films have so bluntly foreseen its consequences in such an evocative and twisty way. | JH

I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

If you’re in the horror genre, chances are you’ve spent at least one summer accidentally murdering somebody before then being hunted down by the not-actually-all-that-dead person as they look for some semblance of revenge. Not content with I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1998 saw Columbia Pictures serve up I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. With Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie James and BFF Brandy winning an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas, straight away you can’t help but start to smell a rat. Joined by Brandy’s boyfriend Tyrell and his pal Will, the endgame of this is revealed to all be a rouse of Will’s making. As we see it revealed during a wet ‘n’ windy Bahamas-set finale, Will Benson is actually behind the prize and the son of the first movie’s killer, Ben Willis. Benson? Son of Ben? Geddit?! And even this wasn’t enough to kill off the franchise, with it returning with I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer in 2006. | AP

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Following up Blade Runner was an impossible task that Denis Villeneuve pulled off spectacularly; 2049’s story hinges around a twist more thought-provoking than the original’s question of whether Deckard is a replicant. Ryan Gosling’s K has been following the trail of a child born from a replicant mother, whose father is Rick Deckard himself. His own early memories match the story of this child, and he is sure of it – K is Deckard’s son. Then K meets Freysa, a replicant who was there at the child’s birth: “Deckard only wanted his baby to be safe. And she is.”K is stunned. And so were we, with the film having carefully, without forcefulness or trickery, pushed us towards making one conclusion while setting up all the clues for the truth. It’s a commentary on gender roles, too, with the male hero’s ego pierced by the revelation that the story isn’t all about him. | KM

 

FIGHT CLUB

We hesitate to talk about Fight Club because the first rule is… well, you know. Fight Club is one of the most highly regarded films of the 1990s, and for good reason. The twist of The Narrator and Tyler being the same person is not only brain-bending and brilliantly revealed. David Fincher litters the film with the smallest of clues as to what the truth is before it is revealed, one of the subtlest being a phone box that says “no incoming calls allowed” when The Narrator tries to call Tyler, who then calls back. Tyler shouldn’t be able to call back though, for what are now obvious reasons. Fincher brushed off the shackles of mediocrity of Alien 3 to make a film that has his name all over it, and let loose he delivers a phenomenal piece of work with one of the best twists in the business. | JH

DOCTOR WHO: UTOPIA

When John Simm joined Series Three of Doctor Who as scheming politician Harold Saxon, it didn’t take fans long to clock that Saxon would actually be the Doctor’s old nemesis, the Master, and that he’d be the main villain of the final two episodes. But there was another surprise in store. The episode before these, Utopia, seemed a run-of-the-mill filler story. Until its final fifteen minutes. Derek Jacobi’s gentle Professor Yana brings out an old fob watch, just like the one the Doctor used earlier in the series to contain his Time Lord soul while he took on human guise. His interest piqued by thoughts of time travel, Yana opens the watch, and out comes his true identity – the Master! He didn’t last long – he’d regenerated into Simm by the episode’s end – but Jacobi’s Master made one hell of an impression.  The masterful twist turned an average episode into an instant classic. | KM

DOCTOR WHO: LAST OF THE TIME LORDS

Doctor Who’s third series brought one brilliant twist followed by one... less brilliant. Saying goodbye to the Doctor, the immortal Captain Jack Harkness recalls being the first kid from the Boeshane Peninsula signed up for the Time Agency – “the Face of Boe, they called me”. So horny space-swashbuckler Harkness ages, over two hundred thousand years, into the giant head in a jar the Doctor encountered multiple times over the preceding three series, and stays in that form until dying in the year five billion and fifty-three, despite the two characters sharing no traits in terms of personality, appearance, or otherwise? The first question raised is: what? Then: how? And: why? What does this twist add other than making the Who universe that bit smaller? It’s not a definite – the shared name could just be a coincidence. At least, that’s the way we’ve chosen to read it since 2007. | KM

THE VISIT

Making his third appearance in this feature, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan delivered another disappointing denouement in this 2015 horror flick. Becca and Tyler are sent by their mother to spend some quality time with their grandparents that they have never met, but shortly after arriving, they realise something is up. Throughout the film, there are clear signposts that, at some point, the kids are going to realise that these old people are, in fact, not their grandparents after all. For starters, they are never shown a picture of them by their mother, so when they are collected from the train station, they just assume that these elderly strangers are the grandparents they are scheduled to meet – instant red flag in our book! With that being instantly apparent from the first act, when it’s finally revealed it falls completely flat. One to avoid for sure! | JP

 

Got a favourite twist you’d like to champion? Or maybe one that you’d prefer to name and shame? Let us know on Twitter @STARBURST_MAG

Words: Andrew Pollard, Jack Bottomley, Vanessa Berben, James Hanton, James Perkins, Iain Robertson

[This article was originally published in issue 463, August 2019.]