Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers.
Some movies are so nice that you simply have to watch them twice. But to list them all here would be insane. Instead, we’ve focused our attention on a very specific sort of movie, a movie that has sufficient twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout, which is then resolved through a jaw-dropping reveal that has you questioning everything you just watched, heard and experienced. It’s got to have a mythology so interesting, a secret so compelling, that you can’t help but push play again or immediately buy a ticket for a second showing. And here’s the catch, it’s also got to be that rare example of filmmaking that delivers a totally different perspective upon seeing it a second time now that you know the twist. That’s a tough task.
But it’s something that certain filmmakers have managed to achieve more than most. So you shouldn’t be surprised to see writers/directors like David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, Christopher, and Alfred Hitchcock behind the movies on this list; they’ve kind of made twisty, cerebral, gotta-watch-that-again movies their thing. But there’s plenty of room for up-and-comers and other filmmakers on this list, and there are probably some out there we have yet to experience. Our curated list of the 11 movies that are totally different the second time follow below, with a nod to some honorable mentions.
Here are some of the significantly “twisty” movies, films with surprise reveals, or features with sufficiently head-scratching narratives that almost made the cut: The Matrix*, Se7en*, Inception*, Last Christmas, Get Out*, The Village*, Us, Wreck-It Ralph, The Life of David Gale*, and Split*.
It should go without saying that there are Major Spoilers ahead! Please watch these movies for the first time before reading the following blurbs which will spoil the twists and your enjoyment of the movie before you get to experience it for yourself. And to help you track down these movies, check out Movies Anywhere*. The movie titles marked with an asterisk (*) are not only available on Movies Anywhere, but you also can let your friends and family watch your film without it ever leaving your collection by sending a Screen Pass*!
You knew this one was coming; that can be said for most of the titles on this list. But to leave Fight Club off of it would be a travesty. Fincher’s big-screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk, scripted by Jim Uhls was a cultural (and cult) juggernaut on its own without the reveal of the massive, movie-changing twist. Frat bros and office workers alike love to quote Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden, Meat Loaf’s Robert Paulsen, Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla Singer, and Edward Norton’s … Tyler Durden.
Yeah, there’s the twist. As audiences watched Fincher’s vision, through cinematographer Jim Uhls’ lens, what seemed to be two separate entities in Pitt and Norton’s characters were revealed to be two sides of the same coin, two personas in the same body, conflicting philosophies hurriedly rushing towards the same conclusion. The final “fight” between the two–and the realization of their ultimate plan, which is still an all-time great idea–had audiences reeling. It’s exactly the kind of moment that made us want to watch Fight Club again from the top immediately. That’s what we’re looking for in this list.
The Sixth Sense*
I mean, c’mon, obviously. Shyamalan basically became associated with “It’s a twist!” for better or worse thanks to this spooky, slow-burn thriller-chiller. It’s one of those movies that loses its shine if you figure out the twist early on, but if you can stay naive until the intended reveal hits, it makes watching it from the beginning all over again a scary delight.
To be fair to Shyamalan and lead Bruce Willis, protagonist Malcolm Crowe isn’t dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense, just an overwhelming majority of it. This original script has often been parodied or played off of for easy jokes that point back to Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear (who sees dead people, by the way), but boy was it a force of nature when it came out in ‘99. Though Shyamalan will show up elsewhere in this list, The Sixth Sense might be his best effort within it because the twist wasn’t just for a twist’s sake, it was a reveal that solidified something that had been in front of our faces the whole time. That’s just brilliant.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone*
Imagine for a moment that you know nothing about Harry Potter. I know, it’s hard, but stick with me here. While J.K. Rowling’s world-famous Wizarding franchise is better known for its magical creations and battle against darkness and evil, people tend to skim over the mystery angle of the stories. In the books, these were some of the best bits; piecing together available clues and racing from page to page to see if you figured it out was a thrilling experience. That’s mostly been captured by the big-screen adaptations, but some of the installments do it better than others.
One of the first Wizards you meet in the first Harry Potter movie is “poor, stuttering Professor Quirrell” (Ian Hart), a diminutive and rather harmless fellow by all appearances. But appearances are built to be deceiving in mysteries, and Quirrell’s peculiar fashion accessory is hiding quite the duplicitous reality indeed, that of the disembodied and long-thought-dead Lord Voldemort. The reveal is a shocking one, if not totally central to the story of Harry’s first exposure to the many wonders of the magical world. Even better is watching the movie from the beginning, pretending you’re an Auror, and keeping a sharper eye on Quirrell’s suspicious behavior. Troll in the dungeon? We’re on to you, professor.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire*
An even better example of twists that make a movie worth watching from the top is this fourth installment in the Harry Potter franchise. All of the supporting villains in the franchise, with the exception of Quirrell, are fairly obvious: Gilderoy Lockhart is bumbling and amoral but relatively harmless, Sirius Black is more dangerous to Harry’s enemies than Harry himself (though Scabbers / Wormtail was a nice surprise; be sure to go back and watch that rat act!), and Dolores Umbridge, the Death Eaters, and Lord Voldemort himself aren’t exactly hiding their villainy. But only Mad-Eye Moody has been able to play both sides of the coin on screen.
It endlessly blows my mind that Brendan Gleeson is essentially performing the way David Tennant would play Barty Crouch Junior playing Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody for nearly the entirety of this film. Every move he makes, every spell he casts, every word of wisdom he imparts on the young students at Hogwarts is actually part of Voldemort’s plan. Let that idea sink in for a moment. Or better yet, queue it up and watch it again! (If it’s a full-franchise rewatch you’re into instead, keep an eye on Snape throughout. This morally gray character walks a fine line throughout the telling and it’s fascinating to see how Snape’s internal struggles slowly simmer over the course of the books and movies. My kingdom for the Snape Cut.)
If we’re talking time-traveling movies that bend the mind and confound the cerebrum, we’ve got to talk 12 Monkeys. Inspired by the short film La Jetée, which should also be watched at least twice, this sci-fi actioner from director Terry Gilliam tackles a global viral pandemic, twisty-turny time-travel, the ill-fated idea of messing with fate, and the head-scratching nature of paradoxes. That’s a lot to take in during one viewing of 12 Monkeys, especially if you’re distracted by Pitt’s wild-eyed but charismatic Jeffrey Goines, who may be the leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys but is ultimately a red herring.
The real reveal has to do with Bruce Willis’ time-traveling James Cole, a man who presumably spent most of his life in the prison system or mental illness asylums. Why? Because not only was he living underground with humankind’s remaining survivors during a time of mass unrest thanks to the virus, he was also plagued with visions of a man’s death by gunshot at an airport. Thanks to time-travel paradoxes, we learn that that man was Cole, and that a young Cole witnessed his own adult self’s death thanks to his future self traveling back in time to put a stop to the viral outbreak … ultimately either causing it to happen or, at the very least, failing to prevent it. It’s a head trip, for sure, but definitely worth at least another watch.
Back to Shyamalan we go for this follow-up to The Sixth Sense. Oddly, this is a superhero movie in disguise. Odder still, it’s the only one that launch a feature film franchise in the Shyamalaniverse. That’s all tied up in a series of twisty reveals that played out over the very patient course of 20 years. And it all started with Bruce Willis’ unbreakable David Dunn.
In the 2000 film, which was never really marketed as a superhero movie and landed smack between the 90s attempts at such films and the early 2000s revival of them, Dunn is introduced as a former quarterback-turned-security guard who survived a train crash without a scratch. Other strange happenings in his life dawn on him–he’s never been sick, he’s exhibited superhuman strength, and can sense “dangerous” people who are about to commit a crime–thanks to the prodding of comic book enthusiast Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), a very fragile man with brittle bone disease. But it turns out that their meeting wasn’t a chance, it was planned by Elijah himself. Now taking on the moniker of Mr. Glass, the brilliant supervillain is revealed to have orchestrated the horrific train crash in the hopes of flushing out someone with superhuman abilities that might compliment his own. Now that you know both Dunn’s true nature and the supervillainy of Elijah, take it again from page one. (And the same can be said for watching Shyamalan’s Split and, to a much lesser extent, Glass.)
We dabbled in the magical with Harry Potter, but for a grittier take on the magician’s trade, we return to Nolan’s filmography. The Prestige, based on Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, was one of two magical mystery movies competing for box office dollars in 2006. This title featured Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival 19th century magicians attempting to out-do each other with increasingly dangerous and death-defying (or not) tricks. Part psychological thriller, part “How did he do that?” magic show, The Prestige dips into science-fiction and the fantastic (with the late David Bowie emphasizing the fantastic as Nikola Tesla, alongside his assistant played by Andy Serkis).
What unfolds in the telling isn’t just a magic trick, it’s a descent into madness as the rival magicians try to one-up each other, ultimately sacrificing everything good and decent in their lives for the sake of the audience’s shock and applause. There is … a lot of death, most of which takes place off-screen, but it’s the reveal of Jackman and Bale’s characters’ true nature and lengths to which they’ll go for a trick that makes The Prestige worth watching again. Just make sure to keep your Borden/Fallon twins straight and keep count of how many Angier clones get sacrificed to Tesla’s duplication machine. Yikes.
Crazy, Stupid, Love*
It’s rare that romantic comedies drop a big twist on you before the movie’s end that actually makes the rest of the movie worth watching again, this time with a different perspective. (And no, we’re not talking about the tragic romances like the ones Nicholas Sparks writes.) Instead, this slightly boundary-pushing romantic dramedy from scribe Dan Fogelman assures you that all will end well, but it’s going to be a bumpy road getting there.
In a setup that’s similar to Will Smith’s rom-com Hitch, Crazy, Stupid, Love centers on Steve Carell’s lovelorn and cuckold husband Cal who seeks the advice of womanizer Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Here’s the twist: Jacob is currently pining for Hannah (Emma Stone) … who is revealed to be Cal’s daughter. That’s a shot you don’t often see in rom-coms and one you definitely won’t see coming. Luckily, Crazy, Stupid, Love allows enough time after that reveal for the characters to grow, change, and accept a reality that maybe isn’t quite what they thought it would be. It’s got some issues, for sure, but watching C,S,L from the beginning again paints it in a whole new light.
Here’s another film that was much maligned when it opened in 2008 and remains a critical punching bag even to this day. But audiences seem to have warmed to it. I admire the heart and the idea at the center of this story from screenwriter Grant Nieporte and director Gabriele Muccino, as well as the emotionally over-loaded acting by Will Smith. It’s a morbid mystery that doesn’t necessarily have a feel-good ending, even if the ultimate net outcome is, based purely on numbers, a positive one.
The rub is this: Ben Thomas (Smith) is haunted by a tragic incident in his past and he’s looking for both a way to make amends and for worthy people who could benefit from his actions. We see the lengths to which Ben goes to make sure his plan is in place and his beneficiaries are decent people. We also see him donate a kidney, his bone marrow, and even his house. Why? Because he’s planning the world’s saddest and most specific suicide so that these people’s lives will be changed for the better by his death. Turns out that a brief and temporary lapse in judgement led to Ben–actually Tim Thomas–crashing his car and killing six people and his own fiancee. The guilt drove him to this mad plan, one in which his heart is in the right place (now safely implanted into the chest of a worthy beneficiary / brief romantic interest named Emily) but his head most definitely isn’t. Either way, knowing Ben / Tim’s reason for his guilt and his ultimate plan will absolutely make you look at Seven Pounds differently the second time through.
Note: Seven Pounds is available on Movies Anywhere, but is not Screen Pass eligible.
Let’s get into a trio of classic horror films to ramp down this list. We had to have an Alfred Hitchcock entry on this list, right? Based on the novel by Robert Bloch and adapted by Joseph Stefano, the original Psycho is still a cultural touchstone for cinephiles and aspiring filmmakers alike. But while the iconic shower scene and mother-son reveal are the most memorable bits of this movie, the deeper mystery and rather wild attempts at uncovering the truth behind Marion Crane’s disappearance and Norman Bates’ part to play in the whole ordeal.
For example, did you remember the reason that Marion (Janet Leigh) ended up at Bates Motel to begin with? Because she was an embezzler on the run from Arizona to California to deliver some ill-gotten games to debt-ridden boyfriend Sam. A chance encounter with motel proprietor Norman (Anthony Perkins), who falls for her, leads to Marion’s death. She’s not the first and won’t be the last. Still, it’s that twist that people remember, the reveal that creepy ol’ Norman murdered his own mother and her lover a decade earlier out of jealousy, and that he’d kept her mummifed body on the property, occasionally taking on her persona to do away with rival romantic interests. Watch it again (and again) to see if you would trust Norman Bates, knowing what you know now.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Okay, the granddaddy of all the WTF reveals has to close out our list here. You know this one, and if you somehow don’t know this one, quit reading now and go watch Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. We’ll wait (we won’t.)
From the very first frames of the original Star Wars, Darth Vader has both haunted the heroes of the franchise and been the most recognizable face of it. One of the reasons for that long-lived fandom is not just the badass design, the incredible power, or the iconic voice, it’s the fact that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, Luke and Leia’s father. That reveal, which must have been a helluva thing to experience in the theaters in 1980, didn’t just change the viewer’s perspective on that movie itself up to that point but also the movie that came before it. Everything that happened in Star Wars now had a wholly different wrinkle to it. That wrinkle was so strong that it inspired a full-on prequel series (and much, much more) to go all-in on the Skywalker Family (for better or worse.) It’s perhaps the best example of a movie moment that completely changed the way we watch the very movie in which it occurred. And it’s the best example with which to end this list!
Note: The Empire Strikes Back is available on Movies Anywhere but is not Screen Pass eligible.
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