A plot twist can make or break a story. A good plot twist will stick with you and be linked to that body of work forever. Let's count down five of the best.
Obviously spoiler alert for the following;
The Stanley Parable
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Spec Ops: The Line
5. Soylent Green is People – Soylent Green
The now-classic line ‘Soylent Green is people’ rocked audiences back in 1973 when this film first premiered. In the (then) distant year 2022, the world is right down the toilet. Overpopulation, pollution, and an unknown climate catastrophe have led to worldwide shortages of water, housing, and most importantly, food.
The film leads the viewer with small nudges along the way as, with a great sense of unease, we realise all is not right with Soylent Industries, standard evil dystopian corporation number three thousand four hundred and twenty-six.
Generic evil corporation aside, the way the film builds up suspense in relation to what makes up the mysterious food product which is done in such a masterful way that is rarely seen in movies these days.
The reveal at the end of the film is incredibly powerful in a way that stays with you long after the film has ended and is still my go-to answer for most impactful film plot twists.
4. Frederick Chase’s true identity is Professor James Moriarty – Moriarty
Professor James Moriarty is an absolute icon of the Sherlock Holmes seen as the antithesis to Holmes despite only being used by Arthur Conan Doyle to kill off the famous detective and only showing up in two of Doyle’s original stories.
This continuation of the Holmes story The Final Problem follows the investigation of Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones following Holmes and Moriarty’s fight at the falls in Switzerland as it leads them from Switzerland all the way back to America as a new threat emerges to gain control of Moriarty’s crime empire.
Now as I’ve said before I love the twist at the very end of the book where it is revealed that Chase is actually the very much alive Moriarty and has been masterminding from behind the scenes. The twist was unexpected yet as it is explained, it’s done in such a way that made sense and didn’t feel forced.
3. The Insanity Ending – The Stanley Parable (2013 PC)
An incredible dissection of how games hold power over players with nothing more than narration and a series of rooms, The Stanley Parable by Davey Wreden follows the main character, Stanley, and his journey of self-discovery as he breaks free of his employer’s shackles and finds a new life for himself… or at least you do in one of the endings.
You see, The Stanley Parable has branching paths and one of the many, many endings is an even more self-aware fourth wall break as we realise that Stanley has been able to hear the narrator. During this, players are afforded a glimpse into Stanley’s head as he slowly and irrevocably loses his mind through a stream of consciousness narration.
This twist isn’t an overt twist but instead a more subtle twist within the players themselves. The realisation that Stanley can hear the narrator in the game retroactively reinvents the entire underlying subtext of the story that leads players to question themselves and whether their actions are their own or whether they are just along for the ride.
2. The Earth is actually a giant supercomputer – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, easily Douglas Adams’ most famous and recognisable work, follows the plight of Englishman Arthur Dent as he survives the destruction of Earth by Vogons to make way for an intergalactic bypass. Throughout the book, the characters are obsessed with finding the meaning of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything; 42.
On their quest, they are informed that eons ago a super-intelligent race built a supercomputer called Deep Thought that provided the answer of 42. When asked what the question actually was Deep Thought could not calculate what that was and was instructed to create a supercomputer that could determine the question. This was the Earth and was seconds away from fulfilling its purpose when it was destroyed.
I love the absurdity of this twist more than anything. It comes out of nowhere in such a way that I feel only Adams could have pulled off and fits the tone of the book exceptionally well.
Hey, just a heads up here that this next entry talks about some confronting stuff. If you don’t want to see it just click off the list now. Thank you for getting this far and I hope you enjoyed it.
1. Conrad has been dead the entire time – Spec Ops: The Line (2012 PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
‘It seems that reports of my survival have been greatly exaggerated.’
This one line recontextualises and elevates the story of Spec Ops: The Line from the average military shooter to a contemplative and confronting look at the horrors of war.
Spec Ops follows a team of Delta operators lead by Captain Martin Walker as they are called into Dubai to search for survivors following a distress signal sent out by Colonel Konrad after a massive dust storm destroys the city.
As events unfold and the horrors of Dubai are uncovered, Walker marches an ever-descending spiral as any semblance of a buddy buddy warfare in the vein of Battlefield or Call of Duty crumbles along with the state of Walker’s men.
This culminates with the horrific realisation for the player that Konrad has been dead for some time and Walker has used him as a scapegoat to rationalise to himself and his men the atrocities he committed.
Throughout the game, Walker’s actions are called into question by his men as their distrust for him grows. This twist causes the player to reflect on whether they are in control of Walker or if they are just the last vestige of self-awareness as Walker becomes further divorced from reality and is undoubtedly my favourite plot twist of all time.
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