Do you know what really grinds my gears? Terrible plot twists, that’s what.
Everyone’s had this experience before: there you are, enjoying a perfectly serviceable romance/thriller/drama/action/horror/[insert odd subgenre here] flick, when, suddenly, you’re shocked out of your seat, and not in a good way.
You’ve just witnessed a ruinously bad plot twist that has the net effect of obliterating any shred of credibility your film of choice may have once possessed. Please know that you have my deepest sympathies, and if you need to talk to anyone to help you get through this tough time, our comment boards are always open to you.
Terrible plot twists are the ultimate in awful movie-watching experiences. Sadly, that doesn’t mean they’re uncommon. And unfortunately, I’ve seen more than my share of good films destroyed by ridiculous, strange, unjustified or just plain dumb twists. What this feature will not do is examine head-scratching endings/twists in decidedly awful movies, so, despite such efforts as The Happening, The Village and Devil, M. Night Shyamalan only gets one title on this list (because, easy though it would be, we can’t let him take every slot, can we?). You also won’t see Tim Burton’s godawful Planet of the Apes remake, which redefined big-budget stupidity with its Ape-raham Lincoln drivel, possibly the worst twist of all time attached to one of the worst remakes of all time.
In order to help preserve the sanity of my fellow cinephiles and possibly save a few from getting blindsided by terrible out-of-the-blue twists, I’m counting off eleven solid films that were derailed by jaw-droppingly bad twists.
Of course: spoiler alert!Next
1. Remember Me (2010)
The Story: After his brother Michael commits suicide, and his family fractures in the aftermath, Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson) isolates himself entirely, rebelling against his businessman father (Pierce Brosnan) and wandering through his life without a purpose. When he connects with Ally (Emilie de Ravin), the beautiful but traumatized daughter of an overprotective cop who has it out for Tyler, his life takes on new meaning. As their romance blossoms, the two damaged souls set out on a path to mutual healing, though family strife threatens to disrupt their idyll.
The Twist: After he wins Ally back following a heated argument, Tyler goes to his father’s workplace, seemingly also on the verge of reconnecting with him. Meanwhile, his little sister’s schoolteacher writes the date on the board: September 11, 2001. Waiting in his father’s office, Tyler looks out over New York, as the camera zooms out to reveal that Tyler is in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The 9/11 attacks occur off-screen, with the audience seeing only the other characters’ stunned and horrified expressions as they learn that Tyler was killed.
Why It Sucks: Show me a lazier, more exploitative twist in a Hollywood movie than the ending of Remember Me. Up until that abusive sucker-punch of an ending, the film is a quiet romantic drama. While not particularly compelling, its characters are at least believable, and their interactions are organic. All in all, it’s not without its merits. Suddenly, without warning, arrives an ending both unwarranted and insensitive, which completely nullifies the film’s message and plot. Using a national tragedy as an unnecessary plot device to hastily conclude a clearly rudderless plot isn’t just plain stupid (though it is). Remember Me‘s ending is also indubitably offensive. Screenwriter Will Fetters evidently saw his ending as a tasteful, dramatic ending to Tyler’s story; instead, it’s horribly misguided at best. Remember Me is a film that selfishly and disrespectfully repurposes the tragic events of 9/11 for no discernible reason other than crafting a quick ending. The film deserves to be condemned, then swiftly forgotten.Previous Next
2. Signs (2002)
The Story: Disillusioned former priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is struggling with the death of his wife when inexplicable events begin to unfold around his Pennsylvania farm, including crop circles and violent animal behavior. Unnerved by mysterious beings prowling the nearby cornfields, Graham begins to question his own sanity, only to learn that similar sightings have been occurring with increasing frequency around the world. Faced with what he sees as the end of days, Graham attempts to protect his family from extraterrestrial invaders.
The Twist: The antagonistic aliens would be totally terrifying, if it were not for one small detail: water (you know, that nifty little chemical compound that makes up approximately 70% of Planet Earth) is absolutely lethal to them. And yet, these supposedly super-intelligent beings surmise that one teensy obstacle like that is no reason not to go ahead with a full-on invasion of Earth. Needless to say, their plan is a colossal failure, and the human race quickly repels them. Also in the running for worst twist, seemingly useless phrases from Hess’ dying wife turn out to be somehow essential in defending against invading aliens, and God not only exists but apparently spends all of his free time setting up convoluted plans to take care of Mel Gibson.
Why It Sucks: After building an almost unbearable atmosphere of suspense and tension, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan unequivocally drops the ball with an ending that insults the audience’s intelligence. By making the aliens’ weaknesses something so mundane and face-palmingly silly, he unravels any credibility the movie could have had as a sci-fi thriller. Also, no self-respecting viewer could ever buy that God would tell a little girl to leave half-filled glasses of water around the main character’s house in case of an alien invasion instead of doing something divine like, you know, making it rain. For a film as spookily effective as this for its first two-thirds, it’s a real shame that Shyamalan’s script couldn’t stick the landing.Previous Next
3. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Story: In Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated trilogy-capper, Batman (Christian Bale) has laid dormant for eight years, having taken the fall for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s crimes, when the arrival of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and powerful mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) force him back into action. As Bane’s army topples Gotham City’s government and gains complete control of the city, Batman faces his greatest challenge yet in his attempts to protect the lives of Gotham’s citizens.
The Twist: After Batman escapes from a foreign prison and leads Gotham’s remaining police officers in a brutal battle against Bane’s mercenary soldiers, he finally throws down with the brawny revolutionary. After suddenly finding the strength to pummel Bane into submission, Batman attempts to force the location of a nuclear detonator from him. Enter Miranda Tate, executive member of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce Wayne’s main love interest. As you can see in the clip that we’ve included below, after a brief speech, she promptly stabs him in the abdomen and reveals herself to be the psychotic daughter of Batman Begins villain Ra’s al Ghul. It has been her all along, not Bane, who has been engineering Gotham’s destruction.
Why It Sucks: In less than a minute of screen-time, Nolan effectively neuters his main villain, transforming him from a brilliant criminal mastermind into a simple soldier acting out of puppy love for his commander. After proving a more-than-capable adversary for Batman for over two hours, the sudden reveal that he is just another puppet is both unsatisfying and highly dubious. As if to underscore that his aim was to pull the rug out from under his audience’s feet, Nolan then quickly kills Bane off by having Selina Kyle shoot him against a wall with a blast from the Batpod. If Talia al Ghul had been an interesting villain in the slightest, the twist would have worked better. As it was, pulling an unjustified switcheroo with his antagonists cheapened Nolan’s grand finale and only truly succeeded in irking fans.
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The Story: After a long absence, Harrison Ford’s iconic, bullwhip-cracking, fedora-donning archaeologist returns in an adventure that finds him partnering with his son Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) in order to prevent the Russians from gaining possession of powerful artifacts. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet soldiers led by the brilliant Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) pursue Indiana Jones and Mutt into the jungles of Peru in order to secure mysterious crystal skulls and harness their otherworldly abilities.
The Twist: After entering a temple in the mystical city of Akator, Indy, Mutt and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) realize that the crystal skulls belonged to inter-dimensional beings who were once worshipped as gods by ancient Mayans. When Spalko arrives and attaches a skull to the head of one alien skeleton, the beings begin to communicate with the group, thanking them for returning the skull and offering a “gift.” Spalko demands they transfer their collective knowledge into her mind, which causes an inter-dimensional portal to open and her body to disintegrate. Indy, Mutt and Marion escape, along with a colleague named Oxley, just in time to watch a flying saucer rise from the collapsing temple and disappear in the sky.
Why It Sucks: After such a long gap between the original trilogy and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there was no way that the film was going to satisfy all Indy purists. And yet, it’s so much worse than it needed to be. Director Steven Spielberg and series creator George Lucas each let their fondness for CGI-heavy sci-fi seep over into Indiana Jones, which has never been about those kinds of plots. Solving the mystery of the film’s main MacGuffin with the introduction of crystalline alien skeletons is careless and silly even by Lucas’ standards. The Ark, Hindu stones and Holy Grail were also completely central to their films’ plots, while Kingdom of the Crystal Skull throws an entire alien civilization into its third act without nearly enough build-up. Worse still, the film shows cheesily-CGI aliens, which is like showing an angry God personally striking down Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Clearly, some things are much better left to the imagination – what a fourth Indiana Jones film could look like, for example. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull worked hard to ruin the franchise by shifting genres from rip-roaring adventure into ill-conceived sci-fi.Previous Next
5. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
The Story: In the final installment of George Lucas’ original trilogy, Jedi Apprentice Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the Rebel Alliance launch a full-scale attack against the Empire as evil Emperor Palpatine attempts to build a second Death Star in order to crush the rebellion. As Luke, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) lead the attack, Luke also attempts to bring his estranged father, Darth Vader, back from the Dark Side of the Force.
The Twist: When visiting dying Jedi Master Yoda, Luke learns that he is not the only Skywalker in the galaxy. The ghost of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) tells Luke that he has a twin sister. Instinctually, Luke knows that Princess Leia is his sister, and Kenobi confirms as much.
Why It Sucks: From the first time Luke saw Leia as a hologram in A New Hope, there was an insinuation that he had strong romantic feelings for the princess, and as Han and Luke rescue her from the Death Star in that film, there’s a fair amount of bickering over which one of the two should pursue her affections. In The Empire Strikes Back, Leia reciprocates Luke’s feelings by passionately kissing him not once but twice. Luke and Leia’s romance is so obvious to the other characters that, in Return of the Jedi, Han agrees to back off so the two of them can be together. And yet, when Luke tells Leia that they are twins, she says, “I know. Somehow, I’ve always known.” A curious response, considering how cozy the two had been getting up until that point in the series (I mean, just check out that poster). Adding a quasi-incestuous layer to what was supposed to be a movie geared towards younger audiences did not lend any emotional clarity to Return of the Jedi; instead, it shut down one of the trilogy’s main romantic relationships for seemingly no reason.Previous Next
6. I Am Legend (2007)
The Story: After a man-made virus designed to cure cancer mutates and kills 90% of the world’s population, turning the survivors into nocturnal, vampiric predators, virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) survives and carries out experiments in hopes of creating a cure for the virus. Alone in an overgrown, dilapidated New York City, Robert learns to withstand attacks by the Darkseekers and hunt for food, all the while searching for other survivors.
The Twist: After finding two immune humans, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), Robert brings them back to his home, where he is experimenting on an infected woman. Anna inadvertently leads the Darkseekers straight to them, and the creatures launch a full-scale assault against Robert’s house. After discovering that his treatment on the woman is working, Robert takes a blood sample and hands it to Anna, ushering her and Ethan into a coal chute. In order to save them, he pulls the pin from a grenade and takes out the Darkseekers, at the cost of his own life.
Why It Sucks: What movie expects its audience to get behind killing its sole main character to save two people who randomly show up in the film’s final third? The entire film focuses on Robert attempting to survive, but as soon as he meets the other people he has been hoping to find for years, he is immediately willing to sacrifice himself for them, even though it’s made clear that there’s plenty of room in the coal chute for all three of them.
Besides, Robert is a brilliant scientist, and it took him ages to come up with a cure for the virus. Who’s to say that the people Anna and Ethan eventually run across will even understand what he did or how to replicate it? Finally, changing the novel’s ending negates its main idea. In the novel, Robert was eventually captured by the vampires and discovered that they were attempting to build a new society after developing their own medication to counteract the effects of the vampiric virus. The point of the film’s title was that Robert had become a bogeyman to the creatures, who were much more intelligent than he had realized. He was the sole remainder of a bygone species, a legend, killing them out of a misguided belief that it was his duty to find a cure and restore humans, not accept humankind’s replacement by the new species. In adding a needlessly heroic twist ending, I Am Legend loses sight of its original purpose and leaves viewers with an abrupt, wildly unsatisfying conclusion.Previous Next
7. Savages (2012)
The Story: Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are two pot growers living the dream in sunny California. They have wealth, power and a passionate, shared romance with O (Blake Lively), a beautiful pothead who loves both men equally. The trio are shocked out of their reverie when Mexican cartel leader Elena (Salma Hayek) demands to do business with them, then gets her right-hand man Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap O and put pressure on the pot-growers. Averse to forming a partnership, Ben and Chon recruit DEA Agent Dennis (John Travolta) to help them wage war against the cartel and rescue their girlfriend.
The Twist: To force Elena into releasing O, Ben and Chon kidnap her daughter and arrange a hostage exchange in the desert. When both parties arrive, Elena demands to know who revealed her daughter’s location to them, only to discover that Lado has betrayed her. A furious firefight erupts, and Ben is fatally wounded. Unwilling to live without one-third of their love triangle, Chon and O intentionally overdose right then and there. Then comes the twist. A voice-over from O tells us that what we just saw was just in her head, some nihilistic daydream. None of it actually happened. Instead of the bloody shoot-out, Elena is quickly apprehended by the DEA and sentenced to 30 years, Ben and Chon are saved from any legal troubles by their buddy Dennis, and the trio jet off to some island paradise to “live like savages,” which equates to making passionate love and getting really high for the rest of their lives.
Why It Sucks: By presenting us with one uncompromisingly bleak ending then pulling a switcheroo and presenting the big, Hollywood happy ending as “what actually happened,” director Oliver Stone effectively takes a sledgehammer to the gritty, realistic feel that he has carefully maintained throughout the rest of the film. It’s a jarring tonal shift, and also a total cop-out, considering the Don Winslow novel the film is based upon ended with all three dying in the shoot-out. The original ending allowed the film to make a profound point about love conquering all, and also more effectually wrapped up several character arcs. For example, Lado, who raped O during her imprisonment, is killed in the shoot-out by O, while in the “real” version of events, he gets off scot-free. O’s “real” ending rings false partially because none of the characters deserve it, but also because it totally nullifies the dark, pulpy vibe of the rest of the film. Instead of ending the film with a bang, Stone chose to send the characters happily off into the sunset and closed out Savages with a decidedly pathetic whimper.Previous Next
8. Brave (2012)
The Story: In the wilds of Scotland, a feisty young princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) defies her traditional parents by proclaiming that she has no desire to be betrothed to a prince from another clan. A free spirit who would rather practice her archery skills than learn the finer elements of womanhood, Merida turns to a witch in order to help alter her fate. However, when Merida’s wish has unintentionally catastrophic consequences, she must rely on her wits to save her kingdom.
The Twist: When Merida asks a local witch to help her change her mother’s mind about Merida’s future as a bride to a loutish clansman, the witch tells her to feed her mother an enchanted cake. When Merida does so, the cake magically transforms the queen into a giant black bear. Determined to reverse the curse before two sunrises have passed and the queen remains a bear forever, Merida sets out on a quest into her land’s rich, mysterious past.
Why It Sucks: Marketed as a lushly animated adventure about the adventures of an endearingly spunky young princess, Brave takes a bizarre left-field turn by shifting the focus from Merida to her transformed mother. Unfortunately, that plot-line is neither interesting nor original enough to command the audience’s attention, and Brave falls unexpectedly flat as a result. Though the film’s animation is gorgeous and the humor is enjoyable, taking the “magical transformation” route prevents Brave from engaging its audience. As Pixar’s first female-centric movie, Brave could have succeeded if it kept the spotlight on Merida. Instead, it’s forgettable and formulaic.Previous Next
9. Splice (2009)
The Story: Two ambitious genetic engineers, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), attempt to achieve fame and fortune by unethically splicing human DNA into their animal experimentations, hoping to create a new species. When their efforts result in the creation of a human-animal hybrid, which they call Dren, the pair realize that they must keep the creature’s existence hidden from their bosses. However, Dren’s rapid evolution and growing restlessness soon leads the scientists to question whether proceeding with their experiment might have been a grave misjudgment.
The Twist: Splice is a sci-fi movie that actually wants to be a horror flick. After an adolescent Dren (Delphine Chanéac) seduces and then sleeps with Clive (ick), the scientists decide to terminate their experiment, only to find Dren dying. They bury her in the woods and are immediately confronted by their boss (David Hewlett), who has discovered the truth. Soon after, Dren reappears, alive, but now a male (some of Dren’s DNA came from animals capable of switching genders, and what Clive and Elsa presumed to be death was actually metamorphosis). Inexplicably now evil, Dren goes on a rampage before chasing and raping his/her biological mother (double ick). Clive is fatally wounded but distracts Dren for long enough for Elsa to finish the job with a well-placed rock. Cut to months later, where Elsa is making a deal with her former employers. Agreeing to continue her experiments, she stands, revealing a visibly pregnant belly.
Why It Sucks: The abrupt shift in genre in the last twenty minutes of Splice sent me reeling, and not in a good way. The entire film up until Dren’s gender switch was about how two scientists were able to create a being capable of emotions like love, joy, fear and excitement. It was fun and cool to see Dren’s evolution throughout the film and think about the ethical implications of her existence. Strangely, as soon as the scientists’ experiment was discovered, all of that went out the window and Splice became little more than an exploitative creature feature, complete with bloody violence, a wood-set chase sequence and that most deplorable of plot developments, the brutal rape scene. Dren’s personality adjustment was also completely bizarre, which is odd for a movie conceived, written and directed by one individual (Italian director Vincenzo Natali). Splice is four-fifths of a great, thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, and one-fifth stomach-churningly exploitative trash. The thing that hurts the most about this one is how Splice draws you in with its intelligent premise then utterly squanders any chance it might have once had to say something interesting. What a pity.Previous Next
10. Saw (2004)
The Story: Two men awaken chained to pipes in a dirty, disused bathroom. A dead body lying between them holds a tape recorder, through which they learn that they are prisoners of the sadistic Jigsaw killer, who likes to play games with his victims. One man, Adam, is told to escape the bathroom, while the other, Lawrence, is told that he must murder Adam or else his wife and daughter will be killed.
The Twist: After Lawrence saws his foot off and shoots Adam, one of Jigsaw’s cronies enters to kill Lawrence, but is bludgeoned to death by a heavily bleeding but still conscious Adam. Lawrence crawls to get help, leaving Adam still shackled. The dead body, which has been between Adam and Lawrence for the entire movie, suddenly arises to reveal itself as the Jigsaw killer, John Kramer. When Adam tries to shoot him, John shocks him and knocks the gun away. He then seals the door and leaves Adam to die in the dark.
Why It Sucks: For most of its running time, Saw is a nauseating but compelling horror film that uses its small setting to great effect. However, having a corpse suddenly rise to life is a strange twist that comes out of absolutely nowhere and insults the intelligence of the two main characters. It seems strikingly illogical that neither Adam nor Lawrence would have scrutinized the body to check for signs of breathing or movement. If there had been some sort of hint at Jigsaw’s presence in the room with the two men earlier in the film, his ultimate unveiling could have been a great twist, but because it comes out of nowhere and holds basically no significance to viewers who’ve only gotten to know Adam and Lawrence in the film, it ends the tense, atmospheric horror flick with an undercutting whimper rather than a bang.Previous Next
11. Now You See Me (2013)
The Story: A group of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher) confound law enforcement officers by pulling off incredible bank robberies during their shows and distribute the money to audience members. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol detective Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) team up to track the Horsemen and their mysterious benefactor. Their investigation expands as the duo encounter famed magician-buster Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and discover that the Horsemen’s activity may be tied to the death of Lionel Shrike, a magician who was exposed by Bradley and died performing a dangerous underwater stunt to regain his credibility. As the magicians consistently remain one step ahead of their pursuers, Rhodes starts to question how much he can trust his new partner.
The Twist: The Horsemen pull off one final trick – stealing a large safe and showering a willing crowd with the millions of dollars it contained – and then disappear. The money given to the crowd turns out to be fake, and the real money shows up in Bradley’s car. He is hauled away to a jail cell and denounced as the Horsemen’s benefactor. Rhodes arrives at his cell to discuss the case with him. With Bradley behind bars, Rhodes suddenly reveals that he was on the side of the Horsemen all along. Shrike was his father; the heists were designed to take revenge on those responsible for Shrike’s death, including the man who denounced him. Rhodes then meets the Horsemen, reveals his true identity as a master magician (and their mysterious benefactor) and welcomes them into a top-secret society of magicians called The Eye.
Why It Sucks: For most of its length, Now You See Me is an enjoyably light, fast-paced thriller. Then its big reveal arrives, and everything falls apart faster than a house of cards in a hurricane. Rhodes is introduced as a dopey and ineffective FBI agent and remains that way up until the last five minutes, until the screenwriters see fit to reveal him as an evil genius who has been pulling the strings the entire time. What?
So, in order to wreak unnecessarily complicated vengeance on those he deems responsible for his father’s death (the guy who debunked him, the makers of a shoddily-constructed safe that warped during the trick and the high-powered finance guys who refused to pay insurance on Shrike’s death), Rhodes rose up through the ranks of the FBI for more than thirty years, arousing no suspicion whatsoever despite totally sucking at his job, and serendipitously wound up on the case of the Horsemen so that a series of unlikely coincidences could allow him to get away with his hare-brained scheme.
While all of this mayhem is going on, Rhodes seduces the Interpol detective with his stupid, stupid puppy-dog eyes and then admits to her that he’s been behind everything the whole time. Instead of, I don’t know, turning him in, she just continues to flirt with him and walks off into the sunset, condemning Bradley to spend the rest of his life in prison. Because that’s fair.
The film’s tagline, “The closer you look, the less you’ll actually see,” is the perfect way to describe its ending – as I struggle to find any logical explanation for the inane drivel that goes on its final minutes, all I end up with is a headache I don’t deserve.
So, there you have it. A bunch of great films that were completely derailed by horrible plot twists. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below!Previous