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The Best Fake-Outs In Movie History

It's fun to get played by the movies. Tricky editing and sleight-of-hand storytelling are tools any filmmaker worth their salt uses to build suspense, deepen emotional investment in characters, and basically make the audience's minds go "boom!" There have been some epic fake movie endings, double plot twists, and even terrible twist endings. There's a fine line between a bit of good movie magic misdirection and a cheap trick, but hey, if it works, nobody's complaining here. After all, what is a movie but one glorious fake-out that makes life a little more fun for 90 minutes or so?

"Fake-out" is defined here as the feeling achieved when a movie lulls audiences into a certain sense of reality, only to shatter or shift that reality with a revelation. Often this is played for chills and thrills, and sometimes just for laughs. The effect can be achieved by parallel editing, edits that mess with the audience's sense of time and place, or even established with a simple shift in an actor's facial expression. Buckle up for a wild ride, and try not to lose the plot as you explore the best fake-outs in movie history.

Silence of the Lambs

One of the most thrilling pieces of movie magic misdirection comes in 1991's "Silence of the Lambs." Clarice (Jodie Foster) has finally made a break in the "Buffalo Bill" serial killer case, as has the FBI. But while the sequence starts out feeling like Clarice will capture the killer in a blaze of backed-up glory, it ends with a fight for her life — alone.

The fake-out is in part the result of intuitive editing by Craig McKay, who uses meticulous cross-cutting to make us believe that Clarice is following up on a stray lead with one of Buffalo Bill's (Ted Levine) clients, while her boss, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), has tracked the killer to his home. Buffalo Bill grows nervous as the FBI approaches, and a member of Crawford's team rings his doorbell. The door opens and Buffalo Bill comes face to face with the FBI in the form of Clarice. Crawford and his team find nothing but an empty house, and he realizes Clarice is in danger — and on her own.

Clarice had done a solid job of masking her fears throughout the film, whether as the lone female agent in a sea of men or across from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). She's been on the run from the screaming lambs of her past, and when she winds up in the company of wolves alone, she must face her fears to be able to make Buffalo Bill face the music.

Shutter Island

Something spooky is afoot on "Shutter Island," but it takes Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) most of the movie to figure out why. Teddy and his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), visit Asheville Hospital for the Criminally Insane in order to find Rachel Solando, a patient who has vanished under the care of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). Teddy is really there to find Andrew Laeddis, a patient who burned Teddy's house down and killed his wife.

Teddy is portrayed as a man grappling with guilt for killing during the war, and for failing to save his wife. He's plagued with migraines, trippy nightmares, and patients warning him he might be drugged as he tries to unravel the truth behind Asheville. But when Chuck goes missing and Teddy finds a woman claiming to be the real Rachel Solando imprisoned in a cave, Teddy demands the truth from Cawley and learns that Chuck is alive.

Chuck admits he isn't Teddy's partner, but his psychiatrist. Cawley confirms he and Chuck have designed a roleplay to help Teddy come to terms with his guilt for killing his wife after she killed their children. Teddy can't — or won't — believe he is really Laeddis and shoots Cawley, who lives even though we see the shots spray blood. Teddy breaks the gun apart to see it really is nothing but a plastic toy. It's a heartbreaking fake-out that recontextualizes all of the movie's previously sinister moments as steps in an elaborate plan to save Laeddis from the ultimate enemy — himself.

The Village

Director M. Night Shyamalan is the master of dramatic plot twists, and love for "The Village" might live or die on its major reveal — which won't be talked about here. There is a fatal fake-out smaller in scope and bigger in emotional impact than the more major twist that makes "The Village" Shyamalan's most misunderstood film.

Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a young blind woman living in a 19th-century settlement, surrounded by woods and the monsters that prowl them. But when her developmentally disabled friend, Noah (Adrien Brody), stabs her fiance, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), out of jealousy, Ivy is allowed to cross the woods to retrieve medicine from a nearby, usually-forbidden town. She is told the creatures are really villagers in disguise, keeping up an old story in order to protect everyone from outside danger.

Ivy goes on her journey, but when one of the creatures terrorizes her, Ivy survives by making the creature fall to its death — only for the audience to discover she has actually killed Noah who had snuck out after her in a costume he found in some floorboards. This heartbreaking fake-out is also a reminder that monster costumes combined with mind control never lead to anything good.


The holidays can be a magical time — unless your family falls victim to a hairy, horned figure from Austro-Bavarian folklore. Santa might have a list for naughty and nice, but "Krampus" only has one for naughty. This Alpine demon destroys those who have lost the Christmas spirit. Krampus drags all bah-humbugs to hell, which means it's open season for the Engel family when their fighting makes true-believer Max (Emjay Anthony) claim he hates Christmas.

Krampus stalks the Engels one by one, killing them in increasingly freaky and festive ways until little Max apologizes for losing his Christmas spirit and begs Krampus to make things go back to how they were. Even though Krampus tosses Max into a fiery pit, the kids wake up surrounded by a warm and cozy Christmas morning that would make George Bailey jealous.

Max and his family hug and open presents in soft lighting until Max opens one last gift — a jingle bell inscribed with "Krampus." The camera pulls back to reveal Max and his living (?) family are trapped in their Christmas wish come: a snow globe on Krampus' shelf. It's the happy-ending horror fake-out we can get behind, especially if it means an eternity of fresh coffee and matching pajamas.

The Net

In the 1995 thriller, "The Net," the internet is new and Sandra Bullock is a pro at it. Angela (Bullock) is a loner who works remotely for a software security company. She doesn't have much of a social life outside of chat rooms and the occasional phone call with co-workers. One colleague sends Angela a floppy disk of intrigue that contains a "glitch" that allows their company to "hack the mainframe" of clients undetected.

This co-worker dies mysteriously and Angela takes herself and the floppy disk on vacation to Cozumel, where she's seduced by Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam), a dreamboat who seems too good to be true. They enjoy a lovely walk on the beach until Angela is mugged. Jack chases the mugger, and once he's out of Angela's sight, he pulls the floppy from her bag and shoots the mugger instead of paying him for his services.

Jack is with a group of online terrorists in league with the owner of Angela's company, and he will stop at nothing to silence her so he can use software to "protect democracy." While the movie gets more mind-blowing from here, this is the first fake-out that shows us sometimes the guy who looks like he's going to be a fellow action hero is actually a Praetorian Prince Charming in disguise. Honestly, it should have been clear he was bad news when he tied a dinner napkin around Angela's chilly waist instead of offering her his "Miami Vice" jacket.

The Faculty

Aliens have invaded the teachers in an Ohio high school, and a small crew of surviving teens are trying to find and kill their queen so they can get everyone back to "normal." "The Faculty" is a 1998 sci-fi horror thriller from Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") and Kevin Williamson ("Scream") that is a little bit of "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers," a little bit of "The Thing," and a lot of fake-out fun.

The biggest fake-out of all is who the alien queen could be. While the teens initially suspect their Principal (Piper Laurie) and think they've successfully taken down their threat, the movie still has a half-hour to go, and fighting alien queens can never be that easy. Street-smart Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and goth Stokely (Clea Duvall) escape with shy and sweet Marybeth (Laura Harris) into the locker room. There, Stokely suspects Marybeth of being the queen. Marybeth suspects Stokely but gives the game up when she reveals she is straight chilling in that locker room stark naked.

If dressing for the occasion isn't enough to convince Zeke, Marybeth helpfully monologues about how she's tricked Zeke and the gang the entire movie. It's a shocking moment, but the even bigger fake-out occurs when Zeke tries to protect Stokely and she attacks him with her own secret alien tentacle. Zeke ultimately finds safety with the unlikeliest of allies in Casey (Elijah Wood), but not before this double-fake-out moment serves up some serious psych.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Inbreathiate this for a moment: the entire construction of 2022's "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" hinges on a double fake-out. The regal and royally screwed-over Andi's (Janelle Monáe) death by mysterious gunshot is tragic on the surface, but the look on Benoit Blanc's (Daniel Craig) face gives the first big game of the movie away.

Detective Blanc is many things, but an ardent admirer of selfish "rich b-words," not so much. So why does he look absolutely heartbroken — not just stunned — when Andi takes a direct hit? It's a micro-expression of a major emotion, and it makes viewers sit up a little straighter because that look shifts everything we thought we knew about the film so far.

Andi is revealed to be her twin sister, Helen, who has developed a fairly close relationship with Blanc as they seek Andi's killer at "genius" Miles Bron's (Edward Norton) murder-mystery weekend. It's also revealed that Helen isn't actually dead, but that her notebook caught the bullet. She and Blanc fake out the rest of the guests by dousing her with Jeremy Renner's hot sauce. This begins the movie's "rewind" that reveals to us all sorts of fake-outs, including Miles switching drinks with Duke (Dave Bautista) right in front of our faces. There are so many deceptive moments, in fact, it might just make one return, in their minds, to the glass onion.

L.A. Confidential

The dirty dealings of 1950s Los Angeles are kept hush-hush as Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) learns in the 1997 film noir classic, "L.A. Confidential." Vincennes is a narcotics detective who spends his time serving as a cop show advisor and cooking up scandals he and tabloid editor, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), can make a mint off of. But when Vincennes discovers an actor he set up murdered in a hotel room, he joins forces with Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) to solve the case, which leads him to some fishy information about the supposedly "solved" Nite Owl murders.

Vincennes makes a connection in the case and takes it to Police Chief Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) at Smith's home. Vincennes needs help from his trusted colleague, and both he and the audience think he'll get it — until Smith surprises everyone by shooting Vincennes point blank after handing him a cup of tea. It's a jarring moment where we discover the solid cop is actually the mastermind behind the crimes Vincennes was investigating with Exley, as well as the likely murderer of Exley's father.

There's one final fake-out up Vincennes' sleeve, however — he whispers the name "Rollo Tomasi" with his dying breath, providing a clue for Exley to follow from beyond his grave since he knows Smith won't be able to resist trying to silence whoever Tomasi might be — and not for one moment does Smith realize that by investigating Tomasi, he is digging his own grave.


Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as odd-couple buddy cops — David Mills and William Somerset — solving a string of murders modeled after the seven (pardon us, se7en) deadly sins. The killer, John Doe (Kevin Spacey), is always one step ahead — even when that doesn't seem physically possible. This headache-inducing fake-out comes at the end of the movie when Mills and Somerset think they finally have Doe by right of their detective work, but then the killer arrives at the station to turn himself in.

The silver lining to this cloud is that Doe still hasn't killed for "envy" or "wrath," and as long as he's in custody, he can't. But Doe threatens to plead insanity and dodge any "justice" if the men don't agree to drive him out to a certain location. They agree, and while Doe monologues about how he's on a rightful mission to punish sins, the detectives and audience think we might just find the body for "envy" after all. But when a truck pulls up with a delivery for Mills, the bottom falls out of his "victory."

Mills figures out Doe has already killed again. He asks what's in the box, and we know — Pitt hasn't won. His wife's head is in the box, and it motivates him to become the victim of "wrath" to Doe's "envy." "Seven" is the stylish bummer of the '90s that put director David Fincher on the map, and "what's in the box" into the lexicon.


A pub full of menacing thugs might not be expected in a Disney movie, but that's just what Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) encounter in "Tangled" – or so they think. The roguish Flynn takes Rapunzel to the trick-named "Snuggly Duckling" in an attempt to scare Rapunzel off her quest to see the lanterns she's been obsessed with since childhood, and into giving him back a crown he stole. Rapunzel isn't so easily deterred — this is a girl who isn't afraid to let loose with a frying pan, after all — and enters the pub even though the welcome is rough.

When the pub thugs realize there's a hefty bounty for capturing Flynn, it doesn't look good for our heroes until Rapunzel whoops pub thug butt with her hair, her frying pan, and her admission that she needs Flynn to guide her to her dream. The giant men look ready to kill her, until they soften and share their own dreams with Rapunzel, and even help her and Flynn escape some castle guards. It's a sweet fake-out, and a reminder that we're just all a bunch of scary-looking dreamers with a catchy song in our hearts.


The premise of the horror-comedy thriller, "Fresh," hinges on a fake-out: dream date Steve (Sebastian Stan) turns out to be a cannibalistic serial killer, and Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) will live to regret their meat-cute. While this twist is a juicy one, there's also a great fake-out later in the movie — one that won't make viewers always shudder whenever they see cotton candy grapes at the grocery store.

Noa seems like a goner after Steve chains her to a wall, but her best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), is on the case. Mollie is a beacon of hope and the audience as she discovers Steve's true name — Brendan — and his wife, Ann (Charlotte le Bon). Mollie learns that Ann has no idea that her husband has been cheating (and then some) with Noa. Ann looks hurt and possibly willing to help Mollie until Brendan arrives.

Mollie, sure something foul is at play, calls Noa's cell phone, and sure enough, it rings in Brendan's pocket. For a split-second, it seems like Mollie has the proof she needs to convince Ann and get Brendan, but then Ann knocks Mollie out instead, revealing that she doesn't just know about what her husband does, but that she's his accomplice and was likely once in Mollie's position herself. The next fake-out phase is when we think both Mollie and Noa will meet their end at Brendan's, but of course, something far tastier is on the menu for these pals and confidantes.


Serial killers, evil dolls, horrific clowns — they've been done to death. "Oculus," the 2013 horror thriller written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard proves antique mirrors can be villains, too. Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites play Kaylie and Tim Russell, siblings with a tragic past connected to the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror their father purchased back when they were kids to do up his office.

The mirror also spruced up his psyche with dangerous hallucinations, mounting to him brutally murdering his wife before being killed by Tim. As an adult, Tim no longer believes something supernatural haunts the mirror. Kaylie, on the other hand, thinks it's a matter of time before the mirror starts messing with their minds.

The stomach-churning fake-out comes when Kaylie does some housework while snacking on an apple. A lightbulb and an apple lay side by side on the counter. Kaylie grabs the apple, takes a bite, and then glass clinks onto the floor, learning she has taken a bite of a lightbulb. She's horrified until her brother enters the room and she realizes she didn't eat the glass at all. She's safe, but the mirror has started working on her, and as long as she's in the house with it, it will never stop. Maybe this is proof that no one should mess with antiques unless they can freestyle as hard as the "American Pickers." Otherwise, it's just too risky.