Everyone loves a good plot twist in a movie. After a director and the actors tell a story that the audience can get invested in, it comes as a major shock when what we thought we were watching all along turns out to be something completely different and we’re left scratching our heads in disbelief or utter silence.
Yep, we’ve been there and the next 15 films (if you’ve seen them) probably had you behaving in a similar fashion. For those who have not seen these films, pause, go watch them, and try to predict what few others were able to. For those who have seen these films, try to recall how it made you feel to discover something so hideous, so disturbing, or so shocking took place that you weren’t sure how to feel. Perhaps you felt so disturbed you couldn’t watch the film again. Better yet, perhaps you felt like you had to immediately watch it one more time to understand what you missed the first time through.
There were other films that were given consideration but didn’t make it to the list. The Usual Suspects, The Empire Strikes Back, Chinatown, Primal Fear, and a laundry list of other films could have easily made anyone’s top 15. All had shocking twists that made the films memorable and fan favorites to this day. Alas, we only had so much room.
If you’re curious to see which movies made our top 15, then keep reading. Perhaps we’ll shock you with our selections just as the films themselves shocked the audience. Either way, these 15 movies were hits with endings that were among the most disturbing, shocking, or troubling ever written.
15. The Mist
A strange fog has come over a small town. Trapped in a supermarket, a group of people have nowhere to turn and there were no answers. Every time one person tries to leave, they discover that whatever is inside the mist (tentacled creatures) is killing them.
In a last ditch effort to escape, the group heads for the main character’s (a father named David) car and tries to drive their way through. Running out of gas, the group understands they are going to die. Instead of letting the monsters get to them and David’s son, David does the unthinkable and uses four bullets to “spare” the passengers. He reluctantly kills the entire group including his young son. David remains alive simply because there were not enough bullets in which he could turn the gun to kill himself. Our hero leaves the car to accept his fate and suddenly, the mist clears with the U.S Army winning the battle against the monster. The main character had killed everyone mere moments before realizing they would have all been saved.
Few movies are as shocking from start to finish as the movie Seven. The idea that a serial killer is plucking off people he deems guilty of committing each of the seven deadly sins is a disturbing enough premise for a film. That, he does so in such gruesome ways makes the film difficult to watch in many scenes. The ending is particularly horrific.
Detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) have been led to a deserted plot of dry land where they await what they think might be a trap. The killer has one more point to make and has arranged for a box containing the head of Mills’ pregnant wife to show up at the precise moment all three men are out there alone. Viewers never see the severed head, but Mills does and perhaps more disturbing is the torment he goes through deciding if he’s willing to become the final deadly sin—wrath. He can’t stop himself and kills the antagonist character who, in death, succeeds where he set out to.
In 2003, a film by Park Chan-wook came out that was so critically acclaimed and disturbing that it spawned a remake in 2013. The adaptation directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin wasn’t nearly as successful.
The plot centers around a drunk adult male who passes out only to wake up in a strange prison. He is being held by an unknown captor and has been framed for the murder of his ex-wife. After twenty years, he is released and is hellbent on finding those who held him and killed his wife. During this process, he meets a young lady who takes him in after his captivity and very obvious struggles. The two begin to care romantically for each other, but unbeknownst to them both, the captor arranged the circumstances of their meeting and intended for the two to become an item. Why? He reveals that the main character and the young lady are actually father and daughter. Yep, pretty gross.
Alfred Hitchcock has long been looked at as the master of horror. He knew, even in 1960, how to twist and turn an audience and make them truly uncomfortable. One of his masterpieces was the film Psycho in which the main character, Norman Bates, and his mother were part of a series of murders at the Bates Motel. What the audience didn’t know was that there was never a family running the motel at all and that Bates’ mother was not a murderer. She was long since dead and Bates was dressing in her clothing and killing people long after his mother had passed away.
11. Shutter Island
Leonardo DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels who is partnered with partner Mark Ruffalo (Chuck) and sent to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane to investigate the disappearance of a woman incarcerated there. After twists and turns, the pair discovers what they think might be the clue to finally solving the case, only to realize that there was no case and no missing woman at all.
DiCaprio’s character is actually a prisoner there and has been the entire time. His partnership with Ruffalo’s character is an attempt by the people who run the prison to snap DiCaprio’s character out of his conspiracy-obsessed insanity which has plagued him for years. Every character in the film either isn’t real or is a doctor trying to cure him. It’s truly an unexpected ending that makes you wonder what you watched the entire time the movie was playing. What we learned was that, in reality, DiCaprio had murdered his wife after she killed their three children. He’s not a U.S. Marshall and this was not a happy ending.
In 2004, a film came out around Halloween that was so popular and so shocking that it spawned a series of films that repeatedly hit theaters around the same time. The Saw series grew more gruesome with each release and the deaths became more elaborate, but the first film is by far the best of the bunch.
Two strangers are locked in a decaying and abandoned bathroom. The only thing in there with them is a dead body, two saws, a tape recorder with instructions, and their desire to survive and set themselves free by removing their chains (by sawing them or their own body parts off). Through a series of flashbacks, it is discovered that the events that led these two to share this twisted fate is no coincidence and that the dead body in the room is not actually a dead body, but the mastermind behind the entire game set to force people to do unthinkable acts. The fact that Jigsaw (the killer) laid there, acting dead through the entire film is a twist few saw coming and disturbing when you realize he simply wanted a front row seat to the carnage.
9. The Village
M. Night Shyamalan‘s movies up to The Village had been deemed quite good and full of twists and turns that made his films a must-see. This film, however, was disturbing not because of the gore or twist that made you mad you didn’t see it coming, but that the ending was such a letdown it became disturbing to realize you sat through the film thinking one thing and getting something completely different as a payoff.
The Village was meant to look like a period piece that was set in the 19th century. It was a flick about a village of people haunted by a monster in the trees that never allowed anyone to leave. Instead of there being an actual monster, it is discovered that the entire village is one big ruse and that the folks who ran it didn’t want outside world influences creeping into their home or affecting the young citizens. They created a fake monster so that no one would dare discover what was going on in the real world just a few miles away and the village would continue to grow. Of all the endings the audience could have gotten, this was probably not the one they wanted.
Buried tells the story of a character named Paul Conroy who’s been kidnapped and buried alive in a coffin somewhere in the Iraqi desert. He is a hostage and the entire film is spent with Ryan Reynolds inside the coffin as he tries to figure a way out or seek help. He winds up on a phone with someone who is trying to help locate him and while the voice guarantees nothing, tries to assure him that they’ll find him just as they did another victim weeks earlier.
As the coffin is filled with sand, the voice on the phone seems eager, realizing they’ve found the outside of the coffin and it’s only a matter of time before they can get Reynolds’ character out of there. Instead, the movie ends as it’s revealed that the coffin they did find was not Reynolds’ but that of the earlier rescued kidnapee who was never actually rescued. The voice had lied in an attempt to give Reynolds’ character hope and in the end, searchers were led to the wrong coffin. Disturbingly, Reynolds dies after being buried alive.
7. The Shining
Based on the 1977 novel by Stephen King, The Shining tells the story of a caretaker looking after a hotel while it’s closed for the winter. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance who is left to run the Overlook Hotel and wants to use the silence to write and spend time with his family.
Over the course of the winter, Jack begins to act strangely and the family realizes something is quite wrong with the hotel. Jack begins to go crazy, interacts with ghosts, and tries to murder his wife and son. Narrowly escaping, his family leaves Jack there to freeze to death in the snow.
If the movie itself isn’t disturbing enough and considered one of the best horror films of all time, the ending will have you scratching your head as the camera pans into a framed picture on a hotel wall. The photo was taken in 1921 but has Jack’s picture in the front row as part of the crowd. Most people believe this was a way to suggest Jack had become part of the haunted hotel, but no one really knows for sure.
6. American Psycho
In one of Christian Bale‘s most disturbing performances as an actor, he plays the character of Patrick Bateman who is a Manhattan trader and very much concerned about his appearance and upscale lifestyle. For Bateman, it’s all about perception and being the best.
Part of achieving that lifestyle consists of murdering countless people but feeling conflicted and struggling with his inner demons. Finally, he confesses his crimes only to find out that many of his victims are still alive. The murders he confessed to and had been committing were only happening in his very tormented mind. The movie itself is disturbing based on the fact that Bale’s character so coldly and brutally murders almost everyone he comes into contact with. There’s not much relief when the audience discovers he’s really just twisted and not really a murderer—at least not yet.
5. Black Christmas
The story of a crazed serial killer who is tormenting a sorority house over Christmas break is the classic ‘the killer is upstairs tale’. As the audience realizes early on that the murder is in the attic and making repeated phone calls to the girls (who do not realize the murderer is in the house) the main character, Jess, believes her boyfriend is the killer.
Jess saves the house by killing her murdering boyfriend and is shown to be safe with the movie seemingly over as the killer is gone. Only, the killer is not gone. The movie ends with a final scene as the camera pans back up to the attic where the killer remains. The phone rings again to end the film. Her boyfriend was innocent.
The reason this is so disturbing is not simply because of the twist at the end, but that most people really would find the scariest thing would be to be tormented by someone who was in the house the entire time. It’s hard to imagine anything freakier. The gimmick never gets old.
4. The Others
When you find yourself invested in a mother and her two daughters and follow their characters’ struggles through the entire film waiting for them to solve the mystery behind what’s been haunting their house, it’s amazing when you realize your three characters were the ghosts and the mother is one unsavory individual. That is the story of The Others.
This period film walks the audience through a family struggle of a lonely wife waiting for her husband to return from the war and her photosensitive daughter’s struggle. The adversity is too much for our main character to bear. We learn at the end of the film that she smothered her daughters to death and shot herself. Who the audience thought were the ghosts were in fact not. Nicole Kidman (main character, Grace) and her two daughters actually were and they didn’t realize they were the ones doing the haunting.
3. Soylent Green
This 1973 film is set in the distant future of 2022. A powerful corporation is feeding the ever fading and dying population with food wafers known as Soylent Green. The Soylent Corporation is apparently the only thing saving this polluted world, but Charlton Heston‘s character is suspicious. He doesn’t trust what’s in the food and sets out to discover the secret.
When it is discovered that the proteins advertised to be in the miraculous food are not coming from the ocean plankton as promised, Heston discovers that what is in fact inside the food are human remains and that the corporation has been using people as the protein source. The movie ends with Heston yelling “Soylent Green is people!” and the audience not being hungry for a long time.
2. The Sixth Sense
This was M. Night Shyamalan’s first huge success and anyone who’s seen the movie can explain why. For all those audience members who said they saw the ending coming, 99 percent of those people are lying. What makes it so disturbing is that when you’re taken back through the process of discovering the twist, you’re shocked you didn’t see it the first time through.
One of the main characters (Cole) suffers from visions of dead people. Bruce Willis‘ character is a friendly psychologist there to help the young boy. As the film goes along, Cole’s condition gets worse and Willis’ character is going through tough times in his marriage. Why? Bruce was a ghost the entire film and only Cole could see him. The psychologist’s marriage was falling apart because he was dead, having been murdered by one of his former patients and his wife was mourning her loss the entire film.
1. Fight Club
Somehow, in this cult classic, the audience doesn’t realize that the interactions of Brad Pitt’s character and Edward Norton‘s character are interactions between one person with two personalities. That’s what makes Fight Club so interesting. A film set to make us think a growing collection of sheep (a club of hooligans) can be convinced to terrorize the world because of two very influential people is really just a mob following a psychotic man who sees himself in two very different ways.
It’s not until the end when the imagined personality tells the actual character that he’s just a figment of his imagination there to help him deal with the insanity of the world around him. For the entire film, people called him the wrong name, his girlfriend thought he was nuts, and the character himself couldn’t explain the odd tendencies displayed by his friend. The audience doesn’t even clue in that the friend never existed at all and that he was causing his own turmoil.