The 20 Best Movies About Alternate Reality

Inception ending

Alternate reality is a topic that every writer and director wants to work with and write about. It is an abstract concept that includes a parallel universe, a place where different actions of a different species take place. It may also refer to humans, as we all are living in a different reality that is separated by a single quantum event.

There are many theories out there trying to define the existence of the matrix, reincarnation, life after death, and also the phenomenon of déjà vu.

As mentioned above, many writers and directors find it quite interesting, and sometimes they deliver really good films that make the viewers rethink their own existence and question the reality in which we live in.

Below are the best films and directors that made a huge impact, not only in sci-fi, but also established a new vision in alternate reality and parallel universes that seems so close but yet so far, and probably hard to believe for some people.


20. The Machinist (2004)


This is a role for which Christian Bale suffered quite a lot, as he lost almost 60 pounds.

Roughly 121 pounds – that’s how much the main character, Trevor Reznik, weighs. Brad Anderson presents a loner, a middle-aged man, disliked at his work, suffering from chronic insomnia, who only goes to two women who are kind to him. A hooker, Stevie, and a bartender at the airport, Marie.

His everyday life is changed afterward because of his distraction, and a co-worker loses his hand during their shift. And soon he meets one of the employees – Ivan – who also lost his fingers once. But there’s one strange thing about this Ivan – he does not exist. Or he’s just a part of Trevor’s imagination, because the shop owner claims that there’s no such thing as Ivan.

During the film, Trevor experiences flashbacks from his past life. Something that changed him forever. Trevor is reading Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” at the moment and the film itself has its influence.

Just like “Memento”, we have to work our way to put the pieces together. Trevor’s paranoia, along with his insomnia, puts him in a state of mind when everything seems like an illusion.


19. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

Wristcutters A Love Story

Ever wondered what happens after we die? Surely, everyone wants to know that, but what happens when we kill ourselves? Well, “Wristcutters: A Love Story” is a film about a place where people go who commit suicide. Goran Dukic shows and represents an everyday life in a place where everything seems dull.

It’s so boring that you don’t even want to kill yourself again. But also it’s a place where Zia finds true love and friendship. He committed suicide because of his girlfriend.

But apparently fate has not been kind to people who commit suicide and a purgatory-like wasteland awaits them. Zia soon finds out that his loved one, Desiree, also killed herself, and he goes on a search for her with his new friend, Eugene.

This is not an ordinary love story. It will mostly make you think about everything you’ve ever loved and lost, and most likely the afterlife. What’s it like to be alive after death? The bad thing is – everyone who committed suicide thought that they were escaping misery, but they had to think twice.


18. The Jacket (2005)

The Jacket

“That was the first time I died,” whispers Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) as he gets shot by a boy in Iraq, back in 1991.

This film contains almost every element of every genre and can’t decide if it’s a horror, mystery, psychological or travel-based film, but in general, it’s all of them at the same time. Adrien Brody can perfectly reflect the suffering and the sadness of the whole world.

After being declared dead, Jack finds himself alive back in the United States and is treated for amnesia. During Jack’s search for the truth, we also meet Keira Knightley, but slowly the film starts to question what time is real, as the viewers and Jack get lost in the past and the present.

Several flashbacks occur, and Jack wakes up in different places, sometimes in a morgue, sometimes in a mental hospital, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

It’s most likely a few alternating realities as we try to piece them together. Both horror-like and depressing, this film also has a confusing ending, like many others on this list. It leaves more questions than answers.


17. The Butterfly Effect (2004)


“A butterfly flapping its wings could result in a hurricane halfway around the world,” the opening title says. Yes, the chaos theory includes that even the smallest details may or may not be the reason for huge consequences.

The butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

The plot follows four people and their childhoods and also their adulthoods. One of them, played by Ashton Kutcher, finds out that he can travel through time in order to fix and change his past.

The main idea of the film is that everything we do affects the future’s consequences, even the smallest parts. Both psychological and depressing narrative presents why everything we do must never be changed, and the idea of time traveling is not always good. Everything is inevitable and we determine our fate in the future.


16. Vanilla Sky (2001)


It’s likely that no one expected a film like this from Cameron Crowe. Starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz, even the names say it all.

“Vanilla Sky” is about David Aames, a 33-year-old man who inherited a publishing empire after his parents died. The film progresses as we meet other characters, women who share emotions and feelings with David, but the idea is something else. The film also may be referred to David Lynch, as it has that something Lynchian in it.

Dreams are the main source of idea here as well. Some may think that this film shows us how dreams can be a better place than reality, but everyone knows that.


15. Filth (2013)


“Filth” is from the creators of the famous Scottish film, “Trainspotting”. Bruce, played by James McAvoy, is a man in his early thirties, working as a cop in Scotland, fighting his way to get promoted so he can get his wife and daughter back. While dealing with his borderline personality disorder, he seems to be afraid of everything, although he hides it with his black humor lifestyle.

This is a story about a man who has lots of complexities; his strive for dominance leaves him without any friends, and his insecurity is exposed throughout the film. He sees himself as a pig in the mirror from time to time, which is also a good symbolic reference to many of his everyday problems.


14. The Mist (2007)


Based on a work by famous horror writer Stephen King, and shot by Frank Darabont, the director of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile”, “The Mist” is both a psychological and depressing horror film that mostly takes place in a big shopping center, where people find shelter to avoid the unknown creatures that seem to emerge from some other parallel world.

These bloodthirsty beasts are not quite visible, as they emerge from the mist that seems so unnatural and has devoured the whole town. The feeling that “there’s something out there” never disappears, and makes the viewers always feel triggered and cautious just to avoid the mist.

David Drayton and his little son go to the shop to buy emergency items after the electricity goes out and are trapped in the same shopping center with other people. The apocalyptic-like atmosphere and the feeling that the end is near is presented perfectly.

“The Mist” is famous for its jaw-dropping ending that changes the whole plot of the film.


13. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro create a cult duo who travel around in the country, in a car full of drugs, and then go to Los Angeles without any purpose or shape. The movie itself is filled with a dark side of human nature along with black humor, even though some may say that the film never lived up to it.

Their bizarre hallucinations claim to be a hell of a joke for the director, but as already mentioned, it has a shapeless plot. Duke and Gonzo, that’s what their names are. The story goes on and on, they get stoned and high, and appear in different situations where they cause chaos and havoc.

It’s hard to see what’s real and what’s part of their vision. The characters have no intention to step outside their non-sober state of mind, and that’s why we are trapped in there as well. It seems that each and every one of us are taking drugs as they are, and see and experience what they do.


12. I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2006)


Park Chan-wook already features on our list, but this time there is no place for vengeance, but for love only. Young-goon is taken to the mental hospital, just like her grandmother. She is believed to be a cyborg, or that’s what she thinks she is. Instead of eating food, she licks batteries and talks to vending machines.

Along with her are many patients and one of them is Jung “Rain” Ji-hoon, a kleptomaniac who steals souls. Soon they are caught in a love affair and she believes more and more that she really is a cyborg.

It’s not quite about a reality that is different to us, but a reality that in which a person can live in, or shall we call it – imagination. Despite the fact that we are not used to the films like this one from Chan-wook, it is much more appreciated because of an unordinary love story that combines more than just feelings between two people.


11. Sliding Doors (1998)

Sliding Doors

Gwyneth Paltrow is Helen, who is fired from her job and goes down to the subway to catch a train. In the first scenario, she goes on the train, and in other one, she misses it and the train doors slide shut in her face. Each of these two scenarios, of course, have different paths in her life.

In the first one, she goes home and sees her lover with the mistress Lydia. In the part when she misses the train, she goes home and finds no one nor anything except the two brandy glasses.

As the film progresses, the plot cuts back and forth from one scenario to another. The film provides Helen with different haircuts, which helps the viewer to differentiate between the two scenarios. But the fact that there’s no real narrative makes it hard to follow both of them, and makes it hard to understand.