10 Great Mid-Film Plot Twists by Screenwriters
Too often when watching a film, especially for those of us who have seen many of them, you can read where the story is going and predict what is going to happen onscreen prematurely.
However, those screenwriters in pursuit of something that will truly stand out may think about throwing in a mid-film plot twist.
An event that will stick with your audience long after the credits are complete. One that the audience would never be able to predict or see coming ahead of time. It could be shocking or controversial.
Some examples could be:
- Kill off a main character
- An insignificant fact becomes vitally important all of a sudden
- A sudden, drastic change in tone or even genre
- A new character is introduced mid-film
- A new fact hidden from the audience suddenly comes to light
This would be different from dividing a film into “Acts” or “Chapters” as those would usually not be considered “plot twists”.
“FULL METAL JACKET” comes to mind as an example of this. A story being told in a definitive two-part algorithm (boot camp vs. the brutality of war).
This is also not the same as a “twist ending”. One where you try to fool the audience or make them want to re watch the movie when it is complete to see what they may have missed the first time. No examples like Bruce Willis being dead the whole time, or Kevin Spacey suddenly walking without his limp.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 examples where it seems like things seem to be going along swimmingly. Your audience is along for the ride, then something interesting or shocking happens to cause them to refocus on what you are saying. It forces further commitment on their part to go with it.
1. The hunters becomes the hunted in PREDATOR
When Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads his commando unit into the jungle depths of Central America, he is told by the CIA the mission is hostage rescue.
The men quickly discover a helicopter with skinned corpses hanging from tall trees.
After destroying an enemy camp, Dutch is told the actual mission was to discover important documents and the men they found were from an earlier rescue attempt.
The Twist: Through the use of thermal imaging, the audience is introduced to the real enemy in the film, the menacing otherworldly trophy hunter.
Gradually, details are given by a captured female soldier and Dutch’s group is told of the living jungle that just came out and grabbed men and removed their skin.
This revelation changes the course of the film’s arc. The soldiers are left to fend for themselves. They must fight off their well-armed, unknown enemy, figure out his motives and fight for their survival.
The film becomes a story of survival rather than just a straight-up sci-fi/action tale.
‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’
2. Devastating blow in MILLION DOLLAR BABY
Persistent waitress and protegé boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) commissions the training prowess of veteran ring man Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood). After her initial dismissal, Maggie proves herself with her tireless work ethic prompting Frankie to take her under his wing.
After preparing Maggie for a tough career through long hours in the gym, Maggie has a successful start to a promising career in boxing including several knockouts. This eventually entitles Maggie to a title shot.
The Twist: After initially dominating the fight, Maggie is struck by an illegal punch between rounds. She falls and breaks her neck on the stool which had been placed in her corner for her to rest her weary, battered body.
Frankie is devastated.
Maggie wrestles with her situation in the hospital. Her family visits and makes the situation worse by asking first about Maggie’s finances rather than her health.
The twist in this film totally comes from nowhere and is a testament to screenwriter Paul Haggis and his brilliant script. The complex emotional issues Maggie and Frankie have to deal with after the tragedy leave the audiences gasping.
The film makes you think about how you would react in the same situation and would you make the same ultimate choice as Frankie does to conclude Maggie’s suffering.
3. Vampires! in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN
Director Robert Rodriguez has had quite the varied career in the now 20+ years he has been making movies. He went from “EL MARIACHI” to this film. Throw in some “SPY KIDS” films and follow those up with “SIN CITY” and “MACHETE”.
Now add writer Quentin Tarantino into the mix and the result is a film which audiences didn’t know what to make of when it was in theaters, but found a huge following after its release on home video.
The genre of the film itself is almost impossible to define:
- Black Comedy
- Crime thriller
- T & A Exploitation film
In South Texas, the Gecko brothers are on the run from the law after knocking off a bank and causing other violent mayhem. The come upon a pastor and his children wandering the landscape on vacation after the pastor has begun to question his faith.
The brothers kidnap the group and force the family to harbor them as fugitives to cross the Mexican border. After successfully making their cross, they stop for refuge at the infamous “Titty Twister” gentlemen’s establishment.
The Twist: In one of the most extreme mid-film plot twists of all time, several of the strippers and employees turn out to be creatures of the night.
Extreme raucous chaos erupts in a “balls-to-the-wall” escapade that has to be seen to be believed. Many gruesome deaths come quickly and there are not many left standing.
One Gecko brother is forced to murder the other, and the family has to resort to extreme measures to progress to their ultimate climax.
The storytelling is unique to no end, which is maybe why audiences didn’t respond with stellar box office results.
Tarantino gave us another round of unforgettable characters who delivered colorful dialogue as they meandered the bloody vampire tale.
4. Shower murder in PSYCHO
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a real estate secretary, decides it would be a god idea to try to make off with $40,000 to help her and her fiance afford to get married.
She leaves town and subsequently checks in to the infamous “Bates Motel’ run by proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). After a short, foreboding conversation she checks into her room to clean up for the night.
Describing the three-minute shower scene in “PSYCHO” would be like trying to explain Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to someone who has been blind since birth.
The scene featured Alfred Hitchcock‘s usual technical perfection including:
- Many quick edits
- Use of close-ups
- Many camera angles
Years later, Janet Leigh was quoted as saying:
‘I stopped taking showers and I take baths, only baths. I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked and I leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.’
Modern day television programs have taken to killing off characters a little too often, so this device has become somewhat cliché; however, if done well this can still deliver a knockout plot twist your audience would remember.
One of the keys is to get the character likable as soon as possible to make the shock more raw and surprising.
5. Secrets are revealed in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Another film difficult to classify in genre, “THE CABIN IN THE WOODS” is unique in the way it slowly reveals the interesting world its characters inhabit. At play are dire consequences which to come to fruition if events do not go as planned.
The initial familiar tale of young hotties venturing out into the wilderness for a getaway filled with food, sex and fun starts out as planned with only a brief interruption with a scene which seems out-of-place.
We get to know the personalities involved at the cabin and try to start to figure out when events start to become uncoupled.
The Twist: Through cleverly written subsequent scenes, scribes Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon introduce us to the elaborate behind-the-scenes team of employees who painstakingly calculate events to occur precisely as planned to ensure humanities continued existence. One of several plot twists.
A few of the survivors of the cabin make it below to the inner-workings area only to discover a cornucopia of delicious baddies which had to be just wonderful for some effects department to create.
What makes this twist so successful is it completely reinvents the genre of teenager, rompy, cabin films almost to the point where every subsequent venture would be compared to this one.
A novel idea for your screenplay would be to play with the idea of taking a formula which audiences have seen many times before and try to do something completely new with it.
6. John Doe surrenders himself in SE7EN
Nearing retirement, veteran police detective, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is coupled, with newly forged partner, David Mills (Brad Pitt), to investigate a series of brutal murders.
In this case, the mysterious, patient, calculating killer has taken the Seven Deadly Sins as inspiration and has chosen his victims carefully to illustrate his point.
After coming close to apprehending him in a long foot chase, Mills finds himself looking down the wrong end of a gun, only to be given remission.
The perverted world of the killer becomes clear when his apartment is ransacked; however the detectives are no closer to stopping him.
The Twist: Blood-soaked madman “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) enters the police station beckoning for Mills and turns himself in.
The film is now controlled by Doe.
The police have to decide if they will let Doe lead them to more undiscovered victims under his terms. If not, Doe would plead insanity and surely not go to jail due to the graphic, insidious nature of the crimes.
Brad Pitt’s face at the end of the film says it all. His intense emotion as he wrestles with blinding anguish and villainous rage is his “SOPHIE’S CHOICE” moment.
Writer Andrew Kevin Walker’s use of this plot twist stole the narrative’s trajectory and never let go.
‘What’s in the box?’
7.Waking up in HOSTEL
Two college students backpacking across Europe in search of adventure meet an unusual young man who shows them a multitude of naked young women in various sexual forays.
This convinces the two men to forego the usual tourist drab and take a chance on some “real” fun in Slovakia along with their new Icelandic chum tagging along.
Slovakia has potential as the men become fast friends with some luscious ladies who invite them out for fun.
The Twist: It turns out the Hostel is just a front for an intricate network of constant tourist livestock used by an underground organization called the Elite Hunting Club.
Its wealthy membership can purchase their very own victim to dispense a quick, lengthy or complicated death.
Though not high art by any means, horror fans will appreciate the complex situation Paxton (Jay Hernandez) finds himself in when he awakens and the lengths he has to go in order to survive.
Writer and director Eli Roth has always been known for taking events to their extreme, and “HOSTEL” delivers on that level. The “torture porn” genre was created with this film along with the “SAW” franchise and thrilled audiences with enough variety to keep audiences entertained throughout.
8.Cheating wife? from TRUE LIES
Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has two loves:
- His job as a secret U.S. government agent
- His loving wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Harry’s new mission is to combat the terrorist group, the “Crimson Jihad”, all the while making his wife think he is in the boring computer business. His job is secret to even his wife, who is bored in her marriage and just wants a little excitement.
Harry discovers Helen has been talking to another man behind his back.
The Twist: Using government resources, he surveils the other man and tells him to back off. He also lures Helen into participating in a real-life spy mission of her own.
She meets him in a hotel room not knowing her husband is in control. She is forced into character, dresses provocatively and performs her “mission” duties.
It is an interesting turn for the film to make and may seem a little out-of-place the first time you see the film.
Ultimately, the scene works to deepen the relationship between Helen and Harry and sets up the third act when the narrative pivots back to an action film right after this scene’s conclusion.
Then it’s non-stop action throughout the robust, intense climax.
9.Alex gets arrested in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Dastardly deed doer Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) is the head of his friend posse, the “droogs” in futuristic London.
Every night they go out and cause “ultra violence”, chaos, and terrorize the locals. The “droogs” become increasingly uneasy with the leadership of their pack; however, Alex sees things differently.
One night, after one of their escapades, Alex is incapacitated by one of his own henchmen and left to take the fall for their crimes.
The Twist: Once incarcerated, Alex is processed through the system and is told one of his victims has died, making him a murderer.
The Ludovico technique, a new, experimental, rapid reform treatment is discussed for which Alex is volunteered. He is made to hate everything he once loved including:
- The sight of beautiful women
- Sight of violence and violent images
- The love of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven
‘No. No! NO! Stop it! Stop it, please! I beg you! This is sin! This is sin! This is sin! It’s a sin, it’s a sin, it’s a sin!’
Presumed cured, Alex is released where events come full circle.
Alex’s arrest side-winds the film into an exploration of whether reform of such an individual is truly possible using these extreme, improbable means.
Obviously, director Stanley Kubrick paints the canvas of film and its levels better than anyone; however, the fundamental story is also intriguing through this interesting twist.
The narrative could have just continued along the downward spiral of Alex and his “droogs” without any thought of redemption, but that was the interesting part.
10.The Von Trapps escape to Austria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Young nun student Maria (Julie Andrews) is called upon to become governess to Captain Von Trapp’s (Christopher Plummer) seven precocious children in 1938 Salzburg, Austria.
Though some initial hardship and friction is present with everyone adjusting to new personalities, the children and Maria become fast friends after she schools them in song. They frolic across the countryside together in harmony.
Emotions run high when another woman enters the picture. Maria is confused in her feelings after a confrontation which causes her to leave the family and return to her abbey.
The children miss Maria and come by asking her to return.
Events return to magic when the Captain and Maria are reunited and married sometime later.
The Twist: Although the film is remarkably upbeat throughout, the third act of the film is surprisingly somber.
The Von Trapp family discovers their home has been seized by the Nazis. The Captain is forced to take a job with the German Navy against his wishes.
Refusing, he decides his family must escape after one more performance.
During the performance, the family makes their way out and hides in a cemetery. Although closely pursued by Nazi soldiers, the family has enough wits and allies to make their escape.
The ultimate release ending is never really in doubt. There are several moments of high tension which is why this entry was selected for this list.
The abrupt change in demeanor, tone and whimsy which was in almost every scene of the first half of the film juxtaposes the final scenes well.
The third act of this film shows that even a musical classic can be shunted in a different direction at any moment.
– Struggling with a script or book? Story analysis is what we do, all day, every day… check out our range of services for writers & filmmakers here.