April Fool’s cinema – twists and surprises that shocked (or made us groan)

Adam Fresco guides you through a Top Ten History of Hollywood hokum, from “twists” so tortured you spotted them in the trailer to shocks and surprises so cool they entered popular culture. It’s not just annoying kids and work colleagues who try to prank, trick and fool us.

Movies love to try and upend audiences with a surprise twist. But for every “I am your father”, there’s a “and then I woke up” or “WTF?!” ending that works about as subtly as some joker taping a “Kick Me” sign to your back.

Like April Fool’s Day pranksters the world over, some films may think they’re big and clever, but you probably guessed their so-called twists from their trailer. Here’s our (mostly) spoiler-free Top Ten, from the films that fooled us and schooled us, to the ones that made us groan, leave the cinema and go home.

10. Run! It’s a freakin’ train!

Cinema’s been in the gotcha game ever since the first cameras rolled. Even if you’ve not seen Georges Méliès 1902 A Trip to the Moon—which you can enjoy online in all its glorious 15 minutes of trick photography, with modern music added by The Billi Brass Quintet—you more than likely know the imagery from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), or The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1996 music video Tonight, Tonight:

But first to trick audiences en masse were The Lumière Brothers with their 50-second, silent, monochrome movie masterclass, The Arrival of a Train at Le Ciotat Station:

First screened in 1896, the sight of a train charging towards the screen entered urban legend, scaring the pants off spectators, who allegedly panicked and fled the oncoming locomotive. Heck, it’s a movie so cool it even spawned this remake by Real3House Productions, a mere 116 years later in 2012:

9. Who’s Your Daddy?

The problem with people (critics included) praising or panning a movie’s twist is that it gives away the fact there’s a damn twist! So, SPOILER WARNING, do not do what this guy did in the US town of Springfield when he first saw 1980 Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back:

D’oh! Anyway, now Homer’s spoiled the twist, you can relive it over and over again, right here:

Where to watch

8. Who’s Keyzer Soze?

Are we allowed to mention director, Bryan Singer anymore? Or Kevin Spacey? Only this particular K.S. starred in two of the best WTF, gotcha-good moments in modern movies. No spoilers here, just a strong April Fool’s contender in asking, just who the hell is Keyser Soze anyway?

Where to watch

Penned by Christopher McQuarrie (who’s gone on of late to write and direct two smash hit Mission: Impossible movies), The Usual Suspects is a 1995 thriller gem, from the same year as our next entry in the April Fool’s Day countdown.

SE7VEN. What’s in the box?

Where to watch

Also released in 1995 and starring Kevin Spacey, Se7en made the Seven Deadly Sins even deadlier, in this rain-soaked, neo-noir thriller from David Fincher, the director of great gotcha movies, including 1997 classic The Game, and this one from 1999 that we’re not allowed to talk about, because, you know, them’s the rules:

6. The Sixth Sense

Where to watch

Whether you guessed the secret from the trailer, or had it spoiled by a mouthy mate (yeah, Dave, so called school “friend”—I’m talking about you!), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan made Fool’s of us all with his 1999 release, The Sixth Sense.

Following it with my favourite superhero movie, Unbreakable (2000), the pretty good Signs (2002), the arguably horrible The Village (2004), and the definitely drippy Lady In The Water (2006), the horrible The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013), Shyamalan hit paydirt again with Split (2016) and its bonkers sequel, Glass (2019). But none ever really captured the cinema-going zeitgeist like The Sixth Sense… despite that damn trailer!

5. Mist Opportunities

Stephen King… Get your screen version of the master author’s novels wrong and you might just end up with The Dark Tower (2017), King’s self-directed debacle Maximum Overdrive (1986), or, heaven help us, Dreamcatcher—supernatural, sci-fi, Jaws-in-a-toilet anyone?

But, get King right and you might just be Frank Darabont, writer/director of three of the very best Stephen King movie adaptations—The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Green Mile (1999), and the sensational The Mist (2007). A movie with an ending so good, Stephen King apparently told Darabont he wished he’d thought of it…

Where to watch

4. Going Ape

There are good twists, great twists, and then there’s Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of 1968 classic Planet of The Apes:

This one’s about as funny as your flatmate (yes, you again, Dave!) putting plastic wrap over the toilet seat every April 1st. It’s not big. It’s not clever. It’s very messy and it stinks.

3. I Want My Mummy!

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) had a Biblical twist, Universal’s Tom Cruise stinker of the same year, The Mummy, was just twisted, but the joint April Fool’s/Mother’s Day win of the century has to go to 2016s Martha-lous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. How it should have ended? At the opening credits…

Where to watch

2. Seeing Double

When it comes to doubling, Christopher Nolan takes both cakes. Throughout Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), and Interstellar (2014), Nolan loves taking audiences down the twisting corridors of double identity, yin and yang, and cosmic duality. I mean, this is serious stuff, not to be ridiculed, okay? I mean, 2010s Inception is so cool. It’s like a dream within a dream, a taco within a taco…

1. It Was All A Dream…

C’mon! You can’t end a movie with “And then I woke up”! Seriously? I watched six seasons of Lost on TV for that?! Still for every Jacob’s Ladder (1990 and 2019’s awful remake), Jim Carrey in The Number 23 (2007), or Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky (2001), there’s always the ultimate dream, adapted into three silent movies, sequels, musicals, animations, spin-offs, a 3D conversion and the first Technicolor spin on the twist, with 1939s classic, The Wizard of Oz:

Where to watch


Love short movies? Try these April Fool’s delights! They’re good—no kidding.

How They Get There – director Spike Jonze’s 2-minute, 2006 delight:

From Greg Glienna, creator of Meet the Parents, 3-and-a-half-minutes of Fools stuck in The Elevator (2010):

And finally, my favourite short, Canadian animator Richard Condie’s 9-minute twisted and foolish delight, The Big Snit (1985):

Oh, and Dave? The joke’s on YOU! This year I super-glued the TV remote so all you can watch is Shortland Street on an endless loop!