Truly surprising surprise endings?
November 26, 2008 4:58 AM   Subscribe

The best twist endings in fiction?

I love me some surprise/twist endings - looking for short story, novel, movie, whatever recommendations. Surprise endings that are actually surprising.

I've got the basics covered - Sixth Sense, Crying Game, rosebud, Usual Suspects, Hitchcock TV series, I own everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. Beyond those, what are the twist endings that will make me go "damn!"

Goes without saying ... no spoilers, please!
posted by jbickers to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Well, Fight Club has a touch of a twist, but not the ending.

The Prestige has two twist ending, one of which you can see coming, one of which only makes perfect sense in hindsight. And I mean, all the clues are there. And you won't see it.

Oh, and of course, the call? It was coming from inside the house!
posted by Ghidorah at 5:18 AM on November 26, 2008

Yeah, as Ghidorah alluded to, basically the entirety of the horror movie genre is nothing but twist endings, granted most of them are cheesy and fairly obvious. Some of the better ones include Sleepaway Camp, April Fool's Day, and (the original) Scream.

Apart from that, I'd say just about any of O. Henry's short stories would qualify.
posted by bookwo3107 at 5:36 AM on November 26, 2008

O. Henry's short stories often feature ending surprises. Wikipedia has a twist endings article.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:37 AM on November 26, 2008

Here's Reunion, a really short twist ending story by Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by martinrebas at 5:55 AM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thirding O. Henry, especially Cabbages and Kings. Amazing.
posted by futility closet at 5:59 AM on November 26, 2008

Atonement is a fairly rare example of non-short-story "literary" fiction with a well-integrated (and to me genuinely surprising) twist.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:03 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Any episode of the Twilight Zone would qualify.
posted by susanvance at 6:04 AM on November 26, 2008

Les Diaboliques has a fantastic twist. Even if you hate foreign films, it's worth checking out. (There was a 1996 remake, but as I haven't seen it, I can't say whether it's as good...)
posted by corey flood at 6:04 AM on November 26, 2008

I was surprised at the ending when I first read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. But I was rather young. And obviously now upon reading it I already know, so it's hard for me to say if it's actually a surprise or not.
posted by Grither at 6:11 AM on November 26, 2008

Memento, of course.
posted by yeti at 6:14 AM on November 26, 2008

Both a little dated so you may have already experienced them: the novel Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, and the film The Last Seduction which stars Linda Fiorentino and Bill Pullman.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:26 AM on November 26, 2008

The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:32 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Payment Deferred" by C.S. Forrester is a really fun psychological thriller with a great twist at the end.

In "A Kiss Before Dying" by Ira Levin, the twist starts at the very beginning.
posted by grumblebee at 6:44 AM on November 26, 2008

Most of Roald Dahl's stories for adults would qualify.
posted by peacheater at 6:54 AM on November 26, 2008

Steinbeck's East of Eden has a pretty great twist ending that really yanks you out of denoument mode and makes you weep hot tears.
posted by hermitosis at 6:57 AM on November 26, 2008

Oh! The remake of Diabolique was a black-comedy-esque remake of it. Good still, but not as wonderful as Clouzot's original. I'd say that either are worth checking out though. Isabelle Adjani's completely naked in the first five seconds too, if that does anything to sway your vote.

Also: I'd not look too closely at that Wiki page on twist endings. It's got some spoilers.
posted by bookwo3107 at 7:10 AM on November 26, 2008

Mulholland Drive has a nice twist when you finally figure out how the two parts of the movie connect, although you have to figure out what's going on during the movie - not an easy feat. I enjoyed the ending of Jacob's Ladder too.

I wonder, though, if knowing that a movie has a twist ending dilutes the impact of the twist itself. For instance, I wasn't spoiled by The Sixth Sense, but I knew there was a twist ending, so I pretty much figured out what was going on by the middle of the story. Whereas with Atonement, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. In a good way.
posted by bibliowench at 7:16 AM on November 26, 2008

I kind of thought the last chapter of Life Of Pi was a twist, but that depends on whether you accept the "unreliable narrator" suggestion that gets introduced. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. ....You'll see.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on November 26, 2008

Seconding O Henry, adding Jeffrey Archer's short stories such as A Twist in the Tale and Twelve Red Herrings. Ring Lardner comes to mind too but it's been too long since I read any of his work.
posted by ceri richard at 7:30 AM on November 26, 2008

Stop the Planet of the Apes featuring Troy McClure:

"They were right, I was was earth, all along. You've finally made a monkey (yes youve finally made a monkey) You've finally made a monkey out of MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
posted by ian1977 at 7:32 AM on November 26, 2008

Jody Picoult has a couple of novels with twist endings... My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes. She's sometimes categorized as chick lit, but she's got great character development and interesting storylines.
posted by kimdog at 7:33 AM on November 26, 2008

See also...
posted by dmd at 7:44 AM on November 26, 2008

A scifi classic story: Ackerman, Forrest J. "The Mute Question" (Other Worlds, September 1950).

Worth tracking down. It's in this collection, but may be other places.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:45 AM on November 26, 2008

Fingersmith and Affinity by Sarah Waters.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:06 AM on November 26, 2008

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Phenomenal book, and the "twist" is all the more effective because of Atwood's style.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:19 AM on November 26, 2008

A few suggestions would be The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, or Ubik by Philip K. Dick.
posted by bouvin at 8:44 AM on November 26, 2008

The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien.
posted by scruss at 8:45 AM on November 26, 2008

I was going to suggest The Lottery by Shirley Jackson as well. will NOT see what's coming.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 9:04 AM on November 26, 2008

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant (short story)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee (play)

Brazil by Tom Stoppard, Terry Gilliam, and Charles McKeown (movie)

Dead Again by Scott Frank (movie)

Angel Heart by William Hjortsberg (book) and Alan Parker (screenplay)

Oldboy by Nobuaki Minegishi (comic) and Garon Tsuchiya (movie)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (book and movie)

Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie (play) and Billy Wilder (movie)

The Usual Suspects by Christopher McQuarrie (movie)

Laura by Vera Caspary (novel) and Ring Lardner, Jr. (movie) -- though that's more of a mid-story shock twist, not an end, not unlike--

Psycho by Robert Bloch (book) and Joseph Stefano (movie), which most people don't remember has an amazing twist about thirty minutes in, which was why no one was allowed into the theater after the first thirty minutes. Everyone forgets what the movie is about until it's no longer about that.
posted by tzikeh at 9:48 AM on November 26, 2008

Also Manon of the Spring, but you have to watch Jean de Florette first.
posted by tzikeh at 10:18 AM on November 26, 2008

The Penultimate Truth

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

All by Phillp K. Dick.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 AM on November 26, 2008

For identity surprises, a la Fight Club, see Invisible Monsters and Diary by Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by alice ayres at 10:27 AM on November 26, 2008

"London Fields" by Martin Amis had a surprise ending.
posted by chowflap at 10:46 AM on November 26, 2008

I remember The Westing Game's ending as fairly surprising when I was much younger.
posted by Green With You at 10:56 AM on November 26, 2008

Edward Norton's first film, "Primal Fear" has a wonderful twist at the end. Blew me away.
posted by Spyder's Game at 11:16 AM on November 26, 2008

There's also Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The twist is there, it's kind of evident part way through the book, but the finality of it is pretty breathtaking.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:22 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I didn't see the twist in the last episode of the first season of Dexter coming. My brother sort of did. YMMV.
posted by phaded at 3:55 PM on November 26, 2008

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James remains controversial among literary critics as to whether the twist is in fact a twist.
posted by raider at 4:42 PM on November 26, 2008

a number of mysteries come to mind, particularly (not yet mentioned) Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, and Curtain, plus Jonathan Coe's The Winshaw Legacy, or: What A Carve Up!
posted by dropkick queen at 5:35 PM on November 26, 2008

If you like Dahl's short stories, be sure to check out Saki (H. H. Munro). One of my Dahl anthologies had a blurb comparing the two men, so I picked up an anthology. (It appears most of his stuff is in the public domain though.) Not all of them have a surprise ending, but a lot of them do.
posted by web-goddess at 7:19 PM on November 26, 2008

Dave Eggers's very brief "Should You Lie About Having Read That Book?" has an incredible twist ending that plays on the expectations of twist endings, draws attention to the ease with which he manipulates readers' feelings in the earlier parts of the story, and breaks the fourth wall. A tiny tour-de-force.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:08 PM on November 26, 2008

Eastern Promises. It's one of the best movies of the decade, and not just for the twist.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 11:16 AM on December 1, 2008

« Older West Conshohocken to NYC by train?   |   I can barely hear myself think! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.