Top 12 Mindfuck Movies

Most of the time, I go to the movies for some pleasant mind candy—frilly enjoyment that helps me get my mind off the mundane inanities of my life. But, occasionally, sometimes I feel a cerebral craving for something mentally meatier: a good mindfuck.

What’s a mindfuck? A movie that plays with your mind, confuses you, and leads you on. It’s not just a movie with a twist ending (like M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant The Sixth Sense). Mindfucks are borderline-incoherent, dreamlike, and surreal. They’re often shot in the perspective of the main character, who might be struggling with a mental problem, or they might be dreaming. The tempo is strangely off. You wonder if what’s happening is really happening, or if they’re manifestations of the narrator’s twisted mind. The impatient and dim-witted are annoyed by mindfucks; the intellectually curious are transfixed by them. Guess which group I count myself among? *blows on fingernails, buffs them on his shirt*

Here’s my list of the top 12, along with some very basic commentary. I’ll obviously leave out the spoilers, since they are all worth watching.

1. Mulholland Drive – Anything from David Lynch’s twisted mind is bound to mess with your head, and this movie is no exception. I’m a bit afraid to watch more of Lynch’s movies, in the same way I’m afraid to try coke.

2. Jacob’s Ladder – Adrian Lyne’s Vietnam War movie is ostensibly a commentary about military testing of psychoactive drugs, but this might be one of my favorite movies of all time due to the unexplained twist ending and stunningly creepy visuals.

3. Fight Club – If you’ve ever read anything by Chuck Palahniuk, you’ll know that he integrates plot twists with gritty character development. Pair that with the brilliant direction by David Fincher, and you have a real winner in this flick.

4. Inception – Christopher Nolan’s mindbender was one of the hot movies of 2010, but, even though it was snubbed at the Oscars, is still worth a viewing if you’re a fan of this genre. A complex storyline will almost absolutely force you to have to watch this more than once.

5. The Cube – This Canadian movie has probably the worst acting of all the movies in this list–it feels like it was a bad stage production taken to movie form–but it’s still an interesting plot that keeps you guessing until the very end. It even had a sequel with even worse acting than the original.

6. The Machinist – Seeing the hunky Christian Bale wasted away was an oddly satisfying visual treat (seeing him bulk up again for Batman Begins). His lack of ability to eat or sleep properly is conveyed beautifully in the movie, so much so that when the plot turns leave you with more questions than answers, you begin to wonder if you’re just sleep-deprived or suffering from low blood sugar.

7. Twelve Monkeys – Makes great use of all the evitable paradoxes that arise when you have time travel. Terry Gilliam seems to borrow from Monty Python colleague Palin’s Brazil with all of all the sorts of weird steampunk stuff we imagine will be in the future, and that hipsters are jizzing over now.

8. The Spanish Prisoner – David Mamet’s screenplay ports over into a similarly sparse movie featuring Rebecca Pigeon and Steve Martin. Relies less on the paranormal and special effects (there aren’t any), and more on conspiracy and paranoia.

9. Eyes Wide Shut – I love the ponderous pacing of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which is just slow enough to add to the uneasy eeriness of the movie. Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside Tom Cruise’s head.

10.  Vanilla Sky (Abre Los Ojos) – Cruise seems to have a thing for dramatic mindfucks. Both versions of this movie–the Spanish original, and the American remake–feature Penelope Cruz and grapple with the idea that some things can’t be bought.

11. Memento – Much like the famous Seinfeld episode, Memento‘s scenes run backwards. Considering there’s a complex mystery involved, there’s a whole lot of mental gears whirring as you watch the movie, accept the premise, and start storing scene information in an attempt to make sense of it all.

12. Requiem for a Dream – The perils of drug abuse are brought to the fore with a haggard and worn Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly. Dark, brooding, and deliberately confusing (I’m talking about the movie, not Leto), you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth, a sick feeling in your stomach, and a vow to never watch a movie like this again. Until you see the next mindfuck trailer.


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  1. This is my favourite genre of cinema ever, check out my site for (what I’m hoping) a definitive list of mindfucky goodness.

    Comment by Thomas — December 27, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  2. nice taste in movies, almost all of these are my favourites

    Comment by a — March 31, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  3. Great list.

    Re: Twelve Monkeys. I don’t understand your reference to Michael Palin. Terry Gilliam wrote and directed Brazil, Michael Palin was in the film but it was Gilliam’s movie.

    Comment by Bob — April 11, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  4. Good list but Fight Club is way over-rated as a Mindfuck movie, it was like The Sixth Sense, if you hadn’t figured it out after 15 minutes then you weren’t paying attention. Instead add Total Recall.

    I would replace Requiem for a dream with Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.

    I think eraserhead was more of a mindfuck than Mulholland Drive.

    I would add Total Recall to your list.

    And finally two movies that most people haven’t heard of that should be in the top 10 are Tape and my personal favorite Primer.

    Comment by Steven — May 19, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  5. Strictly speaking Memento doesn’t run backwards-the colour scenes run backwards and the black an White scenes that are interspersed run forwards an then they converge at the end. Great film

    Comment by Simon Lukacs — June 6, 2012 @ 10:58 am

  6. I would add Metropolis, The Black Hole , The Man from Earth, Waking Life.

    Comment by Spaceman — July 21, 2012 @ 5:26 am

  7. I just got finished watching V/H/S and that movie is the greatest mind fuck of all time, seriously go watch it and you will continuously guess.

    Comment by Tyler Staton — August 9, 2012 @ 12:21 am

  8. donnie darko should definetely be on this list i have watched it 3 times and still dont fully understand wtf happens at the end

    Comment by jack — October 18, 2012 @ 10:20 am

  9. What about “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” ?

    DailyCandor: Haven’t heard of it…but will check it out!

    Comment by Rachel — March 24, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

  10. This is a good list but there are alot of other mindfuck movies out there that are better then these

    DailyCandor: Share your favorites in a comment. I’d love to see more beyond these.

    Comment by Nessim — April 27, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

  11. I haven’t seen as much as you guys, so my top of mindfuck films:
    #The Illiusionist
    #Columbus Circle
    #Deja Vu
    #Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    #Cloud Atlas
    #Looper (it’s not mindfuck whole film, but there are some scenes)

    Comment by Lukas — February 16, 2014 @ 4:46 am

  12. the films in your list are all fantastic and throughout classic ones..
    but maybe you could also add a few more less-known or underrated movies,
    cause unfortunately most people have already
    seen those ones…’.
    here some examples:
    – das weiße rauschen – the white sound (2001)
    – inland empire (2006)
    – stay (2005)
    – donnie darko (2001)
    – martyrs (2008)
    – irréversible (2002)
    – lost highway (1997)
    – confessions (2010)

    Comment by tina976712 — June 9, 2014 @ 4:18 am

  13. What abt predestination

    Comment by Prasanth — September 30, 2015 @ 11:00 am

  14. Sorry bt u missed one of the biggest mindfuck movie of all time.. must see “primer” atleast 10-12 times..

    Comment by Sourav — April 25, 2017 @ 8:25 am

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