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The 20 Most Complex Movies of All Time

04 August 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Akansha Tokas

Cloud-Atlas-2012-Movie

The best kinds of movies are the one that won’t leave your mind days after watching them, often comprehending ideas too big to grasp in the first watch. These movies demand you come back to them and make sense of the plot and find the missing link you couldn’t find earlier.

Here is a list of movies so complex and strange that it’s difficult to get them out of your mind; the kind of movies that make more sense after repeated viewings.

 

20. Enemy

“Enemy” was directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake’s character is a history teacher, and one day his co-worker recommends he watch a certain movie. As he is watching it, he notices an actor in the movie looks exactly like him. This sets him on an intense journey to find who this actor is and what he is doing.

“Enemy” doesn’t follow the traditional linear structure of filmmaking; as soon the movie ends, the viewer is left mind-boggled, trying to find a cohesive understanding of its surreal dreamlike imagery. The film is beautifully shot, with an overwhelming yellow haze to show the dullness of Adam’s life, while the bright color scheme is used to show how it contrasts from Anthony’s life.

The score for this film was eerie and subdued but when needed, it exploded to help this film give this dreamlike feel. Wonderfully acted, this film makes viewers feel the plight of the character. It is about the subconscious of a man who decides to leave his mistress to go back to his pregnant wife, as noted by Villeneuve. “Enemy” is a mind-bending, tightly-held psychological thriller that takes its audience into an intense journey filled with surrealism.

 

19. Predestination

Predestination, an Australian fantasy thriller directed by Peter and Michael Spierig and starring Ethan Hawke, is faithful and tragic with an amazing underlying of many genres the audience can enjoy. The film is incredibly original and creative, draped with old school aspects of ‘science fiction’. Hawke unsurprisingly delivers a flawless performance as the nameless lead, while Sarah Snook impresses audience with her wide range of acting abilities.

Hawke’s character plays a time-travelling agent for a secret agency that uses their ability to manipulate time to stop crimes. On his final assignment, he is tasked to stop ‘’Fizzle Bomber’’, a terrorist that exploded a bomb in New York City in 1975 that killed 11,000 citizens. This compelling, thought-provoking and extremely clever film keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the last frame.

 

18. Mr. Nobody

Mr Nobody

“Mr. Nobody” is a fantasy-drama directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Set in 2092, the film deals with last mortal human, played by Jared Leto on Earth. He reflects on this past and about the choices he could’ve made. Visually stunning, the movie comes with so many stylistic, tonal and narrative changes that it challenges the audience to pay extremely close attention.

“Mr. Nobody” provides a unique, fresh and profound experience. Along with the brilliant acting, astonishing cinematography and amazing soundtrack. “Mr. Nobody” leaves the audience with a memorable experience that will stay with them long after they have seen the film.

 

17. Being John Malkovich

“Being John Malkovich” is a crazy film about a puppeteer who finds a portal that leads directly inside the head of Hollywood actor John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, the film is original, beautiful and funny. Cameron Diaz is completely unrecognizable and so is John Cusack, and John Malkovich was presented an interesting opportunity to play himself, which he does by creating a wonderful character.

This strange, surreal, and outlandish film sucks the viewers into this world of John M. Filled with nuance and subtle humor, this riveting film showcase the brilliance of Jonze and his entire cast. “Being John Malkovich” is the kind of movie that comes once in a long while and leaves you wanting more.

 

16. A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

One of the most controversial films ever made, “A Clockwork Orange” grabs you and holds you down in your seat from start to finish. It contains extreme emotions, strangeness, perversity, and brutal violence at its worse. This Kubrick masterpiece was ahead of its time and is still impactful toward today’s society. The tale of troubled Alex and his subsequent ‘’reformation’’ by the government forces you to ponder on the atrociousness of the world on the both ends of the spectrum.

“A Clockwork Orange” is by no means a pleasant film, but the perfectionism of Kubrick and Malcolm MacDowell’s amazing portrayal of Alex demands its audience to actually think about the world around them. “A Clockwork Orange” asks the hard question – if we take away people’s choice to be good or evil, are we taking away their humanity as well?

 

15. Cloud Atlas

tom-hanks-cloud-atlas-movie-image

“Cloud Atlas”, a science fiction film directed by Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis, follows six different timelines that change after every scene. The style and structure of the film makes it a complex and mind-bending film. It comes with a great ensemble cast who all give amazing performance, though some criticize the movie for its over-ambition and too many intertwined characters.

“Cloud Atlas” is part science fiction, part historical drama, part comedy, part romance, giving the audience the experience of enjoying different films within one. “Cloud Atlas” is a sharply-written film leaving no space for its views to get lost in the intertwined storyline.

 

 

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  • Tiago Couto

    This list is rmoviescirclejerk material

    • Alain

      +1

  • colonelkurtz

    Expected films that make me think/wonder, instead found mostly films with plot twists. If Shutter Island is complex, then every film with a plot twist is pretty damn mind-blowing.

    • Mad Butcher

      BTW Shutter Island’s plot twist is not that original. «Total recall» (yeah, I know it’s not «ART») featured similar ending.

  • Balthazar Matony

    Coherence (2013)
    Patema Inversed (2013)

  • Alain

    Only Hollywood makes complex movies…?

  • Zwei

    Ghost in the Shell (1995)
    Sacrifice (1986)

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    For films to unravel, I’m not sure any of these have much on something like Last Year in Marienbad or The Holy Mountain. I mean, I think quite a lot of them are wonderful, just straightforward to comprehend and hardly dense in their themes.

    • Alec Dawson

      You beat me to it!

  • Why the mention for Vanilla Sky? It’s overrated. Why can’t you just use Abre los ojos which was the better film?

  • Adam Schmersal

    I’d like to add Borgman, Perfect Blue, and Paprika

  • bd

    Almost none of these — I mean an exception of like 3 or 4 out of the entire 20 — are anywhere near profound in their complexity, let alone warrant mention on a “most complex films of all time” list. A handful of these films are just straightforward suspense/thrillers with a plot twist and/or great visuals… And the lack of international films is very telling here: either this list constitutes the depth of your film knowledge (I hope not), or you were just looking for an easy piece to write so you can tell other people you have work published on the internet.

  • bd

    Not one film in this list by Theo Angelopoulos, Alain Resnais, Peter Greenaway, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alexander Sokurov, Terrence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Ingmar Bergman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Miguel Gomes, Matthew Barney, Robert Altman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Hong Sang-soo, Robert Altman, Michael Haneke, Abbas Kiarostami, Sion Sono, anyone from the Dogme 95 era, etc, etc…

    I’m dumbfounded.

    • Zachary Merlino

      agreed. I thought this page was about film!

    • Hélène Husson

      I agree 100%

    • Relf

      Most of these films in ToC’s list are pretty easy to understand. This article has been written by a 12 year old

  • Exit Exit Quit

    Predestination is simple. It can be described in three words: Go f**k yourself.

  • Zachary Merlino

    Good list. The one inclusion I would make is Europa by Lars Von Trier, an utterly mind-bending flick….

  • David Haig

    I avoided watching Cloud Atlas for some time due to people noting how ‘complex’ it was and that it made no sense. Then I watched it and was dumbfounded as to why everyone was so confused.

  • Nick Botton

    This list was freaking stupid. I might not be as angry if you had at least put Primer in first place.

  • Darren

    Primer yes, all the rest no.

  • Adrian

    Although a lot of other directors come to mind, the first two movies I thought of are Tarkovskij’s Stalker and Solaris.

  • David Pollison

    If this was the best I could come up with, I would not want my name and reputation associated with such an inane list either.

  • Fred Madison

    Little people know that vanilla sky is, in fact, a remake of a spanish film called “abre los ojos”, wich is MUCH better

  • jann1k

    LOL.

  • Ekraj Pandit

    Grow up !

  • Afrikoka

    Usually I complain about the complainers but this time I agree. Of all time? Hanging rock? Marienbad? Any other movie on the watchlist I haven’t seen yet but I know is more complex than predestination or shutter island..

  • Ashley Bristow

    Hello Akansha. Thank you for taking the time to compile your favourite list, even though there are some problems with your choice of listed material, the first and foremost being the title you chose, but I will reply with constructive criticism in the hope that this will not discourage you from expanding your horizons. Your list is basically Hollywood biased and so doesn’t represent the wide world of film making. There are a great many fine directors outside of Hollywood, both in independent American film making and around the world. I think you need to spend some time getting to know the work of others, in order to truly appreciate the craft and what makes a ‘complex’ film. You also need to ask yourself what you wish to convey to your readers and how to do that in an engaging form that will make people want to read it. So, expand your horizons – take a look at the works of directors as suggested in bd’s post. Also it’s worth looking into who influenced which director to make his or her film – for instance were you aware that Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ was heavily influenced by the works of Satoshi Kon and in particular his 2006 anime feature film ‘Paprika’? It might be interesting to compare how the two directors approached a similar subject. So don’t be disheartened by the many negative responses posted below. The world of film is a complex one and that is why it is so fascinating to us. Thanks for your efforts.

  • sadburbia

    Since when is Fight Club complex

  • Relf

    Is this list compiled by a 12 year old? Inception and Memento aren’t complex. Nolan is such a poor writer and he treats his audience, rightfully, like a moron by explaining EVERYTHING. Every moron understands a Nolan flick

  • Mauricio Escobar Smith

    “Un chien andalou” Dir: Luis Buñuel – Script: Salvador Dali – Genere: Surrealism – Year: 1929 – Time: 21 minutes

  • Vincenzo Politi

    I think that, by now, the Hollywood- and English-language-bias of this page should be clear to all. Only English spoken movies in what is supposed to be a list about “The Most Complex Movies of All Time”. And this travesty of a list we even find Vanilla Sky. I mean… Vanilla Sky??? Seriously????? That movie is an awful and unnecessary remake of the Spanish movie Open your Eyes, which is actually much much better than Vanilla Sky. But, you know: why putting he Spanish movie in the list, when we can actually talk about its Hollywood version? (Funny thing is: the author even mentions Open your Eyes… but why isn’t THAT movie in the list, rather than Vanilla Sky? Is the author implying that Vanilla Sky is more complex than Open Your Eyes? I mean, honestly!)