By Britton Perelman · July 21, 2021
Is there anything better than the satisfaction that comes with a great twist ending? Maybe the satisfaction of constructing a great twist ending…
You may think it’s impossible to catch modern audiences off guard — that all the twist endings have been done before — but maybe the key to writing something that will surprise new movie-goers is taking a look back at what surprised them in the past.
To help you learn how to construct your own, we’ve put together 10 great examples of twist endings in cinema — ones that really left viewers awe-struck in their seats, struggling to pick their jaws up off of the sticky theater floor.
So first, check out our list and then continue on for some tips on writing twist endings.
[Editor’s Note: Naturally… there are A TON of spoilers ahead!]
The Plot: After a terrifying home invasion, a child psychologist takes a new case and begins working with a young boy who can see ghosts. Together they try to help the ghosts complete unfinished business and move on.
The Twist: The child psychologist discovers that he actually died in the home invasion and has been a ghost the entire time he’s been working with the young boy.Download the script!
The Plot: Bored with his life, an unnamed Narrator begins a friendship with a strange man he meets on an airplane named Tyler Durden. They found “Fight Club,” and eventually begin recruiting members for “Project Mayhem,” an anti-corporate organization that orchestrates various acts of sabotage around the city.
The Twist: Tyler Durden doesn’t exist. He is one of the Narrator’s dissociative personalities.Download the script!
The Plot: Two rival magicians — Robert Angier and Alfred Borden — go to extreme lengths in their unrelenting competition to create the best stage illusion in history: The Transported Man.
The Twist: Borden has an identical twin brother. They each share the same identity, which is how they were able to make the Transported Man trick work so well.
The Plot: Though she’s hesitant to return to the site of a childhood trauma, Adelaide goes on a beach vacation with her family. All is well until identical doppelgängers known as “the Tethered” arrive with every intention of killing them.
The Twists: Double whammy! The first twist is that the Tethered are clones that were created as part of a government experiment to control the human race. When the experiment failed, the Tethered were locked in underground tunnels. Now they’ve broken free and want to claim the surface for themselves. The second twist is that Adelaide is actually a Tethered, herself. When she was young, her doppelgänger trapped her underground and has been posing as the real Adelaide for decades.Download the script!
The Plot: Briony accidentally sees her older sister, Cecilia, having sex with their housekeeper’s son, Robbie, and mistakenly believes her sister is being assaulted. When their cousin is actually raped, Briony accuses Robbie of the crime. He and Cecilia are separated by prison and WWII, but try to make their relationship work many years later when Briony apologizes.
The Twist: Both Robbie and Cecilia died during WWII and their supposed happy ending is one that Briony has dreamt up for them in her old age.Download the script!
The Plot: The surviving crew members of a failed space voyage awaken from hibernation and find their ship has crashed on an alien planet. Once outside, they discover the planet is inhabited by primates who rule over human prisoners.
The Twist: The planet isn’t foreign at all… it’s Earth, two thousand years in the future.Download the script!
The Plot: Marion Crane goes on the run after stealing money from her boss. When she stops at the Bates Motel for the night, she is murdered by the motel owner’s mother.
The Twist: The owner, Norman Bates, is the murderer. He killed his mother years before and has since taken on her persona as a split personality.
The Plot: In the aftermath of WWII, Grace and her two children are plagued by supernatural “others” who claim the house is theirs.
The Twist: Grace and her children are dead. They’re the true ghosts, while the people they called the “others” are the house’s new owners.
The Plot: Two U.S. Marshals travel to a psychiatric institution on a foreboding island to search for a dangerous patient who has gone missing. Once there, one of the Marshals — Teddy Daniels — reveals that he is also looking for a patient who is supposedly responsible for his wife’s death.
The Twist: The investigation was orchestrated by the medical staff in an attempt to make Teddy confront the truth. In reality, he is a patient there himself, having been committed to the facility for killing his wife after she drowned their children.
The Plot: After famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombey is found dead, detective Benoit Blanc teams up with Thrombey’s nurse Marta to determine which member of the dysfunctional family is to blame. Unbeknownst to Blanc, Marta is covering her own tracks — Thrombey killed himself to save Marta after she accidentally mixed up his medication.
The Twist: Even though Thrombey’s grandson Ransom switched the medication labels, Marta used the correct vial and isn’t responsible for Harlan’s death. Marta then tricks Ransom into confessing.Download the script!
The best twist endings are the ones you never see coming. They catch you by surprise and not only make you wonder why you didn’t figure it out sooner but also how the writer created it in the first place.
But all twist endings rely on expectations.
Audiences are smart. No matter the genre, an audience member will have certain expectations about how a story will end from the opening shot, with those expectations changing little by little with each new plot point and piece of information.
The key to writing an effective twist ending lies in understanding what your audience expects to happen. If you know what the audience expects, you can choose to subvert or defy those expectations by doing something completely different.
Here are a few ways to construct a twist ending:
By understanding what your audience expects to happen, you can not only surprise them by writing something unexpected but also work backward to layer in clues so that by the time the twist arrives, they’ll wonder how they didn’t see it coming.
There are countless other films with great twist endings. Download your favorites from the TSL Script Library and get reading!