While unexpected twists and surprising reveals can keep moviegoers engaged, sometimes a filmmaker can’t help him or herself from adding in a subtle moment of foreshadowing that warns of or suggests a particular plot line before it happens. Here are 11 movies that did just that.
1. PSYCHO (1960)
After Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) checks into the Bates Motel, she overhears the motel’s owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), get into an argument with his mother, who is emotionally abusive toward him. Nevertheless, Norman defends her when Marion suggests that their relationship might be toxic. Norman explains that his mother is “as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.” The line foreshadows the film’s twist when it is revealed that Norman killed and taxidermied his mother.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
In the middle of the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) goes to the planet Dagobah to meet Master Yoda to begin his Jedi training. During his journey, he duels with a vision of Darth Vader in the Dark Side Cave. Luke strikes Vader down with his lightsaber and finds his own face behind Vader’s helmet and mask. This hints at the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, which he learns at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The opening credits sequence of Back to the Future features dozens of ticking clocks in Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) laboratory. One of the clocks features actor Harold Lloyd from the silent film Safety Last! hanging from the minute hand. The clock foreshadows Doc Brown hanging from the Hill Valley clock tower, trying to harness a bolt of lightning to send Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his DeLorean back to the 1980s.
Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 science fiction film Total Recall is full of clever clues that keep audiences guessing as to whether Doug Quaid’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) adventure as a secret agent on Mars was real or merely a memory implanted into his brain. One of the biggest hints comes at the beginning of the film, when Quaid visits Rekall and one of the engineers tells him that he will experience “blue skies on Mars.” At the end of Total Recall, the Red Planet is terraformed and there is now a blue sky on Mars.
Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs follows a small group of criminals brought together to pull off a diamond heist. But when the police show up in the midst of the job, it’s clear that one of the men is an informant. The criminals are unknown to each other and are only referred to by colorful aliases (i.e. Mr. White). However, if you pay close attention to the opening scene, you can figure out that Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is the police informant who set up the rest of the gang.
During the breakfast scene, when Joe (Lawrence Tierney) leaves the table to pay the bill, everyone contributes a dollar for the waitress’ tip—everyone except for Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), who refuses to tip based on principle. When Joe comes back to the table, he notices that the tip is short and asks who didn’t contribute. Without hesitation, Mr. Orange rats out Mr. Pink.
Additionally, when Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) rushes to the hideout after the heist-gone-wrong, there’s an orange balloon following his car, which is a nod to the fact that Mr. Orange is after him.
When Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), and lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) arrive to Isla Nubar for the first time, their helicopter slowly descends through a valley onto a launch pad on a lagoon. The descent is a turbulent one, so everyone buckles their seat belts. Dr. Grant finds that he has two female end buckles, but ties the straps together and manages to make it work. While the scene is meant as a comedic moment, it actually foreshadows that all the dinosaurs on the island are female, but manage to make it work and reproduce, thus “life finds a way.”
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
When Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) arrives at Shawshank at the beginning of the movie, Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) gives all of the incoming inmates a copy of the Bible and tells them that “Salvation lies within.” Eventually, Andy escapes from prison by digging through a concrete wall for 20 years with a small rock hammer that he has kept hidden inside the Book of Exodus in the Bible. When the warden discovers the hollowed-out Bible in his personal safe, he also finds an inscription from Andy: “Dear Warden, You were right. Salvation lay within. —Andy Dufresne.”
THAT THING YOU DO!
At the beginning of That Thing You Do!, Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech) and Lenny (Steve Zahn) go to Patterson’s Appliances to recruit Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) to be their new band’s drummer after their regular drummer, Chad (Giovanni Ribisi), breaks his arm. The guys are watching the TV show Fireball XL5 when Lenny remarks, “My grandma and I watched this. Three weeks, we've been watching it and last week, she realizes there’s strings. They’re puppets.” Jimmy responds with, “Yeah. They’re marionettes. That’s what they are.”
While the exchange seems like a throwaway moment, it actually hints at how Playtone Records will treat The Wonders when their song “That Thing You Do!” becomes a hit single. The band goes to California and essentially becomes puppets for the record label—appearing in a teen movie, performing on a variety show, announcing a fake marriage engagement between Jimmy and Faye (Liv Tyler), and recording a Spanish version of “That Thing You Do!” instead of Jimmy’s new original song.
Additionally, when local band manager Phil Horace (Chris Ellis) goes to Patterson’s to find the drummer of the band he saw the night before, a bus with an ad for Wonder Bread passes by the store, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to the band's name change.
David Fincher’s Fight Club is one of the director's most popular movies because of its over-the-top style, memorable characters, and iconic twist ending. About two-thirds into the film, it is revealed that Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is the alter ego of the Narrator (Edward Norton) and that they are, in fact, the same character. While there are a number of visual cues that foreshadow this revelation, including single frames of Tyler Durden spliced into the film before he’s properly introduced, there’s one very clever moment where the Narrator beats himself in an attempt to blackmail his boss. The Narrator says, “For some reason I thought of my first fight … with Tyler.”
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
After Liz (Kate Ashfield) breaks up with Shaun (Simon Pegg), he drinks his sorrows away with his friend Ed (Nick Frost) at the Winchester Tavern. To cheer him up, Ed plans a fun-filled day of drinking the next day, which includes, “Bloody Mary first thing, bite at The Kings Head, couple at The Little Princess, stagger back here, back at the bar for shots.” Co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright actually reveal Shaun of the Dead’s entire plot with Ed’s plan: The first zombie Shaun and Ed encounter is wearing a nametag that says “Mary,” then a zombie bites the neck of Shaun’s stepfather, the king of his family. Shaun later saves a couple, Dave (Dylan Moran) and Dianne (Lucy Davis), and his princess, Liz. The group then stumbles their way through a zombie herd to get back to the Winchester, where they shoot at the living dead.
There’s another moment of clever foreshadowing at the beginning when Shaun’s roommate screams at Ed, “You wanna live like an animal?! Go live in the shed.” At the the end of the movie, we see a zombified Ed chained up like an animal living in the shed in Shaun’s backyard.
When the superheroes assemble on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarrier for the first time, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) makes an offhanded remark about one of the ship’s engineers playing the classic arcade game Galaga. The objective of the video game is to defend Earth from invading aliens as they descend on the planet, which is exactly what The Avengers have to do during the Battle of New York with the Chitauri aliens in the film’s climax.