The Plot Twist Gamble

Nothing like a sudden turn of the wheel that leaves the audience in disbelief. But what happens when the audience actually disbelieves? Screenwriters are aware of the double edged sword quality of plot twists: they can make a story successful almost by themselves, but can also turn against it if they come off as predictable or implausible.

In some genres (horror, thriller) they have become an expected, almost mandatory device. Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) set the foundations for the use of narrative unreliability in films. And it’s already a great example of a twist that didn’t only aim for shock- it also tried to provide a solid justification for the visual and narrative styles of the film.

Night Shyamalan’s irregular career illustrates both the rewards and the risks of subjecting the story to a plot twist. The recent success of Split may have brought him to a second youth, but for many years, the ‘Shyamalan twists” served more as a burden than a perk, becoming the smoking gun that proves and defines the film’s failure.

So what makes a good plot twist? If Aristotle stated that good art should be both unexpected and inevitable, contemporary screenwriters like William Goldman have pinpointed a reality that Hollywood has exploited well: that a controversial ending may still work effectively if it’s at least satisfying.

Some examples of films with memorable plot twists are:

(1941) The Maltese Falcon

(1958) Vertigo

(1960) Psycho

(1968) Planet of the Apes

(1973) The Sting

(1973) Soylent Green

(1973) The Wicker Man

(1980) The Empire Strikes Back

(1987) Angel Heart

(1992) The Crying Game

(1995) The Usual Suspects

(1995) 12 Monkeys

(1996) Primal Fear

(1999) The Sixth Sense

(1999) Fight Club

(2000) Memento

(2004) Saw

(2006) The Prestige

(2016) Arrival

The Lady Vanishes Script

Year:1938
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Ethel Lina White (Novel), Sidney Gilliat (Screenplay), Frank Launder (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:Hitchcock classic, based on Ethel Lina White's novel "The Wheel Turns". Travellers on a trans-European train are delayed for a night due to bad weather in a small fictional country called Mandrika. The passengers cram into the small village hotel where socialite Iris Henderson meets an old governess called Miss Froy. Shortly after the journey restarts, Miss Froy disappears.
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Suspicion Script

Year:1941
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Anthony Berkeley (Novel), Samson Raphaelson (Screenplay), Joan Harrison (Screenplay), Alma Reville (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:Wealthy, sheltered Joan Fontaine is swept off her feet by charming ne'er-do-well Cary Grant. Though warned that Grant is little more than a fortune-hunter, Fontaine marries him anyway. She remains loyal to her irresponsible husband as he plows his way from one disreputable business scheme to another. Gradually, Fontaine comes to the conclusion that Grant intends to do away with her in order to collect her inheritance...a suspicion confirmed when Grant's likeable business partner Nigel Bruce dies under mysterious circumstances. To his dying day, Hitchcock insisted that he wanted to retain the novelist Francis Iles' original ending, but that the RKO executives intervened. Fontaine won an Academy Award for her work.
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Shadow Of A Doubt Script

Year:1943
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Thornton Wilder (Screenplay), Sally Benson (Screenplay), Alma Reville (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:A bored young woman, a teen living in Santa Rosa, California, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Wright), is frustrated because nothing seems to be happening in her life and that of her family. Then, she receives wonderful news: her uncle (for whom she was named), Charlie Oakley (Cotten), is arriving for a visit. But Uncle Charlie may not be the man he seems to be.
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Spellbound Script

Year:1945
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Ben Hecht (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:When Dr. Anthony Edwardes arrives at a Vermont mental hospital to replace the outgoing hospital director, Dr. Constance Peterson, a psychoanalyst, discovers Edwardes is actually an impostor. The man confesses that the real Dr. Edwardes is dead and fears he may have killed him, but cannot recall anything. Dr. Peterson, however is convinced his impostor is innocent of the man's murder, and joins him on a quest to unravel his amnesia through psychoanalysis.
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Dial M For Murder Script

Year:1954
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Frederick Knott (Author)

Script Synopsis:An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to have his wife murdered after discovering she is having an affair, and assumes she will soon leave him for the other man anyway. When things go wrong, he improvises a new plan - to frame her for murder instead.
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I Confess

Year:1953
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:George Tabori (Writer), William Archibald (Writer)

Script Synopsis:Refusing to give into police investigators' questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.
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Vertigo

Year:1958
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Pierre Boileau (Author), Thomas Narcejac (Author), Alec Coppel (Screenplay), Samuel A. Taylor (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
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To Catch A Thief

Year:1955
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:David Dodge (Author), John Michael Hayes (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:A delightful Hitchcock film about an ex-burglar who must catch a thief who’s been copying this style before he gets accused of the wrong crimes. His time is running out as the police are close behind him yet he finds time for a little romance of course. A classic masterpiece starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.
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Torn Curtain

Year:1966
Director:Alfred Hitchcock
Written by:Brian Moore (Novel), Willis Hall (Screenplay), Keith Waterhouse (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin and then figuring out a plan to escape back to the West.
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