Sometimes, trying to blow the audience’s mind with a reveal just ends up ruining the whole story. It’s a big risk that doesn’t always pay off with a big reward.
Here are the worst twist endings that ruined otherwise great movies and TV shows.
This 2003 thriller saw ten strangers trapped at an interstate motel during a storm with a killer hidden among them, picking them off one by one. The movie featured an all-star cast including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, John C. McGinley, Alfred Molina, and Rebecca De Mornay.
Identity actually has two terrible twists. First, the murderer turns out to be the quiet little boy that nobody suspected, because the murders we see require incredible physical strength. Don’t worry though – the movie explains this by revealing that the entire story took place in the mind of a deranged killer, and every character was just one of his many personalities.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter
The seventh installment of the Saw franchise finds Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) continuing the work of the crazed killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), abducting people he believes take their lives for granted and locking them in sinister death traps that typically require them to make some macabre choice to survive.
Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), a Jigsaw survivor and main character from the very first Saw film, ambushes Hoffman and locks him in a dungeon to die. It’s revealed that Gordon became a disciple of Jigsaw’s and has been designing death traps for him ever since, which makes absolutely no sense for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Gordon is a medical doctor, not an engineering savant.
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2019 follow-up to the surprise hit Split pits two real-life supervillains (James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson) against a nigh-invulnerable hero (Bruce Willis) as they’re all locked within a maximum-security institution by a doctor (Sarah Paulson) attempting to cure them of their “delusions.”
It turns out that the doctor actually works for an international organization tasked with hunting down all the super-powered people in the world and disposing of them. But they didn’t count on Mr. Glass (Jackson) transmitting the security camera footage of their superheroic showdown to everyone on the internet. So… we guess the good guys win?
This bloody thriller directed by Alexandre Aja follows Marie (Cécile de France) as she spends a weekend at the family farm of her best friend Alex (Maïwenn), only to suddenly find both herself and Alex being pursued by a relentless killer who murders Alex’s entire family and anyone else who tries to help them.
It turns out that Marie was actually the killer the whole time, and has been chasing poor Alex across the French countryside. This would be a forgivable twist if the entire film that preceded it hadn’t made it literally impossible for Marie to be the murderer unless she has superhuman strength and can be in several places at once to witness events she couldn’t possibly have seen.
Spider-Man 3 was the biggest box office success of the original Spider-Man trilogy by director Sam Raimi, featuring dazzling special effects, spectacular action, and the emotional payoff of a series-long arc involving Harry (James Franco) swearing revenge on Peter (Tobey Maguire) for the death of his father Norman.
The film suddenly comes to a halt to have Harry’s butler Bernard, a character who up to this point has had maybe a handful of lines in the entire series, explain that he’s always known Norman was the Green Goblin, and that Norman actually killed himself by accident while trying to kill Peter. It’s the clunkiest ending to one of the most compelling storylines we’ve seen in a comic book film so far.
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is called to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient from the island’s psychiatric facility. What follows is a Hitchcockian thriller as Teddy beings to unravel the secrets of Shutter Island, discovering evidence of a sinister conspiracy spearheaded by the facility’s head doctor (Ben Kingsley).
As most people guessed after watching the film’s trailer, Teddy himself is the missing patient, and the entire film was a delusion he created to avoid dealing with the guilt of losing his wife and his children to his wife’s murder-suicide. Which means the doctors have just been letting him run all over the island and pretend he’s solving a mystery. That seems irresponsible.
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film The Village focuses on a group of colonial-era settlers living on the edge of a forest haunted by sinister, monstrous beings. When Ivy’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) fiancé is stabbed by a rival, she ventures out into the woods to try and find medicine to save his life, believing the creatures might take pity on her blindness.
Ivy stumbles out onto a modern-day road and runs into a park ranger, because her old-timey village is actually just a community of people led by Ivy’s father living in the middle of a wildlife preserve. They set up a fake 19th century village because they wanted to return to a “simpler” time, and the creatures were just people in costumes who would occasionally show up to discourage anyone from leaving. So, no monsters, just a bunch of old people playing make-believe with their kids.
Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a publishing heir disfigured in a terrible car accident by his jealous ex-lover Julie (Cameron Diaz), who is killed in the crash. Forced to wear a prosthetic mask, David begins having bizarre hallucinations in which his face isn’t destroyed and Julie is still alive.
It turns out David is living in a lucid dream, after having himself suspended in cryosleep to wait until the technology exists to repair his face. Or, at least, that might be the twist. Director Cameron Crowe has stated that there are actually five different ways to interpret the ending, including that the entire film is actually a book being written by David’s friend Brian (Jason Lee). Sure, Cameron.
The Life of David Gale
David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is a college professor and anti-death penalty activist who is on death row for the murder of his fellow activist Constance Harraway (Laura Linney). A reporter named Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is granted a final interview with David days before his execution to tell his story. She then uncovers a tape that shows Constance actually killed herself and tries to get David’s conviction overturned.
David is executed but has another tape send to Bitsey after his death that reveals he was actually present for and assisted in Constance’s suicide. The two intentionally made the scene appear as if David had murdered her as an ultimate act of protest against capital punishment. So, good job deliberately making yourself appear guilty of a heinous crime to point out the flaws in our justice system, David.
A group of astronauts in the near future are onboard the Icarus, tasked with a mission to reignite the sun to save all life on Earth. In order to do that, they have to detonate a gigantic nuclear bomb in the sun’s center. On the way, they pick up a distress signal from the previous failed Icarus mission and change course to investigate.
It turns out the captain of the previous Icarus mission went insane and deliberately sabotaged his ship to ensure the death of the human race, believing it is his divine destiny to send everyone to heaven. Director Danny Boyle has said that the deranged captain might be a figment of the Icarus crew’s imagination, but either way we’re not entirely sure why this excellent science fiction drama needed to suddenly add a crazed slasher into its third act.
John Hancock (Will Smith) is an immortal superbeing with no memory of his life before 80 years ago. He tries to save the day but usually ends up causing more destruction than good because of his rampaging alcoholism. Hancock saves the life of a public relations specialist named Ray (Jason Bateman), who offers to rehabilitate Hancock’s public image.
The only problem is, Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) just happens to be a superbeing, too. She reveals to Hancock that they are husband and wife and are thousands of years old and that being close to each other slowly begins to make them both mortal. So, Hancock does the only practical thing and goes to the moon. No part of this is a joke.
Now You See Me
A group of stage magicians called the Four Horsemen begin pulling off high-profile crimes in the middle of their performances, including robbing a bank in Paris, emptying the bank account of a miserly insurance company executive, and stealing a safe full of cash from a safe manufacturer. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is hot on their trail.
Well, sort of. It turns out Agent Rhodes is actually the mastermind of the Four Horsemen. His father was a magician who drowned in a safe during an escape attempt, and he and his mother were denied an insurance settlement.
So the whole caper (and his entire FBI career) was an elaborate revenge plot against the insurance company, the safe company, and the bank that were involved in his father’s death and rejected claim.
Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are marijuana growers in southern California who get mired in a conflict with a Mexican drug cartel that wants them to enter into a partnership. When Ben and Chon refuse, the cartel kidnaps their mutual girlfriend Ophelia (Blake Lively). Action ensues, during which Ben and Chon kidnap the cartel leader’s daughter to force a trade.
During the exchange, Ben and Chon are both shot multiple times. Ben dies, and Chon and Ophelia intentionally overdose so they can all die together…and then Ophelia wakes up and we learn the whole ending was a nightmare the night before the exchange. We then see the exchange take place again, the cartel gets arrested, and Ben, Chon, and Ophelia live happily ever after.
Greta (Lauren Cohan) interviews for a nannying position by the Heelshires, only to discover that their son Brahms is just a porcelain doll they treat like a real boy. Their real son Brahms was killed a fire 20 years prior. They offer Greta the job, insisting that Brahms likes her, but warn her that Brahms must always be treated in a specific way or else he will get angry.
Greta accepts the job but begins to notice strange things around the house, like her things going missing and Brahms moving around seemingly on his own.
The real Brahms actually survived the fire and has been living in the walls of the house as an adult with a porcelain doll’s mask covering his face, which we learn when he suddenly bursts through a mirror and attacks Greta. His parents were actually grooming Greta to be his lifelong companion, and Brahms had even begun building a doll of her. So it’s like Phantom of the Opera without any of the singing.
The Nightman came-eth in 2003 with Signs, director M. Night Shyamalan’s third film, following The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Graham (Mel Gibson), a former minister who left the church after the death of his wife, has to barricade his family inside their farmhouse when malicious alien visitors show up on Earth and begin terrorizing people.
For some weird reason, the aliens are all lethally allergic to water, and Graham and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) are able to easily dispatch an invader with just a bunch of glasses of tap water (and a baseball bat). Why the aliens chose to land on Earth, a planet made almost entirely of water, to engage in what amounts to a series of home invasions is never adequately explained.
Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) after their third child is stillborn. But something seems off about Esther – she acts out violently against other kids and mysterious accidents begin happening around her.
It turns out Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman with hypopituitarism and a history of infiltrating families disguised as a little girl and seducing the men in the household. The tragically drunk John figures this out too late, but Kate realizes just in time to brutally kill Esther in front of her biological children. This movie is like the polar opposite of Annie.
Dressed to Kill
A patient of psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine) is brutally murdered by a tall blonde woman named Bobbi. Bobbi leaves a menacing message on Dr. Elliot’s answering machine, angry that he won’t approve her gender reassignment surgery, and begins stalking anyone who might have witnessed the murder.
Bobbi is actually none other than Dr. Elliot himself, frustrated that his own therapist wouldn’t approve his gender reassignment surgery and murdering any women he finds attractive. The twist doesn’t make a ton of sense, as the film presents Dr. Elliot as being completely unaware of Bobbi’s actions, and even rats Bobbi out to the authorities.
Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) has a one-night-stand with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his wife and daughter are away for the weekend, but Alex doesn’t want to break it off. She begins to terrorize Dan with increasingly erratic behavior, including attempting suicide and kidnapping his daughter from school.
Originally, the film ended with Alex slashing her own throat and framing Dan for her murder. But that ending was changed to the one that appears in the film, in which Alex just storms the Gallagher home like Jason Voorhees and tries to murder Dan’s entire family. It’s an abrupt change in tone and character that the movie never really justifies.
Tyler (Robert Pattinson) is a disaffected young man at odds with his overbearing father (Pierce Brosnan), a businessman who specializes in ignoring both Tyler and his younger sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins). Tyler starts dating Ally (Emilie de Ravin), another college kid from a broken home, and slowly his relationship with his father improves.
At the end of the movie, Tyler shows up early for a meeting at his father’s office… which happens to be in the World Trade Center, on the morning of September 11th, 2001.
That’s right, a coming-of-age drama suddenly ends with its main character getting killed in 9/11. Maybe save this ending for the director’s cut next time.
Rowena Pierce (Halle Berry) is an investigative reporter who goes undercover at Harrison Hill’s (Bruce Willis) advertising agency, convinced Hill is responsible for the murder of her childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox). She learns that Hill has repeated affairs with his employees, but can’t afford to let his wife find out because she’s the source of his fortune.
In a twist that is as surprising as it is nonsensical, Rowena actually murdered Grace, because Grace was blackmailing her. Rowena launched her investigation into Hill solely to find a way to frame him for the murder. The twist requires you to pretty much forget the entire film you just watched, because none of it makes sense if Rowena is the murderer.
Sam (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level government worker in a dystopian future who frequently daydreams about the same woman. He meets his dream woman in a chance encounter and becomes embroiled with a group of resistance fighters led by a man who was supposed to be executed but escaped due to a clerical error. Sam gets arrested for treason and is about to be tortured to death when the resistance fighters show up and rescue him.
After Sam escapes, the movie spirals into a series of events that grow increasingly surreal and bizarre until finally it’s revealed that Sam is still sitting in his torture chair, having been lobotomized by his tormentor Jack Lint (Michael Palin). Everything we’ve just seen was a delusion. In a movie that is already beyond the pale of strangeness, ending your film with an extended hallucination is a real curveball.
Black Mirror – The Waldo Moment
Jamie (Daniel Rigby) voices an animated bear named Waldo who regularly skewers politicians in the U.K. His producer comes up with an idea to run Waldo as an actual candidate, and at first Jamie is on board, but when his heart gets broken by Gwendolyn (Chloe Pirrie), another candidate, he uses Waldo to tear her down. Feeling guilty, he tries to put a stop to Waldo.
The episode flashes forward several years to a homeless Jamie living in a dystopian future ruled by Waldo the animated bear, who has apparently created a police state after being voted into office. And while comparisons could be made to the 2016 American presidential election, the episode never really presents a scenario in which people electing a literal fascist cartoon character to dissolve the government is believable.
Black Mirror – Playtest
Cooper (Wyatt Russell) takes a job as a playtester for a virtual reality video game developer. A device is implanted in his neck that allows him to experience the games without a headset, and at first he plays a charming game of whack-a-mole, but things quickly become sinister when he is taken to a mansion and subjected to a terrifyingly real horror game that he can’t seem to escape until he tears the device out of his neck.
Cooper wakes up back in the office where the device was installed, realizing that the whole experience was part of the playtesting. But after the device is removed in the office and he goes back home, he is suddenly snapped back to the office, where we learn that he never actually left, and died in the middle of the test because his phone rang. The episode offers no compelling reason for why this would have killed him, or how he would be able to hallucinate the entire episode after having died.
As one of the most popular shows of the early 2000s, you probably already know the basic story of LOST, but here’s a refresher just in case – a commercial flight crashes on a bizarre island that seems to operate outside of known reality, and the survivors band together to try and solve its mysteries.
There are almost too many twists in LOST to discuss, but between the backward-and-forwards time traveling, alternate universes, and the ultimate reveal that whole final season was basically an extended purgatory, it’s like playing a particularly exhausting game of J.J. Abrams bingo.
How I Met Your Mother
Set within the framing device of an older Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) telling his teenage children the story of how he and their mother met, Ted stumbles around Manhattan in the mid-2000s trying to find true love. Along the way he obsesses over an on-again, off-again romance with Robin (Coby Smulders), although it is made clear from the beginning that Robin is not the titular mother.
The identity of the mother isn’t revealed until the final episode, during which it also revealed that she died many years ago, which is why Ted is telling his kids this long-winded, circuitous story in the first place. They then urge him to run out and profess his love to Robin, because it’s clear she’s the one he’s been obsessed with his whole life. So the show should really have been called “How Your Mother Was A Consolation Prize.”
Simon (James McAvoy) is an art dealer who gets hit over the head during a robbery and loses his memory. In order to discover where he’s hidden a valuable painting, the thieves force Simon to visit a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to recover the memory. Look, that painting is worth a lot of money.
Simon eventually remembers that he was never an art dealer, but was actually one of the thieves and that Elizabeth was the mastermind. She actually hypnotized him to convince him to steal the painting in the first place and then distracted him with a text message so that he would get hit by a car, which is when he lost his memory. Then Elizabeth runs him over with a truck.
Dallas: Season 9
Dallas was a prime-time soap opera that followed the Ewing family, a bunch of wealthy oil barons who screwed each other over on the regular. The show’s ninth season featured a bunch of crazy storylines, including the deaths of several major characters, primarily Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), who had been one of the show’s lead actors.
At the end of the season finale, Bobby’s wife Pam (Victoria Principal) wakes up in her bed and walks into the bathroom to see Bobby, who has been dead for the entire season, taking a shower as if nothing happened. The entire season, including multiple bombings, a miscarriage, and other soap opera staples, had been a dream Pam was having. Dallas, once a ratings powerhouse, never fully recovered from trolling their viewers so massively.
St. Elsewhere was like a proto E.R. in the 80s, a serious and gritty medical drama following an ensemble cast of doctors that included Denzel Washington in his breakout role. The series was known for its hard-hitting storylines that dealt with real-world tragedies like cancer and the AIDS epidemic, and for its humanizing portrayal of doctors as being just as broken as the rest of us.
The finale of St. Elsewhere, a show universally praised for its unflinching realism, inexplicably decided to end it all by implying that the show’s world and all of its characters lived in a snow globe owned by an autistic boy. To be clear, at no point during its six-season run is it so much as hinted at that what we’re seeing is anything less than the real world. But surprise! It was all some kid’s bizarre Christmas wish.
The Twilight Zone – The Last Night of a Jockey
The Twilight Zone was famous for its shocking twist endings, but they weren’t all home runs. The episode “The Last Night of a Jockey” is particularly cheesy. The episode centers on Grady (Mickey Rooney), a jockey who was recently banned from horse racing for running a horse-doping scheme, getting super drunk in his apartment and lamenting his diminutive height. A mysterious voice suddenly speaks to Grady and says it will grant him one wish. Much like Tom Hanks many years later, Grady wishes to be big.
After initially growing to about 8 feet tall, Grady gets a call letting him know he’ll be allowed to race again. But then he keeps growing like Alice in Wonderland until he’s so comically gigantic he can barely fit inside his own apartment. So not only is he too big to race horses but also he will probably be shot by the Army as soon as he steps outside.
Angela (Felissa Rose), a meek teenage girl left traumatized by a childhood accident that killed her father and her brother Peter, goes to summer camp with her cousin Ricky (Jonathon Tiersten), where she is relentlessly bullied by the other kids and even the counselors. One by one, everyone who bullies her ends up murdered, with Ricky emerging as the prime suspect.
Surprise! Angela is the killer, which would be an acceptable but obvious twist if the movie didn’t go one step further and reveal that Angela is really a boy. Yep, Angela was the one who died in the accident, and her brother Peter survived and was raised as a girl. It’s a bizarre additional twist that no one could have possibly seen coming because it doesn’t have anything to do with the story.