Plot Twists That Are More Famous Than The Movies Themselves
Photo: Scream / Dimension

Plot Twists That Are More Famous Than The Movies Themselves

Over 100 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Plot Twists That Are More Famous Than The Movies Themselves
Voting Rules

Vote up the twists that stand alone from their respective movies.

Plot twists have been a part of moviegoing since its origins. Audiences love to be surprised, and nothing accomplishes that quite as effectively as a story that springs an unexpected event upon the viewer, upending their instincts. If you're a regular movie watcher, you doubtlessly have your own personal favorite, and you probably picked it because of the immense impact it had on you the first time you saw the film.

Some plot twists are so famous that you don't even need to have seen the movie in question to know about them. They have taken on lives of their own, becoming so talked-about, analyzed, and fawned over that people who barely pay attention to movies would still be familiar with them. The following are examples of this phenomenon. They're the best of the best when it comes to surprise twists, and they continue to have power despite being almost universally known. 


  • The beauty of The Sixth Sense was that, when it came out in 1999, nobody knew it even had a twist. It was positioned as the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a tormented child who sees ghosts, and Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), the psychiatrist who tries to help him. The story unfolds in typical chiller fashion. Audiences follow along with Malcolm's perspective as he learns all about the paranormal realm from Cole's descriptions. Then, at the very end, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan pulls the rug out from everyone, revealing Malcolm has been dead since an incident early in the film, and Cole has been helping him to realize it and move on.

    Buzz over the movie quickly grew as word got out that it contained a shocking surprise. An Oscar nomination in the Best Picture category helped fuel interest in The Sixth Sense. Following its 1999 release, the quote “I see dead people,” entered the pop culture vocabulary, becoming one of the most recognizable snippets of dialogue in the history of film. Additionally, Shyamalan has now become notorious for making films with twist endings, so The Sixth Sense doesn't catch very many people off guard anymore.

    135 votes
  • The 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes follows a group of astronauts, led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who awaken from hibernation, only to have their spacecraft crash land on a mysterious planet ruled by intelligent apes. To their dismay, the apes keep humans as slaves. Taylor eventually escapes enslavement and takes off on horseback, along with another captive, Nova (Linda Harrison). Reaching the shore, he discovers ruins of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand, revealing this isn't a far-off planet at all - it's Earth, devastated by a nuclear war that broke out while the astronauts were asleep in space.

    This revelation comes in the very last shot of Planet of the Apes. That ability to change viewers' understanding of the story in the final seconds has afforded this moment great fame in the decades since it was released. The reveal is one of the most celebrated in movie history, leading other films and TV shows, including Spaceballs, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and The Simpsons, to parody the twist - ensuring most modern audiences will have heard of it before seeing Planet of the Apes.

    110 votes
  • The first clue that all is not what it seems in Fight Club is that the main character (played by Edward Norton) has no name. He's credited as “The Narrator,” aligning with the narrator of Chuck Palahniuk's novel that the film is based on. Frustrated by modern society and the obsession with status, he finally finds an outlet with the help of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Tyler helps the Narrator start a fight club, which then leads to the formation of a chaotic group called Project Mayhem. The Narrator's perception grows blurred as he grows uneasy with Tyler's planned acts of domestic terrorism, and when he aims to stop Tyler from going too far, he finally realizes he is Tyler. The two men share one body, but are separate personalities.

    Fight Club met limited success theatrically. Once it landed on home video, people caught up with it in a big way. That kind of exponential growth turned the Tyler twist into a hot talking point, especially as viewers had the power to pause and rewind, catching many freeze-frame moments of foreshadowing placed by director David Fincher. Having the hero and the villain be the same person was also a novel idea that got viewers talking about how surprised they were - making it hardly surprising for those who were late to the party.  

    100 votes
  • Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho really has two twists: the first comes when presumptive heroine Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is murdered in a shower roughly half an hour into the story, . The second comes at the end, when it's revealed creepy motel owner Norman Bates has a split personality. At times, he becomes his own mother, putting on her clothes and committing slayings on her behalf. The real “Mother” is a rotting corpse up in the attic. It's a psychologically devastating twist that was terrifying and unprecedented in 1960 when the film came out.

    Psycho is rightly considered one of the great classic thrillers of cinema to this day. It's taught in film courses, written about in books, and hauled out for revival showings. The shower scene in particular has become an instantly recognizable cinematic moment. As a result, it's hard to find someone who doesn't know its twist. Various elements of Psycho have been spoofed in other movies and TV shows countless times, which is a testament to both its importance and its popularity. 

    93 votes
  • It was a major shock for Star Wars fans when, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, villain Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) claimed to be Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) father. The movie ended on that major gut-punch, and audiences had to wait a couple more years before The Return of the Jedi would show Luke grappling with the truth of the claim. Although Luke knew his father was a powerful Jedi, he had been led to believe that Vader had killed his father, from others hoping to dissuade Luke from turning out like Vader.

    It's a sign of how well-known the twist is that people often get the quote wrong. It's a common belief that Vader says, “Luke, I am your father.” In reality, he says, “No, I am your father.” The ubiquity of the reveal leads to countless references, as well as a slew of other twists involving parentage in popular movies. At this point, it's highly likely that anyone watching the Star Wars films for the first time will know this “twist” before they begin.

    111 votes
  • Set in the 1950s, Martin Scorsese's 2010 thriller Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal investigating a disappearance at a mental institution. He quickly comes to suspect that the answers may lie with the facility's psychiatric guru, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a guy with a possibly unethical method of treating violent offenders. The mystery builds to the big finale in which we learn Teddy is not, in fact, a law enforcement official but rather a patient at the very same hospital. The entire investigation is his own delusion, conjured to grapple with his trauma from murdering his wife (Michelle Williams), who had murdered their children.

    Shutter Island is based on a best-selling Dennis Lehane book, so the twist was already familiar to some people when the film came out. Since the film's release, it has become famous because of the caliber of talent behind the movie. Scorsese stages the big reveal for maximum impact, and DiCaprio's performance makes viewers understand the tragedy of it. Critical acclaim has turned Shutter Island's twist into an oft-cited example of how to skillfully pull off a surprise in cinema - which, ironically, makes the surprise known to those who haven't yet seen it.

    101 votes