8 "Great" Movies You Actually Only Remember For The Plot Twist

How much of Shutter Island can you even really recall?

Shutter Island
Paramount Pictures

Audiences love plot twists - so much so, in fact, that they often end up giving a movie way more credit than it actually deserves if it culminates on a crazy or unpredictable twist. After all, it's the element they end up thinking about when they leave the theatre; it's the part they'll remember when somebody asks them about the film.

But a truly great film is made up of dozens of great scenes, and a plot twist can often dupe us into forgetting that. Not that it isn't possible to have a great film that also relies on a plot twist; Se7en, Fight Club and Oldboy are all films made endlessly rewatchable because they don't need their associated twists to be awesome - they're made up of one great scene after another, regardless of the final denouement.

There are some "great" films, however (and, yes, notice the quotation marks), that lack the relentless brilliance of the aforementioned films because they are so very reliant on their plot twists. In retrospect, these twists are likely to be the one aspect you remember about each film, whilst the rest of the narrative lingers hazily in your mind as an unfamiliar blur of forgettable, somewhat interchangeable scenes.

You have to ask yourself: how great can a film be if all you can really remember about it a few months later is its plot twist?

8. Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island
Paramount Pictures

What People Remember About The Movie: "Well, it starts off on a boat, doesn't it? Then they meet Ben Kingsley, who's the bad guy. Or the good guy, I don't recall. Then some seriously weird stuff happens in the middle and it turns out Leo is actually a patient at the mental hospital."

There's no denying that Shutter Island is a well-made film, because Martin Scorsese rarely delivers anything else. The problem is that, unlike Scorsese's best pictures, this adaptation lacks both punch and depth and relies squarely on its shocking ending to leave audiences feeling stunned and awed.

You remember bits and pieces of Shutter Island, of course, like the boat scene at the beginning and the ending in the lighthouse; trying to map out the story or track the narrative of the film is more difficult, though. Much of the film is played as a red herring, so watching Leo racing around the island trying to solve the central mystery doesn't wind up being all that memorable because it doesn't mean anything.

The dark, murky aesthetic doesn't help matters, either - it makes differentiating the events of the movie near impossible. Alas, you come away with Shutter Island's big reveal lingering in your mind... and not much else.


Sam Hill is an ardent cinephile and has been writing about film professionally since 2008. He harbours a particular fondness for western and sci-fi movies.