Plot twists change everything we think we know about a movie. They’re best served unexpected, with viewers not realizing the puzzle was missing a small but important piece all along. And as if horror movies weren’t unpredictable enough, a plot twist—especially one that isn’t revealed until the end—hits you like a ton of bricks.
What’s in a Plot Twist?
Plot twists are best introduced around the climax of a movie, right after it’s already established a narrative. If you weren’t expecting a change in the direction of the film, like who Tyler Durden really was in the Fight Club, the plot twist has done its first job: to shock.
After the big reveal, the story starts to make a lot more sense. The plot twist has fulfilled its second task of providing the context you didn’t know you needed. I remember the eureka moment of watching The Prestige, when we finally find out the magician’s secret. As with many movies with plot twists, it made me say, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?”
Due to the mysterious nature of horror, the genre is the perfect home for plot twists. Effective ones are those that we didn’t expect to come—not so difficult when horror fans don’t expect rational or scientific explanations.
If you’re not quite sick of horror movies like I am, add these titles to your spooky season watchlist—and prepare to be surprised. Needless to say, this list is full of spoilers, so read at your own risk!
Our Top Picks for Horror Movies With Plot Twists
The Sixth Sense (1999)
“I see dead people.”
A young Haley Joel Osment explaining his ability should have been our first clue to the plot twist, but we only see what we want to see. Perhaps it was also because The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan’s first big feature film that we didn’t expect a surprise ending in the critically acclaimed horror movie.
In case you haven’t seen it, The Sixth Sense tells the story of psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who helps Cole (Osment) improve his social skills. At school, he is bullied for being odd but to nobody’s knowledge, what sets him apart is his ability to see ghosts.
Malcolm convinces Cole to communicate with the dead so he can help them find peace. But here’s the plot twist: Malcolm is one of the dead people that Cole sees and he doesn’t know it.
Malcolm being dead all along added so much more context to his strained relationship with his wife. She was mourning him, not pulling away from him, and he needed to find a way to give her closure. I saw the movie a decade after its release but the shock the plot delivers is all the same.
The Others (2001)
A haunted house is perhaps one of the most overused horror movie tropes, but The Others puts a spin into it that made it fresh. First off, the gothic supernatural flick starring Nicole Kidman is a period piece. Set after the events of World War II, The Others centers around a family living in a remote country house.
Strange things happen around the old house and Grace (Kidman) fears for her family’s safety. The family hears footsteps, the piano playing by itself, and unknown voices. They also see “others” walking around the various rooms of their big home, which prompts Grace to call a priest to bless their home.
It seems like your formulaic haunted house horror movie, but the plot twist sets it apart from the rest. Grace and her family are dead. The others they see are the living residents of the country house, and they are the ghosts haunting it.
Although it’s another ‘they’ve been dead all along’ scenario, The Others is an effective and stylistic horror movie deserving of the praise it received.
El Orfanato (2007)
The Spanish horror film that is co-directed by Guillermo del Toro is about a family who recently moved into an orphanage. Laura, the mother, once lived in it before getting adopted. The couple and their adoptive son, Simón, planned to reopen the orphanage. But on the day of the opening, Simón goes missing.
The couple and the authorities search high and low but Simòn is nowhere to be found. The disappearance strains their relationship and Carlos, Laura’s husband, leaves. Alone in the big house, Laura begins to see and hear things, believing that Simón is still in there somewhere.
Earlier in the film, Simón tells his mother that he sees strange people in the house. On the day of the opening, he follows a boy—a ghost who used to live in the orphanage—unknowingly into a secret room of the house.
Here’s the plot twist: Laura, unaware that the secret room existed, accidentally blocks its entrance. The strange sounds she heard were the cries of her son and his attempts to escape the room. Simón has been in the house all along and Laura caused his death.
El Orfanato is equal parts spine-chilling and devastating. Although there are ghosts and atmospheric tension that make it a respectable entry of the genre, to me what makes it a real horror movie is the plot twist.
Goodnight Mommy (2014)
You may have seen trailers for the 2022 remake of this Austrian horror movie, but do yourself a favor and watch the original instead.
As far as horror remakes go, the American version isn’t bad at all. It’s just that the original Goodnight Mommy is a lot eerier. There aren’t big changes to the plot, however, as both are about a set of twins who suspect their mother isn’t who she says she is.
What makes Elias and Lukas skeptical about their mother’s identity is the extensive cosmetic surgery covering her head in bandages. More than the changes she has done to her face, though, their unnamed mother seems to have had a complete change in personality. She is cruel and negligent of the boys, more so towards Elias, far from the loving mother they remember.
The boys plot to get her to admit she isn’t their mother by tying her to the bed. Their quest for truth turns into disturbing torture, which leads to the big plot twist reveal of the horror movie. The woman is their mother but Lukas is only a figment of Elias’ imagination—his twin died in the same accident that required their mother to get reconstructive surgery.
The original Goodnight Mommy is far more graphic than the remake. The mother is also harsher to the kids, which makes their skepticism over her identity more believable.
Finally, the plot twist that changed all plot twist endings in horror movies for me is the one that Jordan Peele’s Us revealed. There are no ghosts but an elaborate conspiracy that’s enough to get anyone to sleep with the lights on.
Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide, the matriarch of a Black family who goes on vacation. At the very beginning, it’s clear that there’s something unusual about Addy—she’s paranoid, a bit awkward, and has a crazy look in her eyes.
The explanation is traced back to her childhood. They’re vacationing in the same town she was briefly abducted in by a little girl who looked exactly like her. She has a right to be wary.
On the night they arrive, they’re disrupted by a family standing in their driveway. The frightening thing is, they’re not your average home invaders. The family looked exactly like them. This is when Us turns into your average holiday scary flick into a conspiracy horror movie.
After a lot of thrilling chases and some very violent deaths, the two Adelaides reach a confrontation. Red, her underground version, explains that they were part of an abandoned cloning program by the government. Only the clones somehow survived on a diet of rabbits and led an uprising. Now they want to overtake the world above.
The big plot twist is that the Addy that was abducted as a child isn’t the same Addy that returned. The original Red switched places with her and has been living her normal life aboveground ever since, which explains why she isn’t as well-adjusted as the rest of her family.
In retrospect, the plot twist seems so obvious, but Jordan Peele’s films taught us not to make any assumptions. That’s the thing about effective plot twists in horror movies—they always catch us off guard with satisfying reveals.