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"What a tweest!"

(Almost) Everyone likes a Happy Ending, with the smiling and the kissing and the vanquishing and the riding off into the sunset. Of course, people also tend to get bored of too many happy endings in a row. Enter the Downer Ending, the Darker and Edgier way to end a movie or (if you're really ballsy) an episode or season in an ongoing series. This can do a lot in terms of adding a sense of urgency to a cliffhanger and fresh air to a series, especially if the series sticks to its guns and the badness is permanent (see Killed Off for Real).

However, like most good things (er, bad things?), you can have too much of it. For whatever reasons, whether it's to be Darker and Edgier, pandering to dead baby humor, or an insistence on using a Cruel Twist Ending every episode, the series always ends with a Downer Ending and a Twist Ending of some sort most likely involving a Broken Aesop or two. Naturally, this tends to have such a high mortality rate that this can only happen in an episodic series with a high low-paid actor turnout. The only permanent and safe "character" is the preachy Narrator, ready to deliver his opening and ending Fauxlosophic Narration.

This can lead to an aftertaste of pretension after watching a given show long enough, as if the writers are somehow trying to both balance out the excess positive karma for all those other shows not brave enough to use a controversial ending, while being avant-garde themselves.

At best, you can get an The End — or Is It? ending that, while not altogether happy, is ambiguous enough that the viewer can delude himself into thinking so (and write copious Fan Fiction on it). Often employs the Diabolus Ex Machina. May happen after the Snicket Warning Label. May lead to a Meta Twist when an episode simply avoids using this trope.

Contrast Wham! Episode.

Examples of Mandatory Twist Ending include:

Anime and Manga

  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni uses copious amounts of this trope.
    • This is largely facilitated through some odd combination of Alternate Realities and/or Groundhog Day-ing the plot (it hasn't been quite explained thus far) so that dark twists can occur repeatedly throughout the series and often to the same characters. Some episodes have twist endings that change the twist endings of other episodes based entirely on whose perspective it's from.
      • A pretty big example is an early episode ends with one character killing two others in self-defense, and a later episode revealing that it was all a misunderstanding that went too far.
      • A character smashing another character's face at the end of an episode? In another episode, the first character had already died by that point in time.
  • The second season of Code Geass made twist endings and cliffhangers mandatory every episode.
  • The clients in Nightmare Inspector hardly ever have their chapters end without some sort of horrid twist.
  • The season finale of Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt had an absolutely merciless one of these. Depending on your interpretation, it was either a parody of this trope, or just played it straight to the most extreme degree possible.
    • It could also be Gainax parodying itself. People expect their endings to be completely out of left field so they took their expectations and went Up to Eleven.
      • To sum the audacity of this ending up: the big bad is defeated, all is well, the crew returns home, and then suddenly out of nowhere one of the heroines kills the other, chops her corpse into 666 pieces, and announces she was a demon all along, even though this makes no sense. Their mentor then explodes for no reason. The villain then comes back to life (also for no reason) and announces that the surviving characters will now have to gather all 666 pieces of Panty to bring her back. Then their mentor un-explodes (again for no reason) and announces that this will be the premise of season two. Also, season two may not actually exist. Well played, Gainax.


  • EC Comics did this. ALL the time. Although sometimes, surprisingly, the twist was a good one. But only very rarely.

Fan Fiction

  • Author Peter Chimaera's fanfics, which have a tendency to end on a dark note. The most famous tale, Repercussions of Evil, featured a dark ending where after the radio tells protagonist John Stalvern he is the demons, John becomes a zombie for no particular reason. Or maybe he was one all along. We're not quite sure.
    • Not to mention Batman: Nemesis Fight in which Robin leaves Batman forever.
    • Others include:
      • DIGIMON SAVEZ THE WROLD!!1111: But he found that on the way home there was no road. It was too late like the scientist said. He had already destroyed the road and the people were trapped on the island that they were trapped in. There was nothing he could do. So he went home and cried.
      • The sequel: When good Digimon came back he wanted find his girlfriend but she leaved. It was too late. "Sarah! You moved to England too soon and I didn't say bye!" But she was gonr. Note that this character has nothing to do with the rest of the story.
        • That one gets even better in the machinima, where the reason Sarah gives for leaving Digimon is because she realized she was dating a Digimon in the first place.
      • And best of all, Quarter-Life's epic twist: "Hooray I succeeded at winning the mission" "Not so fast, Mr. Gordon" What happens next? You decide!

Films — Live-Action

  • The remake of Planet of the Apes. Since they couldn't use the original's Planet of the Apes Ending, they threw in a pointless Mind Screw that made no sense whatsoever.
    • The ending to the remake is actually much closer to the original book than the first movie. However, in the book the Mind Screw made more sense in that the story's Framing Device is that a couple finds a Message in a Bottle while on a space cruise- and once they finish the story they decide it's too ridiculous to possibly be true.
      • Of course, the reason they dismiss the story is because they're apes and they find the idea of an intelligent astronaut human to be preposterous, but that's neither here nor there.
    • In the DVD commentary, Tim Burton says the ending was a Sequel Hook for a sequel that was never made. After Leo leaves for Earth, Thade retrieves Leo's original capsule, follows Leo through the time warp, arrives on Earth several centuries before Leo, and proceeds to turn Earth into a second Planet of the Apes.
      • Which would seem to make sense, except that it seems to suggest that he began a race of intelligent apes on Earth which eventually replaced human life by himself
  • Director M. Night Shyamalan became so well-known for his films' twist endings that when his Lady in the Water didn't have one, people were terribly confused.
  • Rest assured that nearly every "Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie" will finish the last two minutes with "Yoink! The monster isn't dead and he's slaughtering the main characters!" even if it makes no sense.
  • Likewise, most if not all slasher movies end on a note of relief that the near-invulnerable psycho killer has been finally killed once and for all — except, whoops, oh no, he's still around. This is especially the case for the popular characters, such as Freddie, Jason, etc.
    • Bruce Campbell lampshades and mercilessly makes fun of this in My Name Is Bruce. As the monster comes back for it's surprise scare at the end, the film cuts to the screening of the movie. Bruce gets up and starts complaining about how horror movies always end like this, even when they don't make sense. He implores the directors to give the audience a little more credit and give the characters a happy ending for once. The "new" ending is then played, where Bruce, his love interest and her son are dressed as WASPs and talking formally about how wonderful their lives are and how happy they are, all in front of a green screen display of a beautiful mountain lake. Bruce then realizes how stupid this is, and calls the monster back to kill them all.
  • The Saw films. A twist at the end is more or less expected, ever since the first film.
  • Perfect Stranger: The least likely suspect to have been the killer is the killer of course. Duh.
  • Inception, dealing with layered dreams, has to end with a shot that reveals at least one more layer.
    • Or does it ?
      • Part of what makes this film work so well is that the twist at the end is that it doesn't matter if it's a dream or not
        • Or does it?
  • Parodied in Mystery Team. The case is solved, Duncan is going off to college and everything seems well.... Until a man comes running out of the woods, castrated, unaware of his name and carrying of a picture of himself in a lab having sex with a panda.


  • Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick somehow managed to load most of his novels with bizarre plot twists, though he remarked in an interview once that (like Shyamalan later) he found fans expecting twist endings.
  • Goosebumps author R. L. Stine did this to the point where the twist endings became played out after a while. Stein once said in an interview that he'd always write the ending first and then go back and think of twists later.
    • The most infamous one is My Hairiest Adventure, which ends with the revelation that most of the kids were actually dogs, who were transformed into humans by some company so that their employees could have children.
  • O. Henry put so many of these in his stories that the phrase "O. Henry ending" was once a common part of the language.
  • Happens at the end of almost every chapter in the first few Dragonlance trilogies by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
  • Agatha Christie did this so much that the lack of a surprise twist was, in and of itself, a surprise twist.
  • Every Harry Potter book but Order of the Phoenix ends with a twist (meaning that then ending of Order of the Phoenix answers all the questions raised, while in all the others, an unsuspected traitor or — not an exclusive OR! — a good guy mistaken for a villain is revealed).

Live-Action TV

  • A staple of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It can get so bad it's an exception when there's an ambiguously good or open ending.
    • The Outer Limits revival of the 1990's was much worse about this than either of the originals.
      • On the other hand, the original set of The Twilight Zone didn't have anywhere near as many twists as it's famous for.
    • The more realistic-styled show Alfred Hitchcock Presents also tends to feature a mandatory twist. Considering there's no sci-fi element, it's less out of the blue and can be pretty easily guessed.
      • And then there are the twists that were forced on Hitchcock. For episodes in which the bad guy wins, Hitch was forced by the Network to add a little story at the end, describing how the bad guy eventually met their fate.
  • Tales from the Crypt was fond of these, albeit the dark humor and irony tended to keep the pretentiousness in check and viewers coming back for more.
  • Many, many Quantum Leap episodes have the following template: Sam leaps into a situation involving some possibly supernatural occurrence like ghosts, aliens, or the Bermuda Triangle. Al completely buys into the possibility, while Sam refuses to believe it and does everything he can to prove Al wrong. In the end, it appears Sam was right, but just before he leaps out there's some hint that maybe Al was right after all.
    • This was also reversed in several episodes: The UFO episode had Sam enthusiastically embracing the possibility of alien contact, while Al was dubious at best.
  • CSI almost always has a twist ending in every episode, sometimes more than one depending on the amount of sub-plots. Usually it's pretty easy to see it coming and sometimes one can even predict who really is the killer, because it's almost never the first person we think it is. And if it was we were led to believe that it wasn't and then it turned out it actually was. Which is pretty impressive.
  • Lost, though not so much a mandatory twist ending as a mandatory twist at some point during the episode (especially in the first few seasons with back story Reveals, the most significant of these probably being the one from "Walkabout"). However, the seasons finales are of special note-- it is so well known that there will be a twist at the end of each season that the producers give the twist scene a special name-- The Bagel: Walt gets taken, The Challah: the first off-island scene indicates Penny is searching for them (and may have found the island), The Rattlesnake In The Mailbox: The flashback is actually a flashforward, with Jack and Kate off the island, The Frozen Donkey Wheel: Locke is revealed to be dead off of the island, and The Fork In The Outlet (named in a contest by fans): Jacob is stabbed by Ben. Whew.
    • The fourth one's name is even a red herring — judging from the name, you'd expect it would refer to the scene where Ben turns a literal frozen donkey wheel to move the island.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The last full act will typically end with the main crime, the crime it led to, the crime that led to, and the detectives' personal issues resolved more or less happily, and then The Stinger either suddenly undoes all progress or holds a last-minute reveal that paints the ending in a more ambiguous light.
    • The main series only really got to this level at the end of Elizabeth Rohm's tenure (seasons 14 and 15), where, in an attempt to define Serena Southerlyn as something other than "Really Pretty", would often have Serena Pull the Thread that pointed to a suspect other than the one they'd spend 40 minutes trying to convict.
  • The Event was probably too dependent on this. The most ridiculous example probably being the third episode's "twist" which revealed that the previous episode's twist was a fake out.


  • Anthrax's "N.F.B. (Dallabnikufesin)", played like a sappy love song, is a slightly over-the-top boy-meets-girl, girl-cheats-on-boy, boy-forgives girl plot. The last line: "She got hit by a truck", followed by copious crying.
  • Common in music videos that include a storyline, as their extremely short duration can make a visual Twist Ending the only plot development there's time for. The revelation at the end of "Smack My Bitch Up", that the beer-swilling, dirty-fighting, lecherous brute is a woman is a classic example.
  • Bread's "The Diary" has a twist ending. The singer finds his girlfriend's diary under a tree and is amazed to read so many wonderful things about himself that his girlfriend is apparently to shy to show him in person "Wouldn't you know it, she wouldn't show it." he finally reads that the person she is making all these complimentary remarks about is another guy and not him. The song refrains once more. Wouldn't you know it, she wouldn't show it.


Western Animation

  • Arguably Total Drama falls into this, especially during the middle of World Tour, when the writers seemed to go out of their way to invent some kind of "twist" for every elimination--Chris decides to throw out a random intern while admitting he just wants to keep the rightful loser in, someone accidentally votes for themselves, someone accidentally votes for the wrong person to cause a tie and one contestant randomly is allergic to the type of plant the tiebreaker challenge requires touching...

Real Life

  • Andy Kaufman spent his entire career screwing with his audience. Eventually he couldn't surprise them anymore, because no matter how egregious he got, people figured it was part of the gag. It got so bad that, when he was diagnosed with cancer, some of his fans assumed it was an elaborate hoax. Even dying of cancer didn't convince everyone it was real and many still believe he is out there, somewhere.