The Rundown: Outstanding Movie Swerves

Above: Two decades ago, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie brought us 'The Usual Suspects'
Above: Two decades ago, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie brought us 'The Usual Suspects'

Warning: there are a whole lot of spoilers ahead, but honestly, if you haven’t seen some of these movies, it’s your own fault for missing out and having this gems ruined by me.

Two decades ago, Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie dropped The Usual Suspects on us and Keyzer Soze has been a part of our world ever since. While not a blockbuster in theatres ($23.3M box office from a $6M budget), the 1995 crime thriller hit us with one of the best swerves in cinematic history.

The second Verbal’s foot starts straightening out as Agent Kujan starts putting it all together was a “Mind = Blown” situation of the first order. Kevin Spacey rightfully took home the Best Supporting Actor statue that year and McQuarrie grabbed an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, which was also all kinds of well deserved.

In the time since its release, this movie has become a cult classic – the movie that inspired millions of rap lyrics, took Spacey’s career to another level and introduced a lot of people to Benecio Del Toro.

Now, in honour of the film’s 20th Anniversary, here are 10 of the best movie swerves of all-time.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Even though I love me some Anna Kendrick and have a serious fondness for Pitch Perfect, her assertion in that flick that you could see the whole “Luke, I am your father” coming is junk. We all felt like Luke when Darth Vader told him the business – “No way! Can’t be true!” – and it remains one of the best “Betcha didn’t see that coming?” moments in movie history.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

M. Night Shyamalan went back to the “hit’em with a twist” well four or five too many times during his time helming major motion pictures, but there is no denying that this one was amazing and caught everyone napping. Even with the whole “I see dead people,” we all sat there watching Bruce Willis try to piece everything together until (screeching car tires) SWERVE! The twists in Unbreakable and The Village were solid too, but this was easily the best of the bunch.

The Crying Game (1992)

When a film starts garnering buzz around its “secret,” it has to be included on a list of this nature. The Crying Game garnered six Academy Award nominations, with Neil Jordan winning for Best Original Screenplay. Jaye Davidson, who played the pivotal character with a secret, earned a Best Supporting Actor nod and deserves credit for embracing and shining in a challenging role.

The Sting (1973)

Putting Butch and Sundance in a caper flick was always bound to be a good idea and while films from the ‘70s don’t necessarily hold up all that great 40 years later, Robert Redford and Paul Newman in a “who’s in on the con?” game was classic and once it ends, everyone pretends they knew all along, but that isn’t true. They got us, just like they got Doyle Lonnegan.

Psycho (1960)

Here’s how you know this swerve stands the test of time: even though everyone knows how this story goes by now (and if you don’t, where have you been?) A&E has been able to turn it into a very good television series featuring Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates and Freddie Highmore as her son, Norman.

Primal Fear (1996)

Based on William Diehl’s novel of the same name, this one caught people off guard and immediately launched Edward Norton into the “This guy is good!” conversation as one of the best actors of his generation. The moment when lawyer frail, scared, stuttering Aaron Stampler morphs into tough, confident Roy in his cell gave us all the same reaction Richard Gere’s character, Martin Vail, had. This was a terrific out-of-nowhere twist and a very underrated movie.

Basic (2003)

This was the movie equivalent of a Shell Game where you had to follow the little red ball. There were so many moving parts and conflicting stories that you got twisted and turned and brought back around until – POW! Everything gets laid out for you and it all makes sense and it was pretty smooth how they did it.

The Life of David Gale (2003)

Another strong Kevin Spacey performance, this time as an advocate against capital punishment who is on death row having been convicted of the rape and murder of a fellow advocate. It twists and turns and leaves you caught off guard in the way good movies with swerves often do and yet again, Spacey is great.

The Game (1997)

Love this movie! Michael Douglas and Sean Penn star in this elaborate “What the hell is happening here?” flick that blurs the lines between what is real and what is part of the titular game. While it didn’t do as well as director David Fincher’s previous offering, Se7en, it has built a solid rep since exiting theatres and is an outstanding addition to a list like this.

The Prestige (2006)

When you’re talking about movies with surprises and twists and the like, you have to include a movie about magicians trying to one-up the other that ends with a swerve. Starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman and directed by Christopher Nolan, this was the better of the two magician movies of 2006 (the other was The Illusionist) and definitely fits in this group for leaving you surprised.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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