When science fiction movies offer up twists, they can make or break the movie. In 2022, the twist showing the villain in Everything Everywhere All At Once was a great moment. In another 2022 sci-fi movie, Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, the revelation that the moon was a creation built to protect Earth from an alien was mostly dismissed by sci-fi movie fans.
Sci-fi movie history has some amazing twist endings over the years. Those done right cause people to reevaluate the movie, either reconsidering the message it is trying to tell, or reevaluating everything that came before in a new light. Unlike horror, sci-fi movie twists deliver a strong message, and that is what differentiates a forgettable science fiction release from a masterpiece.
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
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The sci-fi movie that stands at the top of the mountain when it comes to twist endings hit in 1968. In Planet of the Apes, an astronaut crash lands on a planet and finds that this place is ruled over by intelligent apes. They capture him and place him in a cage, as all humans on this planet are more animalistic and subservient to the apes.
However, when the astronaut escapes and heads to the beach, he realizes he is home. When he sees the destroyed Statue of Liberty on the beach, the entire movie changes focus. Instead of a film about an alien planet much like his own, this is a movie about a world that was destroyed when humans lost control.
Soylent Green (1973)
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Charlton Heston followed up the sci-fi movie with the most iconic twist in history to a sci-fi movie with possibly the grossest twist. In Soylent Green, Heston is a NYPD police detective in the year 2022. In this year, the world is overpopulated and both a climate catastrophe and pollution have created a worldwide shortage of food. As a result, only the extremely wealthy can afford homes, clean water, and real food.
When the detective begins investigating a murder, he learns the terrible truth. A company makes food for the masses called Soylent Green, but it is made of humans from a euthanasia center, concerted into food. The movie received mixed reviews at the time, but the idea of the government feeding people to themselves is an idea that is pure sci-fi at heart.
Ex Machina (2015)
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Ex Machina was an early Alex Garland sci-fi movie that took an interesting premise. A programmer won a contest to visit the home of the CEO. While there, he learns that the CEO has created artificial life and has a humanoid robot named Ava in his home. When the programmer falls in love with Ava, everything goes wrong.
The twist ending was a shocking one for many fans. The programmer chooses to help Ava escape captivity and go into the world. The problem is she used him, and then left him alone and trapped in the house with no way to escape. The entire movie took the form of a love story between a man and a robot, with the robot proving that no one should trust artificial intelligence.
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Duncan Jones impressed everyone with his low-budget sci-fi movie Moon. The film had a small set and only one person in the main cast, as Sam Rockwell starred as an astronaut on a space station on the moon. He has been serving his time there and is waiting for his chance to return home.
Things change when it looks like he is hallucinating, but then it turns out there are clones of him. The ending changes everything about the movie when it turns out the original astronaut is dead, and only the clones remain so no other human needs to operate the moon station. It is a shocking conclusion that makes one question the importance of humanity at all.
12 Monkeys (1996)
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Bruce Willis starred in 12 Monkeys as a prisoner in a future apocalyptic world that was destroyed by disease. He is offered a chance at freedom if he goes into the past to figure out what caused the virus that wiped out most of the population.
The movie featured this man having nightmares of a murder he witnessed as a child. Once he learned who was really responsible, tries to stop the man but failed. This ends with the revelation that when he was murdered by the police at the end, he died in front of his child-self. It was a circular story perfectly wrapped up.
Dark City (1998)
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Dark City was an Alex Proyas movie from 1998 about a man on the run from the police after they suspect him of murder. An amnesiac, he ends up also fleeing from a mysterious group called the Strangers. This is where he discovers the truth about his world
The shocker is that this is not even on Earth. The Strangers are aliens and the entire movie takes place in deep space, the humans held captive on the ship. This twist plays into the sci-fi concept of prisoners who don’t know they are in prison, all until one of them escapes.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
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The first Star Wars movie was an action adventure with fan-favorite moments. No one could have expected what The Empire Strikes Back planned to do to viewers. It shocked everyone when the movie ended with the heroes soundly losing.
The twist wasn’t just that Han Solo was frozen in carbonite and taken away. It wasn’t that Luke had his hand cut off in a battle with Darth Vader. The huge twist here was that Luke was Vader’s son, and that twist changed the entire Star Wars franchise forever. George Lucas didn’t even tell the cast, making it a huge surprise.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
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Invasion of the Body Snatchers did the impossible. It took a sci-fi classic and ended up better than the original in every conceivable area. The biggest improvement was the cast, with some impressive actors in this remake.
The movie ended with a twist, one that shocked anyone watching it with no previous knowledge of the movie heading in. At the end, when it looked like the aliens had mostly won, and left the heroes fighting in limited numbers, it was worse than that. Viewers followed Matthew outside, looking like he is blending in with the aliens, only to have him scream when he sees Nancy. In perfect sci-fi fashion, no one is safe, and even victims can become monsters.
The Prestige (2006)
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In between making their Batman movies, Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale took a break to make a mind-twisting sci-fi movie called The Prestige. The movie featured two rival magicians played by Bale and Hugh Jackman who fell out when one of their wives died in a magic trick gone wrong.
This entire movie was built on trickery in the conclusion, and it played out great. The first hoax involved one of the magicians using clones of himself in his tricks, to show himself dying only to reveal to the audience he was alive. The second twist in The Prestige came when this magician set the other up to die in prison, only to learn he had a twin he switched off with, so gained revenge in the end. This is still one of Nolan’s best movies.
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Sometimes twist endings in sci-fi movies can be simple. In Watchmen, the world had banned superheroes and made them illegal. However, when someone began killing former heroes, it was up to the world’s former superhero team to figure out what was going on.
The end came when the former leader of the team, Ozymandias, was guilty. However, the biggest twist came when he revealed his master plan like all bad guys do. When his former partner said he would stop him, Ozymandias said he already initiated the plan, and it was too late. He took a trope and turned it on its head, brilliantly, and the bad guy won.
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