20 Mind-Bending Movies On Netflix You'll Be Analyzing For Weeks After Watching
Sometimes it's fun to plop down with a popcorn-friendly movie, letting your brain free-float through a sea of breezy jokes and obvious plot points. But occasionally, you might be in the mood for a flick that's a little more unconventional, something challenging and the film equivalent of an optical illusion. When that mood strikes, we've got you covered; here are 20 mind-bending movies on Netflix you'll be analyzing for weeks.
While some of the films below, like Moon, have plenty of plot twists to them, they also still leave many questions open-ended. Following the möbius-twist plot of Donnie Darko will require some mental gymnastics, but that still doesn't hit at the heart of the decisions and conclusions people come to, and why. Amanda Knox, a documentary about a trial, can't offer a straightforward solution even after all evidence is presented. They Look Like People, meanwhile, has multiple unreliable narrators, creating a tense situation where viewers are put in the same confusion as characters, unsure whether what they've seen can be taken at face value.
And then there are some films so odd, they might just melt your brain. Each choice in Battlefield Earth, for instance, was made with deliberate intention and a ridiculously high budget to back it, something that will pop back into your mind months after watching. Check out these movies and prepare yourself to be questioning them for weeks after you watch them.
Despite being set on the vast, empty moon, Duncan Jones' debut feature feels claustrophobic. Sam Rockwell plays lone mining astronaut Sam Bell, who's near the end of his three-year work contract and is looking forward to heading home. After a near-death accident, he returns to the base to find something that leaves him very confused.
2. 'Amanda Knox'
Convicted, then acquitted, of murdering an Italian exchange student, Amanda Knox was tried as much in the court of public opinion as she was by Italian courts. Sensational, untrue stories, a leaked private diary made public, and Knox's bizarre behavior don't add up to any satisfying conclusions, just deeper questions.
3. 'Bottom Of The World'
Scarlett and Alex, a young couple enjoying a road trip, stop at a quirky motel. When Alex wakes, Scarlett, and all trace of her existence, have disappeared — save for a masked stranger claiming he has her. When Alex wakes again, he's in a world where she never existed, but he still has memories of her... are they real? Was she?
4. 'Donnie Darko'
One of the most famous WTF movies, Donnie Darko features an unreliable narrator who may not be able to tell reality from delusion, or may be the only one who can see time warping around a brutal choice.
5. 'Battlefield Earth'
Battlefield Earth will have you questioning what "movie" even means after you watch this Scientology-inspired labor of love star John Travolta spent decades getting made. Every decision, from dialogue to not having a single shot on the level, will leave you boggling.
6. 'I Am Not A Serial Killer'
The film follows a young sociopath who's aware of his impulses and tries to control them, but as a murder mystery unfolds, finds himself the star suspect. Is someone else trying to trigger him to cover their own responsibility, or is he covering for himself?
7. 'They Look Like People'
Can you trust your friends when you can't even trust yourself? After bad breakups, Wyatt moves into his friend Christian's apartment and they both attempt to get back into the dating world with their friend Mara. One night Wyatt receives a strange phone call telling him he has to leave the city and save himself from a coming demon invasion. The phone calls keep coming, pointing out the silent invasion happening before his eyes, and Christian, Mara and Wyatt must each figure out what they believe and how far they're willing to indulge the others.
8. 'White God'
A strange tale of love and revenge on four paws, as mixed-mutt Hagen is separated from his beloved 13-year old owner by her cruel father due to a purebred law. The film follows Hagen as he rallies the dogs of the town to rise up; the humans of the movie are secondary to the furry stars.
9. 'Cloud Atlas'
This tale of interwoven relationships transcending individual lives posits that with every act, kind or cruel, we shape our own destinies across time. It got flack for putting actors in makeup to present as different races across time; some accused it of yellowface, while others contended that it wasn't done in mockery but to transcend the idea of race. The issue could've been avoided somewhat had the film cast any Asian actors in major roles, though they would've had to put on "whiteface" as Halle Berry does throughout.
After seven strangers wake up in a mysterious (and surprisingly deadly) cube, they have to figure a way out, and whether they can trust one another to rely on.
David Fincher's stylistic take on the seven deadly sins builds up the hunters well enough to understand their motivations, but leaves the serial killer enough of an enigma to keep you wondering long after the credits roll. Like, what did he do before serial killing to have all that money for elaborate set-ups?
12. 'Mr. Nobody'
A film attempting to depict the multiverse theory of universes from the point of view of the last mortal man in a future where humans have achieved a sort of immortality is a high concept to start with. But Mr. Nobody pushes it a little further with the character able to interact with his alternate selves... sort of.
13. 'Eyes Wide Shut'
Stanley Kubrick's last full directorial outing takes place over an evening as Dr. Bill Harford wanders a false New York, tormented by his wife revealing she'd contemplated an affair. Throw in some secret societies and the fragility of male ego, and you have an enigma to mull over for some time.
14. 'A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence'
A series of vignettes musing on the theme of life among the quiet and meek, this is comedy so black and dry you'd think it was an overtoasted rye bagel. The static framing becomes its own form of deadpan, and everything is just off enough to make the normal feel even stranger.
15. 'The Wolfpack'
Seven brothers raised in the confines of a Lower East Side apartment, homeschooled to avoid any interacting with the outside world, create their own interpretation of it through their only window to the outside, movies. When one of the brothers manages to sneak out, their lives change. This is a documentary.
Adopting its title with severe literalness, wife and mom Jill snaps under the pressure of day-to-day life caring for her cheating husband and bratty kids. She adopts the persona of a mean, unruly dog to the fullest, biting, peeing, and creating havoc in the world she was forced to keep in order.
17. 'Skins' (2017)
Like slapping an Instagram filter over a John Waters movie, this melodramatic soap opera following the lives of people with bizarre deformities and dreams as they try to make their way in the cruel, pastel-colored world leans into its weirdness. One seemingly healthy young man dreams of chopping his legs off to become a mermaid, while another woman has an "inverted digestive system" with mouth and anus swapped. Yep.
18. 'The Nightmare'
This eerie documentary eschews scientific explanation for a personal look at the terrifying experience of sleep paralysis. "Shadow men", pure evil, and paralysis are reenacted to haunting effect. The worst part is they all say thinking about sleep paralysis increases the chances of experiencing it. Watch at your own peril.
20. 'The Childhood Of A Leader'
An unsettling look at the rise of fascism, the film follows an unnamed Leader as he grows into an implied monster, examining the forces that shape him.
Easy evenings with fun films are all well and good, but it's just as fun to mess with your own mind sometimes. With haunting moments and unanswered questions, these films will keep your mental gears turning long past their brief runtimes.