What's In the Box: The Most Shocking Twist Endings Ever

From Seven to The Sixth Sense, these are the films that left audiences reeling as the credits rolled.

By Billy Nilles Sep 23, 2020 1:00 AMTags
Related: Brad Pitt, Will Smith & More '90s Rising Stars: E! News Rewind

Ah, the twist ending.

There's nothing like watching a film, thinking you've got the whole thing figured out, only to have the rug pulled out from under you in the final moments with a revelation that nothing has been quite as it seemed. Not by a long shot.

That was the case when Seven, the psychological thriller from director David Fincher, arrived in theaters 25 years ago on Sept. 22, 1995. The film followed detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they tracked down a killer who was drawing inspiration from each of the seven deadly sins as he carried out his string of heinous murders, leaving behind a tableau at each crime scene more depraved than the last. 

By the time the two are able to track down their John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey), the killer has only two sins left. Little did the detectives (or the audience) know, he'd already put a plan into motion that all but guaranteed their completion. Within minutes of arriving in a remote field with Doe, a delivery van approaches, handing off a box to Somerset.

In it? The head of Mills' pregnant wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), killed by Doe out of envy over Mills' life. And the last sin? Wrath, which Doe accurately predicted Mills would carry out on his behalf upon the delivery of the box, turning cop into killer.

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Pretty People, Scary Movies

And like that, one of cinema's all-time great twist endings had done its job. Seven went on to become the seventh-highest-grossing film of 1995, aided by critical acclaim and word of mouth, both enthralled with the haunting finale.

In honor of Seven's 25th anniversary, let's take a look at the company it keeps thanks to its jaw-dropping final reveal. It should go without saying, but beware the spoilers ahead.

Disney +; Shutterstock; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
Planet of the Apes

Audiences were just as stunned as Charlton Heston's George Taylor when the astronaut discovered the remains of the Statue of Liberty on a shoreline in this 1968 sci-fi film and realized that the planet he'd crash-landed on in a distant future was Earth all along.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

All it took were five little words to blow Star Wars fans' minds. Say them with us now: Luke, I am your father. The 1980 sequel to George Lucas' blockbuster film left everyone stunned when, during its climactic battle, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) learned that the evil Darth Vader was, well, you know. 

Orphan

What's worse than the 9-year-old girl you adopted to replace your stillborn child exhibiting some seriously disturbing behavior? Learning that she's really a 33-year-old murderer with a hormonal disorder that caused proportional dwarfism, as poor Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard did in this 2009 horror film.

Primal Fear

Richard Gere's defense attorney is so certain that Edward Norton's stuttering altar boy, accused of brutally murdering a beloved Archbiship, is not guilty of the crime that he spends this entire 1996 legal thriller fighting on his behalf, eventually securing a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. Imagine his surprise—as well as ours—when Norton's character then coolly revealed that the multiple personality disorder was a ruse and he was, indeed, a guilty man.

Saw

Raise your hand if you saw it coming when the Jigsaw Killer in this 2004 horror film was revealed to be the corpse who'd been lying in the middle of the room the whole time. Yeah, us neither. We were just as surprised as Adam (Leigh Wannell, the film's screenwriter) when John Kramer (Tobin Bell), having been alive the entire time, stood up and walked out, leaving Adam there to die.

Psycho

First, Alfred Hitchcock stunned audiences by killing off Janet Leigh's Marion Crane upon her arrival at the motel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) midway through his 1960 masterpiece. Then, he had the nerve to reveal that she hadn't been killed by Norman's mother, as suspected, but by Norman himself. As it turned out, Mother had been dead all along, her corpse withering in the attic, and Norman's identity had splintered after his prior act of matricide.

The Others

This 2001 period piece turned the ghost story on its head when audiences learned that Nicole Kidman's Grace and her children were not the haunted, as they'd believed, but rather the ones doing the haunting. As it turned out, Grace had killed her children before turning the gun on herself, distraught over her husband's presumed death in World War I.

The Village

M. Night Shyamalan has never been able to top himself following The Sixth Sense, but he came close with this 2004 film about a resident of a small and isolated 19th century Pennsylvania village who lived in fear of "Those We Don't Speak Of," humanoid creatures living in the surrounding woods. As it turned out, the film actually takes place in present day and the village was founded in the late 1970s by individuals who'd suffered crime-related deaths of loved ones, each wanting to build a place entirely free of interference from the outside world. And the monsters? Just elders in costumes, scaring the young residents into compliance.

Shutter Island

After watching Leonardo DiCaprio's US Marshal Teddy Daniels track down a killer who's escaped from a psychiatric facility on the titular island, viewers of Martin Scorsese's 2010 adaptation of a 2003 novel of the same name learned that nothing they'd seen was happening quite as they'd been led to believe. Rather, DiCaprio's character was a patient who'd killed his wife and the whole ruse was intended to bring his suppressed memories to the surface.

Scream

Viewers of Wes Craven's 1996 slasher hit watched along with heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) was offed by the Ghostface Killer. So they were just as surprised as she was when he returned, not only alive, but one of the two masterminds responsible for all the murder in the film.

Atonement

After watching Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecelia (Keira Knightley) eventually overcome the heinous false accusation from young Briony (Saoirse Ronan) that had kept them apart and being told they'd lived happily ever after, audiences were stunned to learn that it was all just another of Briony's fictions. The truth? Both Robbie and Ceceila had died in World War II. Oof.

Fight Club

Edward Norton's insomniac narrator and Brad Pitt's anarchistic soap salesman Tyler Durden weren't just close in this 1999 David Fincher film, adapted from a 1996 novel of the same name. As audiences learned in the final moments, they were the same damn person—disassociated personalities sharing the same body. 

The Usual Suspects

In this 1995 neo-noir film, directed by Bryan Singer, audiences watch as Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), a small-time con man with cerebral palsy and one of two survivors of a massacre, unloads a convoluted story about what led his criminal companions to their death and Keyser Söze, the crime lord who controlled them all. It's only at the end, after Kint has posted bail and is leaving the precinct, his limp slowly receding, that the truth becomes clear: Kint is Söze and he made the whole thing up.

The Sixth Sense

After spending the entirety of this 1999 thriller from M. Night Shyamalan watching child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) work with young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) to try and get to the bottom of the boy's ability to see (and communicate with) dead people, viewers learned what they probably should've expected all along: Malcolm himself was dead the whole time.

Seven

After detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) close in on serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who'd been using the seven deadly sins as the inspiration for his crimes, with just two sins left to punish in this 1995 David Fincher film, they discover he's already done. And poor Mills has to find the head of his pregnant wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, in a box.

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