Saw Endings, Ranked

This is also the face I made at the end of Saw. Photo: Lionsgate

Saw is a phenomenon. What started as a seven-minute short by then-unknown director James Wan grew into a juggernaut, becoming one of the highest-grossing horror franchises of all time. With the tenth installment in the 19-year-old series now in theaters, many of us have been putting ourselves through a Saw-inspired game of our own: rewatching all of the preceding Saw movies in quick succession.

Because of Saw’s status as the progenitor of the early-aughts splatter-film revival referred to — sometimes lovingly and sometimes less so — as torture porn, the twist endings can sometimes get lost among the schlock and gore and that weird greige filter. But twists are even more central to the Saw franchise than to the oeuvre of M. Night Shyamalan. Each film ends with a reveal (or two, or three), accompanied by the high staccato strings of composer Charlie Clouser’s “Hello Zepp.” If the gruesome traps are the Hot Topic window displays that draw you in, the twists are the cute emo cashier who keeps you coming back. That feeling of being duped — of learning that even when you thought you were one step ahead, you weren’t actually following the rules and someone else was in control the whole time — is more exhilarating than even 3-D body horror.

So with Saw X dominating Letterboxd (even if beaten out by cop dogs at the box office), we’re ranking the Saw twist endings. Let the game begin.

Spoilers for every film in the Saw franchise follow, obviously.


Saw 3-D (2010)

When Saw 3-D hit theaters, the bar for the Saw franchise was on the floor. The series’s box-office performance had been in steady decline since Saw III, and torture porn had largely gone out of vogue since its Bush-era heyday. And yet the seventh Saw installment finds a way to limbo right under that bar, through the power of 3-D.

More theme park attraction than film, Saw 3-D features plenty of the kind of schlocky set pieces that define the genre, but it’s missing the scrappy cleverness of its better predecessors. I numbly watched a man who falsely claimed to be a Jigsaw victim navigate his way through a booby-trapped asylum, having more fun trying to anticipate 3-D jump-scares than actually engaging with the thin-but-still-somehow-confusing plot. When the twist is finally revealed — that Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) became a Jigsaw acolyte after he escaped the trap in the first film — it’s not satisfying or even really that surprising. You have to be invested to be surprised.


Saw IV (2007)

Saw IV’s ending is only notable because it sets up the back half of the franchise — as a movie twist, it’s just kinda convoluted.

To loosely summarize the plot, SWAT Officer Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is obsessed with rescuing Jigsaw’s victims after his team failed to save Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) at the end of Saw II. Six months later, he gets a video message from (the now-dead) Jigsaw telling him that Matthews is alive. Rigg can save him — as well as his partner Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who’s been kidnapped — by passing a series of trials designed to cure his obsession. Predictably, Rigg doesn’t follow those instructions, and ends up triggering a device that electrocutes Hoffman and crushes Matthews’s head with ice blocks just as he reaches the room where they’re held. In a tape recorded message from Jigsaw, Rigg learns that each of the people he tried to save would have been able to save themselves without his help — including Matthews and Hoffman.

But the big reveal comes when Hoffman reaches down and unbuckles his legs from the electric chair. He stands up, the iconic theme swells, he walks away from Rigg and slams the door on him. “Game over.” Hoffman is revealed to be the secret third Jigsaw accomplice, and will continue his work for the next three Saw films.

Saw IV spends more time setting up conspiracy theories than developing Rigg or Hoffman as characters, which makes this twist feel more like a hamfisted plot device than an exciting new development. You’d be better off just reading the Wikipedia entry.


Saw X (2023)

I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed. After over a decade of failed reboot attempts, Saw X promised to be a return to form. The often-imitated, never-duplicated John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is back from the dead, throwing a wrench into the already complicated timeline. (Saw X is set sometime between Saw II and Saw III.) It also requires a Dear Evan Hansen–esque disregard for how aging works, as Kramer looks better in Saw III — a few months later at most and further along in his cancer’s progression — than he does in Saw X. But all of that would be forgivable. We love how silly these movies are, and the fact that they all require some suspension of disbelief just adds to their schlocky pleasure.

What is unforgivable, however, is just how predictable this twist ending is. The plot sympathizes with Kramer more than any other movie in the franchise does, as we see him scammed by a con artist, Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), who promises to cure his cancer. When Kramer discovers the grift, it’s game on. With help from Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the recovering drug addict revealed to be his apprentice at the end of Saw II, Kramer puts Pederson and her accomplices through some of the most gruesome traps the franchise has seen. We also get a glimpse of Amanda going rogue, which will be her downfall in Saw III.

Things go off the rails for Kramer when another of Pederson’s scam victims, Parker Sears (Steven Brand), turns up to demand his money back. Amanda and Kramer tell him about the game and offer him the opportunity to play along. But of course, Sears is in on the con. He turns his gun on Kramer, revealing that he and Pederson are lovers. Once freed, Pederson shows how evil she really is by killing Gabriela (Renata Vaca), who won her own game, and forcing Kramer to play the game intended for Pederson herself. As if to prove her monstrousness, Pederson brings in Carlos (Jorge Briseño), a young boy Kramer bonded with earlier, to play alongside him. The two are “bloodboarded” on a seesawlike platform they can move up and down with levers, and though Kramer tells Carlos not to pull his lever, the boy does anyway and the two avoid death by alternating who gets blasted. Rather than stay and watch the (literal) bloodbath, Pederson and Sears go looking for their money.

But Kramer is one step ahead. Just as Sears starts to wonder why Pederson’s trap was meant for two people if she was the last victim, the room locks and begins to fill with a corrosive gas. A panel in the wall opens, just big enough for one person’s head. Kramer and Amanda watch as Pederson and Sears fight each other to breathe (relatively) fresh air. Kramer and Amanda hand Carlos the bag of money, and they walk out into the sunrise as a trio. Thematic? Yes. Surprisingly sentimental? Absolutely. But the minute Kramer says he had “a lapse in judgment,” it’s so obvious that he’s playing Pederson and Sears that the payoff isn’t satisfying. John Kramer is many things, but “too trusting” is not one of them.


Jigsaw (2017)

After Saw 3-D tanked at the box office, many assumed that the franchise was dead for good. But like this eighth installment’s namesake, Saw seemingly emerged from the grave with 2017’s Jigsaw. The premise is kind of a fun, self-aware take on the franchise: Ten years after Jigsaw’s apparent death, a new game begins. Five strangers wake up in a barn with buckets over their head, chained to a wall dotted with buzzsaws. One by one they face tests designed to punish them for sins of their past, and one by one they fail the tests and are violently killed.

Meanwhile, detectives Hunt (Clé Bennett) and Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) investigate the corpses turning up all over town — our poor friends from the barn — that seem to be new Jigsaw victims. They start to suspect pathologist Logan Nelson (Matt Passamore) and his assistant Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), a self-described Jigsaw fangirl. Logan and Eleanor, for their part, suspect Halloran. They track each other to the barn, which is now abandoned; Halloran and Logan are knocked out and wake up in a Jigsaw test of their own. After appearing to be killed by his trap, however, Halloran gets up and tells Logan that, ten years ago, he was saved by Jigsaw in this very barn. He was the first victim we saw (apparently) die.

There are really two twists here: that Logan is the new Jigsaw killer, and that we’ve been watching events that seem to take place concurrently but are actually ten years apart. The former is pretty standard Saw fare. The latter is fun, sure, but Saw II already did the asynchronous timelines thing better and more cleanly.


Saw III (2006)

There’s nothing technically wrong with Saw III’s ending. It suffers mostly from the fact that it’s actually two (or three, depending on whether you consider Jigsaw dying to be a twist) reveals that work on their own but don’t quite fit together in a satisfying way. They end up just muddling each other.

The first twist is that the victims being put through separate Jigsaw tests are actually married to each other. The wife, a surgeon named Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), was kidnapped by Jigsaw’s victim-turned-apprentice Amanda and told to keep Kramer alive until another victim finishes his test. A trap around her neck is hooked up to Jigsaw’s heart monitor — if he dies, she dies. It’s only once the other victim reaches the room where Kramer lays dying that we learn he’s Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfadyen), Lynn’s husband. Their marriage has been falling apart since their son was killed by a drunk driver, and Jeff’s test was designed to “help” him to move on from the rage consuming him. Unable to do so, he kills Jigsaw instead of forgiving him, not knowing that it would also kill his wife.

The second twist is that the entire thing has also been a test for Amanda. She’s been going rogue, not playing by the rules. Knowing that he was going to die soon, Jigsaw didn’t want someone who didn’t share his specific moral code to take up his mantle. Sure enough, Amanda refuses to let Lynn go after she completes her test. Amanda shoots Lynn just as Jeff arrives, and he fires back. As she bleeds out, Jigsaw tells Amanda that she was being tested too, and that she failed.

When taken individually, each twist is genuinely surprising with a dark irony that makes for a pretty good Saw twist! When squished together in the span of about three minutes? Meh.


Saw VI (2009)

Look, is Saw VI a good movie? No. It swings wildly between the requisite body horror, increasingly convoluted continuations of Saw lore, and preachy indictments of the American health-care system. An admirable message, sure, but not exactly primed to stick when wrapped in the bloated corpse that is the Saw franchise in 2009. But this isn’t a ranking of Saw movies, this is a ranking of Saw twists, and the twist in Saw VI did make me laugh out loud in shock.

The main victim of Saw VI is the health-insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), whose algorithm (?) denied Jigsaw a potentially life-saving cancer treatment. Easton wakes up in an abandoned zoo, forced to decide which of his associates deserve to live or die, just as his algorithm (??) decides who lives or dies. The twist, though, is that the woman and young boy watching from a cage at the end of the test — who we’ve been led to believe is Easton’s own family — are actually the wife and son of Harold Abbott, a man whose heart-disease coverage was denied by Easton’s algorithm (???). The test isn’t for Easton — it’s for them. They get to choose his fate, just as he decided Harold’s. Mrs. Abbott tearfully considers, and, right when she decides against killing Easton, her son pulls a lever that drops hundreds of syringes filled with hydrofluoric acid onto Easton’s body, burning him up from the inside out.

It’s gruesome, it’s shocking, it’s silly. It’s Saw, baby!


Saw V (2008)

Once Jigsaw dies, the Saw franchise gets pretty bogged down in building on his lore. Unfortunately Mark Hoffman just doesn’t have the gravitas, and his cat-and-mouse game with Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson), which takes up most of Saw V’s screen time outside of the game, drags on too long.

It makes sense, then, that the Saw V twist has nothing to do with the meta-story and instead is all about the game itself. Five victims, seemingly strangers, are told that they’re all connected — literally, they’re trapped in collars that are held by the same cable — and that they must work against their instincts in order to survive. One by one, they are killed in traps that pit them against each other, eventually piecing together that each of them indirectly contributed to the same building fire that killed eight people. But when the final two players reach the exit, they learn that everyone could have survived. Each of the tests was designed to be completed by five people working together, mirroring how they worked together to cause the fire.

Saw V isn’t the only Saw movie to have a twist within the game itself (Jigsaw’s shotgun game twist is another good one), but in the absence of a big meta-twist, it really has time to shine. It’s also the only twist to make me say, “Ohhh, that’s clever” out loud, and then, “Oh, yeah, they should have figured that out.”


Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)

We can debate the merits of Spiral: From the Book of Saw all day. The Chris Rock–led spinoff leans more into serial-killer procedural than torture-porn gorefest, and your mileage may vary on whether you have fun with that tonal mismatch. But what’s not up for debate is just how much fun Rock (who reportedly punched up the script after expressing his desire to star in a Saw movie) and director Darren Lynn Bousman had with the ending.

Rock stars as Zeke Banks, a detective investigating a series of Jigsaw copycat murders. After some cat and mouse with the killer, Banks wakes up in an empty warehouse and learns that his partner, Detective Schenk (Max Minghella), whom he believed had died in an earlier trap, is actually the copycat. But the final twist is so gleeful in its execution that it elevates that fairly predictable reveal. Schenk tells Banks he’s the son of a man killed by a corrupt police officer and offers Banks a final choice. He points to a target near the ceiling, where Banks’s father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), is suspended, slowly being drained of his blood. Marcus is a retired chief of police who protected dirty cops when he was in charge, while Zeke has worked to expose corruption. Schenk hands Zeke a revolver with one bullet and tells him he can either shoot the target, releasing Marcus and letting Schenk go, or shoot Schenk and let his dad bleed out. Zeke chooses the former, but as Marcus is being lowered, a SWAT team arrives. Schenk had called 911 and said he was being chased by a shooter. The arriving officers trigger a trip wire that pulls Marcus back up to standing and raises his arm, which has a gun attached to it. Apparently not seeing the wires and believing Marcus to be the shooter, the SWAT team opens fire.

It is the most bonkers thing this franchise has ever done, and that’s saying a lot. Plus, as much as Jigsaw loves puppets, he has never turned a person into a gruesome human one. Millennials really are so creative!


Saw (2004)

Compared to some of the franchise’s later entries, the original Saw’s plot is incredibly simple. Two men wake up chained to pipes in a disgusting bathroom with tape recorders in their pocket and a corpse on the floor between them. One is told to escape, the other is told to kill his fellow captive or else his family will die. Through flashbacks and cutaways, we learn that the men, Adam (co-writer Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), were kidnapped by a mysterious serial killer known as Jigsaw who makes his victims play twisted “games”; a hospital orderly named Zep (Michael Emerson) appears to be the culprit. After being chased by cops through the sewers, Zep makes it to the bathroom, intending to kill the men who failed their test, but Adam bludgeons him to death with a toilet lid.

That seems like the climax — the bad guy has been defeated. But then, while looking through Zep’s pocket’s to find a key to his shackle, Adam finds another tape recorder. He presses play and a familiar, sinister voice says, “Hello, Zep.” It turns out that Zep was playing a game too. That’s when the corpse stretches and stands up. More flashbacks reveal that Jigsaw is actually John Kramer, a cancer patient of Dr. Gordon’s. Kramer tells Adam that the key was in the bathtub he woke up in, long washed away. “Game over.” He slams the bathroom door. Cut to black.

I wish I had seen Saw in theaters. Experiencing the communal “oh, shit” moment when an apparently dead body that’s been lying on a dirty floor for 90 minutes (which Tobin Bell really did — the man deserves an Oscar) gets up and pulls a prosthetic gunshot wound off of his head must have been so much fun. Of course the movie launched a huge franchise. An ending like that is just begging to be iterated upon.


Saw II (2005)

Sequels are hard, especially when you’re following up an auteur who worked on a tiny budget. Compared to Saw, Saw II certainly looks more expensive and more polished. That can be a double-edged sword (or … saw?), in that you’re working with more money but also an expectation to live up to the original. There’s plenty to debate over whether Saw II as a film does that. But its twist ending certainly rises to the challenge.

Jigsaw has trapped eight people in an abandoned house, including Amanda, one of his victims from the first movie, and Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of the detective who apprehended him. Jigsaw tells Detective Matthews that, if he plays by the rules, he’ll see his son in “a safe and secure state.” All he has to do is sit and talk to Jigsaw for two hours. Matthews and Jigsaw watch surveillance footage as the eight victims are put through various games and traps. Eventually Detective Matthews attacks Jigsaw, forcing him to take him to the house. Daniel and Amanda, the final survivors, escape down a tunnel and end up back in the bathroom from Saw, with Adam’s corpse still chained to the radiator.

When Jigsaw and Matthews arrive at the bathroom, however, they find it empty (except for two corpses.) Back at Jigsaw’s lair, Matthews’s fellow officers discover that the monitors were playing recorded footage — the game took place days ago. The two-hour timer goes off, and a large safe in the corner swings open, revealing Daniel wearing an oxygen mask. “A safe and secure state.” Matthews is knocked out and chained to a pipe, waking up to a tape from Amanda. She reveals that, as Jigsaw’s accomplice, she helped set up this test for him. Amanda appears in the doorway and slams the door on him. “Game over.”

It’s so satisfying — the twist itself, the wordplay, the realization that Jigsaw was toying with Matthews the whole time — I can forgive writers Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman for essentially giving Saw II the same ending as Ocean’s Eleven.

Saw Twist Endings, Ranked