The plot twist has ironically become practically a cliché in today’s world of cinema. While we’re not meant to see twists coming we’ve almost come to expect them over time yet that expectation has never taken away from how fascinating a well-placed surprise or switcheroo can be. From horror movies to thrillers and even your typical blockbuster, the 2010s brought us countless enjoyable surprises as films of nearly every genre offered us dramatic and, at times, jarring examples of perfectly executed misdirection that changed our entire perception of what had occurred up to and what would occur from that moment in the film. Whether it’s an ending revelation, a midpoint plot change-up or a dramatic cliffhanger, today I’m examining the best twists that left my jaw on the floor over the last decade. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Twists of the 2010s.
For this list I looked at anything considered an unexpected turn of events that changed our expectations or perception of a film, it’s story or its characters. In some ways these twists even changed the entire meaning behind the film making them that much more impactful. The twists could take place anywhere within a movie, so long as they were fun, shocking, insightful and/or challenged our preconceived expectations or thoughts about the film and its narrative. There were many plot twists throughout the last decade that left an impact, but these are the ten that stuck with me personally the most.
Obviously, a MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT comes with the territory on this list so if the name didn’t give it away, you’ve been warned.
What plot twist from the 2010s was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.
10. Thanos Wins, “Avengers: Infinity War”
I put this low on the list simply because its lasting impact was watered down by the resolutions presented in the followup film, “Avengers: Endgame”, but at the time this was a true game changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Up until “Infinity War” the Marvel films had followed a pretty standard formula: villain fights heroes, heroes face setbacks, minor characters are lost at best and the good guys win the day. Not in “Infinity War”. The entire film focuses on big bad Thanos’ attempts to collect the six Infinity Stones which, when combined, would allow him to eliminate half of life in the universe in his attempt to create balance. There’s no way after everything the Avengers had been through that they’d let him succeed right? Well he does, and the final moments of this movie left us speechless as not only did Thanos accomplish his goal, handing down the first real loss to the MCU hero collective, but eliminating many of our favorite characters in the process as they were turned to dust. Then we had to wait an entire year to find out how it would all be undone.
9. Perception of Time, “Arrival”
“Arrival” is one of the best sci-fi movies from the last ten years and it sports one of the most compelling plot twists of the decade as well. The movie follows Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks who works to interpret the unknown language of an alien species that arrived on Earth. As she begins to understand how their language works she starts having flashbacks to her young daughter and subtle character moments imply that the daughter was lost tragically, contributing to Banks’ clear personality issues. Eventually Banks and the audience learn that the aliens’ language is meant to be perceived all at once and that they use it as a tool to change the perception of time. This works into the resolution of the film as Banks discovers she has inherited the aliens’ ability to perceive the past and future simultaneously and the images of her daughter haven’t actually happened yet. Even though Banks realizes she will give birth to a child destined to die young she sees her fate as something to be embraced making her discovery a symbolic message to the audience about the perception of time and it’s simple moments to compliment the more obvious allegory for communication.
8. Literal Work Horses, “Sorry to Bother You”
In probably one of the most random twist moments in the entire decade, “Sorry to Bother You” takes its uncompromising criticism of capitalism, racism and consumer culture to extreme levels in its closing act when protagonist Cash, who has worked his way up the ladder at a telemarketing firm called WorryFree, is offered $100 million by the CEO of the company to take part in a special project. The request: for Cash to willingly be transformed into a human-horse hybrid called an equisapien that would serve as a false prophet to an entire species of these genetically modified creatures that would serve as literal work horses for the company. Cash is to trick them into accepting their fate. It’s a risky and jarring way for director and writer Boots Riley to hammer home his criticisms of modern consumerism and completely changes the narrative of the film from that point forward especially when the public actually praises WorryFree for its discovery after the plot is exposed. It may not have sit well with everyone who saw the film, but the equisapien twist certainly grabbed our attention.
7. It’s a Sequel, “Split”
It’s impossible not to include M. Night Shyamalan on this list considering the filmmaker has made twists his signature trademark. But while some of his twists are either ridiculous or predictable nowadays, the twist in his comeback film “Split” was certainly a true shocker. “Split” follows three young women who are abducted by a man named Kevin Wendell Crumb who houses 23 different personalities and a 24th hidden personality called “The Beast” that makes him practically invincible and terrifyingly strong and aggressive. By the end of the film Crumb is on the loose and we see a diner of people watching a news report about Crumb’s crimes. After a waitress notes the similarities to a criminal from fifteen years prior she can’t remember the criminal’s name and that’s when Bruce Willis chimes in talking about Mr. Glass revealing that “Split” was actually a stealth sequel to Shyamalan’s beloved 2000 original superhero flick “Unbreakable”. This eventually led to a final film in the trilogy, “Glass”, a few years later, itself containing some great twists. The surprise ending of “Split” though is often considered one of the best executed in Shyamalan’s library completely changing the implications and identity of the entire film, a similar impact to the filmmaker’s most iconic twist in “The Sixth Sense”.
6. Horror Movie Madness and Literal Gods, “Cabin in the Woods”
This is a plot twist that has only grown with age for me and I appreciate it even more every time I watch my favorite horror movie of the last ten years. I criminally left this of my previous list of best modern horror movie twists, so I’m making up for it now. “Cabin in the Woods” initially seems like it will be exactly what it says it is, another generic horror film in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. However, we see something is very different about this horror film as it often cuts away to a pair of men working behind a switch board manipulating certain elements of the scenario. Eventually the final two living young adults find their way into the compound below the cabin realizing they not only inadvertently chose what monsters would target them, but there is an entire storage facility of killer horror movie creatures being used to enact a ritual to satisfy the Gods of old, which themselves are meant to be literal representations of the audience. This discovery leads to one hell of a finale where all of monsters are set lose and complete chaos ensues. What we thought was going to be a generic by the books horror experience completely flips the script for its finale offering genre fans a little bit of just about everything you could hope for in a horror film.
5. The Identity of Red, “Us”
Director Jordan Peele is actually featured twice on this list, but its his sophomore film that get the first nod. “Us” is a horror feature that sees a black family facing off against a family of doppelgangers including the villainous Red, a raspy voiced twin to main heroine Adelaide. Throughout the movie we discover that doppelgangers are raising hell throughout the country attacking their counterparts in order to take their place in society. Eventually Adelaide learns the origins of the copies. They were created underground to control their counterparts on the surface but were eventually abandoned. Hearkening back to a scene at the beginning of the movie, a late film flashback shows that Adelaide met Red as a child however it wasn’t Adelaide who returned to her parents. Red choked Adelaide and left her underground, effectively being the first clone to take her subject’s place meaning that the Adelaide we have followed the entire film is actually the real Red and vice versa. To discover we had been routing for the supposed villain the whole time was quite a shock that adds to the many great metaphors scattered through this fun but complex horror thriller.
4. Rose is In on Her Family’s Fascist Agenda, “Get Out”
While we’re on the subject of Jordan Peele lets also examine his first foray into horror, “Get Out”. A fascinating flick that explores the concept of subtle, passive racism in American culture, “Get Out” sees a black man named Chris visiting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time only to eventually discover they are part of a cult of white Americans who are kidnapping black people and installing their own consciousness into their brains. This revelation is creepy enough, but the real twist comes when we find out the girlfriend, Rose, is in on the whole thing. We’re given excellent misdirection at the beginning of the movie when a seemingly racist cop targets Chris only for Rose to come to his defense. Throughout the film Rose seems to support her boyfriend until finally they are getting ready to leave and Rose can’t find the keys to the car in her purse, because she doesn’t want to. She is in on the whole thing and, as we also discover later, she seduces people, men and women, to serve as subjects for the rituals. All of a sudden Chris has no allies and Rose goes from a helpful lover to a blatant physical representation of closeted racism in the blink of an eye.
3. Teddy’s True Identity, “Shutter Island”
Probably one of the most mainstream films of director Martin Scorsese’s career, “Shutter Island” saw the director pull off a perfect twist in 2010 with star Leonardo DiCaprio selling it as U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels. Daniels is hot on the trail of a missing patient named Andrew Laeddis on an island for the insane and his clues lead him to a lighthouse where he uncovers quite the conspiracy, that he isn’t really a man named Teddy. He’s actually Andrew Laeddis himself and thus a patient of the asylum who is undergoing a theatrical treatment of sorts to allow him to work through the trauma of having killed his wife after she drowned their children. It’s the hospital’s final attempt to rehabilitate him before he is to be given a lobotomy. The whole movie we followed Teddy believing we were experiencing a spectacular mystery, but the third-act revelation forces you to rewatch everything and pick up on the subtle clues hidden throughout the film. Andrew and Teddy are, and always have been, the same person scarred by a tragic life event that drove him insane.
2. Tully is Marlo, “Tully”
“Tully” is a tragically overlooked gem from 2018 with a twist that’s so simple yet so perfectly executed that it deserves to be praised and remembered for years to come. The movie focuses squarely on two women, mother Marlo played by Charlize Theron and night nurse Tully played by Mackenzie Davis who watches Marlo’s newborn child while Marlo sleeps. The two bond sharing personal drama and even at one point seemingly sharing Marlo’s husband in bed. Eventually the two go to a bar together and a car crash reveals that Marlo and Tully are actually the same person. Tully was her last name before marriage and Marlo has been hallucinating Tully as a way to talk herself through her lasting demons of life. This reveal changes everything we thought we knew about the story including forcing us to examine specific scenes and moments with a new lens. Now, it should be noted that this twist came with controversy as it related mental illness and parenthood which caused some major backlash from groups on social media, but I’m rating this twist on its effectiveness in the context of the movie itself more than anything else. It’s spectacular slight of hand that does what every great plot twist should do.
1. Amy’s Plot, “Gone Girl”
“Gone Girl” is heavily considered one of the decade’s best thrillers and its fun twist plays a big part in that. A faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, “Gone Girl” follows the investigation into the suspected death of Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne. Evidence piles up against Amy’s husband Nick, played by Ben Affleck, as Amy’s blood is found in her home, a cheating scandal is uncovered, it’s revealed Amy was pregnant and police find a diary written by Amy implying she feared for her life. It looks bad for Nick who becomes a prime suspect. Then halfway through the movie everything changes as we see Amy alive and she reveals she planned out the entire thing to get back at Nick for his transgressions. She staged everything, her death, her pregnancy, and even the diary which was written specifically to implicate Nick. To make things worse for Nick, Amy uses Nick’s frozen sperm to impregnate herself for real preventing him from divorcing her. It’s this spectacular turn of events that changes everything we knew or expected and helped make Amy Dunne one of the decades best movie villains.