Clever movies that trick you with double plot twists

Everyone loves a great plot twist. Nothing shakes up a bucket of popcorn quite the same way. Events such as Luke Skywalker finding out who his father was or Bruce Willis finding out that he's already dead have forever changed the cultural landscape and simultaneously caused millions of movie theater seats across the world to be splattered with the buttery remnants of poor, innocent popcorn kernels that had no idea what was coming.

The only thing that murders popcorn even more violently than a plot twist is a double plot twist. Our favorite buttery snack just isn't equipped to handle two plot twists in a single movie. When filmmakers are brilliant enough to pull off this storytelling feat, they deserve every bit of credit they receive.

Also, this is an entire article about plot twists, so like … spoilers or whatever.

The Prestige

Christopher Nolan is the dark wizard of double plot twists. His talent for tricking the audience is supernatural. In 20 years, double plot twists will probably be called "Nolans." For example, take The Prestige, his 2006 thriller about two popular stage magicians in the 1800s, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). A vicious rivalry between Batman and Wolverine ratchets up a notch when Borden unveils "the Transported Man," a trick where he seemingly teleports himself between two wardrobes. To duplicate Borden's trick, a jealous Angier seeks magical sci-fi assistance from Nikola Tesla. Yes, Tesla.

Anyway, Twist #1 is the reveal of Borden's secret: "Alfred Borden" is actually two twin brothers so dedicated to their magic trick that they pretend to be the same person at different times. This secret is brilliantly hidden in plain sight, as pointed out by the A.V. Club, and it makes for an awesome rewatch. The twist is so convincing that you have to wonder if there are two "Christian Bale" twin brothers out there, too. Seriously, it would explain a lot.

But Twist #2 is even crazier. Remember how Angier ran to Tesla? Well, using Tesla's technology, Angier cranks the Transporting Man trick up to the next level — by creating clones of himself. Every night, the "current" Angier clone drowns himself, and the new clone bows on stage. So yeah, the dude kills himself every single night just to pull off a magic trick.


Christopher Nolan's mystical powers strike again. In Nolan's gorgeous, heart-wrenching Interstellar, astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper lives on a blighted planet Earth, only inches away from extinction. When Coop's daughter Murphy discovers a ghost messing up the bookshelf, Coop investigates — and finds that the "ghost" is actually a gravitational anomaly with GPS coordinates to a secret NASA base. Soon, Coop signs up on a desperate outer space mission to locate a new homeworld for mankind before Earth kicks the can.

Coop and the other astronauts follow the trail of a prior explorer, Dr. Mann, who's sending out hopeful transmissions about a world he discovered. The expedition is low on fuel, so Mann's world is their last chance. Coop and Co. land on the icy surface of Planet Mann and awaken the good doctor. But oops, turns out Mann's wintry world is uninhabitable. Mann was sending fake signals out of a desperate, selfish desire to be rescued. Sorry, humanity. Looks like ol' Mann didn't have your back.

But even more shockingly, the film's conclusion reveals that Murphy's "ghost" is actually Cooper himself. After a little black hole adventure, Coop winds up in what the script calls the "tesseract," according to Empire Online. The tesseract is a four-dimensional cube that allows Coop to interact with every point in time simultaneously, which is why he can reach out to the past and communicate with his daughter by throwing books off a shelf.

Heady stuff, brilliantly done. Another Nolan classic.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl, based on the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, is the storytelling equivalent of eating spaghetti with a fork, finding out you're actually using a spoon, and then realizing that the "spaghetti" is a bowl of ice cream. Anytime you think you know what's happening, the narrative flips, handstands, and cartwheels in a different direction.

The biggest twist happens about halfway through. Until that point, the movie is about Nick Dunne, suspected of murdering his wife, Amy, as the police and media close in on him. The film then reveals that Amy, the eponymous "gone girl," is alive. Nick is just a gullible patsy, while Amy is a cold-blooded sociopath who faked her own death, framed her husband, and is cheerfully watching the media coverage on TV.

That'd be crazy enough, but then Amy decides to return to Nick. So she murders her new boyfriend Desi, frames him for rape, and runs back claiming Desi kidnapped her. Nick is understandably less-than-enthused to stay with Amy, even as the media goes crazy with adoration for the beautiful reunited couple. He wants to publicly reveal Amy's true colors to the world.

But Amy stunts him with another surprise: She's pregnant, having artificially inseminated herself with Nick's sperm. So even though Amy framed him for murder and nearly got him executed, Nick stays with her. The end. What?! As the Washington Post says, this fake happy ending is horribly frustrating, and that's the dark brilliance of it.

The Machinist

Even when he's not hanging with Nolan, Christian Bale still digs into the tender meat of medium rare double plot twists. If anyone ever doubted Bale's dedication, this future Academy Award Winner lost 62 pounds to play Trevor Reznik, the lead character of The Machinist, a man who hasn't slept — at all — in a year. Yikes. And you thought your insomnia was bad.

The Machinist begins with a flash-forward showing Reznik dumping a corpse into the water. Remember this, it comes back. The main plot shows Reznik struggling to maintain his life amid the excruciating pain of perpetual insomnia. He attempts to improve things by dating Maria, a hardworking single mom to a little boy named Nicholas. Meanwhile, Reznik meets a creepy new coworker, Ivan, who seems a little too interested in his life.

Unfortunately for the world's most tired man, things rapidly escalate from bad to worse. Reznik kills Ivan, showing the audience that Ivan was the corpse at the beginning. Whoa! The first scene from the movie replays … except there's no corpse because Ivan is a figment of Reznik's imagination. As Harry Benshoff explains, Ivan is "the return of Trevor's repressed guilt."

Guilt about what? Well, it's displayed via flashback that Maria and Nicholas are also hallucinations. In reality, little Nicholas was a kid that Reznik killed in a hit-and-run accident a year ago, explaining Reznik's insomnia. Trevor finally confesses, and hopefully gets the rest he so direly needs.

Friday the 13th

If there's one lesson that Scream taught the world, it's that if you ever get a weird prank call asking who the killer was in Friday the 13th, don't say Jason. That hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding zombie didn't start slashing teenagers until later on.

The original Friday the 13th follows a crew of young camp counselors reopening Camp Crystal Lake decades after a young boy drowned there in 1957. Old Crazy Ralph warns them that Crystal Lake's "got a death curse," and sure enough, the counselors get murdered, one-by-one, by an unseen assailant. Meanwhile, along comes this kindly old lady named Pamela Voorhees. Pamela seems horrified by the murders, but then lets loose that she was the mother of the aforementioned drowned boy — "Jason was my son, and today is his birthday" — before she pulls out a knife. Ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma, indeed.

Friday the 13th then stabs audiences in the gut again with Twist Dos. After surviving the carnage, heroine Alice wakes up on a boat in Crystal Lake. Police wave from the distance. Happy ending music blares from the sky. Everything's good! 

Wrong. The rotting, decomposed, but still-very-alive Jason Voorhees lunges from the water and drags her under. She survives, and while the police don't see anything, the audience knows that Jason is definitely out there. No one knew back then that he'd someday get rocketed to space in a wacko movie like Jason X, but the universe has many surprises.


Frailty starts out disturbing, and only get worse as it goes along. The film at first depicts religious fanaticism with painful realism, as a father played by Bill Paxton conditions his impressionable young sons into a murderous life of killing demons — i.e., people "disguised" as demons — on the supposed marching orders of God. Younger brother Adam believes everything Dad tells him, while big bro Fenton goes along out of fear but tries to stop the murders. The audience is only protected from these horrors because the story is told in flashback, as an adult Fenton played by Matthew McConaughey dictates the story to FBI Agent Doyle. According to Fenton, his little brother Adam grew up to become the "God's Hand" serial killer but is now dead.

Suddenly, Frailty switches gears and punches viewers in the face with two major twists that unveil a totally different movie. First, we find out that McConaughey's older Fenton is actually Adam, the younger brother … and he's just as devoted to demon killing as ever. He tells Agent Doyle that he's already killed the real Fenton. This is uncomfortable enough. But then, the movie reveals that dear old Dad's religious craziness was, in the context of the film,100 percent true. Which means that, yes, their Dad was ordered by God to kill demons disguised as humans. In fact, Agent Doyle is also a demon. So Adam kills him.

Happy ending? Hard to say, but it's definitely uncomfortable.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

What, you thought every movie with a double-twist had to be dark and disturbing? Nah. Spider-Man: Homecoming might be a bright, colorful superhero movie, but it still has some fantastic twists hidden up its webbed sleeve.

For the five people who haven't seen Homecoming, it's about a kid named Peter Parker trying to break free from his everyday life and be a big-time superhero — hopefully even an Avenger. Throughout the film, Peter's two lives seem completely separate. While Peter contends with adolescent social anxieties, Spider-Man tries to take down a high-tech supervillain, the Vulture. In his teenage life, Peter is elated when his longtime crush, Liz, agrees to be his Homecoming date. He goes to her house to pick her up for the dance, Liz's dad answers the door with a big grin, and then…

BOOM. Liz's dad is the Vulture. As explained by GQ, this shocking twist is so ingeniously layered through the film that once the audience picks up their jaws from the floor, it makes complete sense. It cements the movie's core theme: that both Spider-Man and the Vulture are regular people, well below the scope of the Avengers, trying to get by the best they can. 

This leads right to the film's second major twist. After defeating Vulture, Tony Stark finally offers Peter the prize he's sought the entire film: official Avengers membership. Against all expectations, Peter turns it down, electing to remain a small-time, "friendly neighborhood" superhero instead.


Now we go back to being dark and disturbing, once again thanks to Christopher Nolan's mysterious magic. Surprised? Didn't think so.

Memento is a movie told backward, from the last scene to the first. It's about an anterograde amnesiac, Leonard, who loses his memory every few minutes. Leonard is tracking down a mystery man named "John G.," who raped and killed Leonard's wife. Anytime Leonard gains any information about John G. — such as the murderer's license plate number — he tattoos it on his own body. He photographs people, writing little notes on these photos so he remembers if/how they're important to his mission. His main associate is Teddy, whose photo is captioned "Don't believe his lies." Since the movie's first/"last" scene shows Leonard shooting Teddy dead, it at first seems like he's John G.

Never trust the guy with no memory.

At the end/"beginning" of the film, Teddy tells Leonard that his wife survived John G.'s invasion. Leonard is the one who really killed her. His amnesia caused him to dose her up on too much insulin. Teddy then explains that Leonard killed the real John G. over a year ago, but since it's a common name — Teddy's actually a John G., too — Leonard cyclically kills more and more Johns. Furious and desperate, Leonard gets revenge by tattooing Teddy's license plate number on his body. Which means Teddy's murder at the beginning wasn't an accident: Leonard consciously tricked his own amnesia to ensure Teddy's death. 

Angel Heart

Sometimes, you think you're watching a cool, edgy detective movie. Then some dicey stuff happens, demons start poking up their pitchforks, and you find out you've been tricked into watching what's really a horror movie. Hope you brought your favorite stiff drink, because man, are you gonna need it — unless you want nightmares.

Angel Heart, a fantastic 1987 movie that seems like noir until it isn't, is about private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) getting hired by wealthy weirdo Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to locate an old crooner named Johnny Favorite, who's in debt to Cyphre. As Angel follows Johnny Favorite's tracks, disturbing incidents keeps happening … namely, everyone he talks to gets murdered in obscenely violent ways. Seriously, this movie could teach Doom a thing or two about gore.

Anyway, Angel's quest for the old crooner ends up being a major bummer when he discovers that not only is he an amnesiac Johnny Favorite, but he's also the one who's been killing everybody this whole time. But it gets worse, because it turns out that the reason Favorite became "Harry Angel" was due to a satanic ritual. Louis Cyphre is the Devil (get it?), and the debt that Favorite owes Satan isn't money, scratch tickets, or a nice home-cooked meal — it's his soul.


Arrival might be the first movie to dive deep into the biggest question about any real-life alien invasion: How would we communicate?

Louise (Amy Adams) is an expert linguist who works alongside a mathematician, Ian, to decode the alien language. Louise seems haunted by past traumas, as flashbacks show that she's a divorcée who lost her daughter Hannah to incurable illness. Louise slowly translates the alien language, but progress halts when, upon being asked why they came, the aliens respond with either "offer tool" or "offer weapon."

The word "weapon" sets world governments ablaze, and global collapse looks imminent. Louise boards the alien ship in a last-ditch effort to save the planet, and she finds out the "tool" the aliens are offering is their language, which exists outside of linear time and which will release human beings from linear time as well. The aliens are giving this gift so humans can come to their aid in 3,000 years. Louise saves the world, at which point Arrival peels back its final twist: All those flashbacks to Louise's daughter are actually flash-forwards, premonitions of events that will occur in the future. Because of learning the alien language, Louise no longer experiences time in a linear fashion, meaning she chooses to begin a relationship with Ian despite knowing that their daughter will die and that he will divorce her. It's an ending both tragic and hopeful, and one of the best double-twists ever.