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

Edge of Tomorrow Script

Year:2014
Director:Doug Liman
Written by:Jez Butterworth (Screenplay), Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay), John-Henry Butterworth (Screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Novel)

Script Synopsis:Major Bill Cage is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously demoted and dropped into combat. Cage is killed within minutes, managing to take an alpha alien down with him. He awakens back at the beginning of the same day and is forced to fight and die again... and again - as physical contact with the alien has thrown him into a time loop.
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Jack Reacher Script

Year:2012
Director:Christopher McQuarrie
Written by:Lee Child (Novel), Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:In an innocent heartland city, five are shot dead by an expert sniper. The police quickly identify and arrest the culprit, and build a slam-dunk case. But the accused man claims he's innocent and says "Get Jack Reacher." Reacher himself sees the news report and turns up in the city. The defense is immensely relieved, but Reacher has come to bury the guy. Shocked at the accused's request, Reacher sets out to confirm for himself the absolute certainty of the man's guilt, but comes up with more than he bargained for.
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Jack The Giant Slayer Script

Year:2013
Director:Bryan Singer
Written by:Darren Lemke (Screenplay), Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay), Dan Studney (Screenplay), Darren Lemke (Story), David Dobkin (Story)

Script Synopsis:The story of an ancient war that is reignited when a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants. Unleashed on the Earth for the first time in centuries, the giants strive to reclaim the land they once lost, forcing the young man, Jack into the battle of his life to stop them. Fighting for a kingdom, its people, and the love of a brave princess, he comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend–and gets the chance to become a legend himself.
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The Way of the Gun

Year:2000
Director:Christopher McQuarrie

Script Synopsis:Two petty if violent criminals kidnap a girl being paid $1,000,000 to be a surrogate mother. As the baby is for a gangster the pair's demand for money sees several henchmen and assorted other ruthless characters head after them to Mexico. Bullets rather than talking are always going to settle this one.
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The Usual Suspects

Year:1995
Director:Bryan Singer
Written by:Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:Following a truck hijack in New York, five conmen are arrested and brought together for questioning. As none of them is guilty, they plan a revenge operation against the police. The operation goes well, but then the influence of a legendary mastermind criminal called Keyser Söze is felt. It becomes clear that each one of them has wronged Söze at some point and must pay back now. The payback job leaves 27 men dead in a boat explosion, but the real question arises now: Who actually is Keyser Söze?
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The Tourist

Year:2010
Director:Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written by:Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Screenplay), Julian Fellowes (Screenplay), Jérôme Salle (Original Story), Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:American tourist Frank (Johnny Depp) meets mysterious British woman Elsie (Angelina Jolie) on the train to Venice. Romance seems to bud, but there's more to her than meets the eye. Remake of the 2005 French film "Anthony Zimmer", written and directed by Jérôme Salle.
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Valkyrie

Year:2008
Director:Bryan Singer
Written by:Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay), Nathan Alexander (Screenplay)

Script Synopsis:Wounded in Africa during World War II, Nazi Col. Claus von Stauffenberg returns to his native Germany and joins the Resistance in a daring plan to create a shadow government and assassinate Adolf Hitler. When events unfold so that he becomes a central player, he finds himself tasked with both leading the coup and personally killing the Führer.
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