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10 Best Cinematic Mindfucks

The twisty dreamy landscape of cinema

By Dirk Sonniksen     July 16, 2010

10 Best Cinematic Mindfucks
© Bob Trate/Mania


There is nothing more satisfying than a truly mind-bending cinematic experience. A movie in this category can be at times painful to watch, but it is also a thrilling puzzle that can have audiences pondering its meaning for days, weeks, or years. We have compiled a list of our favorite psychological mind-benders that we happily refer to as Cinematic Mindfucks. Enjoy.

10. Naked Lunch (1991)

“The Talking Asshole” and a drug called Black Meat are just a few of the highlights of the extreme weirdness of Naked Lunch. Based on the novel by William S. Burroughs and directed by David Cronenberg, Naked Lunch was destined to be a very strange flick. The film revolves around William Lee, a guy who kills bugs for a living, but ends up in a surreal reality called Interzone due to his exposure to insecticide. What transpires is a trippy journey with… yes, a lot of giant bugs and other oddities. Naked Lunch is funny, sad, disgusting, extremely strange, and worthy of our list.

9. The Jacket (2005)

Mental wards are no place to be in the movies, particularly when the experiments start and you’re locked in a morgue drawer. Such is the luck of Jack Starks who, while in the drawer, is transported to the future only to realize that he will die in the past. Jack meets Jackie and together they begin to unravel the riddle of Jack’s death. Jack also manages to alter the events of the future he returns to, which completely changes his relationship with Jackie… who he met in the future, creating the makings of a true cinematic mindfuck!

8. The Matrix (1999)

Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? That is just one question in this mind-boggling, reality-pondering film. It’s the future, and machines are using humans as energy in the peculiar land that is The Matrix. It’s up to Neo (The One) to unravel the mysteries of this computer-simulated reality. The Matrix was one of the first films to play upon the idea of computer mind control in a more modern sense, and became a smash hit that would lead to several more less-than-stellar sequels.

7. Donnie Darko (1991)

Donnie Darko has gone from relative obscurity to cult classic, and it’s easy to see why. Donnie is a seemingly normal kid who is caught up in a bizarre alternate universe. One universe will have to be put in check or the world will end. Donnie is the unwitting pawn in this strange adventure and will eventually make the ultimate sacrifice to make things right. Donnie Darko is a gem of a movie and a real head-scratcher, complete with time travel, falling plane engines, and a guy in a giant bunny suit.

6. Altered States (1980)

Altered States is a great reason to not take hallucinogenic drugs and hop into an isolation tank. William Hurt stars in this freaky feature about a scientist that goes to the outer reaches, a “trip” that transforms Edward Jessup into both an Australopithecus-type creature and a big lump of primordial goo. Altered States is a film that is a must-see, but might cause irreversible brain damage if you’re tripping during viewing. Beware! Don’t take the brown acid!

5. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Are dreams reality or the work of “Tech Support?” In Vanilla Sky, David Aames is a well-to-do fellow whose life gets complicated when his face is disfigured and he is arrested for murder. As if that wasn’t enough, David soon realizes that he has been living in a “lucid dream,” courtesy of Life Extension, and to make matters worse, David actually committed suicide and has been in some cryogenic state. He now has the option to continue living in the lucid dream or being woken up (so to speak) and live in a world in which he is unfamiliar. Got it? Yeah, it’s strange, and that’s why it makes our list.

4. Memento (2000)

Enter Leonard Shelby, a man on the trail of his wife’s murderer, but a trail that is truly a mindfuck that travels backward and forward through the entire film. Memento features the best use of a guy (played by Guy Pierce… hahah) with amnesia, the combination of black and white and color cinematography, and certainly the most resourceful use ever for tattoos. Memento is also a film that has to be watched in its entirety, or else one runs the risk of getting seriously confused.

3. Lost Highway (1997)

The directing career of David Lynch has been one continuous mindfuck, but no other film best exemplifies Lynch’s tendency toward the strange and bizarre like Lost Highway. Fred Madison is a guy who receives a cryptic caller at his house stating, “Dick Laurent is dead.” Many things transpire, with Fred eventually ending up on death row, turning into someone else entirely while on death row, being released from prison, having many other events transpire, turning back into Fred, and finding out that he was actually the cryptic caller stating “Dick Laurent is dead.” The movie is insane, and proves Lynch could be likewise.

2. The Machinist (2004)

The Machinist is another top-notch psychological thriller that has you guessing until the last minute, and one of our favorite Christian Bale flicks.Bale plays Trevor, a guy that is repressing memories, which can apparently be bad for your health. In Trevor’s case, said health problems take the shape of severe insomnia and a little weight loss. Trevor begins seeing people, but it’s those repressed memories playing tricks on him again. Eventually, Trevor ends up coming full-circle and finally gets a good night’s sleep… albeit in a jail cell.

1. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

A psychological mind-bender that was ahead of its time, Jacob’s Ladder plays with one’s sense of reality in a big way. Jason, a Vietnam vet, is having crazy flashbacks that seem to coincide with similar flashbacks by other soldiers in his platoon. Jason begins having trouble distinguishing reality from the strange hallucinations that are making his life a living hell. In the end we learn that Jacob has been dead the entire time, and that it appears that his flashbacks were possibly the light in his head flickering out.


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wessmith1966 7/16/2010 12:13:19 AM

It's funny, but I didn't like a lot of these movies. Vanilla Sky? Absolutely awful movie. I know Donnie Darko's a cult classic, but I thought it was a horrible movie.

I thought for sure The Sixth Sense would be on this list, or how about "Luke, I am your father." Now THAT was a complete mindf@cker!

SarcasticCaveman 7/16/2010 1:39:17 AM

I liked "Vanilla Sky", but I also loved the joke Family Guy made about it:

Lois: Why don't we just stay in the room and watch bad movies.

Brian: Okay, I'll go rent "Vanilla Sky".

Lois: Brian, I said bad movies, not cinematic abortions.

And by the by, "Donnie Darko" was in 2001, not 1991.  In 1991 Jake Gyllenhaal was playing Billy Crystal's 12 year old son in "City Slickers."  I'm a little with you, wessmith1966, on the movie...I don't hate it, but it pissed me off because I didn't understand it, and the first DVD of it I had didn't have a commentary to assist my inability to catch up.

The one on this list I absolutely hated was "Lost Highway."

SarcasticCaveman 7/16/2010 1:45:34 AM

And one that's not on this and list and really shouldn't be, but one of my favorite WTH moments was Spock dying at the end of "Wrath of Khan"...what Trekkies must have been thinking at the time!

Dicrel Seijin 7/16/2010 3:05:50 AM

One movie that deserves to be on this list is Dark City. What better than a city in which its inhabitants go to sleep and wake up in different buildings with different lives, all without having moved from the spot where they fell asleep? And this is all before the twist and reveal at the end.

ponyboy76 7/16/2010 3:38:06 AM

The list is confusing. Is it a list of mindfucks or big reveals? If its mindfucks, The Matrix should be numero uno! Dark City should be on the list, as well as the 13th floor. And  that crazy movie, I think its called "Mullholland Drive" Talk about mindfraks

Donnie Darko was a great movie!

Vanilla Sky, not so much, but the original was better.

kalel 7/16/2010 4:00:29 AM

I think I am going to do the ultimate Mindf and state 2 movies that no one will probably think are but still kind of surprising.


1) THe first Back to the Future - Just for the fact that at the end so many things changed from what things were like before Marty's little trip.  I figured somethings would be different but not that much.

2) In someways this movie is a little less known movie called The Final Countdown.  Now for anyone that is not familar with this movie the main part of the movie is a USS aircraft carrier goes back in time to the day before Pearl Harbor. Now a big part of this flick is if they should attempt to change history.  Now for me thats not the mindf moment for me it was who are Martin Sheen's bosses for a lack of a better term.  I will not say anymore.

Finally I do not know if this is the correct way to do this but I think a neat for a lack of a better term a cool companion to this article could be a list of 10 Best Mind TV Series and or Episodes.



DangermouseZilla 7/16/2010 4:47:14 AM

2001: A Space Odyssey - the film jumps from prehisoric man to the future and features a black slab which links the two in a way - and that's just the start!


The film was iconically strange - it certainly makes your mind go a bit "Daisy, Daisy!".

djcgmcse 7/16/2010 4:57:59 AM

Pretty good list, I haven't seen all of these, but most of them.  I definately agree with the others that Dark City should be on this list for sure.

Some of the other films mentioned had some mind busting moments.. but I wouldn't consider the entire films to be complete mindfucks.

Kalel:  I never saw The Final Coundown, sounds fun though.  I'll have to check that one out.

Muenster 7/16/2010 5:35:10 AM

The Matrix? What exactly was the mind-f*uck in that movie? Everthing was made quite clear as to what was going on. Lost Highway and naked lunch were just odd. Jacob's latter drops alot of hints of what was going on with Jason, and the ending is not a mind-f*ck, it's just very sad. Also you got it wrong, he was not dead the whole time. He was dying, and the medics could not save his life.

EagleManiac 7/16/2010 5:39:51 AM

Altered States is the best one on that list! That is a masterpiece of a movie, and an incredible debut for William Hurt! And it has Blair Brown showing off her nice little body a lot! But it's truly one of the best mindf**k's around! I saw it in the theaters back in 1980 and came out of there with a really strange feeling that I just saw something phenomenal! John Corigliano's music is both riviting and haunting, just like the movie!

I agree with those that Dark City should be on that list as well! Amazing movie!

And I think The Matrix was a joke of a movie. Keanu ruins just about everything he is in, and that movie is no exception! I have never been a fan of this movie.

But one film left off that was certainly a mindf**k was Videodrome!! Talk about a weird ass movie! If you've never seen it, rent it. Just be ready for some intense strangness!


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