The 25 Best Films About Character’s Descent Into Madness

14. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

The Shining

Without doubt, one of the most iconic horror films of all time, 1980’sThe Shining is a chilling and frightening masterpiece directed by the brilliant Stanley Kubrick. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film stars Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers.

Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is the newly employed winter caretaker of the impressive but isolated Overlook Hotel. Due to the gruellingly long and snowy winters, the hotel is closed from November to May, giving Jack the perfect opportunity to work on his novel.

He arrives with his wife Wendy (Duvall) and young son Danny (Lloyd) and is quickly given a tour of the premises, where he is introduced to the Chef, Dick Halloran (Crothers). Upon meeting the family, Halloran connects telepathically (which he calls ‘the shining’) with young Danny, also warning him to stay out of room 237.

After a short while passes, Jack is struggling with his writing project and seemingly with his attempts at staying sober, when his mood shifts and his behaviour becomes worryingly erratic.

After Danny’s curiosity gets the better of him when he enters room 237, all hell breaks loose and Jack goes on a violent rampage as he finally gives in to his hysteria and converts to a homicidal lunatic. A terrifying chase follows, as an axe wielding Jack hunts down his own family in his crazed, ferocious state of mind.

Stanley Kubrick’s epic horror contains what many have described as Nicholson’s finest performance, and it’s hard to disagree. Incorporating sinister long shots and a superb score, The Shining is an incredibly claustrophobic and disturbing force of modern cinema.


15. Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers still working today, Werner Herzog’s most famous films have featured the madcap actor Klaus Kinski. With a consistent theme of passionate, often crazy men, hell bent on an impossible dream, 1982’sFitzcarraldo is a carbon copy on this subject.

Adapted from a true story about a Peruvian rubber baron, Herzog’s epic was a notoriously challenging film to make. From difficulties in casting, arson attempts on the camp, cast members walking off set, right up to a fatal air crash containing crew members but nevertheless, filming continued.

Klaus Kinski ‘plays’ the eccentric Fitzcarraldo, an Irishman living in Peru, who dreams of building an Opera theatre in the Brazilian jungle. Financially and affectionately backed by a beautiful brothel matron named Molly, in order to achieve his dream, he must manoeuvre a 320 tonne steamship not only up the formidable Amazon river, but due to impassable rapids, haul the boat overland, covering a steep incline and into an adjacent river, to reach his destination.

As he cruises up the Amazon on this gigantic ship, flamboyantly dressed in brilliant white and booming his favourite opera from the on-deck gramophone, Fitzcarraldo and his crew attract the interests of the local natives, who are armed with bow and arrows. Stunning scenes emerge as our hero perseveres in his already Herculean quest to accomplish the impossible.

A stunning and magnificent film but what makes Fitzcarraldo even more impressive is that the film was entirely made without any special effects or cinematic retouching. This is a truly beautiful portrayal of an exuberant visionary with an obsessive drive to fulfil his ambition.


16. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)


Directed by Milos Forman, 1984’s Amadeus is an American historical drama that tells the story of a composer named Antonio Salieri and his dangerous obsession with fellow maestro, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A hugely successful film, amassing a total of 8 Academy Awards, Amadeus is told in flashback style, immediately presenting Salieri in a seemingly unhinged state of mind.

Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is already a very successful composer by the time he is introduced to the surprisingly coarse but undeniably genius, Mozart (Tom Hulce). However, it is not before long that the already respected Salieri, tormented by the supreme talent of Mozart, creates a deadly fascination with his rival.

When Mozart becomes embroiled in his own problems, mostly due to alcohol and financial difficulties; Salieri seizes his opportunity and conceives a rather complex plot in order to triumph over Mozart and indeed society, all be it superficially. As realisation finally creeps in for Salieri, tragedy ensues and he loses all grip on reality. A man so consumed with envy and bitterness, that he will go to any lengths to defeat the popularity of a fellow competitor.

Whilst the film itself is not 100% historically accurate, Amadeus is a truly captivating and technically brilliant film, that is well worthy of all the awards it received. With marvellous performances from the two lead acts, brilliant choreography and rather obviously an excellent score, Amadeus is a stunning operatic journey to insanity, that is indeed, a true work of art.


17. 37°2 Le Matin (aka Betty Blue) (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986)


Jean-Hugues Anglade and Beatrice Dalle star in this romantic French drama directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix. Released in 1986, Betty Blue is a passionate and beautifully shot film, centred on a young, unstable woman and her relationship with the man she loves.

Zorg (Anglade) is a broke but content handyman living in a picturesque beach hut along with his stunning and unpredictable lover Betty. Through her unpredictability, the two share a steamy and romantic love affair that contains its fair share of commotion.

With Betty becoming more and more reckless and in some cases violent, Zorg becomes Betty’s only source of stability, as her volatility descends into insanity. With a binding love keeping them together, it soon becomes apparent that the only threat to tearing them apart is the self-destructive, uncontrollable behaviour becoming increasingly exposed by Betty’s own free spirit.

In her feature film debut, Dalle produces a quite incredible performance and along with stunning cinematography and imaginative direction from Beineix, Betty Blue is an erotic and poignant French tour de force. With over 1 hour of extra footage in the director’s cut, its 3 hours of impassioned and wild characters living life to its fullest in a true feast for the senses.


18. Benny’s Video (Michael Haneke, 1992)

Benny’s Video (1992)

Michael Haneke is undeniably one of modern cinemas most brilliant yet controversial directors still in the business. In his 1992 Austrian crime drama, Benny’s Video, Haneke proves yet again that he possesses no fear when it comes to shocking his viewers. Homing in on a family hacked apart by a young son’s shocking actions and general desensitization to violence; this is a dark and disturbing exploration in morality and social segregation.

The film opens with a quite distressing scene of a home video replaying the slaughter of a pig by bolt gun, first in real time, then again in slow motion. As we are introduced to Benny, he appears to be a teenage student, from a well-off family, who has an obsession with violence and evidently, voyeurism.

When his parents leave him at home unsupervised; he befriends a young girl and invites her over to his house. Unsettling and dismaying scenes follow as the parents return sets off an unimaginable sequence of events that make this already chilling account even more disconcerting.

Benny’s Video is an uncomfortable and thought-provoking film that although is upsetting, contains very little gore. Haneke offers the suggestion of how media and violent images can influence someone into horrific acts and also portrays our numbness to these acts, with the coming of the digital age. This is a compelling and engaging film from a highly accomplished and intelligent director that continues to ask the questions that you don’t want to answer.


19. Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997)


Perfect Blue is a 1997 Japanese animated thriller based on the novel of the same name. The film tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a pop idol who unexpectedly decides to leave her pop band ‘CHAM!’, in order to pursue a career in acting. Unfortunately for Mima, one rather obsessed fan does not take too kindly to her decision, which makes for a frantic and violent experience that is comparative to the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao) is the lead singer of the cute pop group ‘CHAM!’ when she announces her choice to leave the band and become an actress. This decision is deemed a huge shock and upsets many fans, including a sinister looking stalker, named ‘Me-mania’.

When Mima agrees to some rather ill-advised photo shoots and a role in an extremely disturbing scene in drama series Double Blind, events dramatically shift for the worse.

With anonymous threatening letters and faxes received, then a website made evolving around Mimi’s daily routine, our protagonist could not be blamed for her now tormented state of mind.

Shockingly however, things go from bad to worse for Mima, already far from friends and family and losing fans by the day, a series of shocking murders commence, thus sending Mima into a deep psychological decline. As Mima begins to lose her mind she struggles to identify herself from her hallucinations, culminating in a traumatic, mind-blowing conclusion.

In what was director Satoshi Kon’s feature film debut, Perfect Blue is a brilliant piece of work. Both stylish and extremely powerful, it is an adult anime that incorporates paranoia, deception, sexual violence and murder. Highly recommended for fans of animation and film fans alike, Perfect Blue is a grisly psychological thriller with a dramatic ending.