Have you ever watched a film where something was off or the characters lied to you? Movies with surprising narratives and unreliable narrators are more common than you think. Things are not what they seem in these films.
1. Spider (2002)
Spider is a film that makes the viewer question reality along with its main character, who has schizophrenia. When he checks into a halfway house, he first makes a friend, and things seem to be looking up. But soon, traumatic childhood memories begin to haunt him, altering his reality simultaneously.
2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
This surreal thriller film follows a couple on a trip to visit the man’s parents. The woman considers breaking up with her boyfriend as they drive to his parents’ home. But by the film’s end, the viewer realizes that isn’t what was truly happening.
3. Videodrome (1983)
Videodrome is a horror sci-fi film about a failing TV executive desperate to attract viewers. When he decides to bring a violent reality series onto his channel, he believes the torture depicted on-screen results from special effects and clever camerawork. That is until his girlfriend auditions for the show and never returns.
4. Existenz (1999)
After creating a virtual reality game, a video game designer becomes the target of an assassination attempt. Forced to go on the run, she takes a businessman to pose as her bodyguard. She then inserts her game’s data into his brain, thrusting the two into a series of adventures. Neither knows whether what’s happening is real or part of the game.
5. Total Recall (1990)
In a futuristic world, a man stuck on Earth dreams of seeing the now-colonized Mars. Instead of visiting the planet, he opts to have false memories implanted in his brain to feel as if he has experienced the planet. However, the implantation process goes wrong and he realizes all his memories are fake.
6. The Village (2004)
In an isolated village, the townspeople refuse to venture far from home because of the dense forest surrounding them. But when a young woman falls ill, a boy with a crush on her decides to venture into the wilderness to seek help. He faces more than sinister monsters while on his journey through the forest.
7. Life of Pi (2012)
When a boy’s parents decide to sell their zoo to move across the world, they board a ship with their luggage, which includes a few animals. During a terrible storm, the boat sinks, and the boy scrambles onto a lifeboat with only a tiger for company. Can the boy and his natural enemy work together to survive?
8. Rashomon (1950)
No one can be trusted in this famous crime drama. After a man’s murder, witnesses are interviewed one by one. Each shares a varied story of the events before, during, and after the murder. But who is telling the whole truth?
9. Mulholland Drive (2001)
After a terrible car accident, a woman can’t remember anything about herself or her life. When a young aspiring actress discovers the woman and learns about her condition, she makes it her mission to help the woman rediscover her identity. This surreal film makes viewers wonder what exactly is going on and who both women genuinely are.
10. Memento (2000)
A man with severe memory loss struggles to track down his wife’s killer in this tense and mysterious thriller. He does remember facts about himself and his life before the accident. But he struggles to remember what he did just a few minutes ago, making staying on task extremely challenging.
11. Barton Fink (1991)
When a high-brow New York City playwright moves to L.A. to write movie scripts for a new job, he struggles to stay on task. He keeps getting distracted as he works on a movie script that is below his high intellect level. Strange events pull his attention away from the script and into a twisted reality.
12. Inland Empire (2006)
This psychological thriller is filled with twists that leave viewers guessing at every moment. It’s about an actress starring in a film where she and her co-star’s characters have an affair. But her real-life husband is extremely jealous, leaving her to avoid too much contact with her co-star. But things become even more twisted when the cast learns they’re working on a film that, when attempted once before, the two stars were murdered.
13. Shutter Island (2010)
After a murderer manages to escape a high-security mental institution, a U.S. Marshal heads to the facility to investigate. As mystery after mystery emerges, the marshall can’t put his finger on what’s going on at this remote asylum. But as he gets deeper into the investigation, he discovers that he must look within himself to find the answer.
14. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
This dark fantasy film takes place in Europe during the throes of World War II. The stepdaughter of a murderous captain in the army can’t bear to watch her stepfather’s evil behavior unfold. Soon, she discovers a strange, magical land in her backyard and gets sucked into its labyrinth of strange creatures.
15. Beau is Afraid (2023)
Beau is Afraid is a surrealist horror film about a man on a journey to return to his childhood home to visit his wealthy mother. But every time he tries to take a step forward in his travels, some misfortunate events cause him to take two steps back. When he finally gets to his mother’s house, the viewer realizes he probably would have been better off if he had stayed home.
16. Big Fish (2003)
A son visits his father on his deathbed in this fantastical film. The father has always shared ridiculous stories of far-fetched adventures in his youth, but his son never took him very seriously. That is until the son began to use his journalism skills to investigate his father’s life.
17. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
This classic tale of revenge during World War II follows an Allied officer intent on gathering Jewish soldiers to brutally fight back against the Nazis. They work with a spy as they aim their rage at the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
18. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Vanilla Sky is a sci-fi thriller about a man whose face is disfigured in a car crash when a jealous woman takes her revenge against him. Left depressed after the attack, the woman he loves consoles him and they enter a relationship together. But when he wakes up one day to find his killer lying in bed beside him, everything he thought was real gets tossed out the window.
19. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological horror film about a man who experiences intense flashbacks and strange hallucinations after returning home from the Vietnam War. As his concept of reality dwindles, he struggles to maintain relationships in his life. But is his mind responsible for all of his hallucinations, or is something else at play?
20. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
As a bitter actor attempts to regain his fame from starring in a Western series in the 1950s, he spends most of his time getting drunk with his best friend and stunt double. At the same time, Charles Manson’s cult prepares a violent attack against the actor’s neighbors.
21. The Moustache (2005)
This French film questions reality in the mundane in a way that is never boring. After a man who had a mustache for his entire life decides to shave it off one day, the people in his life claim he never had a mustache to begin with. Forced to question his memory, the man spirals out of control. Will we ever find out if his mustache was real or simply a figment of his imagination?
22. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Swiss Army Man is a weird survival comedy about a man who survives a plane crash and struggles to cope with his loneliness and helplessness in the wilderness. Just as he’s about to take his own life, he glimpses a man’s corpse nearby. Then, the corpse begins to talk to him and provide companionship that could help the man escape his isolation.
23. Funny Games (1997 and 2007)
When a family takes a trip to a remote lakeside cabin for a relaxing getaway, they have no idea it will become a nightmare. Some young men who live nearby take the family hostage in their vacation home. The men force the family to endure humiliation and torture with no end in sight.
24. Sucker Punch (2011)
After a young woman’s evil stepfather kills her mother, he locks her in a mental hospital to await a lobotomy. Terrified of her fate, the woman escapes into a fantasy world of her creation to distract herself. But soon, she discovers that her imagination could help her escape for real.
Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more. She loves horror, history, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically. Her favorite pastimes include needle felting, gaming, and drawing.