A good plot twist is about more than just catching viewers by surprise. There are far too many movies that throw in cheap, unbelievable twists simply for the sake of jolting the audience, even if those twists ultimately make no sense and invalidate or destroy everything that has come before them. A good twist illuminates the rest of the story, adding a new layer that makes the preceding scenes even more meaningful.
While it’s understandable to avoid spoilers, the best movies with twists are just as rewarding to watch even with knowledge of what’s coming. A good twist will make you immediately want to watch a movie again, to experience the story and characters in a new light. Here are seven of the best movies with twists, to discover for the first time or revisit with a new understanding.
The first rule of Flight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club, and we won’t be breaking that rule to reveal the movie’s twist. But David Fincher’s darkly funny exploration of the consequences of toxic masculinity is very much worth talking about, even more so in the nearly 25 years since it was first released. Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, Fincher’s film is a scathing satire of modern consumerism through the eyes of its nameless protagonist (Edward Norton) and his unhinged friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).
As the duo set up underground fight clubs around the country that seamlessly transition into terrorist cells, the movie anticipates the kind of violent outgrowths of misogyny and anti-establishmentarianism that would fester online in later years. The twist enhances that connection while grounding it in the distinctive characters that Palahniuk and Fincher have created.
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense may have the most famous twist ending of all time, so it’s pretty hard to avoid learning about it, even if you’ve never seen the movie. Whether you’re coming to The Sixth Sense for the first time or the 20th, though, Shyamalan’s storytelling remains equally as elegant and affecting. The movie is far more than just its renowned twist, and the climactic revelation deepens the character development and emotional resonance as much as it provides shock value.
Bruce Willis gives a sensitive, haunting performance as a brooding psychologist who takes on a troubled child patient played by Haley Joel Osment. When Osment’s Cole Sear admits that he “sees dead people,” it’s merely the first step in Shyamalan’s exploration of trauma and healing.
There are quite a few Christopher Nolan films with notable twists, and that can all be traced back to his breakthrough film, this innovatively structured thriller starring Guy Pearce as a man with anterograde amnesia. In a way, every new scene constitutes a twist, since Nolan tells the story backward and Pearce’s Leonard Shelby is unable to form new short-term memories. Thus, every scene reveals something that Leonard knew but has forgotten, often to be replaced with deliberate misinformation.
There’s still one big twist that explains the origins of Leonard’s quest for revenge, which ties in with Nolan’s themes about personal responsibility and the lies people tell in order to spare loved ones from being hurt. It’s rewarding to finally put all the pieces of the plot together, but Memento is thrilling to watch even as the facts remain obscured.
Watch on Prime Video
When Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was released in theaters in 1960, it came with a policy that no one would be seated after the movie began, to preserve the many surprises. Hitchcock’s showmanship successfully sold Psycho as a movie full of unexpected jolts, and the unpredictability of the plot remains a selling point decades later. Viewers who’ve never seen Psycho may be familiar with iconic moments like the shower scene, but the way they come together is still powerful.
Anthony Perkins’ creepy motel owner Norman Bates is one of the great villains of cinema, and the twisted reason for his violent tendencies is revealed in Psycho’s major final twist. There are plenty of smaller twists along the way, delivered with the skill and artistry of cinema’s greatest master of suspense.
Watch on Peacock
Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer add quite a few plot elements to expand Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” into a large-scale sci-fi feature film, but they retain Chiang’s central plot device. When mysterious aliens arrive on Earth with an unknown purpose, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is placed in charge of figuring out how to communicate with the intergalactic visitors.
The process of learning the aliens’ language affects Louise in a fundamental way that leads to the movie’s beautiful and devastating final reveal. Villeneuve captures the lyrical qualities of Chiang’s understated short story while adding tension and danger. Even with a greater scope, Arrival remains focused on personal relationships, and its twist has as much of an impact on the intimate relationship between Louise and a fellow scientist (Jeremy Renner) as it does on the fate of the Earth.
Watch on Netflix
Down With Love
Renee Zellweger delivers one of the best performances of her career in this underrated rom-com, and the centerpiece is an epic monologue that lays out a jaw-dropping twist about the background and motivations of her character, self-help author Barbara Novak. Before that bombshell arrives, director Peyton Reed’s film is a delightful pastiche of frothy, candy-colored 1960s romantic comedies, with brilliant production and costume design and witty, sparkling dialogue.
Zellweger plays the author of a book that has inspired the women of 1962 to throw out the idea of romance and play the field just like men do. She’s targeted by suave magazine writer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), who hatches an elaborate plan to make her fall in love with him and expose her as a fraud. It turns out that his elaborate plan has nothing on Barbara’s own elaborate plan, which is revealed in one of the funniest moments of this hilarious, subversive film.
This con-artist dramedy is a departure for director Ridley Scott, which may be why it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Scott proves adept at balancing a lighthearted crime caper with touching interpersonal drama, which come together in the movie’s major third-act twist. Nicolas Cage gets to engage in one of his signature freak-outs as his character has a meltdown in a pharmacy, but most of his performance is appealingly subdued.
Cage plays a neurotic grifter whose life is upended by the appearance of the teenage daughter he never knew. Alison Lohman is excellent as the young woman who’s delighted to discover that her dad is a small-time criminal, but who may have secrets of her own. Matchstick Men’s twist is both satisfying and heartbreaking, just like this hidden gem of a movie.
Watch on Tubi (free with ads)
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Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.