10 fantastic films with mind-blowing twists

By Danny Marchant

A well-executed and well-earned movie twist can vault a film into the Cinema Hall of Fame.

A director that can successfully pull the rug out from under an audience without making it feel like a gimmick (ahem, M. Night Shyamalan) has accomplished something great.

Here are 10 films with mind-blowing twists. Be warned, spoilers ahead.

“The Prestige”

Set in Victorian London, Christopher Nolan’s thriller pits Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) against one another as dueling magicians. For much of the film, the two try to one-up each other at performing the world’s greatest magic trick. Towards the end of the film, Borden is arrested and hanged for Angier’s murder. And here’s where the fun begins: Angier faked his death to get revenge on Borden who turned out to have a twin brother. Once the twist is revealed and the movie ends, you immediately want to watch the film again.

“Shutter Island”

Considering Martin Scorsese has mastered everything cinematic, it’s no surprise a film of his has ended up on a list like this. In “Shutter Island,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays United States Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a widower sent to investigate a mysterious disappearance at a mental hospital. He begins to uncover a sinister conspiracy involving mind control and Nazis that’s so far-fetched it can’t be true … because it isn’t. “Teddy” is actually a patient named Andrew, incarcerated for killing his wife after learning she murdered their children. The “investigation” was an attempt to cure him of his paranoid mental illness.

“Atonement”

This one is a real sucker punch. Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) are young and in love in 1930s England. Their romance is cut short when Cecilia’s younger sister, Briony (Saoirse Ronan in an Oscar-nominated performance) falsely accuses Robbie of rape. He’s sent off to jail and conscripted into the army. He survives the horror of World War II, returns home to live happily ever after with Cecilia. Only, in the film’s final moments, it’s revealed by an elderly Briony that Robbie died at the Battle of Dunkirk and Cecilia was killed during the Blitz. Their reunion only took place in a book she’s written to make up for tearing them apart. Pretty heartbreaking, but a movie named “Atonement” was never going to be very cheerful.

“L.A. Confidential”

A story of cops and robbers, “L.A. Confidential” finds a trio of detectives investigating a grisly multiple homicide. When Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) makes a breakthrough, he pays a visit to his captain, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), to report. Right in the middle of their friendly conversation, Smith shoots Vincennes, revealing himself to be the movie’s big bad. This one works because we should have seen it coming and yet it’s still shocking.

“Seven”

David Fincher’s masterpiece features a last act filled with one twist on top of the other. First, the serial killer John Doe turns out to be played by international man of theatricality Kevin Spacey. Second, he’s turned himself in so that he can lead the police to two more bodies. Third, it turns out there are no bodies, just a box with someone’s head in it. Fourth, the head belongs to Brad Pitt’s wife. Fifth, Doe wants Pitt to kill him for envying another man’s wife. Sixth, Pitt does, which means the bad guy has won. Seventh, the world turns out to be horrible and depressing.

“Psycho”

Janet Leigh was a great, big movie star in the 1960s. And she is the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” a film which feels like a romantic crime caper for the first half-hour. So why is it called “Psycho?” Because a psychopath murders Leigh while she’s taking a shower, that’s why. Hitchcock asked that movie theaters put up signs in the lobby asking patrons not to reveal the twists and turns of the film. And it’s no wonder he did, since the film’s star didn’t make it to the end credits.

“Fight Club”

Edward Norton’s nameless Narrator is a hapless office drone fed up with the meaningless materialism of the 20th Century. He meets a charismatic and confident soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Pitt) who convinces him to help start a “Fight Club.” While the details of said club can’t possibly be discussed here, the film’s mind-blowing twist can: Durden is simply the other half of the Narrator’s split personality. Fortunately, knowing the twist doesn’t ruin Fincher’s other masterpiece.

“Planet of the Apes

Everyone, except for small children and the yet-to-exist, know this twist. But it doesn’t change how awesome it is. Astronaut Charlton Heston crash lands on a planet where apes evolved from mankind. He tries to convince his simian overlords that humanity is the superior species, only to wander out into the wasteland and find the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand. He’s been on Earth the whole time! Rod Serling, the creator of “The Twilight Zone,” thought of this twisted ending.

“The Empire Strikes Back”

This is the moment where George Lucas’ rollicking space adventure became a family tragedy of epic proportions. Darth Vader, the villain, reveals himself to be the father of the heroic Luke Skywalker. He shares this information just a few moments after cutting off Luke’s hand. This is the best moment in the best film of one of the best film series of all time. It’s also the moment where thousands of small children have suddenly cried out, “NO WAY?!”

“The Usual Suspects”

Bryan Singer’s film easily contains the best twist on the list. This film is already a funny and engrossing crime story before the whole thing is turned on its head. Told in flashback via petty crook Verbal Kint (Spacey, again), the film is about a heist gone wrong. Except, as the last few minutes reveal, none of it happened because Verbal made the whole thing up. What’s more, Verbal turns out to be the criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze, who everyone’s been talking about and running from for the whole movie. What was a solid, slightly confusing thriller becomes the coolest movie ever made in a matter of minutes.

Spoilers may have been revealed in this preview, but that doesn’t in any way take away from these film’s masterful twists. So borrow a friend’s Netflix account, sit back and enjoy the unknown.

Danny Marchant can be reached at [email protected]