Spoilers can get people very irate indeed, so if that’s you, I’d suggested leaving this page pronto. What follows is a celebration of films that end with a brilliant twist, from classics to more recent gems. Even when you know what’s coming, there is still plenty of fun to be had through a rewatch…
Planet of the Apes
Not only is Planet of the Apes still a fantastic sci-fi film from the pre-CGI age, but is also features perhaps the most dramatic and memorable twist in film history. Having survived his ordeal on a strange planet run by a load of highly-evolved simians, Charlton Heston’s George Taylor discovers the shocking fact that he is not quite as far away from home as he thought was. He falls to his knees on the shoreline and shouts ‘God damn you all to hell!’ into the sea and sand, before the film cuts to that unforgettable final shot.
Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece still makes for terrifying viewing, even if you know that Norman Bates’ mother isn’t exactly the woman she appears to be…
Orson Welles’ beloved opus about the rise and fall of fictional media tycoon Charles Foster Kane starts with an ending. As Kane, played so memorably by Welles himself, dies in palatial isolation at his Xanadu mansion, he utters his famous last word, ‘rosebud’. The story then goes back to start, unfolding Kane’s life and times in epic fashion. When it finally comes, the explanation of what ‘rosebud’ means is not necessarily a full-powered twist, but a subtle and poignant conclusion to a magnificent film.
Before Christopher Nolan entered the big league with his trio of Batman films, he created a buzz with this ingenious thriller. Starring Guy Pearce, Memento follows a man with a kind of amnesia that stops him remembering the recent past. Despite this, he attempts to track down the man who attacked him and murdered his wife. He uses photographs and tattoos to help him solve the mystery, and the film’s intertwined narratives build to a head-spinning finale. Nolan has a great way with a twist, as further demonstrated in The Prestige, an under-rated drama about Victorian magicians at war, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.
One of the best sci-fi films of recent years is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which stars Amy Adams as a linguist tasked with translating the communications made by aliens who have arrived in spaceships at different points around the world. The twist might take a bit of time to compute. Like the best of them, it’s fiendishly clever and demands the viewer re-evaluate everything they’ve just seen. It also makes perfect sense when viewed in the context of the film’s fragmented structure, which it helps bring into clear focus.
The titular island is home to Ashecliffe Hospital, a gothic insane asylum, where two US marshals, played by Leonardo diCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, are sent to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. Martin Scorsese’s slick version of a B-movie is packed with noir, horror and Hitchock references and it builds to a final reveal that flips the story on its head with great relish. Although Shutter Island tells a dark tale, it’s an enjoyably over-the-top entertainment from a master of his craft – and the ending, which can be read in a couple of ways, does an excellent job in raising the stakes just before the credits roll.
2020 has been an excellent year for Korean cinema with Bong Joon-Ho winning the best picture Oscar for Parasite. Another leading Korean director Park Chan-wook might not have won an Academy Award for his 2003 movie Oldboy but he certainly made a great impression with it. This violent revenge thriller about a man going on the warpath following a long spell of imprisonment is still a superb watch. The bit where he eats a live octopus is a classic moment of cinematic weirdness and the final twist is an appropriately disturbing one.