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The Ending Of Twister Explained

As far as entertainment factor goes, it's hard to beat a good disaster flick. The stakes are extreme, the emotions are intense, and — if it's made well — the action set pieces are thrilling. One of the best to come out of the '90s, a fertile decade for the genre, is Twister. While the movie is most often remembered for the massive storm sequences (which hold up remarkably well today), there are also some deep emotional threads running through the narrative. 

After watching her father die in a tornado when she was a child, Dr. Jo Harding (Hunt) is on a lifelong mission to improve the efficacy of tornado warning systems. Meanwhile, her former colleague and soon-to-be ex-husband, Dr. Bill Harding (Paxton), is trying to move on with his life and forward with his new fiancé, Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz).

With Melissa in tow, Bill tracks down Jo and her team in rural Oklahoma (because North America has the most tornadoes in the world) to get her to finally sign their divorce papers. But after Jo reveals that they have developed a new device to better study tornadoes, one modeled after Bill's own design, he gets caught up in the action as Jo avoids signing the papers in favor of chasing storms that begin popping up all around them during the most intense tornado season in recent memory.

With a hotly anticipated reboot on the horizon, many have been revisiting this modern classic. If you caught the film recently and still have some questions, here's what you need to know about the ending of Twister.

A day of storm chasing rekindles an old flame

Most of the events of Twister take place over the course of a single day, which begins with Bill giving Jo divorce papers to sign in the morning, and only ends after they've had several very close calls while hunting tornadoes. When night comes, Jo, Bill, Melissa, and the rest of the team check into a motel. Jo has been actively avoiding signing Bill's divorce papers, as teaming up with her ex-husband again to try and deploy her new monitoring system, called DOROTHY, has further reinforced what she's suspected since they separated: She's still in love with him. Sadly, Bill seems committed to moving on with his life, so she relents and ultimately prepares to make their divorce final.

That is, until the town they are staying in is ravaged by a massive tornado. It passes, but leaves both physical and emotional destruction in its wake. Having been dragged all over the state and put in a series of dangerous situations because of Bill's impulsive desire to chase storms again, Melissa realizes that he and Jo have something that she and Bill never will. Melissa officially breaks things off with Bill and returns home.

Meanwhile, Jo races to the nearby home of her Aunt Meg (Lois Smith), which she fears was in the path of the storm.

A massive tornado hits too close to home

When Jo arrives at Aunt Meg's house, she finds that it has been destroyed by the tornado. Meg is injured, but still alive. She has clearly been rattled by the experience, and tells Jo that the storm came on so quickly that by the time the tornado sirens went off, it was already upon them. This clearly pains Jo. As a child, she watched her father die in a tornado that her family didn't have time to properly prepare for. That was a major inspiration for her research with the DOROTHY device, which she hopes will help create tornado warning systems that are able to detect storms earlier, providing people with more time to get to safety. Aunt Meg's close call is just another reminder for Jo that until she succeeds in her mission, nobody she loves is safe.

With a renewed sense of purpose, Jo makes some updates to the DOROTHY device and heads out with Bill to intercept an ultra-powerful nearby tornado — the catastrophic F5. They find themselves in a race against time. Jo's rival, Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), who has created a copycat device, is also chasing the storm. Since she doesn't trust his intentions, Jo wants to ensure that he isn't able to beat her to the punch and deploy his copycat device before she can get the data she needs with DOROTHY.

As the F5 tornado carves a path of destruction, both teams race to position themselves in the path of the storm.

Jo and Bill risk their lives to deploy their device in the middle of an F5

As they near the storm, both teams try to set up their devices to be picked up by the tornado's funnel. However, Jonas has positioned himself directly in the storm's path, and even after receiving warnings from Jo and Bill, he remains steadfast leading to his death. Meanwhile, Jo and Bill manage to successfully deploy a DOROTHY device, but when the storm changes course, they realize it is headed directly for them.

They manage to attach themselves to irrigation pipes in the field they've found themselves in just as the tornado arrives. The funnel passes directly over Jo and Bill, and as it does, Jo looks up into the center of the storm. It's a moment of reckoning for her. Tornados are the thing she has structured her life around and are the source of her drive and fortitude, which are her most defining character traits. Their ability to obliterate has haunted her ever since her father's death. The act of literally being inside of one and surviving is a profound moment for her.

When the storm passes, Jo and Bill celebrate their success with DOROTHY and their survival. The near-death experience has also made both of them realize that despite the difficulties of their marriage, they are made for each other. With the data collected and the divorce papers thrown away, the pair enjoy a happy ending to an intense 24 hours.