A dramatic plot twist that you didn’t see coming is one of the true joys of cinema. Be warned: This list contains unexpected plot twists both old and new, so make sure you’ve seen the film before you read about the twist. Spoilers ahead…
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Fans were ready to see Luke Skywalker follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Jedi Master in this sequel but they got more than they expected.
During the climatic battle on Cloud City, we finally got the Luke and Darth Vader duel that were hoping for, but that came with the unexpected revelation that Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father.
This is possibly the most iconic moment from the entire Star Wars saga and rightfully so as it left fans wanting even more intergalactic action.
This political sci-fi thriller opens with Doctor Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter Hannah. Through a touching montage, we learn that Hannah died of cancer. It’s an emotional start that has a similar impact to the opening of Disney Pixar’s tearjerker, UP.
We then get into the story about Doctor Banks and her journey to communicate with alien ships that have mysteriously landed on Earth. The more she learns about their language, the more visions she has of her deceased daughter.
Doctor Banks eventually beings to understand the language, which in simple terms lets her see and feel into the future. These future events include all of the scenes of her daughter that we have been watching. We realise that Hannah hasn’t even been born yet.
The twist that certain events have been shown in non-linear timeline is incredibly powerful as we see Banks discover that not only will she have a daughter, but she'll lose her to cancer in her infancy. Heartbreaking stuff.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
This 80s horror begins with siblings Angela and Peter on a boat trip with their father. After their boat capsizes, John and Peter are tragically killed. Eight years later, a traumatised 14-year-old Angelia is sent to Camp with her cousin Ricky by her eerie aunt.
Whilst at Camp, Angela is bullied, but all of those that tried to hurt Angela are soon mysteriously killed. The audience is lead to believe that cousin Ricky must be the killer but it is actually Angela, which wasn't necessarily hard to predict.
It is revealed in flashback that the disturbing Aunt always wanted a daughter so she convinced the lone survivor of the boat accident that they were Angela, but the real lone survivor was actually the brother, Peter.
This revelation is confirmed with a closing shot of a fully nude Angela covered in blood with her male genitalia on show proving that she has been Peter all along. This shocking image combined with the chilling orchestral score will haunt you forever
Psycho isn’t only one of Hitchcock’s best but it can also boast three of the best shock twists in cinema history.
The first comes when Marion Crane, our assumed protagonist, is suddenly killed a third of the way into the film in a scene that has made showers terrifying ever since.
The second and third twists come when the killer is revealed. We are lead to believe that it must be old Norma Bates taking down the motel guests but we soon learn from a skeleton in the cellar that Mrs Bates has been dead for years, which leads to twist number three.
The killer is revealed to be the polite and seemly sweet Norman Bates. Not only is it a shock that Norman would be a murderer, but he does this all whilst dressing as his mother. This twist has lef critics to compare Norman Bates to Oedipus because of his obvious Mother issues…
Read more: 10 Of the boldest film remakes
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Director M. Night Shyamalan is known for his shock endings, but his most iconic twist has to be in this 1999 thriller. Bruce Willis plays Dr Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist, who is assigned to help a young boy named Cole.
Throughout the film, we learn that Cole can see dead people but it isn’t until the closing moments that the twist is revealed. Malcolm has actually been dead the whole time and is simply another ghost that only Cole can see.
The film is worth re-watching so that you can notice the little puzzle pieces that Shymalan placed throughout proving that the twist was a plot driven decision and not just a gimmick.
The Invitation (2015)
If you were invited to a party by your ex-wife, you would go in with a bit of caution. That caution would surely rise after she and her new partner start to show videos of their mysterious and dubious grievance group. That is the situation that Will has found himself in.
After making a few accusations that are later proven false, the viewer doesn’t know whether to trust Will, but this all changes in the last 20 minutes of the film. At dinner, Will’s instincts take over and he smashes everyone’s wine glasses. Everyone present thinks he has lost it, that is until a guest who had already drunk the wine collapses. The drink was poisoned.
The last 20 minutes is a blood bath with the grievance group members trying to take out all of their guests in a cult-like massacre. The final moments of the film reveal that this sinister plot wasn’t limited to this small get together and that similar events had occurred throughout the Hollywood Hills.
Primal Fear (1996)
This 1996 thriller stars Richard Gere as a defensive attorney defending the young Aaron (Edward Norton). Aaron appears innocent and blames any erratic behaviour as blackouts in which another persona, ‘Roy’, takes over.
The attorney tells informs Aaron that his trial has been stopped. This appears to be a touching moment of victory but quickly takes a turn.
Aaron reveals that he has been putting on this innocent persona and that he actually took pleasure in murdering his victim. He played his lawyer, the jury and the viewer. He was ‘Roy’ all along.
The Mist (2007)
Giant bugs shrouded inside a dreaded mist should be a horrific enough idea, but the unexpected climax of this Stephen King story provides a different shade of fear entirely.
As the film nears its end our hero David and a group of survivors, including his son, are finally driving away from the mist when they run out of fuel. David is left with the dilemma of whether to let them be killed by the mist or to put them out of their misery himself. He choices the latter.
David uses his last few bullets to end the group's lives. As he stands ready to sacrifice himself to the Mist, the army appears. The Mist and its creatures are gone. If he had waited an extra minute, his friends and son would still be alive. An unexpected shot of hope for the world, but despair for our hero.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Image via The Culture Trip
The Wizard of Oz may have been released nearly 80 years ago but it contains swerves throughout that many modern filmmakers wish they could capture.
Throughout this adventure, we are told that the Wizard of Oz can grant your true desires. After our heroes have defeated the Wicked Witch in their quest to reach Oz, however, it is revealed that the Wizard is nothing more than a conman who has cheated his way to power.
This is twist is additionally shocking as in the world of Oz, we have seen many magical creatures with immense power who could easy rule the land. Ironically the person who has all the control is just a powerless coward.
The promise coming into this 2009 horror was that it would feature a shocking twist that audiences wouldn’t see coming. It certainly delivered.
A couple adopts a young orphan into their family and bad things start to happen. This concept has been done time and time again in films such as The Omen, however, the reveal that cute little Ester is actually a 33-year-old woman disguised as a child is something very different.
The film uses real medical conditions to explain why this woman looks like a child and the shock of the family figuring it out is a haunting and twisted moment.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.
This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Enjoyed this top 10? Share it!