Content Warning: The following article contains spoilers.One of the most thrilling sensations of seeing a movie for the first time is when it manages to keep you guessing. Films can provide all sorts of surprises, and every once in a while, a movie takes a turn so sharp that it becomes a different genre entirely.
While some films save their twist for the end, the following movies took the approach of shocking the audience in their first or second acts, making what follows all the more thrilling and unpredictable.
Updated on March 20, 2023, by Hannah Saab:
With Oscar-nominated releases like Triangle of Sadness, it’s clear that the cinematic technique of shocking audiences with a midpoint twist that completely changes a film’s genre isn’t going anywhere. When done right, this often unexpected transformation can turn the movie into an award-winning classic that goes down in cinematic history as a creative masterpiece that pushes the limits of filmmaking.
15 ‘Death Proof’ (2007)
Quentin Tarantino‘s half of the double-feature special, Grindhouse follows a group of women who spend their night out drinking, exchanging banter, and avoiding obnoxious men. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious stranger known as Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) has his eyes on them, with the worst of intentions in mind.
Death Proof more or less tells a complete story by its mid-point after brutally killing off its central cast of women, only to reset the table with a new group of ladies for Stuntman Mike to stalk. The difference this time is that the gearhead stalker may have finally met his match, with Mike becoming the victim by the time the film reaches its crowd-pleasing climax.
14 ‘Holy Motors’ (2012)
A mysterious man (Denis Lavant) spends a single night riding around in the back of a limousine full of costumes, attending a series of “appointments.” Each appointment involves the man dressing up as a different character and playing out a scene, blurring the line between fiction and reality.
French director Leos Carax‘s idiosyncratic vision and Lavant’s tour de force performance bring Holy Motors‘ ambitious concept to life in a vibrant fashion. It’s a film that changes genres not only once, but at least six times throughout, ranging from crime thriller to musical, taking its audience on a wild cinematic ride unlike any other.
13 ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)
A meta-horror masterpiece from the 2010s and Drew Goddard‘s directorial debut that surprised everyone, The Cabin in the Woods has a deceptively simple premise – five college friends (played by Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams) take a trip to a remote cabin for a vacation, which soon turns deadly.
The first half of the film plays out like a typical horror movie, with its characters being almost too conventional. A major twist soon reveals its satirical nature, and before audiences know it, they’re thrust into a comedic meta-sci-fi scenario that critiques the genre while also being gut-busting.
12 ‘Audition’ (1999)
After some time, widower Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) finally decides to get back onto the dating scene. When a friend of his, who’s in the movie business, sets up a fake audition to find a woman for Aoyama, he meets the reserved and beautiful Asami (Miyuki Matsuda). They soon spark up a romance and Asami changes Aoyama’s life forever, though not quite in the way he expected.
Anyone unfamiliar with director Takashi Miike‘s work would be forgiven for assuming Audition is merely an awkward rom-com, especially in its relatively tame first half. Eventually, the film erupts into a nightmarish thriller that takes a fascinating look at gender politics and the male gaze.
11 ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ (1996)
Criminal brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) flee for the Mexican border after committing a bank robbery. With a family of hostages in tow, they are unprepared for the supernatural threat that awaits them just over the border.
Possibly the epitome of left turns in film, From Dusk Till Dawn presents its first hour to the audience as a tense and grounded heist thriller. That abruptly comes to an end, however, when Salma Hayek‘s erotic dancer evolves into a reptilian vampire. From there, the film becomes a campy gore-fest, as the main characters fight for their lives over one insane night. The ride remains fun to this day and is easily at the top of the list of movies to show a friend for the first time.
10 ‘Sunshine’ (2007)
Set in a dystopian 2057, director Danny Boyle‘s Sunshine follows a group of astronauts on a risky mission to go to the dying sun. Their task is to reignite it with explosives handled by their physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy). While the first half of the film is a serious sci-fi story that focuses on the crew’s efforts at creating breathable air and maintaining their spaceship, Icarus II, everything changes when they pick up a signal from a missing ship from seven years ago with a similar task.
Little do they know that after they explore Icarus I, a surviving crew member who has become a murderous madman sneaks into their ship. From there, the movie turns into a suspenseful thriller or slasher, as the characters scramble to figure out who’s killing them off one by one while sabotaging the ship.
9 ‘Triangle of Sadness’ (2022)
Directed by Ruben Östlund in his English-language feature film debut, Triangle of Sadness is a genre-busting eat-the-rich instant classic centered on a cruise. Ultra-rich guests (along with two influencers) display all sorts of insensitive and outrageous actions showing how out of touch they are with reality.
After a storm wreaks havoc on the ship and a pirate attack forces the remaining guests to go to a nearby (seemingly deserted) island, the social structures are flipped and only those with survival skills end up on top. While it’s a satirical black comedy all throughout, the first half is more of a comedy-drama before it turns into a disaster-survival flick during the second part.
8 ‘One Cut of the Dead’ (2017)
When a ragtag Japanese film crew attempts to film a low-budget zombie movie in an old facility, things go horribly awry when the possibility of real-life zombies arises.
One Cut of the Dead is a film best watched knowing as little as humanly possible going into it. The first half is comprised of entirely one tracking shot as the film crew attempts to ward off the undead threat. However, when the credits roll about halfway through the film’s runtime, it becomes apparent that the real story is about an actual film crew who made the film we saw in the first half. It’s a jarring but exciting twist that turns the rest of the movie into a fun and comedic love letter to low-budget independent cinema.
7 ‘Hot Fuzz’ (2007)
City cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is transferred to a small cozy town, where things seem a little too perfect in Hot Fuzz. When a series of “accidents” occur, resulting in several deaths, Angel digs further into the town’s unassuming community.
Edgar Wright‘s genre mash-up delights in paying homage to the best 90s action films but doesn’t evolve into a full-blown action epic itself until its latter half. Until then, it’s a mostly comedic murder mystery that, like the town, does a great job of hiding its wild side.
6 ‘Titanic’ (1997)
James Cameron‘s historical epic follows the ill-fated romance between the wealthy and engaged Rose (Kate Winslet) and starving artist Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic. The two fall in love aboard the R.M.S Titanic on its maiden voyage, which, unbeknownst to them, is headed toward a tragic fate.
Titanic is a rare film with the ability to please fans of almost any genre, as its first half is a delightful romance with endearing chemistry between Winslet and DiCaprio, while the latter half is a large-scale blockbuster packed with jaw-dropping visuals. It’s a feat only someone with a deft hand like Cameron could pull off.
5 ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)
Based on Gillian Flynn‘s eponymous 2012 novel, director David Fincher‘s Gone Girl is a critically-acclaimed film centered on the events that transpire after the mysterious disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). All eyes are on her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who acts suspiciously after she’s gone.
A truly jaw-dropping midpoint reveal shows Amy alive and well, having plotted her murder from the start in order to escape their failing marriage. The film starts out as a murder mystery before becoming a full-blown psychological thriller after viewers learn the extent of Amy’s actions.
Stanley Kubrick‘s sprawling and unflinching war epic follows a handful of military recruits during Vietnam, from boot camp to the battlefield. Private Davis (Matthew Modine) and his companions experience the psychological and emotional effects brought on by war as they contemplate their place in it all.
Everyone remembers where they were the first time they saw the turning point in Full Metal Jacket. Just when it seems the entire film is going to take place in boot camp, a foul-mouthed drill sergeant’s berating of one of the privates (Vincent D’Onofrio) culminates in a horrifying fallout. The scene depicts the worst-case mental side effects of the military before any character steps foot onto a battlefield and looms over the more traditional war-epic narrative of the film’s second half.
3 ‘The Prestige’ (2006)
An underrated film from director Christopher Nolan, The Prestige‘s first half revolves around the rivalry between two stage magicians – Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) – who used to be partners up until a tragedy happens during one of their shows. Their feud turns obsessive and dangerous, and they take bigger and bigger risks to stay ahead.
While it seems like a gripping period thriller at first, the arrival of the Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie, no less) signals a critical shift in the movie. It soon incorporates fantasy, mystery, and sci-fi elements that turns it into a genre-bending (and mind-blowing) film with an explosive ending.
2 ‘Psycho’ (1960)
Secretary Marion (Janet Leigh) goes on the run after stealing $40,000 from her boss in Psycho. Exhausted and caught in a rainstorm, Marion pulls into a shady roadside motel. Leave it to the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock to craft one of the most shocking early twists in film history.
Shortly after an unsettling chat with motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Marion goes to her room for a refreshing shower, only to be murdered by what appears to be an elderly woman. Even in today’s jaded climate of moviegoers, the scene still manages to surprise, leaving the audience to adjust as the rest of the film shifts from crime thriller to serial killer mystery.
1 ‘Parasite’ (2019)
The impoverished Kim family gets through each day living in a tiny basement apartment, stealing wi-fi from neighbors. An opportunity arrives however, when Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), son of the family, earns a tutoring job for a wealthy family. This sparks an idea for the rest of the Kim family to systematically earn various jobs around the same household, vicariously living their own life at the top of the food chain.
Director Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite is an Oscar-winning satire that paints a complex commentary on class and wealth in its basic set-up alone. However, the true allegory doesn’t unfold until about halfway through, when a secret room is discovered in the house, pulling the rug out from our central schemers (and the audience). The darkly comic and tragic events that transpire from that point are what elevates the film to modern masterpiece status.
NEXT:Great Films That Subvert Genre Expectations