• Movies like Better Watch Out, The Descent, and Sorry To Bother You surprise viewers by abandoning their original premise midway through the story.
  • While TV shows often adapt and change as they continue, it is unusual for movies to drop their main idea.
  • Examples, such as Miracle Mile and From Dusk till Dawn, demonstrate how these plot changes can lead to terrifying and memorable experiences for the audience.

While consistency is key to success in any art form, some movies threw out the rule book and improved by abandoning their original premise entirely. A great concept is often enough to sell audiences on a movie. When Alien was originally pitched as “Jaws… in space,” the filmmakers already knew they had a potential hit on their hands thanks to that logline alone. Even before a director has been hired, or any characters have been cast, a brilliant premise is sometimes sufficient to get viewers invested in a movie. This makes it a surprise when movies throw away one plot in favor of another.

For instance, it isn’t that rare for TV shows to abandon their original premise and explore new stories as they continue. After all, TV shows can last for years and sometimes outlive their main characters, so these longer stories need to adapt and change as they continue. However, it is a lot more unusual for movies to drop their main idea midway through the story. Since most movies have self-contained plots, changing stories midway through risks alienating the audience. Most of the time this gambit doesn’t impress viewers, as evidenced by the mixed reviews received by the likes of Hancock and Downsizing. For others, though, this tactic paid off wonderfully.

10 Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out 2016

One example of this is 2016’s Australian horror-comedy Better Watch Out, which seems like a by-the-numbers home invasion thriller in its opening act. However, the movie switches gears and becomes a truly surprising and disturbing killer kid horror movie when the break-in is revealed to be an elaborate prank. Levi Miller’s chilling performance as the spoiled sociopath Luke and Olivia DeJonge’s spirited turn as his babysitter/captive help make Better Watch Out the best Christmas horror movie in years, but this was hardly obvious from watching its opening act.

9 The Descent

The mutant appears in The Descent

While director Neil Marshall’s The Descent does open with a horrifying scene, it is a tragically grounded, believable sort of scare. The heroine’s family is killed in a terrible car accident and, a year later, her friends reunite to go caving and support their friend. They soon become trapped in an elaborate cave system as The Descent becomes a claustrophobic survival thriller with painfully real stakes. However, just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, the women are besieged by blind humanoid cave monsters with fangs and claws. As it turns out, The Descent is actually a monster movie – not a survival story as it was originally presented.

8 Sorry To Bother You

LaKeith Stanfield's Cash in the office call center in Sorry to Bother You by Boots Riley

2018’s Sorry To Bother You is the directorial debut of Boots Riley, who followed the surreal black comedy with the 2023 miniseries I’m A Virgo. For its opening half, Sorry To Bother You is a goofy, offbeat satire about a telemarketer who sells out so he can climb the corporate ladder. However, halfway through the movie, Sorry To Bother You’s hero learns the terrible truth about the corporation employing him. Soon, gross-out body horror and action-movie theatrics enter the picture as Sorry To Bother You’s satire of capitalism gets bloodier, stranger, and more impactful than ever.

7 Miracle Mile

Miracle Mile’s opening scenes see a charming musician fall for a sweet waitress at a diner. After a significant stretch of the movie is devoted to their blossoming romance, the hero answers a random pay phone call and learns that the world will end via nuclear holocaust in just over an hour. The rest of Miracle Mile is a terrifying existential thriller about the upcoming apocalypse, complete with a devastating, brutal ending.

RELATED: 12 Movies That Are Just Too Complicated To Enjoy

6 Sunshine

Cillian Murphy in the movie Sunshine.

Director Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a sci-fi thriller about a group of astronauts tasked with saving the dying sun. For the first two-thirds of its runtime, the movie focuses on this plot line as the astronauts complete their mission and board the ship of their predecessors. However, things take a strange turn in the final act. The astronauts are picked off one by one in scenes reminiscent of Alien before it’s discovered that one astronaut survived the failed mission years earlier. Thus, Sunshine‘s finale becomes a space-set slasher movie.

5 The World’s End

Gary King in The World's End

Director Edgar Wright’s The World’s End is a dark dramedy about Gary King, an alcoholic who reunites his old school friends for an ill-advised bar crawl. As the premise implies, the movie is a dark rumination on fading friendship inspired by the likes of The Big Chill and Return of the Secaucus 7. However, things get much funnier and sillier when it turns out that alien robots have taken over the hometown of the heroes, resulting in some inspired action set-pieces and a complete genre switch.

R Lee Ermey yells at a cadet in Full Metal Jacket

The opening half of director Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket documents the physical and psychological torture that a young recruit endures at the hands of his drill sergeant. The night before the recruit can ship off to Vietnam, he kills his sergeant before taking his own life. This chilling, brutal moment feels like an ending, but Kubrick’s movie then meanders through Vietnam for another hour. Its inexperienced lead characters don’t know what to do in the country, leading to a purposely shapeless second half that gradually sets up one of the most gut-wrenching war movie endings ever.

3 Orphan: First Kill

Ester stares into the camera from Orphan First Kill

While 2009’s Orphan was a fun cult curio, it seemed like a movie that couldn’t possibly sustain a sequel. Now that viewers knew the troubled titular orphan Esther was really an old woman who looked like a child, there was nowhere for the franchise to go. Indeed, the first half of 2022’s prequel Orphan: First Kill does feel like a retread of the original movie as Esther insinuates herself with a new family. However, it is eventually revealed that the child Esther replaced didn’t really go missing, but was murdered by her brother. Thus, Orphan: First Kill becomes an ingenious cat-and-mouse game between two killers.

2 From Dusk till Dawn

Salma Hayek with a snake in From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk till Dawn’s plot switch might be the most infamous example of a movie straight-up messing with its audience. The first half of this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration feels like any number of Tarantino knock-offs from the mid-90s as a pair of foul-mouthed criminals kidnap a pastor and his family. However, when the criminals and their captives hole up in a trashy bar, the last thing they expect to encounter is a hive of vampires. With this twist, From Dusk till Dawn becomes Salma Hayek’s best horror movie and a bonafide cult classic.

1 Psycho

Marion Crane in the shower as a shadowy figure approaches in Psycho

If anyone could pull off a wild mid-movie plot change, it would be Alfred Hitchcock. In the first half of Psycho, the movie seems to be about Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane and her plan to rob thousands of dollars from her employer while she stays at a motel run by the creepy Norman Bates. Things then take a grisly turn when Norman murders Marion, transforming Psycho into the story of a sympathetic but lethal killer with a tragic backstory for his creepy crimes. Psycho helped shape the psychological horror sub-genre and slasher sub-genre in the decades that followed but, originally, it was a simple crime movie with a massive twist.

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