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Twisty-Turny Movies Like ‘Shutter Island’

Few things are more satisfying to watch than a thriller with a well-executed twist. It’s a narrative magic trick that has you eager to revisit the film, just to pick up on the clues you missed. Whether it is “he was dead the whole time” or “he wasn’t even dead to begin with,” a good twist will always be a welcome addition to any cinematic cocktail. Just as long as it isn’t on par with the Darksaber twist from The Mandalorian. That one was whack.

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So to celebrate our love of twisty-turning films with spooktacular settings and shocker endings, I’m going to bring you a list of the best twist-ending films in recent memory. If you enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller Shutter Island, you’ll find more to love in these films. But be advised: no film on this list could ever beat the spectacular twist that is Purah’s glo-up in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. You’ve been warned.

Inception

JGL on a wall in inception
(Warner Bros.)

Okay, this film’s twist ending might not necessarily be crystal clear, but you can be sure it’s there! Shutter Island‘s own Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Christopher Nolan‘s 2010 mind-bending Inception, which follows a group of thieves attempting to extract valuable information for corporate espionage. They do so by breaking into people’s minds via their dreams to implant ideas or steal secrets. However, as the film progresses, Leo and his friends realize that they have to dive even deeper to attain their goal, going into dreams within dreams.

Oldboy

(CJ Entertainment)

Perhaps the greatest psychological thriller in all of East Asian cinema, Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film Oldboy tells the story of businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) who is barely holding his life together. He is divorced from his wife, and all he has left in the world is his daughter. One night, he is kidnapped and imprisoned in a small room, where he is kept for over a decade. After giving up all hope of rescue, he is suddenly released back into the world as if the whole thing never happened.

The Prestige

christian bale and hugh jackman in the prestige
(Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures)

Christopher Nolan makes another appearance on this list with his 2006 film The Prestige. The film follows two rival magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), who are competing to become the greatest magician of the 19th century. How will one of them do it? By pulling off a magic trick that the other is unable to top. The film itself is structured like a magic show, with the acts of the film named after the different stages of a trick. When the third act draws to a close, the audience will be shocked at the complexity of the winning trick, and awed by how the magician pulled it off.

Saw

cary elwes in saw
(Lionsgate)

If you haven’t seen this 2004 movie, I think you should sublet the rock you live under and get outside more. James Wan’s Saw spawned one of the most famous horror franchises today. The film tells the story of two men named Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Gordon (Cary Elwes) who wake up chained to the floor in an abandoned bathroom. In the room with them is a dead body with a tape recorder and a gun. When they play the recorder, a serial killer named Jigsaw tells Adam that he must escape the bathroom to survive and that Gordon must kill Adam in order to save his own family. Who’s gonna get killed? Who’s body is that? And what in God’s name is that rusty saw for!?

The Sixth Sense

haley joel osment and bruce willis in the sixth sense
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

This 1999 film contains perhaps the most famous twist ending of all time, launching the career of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. A little boy (Haley Joel Osment, in an Oscar-nominated performance) has the power to see dead people, and a psychologist (Bruce Willis) is determined to help the boy use his gift for the greater good. The film culminates in a shocking reveal now known to most folks, but if you still haven’t seen it (and it hasn’t been spoiled for you), now is the time.

Fight Club

brad pitt in fight club
(20th Century Studios)

The ultimate edge lord fantasy film, David Fincher‘s Fight Club is the story of an unnamed young nebbish (Edward Norton) with anger issues who meets the mysterious and charismatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Tyler Durden convinces the man to start an underground fight club, and no, you’re not allowed to talk about it. As time passes and the narrator delves deeper into violence, Tyler Durden reveals a shocking truth about the narrator’s nature. This film is an absolute ’90s classic.

Gone Girl

Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in 'Gone Girl'
(20th Century Studios)

On the night of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) mysteriously disappears. Nick soon becomes embroiled in a police investigation, as Johnny Law immediately suspects him of foul play. However, as Gone Girl progresses, the audience realizes that Amy is not some sweet and innocent victim. David Fincher’s 2014 film received rave reviews, with Pike earning an Academy Award nomination for her brilliant performance.

Atonement

kiera knightley and james mcavoy in atonement
(Alex Bailey/Focus Features)

Set in England in the first half of the 20th century, Joe Wright’s 2004 film Atonement follows upper-crust girl Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan in one of her first roles) who spies a steamy sexual encounter between her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). Consumed with jealousy, Briony accuses Robbie of a horrific crime he didn’t commit. The fallout from the accusation ruins lives and has far-reaching consequences in the future. Be prepared: this gorgeous movie has perhaps the saddest twist ending in history.

Parasite

Characters from Parasite look at their phones in front of a toilet in their semi-basement apartment.
(Neon/CJ Entertainment)

Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 class commentary thriller Parasite follows the impoverished Kim family, who barely manage to scrape by performing odd jobs while living in squalor. Their luck changes, however, when the youngest son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is hired to be a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family. Sensing an opportunity, the rest of the Kim family devise a plan to forge their credentials and work for the Parks in order to attain financial security.

Jacob’s Ladder

The war veteran Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) looking at something in horror in "Jacob's Ladder".
(Tri-Star Pictures)

Jacob Singer is having a really hard time separating fantasy from reality in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. One would think it would be easy. That homeless man on the train? Real. The tentacle growing out of that homeless man’s chest? Probably fake. That pretty lady dancing at a house party? Real. Is the fleshy demon sneaking up behind her? I really hope that’s fake. After his experiences in Vietnam, Singer isn’t quite able to tell the difference. I don’t blame him.

Black Swan

Natalie Portman in Black Swan, wearing black eye makeup and yellow contact lenses.
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Natalie Portman’s character in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan wants to be THE BEST. After all, that’s what playing the starring role in her cutthroat ballet company’s production of Swan Lake demands. She’s SO dedicated to doing the role perfectly that she starts hallucinating herself as a half-human/half-bird hybrid. The only thing that she didn’t hallucinate about was her post-night-out hook up with Mila Kunis, another dancer in her company.

Memento

An emaciated man stands in his kitchen in "The Machinist"
(Paramount Classics)

Christian Bale’s character in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist needs two things: a box of donuts and a day off. Trevor Reznik is an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in A YEAR. You read that correctly, a YEAR. While normally a week without sleep is enough to kill a person, Reznik was somehow able to keep on trucking for 51 more. He’s perfectly healthy, except he keeps hallucinating and I’m pretty sure he’d get blown over by a stiff breeze. Rumor has it that all he has for breakfast in the morning is a deep breath.

American Psycho

A wall street business man wrapped in plastic contemplates an axe in "American Psycho"
(Lions Gate Films)

Christian Bale just can’t get a grip! Mary Harron’s American Psycho sees Bale’s return to the screen as the most depraved kind of person on the face of the Earth: a finance bro. This particular finance bro, when not comparing dicks, I mean, business cards with his colleagues and dining at expensive clubs, finds other ways to entertain himself. Like beating homeless people to death. Or chasing women with chainsaws. Or trying to feed a stray kitten to a vending machine. This man needs to get a vacation and a grip.

Se7en

Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman sitting in the police station in "Se7en"
(New Line Cinema)

Two police detectives are on the hunt for a vicious killer in David Fincher’s Se7en. The killer has a delightful penchant for carrying out his murders with inspiration from the seven deadly sins, to often gruesome efficacy. Faced with a carnival of horror upon greater horror, the two detectives begin to lose their grip on the one thing they’ll need to solve this case: their sanity.

Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival
(Paramount Pictures)

It’s an alien invasion in Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 film Arrival. Except all these aliens wanna do is … hang out and talk? After a series of spaceships land across the world, a linguistics professor named Louise (Amy Adams) is hired by the U.S. government to figure out a way to communicate with the seemingly benevolent extraterrestrials. The aliens say that they are offering a gift, yet the governments of the world are afraid that the gift involves wiping out the human race. Louise has to figure out the deeper meaning behind the alien’s visit while convincing the world not to nuke the motherships. When she finally understands exactly what kind of gift the aliens are giving, the result is a shock to behold.

(featured image: CJ Entertainment)

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.

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