There's a peculiar feeling that comes with being tricked by a movie. It's a mixture of feeling confused, taken advantage of and at least a little dumb, but there's a sense of appreciation for a well-told story, for being challenged a little bit, taken aback. The films that leave viewers feeling this way are part of an elite bunch. We've compiled a list of our 10 favorites—and, for contrast's sake, a list of five movies whose twists fell short. (Here's something else that comes as no surprise: This list contains spoilers!)
The Crying Game (1992)
Movie: Psycho (1960)
Movie: Fight Club (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Director: Bryan Singer
The twist: Verbal is Keyser Soze.
Why it's awesome: For a minute, it seems like Keyser and Dean are one and the same, which would have been a decent enough twist. Throwing Verbal into the mix made it that much better.
Director: Neil Jordan
The twist: Dil is a man.
Why it's awesome: There's plenty of excitement in the film already, but this twist introduces themes of sex, gender and sexuality that add a fresh, human element that most thrillers lack.
The twist: Norman Bates is the killer, and his mother is living inside him as an alternate personality.
Why it's awesome: Norman seems so sure of his mother's existence that audiences can't help but be convinced as well—until the film dissolves into a Freudian field day.
The twist: The narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person.
Why it's awesome: It comes out of nowhere, like a good twist should. More than that, it gives us all hope that there is a rather attractive, absolutely fearless badass inside of each of us, just dying to get out.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
The twist: Dr. Crowe, the psychologist treating the child who sees dead people, is dead.
Why it's awesome: The clues—for example, the color red was used whenever the worlds of the living and the dead were coming together—were so subtle that even if particularly attentive viewers picked up on them, they probably wouldn't be able to figure out their significance. Unlike some of Shyamalan's other films (see below), all tracks were covered meticulously; southpaw Bruce Willis apparently even learned to write with his right hand so audiences wouldn't notice his missing wedding ring.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Director: Richard Kelly
The twist: Donnie dies, not from the end of the world or the menacing Frank, but from the jet engine that crashes into his house at the beginning of the film.
Why it's awesome: This entire film is just a crazy enigma (including the fact that a bunny rabbit can be so terrifying), and the time-travel twist at the end scatters all the pieces you were just starting to put together.
Director: Christopher Nolan
The twist: Due to his short-term memory loss, Leonard forgets that he killed his wife himself.
Why it's awesome: The movie plays with chronology in a completely unique way, unfolding like an accordion rather than relying on conventional flashback tropes, until the viewer is just as disoriented and surprised by new information as Leonard himself.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
The twist: It was Earth the whole time.
Why it's awesome: There's never really reason to believe that the Planet of the Apes and the Planet of the Humans are the same thing—and then there's that awesome shot of the Statue of Liberty protruding from the sand.
Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
The twist: Teddy Daniels is not a U.S. Marshal investigating a psychiatric ward, but is instead a patient in it.
Why it's awesome: There are so many twists in this movie that by the final scene, it's impossible to know what—if anything—is real and what is a product of Daniels' over-active imagination.
Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
The twist: Darth Vader is Luke's father.
Why it's awesome: With one line (say it with me now: "Luke, I am your father"), the lines between good and bad blur just a little while the question of whether evil is inherent is brought to light.
The Notebook (2004)
Director: Nick Cassavetes
The "twist": The old lady at the beginning of the movie is the young lady in the rest of the movie.
Why it didn't work: We refuse to be duped by Nicholas Sparks.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
The "twist": The aliens can be destroyed by water and Graham Hess' wife's seemingly incoherent death-bed ramblings actually predicted the way to slay the aliens. (Secondary twist even Shyamalan didn't see coming: Mel Gibson is not a caring father.)
Why it didn't work: It's not fair to say that we figured this one out in advance, but that's only because the twist includes such an asinine loophole that we really couldn't have been expected to. These super-smart aliens decide to come to a planet that has the one substance that can kill them on 70 percent of its surface—really?
Phone Booth (2002)
Director: Joel Schumacher
The "twist": The police misidentify the sniper and the real villain walks free.
Why it doesn't work: Every move the sniper makes is so calculated that it just doesn't seem possible that he could get himself caught. Plus, Kiefer Sutherland sounds too creepy to die.
The Illusionist (2006)
Director: Neil Burger
The "twist": Sophie has been alive the whole time, and Eisenheim has framed Leopold for her death.
Why it doesn't work: The movie is called The Illusionist—we never expected anything to be what it seemed.
The Number 23 (2007)
Director: Joel Schumacher
The "twist": Walter Sparrow wrote The Number 23, the mysterious book he finds, as an autobiography before he suffered mental trauma that caused him to forget it.
Why it doesn't work: The parallels between Walter and Fingerling, the protagonist in The Number 23 (the book), are too uncanny and too numerous to yield any other explanation.