There’s nothing quite as satisfying as uncovering a well-hidden plot clue in a movie, so we decided to scour the archives for the most pivotal story secrets hiding in plain sight. And whether they concern split-second subliminal imagery or important off-the-cuff remarks, these 20 clues are sure to make you think differently about some of your favorite motion pictures. Be warned, though: this may contain spoilers!
20. Shawn of the Dead
Edgar Wright and Simon Penn brainchild Shawn of the Dead remains one of the best horror-comedies in recent memory. It’s so good, in fact, that it was able to foreshadow its own climax. During an early scene in the Winchester pub, Ed says, “We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, a couple at the Little Princess, we’ll stagger back here and then bang! Back at the bar for shots.” This is actually the whole plot of the movie. Well played, Ed.
19. 21 Jump Street
The laugh-out-loud comedy 21 Jump Street also contains a plot clue. While the two protagonists are taking the drug HFS, Jenko states that it tastes like “barbecue cool ranch.” Fast forward a bit and the two run into Coach Walters, who’s snacking on some Doritos. In the end it turns out that Walters is indeed the supplier of the substance, which is what this very sly comment early on refers to.
18. The Shawshank Redemption
Few movies of the 1990s are as engrossing as The Shawshank Redemption. The fist-in-the-air finale which sees Andy escape the prison is a part of cinema history, but one very revealing conversation with Red already foresaw this event. Red says to Andy, “I don’t think you should be doing this to yourself, Andy. It’s just sh**ty pipe dreams.” No, this isn’t just a frivolous quip but instead is a dead-on prediction for what was about to go down – Andy would indeed achieve his dream of freedom by crawling through some filthy sewage pipes.
17. The Empire Strikes Back
Any Star Wars fan worth their salt will tell you that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the bunch. The climactic finale where Luke Skywalker finds out that he’s actually Darth Vader’s son still remains one of the most effective movie finishes of all time. But did you know that the twist was revealed much earlier? Yes, during a vision halfway through the motion picture, Luke kills Vader. However, under the mask is Luke’s face, which is an early clue that he’s related to the dark one.
16. Shutter Island
Seriously, how good was Martin Scorsese’s spooky labyrinth Shutter Island? Really good, is the answer. It’s one that unravels further upon repeated viewing, with even the inconspicuous opening sequence alluding to the gobsmacking twist that Teddy is in fact a patient on the island. As he approaches on a boat in the first scene, shackles and chains can be seen in his room. Of course, knowing that it all turns out to be an elaborate experiment to cure him, in hindsight it’s clear that these metal objects were actually used to restrain him before the role-playing exercise began.
15. The Others
And the scares don’t end there, as our next entry is the fantastic Nicole Kidman-fronted horror The Others. This creepy ghost story finishes with a head-spinning twist, revealing that Grace had smothered her two children with a pillow before committing suicide. However, there’s a subtle reference to this revelation earlier in the movie. Grace repeatedly chastises the kids for their breathing, which is in retrospect a very subtle hint relating to the night she smothered them.
14. No Country For Old Men
The Coen brothers reached a new peak in their movie-making careers with the release of the 2007 neo-western drama No Country For Old Men. And for you plot-clue hunters, there’s also a very apparent secret that probably passed you by. The film opens with Moss attempting to hunt an elk but failing to kill it. This is a mirroring of the movie’s finale, which sees Moss attempting and failing to kill Anton Chigurh. It turns out that it’s a metaphor for Moss not being a natural-born hunter.
13. The Avengers
The Avengers is a brilliant superhero flick and it’s even got an awesome Easter egg for the super-attentive among you. During an early scene in the helicarrier, Tony Stark grumbles at the fact that an engineer on board is playing the iconic arcade game Galaga. You might think that the message here is to never play video games around Stark. However, it goes much deeper than that. It actually foreshadows the movie’s climax in which the team have to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Video-game aficionados, assemble!
12. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s creepy masterpiece The Shining still sends chills up the spine, with very few movies analyzed to the same degree as this Rubik’s cube of a film. So it’s perhaps no surprise that a very subtle plot clue is displayed near the beginning of the horror classic. Early on, one of Danny’s toys can be spotted lying on the floor: a brown teddy clothed in a red sweater. Nothing weird there, right? Wrong. It’s actually situated in the exact same spot where Dick Holleran is later murdered. It’s thought that this is a reference to the violent scene, with the red sweater representing the blood.
Keeping with the Christopher Nolan tradition, 2000’s Memento was a mind-melter from start to finish. But did you spot the carefully placed subliminal message? It pretty much gives the whole plot twist away – the revelation being that Sammy’s story is actually Leonard’s. In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene, we see Leonard on the phone, along with flashbacks of Sammy in a wheelchair. However, if you pause at the final millisecond of the shot, Leonard is now sitting in place of Sammy. So subtle, but also so pivotal.
10. Total Recall
Who could forget the 1990 sci-fi mind-bender Total Recall? Well, possibly protagonist Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film leaves audiences guessing whether it’s real or all just a dream, but one very pivotal clue gives us a definitive answer. During one of the scenes where Quaid enters Rekall, an engineer can be faintly heard saying, “Blue sky on Mars, never seen that one before.” Of course, the ending of the movie confirms this, as Mars does indeed have blue skies. So either that engineer was psychic or it was all just a dream!
9. Jurassic Park
Life does indeed find a way in the big-screen blockbuster Jurassic Park, and one very subtle, early hint suggests this. Upon arriving on the island for the first time, Dr. Grant attempts to buckle his seatbelt only to find out that it has two female ends. Undeterred, he ties the straps together. There’s more about this than meets the eye, though, as it’s later revealed that all of the island’s dinosaurs are actually female, yet manage to reproduce. God loves a trier, as they say.
8. Ace Ventura
Ace Ventura is aimed at children, right? Well, explain why this very rude plot reference was included, then. During a scene in Lois Einhorn’s office, a very peculiar arrangement of fruit can be seen on the desk. Two apples and a banana, shaped like male genitalia. Besides this being a risqué visual joke, it’s also a reference to a surprising revelation revealed later on in the movie – Lois Einhorn was, in fact, assigned male at birth.
7. The Usual Suspects
Another modern cinema classic is the enthralling 1995 thriller The Usual Suspects. With a plot revolving around the ridiculously mysterious Keyser Soze, the movie does everything in its power to keep its plot twist under wraps. However, one winking clue does allude to its secret. At the beginning of the movie, an outline of Soze can be seen lighting a cigarette with a gold lighter. This is the very same lighter that Verbal uses throughout the film. And of course, it’s later revealed that Verbal is indeed Soze.
Pretty much everything about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960s scare-a-thon Psycho is terrifying, so you’d be forgiven for missing a chilling piece of dialogue delivered by Norman Bates early on. Speaking of his mother, the stone-faced character says that she’s “as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.” However, many didn’t know just how literal Bates was being, as it’s revealed at the end that she is in fact dead.
5. Back to the Future
Back to the Future has become famous for its uncanny ability to predict future events, and the same goes for the movie’s own plot. We find out that Marty has altered the timeline, but not before a visual clue appears much earlier in the movie. You may notice during the scene where Marty runs to warn Doc Brown of future events that The Twin Pine Mall has been changed to the Lone Pine Mall. This is actually because of the sequence from the past which sees Marty driving over Farmer Peabody’s pine trees. Clever!
4. The Sixth Sense
You’d need a sixth sense to pick up on some of the plot clues littering M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest creation. The genius twist of the movie is that Dr. Malcolm Crowe is in fact a ghost, but it’s something which could be spotted early on by eagle-eyed viewers. The most definitive clues revolve around the fact that everyone except Cole ignores him. Think about it. His wife at the dinner table, the doctor treating Cole – basically, everyone but the gifted boy.
Poor M. Her demise in Skyfall caught everyone by surprise. Well, everyone except those who were paying close attention during the opening credits. Judi Dench – who plays M – appears in the credits, but her name is shown next to a gravestone. This is a very clear reference to the character’s death later on in the film. Moral of the story: don’t run in late to a movie.
2. Reservoir Dogs
There are so many subtle plot hints scattered throughout Quentin Tarantino’s classic mob movie Reservoir Dogs that you’ll be kicking yourself for not picking up on them. We find out that Mr. Orange is the police informant, but several clues are given even before this revelation. For one, he rats out Mr. Pink for not tipping in the opening scene in the diner. Also, Nice Guy Eddie is followed by an orange balloon during his race to the hideout. If all of that wasn’t enough, during the scene in which Mr. Pink and Mr. White are conversing in the bathroom, orange jars can be seen sitting on a table, separated from pink and white ones. Mind now well and truly blown.
1. Fight Club
Of all the fantastic plot twists chronicled here, arguably the best of the lot is the insane finale to Fight Club. Near the end of the movie, it’s made clear that Tyler Durden is actually a figment of The Narrator’s imagination. This explains why he beats himself up in his boss’ office. There are also split-second shots of Durden early on in the film, while there’s additionally a very well-hidden clue in the phone booth – a piece of text stating that the phone doesn’t accept incoming calls. These pivotal plot clues allude to this jaw-dropping revelation.