You may be sick of hearing about Parasite ever since the film won Best Picture at the Oscars last week, but we aren’t quite done talking about it just yet. In this week’s Favorites, I am diving into what I think are the five best movie plot twists of all time. Parasite is obviously among my top picks, but narrowing down all the possible plot twists to just five was incredibly difficult to do. You could make the argument that there are forty different amazing plot twists that need to be discussed! But, for the sake of brevity, I will keep it to my favorite five, and maybe list a few honorable mentions. Without farther ado, here are the five best movie plot twists of all time. And obviously, SPOILERS!
By now we should all know what the basis for this movie is. If you still have not seen it or spoiled it for yourself yet, here’s a quick recap. A poor South Korean family, the Kim family, is struggling to make ends meet when fortune comes their way. The son, Ki-woo, gets hired as a tutor for the daughter of a rich family, the Parks. Over the course of the film, Ki-woo eventually gets his entire family to work for the Parks, hence the name of the film. However, it is shortly after this where things start to go absolutely sideways. After things all seem to be going well, the former housekeeper, Moon-Gwang, returns to the home claiming she needs to retrieve something she left here.
The plot twist here is two-fold. First, it is discovered that Moon-Gwang has been hiding her husband in the bomb shelter beneath the rich family’s home for years in order to escape angry loan sharks. Calamity ensues, main characters are captured, nearly lost, and killed over the course of the film’s second and third acts. Moreover, it is here where the powerful motif of rich-vs-poor comes to a head. Without fully delving into the film, it is at this point where a bloody massacre occurs, all at the Parks’ son’s backyard birthday party. In the end, the Kims’ patriarch, Ki-taek, stabs and kills the Parks’ patriarch, Dong-ik. Ki-taek then goes missing, and not even his family can find him. Here is the second part of the plot twist; Ki-taek ended up staying in the Parks’ now-vacant basement, for the next decade or more, becoming the very thing that his family sought to take out only a few hours before.
This next film is quite possibly my favorite film of all time, so I may be slightly biased. That being said, this does not make the incredible plot twist in the film’s final act any less impressive. Arrival is an incredible and unique take on what would happen during a visit by extraterrestrial beings. In the film, twelve identical space ships suddenly show up at different points around the globe, but they have done absolutely nothing in terms of an invasion or other hostilities. The film follows linguist Louise Banks’ attempts to converse with the alien visitors. After coming up with a rudimentary form of communication, things start to get very interesting for Louise.
While much of the world is intrigued by the visitors, others do not feel the same way. The trouble ensues when something the aliens say could possibly be a threat. Louise believes the aliens are trying to give humanity something, but others think the aliens are trying to either give us a weapon or use one on us. Because of this, some soldiers decide to set off a bomb on one of the alien space ships, killing one of the two aliens on board. In the fallout, Louise has to rush to figure out the alien’s final message by herself before the military closes up shop and leaves the site.
Over the course of the movie, we have seen flashbacks to things that happened in Louise’s life that help explain who she is, as well as better explain what is going on in present day. Well, at the climax of the film, Louise figures out the alien’s last message; it was never a weapon, it was a gift of knowledge. Louise figures out that the aliens gave humanity a form of non-linear language. In one fell swoop, the plot twist takes hold and we see that we have been watching the film in an entirely non-linear fashion; the flashbacks were not flashbacks, they were flash-forwards. The twist hit me like an absolute planet-sized level of bricks, and I still cherish it every single time I watch the film. Louise is able to discern the final message from the aliens and they leave peacefully, leaving Louise with a brand new way of seeing the world.
I had to include at least one classic in my list of best plot twists, and this one absolutely seems the best fit. Psycho is one of Hitchcock’s most recognizable films, and just might be his very best film as well. The movie plays out much like a murder mystery mixed with a run-of-the-mill thriller for much of its runtime, but obviously, things are not all as they seem. In the film, Marion Crane has run away to the Bates Motel and is hiding out with $40,000 that she stole from her boss. At the hotel, she has dinner with the owner, Norman Bates. After a supposed argument between Norman and his mother, the inciting action that is the famous shower-stabbing scene that we have all come to know and love ensues. Norman then runs in, sees the brutal murder, panics, and throws Marion in her car and drives the car into the lake. But where is the plot twist? Allow me to fill you in.
A week after Marion is killed and disappears. Marion’s sister and an investigator come to the hotel in search of clues, making Norman very much on edge. Various scenes play out that proceed to get weirder and weirder, making Norman look more and more guilty. After another murder happens at the hotel, things start to get even more out of hand. In the film’s final act, the investigators discover that the arguments they have been hearing between Norman and Ms. Bates aren’t in fact arguments between two people, but only one. They discover a skeleton of Ms. Bates just in time to save themselves from one last attack. The attacker is Norman himself, who has been dressing up and acting like his mother all along. In the end, viewers see that Norman constructed his mother as an alternate personality, with people arguing that Norman would never hurt a fly. Norman’s iconic smile would very much say otherwise.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This plot twist may surprise some people, simply because of how well known it is. You all know it; the famous “Luke, I am your father” at the end of The Empire Strikes Back has become a staple of popular culture. But what a lot of people forget is how momentous this was back when the film came out. Sure, a plot twist is nothing new. However, more often than not plot twists occur in films that aren’t such incredible successes like Star Wars. Quite literally, the world had not seen anything quite like this up until that point.
Darth Vader had quickly become one of the best movie antagonists in A New Hope, and his growth as a character in The Empire Strikes Back made this plot twist just even better. Over the course of two films, we learned that the Empire is an absolutely evil organization that must be stopped at all costs. Going into the film blind, it is kind of hard to see what makes the fight so personal for characters like Luke and Leia; they just seem like characters that happened to be thrust into the action. At the climactic fight scene, Luke seemingly loses to Vader. Just before Luke is able to escape, Darth Vader utters those famous words that would forever go down in film history. And quite literally, movies have never been the same since then. Nobody saw this twist coming, and absolutely no one can watch The Empire Strikes Back without already knowing this integral piece of the plot.
This one was the hardest to pick simply because there are so many good films that could go in this spot. However, I am choosing the magnificent 90s film, Se7en, due to its similar culture altering climax. In the film, two detectives are hunting down a serial killer. Sounds normal, right? Well, this serial killer’s calling card is the seven deadly sins. This John Doe has killed five people in gruesome fashion leading up to the end of the film. Detectives Somerset and Mills are at wits end trying to find out where John Doe is going to strike next, until he suddenly turns himself in, covered in the blood of his sixth and seventh victims. If this wasn’t a big enough twist for you already, get ready for the final 1-2 punch.
While being interrogated, John Doe admits to everything and agrees to take the two detectives to the last two bodies. The three of them travel into the middle of the California desert, much to the chagrin of John Doe. A delivery driver suddenly appears, bringing a box to the trio. As a laughing Doe looks on, Somerset looks into the box with horror, warning Mills to stay back. After screaming the iconic “What’s in the box?!” Doe reveals that his sin was envy and that in the box is the head of Mills’ wife, who was pregnant. In a fit of rage, Mills shoots Doe where he stands, fulfilling the last kill and deadly sin, wrath.
And that does it, those are my five favorite plot twists of all time! Sure, there are some other worthy films, like The Sixth Sense, The Departed, Us, and The Usual Suspects, but these five are the ones that make my mind do backflips each time I see them. If you think my list should be any different, or if you think I am just outright wrong, let me know! Until then, I highly recommend you go out and watch these films and let the twists speak for themselves. Happy watching!