Unexpected twists and satisfying endings can take an okay-ish movie and turn it into a memorable experience that you’ll recommend to your friends. Over the past few years, we’ve seen mindfuck movies earn awards and reshape genres. From famous picks like Gone Girl to lesser-known films like After.Life, here are the best mindfuck movies to watch for when you just want to be left completely dumbstruck by what you watched.
1. After.Life (2009)
After.Life is a psychological horror starring Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci. Liam plays a funeral director who seems to have a supernatural gift that lets him speak with the dead. Because of this, he’s able to help his clients accept their death and move on to the afterlife. Christina Ricci, who plays a new client, is having a tough time accepting her untimely death in a car accident, so it’s up to Liam’s character to convince her that she’s dead.
2. Arrival (2016)
A mindfuck movie that’s sure to satisfy any fan of horror or sci-fi, Arrival is about a linguist’s attempt to make sense of an alien language. In the process, she discovers that the language is capable of reframing the way people’s minds perceive time. Mindfuck-y enough on its own, right? But the film is also an exploration of what makes the journey of life worth it if we all know how it ends. Are the few years in the sun that we get really enough to offset the other tragedies of life? Or would it be better not to go down a path at all if the happiness it brings isn’t meant to last?
3. Solaris (1972)
Directed by renowned filmmaker Andre Tarkovsky, Solaris is a spiritual ancestor to Arrival that has its characters contemplating the nature of reality, what it means to exist, and how strange life can look like when you’re far away from earth. The titular planet of Solaris isn’t home to alien life – it is alien life. Unable to understand its human visitors, Solaris shows them apparitions of their past from their memories, forcing them to confront their deepest fears and desires.
4. Gone Girl (2014)
Of course, you can’t put together a mindfuck movies or thriller film list anymore without including Gone Girl. The movie is a deconstruction of the hot ‘it girl’ of many an action film series. Amy Dune’s legendary Cool Girl monologue is as much an indictment of her husband as it is of wider society. It’s the kind of thing you can play over clips of Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body and Transformers without being out of place. The movie twists and turns its perspective on victimhood and the treatment of women until you’re left as disoriented as Amy’s husband is.
5. Vertigo (1958)
You know a film’s going to be good when it has Alfred Hitchcock’s name on it. While Psycho isn’t as scarily violent now as it was when it first came out, Vertigo has held up pretty well over the years. The movie is a vertigo-inducing mystery that pulls twist upon twist upon twist as the layers of the film are peeled away to reveal who’s actually who in the movie.
6. Les Diaboliques (1955)
A guy, his wife, and his mistress all live under the same roof. Les Diabolique’s premise is the stuff of telenovelas so it’s no surprise that a murder mystery happens during the course of the film. Though the characters seem like they all hate each other, an unlikely alliance is formed between the wife and the mistress who both realize they really hate the guy the most because of his physical abuse. Question is, though, are they really on the same side?
7. Time Lapse (2014)
Time Lapse centers around three friends who find a device that lets them see 24 hours into the future. Now, that doesn’t sound so trippy compared to a lot of mindfuck films where the very nature of reality comes into question, but it’s enough to throw the lives of the characters into chaos.
Finn, Callie, and Jasper notice that one of the apartment tenants hasn’t been paying rent nor has been seen in a while. When they check on him, they discover that he died and the strange machine in his apartment has something to do with it. The three figure out that the machine lets them peer into the future and come to the conclusion that they must do whatever it is the machine shows them or their timeline, and existence, will be erased.
If you liked the mechanic in Arrival where the characters receive messages from their future through the present, you’ll love this film.
8. Inception (2010)
Inception is the mindfuck movie that put mindfuck movies on the map. The sci-fi film follows Leonardo DiCaprio as he steals top-secret information from the dreams of his targets. The titular inception is a technique for planting ideas in someone’s mind through their dreams – an operation DiCaprio’s character is asked to perform on someone in exchange for having his criminal record cleared.
9. The Handmaiden (2016)
The Handmaiden is a complex plot to steal an heiress’ fortune. A con man employs a young girl to serve as a maid to Lady Hideko who the girl must now convince to marry him. What she doesn’t know is that she’s the one being tricked here. However, more layers to the plot arise as alliances shift throughout the story.
10. The Invitation (2015)
Dinner parties can be tense and awkward, especially if you’re attending one with your girlfriend, your ex-wife, and her husband. The Invitation both refers to the party invitation and the ‘invitation’, a grief processing method with some serious cult-y undertones. During the party, the characters play the world’s most intense game of never have I ever (which they call ‘I Want’), revealing some pretty dark secrets about each other.
11. Perfect Blue (1998)
Perfect Blue is an animated film that can be best described as Black Swan before Black Swan. The movie follows Mima, a Japanese pop star who wants to leave the music industry to start an acting career. What she doesn’t expect is how many people are deeply invested in her fake Mima person, whether it’s an obsessed fan, a co-worker, or herself. As Mima struggles to cope with the harassment she receives from fans and at work, she begins to question her identity and whether she even exists as herself outside of Mima.
Everyone else does too.
12. Rashomon (1950)
Rashomon is an adaptation of Ryonusuke Akutagawa’s short story In a Grove. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, the movie is told through a series of conflicting accounts of what happened to a samurai, his wife, and the man who attacked them. If you’ve read the short story and were left unsatisfied, don’t worry. Rashomon provides something of a conclusion to the story in order to satisfy its audience.
13. Dogtooth (2009)
Dogtooth is a twister version of the more heartwarming drama film Room where a family is kept isolated in a compound. The children are told that the outside world is dangerous and that they can only leave the compound once they lose their canine teeth. Their carefully crafted world falls apart when the father brings in Christina, a co-worker of his, to have sex with his son. Christina, unsatisfied with the young man, starts bribing the girls to perform oral sex on her with tapes and hair care items brought in from the outside world.
14. Lucky (2020)
Lucky is one of those films where you’re sure that whatever the movie is about, it’s not really about that. While a bit heavy-handed with its metaphor, Lucky is an enjoyable mindfuck film about a woman who goes through her own death every day while everybody ignores her obvious need for help.
15. Last Night in Soho (2021)
Last Night in Soho is an aesthetically pleasing movie about a fashion design student adapting to life in London. Her classmates deride her taste in 60s fashion and bully her to the point that she decides to leave her dorm. She moves in with an old woman but starts to have haunting dreams and visions about a beautiful young woman from the ‘60s who she now thinks was murdered by one of the men she keeps running into in the city.