20 most complex movies of all time 2022 There are moments when a movie appears to outsmart itself and seeks obscurity rather than the fame that most attempts desire. The best kinds of movies are the one that won’t leave your mind days after watching them, often comprehending ideas too big to grasp in the first watch. These movies demand you come back to them and make sense of the plot and find the missing link you couldn’t find earlier.
Isn’t it amusing how occasionally a movie comes along that messes with your mind? Movies are more akin to puzzles or riddles, the solutions to which are highly elusive. Yes, you might leave annoyed or utterly enthralled, but over time, you’ll likely feel the urge to watch the movie once more. The movie might make more sense after repeated viewings, nevertheless, you might not be able to comprehend the movie completely.
Here are the top 20 most complicated movies of all time.
1. Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece, and it is best to look at this film thematically rather than as a straightforward narrative. David Lynch wants the audience to draw up their own conclusions, giving them freedom to use their own perspectives. Mulholland Drive is constructed in a way so the meaning will always be open to interpretation. No matter how much experience you have with mind-bending films, comprehending Mulholland Drive will leave you scratching your head and more confused than ever.
Lynch makes an unusual use of sound and includes brilliant color schemes with important symbolism. Subtle clues throughout the film helps to unlock the meaning. The film starts when a dark-haired woman is left amnesiac after a car crash; she is discovered by Betty, a woman seeking fame in Los Angeles as an actress. Mulholland Drive is cinematic gift filled with beautiful cinematography and fantastic acting, creating a dreamlike world for its audience.
Primer is a challenging film, one that takes few viewings before you get the what the movie wants you to understand. It’s is not your traditional film in any sense; the settings are drab, out of focus, cheap, and rushed, but it doesn’t take away from the fantastic plot. In fact, it works in these disadvantages rather beautifully into the story. Where some movies gloss over the paradoxes of time travel, Primer jumps right into it.
It pulls off an incredibly believable story, forcing the audience to concentrate to keep up, working out the logical implications of what’s happening. Primer is a story of young scientists who work to create an error-checking device; they end up creating a time machine, and they also discover dark consequences of their invention. It is an entertaining and honest intellectual film and it just blows its audience away. In a genre where visual impact and flashy graphics are key, Primer uses ideas to achieve the same effect.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey is a film made with incredible special effects, camera work and set design. This Kubrick masterpiece was way ahead of its time, leaving viewers with a lot of thoughts. 2001: A Space Odyssey is not just science fiction, but the journey about humanity’s evolution. It has the most infamous transition cut in cinema’s history where it cuts through humans first tool (bone) to the most complex tool spaceship. 2001: A Space Odyssey requires you to relax. It requires you to enjoy strange and beautiful images without feeling guilty about there not being a detailed characterization.
Upon its release, the critics panned the movie due to its lack of dialogue and Kubrick’s lack of explanation. 2001: A Space Odyssey refined the cinema and its scope, and is a movie so complex and filled with subtle clues that it boggles the mind of moviegoers to this day. It follows a straightforward path until the last 30 minutes or so, when the movie turns into something that can’t be simply comprehended. Like all great directors, Kubrick gives his audience the freedom to come up with their own interpretation.
Moon is a story about astronaut Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, the only inhabitant of an automated lunar mining base extracting Helium -3 from lunar rocks to be shipped back to Earth. As his three-year posting is about to come to an end, and as Sam longs to end his solitude, something goes wrong. Moon is a thought-provoking narrative that touches on issues like corporate greed, humanity, compassion, and most importantly, the role of ethics in science.
Rockwell beautifully carries this film, making viewers experience his isolation and loneliness. It is an independent science fiction film that doesn’t rely on CGI and works effortlessly to make this movie a feast for our eyes. Moon is an excellent piece of art that provides its audience an effective, entertaining cinematic experience.
5. Blade Runner
Blade Runner is compelling science fiction, as it examines the impact of technology in the nature of human society. It is a timeless classic, with its power coming from its dark deception of futuristic cityscapes and its philosophical themes. The climax wonderfully brings all explored themes in the movie together.
Despite a rich theme of science fiction and futurism covering this adventure, there are distinct elements of film noir are present primarily in the bluish haze that the film uses to depict a gritty urban atmosphere. Harrison Ford plays a cop, Rick Deckard, in a decrepit Los Angeles; the film requires audience participation as it’s a visually-driven story that doesn’t rely on special effects. Blade Runner is an impeccable film crafted by a true cinematic visionary, Ridley Scott.
6. Fight Club
Fight Club is a 1999 cult classic directed by David Fincher, starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, and based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name. Finding somewhat mainstream success now, Fight Club intimately couldn’t find its audience, failing at the box office. Norton plays a depressed insomniac who feels alienated by the world around him. In his desperation to feel something, he starts going to support groups. One day Norton’s character meets Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) and, immediately fascinated with his devil-may-care attitude, he forms a friendship with him.
The film is dark and disturbing, making bold statements about our consumer-driven society, and its structure is extremely playful as it messes around with linear time to an incredible degree. Fight Club is a cinematic masterpiece as it challenges the status quo and offers a wakeup call to people immersed in this materialistic society. With a tightly held script, brilliant direction, amazing acting, great cinematography and a superb soundtrack, Fight Club is a feast for both our eyes and our mind.
7. Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder, a mystery-drama directed by Adrian Lyne, is disturbing, dark and terrifying, pushing the conventions of modern filmmaking. The magic of the film lies in its eeriness present in both psychological and supernatural levels, and that magic produces an eagerness in audiences to solve the “mystery”, as we begin to sympathize with Jacob’s character, played to perfection by Tim Robbins. It’s one of those movies that rolls through your mind before giving you a bitter conclusion that turns everything upside down.
Jacob’s Ladder takes you on a journey that’s so intimidating yet wonderful, brutal yet beautiful, an experience that is unparalleled to this day. It takes control of its audience’s mind, making you unable to think, feel and believe anything other than the intense feeling this movie inspires. This film creates a sense of dread and foreboding atmosphere that increases the spectator’s curiosity.
8. Shutter Island
Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a neo-noir psychological thriller where two US Marshals investigate the disappearance of a murder who escaped from a mental institution for the criminally insane. The film is filled with many twist and turns that might leave the cinemagoer feeling dizzy. Faithfully adapted from a book written by Dennis Lehane, this film beautifully attacks the senses of the audience, leaving them with all the pieces of the puzzle.
And with the end leaving you terribly surprised, Shutter Island features acting greats Ben Kingsley, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Shutter Island demands a second viewing so you can comprehend all the little details you missed out on the first time. It’s one of those rare films that completely changes your understanding of the film’s narration when you watch it a second time. Shutter Island is a dark film that will make you question your own sanity.
9. The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain wasn’t appreciated by both the critics and audiences in 2006, but in the coming years it has gained cult following. In this film, Aronofsky rejects the conventional style of storytelling. There can be various understandings of the plot; the beauty of the film lies in its nuance and subtlety that allows the viewers to interpret their own personal perspective. The Fountain follows three different parallel timelines where protagonist Tom, played by Hugh Jackman, takes three different forms.
The first timeline showed him as a conqueror in the 16th century trying to find the tree of life; the second timeline is set in the present where Doctor Tom is trying to find the cure for his wife’s (played by Rachel Weisz); and the third timeline is set in the year 2500 where astronaut Tom is trying to find the planet Xibalba. The Fountain is a feast for the eyes with one of the best film scores ever. The plotlines are seamless and visually blend in together creating a unique and somewhat confusing movie experience.
10. Vanilla Sky
Vanilla Sky is a psychological thriller with some aspects of science fiction in it. The film, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, is a remake of the Spanish film “Abre Los Ojos” (“Open Your Eyes”). Vanilla Sky takes its audience on an emotional journey, and it leaves audiences frightened, sad and with a distorted sense of reality. Tom Cruise gives an exceptional performance as Dave, who has it all.
The movie has an eclectic yet emotional score, creating a dreamlike theme. Vanilla Sky is one of those intelligently made films that each time you’ll see the film, you’ll catch something new. It’s a very clever film with amplified emotions of love and sadness, and it keeps its audience on the edge of their seats, leaving them with an understanding of life. Telling them you can’t appreciate the sweetness without tasting the sour.
Memento, written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan, is an intense, suspenseful, and brilliantly unique thriller. Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, is a man who can’t form new memories after the murder of his wife. An exceptional achievement in modern day filmmaking, Memento forces the audience to participate in the storytelling as they, like the protagonist, have no idea what going on.
It became an instant classic with its revolutionary narrative style and groundbreaking dramatic undertones. Memento will frustrate you and scare you with every changing scene. Nothing in this film is as it seems, nothing is certain, nothing is real. It leaves you straining and watching from scene to scene, searching for the truth. Memento is a challenging film that leaves you with a tantalizing experience.
12. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko, released in 2001 and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is a movie about a troubled teenager who has visions of Frank, a man in a bunny suit, who manipulates Donnie to commit a series of crimes. The film has an incredible emotional range; it manages to inspire hope, love, dread, laughter, and tears at different points throughout the movie.
Donnie Darko is a work of art, with depth and complexity to the story that requires multiple viewings. The sound score is hauntingly beautiful, perfectly complementing the visuals. It comes with a thought-provoking story that leaves one pondering the possibilities offered by its characters. Donnie Darko is a mind-blowing experience, with its ability to incorporate different genres so effortlessly.
With Inception, Christopher Nolan created something that blew the audience’s mind away for ages. The movie takes you on a thrill ride with exceptional cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score is beautiful as ever. All the actors are fantastic as well, featuring Tom Hardy’s breakout performance. High-end criminal Dom Cobb, with the help of his team, works his way into peoples’ subconscious and steals what people value the most – their ideas.
Inception has a multi-layered plot that thrusts its audience into multiple levels of an action packed storyline, while also taking them on an emotional journey with the protagonist Cobb. Inception can leave you awestruck with its breathtaking visuals, engaging story, and technical brilliance.
14. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a quirky drama mixed with science fiction, with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet giving fantastic performances and showing their wide range as actors. The film deals with a man and a woman who erase each other from their memory when their relationship goes sour. The film has a lot of poignancy and nuance that gives the film a romantic depth, leaving the film goers with a bittersweet farewell.
The film dazzles us with complexities of human mind and all its glorious possibilities. Written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, the weird narrative combines with an emotional impact that manages to touch the audience’s heart everywhere. This eccentric story with a surreal dream world never goes overboard. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind takes you on a smooth ride into a fantasy world, making you see the immense power our subconscious holds.
Enemy was directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake’s character is a history teacher, and one day his co-worker recommends he watch a certain movie. As he is watching it, he notices an actor in the movie looks exactly like him. This sets him on an intense journey to find who this actor is and what he is doing.
Enemy doesn’t follow the traditional linear structure of filmmaking; as soon the movie ends, the viewer is left mind-boggled, trying to find a cohesive understanding of its surreal dreamlike imagery. The film is beautifully shot, with an overwhelming yellow haze to show the dullness of Adam’s life, while the bright color scheme is used to show how it contrasts from Anthony’s life.
The score for this film was eerie and subdued but when needed, it exploded to help this film give this dreamlike feel. Wonderfully acted, this film makes viewers feel the plight of the character. It is about the subconscious of a man who decides to leave his mistress to go back to his pregnant wife, as noted by Villeneuve. Enemy is a mind-bending, tightly-held psychological thriller that takes its audience into an intense journey filled with surrealism.
Predestination, an Australian fantasy thriller directed by Peter and Michael Spierig and starring Ethan Hawke, is faithful and tragic with an amazing underlying of many genres the audience can enjoy. The film is incredibly original and creative, draped with old school aspects of ‘science fiction’. Hawke unsurprisingly delivers a flawless performance as the nameless lead, while Sarah Snook impresses audience with her wide range of acting abilities.
Hawke’s character plays a time-travelling agent for a secret agency that uses their ability to manipulate time to stop crimes. On his final assignment, he is tasked to stop “Fizzle Bomber”, a terrorist that exploded a bomb in New York City in 1975 that killed 11,000 citizens. This compelling, thought-provoking and extremely clever film keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the last frame.
17. Mr. Nobody
Mr. Nobody is a fantasy-drama directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Set in 2092, the film deals with last mortal human, played by Jared Leto on Earth. He reflects on this past and about the choices he could’ve made. Visually stunning, the movie comes with so many stylistic, tonal and narrative changes that it challenges the audience to pay extremely close attention. Mr. Nobody provides a unique, fresh and profound experience. Along with the brilliant acting, astonishing cinematography and amazing soundtrack. Mr. Nobody leaves the audience with a memorable experience that will stay with them long after they have seen the film.
18. Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is a crazy film about a puppeteer who finds a portal that leads directly inside the head of Hollywood actor John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, the film is original, beautiful and funny. Cameron Diaz is completely unrecognizable and so is John Cusack, and John Malkovich was presented an interesting opportunity to play himself, which he does by creating a wonderful character.
This strange, surreal, and outlandish film sucks the viewers into this world of John M. Filled with nuance and subtle humor, this riveting film showcase the brilliance of Jonze and his entire cast. Being John Malkovich is the kind of movie that comes once in a long while and leaves you wanting more.
19. A Clockwork Orange
One of the most controversial films ever made, A Clockwork Orange grabs you and holds you down in your seat from start to finish. It contains extreme emotions, strangeness, perversity, and brutal violence at its worse. This Kubrick masterpiece was ahead of its time and is still impactful toward today’s society. The tale of troubled Alex and his subsequent “reformation” by the government forces you to ponder on the atrociousness of the world on the both ends of the spectrum.
A Clockwork Orange is by no means a pleasant film, but the perfectionism of Kubrick and Malcolm MacDowell’s amazing portrayal of Alex demands its audience to actually think about the world around them. A Clockwork Orange asks the hard question – if we take away people’s choice to be good or evil, are we taking away their humanity as well?
20. Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas, a science fiction film directed by Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis, follows six different timelines that change after every scene. The style and structure of the film makes it a complex and mind-bending film. It comes with a great ensemble cast who all give amazing performance, though some criticize the movie for its over-ambition and too many intertwined characters. Cloud Atlas is part science fiction, part historical drama, part comedy, part romance, giving the audience the experience of enjoying different films within one. Cloud Atlas is a sharply-written film leaving no space for its views to get lost in the intertwined storyline.
The best movies are those that stick with you long after you’ve seen them and frequently explore concepts that are too broad to take in all at once. These films demand that you revisit them to understand the story and identify the gap you initially missed. The movies discussed above are the kind that takes numerous viewings to fully understand because they are so complicated and strange.