A movie plot twist isn’t easy to pull off, but when they’re done effectively they can bring a film to life – and 2021 knew exactly how to do that.
2021 was a huge year for movies, and with that comes an inevitable wave of movies that flip the script and subvert audience expectations in a fun, engaging way. Whether that’s huge summer blockbusters, quiet independent films, or those that went straight to streaming, last year was full of surprises.
But as exciting and shocking as plot twists often are, there’s a lot of work that goes into making them work. They have to make sense, but not be predictable – or be shocking, without ever being too far-fetched. It’s easy to use a plot twist as a cheap plot device, but when they’re executed effectively, they can be extremely rewarding.
The Final Ultimatum (Spiral: From The Book Of Saw)
The Saw franchise is one that has become synonymous with its shocking final-act twists, and the Jigsaw killer’s final ultimatum in this year’s Spiral was a completely shocking and exciting one. After Detective Banks decides to save his father instead of taking down the killer, the police burst into the room and shoot his father dead, mistaking him for the suspect.
Alongside being a thrilling sequence to watch, this twist also has a lot to say about the dark themes of police brutality and racial profiling that are becoming such dangerous problems in society. The film grapples with this issue in an effective and moving way, using its final twist to shock its audience into witnessing the consequences of this social injustice firsthand.
Weasel Is Alive (The Suicide Squad)
After the opening sequence of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad saw plenty of fan-favorite characters killed off before the story had even properly begun, it became clear that absolutely nobody was safe in this cinematic bloodbath. However, a fun scene at the end of the film hit audiences with the revelation that Weasel had actually survived.
Weasel might not have had much screentime, but his unusual appearance and hilarious behavior were enough to leave an impression on audiences right up to his supposed death scene – making his return all the more entertaining and amusing to watch. His survival also means that the character is able to return in The Suicide Squad’s sequel, if and when that happens.
Ikaris Is A Villain (Eternals)
For anybody unfamiliar with the comic story before heading into Eternals, the revelation that central character Ikaris is actually a villain may have come as a sharp surprise. His charming nature and undeniable chemistry with the rest of the cast might have made him seem trustworthy, but it soon becomes clear that his intentions lie elsewhere.
The twist is completely unexpected, and it adds a whole other layer to the film’s already complex narrative, pushing the story forward into an explosive and meditative third act that gave audiences some of the most interesting and developed ideas we’ve seen in the MCU recently.
Sandie’s True Identity (Last Night In Soho)
Edgar Wright’s comedies are some of the funniest and most entertaining in the business, but Last Night in Soho proved that his eye for the thriller is just as keen. The film reveals in its final act that the mysterious Sandie is much more sinister than we initially thought – and is actually the film’s biggest killer.
This reveal completely turns the film on its head, and the stakes suddenly shoot sky-high for every single character. It’s completely unexpected – particularly because of Anya Taylor Joy’s talented and charming performance, but also because of the message that emerges within the film surrounding the historical exploitation of women.
Gabriel Emerges (Malignant)
James Wan’s Malignant might not have been the type of movie that audiences were expecting in today’s horror climate, but there’s no denying that it’s an extremely bold and daring story, and the plot twist that occurs in the film’s final act is nothing short of shocking. After hearing about the imaginary “Gabriel” for the entire film, the reveal finally takes place that Gabriel is actually protagonist Maddie’s twin brother, born as a sentient tumor that was awakened after an injury.
What makes this plot twist stand out is just how bold and out-there it is, refusing to cater to audience expectations and instead opting to create an experience so unbelievably entertaining that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy. It’s potentially one of the most unpredictable twists on this list, and it houses a mystery that keeps audiences guessing from the very beginning of the film.
Trent And Maddox Escape (Old)
There are few people whose work has grown more synonymous with narrative twists than M. Night Shyamalan, and his latest thriller Old is no different. With the unsettlingly dark concept of a beach that makes you rapidly grow old, he manages to craft a story that uses its final twist to tell an important story about scientific testing and the worth of human life.
It’s the complete lack of clues that makes Old’s twist so shocking, and whilst that can often be frustrating with a film like this, his well-developed execution of the twist definitely makes up for it. We become so invested in these characters’ lives that we feel as though we’re on that beach with them, and that’s why the darkness of reality comes as even more of a shock.
Peter Murders Phil (The Power Of The Dog)
The repression of masculinity is one of the central themes in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and the film’s shocking ending does a lot to perpetuate this idea. When it’s revealed that Peter’s relationship with Phil has been nothing more than a rouse for Peter to get close and murder his mentor, it becomes abundantly clear that nobody in this film is as they seem.
Jane Campion’s screenplay works wonders when it comes to developing her ideas, and the story’s final twist really highlights all the little clues that she’s placed throughout the narrative. It shows all of her characters in a new light, and becomes particularly effective when rewatching the film and noticing everybody’s ulterior motives.
Trinity Has Powers (The Matrix: Resurrections)
After the original trilogy focused so strongly on Neo’s status as “the one,” it was refreshing to see The Matrix Resurrections take a more holistic look at the concept through the character of Trinity. When it’s revealed that she has the power of flight in the film’s closing scenes, the pair quickly realize that Neo’s anomalous abilities have somehow transferred to Trinity.
What makes this twist so effective is how easily it fits into the legacy of the original Matrix films. “The One” was never any more than the result of a technical anomaly, so it makes complete sense that Trinity would also be able to harbor these abilities and use them for herself, particularly in a film that focuses so strongly on the emotional connection between the two characters.
James Bond Is Infected (No Time To Die)
Despite appearing untouchable for much of the character’s tenure, No Time to Die finally proves that James Bond is no more than human by forcing him to come to terms with his own mortality. The shock twist of Bond’s death was one of the most unexpected of the year, but truly does justice to the character’s complete journey.
Killing off James Bond makes a surprising amount of sense for his character arc – his lifestyle was never compatible with traditional family life, but his evolution as a man has reached a point where he’s ready to put the mantle of 007 behind him. It’s a heartbreaking finale, but one that firmly closes the door on Daniel Craig’s run as the character.
The Emperor Betrays House Atreides (Dune)
The most shocking of many twists in sci-fi spectacle Dune has to be the deployment of Imperial troops on Arrakis to help House Harkonnen take down House Atreides. It marks a huge turning point in the narrative, and represents everything that’s wrong with the Emperor’s leadership style.
The conflict between House Atreides and the Empire is one that runs deep throughout Herbert’s novel, and marks a theme that is almost certainly going to be important in Villeneuve’s sequel to Dune. By introducing it here in such an impactful and insightful way, he builds a certain level of apprehension for what may come in the future.