The plot twist is a concept that any movie audience is familiar with, making it especially hard to execute without anyone suspecting it. Good plot twists should come as a complete surprise, but the breadcrumbs must be laid down long before the twist occurs. Most films fail at the twist because either the writers make the breadcrumbs too predictable or they don’t bother to lay any down. The only thing worse than a predictable twist is an unearned twist, where the revealing moment has no setup or tie-in to the movie’s original theme. Despite the difficulty, I occasionally find movies that hit the mark with their twist, so I’ve comprised a list of films that both set up the twist well and remain jaw-dropping in their execution.
The massive popularity of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite came as a surprise to most. It is one of the few foreign films that found a place in American pop culture and earned worldwide acclaim. The film’s popularity is not just attributed to quality filmmaking but also the massive twist that occurs around the halfway mark. Parasite is about the Kims, a poor South Korean family trying to make ends meet. To make up for their low income, each family member cons their way into the same wealthy home, masking their identity and relation to one another. Just when you think the story is reaching a lull, they hit you with a twist that pumps the plot full of adrenaline. The film is wrapped up beautifully when the main character, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), delivers a final monologue that will leave you in puddles.
Gone Girl (2014)
In Gone Girl, Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck) is a mild-mannered bar owner with marital issues. His life is turned around when his wife (Rosamund Pike) goes missing and he sends the whole town searching for her. Amidst the chaos, Dunn is put in the hot seat with media outlets invading his life and the public accusing him of murder. I find Affleck’s on-screen persona to be as enticing as a clump of sand, but throw in a scandalous love affair and a mind-boggling twist and I’ll gladly watch Affleck pout for two hours and twenty-nine minutes. Gone Girl is an instant crime thriller classic that will reel you in the moment the film fades in and Dunn’s voice-over begins.
As previously mentioned, an unearned twist is the only thing worse than a predictable twist. Fractured would fall into the unearned twist category, but I had a great time watching it, which is why it makes my list of favorites. The film utilizes cheap narrative tricks to infuse the audience with curiosity, but I gladly took the bait and had the time of my life. After an accident occurs at a gas station, Ray Monroe (Sam Worthington) and his wife check their daughter into a local hospital. Monroe becomes isolated from his wife and daughter, and grows convinced that the hospital workers are running a nefarious scheme. Prepare for a disorienting ride full of unexpected turns that will leave you mad at whoever signed off on the ending.
All My Friends Hate Me (2021)
All My Friends Hate Me is a slow burn with a very different kind of twist from the rest on this list. Pete (Tom Sourton) reunites with his old college mates for his birthday weekend at a country estate. With each interaction he has with his friends, he grows more paranoid that they are trying to sabotage him, especially when a strange man from a local pub crashes his weekend. The twist is unique because it messes with the viewer’s expectations. The setup leads one to believe that the twist will be extreme and jarring, but instead, it is far more subtle, shedding light on the nuances of relationships. This film might be the most socially uncomfortable movie I have ever seen, but if you want to be cringing through your teeth, it is the ideal movie.
Tully depicts the infinitely sacrificial and thankless job of motherhood. Marlo Moreau is a mother of three suffering through life postpartum, but when her wealthy older brother hires her a night nurse, things start looking up. Marlo and the nurse become fast friends and share many compelling late-night conversations. I thought this movie would be a down-in-the-dumps watch, but the twist provides a heartwarming and thought-provoking ending.
When done right, a plot twist can be a film’s most powerful tool, not only to shock its audience but to elevate the film’s message. As seen on this list, plot twists can appear in a variety of genres and they can even make poorly executed films enticing to watch. I hope you use my recommendations if you’re ever in the mood for a good (or at the very least entertaining) plot twist. Do you have a favorite plot twist? I’d love to hear it!