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The best twist endings in horror movies, ranked

There are few things better than a great twist ending. That’s especially true in the horror genre, where so much of a movie’s thrill comes from the film subverting what audiences may be expecting from it.

It can be hard, though, to actually deliver on a twist that is both surprising and inevitable. Any great twist should feel obvious, but only in retrospect, and it should probably be something we haven’t seen before. From The Sixth Sense to Scream 6, twist endings are a staple of the genre. These are the best twists that horror movies have ever produced.

6. The Others (2001)

6. The Others
Genre Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar

The setup: A woman moves her family to the English coast during World War II. While she waits for word about her husband, who is missing in action, she protects her kids from a rare photosensitivity disorder as they begin to see ghosts. As the hauntings escalate, they desperately search for answers.

The twist: The woman and her children have been dead the whole time, and they are actually the ghosts haunting the house in which they live. The woman’s husband has long since died as well.

The Others (2001) Official Trailer 1 - Nicole Kidman Movie

5. Orphan (2009)

5. Orphan
Genre Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

The setup: Following a devastating stillbirth, a couple decide to adopt a child. As increasingly strange things begin to happen around her, the parents begin to suspect that their new child may be behind all of the evil in spite of her innocent demeanor.

The twist: The young girl that the couple has adopted is in fact a 33-year-old woman whose growth has been stunted by a rare hormonal condition. She has spent her life passing as a child, and has murdered at least seven people, including the last couple that adopted her.

Orphan Trailer # 1

4. The Wicker Man (1973)

4. The Wicker Man
Genre Horror
Stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland
Directed by Robin Hardy

The setup: A conservative, Christian police detective is called to a small Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Once there, he witnesses the island’s strange pagan rituals and gets ever closer to uncovering what’s really going on.

The twist: The detective initially suspects that the girl has been kidnapped to take part in a ritual sacrifice, and then realizes that he has actually been lured to the island to fulfill that purpose. He is sacrificed, and all evidence of his presence on the island is destroyed.

The Wicker Man (1973) Official Trailer - Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento Horror Movie HD

3. Us (2019)

3. Us
Genre Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph
Directed by Jordan Peele

The setup: A family on vacation discovers that doppelgangers of each of them have been living underground for decades. Those doppelgangers begin hunting the family, and killing anyone who stands in their way.

The twist: In a series of flashbacks, we come to understand that Adelaide, the film’s main character, is actually the doppelganger of the real Adelaide, who she swapped places with at a young age. Swapping places is what ultimately led to the uprising of the doppelgangers, as the real Adelaide knew of the world above and became a leader to those still underground.

Us - Official Trailer [HD]

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

2. Night of the Living Dead
Genre Horror, Science Fiction, Drama
Stars Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
Directed by George A. Romero

The setup: One of the first great zombie movies ever made, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a group of strangers who find themselves trapped in an abandoned house together as corpses begin to rise from the grave. Ben, a Black man and also the most pragmatic member of the group, tries to maintain order amid the chaos.

The twist: After most of his fellow comrades have died and transformed into zombies, Ben seems to find salvation at the hands of an armed posse. As he approaches them, though, he is mistaken for a zombie, shot and killed, and thrown into a fire with the rest of the dead.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

1. The Sixth Sense (1999)

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

The setup: A child psychologist is shot by a former patient, and after recovering from his injury, is assigned to a child who claims that he can see and speak with the dead. As the evidence mounts that the boy’s claim is true, the psychologist manages to help him fit in at school.

The twist: The psychologist, who has been trying to reconnect with his wife throughout the movie, realizes that she is distant because he is dead and she can no longer hear him. He was killed after being shot, and all of his work with the young boy has occurred after his death.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

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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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