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6 Most Masterfully Executed ‘Red Herrings’ In Movies

Let’s see how films like ‘Memento’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ skillfully lead viewers down the wrong path before revealing their true stories.

Have you ever watched a movie and been surprised by a plot twist? That’s often because of a ‘red herring,’ a trick used in movies to fool the audience. Here are six movies that did an amazing job of using red herrings to create unexpected turns in their stories.

6. 12 Monkeys (1995)

In ‘12 Monkeys,‘ viewers are led down a path where a radical group is initially portrayed as the architects of a catastrophic disaster. This clever misdirection plays a role in the film’s storytelling by diverting attention from the actual perpetrator.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl‘s opening scene subtly focuses on a crest and paired swords, suggesting their importance in the narrative. However, this expectation is humorously subverted when Elizabeth Swan discovers these swords are merely decorative pieces.

The grand introduction of Captain Jack Sparrow, where his vessel is revealed to be sinking, also plays brilliantly with audience expectations while blending humor with narrative misdirection.

4. The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige‘ is a masterclass in the art of misdirection. The film cleverly diverts the audience’s attention to Hugh Jackman’s character while obscuring the workings of Christian Bale’s illusion. Michael Caine’s character hints that a body double is necessary for the trick, but Bale’s trick involves making the audience believe there’s no double.

3. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Hot Fuzz‘ uses the concept of a red herring by directing suspicion towards a character seemingly central to the mystery of a series of murders. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes evident that the conspiracy extends far beyond this individual. The film also plays with the notion of motives, presenting what appears to be a logical reason for the crimes, only to later reveal a much more trivial and petty motive.

2. Memento (2000)

Memento‘ suggests the protagonist’s tattoos are reliable clues in solving a mystery. However, it later immerses the audience in the protagonist’s fragmented perspective, revealing that the tattoos’ meanings are subject to change based on shifting narratives. Besides, it turns out that the protagonist is manipulating himself, as well as being manipulated.

1. Barbarian (2022)

Barbarian‘s first act is a red herring, misleading the audience about the true horror. The film initially builds tension around Bill Skarsgaard’s character, leading viewers to question his intentions. However, this anticipation is subverted as the narrative unfolds, revealing a deeper, more sinister layer of horror. In the end, ‘Barbarian’ manipulates the audience’s expectations about Skarsgaard’s character, ultimately revealing him not as the villain.

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