A plot twist can make or break a film. While the greatest movie plot twists of all time were executed differently, each one of them was shocking, believable, and necessary to move the story forward.
Like in other forms of storytelling, plot twists in films are changes in the narrative that subvert expectations. Plot twists don’t follow the linear path that viewers have been led to believe at the start of the story, and when effectively pulled off, they genuinely surprise the audience, who, in turn, become more invested in the movie.
A good plot twist causes a significant shift in the viewers’ understanding of the movie’s reality and its message. It reveals a deeper layer to the events that have unfolded, making them much more sensical. A plot twist is a good one when the audience has a feeling that they suddenly understand the story in a deeper way. A bad plot twist, on the other hand, invalidates everything that has happened in the film so far, making the story less meaningful.
While plot twists are commonly associated with endings, they can happen any time after the movie has established the viewers’ expectations. A plot twist that happens in the middle of a movie grips the audience’s attention and inspires them to be more careful of all the details that will follow. Meanwhile, a plot twist that is unraveled in the latter part of a flick tends to have a more lasting impact on the viewers and is more likely to be the most memorable part of the film.
Though a film can have multiple plot twists, the greatest movie plot twists of all time are mostly not preceded and followed by another plot twist.
While a plot twist, by definition, is a sudden and unexpected change of direction in the narrative, the greatest movie plot twists are those that are also realistic and sensible. Plot twists that are random and too outlandish are simply gimmicks and usually leave the audience unimpressed. Moreover, plot twists that exist simply for shock value make the viewers feel cheated and uninspired to finish the rest of the film.
The greatest movie plot twists are those that are preceded with effective foreshadowing. For the uninitiated, foreshadowing is a narrative device in which suggestions or warnings about an upcoming significant event are dropped or planted prior to the big reveal.
Movie writers and directors should strike a good balance between giving away enough details and keeping enough details hidden to deliver a believable and plausible plot twist. Hints at the impending twist should be so subtle that they may not even be noticed by viewers the first time around but will make perfect sense looking back. In short, a movie should plant just enough clues about the twist, so viewers will be surprised but not feel swindled about it.
Most movies are outlined using a three-act structure. The first act sets the story up, the second part sends the main character on a mission, and the final portion concludes the story with a resolution. Since this structure has worked for years, this has remained the blueprint of most of the films today. Despite sharing a common blueprint, movies still appear unique to one another, thanks to the different narrative techniques, including plot twists, that filmmakers often used.
Filmmakers, however, don’t rely solely on plot twists to make their movies engaging. Plot twists are usually paired with strong storytelling and characterization, among many others to make an unforgettable flick.
To learn more about what makes a perfect plot twist, check out 30 of the greatest movie plot twists of all time in the list below.
The greatest movie plot twists we didn’t see coming
American Psycho (2000)
Based on Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name, American Psycho stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a yuppie New York City investment banker who is gradually revealed to be a serial killer preying on homeless people, sex workers, work colleagues, and random members of the public.
But in the final scene of the Mary Harron-directed movie, Patrick learns that many of his victims are still alive, suggesting that the killings he has done are not real and may all be in his head.