One reason we watch movies is for the hook. Another is the characters. But let's face it: The most fun is the surprise.
It doesn't happen too often, though, does it? In fact, it hasn't happened at all for me in a few years. I don't know if it ever will again.
There's so much out there to spoil the surprise. Spoilers lurk in Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, let alone the office water cooler. Hell it was hard enough not to hear about any major shock BEFORE social media. Homer Simpson, after all, spoiled one of the best (see below), and that was in 1983, before cell phones were just a twinkle in your eye.
Those who make movies don't seem to care about the surprise. They care about shock value, sure, but that usually translates into getting to see someone's skin peeled off or something equally gruesome or maybe lots of fecal jokes.
Shock = money.
The reason I'm partly blaming social media is because pulling off a surprise is nearly impossible anyway. How many can you remember? I will list five below. I call them the five best, but to be honest they are the only five I recall. It takes brilliant, Breaking-Bad-type writing, sturdy plot building and incredible acting. It has to get an increasingly cynical public because we're mostly fed fast-food remakes and retread "thrillers" (I'm one of them if you couldn't tell) to completely buy into a plot, then shift it and come up with a twist so amazing it blows our minds.
So let's say a movie actually does this, against all odds, the kind Phil Collins sang about. Well, come on. Our hype machines are just begging for some grease given today's entertainment climate. We'd Tweet, Facebook and text it to death. And even if any of us didn't give it away, again, Against All Odds, the rest of us would go to the movie expecting a surprise. And when you're expecting a surprise, you're not nearly as surprised when it happens. Talk to M. Night Shyamalan about that one.
My top five movie surprises of all time. I doubt these will shock you. You see what I did there?
1. "The Empire Strikes Back" — Oh, come on, admit it, you gasped, and gasped HARD, when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. I still remember the theater recoiling in horror. Even Dad, who could tell us what would happen at the end of a movie within the first five minutes, didn't sniff that one out. That surprise also kind of made every other Star Wars movie sucky, or at least not as good as "Empire," but man was that a fun one. The only problem? No way would it work today. Our cynicism wouldn't let us buy into it, and the surprise would last about five minutes after the movie came out.
2. "The Usual Suspects" — This doesn't come until the very end, but that just makes it one of the best endings, ever, to a movie. And it manages to pull off a fun surprise twice. You actually think someone else is Keyser Soze before you find out someone ELSE is Soze.
3. "The Sixth Sense" — I wonder if M. Night's career would have been better had he NOT made this movie. Granted it's probably one of the best movies ever made in the last 20 years, and wow did that ending throw me. You too. Admit it. No, you did NOT know Bruce Willis was really dead. But this movie haunted him throughout his career. He became the "surprise" guy, and that kind of magic only happens once in a director's life. By the time "The Village" came out the act had grown so tired that he seemed to just give up and made some horrible, horrible pictures after that.
4. "The Crying Game" — Hey, I thought he looked female, too, although I remember my mother whispering to me right before the twist "She doesn't have much of a chest." It's gotta be the only time a non-porno film had a shot of a penis be so central to the plot.
5. "Fight Club" — The thing I loved about this, just like "The Sixth Sense," is the surprise was like a delicious cherry on the sundae. We didn't need the surprise for it to be a terrific movie. Yet you add in the surprise and it's an absolute classic. One of the most underrated films of all the time.
Bonuses: Oh, how I wish I was in the theater when that creature popped out of the guy's stomach in "Alien." My uncle was and he said it was one of the biggest shocks of his life. And "Psycho" practically invented the surprise twist, although I saw it coming because of far too many references to Norman and his mother before I caught it on TV when I was 12.