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.

31. 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

8.6

Country

France, Germany

Director

Claire Denis, Female director

Actors

Adèle Ado, Alex Descas, Djédjé Apali, Ériq Ebouaney

Moods

Mind-blowing

This bittersweet film about a father and a daughter marks one of the more tender spots in Claire Denis’ brilliant filmography. Frequent collaborator Alex Descas plays Lionel (the father), while Mati Diop, now a director in her own right, plays Josephine (the daughter.) The film captures the two at a crossroads, with their closely-knit relationship tested as Josephine grows closer to her boyfriend, and Lionel must face the possibility of finally letting her go.

A melancholy lingers in the air as we learn more about their lives and the small community of neighbors and coworkers in their orbit. Meanwhile, the film’s climax holds a mesmerizing sequence set to the Commodores’ Nightshift, which has to rank as one of the best needle drops in cinema from a director who already has an all-timer under her belt. (see. Beau Travail)

32. Streetwise (1984)

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Martin Bell

Actors

Dewayne Pomeroy, Erin Blackwell, Lulu Couch, Patrice Pitts

Moods

Mind-blowing, Sunday, Thought-provoking

Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It’s a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments. 

The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.

33. Moon (2009)

best

8.5

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Duncan Jones

Actors

Adrienne Shaw, Benedict Wong, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario

Moods

Mind-blowing, Thought-provoking

Moon is a sci-fi movie that doesn’t care that it’s a sci-fi movie. It’s not about space exploration or aliens. It’s about a man struggling to understand what and who he is and the dehumanizing effect of industrialization. Moon leaves you with a pit in your stomach and an incredible feeling of melancholy. It is perfectly acted by Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Moon keeps you guessing and deeply enthralled. A true masterpiece I would recommend to anyone, whether they are sci-fi nerds or just movie lovers.

34. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Frank Oz

Actors

Barbara Rosenblat, Bertice Reading, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest

Moods

Dark, Dramatic, Intense

With a premise straight out of a cheesy sci-fi B-movie, you wouldn’t expect Little Shop of Horrors to be a bona fide spectacle, and yet its tale of a wish-fulfilling yet bloodthirsty plant remains as thrilling and intense as ever. More importantly, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s rock-musical songs remain boisterous and theatrical, gleefully performed by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs. And buried underneath all this is a comedy with a heart of darkness and a legitimately disturbing morality tale.

Musicals and horror movies are genres that typically cater to a more niche audience, but Little Shop of Horrors should be fun enough to draw anybody in, thanks to the film’s impressively tactile sets, director Frank Oz’s knack for physical comedy, and animatronic special effects that look better than most CGI creations today. As both a horror movie monster and a massive puppet, the vicious plant named Audrey II is entirely worth the price of admission, no matter which version of the film you seek out.

35. The Red Turtle (2017)

best

8.5

Country

Belgium, France, Japan

Director

Michael Dudok de Wit

Actors

Barbara Beretta, Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson

Moods

Gripping, Mind-blowing, Original

Co-produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a tale about a man shipwrecked on a desert island whose fate is changed upon meeting a giant turtle. Beautiful images are pulled together and combined with the film’s delicate symbolism about humanity and nature, in a story told with remarkable restraint. The only sound in the movie is that of nature and the film’s beautifully relaxing score. Using only simple ingredients, The Red Turtle is an enigmatic, captivating, and highly-recommended gem that, after all, encompasses life itself.

36. Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music (2023)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein

Actors

Anastasia Durasova, Heather Christian, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray

Moods

Instructive, Mind-blowing, Smart

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show’s eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who’ve already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It’s a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

37. The Player (1992)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Robert Altman

Actors

Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson

Moods

A-list actors, Dark, Dramatic

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

38. Style Wars (1983)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Tony Silver

Actors

Cap, Daze, Dondi, Ed Koch

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Mind-blowing

Whether graffiti is art or not is the question guiding this fascinating documentary about the spray can-wielding artists of ‘80s New York. Wherever you come down in the debate — though this presents compelling arguments that graffiti is a medium worthy of critical attention — you’ll undoubtedly come away with a reverence for the kids who went hard with the paint on NYC’s walls and subway cars. Candid interviews with these young pioneers (whose cultural contributions are now less in contention) reveal that they’re not simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake: they’re largely motivated by a desire to make their mark on their beloved city — to stand out and have their work seen by the millions riding the subway every day.

The doc largely embeds itself with the artists, but it also interviews the “other side”: then-mayor Ed Koch and police officers, who were ramping up their aggressive “war on graffiti” campaign during filming. It’s clear that these interviewees have little interest in understanding what drives the kids to create their murals — a lack of curiosity that Style Wars blessedly counters. Not just a thoughtful contribution to its period and a fascinating time capsule, but also a thought-provoking reminder that art is art, whether it’s made outside of the system or not.

39. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Michael Winterbottom

Actors

Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Lestuzzi

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Funny

Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

40. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Sean Durkin

Actors

Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Mind-blowing

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It’s a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts, and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proves that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

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