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10 David Lynch-Like Movies Not By David Lynch

21 April 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Hossein Eidi Zadeh


David Lynch has a cinema of his own, a cinema so familiar yet strange that can only be described as Lynchian. His trademarks are his fascination with dark secrets of small cities, his taste for low/middle frequency noise, dark and rotting environments, distorted characters, a polarized world (angels vs. demons, Madonnas vs. whores), debilitating damage to the skull or brain, his use of slow-motion during key scenes of violence, abundant usage of red curtains, strobe lights, extreme surrealism and his interest in close-ups of eyes.

If you look at his movies from “Eraserhead” and “Blue Velvet” to “Lost Highway” and “Inland Empire”, you will find almost all these elements present. This list introduces 10 movies that are not directed by David Lynch, but have used Lynchian elements abundantly.


1. Donnie Darko (2001)


Who made it? Richard Kelly, he became a cult star with “Donnie Darko”, a stylistic mystery movie which is original yet owing so much to other films and filmmakers.

What is it about? The movie is about a troubled teenager who is obsessed with visions of a large bunny rabbit that make him commit a series of crimes.

What is Lynchian about this movie? It is not impossible to think about Lynch’s three rabbits whenever you see the large mysterious bunny in “Donnie Darko”. Meanwhile, it is the overall sense of mystery and odd occurrences that make you feel you are watching a movie by David Lynch.

Richard Kelly interestingly built his story with enigmatic elements and dreams. The empty silent city is not much different from Lynchian cities in “Blue Velvet” and “Lost Highway”. What you may never forget after watching “Donnie Darko” are Donnie’s (Jake Gyllenhaal’s) eyes, he somehow looks like Kyle MacLachlan, but deadly sinister.


2. Pi (1998)


Who made it? Darren Aronofsky, who was 29 at the time when making the movie and now is considered one of the masters of contemporary American cinema with movies such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”.

What is it about? A math scientist discovers something mysterious about the number Pi that can change the world and now different groups of people want to get to this number.

What is Lynchian about this movie? Today Pi is a cult film like Eraserhead, but Aronofsky’s debut owes so much to David Lynch’s debut. Both films are shot in grainy black and white with the minimum imaginable budget. Both films managed to make a reputation for their young directors as future masters of composition.

Pi is not that dreamy, however the way it narrates the story of its main character and the way it leads to the final sequence in which he drills his head are so Lynchian that you just cannot forget about the Eraserhead ending. Aronofsky’s use of sounds is also another Lynchian element in the movie.


3. Being John Malkovich (1999)


Who made it? Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”) as the writer and Spike Jonze (“Her”) as the director.

What is it about? Craig Schwartz is an unemployed puppeteer who accidentally finds a way that can make him see the world from John Malkovich’s eyes.

What is Lynchian about this movie? The story is so crazy that you can only consider David Lynch as its director, however hard scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze try to make a movie that is as much as their own as it owes to Luis Bunuel and David Lynch.

The movie also has a scene where we see everyone as Malkovich, a funny yet unsettling scene that is so much Lynchian. The movie may not look like any particular movie of Lynch, but its overall mood is pure Lynchian.


4. Tetsuo (1989)


Who made it? Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto who once made “Tstsuo: Iron Man” and now famous for Tetsuo, its sequels and also “A Snake of June”.

What is it about? It is a story of a man named Metal Fetishist who likes to put metals into his body!

What is Lynchian about this movie? Like Pi, this movie (shot in 16mm) is also a grainy black and white movie with bizarre elements which are Lynchian (think about the surgical scenes of inserting metals in the flesh).

The bizarre story and its extremely graphic scenes (those so-called erotic ones and also the gore ones), which at some points are strangely funny, can only be understood if you decide that you are watching a Lynchian movie that is happening in a world of sick imaginations.


5. Perfect Blue (1997)


Who made it? Satoshi Kon, who died prematurely at the age of 46 in 2010 and has made interesting animes such as “Paprika”.

What is it about? A pop idol leaves her band to become an actress.

What is Lynchian about this movie? The movie is made long before “Mulholland Drive.”, however both movies are so close thematically.

“Perfect Blue” is not so panoramic in its story-telling and only focuses on a single singer/actress, but its narrative strategy of an innocent singer turning to an actress of nude scene is so much close to Lynch’s ideology about Hollywood in “Mulholland Drive.” The interesting thing is that in “Perfect Blue” the line between reality and fiction, sanity and insanity is blurred in a way that is purely Lynchian.



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  • Cinema270

    Good picks, but I would’ve liked a little more explanation on what makes the movies similar to Lynch’s work besides “this is so Lynchian”.

    • Rob

      If you have to have an explanation as what makes films similar to Lynch, then you don’t know Lynch’s films very well. I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, but sorry. It is the truth.

      • Cinema270

        I understand why all the films were chosen, all I’m saying is that the explanation(s) was a little vague. Surely if you see Lynch’s inspiration in the film then you can say what exactly makes it Lynchian.

  • Rob

    There is a new one, Called DOUBLE with Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Waskikowa. Check it out.

    • Guy Peters

      GOOD MOVIE… just saw it last week

    • Vincenzo Politi

      I actually thought that movie was a pretentious bore…

    • Katey Kate

      Keep hearing things about this film. May have to see it

  • Thomas Sennet

    wheres buffalo 66?

    • Ioadum

      Nice idea, I loved that movie a lot!! The Brown Bunny could also qualify, another heart devastating story pieced with road trips, highways and casual meetings in the vastness of America.

  • Rodolfo Mercado

    Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy”???

    • Ioana Dumenica

      I will start by saying I didn’t like that movie. Then, there’s not so much Lynch. we only have a double, spiders and very few sequences of darkness, mystery and keys. in my opinion, it takes more to get the Lynch touch.

  • x x

    there is no “Lynchian”
    Just Lynch.

    His filmmaking is totally unique.

  • Craig Johnson

    Ah, the Reflecting Skin. Totally forgot about that movie, and without that the list would be nothing. There is a Hungarian film called “Free Fall” which is on the festival circuit now which will be on the sequel to this list. It has all the Lynch hallmarks: body horror, sexual kinks, dark humor, beautiful cinematography, overall sense of dread, and that humming sound.

  • Vincenzo Politi

    No way “Vanilla Sky” is better than “Open your Eyes”!

    • Ashutosh Sen

      Abre Los Ojos all the way!

      • Vincenzo Politi

        Tom Cruise looks like a spoiled frat boy…

    • thew

      Of course it is. Open Yours Eyes deserves credit for originating and implementing the idea; it was a great film. But Vanilla Sky took the good stuff and made it better. This rarely happens in Hollywood, and I usually hate remakes. I tried for a long time to say that Open Yours Eyes is better simply to sound more profound, but it’s not. Twist it however you want, but in no way is it better: writing, directing, acting and soundtrack are all an improvement in Vanilla Sky.

      • Vincenzo Politi

        Oh well, I suppose it’s really a metter of taste then. I really disliked Vanilla Sky, I found it very cheesy and I hated Tom Cruise’s acting. More importantly, I hated Penelope Cruz’s acting, despite she was reprising the original role: in Open Your Eyes, she is fragile and mysterious, in Vanilla Sky she is just so annoying! I do think that Cameron Diaz was great in that movie though, much much much better than Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, but she did not get the critical praise she deserved. Overall, for me Open Your Eyes has a tension and mysteriousness which was totally lost in Vanilla Sky.

  • Klaus Dannick

    There are monents early on in Aronosky’s “Black Swan” which evoke Lynch, specifically the young, introverted ballerina walking on a subway platform at night and passing an older, confident version of herself who smiles, almost mocking, at the young dancer. I’d put “Black Swan” on this list before “Pi” (having said that, I’ll say that I think “Pi” is the better film).

    Some of these films chosen betray an ignorance of what makes Lynch’s work so powerful, almost as if to simplify Lynch’s craft, almost as if to say that anything offbeat qualifies as “Lynchian”.

    There are points in “Vanilla Sky” which evoke Lynch (and, yes, it’s vastly inferior to the original “Open Your Eyes”).

    The only one here which I really agree with is “The Reflecting Skin”. Heck, Neil Jordan’s “The Crying Game” is closer to Lynch’s work than “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Donnie Darko” are.

    • Alexandro Sifuentes Díaz

      Black Swan is an americanized copy of Perfect Blue

      • Klaus Dannick

        The Red Shoes, more like it.

  • Prefers70sMovies(‘CeptGrease)

    I just clicked to make sure The Reflecting Skin was on this list. It is. Good work and I’ll raise you Nicolas Winding Refn’s Fear X.

  • Alexandro Sifuentes Díaz

    I actually don’t like David Lynch movies (except Eraserhead), they feel so intentionally complicated and pretentious, but I like many of the movies in this list, specially Pi, Perfect Blue and Jacob’s Ladder.

    I didn’t know they have similarities to some of Lynch films, maybe I should try to see them again.

  • Dwarf McDougal

    Drive should be on this list. It’s like Lost Highway #2

  • John Davidsson

    Only god forgives and Gozu are missing

  • Bryton Cherrier

    Pi = the shit.
    Seriously, awesome for a movie made on $60,000.

  • Gines Velazquez
  • Under the skin?

  • Vanilla Sky?? Seriously, What about “Possession”!!!???

  • Katey Kate

    The cell is a stunningly beautiful film

    • Ioadum

      The Cell was beautiful and powerfully dark at the same time.
      Director Tarsem Singh is to praise, I also recommend from him the movie “The Fall”. It has the same kind of psychological fairy-tale going on, but not so dark as “The Cell”. 🙂

  • Klaus Dannick

    I don’t see these films as wholly “Lynchian”. We get occasional “flashes” of Lynch’s influence in some of them, but from a narrative standpoint, most of these films are simply unconventional but not necessarily similar to Lynch’s also-unconventional work.

    Closer to the sensibility of Lynch is Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, particularly the ending, which throws an ambiguous spin on an otherwise straightforward narrative. For Aronofsky, Black Swan seems the more Lynchian choice than does Pi. Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is populated with overdrawn peripheral characters which feel like they’re lifted straight from Lynch (and it’s no secret that Kubrick held Eraserhead in high regard). For Charlie Kaufman’s work, I’d place Adaptation closer to Lynch than Being John Malkovich (which, again, feels truly offbeat but not necessarily similar to Lynch’s work).

  • HirosFan

    Almost none of these films resemble David Lynch at all. The author’s choices are what the average moviegoer would consider a “strange” or “quirky” film. Those are broad adjectives, my friend.

  • Adithian Karuvannur

    anantaram by adoor gopalakrishnan. No way that hollywood-obsessed ignorants might’ve heard of it