Movies with unpredictable endings are hard to pull off in part because there isn’t much new under the sun. Anyone, who saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) or William Castle’s Homicidal (1961), for instance, probably had Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) figured out long before the end credits. But if you’ve never seen a movie like, say, Don’t Look Now (1973), then you’ll probably think M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) is the most amazing, unpredictable flick to ever grace the silver screen.
Many times, the difference is generational, and very few movies can pull the strings of narrative in such a way that it leaves most everyone surprised by the outcome, regardless of our backgrounds. However, we’ve pinpointed nine movies with unpredictable endings that were complete head-scratchers. These are the types of movies that shock, twist, and surprise in ways that are virtually impossible to see coming.
If you disagree that these were some of the finest movies with unpredictable endings of all time, then we invite you to sound off in the comments section following these choices with some picks of your own.
A word of warning: each of these entries should be treated as spoiler heavy. We will be revealing the big twists, so if there are any you haven’t seen (and would like to), then by all means, skim over them or watch before you read. Let’s get started.
The Departed SPOILERS AHEAD
In The Departed, an undercover state cop working inside an Irish gang and a mole in the police force working for the same mob try to track each other down before being exposed. We’ve seen these cat-and-mouse thrillers before, but when lead star (and protagonist) Leonardo DiCaprio walks off an elevator and into his fate at the film’s climax, our jaws hit the floor.
The Shawshank Redemption SPOILERS AHEAD
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) strike up an unlikely friendship while in prison. From the beginning, it seems like an ill-fated bond in one of the most hopeless places on earth. But at the end, writer Stephen King completely alters our expectations. Director Frank Darabont milks every last bit of suspense out of the twist, which is that Andy has spent years tunneling an escape path through his wall. He’s carefully arranged a getaway for himself and Red that teaches both men about the power of hope, and it gives the audience a well-deserved happy ending after being made to suffer through prison life for more than two hours.
The Usual Suspects SPOILERS AHEAD
In The Usual Suspects, a boat has been destroyed, leaving behind a crew of dead criminals. Key to the mystery is a crippled survivor, who witnessed the lethal actions of phantom Keyser Söze. As the survivor tells his story, we start to realize that Keyser Söze is probably one of the criminals, and that he most likely is not among the dead bodies. Only at the end do we realize our survivor, witness Roger “Verbal” Kint, isn’t crippled at all. His entire story, an elaborate and convincing confession.
Seven SPOILERS AHEAD
Kevin Spacey again steps into the role of baddie, but that’s not really what makes this one of those great movies with unpredictable endings. No, it’s the care package he leaves at the end for one of the detectives hunting him: a severed human head belonging to the detective’s wife.
Saw SPOILERS AHEAD
Two men wake up in shackles. They’re in the middle of a room where a gore-covered dead body lies facedown between them. As they recall the last things they remember before everything went black, they realize they’ve become the target of a deranged madman. What they don’t realize is that the madman lying on the floor in front of them, and he isn’t dead at all.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back SPOILERS AHEAD
If you were watching the original — and in our mind, the only — Star Wars trilogy when it first came out, there was no way you could have imagined the twist that The Empire Strikes Back had in store: Darth Vader as Luke’s father? No way.
Stephen King’s The Mist SPOILERS AHEAD
There is something hiding in the mist, and it’s holding the customers at a grocery store hostage, until they finally decide to make a break for it. Our hero (Thomas Jane) and his young son are in the final brave souls, who decide to venture out into this horrifying environment. Committed to taking their own lives before they let the mist get them, they realize there aren’t enough bullets to finish the job. Therefore, our hero makes the decision to kill his son, thus saving him from an agonizing death.
The last one left, with no means of defending himself, our hero steps out of the car after the job is done and waits for the creatures to overtake him. Unfortunately, he is rescued. Adding insult to injury, a woman who pleaded with him for help in rescuing her own children, somehow made it to safety and saved her kids. She is the last thing he sees before the end credits.
American Beauty SPOILERS AHEAD
American Beauty is a film with a sense of humor that is so hilarious, we really don’t expect it to take the dark turn that it does at the end. Oh sure, it’s a dark comedy from the get-go, but having our narrating protagonist’s brains splattered all over his house by a homophobic next-door neighbor wasn’t really the kind of “dark” we expected.
Orphan SPOILERS AHEAD
If anyone tells you they had Orphan figured out before the reveal, they are full of crap. The movie uses a real-life condition known as hypopituitarism to shroud the true nature of murderous Esther’s past. What we think is a pre-teen girl is really a homicidal maniac in her twenties.
Which of these movies with unpredictable endings did you most enjoy?
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