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Most Shocking Villain Reveals in Movie History

Everybody loves a good villain--without them, there'd be nothing for the heroes to do. But sometimes, movies manage to pull off a last-minute villain reveal that changes everything.
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As moviegoers, there’s something delicious about having the rug pulled out from under our feet. We think we know what’s going on, and then–bam! The filmmakers subvert our expectations and reveal that the bad guy wasn’t who we thought after all.

In these films, the villain is revealed in a shocking twist. That’s not to say that all of them pulled it off–I’m looking at you, Frozen. Obviously, this post contains all the spoilers, so proceed with caution.

Alien (1979)

Ian Holm as Ash in 'Alien'
20th Century Fox

The real bad guy in Ridley Scott’s Alien isn’t the xenomorph. It’s Ash, the android science officer played by Sir Ian Holm. Ripley only discovers that Ash isn’t human when his head gets knocked off, revealing goopy, milky blood and spaghetti-like innards. The guy is like fettuccini alfredo in there–something that I found almost as disturbing as the alien facehuggers when I first watched the movie as a kid.

It turns out that Ash had been tasked by the company behind their “salvage” mission to bring back the xenomorph at any cost. Not only that, but Ash also admitted to admiring the aliens in their perfect, merciless savagery.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Ben Kingsley as "The Mandarin" in 'Iron Man 3'
Marvel Studios

The Iron Man franchise is no stranger to shocking villain twists, but the third film took things farther than ever before. All along, we think that Sir Ben Kingsley is the Mandarin, one of the most famous bad guys in Marvel Comics. I mean, sure, they hired a British-Indian actor to play a Chinese supervillain, but that’s Hollywood for ya, right?

Well, it turns out that the film’s villain is actually an actor named Trevor Slattery hired to be the public face of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. At the time, the twist was met with a mixed response. I think it’s aged surprisingly well, especially after seeing Shang-Chi.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Guy Pierce and Russell Crowe in 'L.A. Confidential'
Warner Bros.

First and foremost, L.A. Confidential is a great movie, and if you haven’t already seen it, then you should skip this section to avoid spoiling the ending. Based on a James Ellroy novel, the film is a gritty noir with a shocking villain reveal. The web of blackmail, police corruption, and racketeering is so complicated that it seems like there aren’t any good guys in the entire film. Eventually, though, we find out that the man behind everything is…

…Police Captain Dudley Smith, played by James Cromwell. At the time, the actor was best known for the breakout hit Babe (1995). Seeing the man who played Farmer Hoggett in such a despicable role made the reveal even more shocking.

Primal Fear (1996)

Primal Fear (1996)
Paramount Pictures

Primal Fear featured on our list of the best twist endings of all time, too, and there’s a good reason why I’m bringing it up again here. In his film debut, Edward Norton turned in one of the most chilling performances I’ve ever seen. He portrays Aaron, a teenage altar boy accused of murder. But Aaron is so sweet and so clearly the victim in the whole situation, that his lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) truly believes that the teenager is suffering from dissociative identity disorder and cannot be held accountable for anything he might have done.

Yeah, about that. After Aaron is found not guilty by reason of insanity, it seems like the closest thing to justice has been served. In the final scene, though, he makes a tiny slip-up that clues his lawyer into the fact that Aaron was pretending to have a split personality the whole time. Once the jig is up, the change that comes over him is truly shocking.

Frozen (2013)

Still from 'Frozen'
Disney

Disney and Pixar love a surprise twist villain. And while I don’t think that the reveal of Hans as the bad guy was particularly well done–more on why in a minute–you can’t deny that it was shocking. If you grew up on Disney movies, then you’re practically conditioned to root for the handsome prince and the plucky princess to live happily ever after. While revealing the prince to be a villain isn’t a bad idea in theory, it did not work in Frozen.

I place the blame on the pre-production drama, which saw multiple versions of the movie come and go. Initially, Elsa was meant to be the villain. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck struggled to find a way to make the story play out in a satisfying way, and they landed on the plot twist to make Prince Hans evil. They struggled to make the twist believable without being too obvious, and I don’t think they pulled it off.

After the Thin Man (1936)

Thanks in part to the Hays Code, the restrictive set of rules that Hollywood studios followed from the 30s through the late 60s, villains from classic cinema tend to be pretty obvious from the start. That wasn’t the case in After the Thin Man, the sequel to the incredibly popular movie The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Although we tend to think of James Stewart as a sweetheart, mostly thanks to his role in It’s a Wonderful Life, he didn’t always play the good guy. In After the Thin Man, a baby-faced Stewart plays David Graham, a young man who seems to be a nice guy who just wants to help out his former fiancee after she is suspected of killing her husband. We’re led to believe that David still loves Selma and will do anything to protect her, but the truth is much darker. He hated her and framed his ex-lover for murdering her own husband.

Orphan (2009)

Isabelle Fuhrman and Vera Farmiga in 'Orphan'
Warner Bros.

Orphan is one of the most bonkers movies of the last fifteen years. It stars Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, a little Russian girl who is adopted by Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard). It’s clear from the beginning that something is off about Esther, but since this is a horror movie, we assume that she’s a standard-issue Evil Child. Possibly possessed.

The reveal is even more bizarre. Esther isn’t nine years old; she’s actually 33 but suffers from a rare disorder that makes her appear to be a child. However, that’s not even the weirdest part–because Orphan was inspired by a true story! Not only that, but ten years later, another couple claimed that they’d been hoodwinked by a similar trick (although their adopted daughter Natalia has said it’s a lie).

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Is this villain reveal really that shocking? Maybe not, but it’s low-key hilarious. In the third and final Indiana Jones film (we do not speak of Crystal Skull), Indiana and his father (Sean Connery) both encounter Elsa (Alison Doody), a beautiful Austrian art expert. Indy and Elsa fall into bed together, but we soon find out that she is working with the Nazis on the hunt for the Holy Grail. Not only that, but Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), the man who bankrolled both Joneses to find the Grail before the Germans, is also working with the Nazis as well as serving his own selfish purposes.

The double villain reveal is satisfying but not especially surprising. What is shocking is Sean Connery’s perfectly delivered line when the Joneses are captured by the Nazis. Indy wants to know how his father knew that Elsa was a Nazi. He replies, “She talks in her sleep.” That line sailed straight over my head when I was a kid, but now I think it’s really funny. Both father and son were caught in the same honey trap, but only Indiana was foolish enough to actually trust Elsa.

Scooby-Doo (2002)

Still from 'Scooby-Doo'
Warner Bros.

Scooby-Doo is well-known for its goofy masked villains. We expect the bad guy to be revealed at the end, and it’s usually not exactly a shock. But the 2002 live-action movie made a wild choice turn one of the franchise’s most-hated sidekicks into a villain.

Scrappy-Doo was introduced in the movie as Scooby’s nephew that literally nobody likes. Although Scoob and the gang ditched Scrappy-Doo because it was clear he was a megalomaniac, the abandoned pup returned to get his revenge.

Read More: ‘Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated’ Is Secretly the Best Scooby-Doo — Here’s Why

Spectre (2015)

Christophe Waltz and Lea Seydoux in 'Spectre'
Sony Pictures Releasing

When you’re dealing with a franchise as iconic as James Bond, how do you keep it feeling fresh while still grounded in the films that came before it? Daniel Craig’s Bond films have done an excellent job of walking that line. In Spectre, he finally encounters one of the greatest villains of the Bond universe–but it doesn’t play out quite the way you might expect.

Christoph Waltz plays Oberhauser, a man who appears to be in charge of a shadowy organization called Spectre. The villains of the last three films (Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Raoul Silva) are all revealed to have been Spectre agents, too. But who is Oberhauser? He’s actually… wait for it… Ernst Stavro Blofeld! Bond’s archenemy is the OG bald, creepy, cat-petting bad guy (and the inspiration for Dr. Evil in Austin Powers).

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Michael Keaton in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'
Marvel Studios/Sony Pictures Releasing

One of the greatest surprise villain reveals in movie history comes to us courtesy of Spider-Man: Homecoming. The big bad of the film is The Vulture, AKA Adrian Toomes. Spidey and the Vulture face off early in the film, so it’s not like the villain himself is surprising. The shock happens in the third act after Peter gets up the nerve to ask out his crush, Liz. When he arrives at her house to pick her up for the big dance, guess who answers the door!

The tension in that scene plays off of the cliche of an over-protective father threatening to hurt his daughter’s date. Except here, Toomes isn’t kidding. Michael Keaton is such a gifted actor that he perfectly plays the uncomfortable scene as both a dad and a supervillain. Chills, I tell ya. Chills. In fact, let’s watch the whole scene right now: