21. Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998)
The question: What if you could jump into your favorite show?
Sitcoms of the ‘50s and ‘60s always seemed to occupy a different reality already, with their polite, sexless teenagers and their equally sexless parents sleeping in separate twin beds. The appearance of two people who can feel genuine emotions can quickly cause trouble. Maybe even a revolution as the black and white world of television gives way to the colorful world of real life.
22. Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)
The question: What if your day had gone just a little bit differently?
A money exchange goes wrong and the courier’s girlfriend is the only one who can help him. Her first instinct is to try her father. Subtle clues indicate that her trip there is slightly different each of the three times the film hits redo leading to three different conclusions.
The titular Lola has three different encounters with her father, which in turn leads her to seek out three very different sources for the money. Through polaroid flashes, you also see how these little changes lead to even bigger changes to those she encounters.
23. Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981)
The question: What if you had psychokinetic powers?
Obviously the first thing you’d do is blow up someone’s head with your brain. Obviously. But beyond the obvious Cronenberg explores the evil man is capable of when given enough power. And yeah, exploding heads.
24. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
The question: What if life was like a video game?
Video games have so many odd conventions (power-ups, combos, extra lives, etc.) that seeing them implemented into real-life situations is the perfect opportunity for comedy. Edgar Wright (working off of the brilliant comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley) perfectly captures as many ideas as is possible for a two-hour romantic-action-comedy.
25. Shock Corridor (Samuel Fuller, 1963)
The question: What if a sane person was put in an insane asylum?
Sane people have been in asylums in films since at least 1946 (with the Val Lewton production Bedlam), but it’s never been presented as viscerally as Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor. The moment you see the main character finally break, flashing from black-and-white to glorious color and seeing him in the familiar corridor flooded by a torrential rain, is a spectacle of the sheer anguish he is feeling in that moment.
26. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
The question: What if ghosts roamed the earth? What if you were the only one who could see and hear them?
The seemingly natural human instinct is to be afraid of ghosts. But why is that? Is it because they’re inherently scary, or is it something about us that projects their frightening nature? One thing The Sixth Sense seems to understand about the idea of ghosts is that maybe they haven’t been left behind to scare us. Maybe they’re here because they need our help… and sometimes we need their help.
27. They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)
The question: What if the world was under the control of aliens that are trying to keep you complacent with subliminal messages? What if you were given a way to see through the lies?
They Live is the violent action movie starring a pro-wrestler that counts cult philosopher Slavoj Zizek among its supporters. The intelligent, subversive concept is married with the dumb fun of ‘80s action and cheesy one-liners making for a meal comparable to foie gras paired with ketchup and Velveeta.
28. Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)
The question: What if your memories weren’t your own?
It would’ve been easy to give this film simpler answers. Does the main character unlock his false memories when he’s first put in the Rekall chair? Or is this simply the beginning of memory vacation he was promised? He was promised to be a secret agent on Mars, and isn’t that what he got? Maybe this is looking to much into it. After all, it’s just violent Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, right?
29. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
The question: What if your life was a TV show where you’re the star and you didn’t know it?
It’s sort of the perfect hypothetical for the paranoid narcissist in everyone. Part of the genius of Peter Weir’s direction is that the portions focusing on Jim Carrey’s titular character are filmed at least partially in what could conceivably be hidden cameras, making the film feel uncomfortably real.
30. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Wes Craven, 1994)
The question: What if your fiction began affecting your reality?
Extremely underrated, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is about the people who made the original Nightmare on Elm Street, playing themselves, being plagued by a malevolent force that seems to be Freddy Krueger. The film raises interesting questions about whether an author is truly in control of their creation. But, more importantly, it’s damn scary.
Author Bio: David Eggerman would like to say he’s a struggling writer, but that would be overambitious. He mostly watches movies, gets way too excited talking about said movies to complete strangers and petting his kitties. He also greatly thanks his mother for her invaluable input and support.