As humans, we have been telling stories since the beginning of time. Stories help us to understand important ideas and make sense of the world around us.
Stories are the fabric of our lives: our lives begin and end with a story. Each relationship in our life is a story, every dream, every experience is a story. Life itself is one big story composed of many smaller stories, and every atom dancing is telling us its story.
It’s no surprise that we’ve fallen in love with movies: they perfectly embody stories. And stories can be powerful. We watch movies to find a sense of relief from our daily responsibilities, to experience excitement and intrigue, and to even feel our humanity again by letting them touch our hearts.
But films can also help us grow as individuals. They can encourage us to question our lives, to awaken to endless possibilities and help us to understand where we’re heading as a society. Most people are familiar with popular thought-provoking movies like The Matrix, Inception, Donnie Darko, Moon, V for Vendetta, Mulholland Dr., Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Fight Club.
There are also plenty of other movies out there that are just as thought-provoking but not as well known. These movies are obscure because they lacked big budgets and therefore couldn’t hire as many actors. But in this obscurity, these movies preserved their souls, and the artistic visions behind each film stayed intact without being influenced by the masses.
Here are some of the best little-known cryptic and mind-bending movies out there.
21 Mind-Bending Movies That Make You Think
Prepare to question everything you know!
By the way, if you do decide to watch any of the movies below by clicking on the links, you’ll be supporting our work through the small affiliate fees we receive. We appreciate your support. :)
1. Upstream Color (2013)
Description: A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: It’s a sensual experience of poetic ideas; modern disconnection, biophysical insecurity, and existential doubt.
2. TiMER (2009)
Description: When implanted in a person’s wrist, a TiMER counts down to the day the wearer finds true love. But Oona O’Leary faces the rare dilemma of a blank TiMER. Her soul mate – whoever and wherever he is – has yet to have a TiMER implanted. Staring down the barrel of thirty and tired of waiting for her would-be life partner to get off the dime, Oona breaks her own rules and falls for Mikey, a charming and inappropriately young supermarket clerk with a countdown of four months.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: If a clock could count down to the moment you meet your soul mate, would you want to know?
3. Coherence (2013)
Description: On the night an astronomical anomaly passes close to the Earth, eight friends at a dinner party start experiencing strange and mysterious events. Soon it becomes clear that nothing and no one are what they appear to be.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: It explores the physics concept of Schrodinger’s Cat, and forces the question of whether we truly know what we’re capable of.
5. Primer (2004)
Description: While tweaking their current project, two young engineers accidentally discover that it has some highly unexpected capabilities – ones that could enable them to do and to have seemingly anything they want. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face. Dealing with the consequences is the next.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: What do you want when you can have anything? And if you have everything, what do you do?
6. Frequencies (2013)
Description: What if physics determined the laws of attraction? In a parallel world where human frequencies determine luck, love, and destiny, Zak, a young college student, must overcome science in order to love Marie, who emits a different frequency than his own. In an attempt to make their love a reality, Zak experiments on the laws of nature, putting in danger the cosmic equilibrium of fate and everything he holds dear.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: Are human conditions, actions, relationships determined by fate, free will, or a combination of both? At any rate, if it we cannot control it – should we care?
7. Waking Life (2001)
Description: A boy has a dream that he can float, but unless he holds on, he will drift away into the sky. Even when grows up, this idea recurs. After a strange accident, he walks through what may be a dream, flowing in and out of scenarios and encountering various characters. People he meets discuss science, philosophy and the life of dreaming and waking. The protagonist gradually becomes alarmed that he cannot awake from this confusing dream.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: What if you gradually become aware that you are walking through life in a dream state, but could not wake up from this confusing dream?
8. Extracted (2012)
Description: A scientist invents a technique to enter people’s memories deep within their subconscious mind when it is in its most vulnerable state. When he is tasked with entering a heroin addict mind who is a convicted criminal to see whether he committed murder, the scientist is faced with his most dangerous and risky memory extraction ever.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: How far is too deep into the darkness of another’s unconscious mind?
9. Open Your Eyes (1997)
Description: A once handsome playboy, César finds himself in a mental facility and can’t remember why. All he can remember is meeting the love of his life for one day, and then getting into a car accident which left his face horribly disfigured. But the pain of becoming physically undesirable may help him to find the truth.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: Where does reality end and fantasy begin?
10. I Origins (2014)
Description: Dr. Ian Gray, a molecular biologist is studying the evolution of the eye. He finds his work permeating his life after a brief encounter with an exotic young woman who slips away from him. As his research continues years later with his lab partner Karen, they make a stunning scientific discovery that has far reaching implications and complicates both his scientific and spiritual beliefs. Traveling half way around the world, he risks everything he has ever known to validate his theory.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: Which is right, science or faith, chance or destiny?
11. The Congress (2013)
Description: More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal made with her loyal agent, her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator, Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in “The Congress” convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie is a dystopian political story exploring the ideas of ageism in Hollywood and the soullessness of digital life.
12. Predestination (2014)
Description: A Temporal Agent is sent on an intricate series of time-travel journeys designed to prevent future killers from committing their crimes. Now, on his final assignment, the Agent must stop the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time and prevent a devastating attack in which thousands of lives will be lost.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: It’s an elegant study of the human self-identity.
13. The Frame (2014)
Description: Two strangers find their lives colliding in an impossible way. Alex is a methodical cargo thief working for a dangerous cartel. Sam is a determined paramedic trying to save the world while running from her past. Suddenly and mysteriously, Alex and Sam’s lives crash into each other and the fabric of reality is ripped from underneath their feet. Taking on the very root of fate, destiny, and their own existence, Alex and Sam race through a maze of an ever-changing universe while being pursued by a demonic man determined to erase the world.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: What if you could re-write the script that life has handed you and create something much more beautiful?
14. 2046 (2004)
Description: A writer works on a novel about a mysterious train that leaves for a place called 2046 every once in a while. Everyone who boards that train has the same intention – which is to recapture their lost memories. It is said that in 2046, nothing ever changed. Nobody knows for sure if it was true, because nobody who went there had ever come back – except for one person. This person had been there but he chose to leave. He wanted to change.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: How does a memory dictate the way you live your life?
15. Under the Skin (2013)
Description: A mysterious woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie is a darkly captivating exploration of identity, normality and otherness.
16. Another Earth (2011)
Description: On the night of the discovery of a duplicate Earth in the Solar system, an ambitious young student and an accomplished composer cross paths in a tragic accident.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie is a meditation on the infinite possible variations that a human life can take; it sparks the brain and moves the heart.
17. Enter The Void (2009)
Description: Oscar is a heavy drug user who lives in colorful Tokyo, and his sister Linda is a stripper. Having constant traumatic flashbacks from childhood from drug-induced hallucinations, Oscar is eventually shot by the police. After they shoot him, he floats above his body and observes life: his sister’s sorrow, the rooms in a hotel, and even life at a molecular level.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie is an astonishing trip through life, death, and the universally wonderful and horrible moments between. Is there an afterlife?
18. Robot & Frank (2012)
Description: Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned that he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option. Against Frank’s wishes, his son buys him a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie is a light exploration of aging, dementia and the humanist potential of technology.
19. Exam (2012)
Description: Shown into a windowless examination room, eight candidates have reached the final stage of selection for a prestigious job at a mysterious corporation. There is one question before them and one answer is required. If they try to speak to the armed guard by the door they will be disqualified. If they leave the room for any reason they will be disqualified. If they spoil their papers they will be disqualified. As the clock ticks down, they must figure out what the company expects of them.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: How far are we prepared to go to secure the ultimate job?
20. The Machine (2013)
Description: Two computer programmers fall in love as they create the first-ever piece of self-aware artificial intelligence, designed to help humanity. But things go terribly wrong when the British Government steals their breakthrough and teaches it to become a robotic weapon.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: This movie raises interesting questions regarding A.I technology that is becoming ever more present in our world. How will artificial intelligence impact our lives?
21. The Nines (2007)
Description: Gary, an actor who plays a cop on television, burns his ex-girlfriend’s things, then he drinks and drives, uses crack, and crashes his car. Sobering up in jail, Gary is placed under house arrest by the watchful eye of a cheery and tough-minded woman called Margaret. She moves him into the empty house of a writer who’s away in Canada. There, Gary meets Sarah, an attractive and seemingly-willing neighbor. As his friendship with Margaret blooms, strange things begin to happen: he finds notes that he doesn’t remember writing, he hears noises, and he seems to bump into himself in the kitchen. Two remaining chapters reveal what’s going on.
Why It’s Thought Provoking: Alternately funny and unsettling, this movie is like a riddle where the answer is the question: “How does it all add up?”
Watch these movies and let me know what you think! You’re new favorite movie might just be in this list.
Are there any movies that make you think that I haven’t mentioned here? Comment below and let me know.