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Classic Ten – Greatest Plot Twists

The art of the plot twist is one of both simplicity and elusiveness: A great twist must tickle the viewer’s sense of wit with its logical inevitability, but also upend his expectations. The more movies that are made, however, the more difficult it becomes to conjure up something original. The following greats have stood the test of time for remaining unforgettably shocking and continually untoppable. (Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Blade Runner.jpg10. Blade Runner (1982)
Call it the twist that almost missed: Ridley Scott’s noirish scifi epic initially confounded viewers with an ending hinted at by a single origami; Warner Bros. tried to compensate for the subtlety (and the movie’s overall complexity) by adding narration, among other indignities. The film has since been re-edited according to Scott’s original vision, restoring the revelation of futuristic bounty hunter Harrison Ford’s identity as a cyborg replicant to its rightful place among the greats.

Maltese Falcon.jpg9. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The jewel statue of the title is not just one of the all time great MacGuffins but also a fantastic twist, when it turns out to be a complete fake — a replica over which Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet have left a pile of corpses in their wake. The statue also serves as a symbol of every MacGuffin everywhere, every object onto which human desires are projected, as Bogart himself aptly says: “The stuff that dreams are made of.”

Usual Suspects.jpg8. The Usual Suspects (1995)
One way to bring off a great plot twist, no matter how implausible, is to build a mystery featuring a central, elusive question. In the case of The Usual Suspects that question is, simply, “Who is Keyser Söze?” The answer is “Verbal” Kint, (Kevin Spacey) a weasely small-time criminal with a limp, and the least likely candidate to be the larger-than-life Söze, a man who few have actually seen yet everybody knows as an underworld legend. But since Verbal is telling the tale, we’re putty in his hands.

Sixth Sense.jpg7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
In the film that made him an overnight sensation, M. Night Shyamalan took audiences by surprise by putting a new twist on an old classic: Instead of having a dead character turn out to be really alive (as in everything from Agatha Christie to Les Diaboliques), he had a living character turn out to be really dead. Bruce Willis’ child psychologist is revealed as one of the ghosts seen by Haley Joel Osment who, as we all know, “sees dead people.” Remember the collective gasp?

Crying Game.jpg6. The Crying Game (1992)
“Those eyes, those thighs, SURPRISE, it’s The Crying Game!” Billy Crystal’s musical tribute to best picture nominee The Crying Game at 1993’s Oscars ceremony succinctly captured the hilarious, troubling, and gender bending twist of Neil Jordan’s political drama. When Stephen Rea’s IRA operative falls in love with a kidnapping victim’s girlfriend, he discovers — quite explicitly — she is really a he. Instead of playing the twist as homosexual panic, Jordan fashions a deeply moving love story.

Citizen Kane.jpg5. Citizen Kane (1941)
Welles once dismissed the secret behind his Charles Foster Kane’s dying
word, “Rosebud,” as “pennybook Freud,” but that was the point. After
all we learn about Kane as a walking contradiction, the disclosure that
his last utterance was a wish for his beloved childhood sled is
inconsequential, reducing him to a psychological cliché. Rather than
summing up Kane, Welles’ reveal proves the complex search behind the
man is more rewarding than the riddle that ignited it.

Chinatown.jpg4. Chinatown (1974)
Robert Towne’s original script for Chinatown
was amended by director Roman Polanski, who envisioned the neo noir
veering darker — and into the territory of Greek tragedy. Audiences
gasped upon learning, along with Jack Nicholson’s PI, that Faye
Dunaway’s daughter is also her sister (the product of an incestuous
relationship with sinister mogul father John Huston). The only way to
understand Dunaway’s senseless death and Huston’s escape from justice?
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Empire.jpg3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
am your father.” So intones Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) to Luke
Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in perhaps the most shocking family reunion in
the history of cinema. In the darkest and most complex installment of
the Star Wars series, this was its darkest and most complex
moment. Luke is forced to acknowledge blood relation to his vowed enemy
(after having his hand cut off by him, no less) and the saga’s epic
battle of good versus evil has the added dimension of an enlightened
son against a corrupted father.

Heston.jpg2. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Twilight Zone
mastermind Rod Sterling virtually perfected the scifi plot twist, but
his most famous reveal was the original conclusion he added onto Planet of the Apes. After finally
escaping the treacherous primate civilization, Charlton Heston’s
stranded astronaut discovers the Statue of Liberty washed up on a
desolate beach, triggering the realization that this horrible planet run by beasts actually arose from the ruins of his own world.

Psycho.jpg1. Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock rightfully earned the nickname “Master of Suspense” for
continually placing viewers on the edge of their seats, but he was also
the Master of Surprise, shocking and thrilling audiences with bizarre (Vertigo) and unnerving conclusions (The Birds). His pièce de résistance was Psycho,
which featured not one but two stunning twists: For 1960 audiences, the
climactic revelation that Norman Bates was Mother took a backseat to
the film’s radical approach to character arc, with marquee name Janet
Leigh exiting the story early on by way of the world’s worst shower.
Blindsided by the idea even stars get killed off, audiences still can’t
get over the violation.

Which movie features your favorite plot twist?

If you don’t see your favorite included here, put it in the comments section below.

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