Who’s ready for a crisis of the soul? You’ll be pondering the meaning of life in no time with these mind-boggling films!
I still think Inception is one of the best movies ever made. It takes viewers on a detailed tour of our own mind – an unconscious world that influences our conscious reality – with mind-blowing cerebral thoughts and images, as well as well-delivered explanations to describe said concepts and imagery.
As Don Cobb, an expert in corporate espionage, Leonardo Dicaprio is given the responsibility of building a team that can infiltrate a person’s dream-state and plant an idea that will blossom organically in their mind. If you have the power to alter the mind’s interpretation of its dreamt reality, this is a highly sought-after skill among the wealthy elite, and it comes with a great payoff, but maybe even bigger implications. With memories from his own mind threatening to imperil the mission and the lives of his squad, Cobb has agreed to take on this final assignment.
Christopher Nolan is a master of existential contemplation, so it should come as no surprise that his films appear on our list. Of course, they’re not all made by Christopher Nolan, but each of these films has that overall slickness quality that makes Inception so wonderful. Although there are many differences between these films, they all share a common thread: they all have similar themes and notions that challenge our understanding of reality. So, if you enjoyed Inception, here are 12 more mind-boggling films for you to enjoy.
1. Shutter Island
Although Shutter Island is a darker film than Inception, it nevertheless elicits a visceral reaction. On this list, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, and Martin Scorsese all appear in the film, which is based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel. It is Teddy Daniels (DiCapriojob )’s to investigate the disappearance of a crazy patient from Ashecliffe Hospital, which is located on rainy and lonely Shutter Island, just outside of Boston. He follows clues and codes left by strange persons. Daniels has a personal stake in this case because one of the island’s strangest patients may hold the key to uncovering the truth behind the death of Daniels’ wife, a revelation that forces Daniels to reexamine his entire identity as an officer, World War II soldier, and husband, leading to a new kind of investigation into what he’s doing on Shutter Island in the first place.
Daniels experiences dreams within dreams on Shutter Island, just like in Inception, which tackles the idea of putting an idea in another person. Teddy Daniels, like Dicaprio’s Cobb in Inception, is haunted and manipulated by the memories of his dead wife. As with Inception, Shutter Island’s last sequence may also be up to interpretation, leaving the viewer to wonder whether Teddy Daniels was completely aware of the film’s implications. Musical accompaniment to the unnerving investigation of the disordered brains kept at the facility enhances the film’s gritty and drab cinematography. Trivia enthusiasts may appreciate this tidbit: music from The Shining’s soundtrack is sampled at the beginning of the film. The 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel stars Jack Nicholson. Next up on our list is The Departed, starring Dicaprio and Jack Nicholson.
2. The Departed
With The Departed, we continue our examination of the Scorsese–Dicaprio–Nicholson relationship with another cop thriller centered in Boston and the least Inception-like of the three. There is a lot of double-crossing and spying, gun-firing, and suits in The Departed, which is similar to Inception in that movie is a crime thriller. However, it’s one of the most brutal and bloody films on this list. If you’re sensitive to f-bombs, expect a lot of exploding headshots and even more f-bombs in this film.
In addition to Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, the cast of The Departed also includes Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and more. The film’s location is brought to life through its banter, and I can’t get enough of Wahlberg’s hilarious performance, which takes over every scene he’s in. If you’re a fan of Inception’s mind games, then you’ll enjoy The Departed. What about the last few minutes of the movie? Try to keep your jaw from dropping to the ground.
Compared to Inception, Tenet is a great film. Actually, I believe it is a film that is aspiring to be Inception at all costs. That said, it does have the general “slick” style — the cool Nolan-esque signature defined by clever thoughts, gorgeous images and huge musical compositions. “Dudes in suits” movies are all the rage right now, and Tenet is no exception (as are many of the movies on this list). It’s a movie that’s both a maze and a riddle, and it’s a palindrome to boot. Like its name, Tenet is a palindrome; it has the same composition forward and backward, an appropriate touch for the film’s time-inversion theme. In essence, the film’s timing and structure are reversed, with the second half serving as a mirror image of the first.
There is a distinct difference between Tenet and Inception in that the heroes of Tenet are using technology to control time rather than manipulating someone’s dream-state like the characters in Inception do. Despite the fact that it lacks Inception’s emotional depth and character connection, Nolan’s existentially mind-bending notions and unique style are all present in Tenet. Like Inception, Tenet has an exciting plot and an intriguing backdrop of corporate espionage.
Much of the mechanics and real images in Tenet resemble Nolan’s blockbuster 2000 film, Memento, which isn’t the first film in which the structure of the object is reversed. Reverse Guy Pearce appears to shoot a gun backwards — or rather, the action is played backwards while he fires a gun in reverse. It is also shown that in the opening shot, a polaroid develops in reverse. After his wife dies in a tragic accident, Leonard (Guy Pearce) seeks vengeance and answers in Nolan’s Memento.
On top of that, Leonard’s “condition” following his wife’s murder has made things even more difficult to comprehend for authorities. That being said, Leonard can only remember his life up until the night of his wife’s death, as he is no longer able to develop new short-term memories. Leonard uses a system of rapid polaroid images and permanent body tattoos to leave himself clues in order to track down prospective suspects who were overlooked by the police, although imperfectly. A lot is left open to interpretation in Memento, just like Inception, which examines the subject of false memories. However, the conclusion of Memento is only the beginning, and the beginning is only the end in this case. Memento is a great film if you’re looking for a cinematic mind-loop.
As soon as the equipment used by therapists to infiltrate the dreams of their patients is stolen, the conscious and unconscious reality of those involved begin to merge. Chiba, a young and daring researcher, is the only one who can save the day in the dream world. Can she, with the help of a tiny group of allies, save the world?
Paprika, an anime film from Japan released in 2006, boasts outstanding visuals on par with the other films on our list, if not better. Prequel to Inception, Paprika explores issues of dream manipulation, technology interference, and mind control. Paprika is a must-see for fans of the Inception storyline.
In Self/less, Ben Kingsley plays a slick, sexy and underappreciated 2015 gem of a movie that stars Ryan Reynolds. Actor Kingsley plays Damian, a real estate pioneer in New York City and a member of the city’s business elite, who is in decline. For reasons that Damian cannot explain, he undertakes a cutting-edge operation that transfers his awareness and memories to the unanimated body of a younger donor (Reynolds).
Self/less, like Inception, has a dying, rich dad making high-stakes decisions about his difficult relationship with his son. Another similarity to the characters in Inception is that corporate elites like Damian can experience parallel lives through the practice known as corporate body hacking, which inevitably leads Damian to uncover new truths about himself. All of Inception’s action and fast-paced plot is present in Self/less, which also features a magnificent city setting, high-tech themes and, yes, a lot of dudes in suits.
7. The Prestige
Even if you’ve heard of cerebral films like Inception, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of a late 1800s period piece. However, with Christopher and Jonathan Nolan at the helm, and Christian Bale and Michael Caine working together before they were Batman, you know The Prestige belongs here! Hugh Jackman and David Bowie as Tesla round out the star-studded lineup. Yup, that’s David Bowie in character as inventor and inventor-turned-rockstar Nikola Tesla.
Bale and Jackman star as rival magicians in the 2006 picture, and their rivalry escalates to hazardous, violent repercussions as they continue to amaze both the onscreen and real-life audiences with their tricks. Yes, Nikola Tesla, a historical figure, does make an appearance in the story, though not in the way you may expect. You can only envision my hands moving in slow-motion around my head in an explosion as the film’s final reveal unfolds. The film’s scenery and images are spectacular, with the period detail being particularly eye-catching. The Prestige is a great choice for anyone looking for intellectual entertainment that will go unnoticed.
8. The Machinist
The Machinist, a gritty 2004 thriller starring Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, is another one of our favorite Christian Bale performances. Bale is well-known for his dramatic modifications of his physical appearance before a role, and this is one of the most striking. Reznik, played by Bale, is a gaunt, sad insomniac who works as a machinist in a factory to make a modest livelihood. Reznik claims that he hasn’t slept for a year and a half. Things are starting to get out of hand, as the audience can attest. Trevor Reznik, like Pearce’s Leonard from Memento, has an obsessive system of notes he leaves for himself to keep track of his reality. Reznik is beginning to feel the effects of his isolation, paranoia, and overall lack of sleep, and he believes he has found a way to end the cycle of insomnia – and perhaps his entire mind – once and for all. There is a raw and visceral vibe to The Machinist, as well as an overall cerebral quality to this list.
9. The Matrix
Thomas Anderson is a typical office worker who enjoys tinkering with computer hacking on the side. In the hacking community, Mr. Anderson is known as “Neo” and will soon be known as “The One.” When Neo sees the Matrix, he realizes that every human on Earth is enslaved within a computer system that most people don’t even know they’ve been a part of since they were born. In the words of fellow hacker Morpheus, “The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes in order to keep you from seeing the truth.” According to Morpheus and other Matrix awakings, Neo is the messiah who will lead mankind out of the system and into the light.
In 1999, The Matrix was released, and it remains one of the best movies ever made about questioning the nature of reality. With Keanu Reeves as Neo, Laurence Fishburne as the wise sage Morpheus, and Carrie-Anne Moss as the stunning, mysterious, and utterly fierce Trinity, the cast is complete. Joe Pantoliano, who subsequently starred alongside Moss in Memento, is also in the supporting cast. Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, is the human face of the Matrix’s artificial intelligence; he’s a stereotypical guy in a suit. But The Matrix isn’t just a movie about men in suits; it’s also a movie about amazing combat scenes, cool cinematography, and cool black leather costumes and trench-coat action decades later.
Cyber-thriller Anon has the hacker-flair of The Matrix and the heist-vibe of Inception, but it’s also very edgy. Set in a future city where society is physiologically tied to technology and the internet – known as the “ether” – Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried engage in a sensual cat-and-mouse game.
This connected technology is used by Sal (Owen) as a city detective, who relies on the system’s identification and remote viewing capabilities to fight crime. On the run from a hacker/murderer who targets wealthy socialites, Sal goes undercover to uncover this hacker/murderer and bring them to justice. As long as the hacker doesn’t get to Sal first.
Interstellar is a mind-boggling film that is sure to inspire a new generation of existentialists. The Endurance, an interstellar spacecraft and crew, are on a mission to journey through a black hole in search of habitable planets for the inhabitants of Earth in the near future. While Interstellar doesn’t go quite as far as Inception, it does examine the nature of time and reality, notably in relation to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and what it means for those who venture into the unknown. Isn’t that a little metaphysical? With a soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer, the film’s astounding visual depictions of scientific concepts and theories are only surpassed by their eloquent exposition. As an Inception fan, you may be interested in the film’s world-building and portrayals of planets, if that’s something you find impressive.
Another link to Matt Damon is made! Whenever two of my favorite movies come together, I’m ecstatic. Among the outstanding cast of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, and even Michael Cain, Matt Damon makes an appearance in Interstellar. As a Nolan film, Michael Cain’s inclusion should come as no surprise to anyone.
Arrival is a film containing Interstellar-level mental concepts and deals with concepts of space travel, time, and language and linguistics in a novel way. Film director Denis Villeneuve based his adaptation of Ted Chiang’s novel on Einsteinian explanations of our existence, notably with regard to the illusion of time and space. Amy Adams stars. Arrival, like many of the other entries on this list, does not follow a strict chronological sequence. We don’t experience time in a linear fashion, at least not in the sense that we do. Arrival’s time-twisting premise, in a nutshell, is this:
When it comes to visual quality, Inception’s huge city-scapes are right up there with Egg, and the film’s mind-bending approach of time, language, and even gravity is very out there. Arrival, like Inception and Interstellar, is one of those movies that you might even get more out of a second viewing. Check out Arrival after Inception if you’d like to see two great movies rewatched four times.