Best Movie Plot Twists: Top 5 Mind-Bending Developments, According To Experts

*Spoiler Alert. In this article, several significant plot elements of the movies on our list are discussed and major plot twists are revealed.

The plot twist is a narrative trope wherein an abrupt change or sudden plot development alters the narrative. The first-time reveal of a well-executed plot twist can be satisfying and surprising for audiences. Depending on the nature of the plot twist, they can even lead to the desire to re-watch a movie and seek out the foreshadowing and other clues. We needed to turn to our sources in order to discover the top five best movie plot twists that stand out in film history.

Due to word-of-mouth reviews and reactions, spoilers are everywhere.  Knowing plot elements ahead of time can ruin the experience and surprise for some viewers, but for others, spoilers are just a way of finding out if a film is worth seeing. Most in the film industry have believed for decades that spoilers are bad for business. If everyone knows what happens, why would anyone pay to see it? That certainly makes sense in theory, but researchers find today’s fast-paced, impatient culture has a high tolerance for spoilers. Modern consumers are happy to read the spoilers and will still pay to see the genuine product.

Researchers also theorize that many would-be moviegoers just want to know what they’re getting themselves into. “We postulate that uncertainty reduction is the driving mechanism behind this positive spoiling effect. If potential moviegoers are unsure about the quality of a movie, they are likely to benefit from the plot-related content of spoiler reviews when making their purchase decisions,” says study co-author Jun Hyun (Joseph) Ryoo in a media release.

When both audiences and critics start talking about a movie, it can often get a boost in the box office. After analyzing reviews available on Rotten Tomatoes, researchers describe a “topic consistency” measure for capturing the amount of overlap between critic and user review content. According to study authors, this relationship does appear to impact movie sales. If critics and users generally discuss the same aspects of a given film in their reviews, it will be more memorable and increase the likelihood people will go see the movie. Similar reviews boost up so-so movies, interestingly, the findings suggest this association is stronger for movies with generally mediocre review ratings than it is for movies with extreme ratings fluctuations. It is also more robust when critics’ ratings echo those of users. For instance, when both mention aspects like the plot [twist] or the acting.

A really great twist can make for a more impactful ending or change the course of the overall narrative. When we discovered the top five best movie plot twists, it wasn’t a surprise to see that all the entries on our list are considered classics. Let us know your favorite plot twists in the comments below!

image of audience watching movie in movie theater
Movie theater (Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash)

The List: Best Movie Plot Twists, According to Fans


1. “The Sixth Sense” (1999)

In what has become known as the archetype for the modern plot twist, “The Sixth Sense” wowed audiences with its thrilling reveal. “M. Night Shyamalan will forever be known as the king of twist endings, and that was cemented with the release of ‘The Sixth Sense.’… The ending shocked audiences around the globe and proved Shyamalan’s capabilities as a storyteller. It set audiences’ expectations for what a twist ending could and should be and is the high mark for many as it recontextualized the entire movie. ‘The Sixth Sense’ was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, and was a box office sensation grossing $672 million worldwide,” explains MovieWeb.

Regarding the details of this famous twist: “The set-up: A young boy who can see dead people encounters a child psychologist named Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) and attempts to discover the reason behind his disturbing ability. The twist: Crowe is, in fact, dead all along. He got killed during a robbery that we see in the film’s opening scene,” according to The Independent.

“The film and some of those involved in the project received several awards. Osment won a few for his performance, and Shyamalan won for his direction and screenplay. In addition, the film won People’s Choice Awards for Favourite Motion Picture and Favourite Dramatic Motion Picture and a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film,” offers Fortress of Solitude.

 2. “Knives Out” (2019)

This modern who-done-it is a thrilling comedy masterpiece. “Rian Johnson created one of the best comedic mystery films through ‘Knives Out.’ The film follows private detective Benoit Blanc as he tries to solve the murder of Harlan Thrombrey and Harlan’s nurse, Marta Cabrera, who accidentally killed Harlan when she mixed up his medications.  It is then revealed that Harlan instructed her to create a false alibi before slitting his own throat to protect her. It’s a small reveal that makes the events a bit more interesting. Finally, after trying and failing to create an alibi and being blackmailed, she confesses to the murder,” according to Fortress of Solitude.

“Knives Out” (2019)
“Knives Out” (2019)

“The Plot: Harlan Thrombey, the patriarch of a miserable, greedy, affluent family, has been killed. And every last one of them is a suspect. The Twist: Harlan actually kills himself. And he does so when his beloved caretaker, Marta, accidentally gives him a lethal dose of morphine. Taking matters into [his] own hands and saving her from any consequence, he slits his own throat. The Twist on the Twist: There was actually a family member trying to kill Harlan. His grandson, Ransom, conspired to frame Marta for murdering his grandfather by switching the labels on Harlan’s medicines,” writes Harper’s Baazar.

“2019’s mystery film is centered on the murder of acclaimed novelist/Thrombey patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer), with Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) as the prime suspect. Harlan’s death being accidental over murder not only further proved the ulterior motives of the Thrombey family, but gave Marta an opportunity to turn the tables,” adds ScreenRant.

3. “Arrival” (2016)

The twist in “Arrival” starring Amy Adams, is a narrative one that changes the context of the narrative. “This movie has no murder mystery, no revenge plot, and no punchy action scenes. Instead, ‘Arrival’ is a beautifully nuanced story about the realities of what communicating with aliens looks like. The entire film has a tense and serious tone so that when the twist comes, it isn’t something you see coming. And instead of being overly shocking, it mostly makes the audience think long and hard about what they just watched,” says Collider.

“Arrival” (2016)
“Arrival” (2016)

“Talk about time-shifting in a movie. As ‘Dune’ director Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi pic ‘Arrival’ opens, linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is grieving the death of her young daughter, Hannah. It turns out that’s no memory, but a vision of her daughter from the future, not the past… This movie twist turns tragic with the realization that Ian, Louise’s husband played by Jeremy Renner, asks as they tenderly embrace if she wants to have [a] baby. Louise says yes, even though, at that moment, she knows the late Hannah’s eventual fate,” explains The Hollywood Reporter.

“As the film unfolds, and Banks is shown the future by the alien lifeforms, the audience is shown that the flashbacks were actually glimpses of the future that Banks proceeded with, knowing what would happen. ‘Arrival’ continues to be one of the most emotionally deep and under-seen science fiction films of all time,” writes MovieWeb.

4. “Planet of the Apes” (1968)

One of the most original plot twists in film along with Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” is so well known that many modern viewers don’t recognize this film as the origin of a well-known trope. “An astronaut who believes he landed on a planet run by apes is actually on a futuristic version of Earth the entire time. ‘I really did live my whole life (until I was 18) without knowing the plot of ‘Planet of the Apes.’ I was watching it in my parents basement and was totally shocked — SHOCKED — that they were on earth. I ran upstairs and immediately told my parents, ‘They were on earth the whole time!’ They laughed,”  relates BuzzFeed.

“The Plot: Three astronauts crash-land on an unknown planet after traveling at light-speed for 2,000+ years. In this new land, non-human primates—gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees—rule the world, while Homo sapiens are considered second-class citizens. The Twist: The film’s final scene sees the surviving astronaut stumbling across a half-sunken Statue of Liberty on the shore—he’s been on earth the whole time,” informs Harper’s Baazar.

“The 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes certainly had audiences asking WTF at the end. Three astronauts from earth crash land on a planet inhabited by primates. They rule in a distant world 2,000 years in the future (or so it seems), where humans are inferior beings. The big reveal in Act III shows us an image of The Statue of Liberty. It was earth after all,” writes Ranker.

 5. “Atonement” (2007)

In another example of a twist altering the context of a narrative, “Atonement” is a film that offers a richly detailed narrative that is arguably better on subsequent views. “The big twist in the movie comes toward the end when we find out that the entire story we have been watching is actually a fictional version of events written by an older Briony (played by Vanessa Redgrave). We learn that, in reality, the lover, Robbie, was wrongly accused and spent several years in prison before dying in World War II. Briony has been living with the guilt of her mistake ever since, and the story we have seen is her attempt to atone for her sins,” explains Listverse.

“Joe Wright’s 2007 film, based on the book of the same name, follows the heartbreaking romance between Keira Knightly’s Cecilia and James McAvoy’s Robbie. A series of misunderstandings cause Cecilia’s sister Briony (played by Saoirse Ronan as a child) to accuse Robbie of rape. He ends up in prison before fighting in World War II. Still viewers see Robbie and Cecilia reunite as Briony tries to apologize to them for what she said. It’s only at the end of the film that viewers realize Robbie and Cecilia’s rekindled romance was a lie. An older Briony (now played by Vanessa Redgrave) is being interviewed about her new semi-autobiographical novel, ‘Atonement,’ in which she seeks to give Robbie and Cecilia a happy ending despite the fact that they were never able to reunite. Instead, they both die, separately, during the war, Robbie of septicemia (blood poisoning) at Dunkirk and Cecilia months later during a bombing in London,” adds The Hollywood Reporter.

“The 2007 film ‘Atonement’ has one of the best cinematic kisses, with the film’s highlight being the evergreen chemistry between Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy). However, the twist ending that the lovers never actually reunited is quite disappointing for fans,” writes ScreenRant.

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