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10 Best Mind-Bending Movies You Have to Watch Twice to Understand

What are some of the best mind-bending movies you’ve seen?

While most modern movies reliably deliver stories that boast a certain familiarity, there are some blockbusters that do just the opposite. Giving up the comfortable status quo of more conventional tales, these are some of the best mind-bending movies that have left viewers confused as they tried to understand what they had just watched.

The truth is that some movies insist on being viewed twice—or even more if you feel the need to—to be understood. Telling complex stories that call for repeat viewings to be digested and unexpected twists that suddenly become clear as daylight when reviewed, these are some of the best mind-bending movies that left audiences’ heads spinning when the credits rolled.

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best mind-bending movies
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1. Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko is a classic sci-fi psychological thriller movie that presents the journey of the titular protagonist, a troubled teen boy living in a suburban community who starts to have dreams of an enormous rabbit called Frank.

As Donnie, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, begins to follow Frank’s directions, terrible and strange events happen, and he thinks he may be living in a parallel world and that his visions may be warning signs of an inevitable catastrophe.

Directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko is one of the best mind-bending movies that has the ability to inspire fear and apprehension in viewers through its pacing and atmosphere. It received critical acclaim for its thought-provoking subject and its exploration of themes such as parallel universes and time travel.

This, along with the story’s jarring ending and non-linear plot, places it among the best mind-bending movies that require more than one viewing to fully understand.

2. Inception (2010)

We couldn’t talk about the best mind-bending movies without including at least one made by the talented Christopher Nolan. One of his most popular films, Inception, chronicles the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled thief who is given the chance to redeem himself by doing the impossible: planting an idea into a person’s subconscious.

That’s how Cobb and his team end up infiltrating their target’s dreams, using several modern technologies to implant the idea and control the dream. As the crew goes deeper into the target’s mind, they are forced to deal with their own regrets and guilt, which builds to a mind-boggling and dramatic ending.

The film was an instant success thanks to its thought-provoking plot, uniqueness, and mind-blowing action sequences. Its impressive sound design and visual effects perfectly complement its blend of science fiction, psychological aspects, and action.

This is definitely one of the best mind-bending movies you should see; its use of dream logic and nonlinear storytelling, as well as its treatment of issues like the power of the mind and the nature of reality, make it challenging but rewarding to rewatch.

3. TÁR (2022)

Director Todd Field’s movie TÁR is already gaining recognition on the awards circuit, and for good reasons. Cate Blanchett’s remarkable performance has already earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.

The movie tells the story of the fictional renowned conductor and composer Lydia Tár played by Blanchett, who is thrust into the spotlight for her shady interactions with mentees.

Bold, daring, and subtle all at once, TÁR will catch you off-guard with its nuanced storytelling and wholly original perspective. There are so many small details and clues throughout the film that absolutely call for a second viewing of what is sure to be one of the best mind-bending movies of this decade.

4. The Prestige (2006)

Here’s another great movie made by Christopher Nolan. Throughout his illustrious career, Nolan has regularly proven his talent, and we cannot but agree that he’s one of the greatest filmmakers of this century.

The Prestige is based on Christopher Priest’s novel and follows the violent rivalry between two 1890s magicians and their relentless efforts to perform the perfect trick and be better than the other in the process.

Deceit and ego define the two characters, as the story’s turns and twists continually mislead the audience. You start seeing the movie as a period-piece, character-driven thriller, only for it to drift subtly into a convoluted web of science-fiction mystery.

This is one of the best mind-bending movies, and it’s surprising how satisfying and neat its conclusion ends up being. You’ll definitely want to see it again to really digest the overarching plot points and the relationships between the characters.

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5. Predestination (2014)

We could not include this one on our list of the best mind-bending movies. Predestination is a contained, paradoxical sci-fi mystery that will absolutely leave you shaken, thinking, and confused. It’s the kind of cinematic experience that turns the WTF dial up to twelve.

The movie is about a time-traveling agent who’s tracking a criminal called the „Fizzle Bomber” through time. And there’s also the risky journey of self-discovery the protagonist’s inexperienced partner goes on. It’s one of the best mind-bending movies, and it disturbs as much as it intrigues.

The story’s twists and turns pile on top of each other relentlessly as the characters make one awful discovery after another. While a second viewing is essential to understanding the story, it could also leave the audience more confused than they were after the first watch.

Keep reading to discover what other masterpieces we’ve included in our list of the best mind-bending movies!

6. 8 ½ (1963)

8 ½ was directed by Federico Fellini and is one of the most popular foreign-language films ever made. It’s also a thought-provoking masterpiece that manages to be both visually breathtaking and funny.

The movie tracks the story of a successful filmmaker who struggles with a creative block and tries to find motivation for a new picture. As one of the best mind-bending movies, this one takes on an incredible dreamlike quality as the line between Guido’s exuberant reality and fantastical desires and memories gradually blurs.

While the story can be a lot to digest on the first watch, Gianni Di Venanzo’s mesmerizing cinematography and entrancing style make revisiting the film a welcome journey. You can get the movie here.

7. The Fountain (2006)

Presenting Darren Aronofsky at his weirdest and greatest, The Fountain is an ambitious love story that has no reservations about challenging its audience. The whole movie is actually split into three thematically interwoven stories.

The first story tracks a scientist desperately trying to find a way to cure his wife’s brain tumor. The second one is about a Spanish conquistador who has to find the Fountain of Youth. Finally, the third one follows a futuristic traveler who’s safeguarding a life-giving tree’s passage that leads to the heart of a dying star.

The Fountain has become a minor cult classic despite critics finding fault with its unwillingness to lead to a clear conclusion and its predilection for symbolism over effective storytelling.

While watching the movie twice may still not be enough to digest its spontaneity, the complex narrative surrounding the quest for eternal life does become easier to understand each time the film is revisited. If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on your list of the best mind-bending movies to see.

8. Arrival (2016)

Denis Villeneuve is currently one of the biggest names in cerebral sci-fi filmmaking, with Blade Runner 2049 and Dune as his most recent releases; however, he has been no stranger to thought-provoking drama either, with such great mind-bending movies as Enemies and Incendies in his repertoire. Arrival is perhaps the point in his career where his two styles complete each other in a perfect marriage of head-scratching and hard sci-fi narrative. And yes, it is one of the best mind-bending movies released in the past decade.

Amy Adams stars as a successful linguistic professor tasked with finding a method to communicate with one of the alien crafts that have landed on Earth, bringing the world to an interspecies standoff.

What viewers first thought were memories are finally revealed to be an entirely different story, and the twist gives the film a tragic new light that is better understood upon a rewatch. This is definitely one of the best mind-bending movies you should see!

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9. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

At this point, this movie needs no introduction. It earned several awards before becoming an international hit. In fact, Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once still dominates the award season, and rightly so since it is one of the best mind-bending movies released in the past decade.

The film follows the quirky story of Evelyn Wang (splendidly played by Michelle Yeoh), who struggles to juggle her complicated marriage, messy relationship with her daughter, and failing business.

When she finds out that she is the only one who can save the multiverse and everyone living in it, things take one crazy turn after another.

From countless googly eyes and hotdog fingers to subtitled rocks and life-saving paper cuts, there’s no shortage of wacky aspects in the magnificent film. Perhaps most importantly, the movie manages to combine its absurd humor with a genuinely moving and profound existential message about embracing life and everything absurd that comes with it.

This is one of those mind-bending movies you can’t properly describe, but you have to see it to really understand its subtle nuances.

10. Pulp Fiction (1994)

If Reservoir Dogs was the movie that put Quentin Tarantino on the cinematographic map, then his follow-up movie, Pulp Fiction, ensured the brilliant storyteller wouldn’t be a simple flash in the pan.

This is one of the best mind-bending movies, and rightly so. A dark comedy/crime drama, it tracks the story of several interlinked characters in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Yes, there’s a lot of violence and blood in this movie, but we’re talking about Tarantino’s masterpiece, so it’s only obvious that it’s like this.

With shifts from starkly different figures who don’t seem related to one another to twists and time jumps the movie employs, it can be a lot to process for first-time viewers. However, despite its 154-minute runtime, it’s never a chore to rewatch Tarantino’s iconic rhythmic dialogue and characters being masterfully portrayed by a stacked cast of great Hollywood actors.

You may also want to read 7 Chilling Unsolved Mysteries America Is Obsessed With.

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