Script Written by Timothy MacAusland
Top 20 Best Plot Twists of the 21st Century So Far
The next eighty years have a high bar to clear if they want to contend with these twists. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best Plot Twists of the 21st Century So Far.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the best plot twists in movies released since the year 2000, and ranking them based on the surprise factor and narrative satisfaction they provided viewers. And while needless to say, we will anyway: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!
#20: Tina & Vore Are Trolls
When we first meet Tina, we’re led to believe - much like she does - that she was born with a deformity that gave her a Neanderthal-esque appearance. Then she meets Vore, a man with similar features, and the two develop a very curious friendship. We’re instantly dubious of Vore, and our suspicions are confirmed when the two have sex, though not in any way we’ve ever seen. Turns out neither one of them is deformed, and that they’re actually not even human at all but trolls, with Tina’s real parents having been tortured by humans. The twists don’t stop there, as Vore has been orchestrating a child abduction ring for years as a means of revenge. Trust us, we couldn’t make this stuff up.
#19: Adelaide Is the Original Red
Appearances can be deceiving, especially when there’s scores of red jumpsuit-clad doppelgängers slaughtering their lookalikes. Fortunately for the Wilson family, they’re able to successively fend off and kill their counterparts while the rest of the world burns and holds hands. It’s only when they’re out of harm’s way does the Wilson matriarch Adelaide uncover a long-repressed memory. Turns out that her childhood encounter with her doppelgänger Red didn’t end the way she thought. Instead, it was Red that left Adelaide in the underground to assume her life, meaning the Adelaide we’ve been following this whole time is not the original. This recontextualizes everything we’ve seen, and adds another layer to an already thematically rich movie.
#18: A Cult Is Behind Everything
There have been many horror movies that deal with potential insanity, but never one quite so effective as “Hereditary.” Upon noticing some strange goings on, Annie begins to suspect a malevolent supernatural element at play, only the more assured she becomes, the crazier she seems, as mental illness runs in her family. Or does it? Nope, turns out the only thing that runs in her family is an affinity for demonic cults, as one led by her late mother orchestrated the seemingly accidental death of her daughter as a means of transferring the demon inside her into the body of her son. Yeah, this is one screwed-up clan, and one even more so now that their plan worked. Thanks for the nightmares, everyone.
#17: The Maid’s Husband Is in the Basement
It’s about halfway through the movie, the Kim family has successfully infiltrated the Park household and are now reveling in their newfound sense of outward affluence while the Parks are away. Right about now is when we’re expecting the plot to take a turn and throw the Kim’s for a loop. So the twist isn’t that it does, the twist is how it does, as the former maid that the Kims conspired to get fired returns to reveal her husband hiding out from debt collectors in the Parks secret bunker, unbeknownst to everyone. This not only introduces another level - literally - in Bong Joon-ho’s biting social satire, but throws the entire second act into a state of bedlam we’re not apt to forget.
#16: Amy Faked Her Death
“Gone Girl” (2014)
Here’s another twist that comes around the halfway mark. At this point, we’ve watched the likelihood that Nick killed his wife swell and swell with each piece of evidence found, to the point that even we’re suspicious of the protagonist. So imagine our surprise when Amy seemingly narrates from beyond the grave only to learn, nope! She’s alive and well, on the run, incognito, and ready to let her husband take the fall for a murder that never happened. Sure, Nick was an unfaithful jackass, but even we were flabbergasted at the lengths of Amy’s duplicity and spitefulness. You know that old expression, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Yeah, we’re pretty sure whoever wrote that was talking about Amy.
#15: The Kidnapping Was Faked
“Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
Much like protagonist Patrick Kenzie, we want nothing more than the locating and safeguarding of kidnapped three-year-old Amanda McCready. Upon following Patrick down a series of fake leads, we’re led to believe that Amanda was accidentally killed during an exchange between the police and the criminals who purportedly took her. Our hearts were broken, only to learn that she’s alive and well in the protection of Police Captain Jack Doyle, who orchestrated this scheme to get Amanda out of the hands of her neglectful, cocaine-addicted mother. Finally it looks like we might get the semblance of a happy ending, but Patrick can’t walk away, reporting Doyle and sending Amanda back into squalor, breaking our hearts all over again.
#14: The Armitage Family Is Inhabiting Black People
“Get Out” (2017)
You’ve heard this story a thousand times: white girl has a black boyfriend, white girl takes black boyfriend home to meet white family, and white family performs involuntary neurosurgery on black boyfriend to put their consciousnesses into his body. Wait, what? While that may be a total meme or cliché now, in 2017 it was absolutely gobsmacking. Sure, we knew something was off, what with the hypno tea, creepy groundskeeper and bingo auction, but we never could have guessed this is what was going on. Or that Chris’s girlfriend was in on it. Even when looking back there were so many signs, proving that - between this and “Us,” - Jordan Peele is truly a new master of suspense.
#13: The Characters Are Personalities
Over the course of the film, we’re led to believe that detained serial killer Malcolm Rivers - who suffers from dissociative personality disorder - is going to figure into the events with the main cast at the motel somehow, either through flashbacks or alternating timelines. And he does figure into it, or, should we say, they figure into him, because not only does the motel not exist, but every inhabitant of it trying to stay alive are each of Malcolm’s personalities jockeying for positioning inside his brain. While still a whodunit with victims being taken out one-by-one, the plot suddenly takes on a whole new meaning as the stakes are somehow raised while now technically operating at a psychological and neurological level.
#12: Esther Is an Adult
Between “The Bad Seed” and “The Good Son,” we’ve gotten no shortage of evil children in horror movies, so we thought we knew what to expect with “Orphan.” Sure, the poster’s tagline famously says, “There’s something wrong with Esther,” and we had no doubt there was. Only, we didn’t think that thing would be that this ostensible adoptee from Hell was actually a thirty-three-year-old woman with a hormone disorder that gives her a childlike appearance. Up until the reveal, “Orphan” was just your typical psychological horror film, but then it suddenly became incredibly unnerving and disturbing in equal measure. Evil kids we can deal with. Evil adults posing as evil kids we cannot.
#11: Half of Life Is Killed
“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
While Marvel had been breaking new ground for ten years by the time it came to release this their nineteenth film in their cinematic universe, we were still comfortable with the notion that good guys win and bad guys lose. Of course, we knew another “Avengers” film would come out a year later to wrap up the story, but we still didn’t anticipate our favorite heroes to lose on such a monumental scale. Not only does Thanos triumph, but he makes good on the promise he made in the beginning of the movie by wiping out half of all life in the universe. Sure, we knew he was capable, but never in a million years did we think that Marvel would go through with it.
#10: Mr. Glass Is a Supervillain
Even by the time M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” hit theaters, audiences were clued into the probability of there being a twist due to the shocking nature of “The Sixth Sense’s” revelation a year prior. Yet even with that expectation he was able to surprise us. When indestructible man David Dunn survives a train crash with nary a scratch, he’s indoctrinated into the larger superhero mythology by the brittle-bodied Elijah Price. Though it would seem an unconventional friendship is forming, Elijah takes on the moniker “Mr. Glass” when it’s revealed he caused David’s train crash to begin with, willing to kill hundreds of people just to find a superhero counterpart to his supervillain persona. If that’s not a diabolical scheme, we don’t know what is.
#9: The Happy Ending Was a Lie
Set around WWII, “Atonement” is aptly named due to the mistake thirteen-year-old Briony makes in falsely accusing her sister Cecilia’s lover Robbie of rape. After Robbie is imprisoned and subsequently forced to fight, an older Briony finally gets the chance to apologize to an eventually reunited Cecilia and Robbie upon realizing her mistake. Or does she? As an elderly Briony explains, this scene in her book depicting the events was merely imaginary, as both Cecilia and Robbie were killed separately in the war, never having gotten their happy ending. To have both characters gone through so much only to have their love squandered over a simple misunderstanding is heartbreaking, and we are still not over it.
#8: Teddy Is Andrew Laeddis
“Shutter Island” (2010)
There are a lot of mysteries in Shutter Island’s mental hospital for the criminally insane for duly appointed federal marshal Teddy Daniels to uncover. Where is Andrew Laeddis, the killer of Teddy’s wife? What is the law of 4? Who is patient 67? It turns out, the answer to both questions is Teddy, whose entire investigation is actually the staff’s elaborate play to get Teddy - err, Laeddis - to realize his own insanity and repression. We were about as floored by this revelation as Teddy, who depending on your interpretation of the final line, may have repressed it all over again. Or did he? Kudos to the movie for being able to deliver a wallop of a twist and leave a little up to interpretation.
#7: Non-Linear Time
“Arrival” begins with the daughter of linguist Louise Banks succumbing to disease. When alien pods land on Earth and attempt to communicate, an interspecies war is looming and time is of the essence. Or is it? Banks struggles to decipher the cyclical nature of the alien language only to realize that unlocking it is to see time from a non-linear perspective. As she does both, she’s able to communicate with her future self and figure out how to create an armistice. Along with this, we learn that Banks’s daughter exists not in the past but the future, and that Banks will have her with the knowledge that she will die young, and choose the opportunity to love anyway. Mind blown.
#6: The Family Is Already Dead
“The Others” (2001)
Gosh, it is so hard to tell a novel haunted house story these days, but “The Others” managed to flip the script in a way that was both cathartic and unexpected. It follows Grace and her two children in the aftermath of WWII, who begin to suspect their house is haunted by ghosts when objects move on their own and a strange elderly woman appears. It turns out Grace was right: there are ghosts in the house, only the ghosts are her and her two children after she murdered them before committing suicide. What they perceive to be ghosts are actually the living inhabitants of the home, and the elderly woman a medium looking to expunge them.
#5: The Military Arrives
“The Mist” (2007)
But the time we reach the end of “The Mist,” our characters have been put through the proverbial ringer by a whole slew of interdimensional creatures. After escaping the grocery store in search of rescue, our five remaining survivors are left helpless when their car runs out of gas. With monstrous sounds closing in, main protagonist David Drayton opts to spare the other passengers an agonizing death by shooting each of them in the head. One bullet short, he exits the vehicle to meet his fate only to realize the sounds were that of the military gaining control of the situation. As he’s rescued, he realizes he killed the others - including his own son - for nothing. Jeez, what a gut punch.
“The Prestige” (2006)
In this film of dueling magicians, there are no lengths one wouldn't go to to undermine the other. Both are ingenious with a trick up their sleeve, though one is decidedly more complex than the other. When Hugh Jackman’s Angier drowns to death, Christian Bale’s Borden is framed for murder, and executed for it. However, Angier is still alive, well, one of them anyway, as he found a way to clone himself each show before drowning in a pool. Just when Angier thinks he’s won, it’s revealed that Borden is still alive too… well, one of them, as “Borden” was an identity shared by two identical twins to assist in tricks. Borden gets his revenge, and we get two twists for the price of one.
#3: The “Dead Body” Is Jigsaw
As the “Saw” movies progressed while regressing in quality, it became almost an obligatory cliché that they’d all have a twist ending. But that was only because the twist in the first movie was so good. After seemingly surviving Jigsaw’s game by killing their captor Zep, a freed but hemorrhaging Dr. Gordon crawls away to get a chained Adam help. Thinking he’s safe, Adam catches his breath when the seemingly dead body that’s been on the floor for hours suddenly starts to rise. Our jaws drop along with Adam’s when we realize Zep was just an involuntary pawn for the real Jigsaw, who was mere feet away the whole time. Adam screams in terror as Jigsaw slams the door shut, leaving him to die.
#2: Leonard Killed His Wife
Leonard Shelby is a man suffering from anterograde amnesia and thus unable to create new memories. Looking to avenge the death of his wife when the two of them were assaulted, Leonard resorts to leaving clues for himself in the form of polaroids and tattoos to aid in his investigation. From here, “Memento” is unique in that many of the scenes play reverse-chronologically, and we’re allowed to uncover what got us here to begin with. Much like “Shutter Island,” Leonard learns that his wife survived their attack and was killed later when Leonard accidentally gave her an overdose of her medication, having forgotten he already gave it to her. Doomed to forget again, Leonard will continue to repress his mistake forever more.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Sarah Is Still in the Cave
“The Descent” (2005)
WorryFree Is Breeding Equisapiens
“Sorry to Bother You” (2018)
Eli Is Blind
“The Book of Eli” (2010)
Vick Is Covering Up the Crime
Sophie’s Death Was Staged
“The Illusionist” (2006)
#1: Mi-do Is Oh Dae-su’s Daughter
After being kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, Oh Dae-su is suddenly released without explanation. Incensed, he sets off on a revenge mission to uncover who kidnapped him to begin with, and track down his long-lost daughter. Along his journey, he is aided and tended to by the young Mi-do, with whom he falls in love and sleeps with. A whole lot of octopus eating and ass kicking later, Dae-su identifies the villain as an old classmate of his, Lee Woo-jin, whose sister committed suicide when Dae-su publicized she and Woo-jin were committing incest. Woo-jin reveals his elaborate revenge scheme, which included Dae-su sleeping with Mi-do, who is actually his daughter. Horrified by the truth, Dae-su cuts out his own tongue.