50 Best Mind-Bending Movies to Watch Now

50 Best Mind-Bending Movies to Watch Now

April 12, 2024

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Looking specifically for a “mind-bending” or “mind-blowing” movie on your streaming service of choice might not always give you what you’re looking for. Chances are you’ll be shown movies that have some sort of twist to them, usually something dealing in the realms of sci-fi, fantasy, or psychological thriller. But we want to help expand what these movies can be. At the end of the day, you’re looking for something that can genuinely surprise you and leave you thinking about things in a different way. And in this list we’ve compiled of little-known but highly-rated films, we hope to show that complex movies that leave you feeling dazed can come from any genre—and don’t need to rely on a cheap twist to be good.

11. Zero Days (2016)

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Gibney

Actors

Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Sanger, Emad Kiyaei

Moods

Instructive, Intense, Mind-blowing

Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus. Originally codenamed “Olympic Games” by the people that fathered the worm, Stuxnet is a virus in the true sense of the word. It not only maliciously feeds off the host, but it also replicates itself as soon as it is implanted, which is exactly what it did when it was used by the US and Israeli secret services to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant—making them spin out of control. All this is brilliantly unpacked by renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), who manages not only to detail the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative manner, but also to send out a well-researched alarm call about the future of war. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much part of our new shared reality. This film deserves to be seen by anyone who is even remotely concerned about global security in the 21st century.

12. Sound of Metal (2020)

best

9.1

Country

Belgium, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Darius Marder

Actors

Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti

Moods

Challenging, Emotional, Gripping

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben’s relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben’s life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it’s about Riz Ahmed’s performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

13. Inside Job (2010)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Charles Ferguson

Actors

Andri Snær Magnason, Ann Curry, Barack Obama, Barney Frank

Moods

Instructive, Mind-blowing, Thought-provoking

This Oscar winning documentary is no standard film. Even by being beautifully crafted and having an amazing soundtrack–soundtracks are important–it does not miss its core story for a second. A delivery so good and so crisp that it will make you go “the sons of b” and “those motherf” more times than Joey from Friends got laid in 1999. On a more serious note, Inside Job is a great and complete technical overview of the financial meltdown. I know the word “technical” scared you there, but it shouldn’t! The movie is simple, uses charts and colors for all of us who once thought figures and formulas were too complicated to understand — it even makes you go, “hey, this is not so difficult to understand. Them motherf.’ The movie is also very exciting: no spoilers but all I can say is that there are b*s trippin in there.

14. Samsara (2012)

best

9.0

Country

Angola, Brazil, China

Director

Ron Fricke

Actors

Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan

Moods

Challenging, Mind-blowing, Original

The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it’s awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

15. Mr. Nobody (2009)

9.0

Country

Belgium, Canada, France

Director

Jaco Van Dormael

Actors

Aaron Landt, Alice van Dormael, Allan Corduner, Andrew Simms

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Mind-blowing

In a world where mortality has been overcome, people watch in awe as the as the 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, the last mortal on Earth, nears his end. He is interviewed about his life, recounting it at three points in time: as a 9-year-old after his parents divorced, when he first fell in love at 15, and as an adult at 34. The three stories seemingly contradict each other. Utilizing non-linear cinematography, Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael presents each of these branching pathways as a version of what could have been. The result is a complex, entangled narrative. That and the movie’s ensemble cast, featuring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, and Diane Kruger, have turned Mr. Nobody into a cult classic. The soundtrack, featuring several of the beautifully restrained music by Eric Satie, is also considered a masterpiece. While it is surely not for everybody, this is trippy, intimate, and existential sci-fi at its best.

16. The Sea Inside (2004)

best

9.0

Country

France, Italy, Spain

Director

Alejandro Amenábar

Actors

Adolfo Obregón, Alberto Amarilla, Alberto Jiménez, Alberto Jiménez

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

There are movies that leave you matured after you finished watching. You mature because you are forced to walk in someone’s shoes and confront yourself with issues that you are not affected by. The Sea Inside is one of those movies –⁠ and won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for it. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, who you might know as the director of The Others, it tells the true story of Ramón Sampedro’s decade-long fight for the right to end his own life. After he became quadriplegic after a diving accident, he was confined to the same bed in the same room for 26 years, except when he visited the hospital. Not an easy subject to say the least but Amenábar helps the fascinating story along with stylish directing, while Javier Bardem delivers a stellar performance to go with it. Thanks also to Ramón Sampedro’s sunny real-life nature, this heart-wrenching watch also has plenty of uplifting moments.

17. The Guilty (2018)

best

9.0

Country

Denmark

Director

Gustav Möller

Actors

Alexander Clement, Anders Brink Madsen, Camilla Lau, Gustav Möller

Moods

Intense, Mind-blowing, Suspenseful

Before you press play on this movie, we highly recommend you take a few very deep breaths. This 2018 thriller is wound so tight, you will need the extra oxygen to get through it without fainting. In his directorial debut, Swedish-danish filmmaker Gustav Möller uses very little in terms of resources to create this breath-taking atmosphere. While The Guilty feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, all it physically brings to the table is one man in a dark room. It plays with our imagination instead of blinding it with special effects. Similarly, the plot is also short and sweet: a police officer is temporarily sent to do emergency dispatch, when he receives a call that turns an ordinary shift into a hell ride. This is all we are going to give away before you’ve completed your breathing exercises. The movie’s minimalist approach is held together by great acting from Jakob Cedergre, a screenplay to match, and incredible sound design. A real white-knuckle ride.

18. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)

best

9.0

Country

Sweden, United States of America

Director

Göran Olsson

Actors

Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Mind-blowing

Between 1967-1975, a group of Swedish filmmakers traveled to America to document the Black Power movement. The resulting archival footage of Black activists and intellectuals, including Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the amazing Angela Davis, was hidden in an archive until it was unearthed and woven together by Göran Olsson, a Swedish director. Angela Davis also supplies some contemporary voice commentary alongside many others, such as Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, and The Roots drummer and rap culture’s No. 1 record keeper Questlove, who also co-scored the film. This adds to the mixtape feel of the film as does the raw and unfiltered piecing together of the historic footage, giving the viewer an authentic impression of the movement and the struggles of the time. Being Swedish, the filmmakers dared to go where American mainstream TV might have never gone.

19. Millenium Mambo (2001)

9.0

Country

France, Taiwan

Director

Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Actors

Chun-hao Tuan, Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Duan Chun-hao, Jack Kao

Moods

Mind-blowing

The atmosphere in Millennium Mambo is magical. The opening scene alone will leave you enchanted, with long walks through a tunnel-like space and dreamy techno music playing in the background. We are misled into thinking that this will be a movie full of colors and dance, and to some degree, this is true, as it portrays Taipei and its neon colors of green, pink, and blue, featuring dance sequences in a bar that serves flashy drinks. But as the movie develops, a chilling shadow is cast as we become entangled in a brutal relationship that is as full of cruelty as it is of love and lust. Narrated from the future, the story shows how the present-day protagonist, Vicky, grapples with her identity as she looks back upon her past self from ten years ago.

Chaotic, messy, but also peppered with moments of serenity and shot with flawless camerawork and cinematography, Millennium Mambo makes time feel fluid, and serves as a reminder that no matter how rough the journey may be, everything is always okay in the end.

20. No Bears (2022)

best

9.0

Country

Iran

Director

Jafar Panahi

Actors

Jafar Panahi, Mina Kavani, Narges Delaram, Naser Hashemi

Moods

Gripping, Mind-blowing, Original

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country’s government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi’s drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film’s limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can’t get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi’s growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm’s way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

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