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24 Mind-Bending Movies That Will Melt Your Brain

28 December 2013 | Features, Film Lists | by David Zou

mind bending movies

Movies are meant to entertain. You pay $8 for the opportunity to tune out the real world and escape your droll existence with 24 frames of colorful adventure per second. Though I occasionally enjoy turning my brain off while watching movies like Transformers or Predators for sheer thrills, these films aren’t the reason why I fell in love with cinema. On the contrary, the most fun that I’ve ever had at the movies has been when I’ve been challenged by the material and required to question the characters, their motives and the narrative itself. Here are 24 mind-boggling movies that made us think hard.


24. Source Code


The Movie: So, one minute you’re flying missions in Afghanistan, the next you’re in some other guy’s body on a commuter train that’s about to explode. When it does, you’re in a strange cockpit being debriefed by Vera Farmiga on a flickering monitor. She says you have to keep getting blown up on the train until you catch the bomber. Who are you? Is this a test? Why does the routine only last 8 minutes? Is there such a thing as a commuter worth saving? A confused Jake Gyllenhaal has to work it all out. Fast.

Mind-bending Moment: After all this, Captain Colter is informed that even if he stops the bomber, everybody on board still dies. Bummer.


23. Inception


The Movie: Christopher Nolan’s sophisticatedly surreal heist movie nail-bitingly rolled out during four concurrent dream sequences is the cinematic experience of the year. Leo DiCaprio played Cobb, the corporate raider who steals ideas while his victims sleep with help of Ellen Page’s “architect”, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fixer and Tom Hardy’s chameleon-like tea-leaf.

Mind-bending Moment: When Leo demonstrates his dream structures to a bewildered Ellen Page as a Paris arrondisement rears up and folds over on top of itself like a gigantic pop-up book.


22. Altered States

Altered States

The Movie: Boundary-pushing scientist Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) submits himself to a series of mind-expanding experiments by enclosing himself in a sensory-deprivation chamber and taking hallucinogenic drugs. However, his hopes of exploring different levels of human consciousness are dashed when he devolves into a simian monster.

Mind-bending Moment: The scene where Jessup – after regressing to an ape – attacks the campus security guards, is chased by a pack of wild dogs into the local zoo and kills and eats a sheep for his supper before turning back into the kindly professor.


21. The Game


The Movie: The casual boredom of investment banker Nicholas Van Orton’s (Michael Douglas) life is broken by a weird gift from his wayward brother (Sean Penn) – participation in a life-altering game run by a company that clandestinely ruins him and also seems to have the power to change an implausible number of real-world events.

Mind-bending Moment: When Nicholas jumps from a building after shooting his brother and crashes through a glass roof…only to land on a inflatable mat. He comes round to find his friends and family – all alive – in the ballroom.


20. Fight Club


The Movie: Brain-befuddling specialist David Fincher directs this classic thriller that starred Ed Norton as an IKEA-loving loser who is dazzled by his charismatic new friend, soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). It’s not surprising – Tyler advocates men deal with their pent-up frustations by beating the hell out of each other. Pretty soon, “Fight Clubs” have spread across the country…but it soon becomes apparent that Tyler wants to go much further…

Mind-bending Moment: Ed Norton and Marla (Helena Bonham-Carter) holding hands and watching as the anti-capitalist attack gets underway with bank buildings exploding across the city.


19. Jacob’s Ladder


The Movie: In this 70s-set psychological freak-out, Vietnam veteran (Tim Robbins), who is suffering a series of horrific visions, discovers that several of his old war buddies are experiencing similar mind-blowing illusions. And so he begins to ask questions of his former employers – the army – about what really happened to his unit behind enemy lines.

Mind-bending Moment: Not a moment but a process – director Adrian Lyne used an old horror technique in which an actor is recorded waving his head around at a low frame rate, resulting in horrific fast motion when played back. The bit when the horned nasties attack Tim in the subway isn’t nice, either.

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  • Abhishek D

    What about Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Lost Highway, The Shining, Triangle, Existenz ?

    • Kevyn Knox

      Ooh yeah, these are all good choices.

  • Elisabeth White

    Cloud Atlas

    • Erik

      this is so true, I loved this movie

  • FrankenPC .

    Your list is great. Your points are valid. I’m not being apologetic SRI0USLY!
    But, with the Matrix, I think we can all agree the defining moment of weird is Neo waking up. It’s obvious.

    • Andrew Arnold

      I thought the weird part was who sent Cypher into the matrix to meet Agent Smith at that restaurant, and who got him out afterwards…

      • FrankenPC .

        I don’t recall that. Other than he “magically” un-plugs himself.

        • Andrew Arnold

          Can’t unplug himself- remember, they need an ‘operator’…

          • FrankenPC .

            Yeah. They couldn’t dig themselves out of that without a deus ex maneuver.

  • Kevyn Knox

    Love seeing some love for films like Synecdoche, Naked Lunch, and Moon. I am not much of a fan of The Matrix, but I do see the trippy aspect of course.

    As for Inception (to throw a few of my cents in here) I thought it a great film up until the final act. For such a mind-bending film, that final section ends on a surprisingly mundane, stereotypical fight sequence. The other problem I had with the film, was Ellen Page’s character, who seemed to exist for the sole purpose of getting everything explained to her constantly, so those watching would not be confused. Why explain things so deeply. Let us be confused dammit!! Like in films like Source Code or Naked Lunch of Moon or Memento or Primer, we are as lost as the characters, and that makes for better entertainment in this critic’s mind.

    Now I will stop bitching and whining. One addition I would put in here is John Frankenheimer’s brilliantly subversive Seconds. It is a film that has not been seen by many, but Criterion recently released the film, so hopefully that will all change now.

    • FrankenPC .

      From a pure cinematography standpoint, I thought the end was a masterwork. I literally stood up and applauded that engineering at the end. Never seen anything like it.

    • Iam_Spartacus

      Seconds is nothing less than brilliant. Did you know that Beach Boy Brian Wilson saw that while tripping and almost flipped out?

      • Kevyn Knox

        Seconds was the movie that dri ve Brian Wilson crazy. He walked I midway through and the screen starting calling for Mr. Wilson.

        • Iam_Spartacus

          That sounds like Brian.

  • Akram

    How about Total Recall ?

  • Heather Moore

    Before I read the article I thought Primer. Has to be on here and it was. Gg.

    The Usual Suspects – when Chazz Palmenterri looks at the board and then drops the cup to see the name Kobayashi on it. The sudden realisation that everything he had been told was made-up on the spot from the information in the room and that he just had Kayser Soze there the whole time. For the viewer it’s the sudden realisation that you actually don’t know much of anything other than physical evidence that the police have i.e. a boat, dead bodies and that’s about it. How much was true and how much was a fabrication? The myth continues and the viewer is left not much the wiser. Brilliant.

    I’d include Pi and The Fountain too.

  • nishantsirohi123

    The cell (horse splitting scene)

    The fall (entire movie, but most bizarre was alexendra falling down and injuring herself, all shown using tacky stop motion toys)

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  • Andrés López

    And where is the master of mind-bending, David Lynch and his Inland Empire?

  • Matthew

    dude what the hell, you spoiled the fun moment or the ending of EVERY SINGLE MOVIE on your list. Lucky I watched them all, but c’mon man! You can’t do that.

  • mph23

    I know it doesn’t have dialogue…But what about Koyaanisqatsi? Everything about that cinema trip is mind-bending.

  • Gambriel β Carrizo

    Holy Motors, Cosmopolis, The Fountain.

  • Bronson Jay Pegg

    Another Cris Nolan film, The Machinist would fit well here.

    • Jarek Draven

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, and I don’t remember it overly-well, so I’m reluctant to call you “wrong,” per se… but I’m a big lover of movies with a high “Mind Fuck” factor, which is what this list seems to be. Movies with a big “twist” and/or psychological element. And to the best of my vague half-assed memory, The Machinist was a more straightforward film. Messed up? Sure. Serious mind-fuck? Not so sure about that….

  • Bé Shin

    Muholland drive, Lost highway, Solaris

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    Angel Heart; Dark City; Memento; Identity.

  • Mark Penrice

    Hm. The link to this was supposed to be 30 hidden movie in-jokes. Where’s that gone?

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