5 Awesome Ways Famous Plot Twists Were Kept Secret
Nowadays, if you want to know as little as possible about a movie or show before seeing it, you have to actively go out of your way to avoid trailers, gossip sites, and the people who make the movies and shows carelessly spoiling their own creations. The script for Django Unchained, for instance, got leaked over a year before the movie came out (presumably Tarantino wanted us to count the N-words ourselves).
However, there was a time, not too long ago, when filmmakers and entertainers went to extreme lengths to preserve the secrets we'd all find out sooner or later anyway -- even if it meant using insane methods like ...
George Lucas Didn't Tell Anyone Darth Vader Was Luke's Father (Not Even the Actors)
Thanks to all the Star Wars parodies, references, and freaking prequels, kids today probably learn that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father before they find out who the president is. However, when The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980 and Vader said the classic, often misremembered words, "I am your father," audiences were left in complete shock. Keep in mind that fans had been told in the first movie that Luke's dad was dead, by a man with a British accent, no less, so they had little reason to doubt that it wasn't true.
British is like the .gov of accents.
Still, dozens of people are present during the shooting of any scene in a movie, so how the hell did George Lucas convince them to keep this a secret until the movie came out?
How They Kept It Quiet:
Lucas didn't need to convince anyone, because the actor playing Darth Vader in that scene didn't say "I am your father" on the set -- he said "Obi-Wan killed your father."
Seriously, look at his lips.
As you may know, the guy in Vader's suit and the guy who did the voice are two different people (James Earl Jones would dub over David Prowse's lines later), so it was extremely easy for Lucas to just write the fake line into the script and shoot the scene like that. In fact, Lucas was so distrustful of his own crew that he told the truth to absolutely no one. And by no one, of course, we mean a few select people who had to know in order to shoot the scene in question, but seriously, like no one else.
For a long time, the only person Lucas had told was the movie's director, Irvin Kershner, but they only told Mark Hamill, the actor playing Luke Sykwalker, literally moments before he had to shoot his reaction. Even then, Kershner made sure to point out to Hamill that if the ending got leaked, they would know it was him.
"You know when your character loses a hand in the movie? That's just a preview, kid."
Carrie Fisher didn't know, Harrison Ford didn't know, R2-D2 didn't know -- as we mentioned, even Darth Vader didn't know. Or at least he'd forgotten he knew: Two years before The Empire Strikes Back came out, David Prowse jokingly predicted that this very twist might take place while talking to a crowd of over 1,000 Star Wars fans at a public appearance in Berkeley, California.
"Now there's an idea!"
The "Who Shot J.R.?" Episode of Dallas Was Locked in a Vault
It was, quite simply, the most famous cliffhanger in the history of television. And while those pompous so-called history books may try to tell you that the biggest question of the summer of 1980 was whether Reagan would defeat Carter or when the Iran hostage crisis would finally be resolved, we all know that the mystery everyone really wanted to figure out back then can be summed up in three little words: "Who shot J.R.?"
And the implied follow-up, "Why didn't everyone?"
Specifically, they wanted to find out which of J.R. Ewing's countless sworn enemies finally mustered up the courage to unload a couple of rounds in his ass during the third season finale of prime time soap opera Dallas. It would be eight full months before the answer was finally revealed, and the hype was absolutely through the roof -- the only way the impatient public managed to keep its sanity during that time was by spending shitloads of money on T-shirts, posters, magazines, and other novelty items with J.R.'s name on them.
Time declared the bullet that did it their man of the year.
How They Kept It Quiet:
Apparently the producers themselves bought into the frenzy, because they put more effort into hiding the identity of J.R.'s would-be killer than the U.S. government put into covering up the [sentence redacted by the CIA].
First the show filmed multiple endings with almost every single character firing the fateful shots, ensuring that even they wouldn't know which of them was the real shooter (they even jokingly had a shot of J.R. firing the gun). The correct version was only added to the final cut of the episode two days before its airing. In between, the episode sat locked in a vault in New York. When the episode finally aired, 360 million people finally learned that the culprit was J.R.'s former mistress.
For some reason, we expected ALF.
But before they could even get to that point, the producers had to sort out other troubles: There was an eight-week production delay caused by a Screen Actor's Guild strike, meaning that for the first several months, the writers didn't even have an answer to the mystery. To complicate matters even further, Larry Hagman, the actor behind J.R., staged a 10-day holdout, refusing to perform again until he got a raise. Rather than telling him, "You just filmed a scene where someone shot you, moron," and killing the character, they finally gave him his raise, plus a juicy percentage of royalties from all those J.R. T-shirts.
"I sure hope all this money doesn't hinder my ability to pretend I'm a filthy rich, out-of-touch dickwad for a living."
Andy Kaufman Didn't Even Tell His Family He Was Tony Clifton
Tony Clifton was a bizarre stunt by comedian/genius/crazy person Andy Kaufman, best known for his role of Latka in the sitcom Taxi and for producing the awkwardest silences in the early episodes of Saturday Night Live. Clifton was an obnoxious, hilariously untalented lounge singer, which showed some real acting talent from Kaufman, considering the guy pulled a better Elvis in the '70s than the real Elvis.
To be fair, Elvis could do an excellent Tony Clifton.
Kaufman was determined to convince everyone that he and Clifton were different people, and for a while he actually did it -- check out this news clip where the reporter seems genuinely skeptical that Clifton might be Kaufman:
How They Kept It Quiet:
The main technique Kaufman used to prove that he wasn't Clifton was pretty simple: He'd just show up unannounced during Clifton's shows. As in, while Clifton was performing on the stage. He was able to do this thanks to the fact that, unbeknownst to most people at the time, he wasn't the only person playing the character: His pal Bob Zmuda and his brother Michael Kaufman both wore the fat muttonchops at some point.
Kaufman especially liked doing this when promoters who thought they'd figured out the gag would hire Clifton in hopes of getting Kaufman, since Clifton's booking fees were lower. Zmuda even claims that it was actually him as Clifton in many of the TV interviews the character did, like the one with Letterman.
More recently, Zmuda also played Joaquin Phoenix.
But Kaufman didn't just brush aside the rumors about him and Tony with a playful wink and a smile; he passionately refuted them in public, private, and anywhere in between. As part of his agreement to join the cast of Taxi, Kaufman demanded that NBC not only hire "Tony" for a guest spot, but draw up an actual contract for the fictional character to sign. Then, when Tony showed up on set late, drunk, and with a prostitute on each arm, and subsequently had to be escorted off the premises by security, he insisted they fire "Tony" in front of the cast, crew, other studio executives, and a gathering of press Kaufman had arranged in advance.
According to Zmuda, Kaufman never admitted to being the repulsive lounge singer to anyone but himself, his manager George Shapiro, and his girlfriend, Kaufman's own family included. Zmuda inherited the character after Kaufman's death in 1984 and continues playing Tony to this day.
Or at least we think that's Zmuda.
Related: 55 Tales Of Famous Folks Goofing Off
Newhart Had a Fake Finale That Got Leaked to the Press
The finale to Bob Newhart's sitcom Newhart is probably more famous than the show itself by now: The show ended by revealing to almost 30 million viewers that the entire eight-season series was nothing but a dream imagined by the character Newhart played on his previous sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. They even got the actress from the old series to reprise her role as Bob's wife.
When The West Wing ended by revealing it was all a dream by the cat from ALF, it didn't go so well.
The episode still consistently ranks among the most memorable in the history of television, and a big reason why it worked is that, unlike the fairly predictable finales of other classic shows ("Ross and Rachel end up together," "they're all in purgatory or something"), no one, absolutely no one, saw this one coming.
How They Kept It Quiet:
To ensure that the script of the final scene didn't get leaked, Newhart and company used a very simple method: There was no script of the final scene. Instead, a fake ending was written for the specific purpose of misleading the tabloids if they somehow caught wind of it, and guess what? They did, announcing to the world that Newhart's character, Dick Loudon, was to die in the final episode and end up in heaven talking to God, played by George Burns. Or George C. Scott. Or some old guy named George, anyway.
"Oh, hey, Mr. Harrison. If it's alright, I'd like to hold out for a better George."
Bob Newhart claims his wife, Ginny, came up with the idea for the finale years earlier, presumably while she and Bob were enacting a different type of bedroom scene. The show's writers, meanwhile, have said it was actually them (why they were in a bedroom with Bob, we're not sure). Whoever came up with it, when it came time to film the scene, only a handful of people knew what would really happen -- not even the crew filming the scene or the other members of the cast knew what was going on at the time.
Also, since her presence alone would've spoiled the surprise instantly, Suzanne Pleshette, the actress who played Newhart's wife, was sneaked into the studio and remained hidden until the final scene. And then they had to edit out two solid minutes of applause from the completely mind-blown audience.
Contrast this to the Seinfeld finale, where the audience rioted and killed Jackie Chiles.
Alfred Hitchcock Went Psycho Promoting Psycho
Imagine you went to see, say, World War Z, and then 40 minutes into the movie, Brad Pitt got eaten by a zombie. And then for the rest of the movie, you're following one of the zombies as the main character. That was what it was like for audiences watching 1960's Psycho.
"I sure am looking forward to watching this character grow and develop for another hour or so."
Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece was full of shocking, genre-defining material -- from the "shower scene" to the rotting corpse to the unprecedented, highly controversial shot of a toilet flushing. However, its impact on cinema history and society at large is a direct result of the fact nobody knew quite what to expect when the film first debuted. Sure, we all know by now that the movie takes a turn when the main character, played by Janet Leigh, gets killed less than halfway in. But back then nobody knew about the plot twist ... or, like, anything else about this movie.
Gee, we wonder why they went to see it anyway.
How They Kept It Quiet:
After spending $9,000 for the rights to Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, Hitchcock was so mind-blown by the story's twists that he wanted to make sure the audience experienced it exactly as he did ... even if it meant sending his assistant to buy as many copies of the book as she could find to make sure no one else read it. That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. The insane, somewhat potato-shaped iceberg.
For starters, the film didn't even have a real trailer -- they just shot Hitchcock walking around in the film's sets being all creepy and used that as the "trailer."
Many viewers thought they were paying to watch a documentary on home renovations.
The film itself was shot in total secrecy, which Hitchcock accomplished by using a closed set and forcing the cast and crew to sign an agreement promising not to leak the ending, then to promote the movie without actually mentioning what the hell they do in it. As if that wasn't enough, Hitchcock also launched a marketing campaign in which he prohibited anyone from seeing the movie early, critics included, and convinced theater owners all over the world to lock their doors after the start of each viewing to ensure no one be allowed to walk in late.
"Those who sneak in will be forced to act in my next movie. Hope you like birds."
Finally, the last weapon in Hitchcock's secret-shielding arsenal was a recording that played as people left the theater in which he personally pleaded with them not to mention the movie's ending to anyone who hadn't seen it. This mainly worked, because it was 1960 -- today, we're pretty sure that would do nothing but make sure the twist became a Twitter hashtag 30 seconds later.
Make all the hashtags you want about our new Star Wars: Adventures in Jedi School mini-series. Just watch the trailer, whatever you do.
For more pop culture knowledge to impress your friends with, check out 7 Celebrity Careers That Launched by Accident and 6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Movies You Won't Believe Hollywood Is Remaking .
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Further Reading: As it turns out, competent professionals are way worse at keeping secrets than coked-up directors. During the Cold War, some Russian spies used secret documents as toilet paper -- making every page one wet-nap away from incriminating. Even Presidents can't keep their secrets for long: which is why we now know Thomas Jefferson was completely terrified of his public. If you're STILL jonesing for leaked secrets, these excerpts from the NSA's internal magazine should really hit the spot.