The 20 Best Movies about Dreams and Dream Worlds

Dreams are the sleeping routine for most of humanity. One takes a physical rest from the world and from their fears and desires, only to encounter these same elements of existence in magnified or softened versions. Distorted universes and members of one’s life, sometimes added to old regrets and wishes, or simply the absurdity of an action that one would never imagine doing, but whose consolidation is quite realistic during the experience.

It is the state of consciousness in which one is separated from visions of the palpable world and closest to reflections of the unconscious. Yet we can hardly conceive anything close to many of them being a part of us.

Many an art form has explored the theme, and cinema has done it in various versions and using various strategies. Some of them envision dreams as the paradise of the psyche, others prefer to engage in the representations of nightmares, or suffocating experiences full of symbolisms and self-reflections.


20. The Bothersome Man (Jens Lien, 2006)

The Bothersome Man

This Norwegian production is an underground piece of uncanny qualities. Its bright lighting and dull colour palette converge well with its desire to represent a world of emptiness. Andreas is an apathetic man who mysteriously arrives on a bus at a checkpoint shack in the middle of a cold, rocky desolation. He is welcomed by a driver who takes him to a strange city; strange in its boredom, and strange in the apparent flamboyance and materialism of its inhabitants.

Andreas soon realises that the food has no taste, the drink does not inebriate, and the sex does not generate emotions. He witnesses a man commit suicide by throwing himself out of a window and falling onto a spiked fence. Nobody on the street seems to notice the blood and bowels scattered about. He does. And he worries about it.

He ultimately finds his salvation and his pleasure in listening to a distant melody deep within the foundations of an old building. While trying to excavate and reach the source of the song, he is stopped by the film’s “thought police” and carried away to be left in the middle of the cold desert again.

Its rendition of a veritable nightmare – probably the worst nightmare of many of us; the loss of sensibility in its various forms – is serious and comedic at the same time, and easily convinces the spectator about the despair of living in a world without taste.


19. Wristcutters: A Love Story (Goran Dukić, 2006)

Wristcutters A Love Story

How would you react if you committed suicide and woke up in another world, much the same as the previous, but with the intensity of the little things of life glorified? Wristcutters: A Love Story has that odd a plot.

The protagonist Zia slits his wrists after a sequence portraying the boredom of his life in his messy bedroom. He “wakes up” in a surreal afterlife, where other suicidal individuals are, where nobody smiles, and where the logic of physics – very much like in dreams – is distorted. He meets Eugene, an impetuous man in a never-ending quest to fix his car’s headlights. Zia’s new world is apathetic, filled with solitude and silence, but also with solemnity and innocence.

The lack of smiles is quickly compensated for by the calm countenances, the friendly glances of relief that usually precede a smile, but without the consolidation of the happy act. Like in a dream, strong emotions are hard to come about, and when they come they cause utter astonishment.

Zia is looking for his girlfriend, who he finds out has committed suicide shortly after himself in the up there in the “real” world. During such a quest – slow-paced and full of uncanny apparitions and people –, he starts feeling at home, much like when we are introduced to fond memories or desires during a deep sleep.

Wristcutters is about reconciliation, and how our deepest projections of our own universe may elucidate our views on life. Zia does not want to wake up from his dream. When he does wake up, however, he also does reconcile with his own reality and the effortlessness of his search for happiness.


18. Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

Total Recall (1990)

Far into the future, humanity has come to the point of profiting from the sale of dreams. Douglas Quaid has had many layers of his memory erased over time, and lives a life of lies. His wife, his employment, his knowledge on his past… all such things were fabricated by people who did not want him to spy about their important and dodgy businesses.

But memories oftentimes resurface during one’s sleep. Quaid, from the very beginning of the storyline, has odd dreams with a mysterious woman, and such dreams always take place on Mars, already colonised by humankind in the film’s mythos. He seeks Rekall, a company that sells “vacation packages” based only on one’s memories, and finds out that he has been tricked during much of his life after going through an incident in the clinic and bursting through an army of foes.

Every secret is progressively revealed to him, and ultimately he escapes to Mars, finding the mysterious woman of his dreams and defeating the corrupted forces that chased him all along, also dissipating oxygen across the planet’s atmosphere in the process.

Total Recall is a straightforward action sci-fi. Verhoeven is responsible for other endeavours of such a calibre, among them RoboCop. Here, he picks up where Philip K. Dick left off in his short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” and adds elements of suspense and frantic conflicts. A must-see for audiovisual science fiction aficionados, it also brings up to the table the interesting tale of a man whose trust can only be put in his own dreams.


17. Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990)


Kurosawa is one of the most renowned filmmakers in cinema history. Dreams is one of his last contributions to the art form that he so much loved and helped build. The film-loving world is thankful to Mr Kurosawa for having shared his recurring dreams in this aesthetically stunning piece.

into chapters, the dreams follow a maturing process of the main characters – always resemblances of the director. A young boy is caught spying on foxes as they carry out a wedding ceremony under summer rain; a man is lost in a post-apocalyptic world where demons embody sins and sorrows of humanity; an avid artist crosses European landscapes to meet Vincent Van Gogh, here played by Martin Scorsese, who discusses the complexities of his art; among other images.

A film that feels like a painting in constant motion, Dreams is a memorable anthology of human failures to realise the importance of our connection to nature, and how a break of such a connection can only take us far into our own oneiric fears and our material demise. However, the film sends the message in a rather solemn, sweet way. Instead of shocking, it instils thought; instead of warning, it ponders our true needs.


16. The City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1995)


Jeunet and Caro went on to create a curious little steampunk city to put in front of the camera and entertain the spectator with slapstick characters and uncanny close-ups that add to the grotesque visual elements of the film’s fantasy. But more than that, this production – written by Gilles Adrien and Jeunet himself – carries quite an interesting plot.

In this fictional city, located in the middle of the ocean, an insane and bitter scientist named Krank can never dream, and lives among a troupe of monstrous characters created to make company to him and aid in his search. His search, by the way, consists of kidnapping children so that he can have their dreams.

The problem is that the dreams he steals from them are mostly nightmares, and his relationship with the rest of his “family” is as problematic as the dilemmas with their identities and their notions of self-importance; therefore, it is only natural that his ill-tempered personality would scare the children and darken their sleep.

Jeunet and Caro make once more an ingenious partnership to film this creative enterprise. La Cité des Enfants Perdus, with its eye-appealing costumes, set design and colour palette, also impresses with a tidy narrative and an interesting approach to issues of innocence and self-righteousness, all of them portrayed in the light style of child fantasy.


15. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)

The Matrix

The cyberpunk imaginary that the Wachowskis brought to the silver screen suggested that humanity lived an illusion, deep into its consciousness to realise the nuances that differed it from the true, wrecked reality. The film shows a post-apocalyptic planet where high-AI machines have overwhelmed society and brought cities and nations to utter devastation.

Meanwhile, the protagonist Thomas Anderson is a displaced man who carries out a regular job and a shady side-activity as a hacker. Thomas sees the world differently, as a veil of uncanny elements of “reality” tearing apart. As with many individuals with such a perspective who usually fall into the category of insanity, Anderson is a recluse, and never seems to blend in anywhere.

One day, a mysterious message reaches his computer. The message turns out to be from an unknown stalker who identifies himself as Morpheus. As with the Greek mythological figure, Morpheus knows well how dreams work, particularly how the dream called life does; the Matrix itself.

He warns Anderson about the illusion that his supposedly real life actually is, and the rest of the storyline is an unfolding of the film’s universe as a meta-materiality of sorts, with a horrible layer of destruction underneath to shake up Anderson’s existential conceptions.

The elements of science fiction in The Matrix caught the cinema world’s attention back in 1999. The sequels did not fare quite well, but the first instalment is still very much alive in sci-fi lovers’ minds. To imagine our lives as mere dormant states of consciousness in which our minds are trapped, while our bodies lie elsewhere, serving as fuel for the sentient functioning of dominant machines, is indeed a singular, if horrifying, scenario to fathom.