The 32 Most Eye-Opening Movies Of All Time, From '1984' To 'The Big Short'
While it's been around for quite a long time, film is one of the youngest art forms we humans have created to date. In the time since movies began, filmmakers have learned to push the boundaries of the medium into new areas. Technically, narratively, and even performatively, film is a rapidly evolving artistic platform. So, after more than a century of existence, there have been plenty of eye-opening movies that have come to exist, spanning all genres and types of form.
You can define "eye-opening" in a number of ways. If you're talking about the aesthetics of film, then there have been so many made that mix special effects with practical effects or that find new and inventive ways to bring previously unrealized worlds to life. If you think "eye-opening" means that a film talks about an issue or historical event that lends itself to a larger conversation, you can bet your boots there've been plenty of those kinds of films, too.
The following movies fall into different categories of eye-opening, coming from various decades and all bringing something new to the table. They are important social documents and, also, just plain entertaining.
1. The Great Dictator
One of silent-era film star Charlie Chaplin's most well-known and highly-regarded films is actually one where we hear him speak. This is a revelation in itself, but the film is also a deeply political and subversive text. Watching this movie and being reminded that World War II was raging on when it was released will leave you a changed viewer.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001, lauded for its visuals and its daring tone, remains an insanely good film. It ushered in a new era of filmmaking, technically speaking, and thus remains one of the most eye-opening films to date.
3. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
It's tough not to love actor Jimmy Stewart in this role. Seen in the troubling times of 2017, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington will be an eye-opening watch because it is so steeped in goodness, has an unshakeable faith in American democracy, and paints a picture of a world where justice is possible.
4. The Matrix
Because when you think "eye-opening," this movie most likely pops into your head almost instantaneously.
5. A Clockwork Orange
If your eyes aren't opened wide by the end of the shocking and relevant A Clockwork Orange, you haven't been paying close enough attention.
6. An Inconvenient Truth
This documentary is scary and eye-opening in a way that you might want to get active after watching. Tackling the very dangerous and potentially irreversible effects of global warming, former Vice President Al Gore gives us a stern talking-to about what we need to change about our relationship to the environment if we are to ensure the longevity of the human race.
Adapted from the George Orwell novel of the same name, 1984 takes aim at huge ideas and attempts, through its dystopian setting, to tear them down. Capitalism, fascism, the nature of free will, nuclear family structure, mass production, and language all get caught up in the grinding gears of the 1984 machine and will leave you shook.
8. To Kill A Mockingbird
Actor Gregory Peck's most famous role came in the renowned film adaptation of a beloved book. To Kill A Mockingbird, both the book and the movie, have become a kind of primer on race relations in America for younger audiences, but the morals presented here remain as relevant as ever.
9. La Jetée
This abstract short film comprised solely of photographs slot in perfectly with the innovative, new wave filmmaking of the '60s. La Jetée is a mystery film, sci-fi film, and a romantic film, all combined to create a truly arresting viewing experience.
10. The Big Short
Taking on recent history, The Big Short is a tough reminder that corporate greed exists and that there is always someone looking to make a quick buck at a high price. It may leave you feeling angry, shocked, or simply ready to enact change by the time the credits roll.
11. Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
Dr. Strangelove has been shaking up film since its release in 1964. A darkly comic take on how a government might decide to go to war and drop bombs, you may say it's eerily prescient while being able to fit as a perfect commentary to modern political affairs.
12. Children Of Men
Children of Men is now being considered one of the most relevant films of the last 20 years. Aside from its bracing look into a near future where women are unable to get pregnant and the world as we know it is on the verge of collapse in nearly every way, this film will open your eyes to the way we treat our planet, the way we treat our fellow humans, and how we plow onward in the face of uncertainty.
13. Supersize Me
Supersize Me has had an astounding effect on audiences since its release. It set off a trend in documentary filmmaking to expose various nefarious corners of the food industry, with docs like That Sugar Film and Fed Up following suit. Supersize Me is still the Big Mac-daddy of them all; watching it will make you will feel ill, feel shocked, and left questioning everything you know about the food that you eat.
Network is a dark take on how the media can exploit news or people for increased profit. Protagonist Howard Beale's infamous monologue aside, this film will open your eyes to perceptions of media 40 years ago and leave you to reflect on where the media stands today.
The elaborate and highly physical nature of French comedy Playtime is enough to keep you glued to the screen. Watching the various sequences play out, you begin to have just as much fun as the characters in the film. It's a wondrous thing.
16. Bowling For Columbine
Bowling For Columbine not only makes the cut because it remains an eye-popping dive into America's very twisted relationship with guns, but because it does so in such a frank, honest manner — not to mention it made Michael Moore one of the great documentarians of our time.
17. Night Of The Living Dead
Zombie films began with Night of the Living Dead. What could be reach as a social commentary on race relations, socio-economic affairs, or simply be considered a gory flick, George A. Romero's film became eye-opening in its horror.
18. Man With A Movie Camera
One of the first documentaries ever made, and thus a superlative eye-opening film, Man With A Movie Camera has a simple premise with a huge impact. Quite literally, a man with a movie camera roams around his bustling city, capturing the movements of the people, animals, and machinery with his camera. He is so caught up in the documenting of this real life that the energy he captures gets infused into every frame.
19. La Dolce Vita
The images, the magnitude, and the scope of La Dolce Vita should be enough to get you to watch it. It's a masterpiece but it's also eye-opening is its thematic contemplations of life. Seriously, watch it.
20. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
The first Star Wars installment felt so new and groundbreaking when it initially came out.
21. Nanook Of The North
Initially publicized as a documentary, the drama surrounding Nanook of the North (essentially, that it was staged) has led it be re-classified in the ensuing years as a docudrama. Part fact, part fiction, the 1922 movie was a real humdinger when it was first released and remains a curiosity in documentary lore today.
Wall-E is an adorable flick but it actually packs a lot into its story. Its commentaries on consumerism as well as environmental protection make it an eye-opening film.
23. Planet Of The Apes
A watershed film in its use of makeup and costuming, Planet of the Apes is a game-changing and thrilling sci-fi gem.
A modern mind-bender, Inception is a recent example of how filmmaking is pushing the boundaries on world-building for greater dramatic effect. Oh, also: it's a freaking amazing movie.
25. A Trip To The Moon
Made in 1902, A Trip to the Moon is one of the first short films ever made. It's cheeky and mind-bogglingly inventive to watch more than 100 years later. You can see that even in the early days of film, filmmakers were attempting special effects to enhance the storytelling in a way that would set the pace for filmmaking in the years to come.
26. The Shining
The Shining is a visual masterpiece and a haunting, tangled web of a film. There's been plenty of attempts to unpack it, but the fact remains that The Shining is a film like no other; even genre-less, it's mind-boggling.
27. The Wizard Of Oz
Are you really surprised that The Wizard of Oz, in all its technicolor glory, made it onto this list?
28. Duck Soup
When it comes to choosing a Marx Brothers movie that is just as visually stunning as it is quick on the draw with its comedy, you've got to go the Duck Soup route. The Marx Brothers were bigger than life and their films usually matched that quality.
29. Do The Right Thing
Do The Right Thing not only packs a punch visually (seriously, the color palette and individual shots are insanely cool), but it also packs a topical punch to the gut.
30. The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man could be slotted in with some of the earliest horror and monster movies, but it's its early interpretations of how you could make a character invisible that pushed the film medium, making it a very fun watch.
Make fun of it all you want, but there's no denying that when it comes to visual effects, Avatar straight-up opens those eyes of yours really wide.
32. Disney's Fantasia
Fantasia remains one of the most well-known and eye-popping animated films ever made. A boisterous blend of sight and sound, the ways in which this Disney masterpiece are boundary-bending are so delightful to watch.
The movies above were major when they were released, and are just as effective today.