Every year, on April 1st, the American public gathers for a day of revelry and rapscallionism. Bros pull other bros’ saggy Dickies down in front of cute, giggling girls. Children lie facedown in the tub and pretend to be dead when their parents walk into the bathroom. The internet becomes filled with the hoax deaths of notable celebrities and faux news stories about upcoming movies. We enjoy on April Fool’s Day a break from our ennui and our existential dread. We trick and we annoy our closest friends just to get one day’s worth of the shits-and-giggles we wish to have all year round.
But no one knows how better to toy with, riddle, and prank people than the Hollywood crowd. Filmmakers have been startling people with tricks and surprises since the invention of the medium, regardless of the day or year. Looking for some fun gags to play on your friends? Or perhaps wondering which pranks to look out for? For all your April Fool’s Day needs, consult the following:
1. The “Dead Person Pretending to be Alive”: The Sixth Sense (1999)
Be wary of anyone pretending to offer you counsel or support for your emotional needs on April 1st. In M. Night Shyamalan’s acclaimed movie The Sixth Sense, a child psychologist played by Bruce Willis works hard to befriend and supposedly help a young, troubled boy played by Haley Joel Osment. Poor Cole Sear sees dead people in the places where they were killed, and cannot seem to focus on school, recreation, or family time with his single mom (Toni Collette).
But Willis’s character is the ultimate prankster, and his victim is the paradigmatic Fool. Just as Osment thinks he might be receiving the proper treatment for his depressing life, SURPRISE: Doctor Malcolm Crowe can’t help anyone get well. Why? He’s actually a ghost masquerading as a living person! No more recess for Cole Sear.
- Best prank victims: Whiny children; wives in already unstable marriages
- Where to avoid: Schoolhouses; therapist sessions; M. Night Shyamalan’s apartment on Mulholland Drive
- Also see: Safe Haven (2013)
2. The “Criminal Mastermind Feigning Injury and/or Ignorance”: The Usual Suspects (1996)
In Bryan Singer’s Oscar-winning suspense thriller, The Usual Suspects, a man named Verbal Kint describes his relationship to a group of unseemly, murderous criminals. Told in flashback from Kint’s (Kevin Spacey) narration, the police who arrested him and his crew come to learn that their mutual plan — to rob a shipyard and stop an impending delivery of rival gang drugs — has failed due to insubordination. For talking to the cops, Verbal is allowed to walk free without escort, mostly because he is a sweaty, crippled goober for much of the film. What should the police have to fear from this weak-willed worm, who whines and moans and sells his buddies down the river?
Ah, well, SURPRISE: Verbal Kint was actually a gang leader and much-feared criminal mastermind named Keyser Soze. Stupid cops — someone should have spotted that fake limp a mile away. With a little physical therapy — like the choreographed coaching Spacey received for his Academy Award-winning role — you can make your own get-out-of-jail-free card.
- Best prank victims: Gang members; Italian-American policemen; Gabriel Byrne
- Where to avoid: Underground poker games; shipyards; Pete Postlethwaite’s house
- Also see: Watchmen (2008)
3. The “Sentient Animals Pretending You Are on Another Planet”: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Nothing will make your buddies more confused or uncomfortable than training a gorilla to walk on its hind legs, carry weapons, and tell your friends, “You’re on our planet now.” They, like Charlton Heston before them in Franklin J. Schaffner’s film Planet of the Apes, might take several weeks to realize where they actually are.
When Heston and his space crew crash-land in a desolate landscape, they run into some very unfriendly apes. As the apes cage the crew and do things like talk about their feelings and eat food, it becomes apparent that the stranded space travelers are on a totally different planet. Until, SURPRISE: Heston’s character George Taylor realizes the apes have been lying to him all along, and he’s actually still on planet Earth, but in the future. Sentience and human emotion can really turn some animals into goofballs.
- Best prank victims: NASA; fervent supporters of the NRA; people from the future
- Where to avoid: Zoos; African forests
- Also see: Planet of the Apes (2001)
4. The “Seductive Housewife Hoping to Arrange Her Husband’s and Stepdaughter’s Deaths”: Double Indemnity (1944)
This particular prank requires a feminine sensibility, but really anyone with access to blockheaded insurance salesmen can work it. In Billy Wilder’s classic film noir Double Indemnity, that’s just what Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) does to dull, sex-obsessed Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray). It’s a simple one for her: After your husband’s local insurance man comes by the house to collect some fees, start pretending you like his scent and dress scantily. In a few days, like Phyllis and Walter, you can be conducting an elicit affair behind the Mister’s back; within the week, your salesman will be helping to plan the murders of your hubby and his daughter from another marriage.
Then, without warning, just yell, “SURPRISE!” and pull out your gun to shoot the insurance guy you formerly pretended to love. This one works pretty constantly; just be careful not to talk too much, or the gag can get out of hand, and you’ll be shot first.
- Best prank victims: Insurance salesmen; Willie Loman; very tall meatheads
- Where to avoid: Suburbia; supermarkets in Beverly Hills; other men’s bedrooms
- Also see: The Ghost Writer (2010)
5. The “Transgender Hairdresser Willfully Concealing a Penis”: The Crying Game (1992)
Perhaps the simplest prank on the list involves a strategic use of underwear to hide your genitalia. The best example comes from Irish Oscar-winner Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, about the 20th-century conflict between Britain and Ireland over independence. A relationship between sexy hairdresser Dil (Jaye Davidson), an IRA supporter, and a British soldier (Forest Whitaker) escalates quickly into a romantic love affair.
Only at the movie’s end does Dil reveal to Fergus that, SURPRISE, “she” was actually a “he” the entire time! For those in relationships, this April Fool’s-worthy gag requires not much more than some pushing, some tugging, some taping, and some chastity.
- Best prank victims: Patient, loving partners; vulnerable former inmates; Forest Whitaker’s children
- Where to avoid: London; Dublin; army barracks; salons