The 80s were full of movies that went for shocking twists before the end credits. One could say these 80s movie reveals were Sixth Sense-ing it before M. Night Shyamalan was out of school.
Below, the best examples of 80s films with WTF last-minute reveals that will leave you legit shook. And it probably goes without saying, but SPOILER ALERT!
Blade Runner (1982)
Like The Thing, Blade Runner is another classic released during the Summer of 1982 that didn’t find its deserved audience until after it left theaters. Ridley Scott’s slow-burn monument to world building and thematically-driven sci-fi is as technically impressive as it is engaging, especially its final cut and its version’s ending.
The theatrical cut culminated in a studio-mandated happy ending (which was just reused footage from The Shining) where “ex-cop, ex-Blade Runner” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) escapes the rain-drenched and neon-lit confines of 2019 Los Angeles with love interest and Replicant Rachael in tow. But the final cut offers a more ambiguous ending, strongly hinting that Deckard is a Replicant himself before he boards an elevator with Rachael in tow.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The best Star Wars movie ever made, The Empire Strikes Back still delivers an impressive visual feast thanks to ILM’s landmark special effects. It also stunned audiences with its infamous “didn’t-see-that-coming” twist involving Luke Skywalker and the number one cause of death for guys named Captain Needa, Darth Vader.
Luke and Vader engage in a cat-and-mouse lightsaber duel in and throughout Lando’s Cloud City complex. The battle eventually costs Luke his arm and sends our burgeoning Jedi out onto the edge of a rickety platform with nowhere to go but down. Losing that limb seems like a Golden Age compared to the truth bomb Vader drops on young Skywalker. All together now: “No, Luke. I am your father.” *In perfect Yoda voice: Begun this all-time ending has.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford’s effortlessly-entertaining movie classic is full of iconic scenes: That opening sequence with Indiana Jones outrunning a boulder, Indy’s improvised take-down of a swordsman, and that all-in-camera truck chase where Indy climbs over AND under said truck. But, arguably, the film’s most memorable scene is its last.
In a twist that could live in the same zip code as The Twilight Zone, Indy risks literally having his face melted off to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant only for it to end up in the hands of “bureaucratic fools.” Crated, the Ark is wheeled into the crowded confines of a mysterious warehouse, home to other do-not-open mystery boxes. Fans would have to wait 27 years to see the Ark again — in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — and to learn that that warehouse was actually (clutch the pearls) Area 51.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Another underrated adaptation of a Stephen King novel, David Cronenberg’s haunting The Dead Zone is even more timely now, given the country’s tumultuous political climate. Christopher Walken delivers one of his best performances as Johnny, a man who survives a near-fatal accident and comes back with an almost psychic ability to see terrible, end times-level events.
When he crosses paths with Stillson, a charismatic but dubious politician played by the great Martin Sheen, Johnny glimpses the literal apocalypse Stillson’s presidency will bring if he wins the election. Knowing he can’t let that happen, Johnny tries to assassinate Stillson – and dies in the process. But not before glimpsing a future where Stillson’s political career is in ruins. Phew.
The Thing (1982)
While John Carpenter’s fan-favorite horror classic The Thing failed to resonate with audiences at the time, it has achieved much-earned reverie since – especially thanks to its final shots. At an Antarctic research station, after barely surviving an explosion-y encounter with a murderous alien that can assume the form of any person or thing it comes into contact with, MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David) emerge as the research team’s only survivors.
They are left amongst the burning ruins of the facility, breath steaming in the night air, neither one convinced they aren’t The Thing. Paranoid and tired, the two stare each other down – waiting for a rescue that may never come. And audiences are left haunted by the film’s final images, not sure whether or not the owner of the greatest beard in movie history is indeed human.
John Carpenter’s follow-up to The Thing is often forgotten about when it comes to ranking both the filmmaker’s best movies and the best adaptations of Stephen King novels. That’s a shame, because this unsettling, watch-with-the-lights-on horror movie about a teenager battling his very evil, almost sentient car clips along at a confident pace – building up to one hell of a final act.
After the titular murder-vehicle racks up a significant body count, its owner – Dennis (John Stockwell) – lures the car to a garage where he takes a bulldozer to it. Unfortunately, Christine can regenerate herself (because reasons). Dennis pummels Christine to the point where she can’t fix herself. After the car is compacted into a cube at a junkyard, we hold on her front grille – which slowly starts to (twist!) unbend itself.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Blame Return of the Living Dead for introducing audiences to the concept of zombies eating braaaains. Also blame this cult hit for shocking audiences – in a good way — with its one-two punch of an ending genre fans didn’t quite see coming. Louisville, Kentucky is the setting for this addition of “Small Town Folk vs. Zombie Horde.”
Thanks to a supply warehouse home to (what else?) military drums full of a “failed experiment,” a toxic gas leaks into the air and quickly starts resurrecting the dead. An overzealous Colonel Glover (Jonathan Terry) drops a nuclear artillery shell on the area – wiping out both humans and zombies. Glover considers it a victory, oblivious to the fallout of acid rain that causes the dead he just killed to walk the earth once again.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The filmmakers behind this sci-fi classic – the best of the Star Trek movies – pulled a pump-fake on the audience in the film’s opening minutes. They “killed” Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) during a bridge simulator, to quell their much-publicized worries about the demise of their favorite Vulcan. Soon, audiences would find themselves duped in the sequel’s harrowing conclusion.
In order to save his crew from certain death, Spock sacrifices himself by going to the Enterprise’s engine room to help get the crippled ship to warp speed. Admiral Kirk is soon notified of his friend’s Hail Mary and rushes down to engineering. There, he finds his best friend suffering from fatal radiation burns and separated from him by glass. And audiences quickly found themselves reaching for tissues – and then cheering – when the film concludes with a hint that Spock may not be dead after all!
April Fool’s Day (1986)
Thanks to the slasher film boom in the ‘80s, genre fans found lots of blood and gore in April Fool’s Day. “Slaughter” barely covers what transpires, as a group of college students find themselves stalked by a killer on their weekend getaway on a secluded island mansion.
The body count starts early as the killer – a prank-happy girl named “Muffy” — picks off a group friends on the weekend leading up to April 1st. But Muffy didn’t kill anybody, she employed a Hollywood friend in special effects to make it seem like she killed them. Why? The weekend served as a dress rehearsal as Muffy plans to turn the estate into a staged horror show.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Stephen King’s first – and only – feature film as director is one of the guiltiest of guilty pleasures ever made. Based on King’s short story “Trucks”, Maximum Overdrive finds a sweaty Emilo Estevez struggling to lead a band of survivors against a homicidal truck with a giant Green Goblin face for a grill.
The horror zeroes-in on a North Carolina truck stop, where Estevez’s Bill finally destroys the Green Goblin truck with a rocket launcher. Things then take a turn for the surreal as an end titles card tells us that a UFO, linked to the crazy events we just witnessed, was recently destroyed by a Soviet “weather satellite.” Six days later, our planet passes out of the comet’s path and, yup, this movie HAPPENED.
The Vanishing (1988)
Movies with shocker endings don’t get much better than this stirring thriller from the Netherlands. (Skip the 1993 remake starring Jeff Bridges). A Dutch couple, the lovely Rex and Saskia, take a road trip and make a pit stop at a gas station. But when Rex returns from buying drinks, he discovers that Saskia has vanished. Things quickly go to a “not-for-the-faint-of-heart” place as Rex’s search for his partner spans three years.
He eventually encounters her kidnapper, a quiet man named Raymond. Raymond strikes a deal: He’ll tell Rex what happened to Saskia but only if he experiences it himself. One drink of drugged coffee later, Rex awakens buried alive while Raymond relaxes with his family at their country home.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Director Brian De Palma was (no pun intended) just killing it at the start of the decade, with this Hitchcock-ian gender-bender thriller Dressed to Kill. The taunt plot, which centers on a housewife’s murder and the woman who witnessed it, ends with not one but two “gotcha” twists. When Liz, a high-end call girl from New York City played by Nancy Allen, discovers the murdered woman and glimpses her killer, she soon finds herself on the short-list to be the killer’s next victim.
Liz quickly gets caught in the orbit of the deceased’s psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine). And that’s when things take a left turn into crazy, as we learn that Dr. Elliot is also “Bobbi,” the housewife’s cross-dressing killer. That’s twist number one. The second? Bobbi is caught and escapes her mental asylum to murder Liz – only for Liz to wake up screaming from her nightmare.
An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this horror-comedy anymore. (Except for the one director John Landis’ son, Max, will be writing and directing.) Following an epic (and painful) transformation into a werewolf, American tourist David (David Naughton) spends most of the movie prowling the streets of London and feasting on its citizens.
David’s love interest, Alex, finds herself on the trail of his furry supernatural alter ego when London police corner David in an alley. She tries to calm his feral self down, but is too late – police shoot and kill the creature. Alex – in tears — is left with the image of her lover, in his naked human form, lying dead before her.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Best. Jump scare. Ever. The first entry in this popular slasher franchise isn’t the most creatively satisfying or popular among fans – it doesn’t even feature Jason Voorhees in all his hockey mask glory. But it is a gory guilty pleasure with an unforgettable stinger of an ending.
After Jason’s mom amasses quite the body count at Camp Crystal Lake, Final Girl Alice defeats mama Voorhees and escapes in a canoe onto the serene lake. There, she falls asleep – only to be awoken by an attack from a very decomposed Jason! This is why we have to Friday the 13th with our eyes covered.
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, based on the book by horror icon Stephen King, is the type of scary that will give you both night and day terrors. For almost four decades, The Shining has upheld its status as a classic; it’s unsettling right up until its last frame, which offers such a twist that it may literally melt your brain.
Struggling author Jack Torrance (a terrifying Jack Nicholson) agrees to be caretaker to the Overlook Hotel during the freezing winter off-season. He goes “redrum” crazy and terrorizes his wife and son throughout the very haunted hotel. After freezing to death in the Overlook’s hedge maze, Kubrick cuts to a black-and-white picture, from New Year’s 1921, which slowly reveals Jack among the party goers. So Jack might be the reincarnation of a previous guest.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi made a name for himself with his instant cult classic The Evil Dead that introduced audiences to Bruce Campbell’s Deadite-killin’ Ash Williams. (“Groovy.”) This gritty, low-budget supernatural horror movie is near-perfect, concluding its bloody 85 minute run time with a chef’s kiss of a ending.
Ash is literally put through hell, struggling to survive a Deadite onslaught while trapped inside one of the evilest cabin in the woods ever. There, Ash is forced to kill both his girlfriend and sister, thanks to some form of demonic possession. As dawn breaks the next day, Ash makes a run for his car – only to scream in the face of an invisible entity that surprises him before presumably dragging him back into the woods for more hell on earth.
Back to the Future (1985)
“Great Scott!” The best time travel movie ever made, thanks to Robert Zemeckis’ deft direction and his co-writer Bob Gale’s inspired script, is a perfect collection of set-ups and payoffs – right up to the surprise “twist” final scene. Just when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) thinks his Flux Capacitor adventures through time are over, Doc Brown shows up and, well, things get really interesting.
Before Marty knows it, Doc Brown is shoving trash into his DeLorean’s Mr. Fusion and whisking Marty and girlfriend Jennifer into the car for another trip through time. Albeit one that doesn’t require “roads” as the time machine’s four tires invert to allow the car to take flight as it flies into camera at 88 MPH.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
If you haven’t seen one of director Wes Craven’s best and most influential horror movies, you are denying yourself a surprise ending that is both jaw-dropping and a jump scare. For those of you living in a cave or coming out of a three decades-long coma, Nightmare on Elm Street pits sleep-deprived teen Nancy against the slasher killer and cause of her insomnia – Freddy Krueger.
Just when you think she’s going to catch up on sleep and resume a normal high schooler’s life? Nancy realizes she’s still in a nightmare, and the final shot is her mother being yanked inside her house – by way of the front door’s tiny window – by Freddy. Seriously, we wish we could get our first time back for this one.
Blow Out (1981)
Brian De Palma’s underrated and criminally-under-seen thriller Blow Out is an all-timer for the Mission: Impossible director. After B-movie sound mixer Jack Terry (a never-better John Travolta) witnesses a terrible car accident that results in the death of Gov. McRyan, a promising Presidential candidate, he quickly finds foul play was involved. He and Sally (Nancy Allen) – the woman driving with the Governor — team up while bodies pile up, thanks to John Lithgow’s mysterious, sociopathic killer.
Jack has the whole crime recorded and the men behind it will do anything to get the tape. Separated from Sally in a climatic nighttime chase, Jack is too late to save her. He ultimately uses her scream to satisfy the demands of a slasher movie he’s doing the sound mix on, and the film’s final shot is as tragic as it gets. Leave it to De Palma to make a movie where the hero loses, his love interest dies and, in a shocking finale, the bad guys win.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Of course a movie about a mysterious burial ground in some Maine woods that can bring back the dead ends on a very disturbing note. This unsettling adaptation of the Stephen King novel arguably marks the first case of people feeling legit “shook” from a movie.The Creed family, lead by patriarch Louis (Dale Midkiff) suffers a tragedy soon after their move from Chicago to Maine.
Lewis’ son Gage dies, and with the help of a local, Lewis buries his boy in the Pet Sematary and Gage soon comes back to life with horrific results and homicidal intent. Louis is forced to kill the son he resurrected – but only after Gage has killed his mother, Rachel. Like her son before her, Rachel comes back from the dead – mutilated – and is a knife’s edge away from killing her loving husband.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
This ‘80s cult slasher flick has one of the most infamous endings in the history of the genre. For most of Sleepaway Camp’s run time, the movie is a surprisingly bloodless as we follow two teens – the bashful Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tierstan). Once the two are sent off to the titular camp, campers start to die in some truly disturbing ways.
In the final 30 seconds, the movie gets disturbing. We discover that “Angela” is really Peter – the boy from the opening sequence who barely survived a boating accident. The reveal is punctuated by our villain standing naked above a recently-decapitated corpse – their genitals on full display – while making animal noises. As final images go, if there’s anything more gonzo-crazy, we don’t want to know about it.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Everyone remembers Back to the Future Part II for its hoverboards, self-lacing Nike shoes, and the insta Pizza Hutt pizza (obvi). But what is also notable, and should receive more attention, is this sequel’s timey-wimey cliffhanger ending that is almost an inverse of the original film’s final moments.
After a novel and twisty third act that has Marty McFly go back to 1955 again and experiencing the first film’s “Enchantment Under the Sea” Dance from an outside-looking-in perspective, Not a minute after 1955, Doc Brown sends the first movie’s Marty back to the future, Marty shows up again and – surprise! – a paradox is born.
Return to Oz (1985)
This super-dark sequel to the beloved classic royally messed up many a kid, thanks to endless viewings on cable. The Wheelers, with oversized roller skate wheels for feet and hands, still give us nightmares. That’s appropriate, given the “it was all a dream – or was it?!” ending.
Fairuza Balk’s Dorothy returns to Oz to save the fantasy land once again from a nasty threat, this time in the form of the head-switching Mombi (Jean Marsh) and the Nome King. Dorothy’s adventure concludes with her family finding her on a river bank, just in time for Dorothy to see an evil nurse from back home – Mombi’s spitting image – locked in a police buggy and taken away.
Fright Night (1985)
Fact: Fright Night is the best of the ‘80s most underrated horror movies. (The remake isn’t that bad, either.) The only thing better than a small-town teenager teaming up with a has-been TV host of a local block of scary movies in order to take down a vampire in the neighborhood? How they take that suckhead down – and that stinger right before the end credits.
A pre-Herman’s Head‘s William Ragsdale stars as Charley Brewster, a huge fan of old-timely, B-horror movies and the local TV series “Fright Night,” hosted by former (and fictional) vampire hunter Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). After several scary set pieces, the Brewster and Vincent eventually slay Jerry with sunlight. But, lurking in the shadows of Jerry’s former home is another pair of vampiric red eyes – Ed’s. Dun dun duh!
Angel Heart (1987)
Yes, there was a time when Mickey Rourke made good things. Or, you know, made anything. Near the top of the actor’s list of “Best Movies” is this 1987 gothic hit, that cast Rourke as a private detective on an almost Lovecraftian case through the humid and dark underbelly of New Orleans.
As the detective searches for clues to solve an unsettling case, all the bread crumbs flow toward one “man” – The Devil himself (Robert De Niro). The character’s name is an anagram for the Prince of Darkness – an indicator of the twist hiding in plain sight. Rourke’s character is left trapped in an old-timely wire cage elevator, descending into what we’re supposed to believe is permanent imprisonment in Hell.
100 percent high-octane nightmare fuel best describes his first movie from writer-director Clive Barker, which introduces audiences to this murder-y pain enthusiast and leader of the monstrous Cenobites that call an evil puzzle box home (kind of). That box helps set the stage for a shocker ending full of impending dread.
Having barely survived her encounter with Pinhead and his crew, our heroine Kristy throws the puzzle box into a burning hobo pyre. A vagrant stalking her ultimately walks into the fire – as vagrants do – and retrieves the box. Then, naturally, he transforms into a winged beast and flies off – presumably to deposit the box back in the hands of its original merchant, who offers it to another prospective (and doomed) customer.
No Way Out (1987)
No Way Out is the launch pad that helped make Kevin Costner, well, Kevin Freakin’ Costner. This intense political thriller, about a U.S. Naval officer (Costner) caught in the middle of a murder investigation that boils over into an internal mole hunt for a Russian spy in his ranks, has one of the best twist/surprise endings of all time.
After a considerable body count and lots of foot chases, Costner’s Lt. Tom Farrell concludes his murder investigation and pays a visit to the grave of the murder victim, who happens to be Tom’s former lover (twist!). There, he is picked up by two G-Men looking types and taken back to an interrogation room, where it is revealed that Tom isn’t really Tom. He’s Yuri, a Russian spy (double twist)!
Body Double (1984)
Brian De Palma made a name for himself in the early ‘80s with twisty erotically-charged thrillers like this cult-fave masterpiece. Here, De Palma is Hitchcock-y AF with his homages to the Master of Suspense, especially with Vertigo, as he chronicles the claustrophobic Jake (X), a struggling actor with a Rear Window-type obsession with a beautiful but shady neighbor.
Jake soon finds himself in the middle of a complicated murder plot, one that ends with him in the film’s final moments barely surviving an attempt on his life. His survival costs the life of his would-be killer, who ends up in the grave meant for Jake instead. and putting his would-be killer in the grave meant for him instead.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Director Frank Oz’s cult-favorite musical (based on the Off-Broadway hit) fell short at the box office upon its theatrical release, but it more than made up for that on home video and cable. Its first DVD release included a work print version of the film’s controversial original ending: The singing (and carnivorous) plant, Audrey II, takes over the world with the help of more man-eating plants.
After defeating Audrey II, florist Seymour (Rick Moranis) retires with his lady love, Audrey, to the perfect life – a suburban house with room for a family, all behind a white picket fence. But as the camera tracks past that idyllic setting, it stops on a flower bed to find – you guessed it – a tiny Audrey II in the making.
Dead & Buried (1981)
Look, don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of this little-known (but totally must-see) horror movie. Director Gary Sherman’s underrated scarefest is a deep cut, with one of the best gonzo shocker endings in the genre. Seriously, this one is Twilight Zone-level good. Dead & Buried centers on a small town plagued with the recent murder of several tourists. Once they are buried, the dead soon reanimate and, yup, pull a Walking Dead on the town and its living populace.
The only thing standing between the town folk and some hungry, hungry zombies is Sheriff Dan Gillis. Dan soon discovers that the local coroner, Dobbs, is responsible for bringing these zombies to life – and that the entire town is actually full of the undead, all under Dobbs’ control. The only thing more shocking? Gillis was a zombie this whole time, too, and didn’t know it. Mind blown!
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