The last five years have seen plenty of films to thrill moviegoers. We’ve seen the rise of the comic book franchises of Marvel and Warner Bros; action films that try to be smart and not just thrills; fantastic stunts and FX but also fun dramas amid the huge franchises. No matter what the genre is, one thing is still true: Moviegoers love a great plot twist.
Some are better than others and you can complain about a few being so obvious you could see them coming a mile off. When done correctly, a twist throws everything you know about the film in a new regard, adding to its fun and makes you want to look back at all the clues laid out beforehand. Some can’t quite pull it off but others are able to do so wonderfully and make the movie stand out more. It’s easy to look back at great twists of the past but the last five years have offered some interesting ones that change things up. Here are the 10 best plot twists in movies of the 2010s and hopefully more to come.
Quite obviously, SPOILERS abound for these.
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Thanks to the thick veil of secrecy, fans didn’t know what to expect with the revival of the classic franchise and J.J. Abrams used that brilliantly. Instead of waiting until late in the film, Abrams throws in the major turn mid-way through and yet it’s still effective. During a talk with the imposing Supreme Leader Snoke, it’s revealed that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the dark light-saber wielding would-be Sith, is in fact the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia. That it’s delievered so matter-of-factly makes it more stunning, no build-up or hints to the truth beforehand and throws all you thought about the new saga in a different light. This also leads to the most stunning moment of the film and most of the saga: Trying to reach his son, Ben, Han presses him to turn back to the light but instead, Kylo runs his father through with his lightsaber before sending him falling into a reactor. Killing off one of the most iconic characters of all time was a bold move but it ends up being the most memorable of the film and cements Ren as a new villain while setting up more drama for the next movies and a reminder why Star Wars resonates so well in our culture.
9. Final Destination 5
These movies follow a set but still fun pattern: Someone gets a vision of a massive disaster (in this case, a giant bridge collapse) with various gruesome deaths and manages to save himself and some friends from it. However, Death doesn’t like to be cheated and one by one the survivors are picked off in various brutal ways. For the most part, the (so far truly final) entry in the series plays on that, with the discovery that if one of these people kills another victim, they’ll live off that person’s years, setting up various murders amid the usual accidents. In the end, it appears that hero Sam and his girlfeind Molly have survived after killing classmate Peter and prepare to take a vacation to Paris. As they sit on the plane, they hear a commotion as a guy is screaming the plane is going to crash and is dragged off by security with several of his classmates following. We then see a ticket telling us this is flight 180, departing in 2001…and realize that the entire movie has been a prequel to the very first Final Destination film and the plane explodes just after takeoff.
As if that’s not enough, Nathan, attending the funeral for Ray (a guy he accidentally killed earlier) learns the man had a brain aneurysm that would have killed him soon and realizes he’s not safe…just as a piece of the plane crashes through the roof to kill him. A fun twist to bring the saga full circle and remind you how you can never outrun the Grim Reaper.
8. Now You See Me
This 2013 film has a fun caper as four magicians (Jessie Eisenburg, lsla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) become famous as the “Four Horsemen,” whose magic acts cover their ripping off corrupt millionaires and giving away their money to the public. The FBI is called in with Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) dubious in how these tricks are done and calls on Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), who specializes in debunking magic and illusions. The cat and mouse game between the two groups goes on throughout the film, Rhodes one step behind these guys and baffled by their moves as Thaddeus tries to help him out. One big heist ends with the money found in Thaddeus’ car and he’s arrested as the group’s accomplice. In jail, he defends himself to Rhodes, saying the real “Fifth Horseman” has to be someone who knew magic, who was in on the case, who could pull this off…
He stops and turns to find Rhodes has suddenly vanished from the cell and is outside, grinning wickedly and gloating on how Thaddeus will be asking himself for years how he missed the truth. It turns out Rhodes was behind this whole thing, the son of a magician who died in a trick because of Thaddeus and those who were ripped off also contributing. It’s a terrific turn as even the other Horsemen are stunned to realize who their secret boss has been and happy to join him for more cons. Just like a true magic trick, the movie pulls its turn off right before your eyes without you even realizing it.
7. Iron Man 3
This may be debated as some feel it’s a cop-out but in terms of major plot twists, it ranks big time. Throughout the film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has been attacked by the Mandarian (Ben Kingsley), leader of a ruthless terrorist organization who’s set up super-bombs across Los Angeles. Some fans criticized the casting of Kingsley as the long-Chinese comic book character but it turns out that was part of the setup. Hunting the Mandarin down on his own, Tony is stunned to discover Tony Slattery, a boozing, nutty British actor who’s been playing the part on what he thinks is a TV show, no idea he’s being used as the face of a terrorist. The real Mandarin is actually Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who’s using his Extremis to create super-soldiers and plots to kill the President and install a puppet VP in his place. While some fans were upset about the apparent switch, it still served the movie well and even better was a mini-movie that showed Slattery living it up in prison only to be told the real Mandarin wasn’t happy about his name used like this. Either way, a nice turn to remind you never to take anything for granted in a super-hero movie.
6. Furious 6
This entry in the action franchise appeared to throw two major twists into things in the climax. First, the revelation that Riley (Gina Carano), the supposed tough federal agent was working with bad guy Owen Shaw all along. Then, in the big chase sequence, Giesele (Gal Gadot) sacrifices herself to save lover Han (Sung Kang). However, the real twist comes in the final scene as we see Han racing across Tokyo and realize that all the other films have taken place before the third film, Tokyo Drift. We see his fatal car accident but instead of just going out of control, he’s rammed off by another car. Getting out is bad-ass movie star Jason Statham as Owen’s revenge-bent brother, Deckard. He tosses a cross onto Han’s car and walks off as it explodes, getting on the phone to tell Dom “You don’t know me…but you’re about to.” Besides fixing a continuity hole in the series, it’s also a great way to set up the seventh film and one bad-ass introduction just when moviegoers thought the adventure was done.
This 2010 thriller kicks off with a classic set-up: Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a top CIA operative who finds herself named as a deep cover Russian agent about to kill the Russian President. She goes on the run, taking off from her fellow agents to try and clear her name. But then the movie tosses aside the usual script: It turns out Salt is a Russian agent recruited as a child to infiltrate the CIA and seems to kill the Russian President and even oversee the murder of her American husband. Soon, she’s part of an attack on the American President that forces him into a bunker, at which point, her colleague Walter (Liev Schreiber) kills everyone but the President, revealing he’s a Russian agent as well. This whole thing has been to launch American missiles into the Middle East and cause the Muslim world to be against the U.S. and thus play into Russian interests. Before he can, he discovers Salt only pretended to kill the Russian President and they fight before guards break in, Walter the hero and Salt seen as the enemy. She manages to kill him before convincing her CIA boss of the truth and he lets her go to hunt the other sleeper agents down. While not as twisting as the director’s cut ending (where it’s implied the new President is a Russian sleeper as well), it’s a pretty crafty turn and Jolie carries the role with her usual mix of sex appeal and strength to make the various twists work well.
4. Gone Girl
True, if you’d already read the best-selling novel, this wasn’t a surprise but to those who only knew the movie, it was still a powerful turn. We’ve watched as Nick (Ben Affleck) finds himself accused of the murder of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) who’s vanished, the evidence piling up, including Amy’s diary with voice-overs of her worries on Nick’s behavior. The media attention grows as Nick is almost tried and convicted in the eyes of the media, the blitz growing…and then it turns out Amy is alive and well and has set this whole thing up. Pike is terrific transforming from the innocent wife to a total sociopath, gleeful watching Nick take the fall for this and mulling over killing herself after he’s convicted and executed. However, her plan backfires when she’s robbed of her money by a couple and turns to an old friend (Neil Patrick Harris). Seeing Nick talk of how he loved her actually rekindles her feelings so she kills Harris and makes it look like he’d been holding her captive and she barely escaped. At the end of the film, she tells Nick she’s pregnant as she’s living with him, both realizing they strangely need each other despite their twisted beliefs. It all rests on Pike making you believe in Amy as the innocent woman and then the scheming bitch and how you can never be sure of the truth in cases so dark as this.
You don’t think of Disney animated movies offering huge twists but their 2013 mega-hit did that. Throughout the film, we’ve seen what appears to be the classic Disney prince in Hans, a nice guy who clicks with the adorkable Anna, the two falling in love fast and Anna leaves Hans in charge when she races to find her sister Elsa admist the sudden winter gripping the land. Taking a magical blow that will freeze her heart unless she finds a loved one to break it, Anna races back to her palace to Hans, to get a true kiss of love. He leans down…and then smirks “If only someone truly loved you.” It turns out the “prince” is a cad who was using Anna to get ahead and his own crown, never truly caring for her and about to leave her to die and then take the throne himself. That also sets up a further twist as instead of handsome Kristoff, it’s the love of her sister Elsa that breaks the spell to restore Anna. The success of the movie was based on how it overturned the clichés of Disney fairy tales and having the “good prince” be the bad guy was one touch that made it such a hit and a pretty great turn.
A common complaint of movies is “the trailer spoils everything.” So it’s to the immense credit of Universal that they kept the truth of this 2013 sci-fi film hidden from everyone. The plot appears to be Tom Cruise as Jack, a man who’s cleaning up an Earth long ravaged by an alien invader with humanity having left for new worlds. He finds a woman who claims she’s his wife and soon meeting the leader of a band of scavengers who tells him the truth is far greater. But nothing could prepare Jack (and audiences) for when he meets…himself. It turns out that the “Tet,” the space station Jack works for is actually an artificial intelligence that went rogue, devastated Earth and then cloned Jack and his wife thousands of times over to be its soldiers. How the marketing department managed to resist showing multiple Tom Cruises in trailers is impressive and makes the twist work out wonderfully. Eventually, Jack works against his former masters to destroy the Tet and free the survivors of its rule. The movie didn’t do well at the box office but deserves attention for going totally against what you expect and giving Cruise some meaty material to work with.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s one thing to have a plot twist that changes your movie. It’s another to have a twist that transforms an entire cinematic universe. Such is the case in this 2014 blockbuster as Cap (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) are on the run from an apparently corrupt SHIELD and check out an old Army base. There, they discover a computer containing the mind of former Hydra scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) who drops the bomb on them: After WWII, Hydra infiltrated SHIELD, spreading their agents about, sowing chaos across the world and are ready to finally take over. In other words, SHIELD has been controlled by the bad guys practically from the start with Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) one of their key leaders.
It’s a stunning twist you didn’t see coming and throws the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe off. By the end of the film, Hydra has come out in attacks and SHIELD is destroyed which naturally played huge on the Agents of SHIELD TV series and in later Marvel films. It’s still a daring move by the MCU producers that makes you realize you can’t take anything for granted, especially in a comic book film.