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The 10 most shocking endings ever in movies

Great twist endings are hard to come by. Movies that feature huge twists aren’t uncommon, and they can come in basically any genre, horror included. But films that manage to make those twists work are exceedingly rare. That’s why it can be so immensely satisfying to see a movie with a shocking ending that actually makes that ending feel earned.

The endings on this list hit that mark, not just on their own merits, but also because they make the rest of the movie even better. These shocking endings have stood the test of time, whether they’re three years old or 30 years old.

Warning: This list contains spoilers for every movie featured on it. 

The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Sixth Sense
Genre Mystery, Thriller, Drama
Stars Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

One of the things that makes a great movie twist is that rewatching the movie only makes the twist more satisfying. In the case of The Sixth Sense, understanding that Bruce Willis is dead the whole time does not make watching the movie any less enjoyable.

Instead, you see all the signs and clues you missed the first time, and come to appreciate the story that much more. The Sixth Sense has plenty worth watching other than the twist, and rewatching the movie will confirm that for you.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Usual Suspects
Genre Drama, Crime, Thriller
Stars Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey
Directed by Bryan Singer

It was all a lie. That’s what we learn in the final moments of The Usual Suspect when it’s revealed that the mild-mannered Verbal Kint is actually the crime lord at the center of this whole knotted affair. The revelation comes after Kint has already been released from police custody, and we already know that he’s a ghost: They’ll never catch him.

On top of that, we also have to wonder whether anything about the movie we’ve been watching is actually true within its fictional world.

The Usual Suspects (1995) - Original Trailer
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes
Genre Science Fiction, Adventure, Drama, Action
Stars Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
One of the first real twist endings remains one of the best. For an entire movie, you watch Charlton Heston’s astronaut with the understanding that he’s landed on some distant planet ruled by apes, only to realize in the movie’s closing moments that he’s still on Earth at some point in the distant future. The image of the Statue of Liberty buried in sand is an all-timer, and one that made Planet of the Apes into a franchise that has endured for decades.
Planet of the Apes I (1968) - Original Trailer
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back
Genre Adventure, Action, Science Fiction
Stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Directed by Irvin Kershner
The first Star Wars plays out almost exactly the way you might expect it to: Good triumphs over evil, and everyone but Chewie gets a medal. What’s shocking about the final moments of The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just that Luke finds out that his father is Darth Vader, it’s also that the movie does not leave its heroes in a happy place. Han is frozen in carbonite, Luke gets his hand lopped off by his father, and the Rebellion seems to be in complete tatters.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - Trailer
Se7en (1995)
Genre Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by David Fincher
The final moments of Se7en are shocking and horrific. The movie, which follows a pair of detectives working to track down a serial killer, ends when they discover that the killer’s final victims are one of the detective’s wives and himself. It’s a shocking ending to what has been a dark and twisty saga. David Fincher’s modern noir is all about the darkness in men’s souls, and in its final moments, it shows us just how dark things can get, even for the movie’s ostensible heroes.
Se7en (1995) Official Trailer - Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman Movie HD
Saw (2004)
Genre Horror, Mystery, Crime
Stars Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover
Directed by James Wan

The mind games that occupy most of Saw‘s running time are brutal enough, but the final moments of Saw are what turned it into the franchise it ultimately became.

In its final moments, we learn that the corpse between the two men trapped together in a bathroom is the actual jigsaw killer, and he’s been faking his own death to watch the two men struggle against his puzzles. It’s a final moment of triumph for the killer, who manages to win a total victory over the central characters we’ve been following all movie long.

Saw (2004) Official Trailer #1 - James Wan Movie
Psycho (1960)
Genre Horror, Drama, Thriller
Stars Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho is terrifying long before its final twist, but the movie’s final moments give entirely new meaning to the movie’s name. The film reveals at the end of its run that the old woman who has been murdering everyone in sight all movie long is actually Norman Bates.

His mother died years ago, and Norman has started pretending to be her and acting out the aggression she often showed toward young women. The movie’s decision to explain Norman’s pathology isn’t universally beloved, but the twist itself still holds up more than 60 years later.

Psycho Trailer
Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club
Genre Drama, Thriller, Comedy
Stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by David Fincher

Fincher’s Fight Club delivers one of the all-time great movie twists as we discover that Tyler Durden and the narrator are one and the same. This revelation forces you to reevaluate everything you’ve already seen, but it also makes sense.

The film’s narrator is so deeply alienated from the world and himself that he built up a new character who would be willing to do things that he never would. It’s both surprising and inevitable, and that’s what makes it a classic twist.

Fight Club (1999) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
Atonement (2007)
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai
Directed by Joe Wright

While it’s not a movie that might immediately spring to mind when you think of shocking endings, Atonement‘s final moments may nonetheless leave you trying to pick your jaw up off the floor. As it turns out, the happy ending we get for the film’s two central characters is a pure fiction.

Briony, the young woman who ruined their lives by leveling a false accusation, wrote them a happier ending in order to atone for the one they never actually got. The young lovers at the movie’s center both died in the war, and there was nothing more to it than that. A tragedy, but one so common amid the tumult of war.

Atonement (2007) Official Trailer | Screen Bites
Us (2019)
Genre Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph
Directed by Jordan Peele

The reveal at the end of Us is just the icing on top of an already great cake. In the movie’s final moments, we learn that Red and Adelaide switched spots when they were just children. That’s why Adelaide didn’t talk when she returned: She never had before.

It’s the kind of revelation that forces us to reevaluate everything we’ve already seen. Us is a story about privilege, and what we eventually realize is that the movie’s events only occur because the real Adelaide knows what a better life looks like, and had it stolen from her.

Us - Official Trailer [HD]

Editors' Recommendations

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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