I think we all have a pretty good idea about which movies are considered mind-bending. Yes, it is subjective to an extent – a person not interested in science fiction may find a film like ‘Primer’ boring. But generally speaking, after watching a film if you have the reaction, “What did I just see?” more often than not, you saw a mind-bending movie. Or, if you endlessly find yourself discussing the plot of the film, it is likely that you saw a mind-bending film.
Now, obviously, you showed the reaction that you did because you found a certain aspect of the film shocking – or surprising, to say the least. That “certain aspect” could be anything related to film: it could be the open plot of the film, it could be the twisted ending of the film, it could even be explicit violence or sexuality in the film. And you would clearly notice that in the below list of best mind-bending movies – every movie is on this list for a different reason. Without further adieu, here are the top movies that will blow your mind. You can stream some of these movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
50. The Double
What happens when an introverted, downtrodden man runs into a vivacious and energetic co-worker –his doppelganger – at his workplace? While the introverted Simon is smitten by his beautiful colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), James, the charming and respected co-worker in the office, helps him get together with Hannah. To Simon’s horror, James slowly starts taking over his life. Based on a unique concept, ‘The Double’ is riveting from start to finish — and even after that.
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Despite being thrashed by critics, there’s a reason why ‘Identity’ stands today as one of the cult classics. Yes, it is a flawed film, but its beauty lies in its flaws. It is a story of ten strangers who find themselves stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rainstorm and become acquainted with each other when they realize that they’re being killed off one by one. The film plays not just with the minds of its characters but also its viewers till the last scene.
‘Predestination’ is a befitting reality to how time-travel movies are made and how uncertain they are. It embodies a timeless traveler, revolving in time between 1945 to 1993 in search of the fizzle bomber. The movie plays Ethan Hawke as a “temporal agent” and Sarah Snook, his “predestination.”The opening scene itself is paradoxical as it combines a time-loop of 3 generations. By the time ‘Predestination’ comes to an end, you are left with a bedazzled mind.
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47. The Truman Show
It wouldn’t really be an exaggeration to note that ‘The Truman Show’ is practically an experiment with truth. In multiple ways, the movie questions our existence. Peter Weir probably tries to metaphorically delineate the horrors of our civilization that is increasingly being controlled through the usage of technology. While Truman exits the show at the end of the movie, there are many questions that remain unanswered. And it those unanswered questions that will keep you awake at night.
46. Source Code
From Duncan Jones, who previously directed ‘Moon,’ ‘Source Code’ is a movie that leaves us more than perplexed at the end. Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Colter Stevens is a pilot and a part of the government’s secret program, by which he is given to relive the last few minutes in the life of another man, who died in a train explosion. Stevens is needed to learn the identity of the bomber, but when he takes up the task, he sees many things are at stake, the least available being time. ‘Source Code’ gives a new twist to the time-travel films we are used to seeing and does that brilliantly.
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45. The Butterfly Effect
According to Chaos theory, a small event in one place can lead to influential events far away. When Eric Bress and Mackye Gruber made this theory into a film, that was obviously something we hadn’t seen before. Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a teenager who frequently blacks out due to unbearable headaches and is transferred to the past, where he can make alterations to his life and that of others. But when he finds out that small changes in the past can drastically change the present, Evan finds himself in macabre parallel realities. It is not a perfect film, but it is a damn interesting one.
44. Mr. Nobody
Choices. Isn’t our whole life at the end of the day a series of choices or decisions that we make? Based on a simple premise of a boy trying to decide whether he should go with his mother or stay with his father results in one hell of an interesting film full of absorbing visuals and intriguing possibilities. The film got butchered by the critics, but don’t believe them. This film is for the ages.
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43. The Machinist
Trevor, a machinist, suffers from insomnia and hasn’t slept in a year. You read that right – in a year! But how does one wake up from a nightmare if one isn’t asleep? Christian Bale is the essence of this classic, his impressive body transformation being the highlight and adding to the authenticity. It’s nearly impossible to get the frail and emasculated body of Bale out of your head.
‘Coherence,’ is a story of eight friends at a dinner party who experience a troubling chain of reality bending events. It is essentially based on a scientific theory referred to as Schrödinger’s cat theory. Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. In simple terms, it is the possibility that multiple realities exist at the same time. A fascinating film based on an even more fascinating idea.
Two men awaken in a room, with their feet chained to two hacksaws and a corpse for company. The catch? One has to escape the room while the other has to kill him in exchange for his family. Flashbacks detail the backstory while the captives ponder looking at the hacksaw – meant to cut off the feet tied to the chain. One of the most bizarre movies ever made, it is a film that will creep you out. But that’s where the fun is!
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40. The Fountain
Can true love bring back someone from being dead? Darren Aronofsky directed this epic story of love and fantasy across different times, each enacted by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in three different eras. This visually rich and thoroughly layered film talks about love and its meaning, beyond the grasp of death. If you watch the film with enough attention, it will surely leave you affected.
‘Dogville’ is a very unusual film, but it is also one of the most powerful films you’ll ever see, especially if you get the message that Lars Von Trier is trying to drive home. By choosing a very minimalistic style of presentation — that looks more like a theatre than a film — Trier squarely focuses on the characters and their intent. There are few films that have shaken me to the core like this one.
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38. The Piano Teacher
A deeply disturbing examination of desire and desperation in love (what else can you expect out of Michael Haneke), ‘The Piano Teacher’ may leave you shaken by the time it ends. Not an easy watch by any means, the film will be richly rewarding to only those who patiently and thoughtfully strive to absorb its subtle nuances — after having gotten through the initial shock. If you look closely, Haneke’s message in this film is that love has many shades, and not all of them are beautiful.
‘Dogtooth’ challenges the conventional wisdom of filmmaking by making all its characters unlikeable — detestable, even. But there also lies the reason why ‘Dogtooth’ works so well; because it isn’t afraid to go to uncomfortable places to reveal the dark aspect of human psychology. As disturbing and startling as ‘Dogtooth’ is, it is also funny in a sad kind of way. Ultimately, it is as raw as modern filmmaking can get.
36. The Sixth Sense
Yeah, I know – the ending. Let’s move on.
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35. Under the Skin
An otherworldly woman who seduces lonely men might sound like the ultimate sexual fantasy coming true, but there’s a catch. Erotica is just on the surface level – the film forces you to delve deep into your psyche to unravel the mysterious connection between sex and power relations. Jonathan Glazer’s science fiction tale is coated with the vulnerability of human emotions and the scariest part is that even aliens can’t escape it.
34. Eyes Wide Shut
While the film surely has complex themes, it has a thrilling element of surprise as the audience doesn’t know what to expect next. Its dream-like narrative, fueled by stunning visual detail, bravura performances, and masterful use of Ligeti’s music, lends the film the ability to compel the audience to get lost in it; and believe me, it is hard to recover.
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Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse-chronological order as the beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass. Her boyfriend and ex-lover take matters into their own hands by hiring two criminals to help them find the rapist so that they can exact revenge. A simultaneously beautiful and terrible examination of the destructive nature of cause and effect, it is a film that shows how cruel time can be. It is a film that you cannot forget once you have watched it.
32. The Others
A woman named Grace is living with her two children, Anne and Nicholas, on an almost empty island in their huge mansion. Grace’s husband is a soldier in WWII who she thinks is dead. Everything seems peaceful for her, but when three mysterious servants are given jobs at the house, terrifying secrets are unlocked that even Grace cannot handle. It is atmospheric. It’s creepy. And its climax completely knocks your socks off.
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31. Holy Motors
‘Holy Motors’ will lay a strong claim of being the weirdest movie on this list. I don’t know how to describe the story of the film because there is no way to it. I wonder if there’s even a story in it. The film is more of an experiment that works big time — if you immerse yourself in it. A man walks around a city wearing different kinds of make-up, and as an audience, all you can do is try to guess his purpose. Truly, mind-blowing!
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30. The Illusionist
Eisenheim – the Illusionist – is a mysterious character with an agenda buried deep down in his heart. He dares to oppose the tyrant crown prince, using the only weapon in his armory – Magic. Just like its lead character, the film will trick you at every step of the way. When it finally ends, you will left mesmerized by what you just saw.
29. The Shining
When two masters of their own fields – Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King – meet, magic happens. Add to it the natural spookiness of Jack Nicholson, and we get a larger-than-life horror saga where the past meets the present to unleash a mind-boggling scare-fest. Cabin fever gets a new definition as the lead actor plunges into madness and becomes a nightmare for his own family. Majestically shot and inherently disturbing, ‘The Shining’ is a horror movie that will truly blow you away.
‘Enemy’ is a story about a high-school teacher who discovers his doppelganger, a struggling actor. This challenging exploration of the subconscious dwells deeply in themes of spiders and webs, which stands for the predicament the protagonist finds himself in. The film has one of the most confusing plots, with the end having multiple interpretations by fans and critics alike. The film is a reflection of the opening caption, which reads, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
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27. The Double Life of Veronique
Standing out as one of the most effective fantasy films of all time, ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’ is the epitome of parallel storytelling. The film tells the tale of two young women from two different countries, who are physically identical to each other. Veronique from France and Weronika from Poland (both played by Irene Jacob) are not related at all. But almost everything else about both of them is exactly similar – they are good musicians and have the same likes and dislikes. In fact, both of them suffer from the same cardiovascular disease of cardiac malformation. Krzysztof Kieślowski craftily portrays the lives of two women who are so very similar, but at the same time, are complete strangers to each other.
Roughly categorized as a surrealist venture, David Lynch’s first critically acclaimed movie ‘Eraserhead’ narrates the story of a man who needs to take care of his severely deformed child. Essentially, it is a body horror movie that has distinct psychological and philosophical elements. Torn between disturbing visions of a woman and hallucinations representing sexual undertones, the protagonist is shown to dwell in a mechanized cityscape with dystopian settings. The film is
25. Ex Machina
This Alex Garland-helmed flick explores the journey of a programmer who wins a contest and is invited to a secluded island to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot. The film truly has an unconventional plot-line and stunning visual effects, but in the end, it is the ironic climax that leaves you thinking for days.
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You don’t watch ‘Gravity’, you experience it. In one shattering calamity after the other, film rarely gives you space and time to breathe a sigh of relief, and even if it does, you are grabbed by another even more precariously poised situation the next moment. It’s tense, and it’s relentless, but even within all the chaos, the visuals and the images never fails to induce gasps and a sense of wonderment. Alfonso Cuaron, with ‘Gravity’ changed the way we will look at space-based films.
A caustic, and darkly funny look at the instant fame culture and celebrityhood in this day and age of Facebook and Twitter, ‘Birdman’ mocks at those who are prisoners of their own image. Bursting and bristling with raw energy, ‘Birdman’ plays around with the art of movie-making as you know it and gives it a new dimension. It surprises, challenges, and dazzles, sometimes all at once. It is zany, exhilarating, and an experience that you, in all likelihood, would have never had watching a movie.
22. The Prestige
In the game of one-upmanship between two magicians, who channel the deep-rooted hatred for each other, to a lifelong feud which elevates to something sinister and goes beyond imagination, and we the viewers, remain as the mute spectators, watching with our incredulous eyes. Directed by Christopher Nolan, ‘The Prestige’ is a dark tale of the bruised ego of men obsessed with secrets. With its clever climax, the film will surely leave you thinking for days.
21. Shutter Island
All hell breaks loose at the AsheCliff Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, when they find one of their most dangerous patients to have escaped the premises but hiding somewhere in the hospital. Investigators Teddy and Chuck come on board and start looking for clues on the island. They find everyone to be a suspect. Even Teddy himself. Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller has the viewer caught biting his nail in anticipation.
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A taut, suspenseful drama from start to finish, ‘Birth’ is a story of a ten-year-old boy who attempts to convince a woman that he is her dead husband reborn. The beauty and the merit of ‘Birth’ are not as much in its story — which has flaws — as it is in its treatment. Haunting score accompanied by extraordinarily gorgeous cinematography, ‘Birth’ works on you like magic — slowing sucking you inside and then never letting you go.
19. Being John Malkovich
The world came to know about the genius of Charlie Kaufman from this film. It is difficult to categorize ‘Being John Malkowich’. Is it science fiction? Probably. Is is a romance? Likely. If there are a movie genre called “weird,” ‘Being John Malkovich’ will fit right into it. How else could you classify a story of a puppeteer who discovers a portal that leads literally into the head of a movie star?
18. Donnie Darko
‘Donnie Darko’ has a grandiose vision with a sprawling imagination of an affluent adolescent. Down to its insidiously naughty elements, ‘Donnie Darko’ is about a young rebel “Donnie” who pays odes to the likes of “The Catcher in the Rye” and successfully brings glib humor through intimidating characters and subjects. Films like ‘Donnie Darko’ are very rare. And even though it is dense with ideas and nearly impossible to understand in one-viewing, very few films are so full of brilliant ideas.
17. The Tree of Life
If it doesn’t blow your mind with its philosophy — which can be difficult to understand at times — ‘The Tree of Life’ will surely mesmerize you with its imagery. Arguably the most beautiful movie ever shot, every frame of it is jaw-droppingly stunning. Even if you don’t like its obtuse narrative, its images will keep coming back to you long after you have finished watching the film.
‘Interstellar’ is dense with ideas like black holes, wormholes, theory of relativity, fifth dimension, and warping of space and time. If your mind doesn’t get blown away just trying to understand these complex theories, then the visuals surely will blow you away. Replete with some of the best images you would have ever seen on-screen, ‘Interstellar’ is visually breathtaking and technologically awe-inspiring.
‘Oldboy’ deviates from the usual path of revenge thrillers. Yes, it is violent, but director Park Chan-wook challenges typical uses of explicit violence by using it symbolically in support of his unforgiving narratives. His is a visceral brand of storytelling, told with rich visuals, impassioned functionality, and poetic purpose. He exhausts us emotionally, exposing us to a painful dramatic beating and, in turn, ensuring that his film is not just watched but also lived through.
14. Upstream Color
Upstream Color draws its cinematic flavor from the likes of Terrence Malick and David Lynch. The quality of filmmaking resonates with Malick’s style of unconventionality but resembles more with David Lynch’s surrealism infused with reality. The movie requires skills as receptive as a synapse-spark to understand the plot in its essence. But if you do understand it, your mind will be blown at the genius of Shane Carruth.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Rope,’ is about two brilliant young aesthete – Brandon and Phillip – who strangle their former classmate David to death in their apartment as an intellectual exercise. By committing the “perfect murder,” they want to prove their superiority. The film is shot in a way that it gives the illusion that the whole film is just a single long continuous shot. At one point, the camera focuses for a minute and a half on an inanimate object with only one visible character moving back and forth near it, drenching it in suspense, leaving even the most calm and collected of viewers at the edge of their seat and biting their nails.
The second film on this list that blows your mind with its philosophy (the first being ‘The Tree of Life’). Somewhat inspired by the novel ‘Roadside Picnic,’ Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian film ‘Stalker’ tells the story of a person who guides two other persons to a place known as the Zone, rumored to possess the ability to fulfill the ‘innermost’ desire of any person. The movie is a strong foray into the conscious and subconscious compartments of the human psyche. The film is also symbolic of the universal human quest for hope, peace, and order a – metaphorical voyage into the subtle intricacies of the human mind.
11. 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
Set in the brutal Ceausescu communist regime of Romania in 1987 (when abortion was a crime), ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ is a devastating story of two friends who try to arrange for an abortion. Visceral and uncompromising, the film is as heart-breaking as it is heart-pounding. In my whole movie-viewing experience over the years, I have never been so gripped by (and concerned about) a character’s fate as I was for Gabita in this film.
Have you ever experienced that gut-wrenching feeling when you are nervously and anxiously waiting for one of your loved ones to come out of an operation theater after a surgery? I felt exactly the same while watching this film. The only film on this list that will blow your mind with how close to real life the film feels.
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10. The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects weaves an immaculate and consistently interesting mystery behind legendary criminal ‘Keyser Soze’, peppering in pieces about its colorful cast of conmen that develop their own little stories and link towards the final revelation of the infamous villain. With a final twist that is arguably the most shocking ending in cinema history, you can’t help but be completely blown away by the film.
Brutal killings, each describing a biblical sin, take place in an unnamed American city. A soon-to-be retired detective with his hot-headed partner starts looking for this unknown killer called John Doe. After five dead bodies, the killer turns himself over to the police and offers to take them to two more bodies. What transpires next is an amalgamation of disturbing, nasty, and thorough bizarreness. David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ is a work of fiction, but somehow it appears to be a truth close to the heart that eventually your sin catches up to you.
‘Memento’ teases, tests, and challenges its viewers that very few films manage to do. Though, the ultimate strength of ‘Memento’ may not actually lie in its jigsaw narration, but rather on how surprisingly affecting it is — a quality that Nolan always tries to bring in all his films, even though with not as much success. ‘Memento’ is also a template of filmmaking that proves big doesn’t always mean better; small can be great too. We only wish that Nolan – who is great at making mind blowing movies – can return to making such intimate and striking pieces of art.
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I know many might find its place so high up here on this list surprising, but ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘ is as much a mind-blowing science-fiction film as it is a heart-breaking romantic drama. The concept – of memory-erasing – that the film is based on is so mind-boggling that most of the first-time viewers find themselves in a maze of complex theories. A difficult-to-follow plot also doesn’t help the matter. The true beauty of the film is only revealed to those who have fully understood it.
6. Mulholland Drive
A film that is discussed even today, around 15 years after its release, ‘Mulholland Drive’, quite simply, offers the greatest cinematic mystery of all time. David Lynch’s best work till date, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ lingers, fascinates, and feels like a hypnotic narration of an extended mood opera. It is one of those films with its underlying themes of identity and delusion that will stay with you forever. Featuring one of the all-time great performances by Naomi Watts, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ is truly a mind-blowing experience.
5. The Matrix
Call it a movie or a phenomenon, ‘The Matrix’ changed the way people looked at the world around them and even turned them cynical. Directed by the Wachowskis, ‘The Matrix’ virtually introduced the rather terrifying concept of simulated reality. Simultaneously, it asked a number of vital philosophical questions about humanity and its actual purpose. Till today, not every question that the film asks has been answered.
‘Primer’ is not just a film; it is an elaborate science puzzle. To fully understand each and every aspect of ‘Primer’ requires multiple viewings — those who claim that they “got” the film in first viewing itself are either lying or are just being a smart-ass. When you finally “get” the film, don’t be surprised if you feel ecstatic and victorious, not very different from how you feel when you are able to solve a difficult puzzle. In my all movie-viewing experience, I am yet to see a film that was so difficult to understand in one viewing.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
With themes ranging from existentialism to evolution, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is one of the most complete pieces of works. Loosely inspired by a short story named ‘The Sentinel’ penned by Arthur C. Clarke – who co-scripted the screenplay along with Kubrick – the movie chronicles the journey of a crew of scientists to Jupiter along with the sentient computer HAL 9000. What startles you about the film once you are done watching it is the sheer ambition of it.
2. Fight Club
Based on a novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, the film follows an insomniac, branded as an ‘everyman,’ who forms a club for recreational fighting with a soap manufacturer. Along the way, the movie deals with some pertinent contemporary issues such as consumer fetishism, homoeroticism, and loneliness. With an ending that completely blows the socks off you, ‘Fight Club’ is one of the most daring films ever made.
Almost everyone who saw ‘Inception’ in a movie theater for the first time came out of it a little dazed. The film is only two hours long, but the discussion around it lasted for weeks. In some quarters of the internet, those discussions are still going on. There is no movie on this list that fits the description of a “mind-bending” film better than ‘Inception’ and that’s why it occupies the numero uno spot.
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