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.

21. Inu-oh (2021)

best

9.0

Country

Japan

Director

Masaaki Yuasa

Actors

Avu-chan, Chikara Honda, Gota Ishida, Kenjiro Tsuda

Moods

Character-driven, Gripping, Mind-blowing

Inu-oh is a visually stunning and thought-provoking anime that reimagines a Japanese folk tale as it explores themes of artistic freedom, individuality, and the consequences of challenging societal norms. The movie’s striking imagery, original music, and captivating story make it a memorable viewing experience, delving into issues of identity and the prejudices faced by disabled individuals with sensitivity. While the catchy music may not appeal to everyone, the film’s unique blend of ancient and contemporary storytelling creates a creative triumph that anime fans will appreciate, offering social commentary and a reflection on the power of staying true to oneself.

22. Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski (2018)

8.8

Country

Poland, United States of America

Director

Irek Dobrowolski, Ireneusz Dobrowolski

Actors

Adam Jones, Charles Schneider, Gabriel Bartalos, George DiCaprio

Moods

Mind-blowing

This is an amazing documentary but be warned, the main character has some weird characteristics.

By coincidence, an art collector stumbles upon an undiscovered collection of sculptures and paintings that can only be described as the work of a genius. There was almost no reference to the artist, but upon research the collector finds that they are by a man called Stanislav Szukalski. He traces him down and finally locates him living anonymously in a California suburb. 

The documentary, Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski, is a collection of tapes from numerous interviews in the 1980s between the collector and Szukalski. He was helped by George DiCaprio, who would later produce this movie with his son Leonardo (!). 

In these interviews it becomes clear that Szukalski is pure genius. The funny thing is that he seemed to be well aware of this fact himself. 

Remember the weird characteristics I mentioned in that first sentence? Here we go. Szukalski’s past is full of a lot of antisemitism, sexism and bigotry. 

The question that lingers is how exactly can this forgotten-genius story be reshaped by the discovery of his twisted opinions. Can the artist be separated from the art? It’s a personal matter for the people who found Szukalski and later made this movie. It might never get as personal for you, but this movie will sure try to provoke an answer.

23. Angry Inuk (2016)

best

8.8

Country

Canada

Director

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Female director

Actors

Aaju Peter, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Mind-blowing

Like all great documentaries, Angry Inuk is about way more than its tagline. At first glance, it’s about how anti-sealing activism has been harming Inuit communities since the 1980s, to the point of instituting the highest rates of hunger and suicide anywhere in the “developed” world. But beyond, it’s about the complicity of the government of Canada. A crushed seal-based economy means that the Inuit have to agree to oil and uranium mining in the Arctic.

Angry Inuk is also about the corrupt behavior of animal rights organizations like Greenpeace: seals are actually not on the endangered animal list but NGOs focus on them because they make them money.

It’s an infuriating but incredibly important documentary. One that is not about how Canada has a bad history, but about how Canada is harming the Inuit right now.

24. Orlando (1992)

best

8.8

Country

France, Italy, Netherlands

Director

Female director, Sally Potter

Actors

Andrew Watts, Anna Farnworth, Anna Healy, Barbara Hicks

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Mind-blowing

Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando is a fitting adaptation for a groundbreaking story. Changing from man to woman, the titular time traveler is portrayed by the incomparable Tilda Swinton, breaking the fourth wall as if daring anyone to question her casting. But Swinton’s androgynous look and stellar acting make her the perfect choice for this. Her gaze is the anchor that we hold on to as the film glides through the novel’s multiple themes with ease. Through director Grace Potter’s indescribable vision, they create a fantastic film that blurs gender, sex, identity, and time together with the original novel itself.

25. Transit (2018)

best

8.8

Country

France, Germany

Director

Christian Petzold

Actors

Àlex Brendemühl, Antoine Oppenheim, Barbara Auer, Emilie de Preissac

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Emotional

Transit is based on a WWII novel — though you wouldn’t be able to tell from first glance. While the characters talk of German fascists occupying France, anachronistic details (like modern technology and clothing) suggest we haven’t gone back in time at all. Director Christian Petzold isn’t trying to confuse us: by blurring the backdrop, he’s making the terror and the desperation of the story more immediate — removing the distance that might have prevented us from really feeling what happens.

The uncanny historical echo effect works as intended, because the parallels Transit subtly draws between the past and today are horribly clear. What’s more, the movie’s intentionally ambiguous framing suffuses the plot with an otherworldly sense of mystery, a quality that gradually intensifies as Georg (Franz Rogowski) desperately searches for a one-way ticket out of hellish bureaucratic limbo before he finds himself waylaid by that most mysterious emotion of all: love. Unshakably haunting and undeniably poignant, this is a movie that will live under your skin.

26. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

best

8.8

Country

France, Germany, Japan

Director

Jim Jarmusch

Actors

Alfred Nittoli, Angel Caban, Camille Winbush, Chuck Jeffreys

Moods

A-list actors, Action-packed, Character-driven

Director Jim Jarmusch audaciously combined the DNA of French noir classics with that of samurai and mafia movies to produce this utterly original film. As advised by the ancient Japanese manual it often quotes, though, Jarmusch’s movie also “makes the best” out of its own generation by adding hip-hop into its wry genre blend. The results are more than the sum of their parts, especially because the film is so eccentric: no matter how au fait with its inspirations you are, you still won’t see “Forest Whitaker plays a lonely hitman who wields and whooshes his silencer pistol like a samurai sword, lovingly tends pigeons, and can’t even speak the same language as his best friend” coming.

Ghost Dog’s strangeness is never jarring, though, thanks to Whitaker’s cool, collected performance, an atmospheric score by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, and the cinematography’s tendency to use smooth double exposures for scene transitions. It almost feels like we’re in another world: Jarmusch zooms in on the Bushido code obsessions of Whitaker’s single-minded character and the mafiosos’ dying laws, blurring out everything else so the movie becomes a meditation on the impulse to moralize one’s misdoings by subscribing to rigid definitions of “honor.” Not an exercise in surface style, then, but a bone-deep reflective masterpiece.

27. River (2023)

best

8.8

Country

Japan

Director

Junta Yamaguchi

Actors

Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Manami Honjo

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Gripping

Made on a clearly lower budget but with enthusiasm and love for the craft overflowing from every frame, Junta Yamaguchi’s River gets clean and wholesome comedy—that’s still plenty memorable—out of a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom get to display a full range of expression for their increasingly exasperated characters. It’s smart, economical filmmaking that’s still dazzlingly put together, as each two-minute loop is done in a single unbroken shot that feels different with every reset. Yamaguchi is highly aware of how quickly this gimmick might overstay its welcome, so he allows the film’s emotional landscape to open up considerably with every cycle. As the hell of this situation starts to chip away at the characters, the film also becomes more urgent and more soulful, leading the story down unexpected paths and inviting us to think beyond the pattern it sets up for itself.

28. Gosford Park (2001)

best

8.7

Country

Italy, United States of America

Director

Robert Altman

Actors

Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bates, Bob Balaban, Camilla Rutherford

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Gripping

Gosford Park inspired screenwriter Julian Fellowes to create Downton Abbey — but don’t let that association fool you, because this is no quaint, sentimental period drama but a scalding satire of 1930s England class relations (even though Maggie Smith does play a withering dowager countess here, too). Robert Altman, master orchestrator of ensembles, assembled a banquet of performers here, including Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Charles Dance as the well-to-do attendees of a hunting party on a grand estate. Working furiously to meet their every whim is the house’s domestic staff, played by such talents as Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen.

The murder comes over an hour into the film, which ought to tell you about its real focus (Altman actually called Gosford Park a “who cares whodunnit”). In place of Agatha Christie-style intrigue is brilliant characterization and storytelling. Even at 137 minutes, 30-plus characters mean time is of the essence, but Altman and his actors miraculously find a way to convey a deep sense of each person — especially those downstairs. This tangle of rich lives never gets overwhelming, though, because Gosford Park is expertly paced. It’s nothing less than a joy to sit back and experience the masterful unraveling of its many threads, each more revelatory than the last.

29. Richard III (1995)

best

8.7

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Richard Loncraine

Actors

Adrian Dunbar, Andy Rashleigh, Annette Bening, Bill Paterson

Moods

A-list actors, Action-packed, Character-driven

One of Shakespeare’s most indelible works is brought roaring to life in this explosive adaptation. The action is transposed from the 1400s to brutalist 1930s England, with the bloody civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York being waged by tanks and planes instead of cavalry. The switch isn’t merely cosmetic, though: in an inspired move, usurper Richard is reimagined here as the fascist head of an army of Nazi-esque Blackshirts (an analog of real militant far-right leader Oswald Mosley). Ian McKellen, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives an odious but brilliant performance as the titular Machiavellian schemer who will stop at nothing to seize the crown, even betraying his own blood.

McKellen is joined by a gluttony of acting talent: Maggie Smith plays the King’s despairing mother, Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. are the unfortunate American queen and her brother, while the likes of Jim Broadbent, Bill Paterson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Jim Carter fill up the royal court. All the richness of Shakespeare’s original writing is retained, charging the performances and the film around them with a grand sense of drama. Peter Biziou’s ostentatious cinematography is a perfect frame for it all, and helps cement this as much, much more than a piece of filmed theater.

30. Winter Sleep (2014)

best

8.6

Country

France, Germany, Turkey

Director

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Actors

Ayberk Pekcan, Demet Akbag, Ekrem İlhan, Emirhan Doruktutan

Moods

Challenging, Mind-blowing, Slow

An absolutely beautiful film about superficiality, arrogance, and heartbreak. It focuses on the life of Aydin, a retired actor who now lives very comfortably managing a small hotel and a number of other small properties. Throughout the film Aydin’s image shifts as he tackles the problems of his rather typical life. Having said this, there is nothing else typical about this film. It captures human relationships with an almost frightening precision. It almost feels as though you have an inside view into someone’s actual life as Aydin battles it out with his sister Necla and his young wife Nihal. To me this is easily one of the best dramas of the decade, and if you so much as like movies that focus on humans and their interactions, it will be that for you too.  Nuri Bilge Ceylan will make 3 hours pass more quickly than they ever have before.

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