It’s not just M. Night Shyamalan who enjoys giving audiences a twist. Surprise endings date back to Alfred Hitchcock and beyond, including the film that tops the American Film Institute’s list of great movies: Citizen Kane.
With Citizen Kane and its sentimental twist — Rosebud! — celebrating the 75th anniversary of its release (May 1, 1941), we’re taking a look at some of cinema’s most memorable plot twists, from seeing dead people to those damn dirty apes.
Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Citizen Kane (1941)
The rise and fall of imperious, enigmatic media magnate Charles Foster Kane, as told through flashbacks dating back to his tumultuous childhood.
Surprise! His dying word — “Rosebud” — is the object of much speculation among his friends and consorts. In the film’s final shot, it’s revealed to be the name of his childhood sled, a callback to his earliest (and perhaps final) happy memory.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Three astronauts crash on a strange planet where evolution did mankind dirty. Apes rule, and humans are wild beasts.
Surprise! The planet they’ve landed on is Earth. The last of the astronauts stumbles on the ruins of the Statue of Liberty in the film’s closing frames.
Marion Crane is murdered at a rural motel. Her murderer was the mother of aloof motel owner Norman Bates.
Surprise! Bates murdered his mother many years ago. Now he has a split personality. He murdered Crane, dressed up as poor ol’ mum.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
In the second installment of the original Star Wars series, the Empire grows strong under Darth Vader while Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi Knight training.
Surprise! “Luke, I am your father.” – Darth Vader
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Five criminals are brought in for questioning about a crime they didn’t commit. As they tell their stories, a picture is woven of a criminal mastermind called Keyser Soze, but no one is sure who he is.
Surprise! “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), one of the five brought in for questioning, is actually Soze.
Fight Club (1999)
An unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) start a fight club where Regular Joes go to contest bareknuckle donnybrooks. It turns into an anarchist social movement and sweeps across the country before escalating into acts of full-blown terrorism.
Surprise! There is no Tyler Durden. Everything Durden did was actually done by the narrator. He suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Following a home invasion, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) gets back to work by helping a young man who can see dead people.
Surprise! Dr. Crowe is one of those dead people.
Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) is kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years. He’s released and challenged by his captor to figure out why he was imprisoned.
Surprise! The man tormenting him is a former classmate. The woman he’s been sleeping with is his daughter all grown up. It was all an act of petty revenge orchestrated by the classmate. Bummer.
Secret Window (2004)
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) retreats to the countryside to deal with writer’s block and come to terms with his wife’s affair. John Shooter, an author who claims Rainey has plagiarized his work, turns up and frightening things start happening.
Surprise! Shooter is Rainey. But you figured that out one sentence into the plot description.
The Prestige (2006)
Rival magicians in 19th century London compete to create the perfect illusion.
Surprise! How’d they pull off their big illusions? Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) had an identical twin brother. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) was cloning himself with the help of Nikola Tesla (David Bowie, RIP). Not based on a true story.