Sci-fi’s Best Mind-Bending Movies

The top ten science fiction movie mind-benders

Sometimes there is nothing we want more than to be confused. To watch movies that refuse to give us easy answers.

Here are our favourite science fiction movies that made us think ‘what the hell was that about?’

Cube

A Kafkaesque nightmare with a grizzly twist. Five people wake up in a room with no idea how they got there. The room is connected to other rooms, some of which contain rather imaginative death traps.

As the group tries to escape the tension rises with the body count. From this simple premise, a remarkable film is made. Cube is a cerebral thriller and deft character study. The characters’ revelations subverting the audience’s preconceptions.

Once watched, Cube will always be remembered. Even if you’re not sure you understood it first time round.

Primer


A challenging film, made for less than $7,000, that you probably need a degree in theoretical physics to completely understand.

Two friends inadvertently create a time machine. Which they then proceed to use to go back into the past and make a little money. Unfortunately, their simple plan leads to a clever but convoluted plot.

Primer breaks a lot of cinematic rules. It assumes a huge amount of knowledge on behalf of the audience. There is little emotional drama and neither of the main characters acts in a contrived way just to increase the tension.

Primer is one of that rarest of beasts: a truly unique movie.

Donnie Darko


Donnie Darko is a brilliant but troubled kid that does not play well with others. His charmingly troubled suburban life is interrupted by visions of a giant bunny named Frank and a new girl at school called Gretchen.

Donnie wakes up on a golf course one morning, only to find out that his sleepwalking has saved his life. As, while he was wandering in his dreams, a jet engine was crashing through the ceiling of his room.

What follows is a film that interweaves ideas about time travel, predestination and choice into what is essentially a coming of age story.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Michael Gondry makes beautiful, quirky movies and Eternal Sunshine is no exception. Yet at its heart, it’s also a surprisingly dark and insightful film.

Jim Carrey plays a repressed introvert and Kate Winslet a wonderful deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl trope. Together they form a dysfunctional couple that has recently broken up. This leads Carrey’s character to visit a clinic that promises to erase his memories of the entire relationship.

What follows is a journey into Carrey’s mind as his memories are slowly erased. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is moving, funny and an interesting study of the role our memories play in who we are and how we act.

The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky doesn’t shy away from making challenging movies. And The Fountain is certainly challenging. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz playing lovers in three different storylines set in three different times.

At its core, The Fountain is about humanities desperation to transcend death rather than understand it. The first story (chronologically) is about a conquistador searching for the tree of life. The second follows a neuroscientist trying to find a cure to his wife’s disease by working on samples from the tree of life. The final narrative tells the story of a space traveller transporting the tree of life to a distant planet in the hope that his wife will be restored to him.

The Fountain has its critics for some pretentious and overly arty elements, but it’s still a mind-bending film that will make you think.

The One I Love

Mark Duplass’s Safety Not Guaranteed is a great piece of low budget science fiction, and The One I Love is a similar work.

The movie stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a couple who go to a retreat to overcome challenges in their relationship.

Events then go sideways fast. Forcing them to face some uncomfortable truths about their relationship.

The film is made by the performances of Duplass and Moss. Moss, in particular, showcases her ability to have her mouth say one thing and her face say another.

Although this may not be the best-known film on this list, it’s certainly one that’s worth watching.

Coherence

Another low budget science fiction movie with no special effects, Coherence is almost entirely set in one house.

A somewhat pretentious group of friends are having a dinner party when a comet passes over and things start to get weird. This event kicks off a plot involving parallel universes and the breakdown of a friendship group in the face of extreme adversity.

Like The One I Love, Coherence could be considered mumblecore science fiction. There are no special effects in this movie and the drama comes from seeing the fault lines in a friendship group be exposed to extreme events.

It’s this focus on character and tight plotting over effects that suggest that Coherence will be just as strong a film in 20 years time.

Annihilation

It’s not just the plot of Annihilation that’s mindbending. The cinematography, the editing and even the score all combine to make watching the movie a trippy experience.

As a group of scientists delve deeper into an anomaly called The Shimmer, they enter a world where missing time is the least of their problems. Both the flora and fauna of the area they are examining are in a constant state of flux. Leading to a world that’s as beautiful as it is terrifying and as mysterious as it is horrifying.

Annihilation is a non-linear story that asks some uncomfortable questions. Why does humanity have self-destructive tendencies? And, as interestingly, are these tendencies related to our willingness to explore the unknown and take risks?

2001: A Space Odyssey

A cerebral science fiction mindscrew that’s been talked about ever since it first hit the screens.

Littered with classic science fiction scenes, and even a subtle screw you to IBM, A Space Odyssey has become a byword for iconic cinema. From the opening dawn of humanity sequence to the bizarre final section, A Space Odyssey is a subtly questioning movie wrapped inside an epic science fiction masterpiece.

Pi

Darren Aronofsky set out his stall with his debut movie. Pi is a bizarre movie made on a tiny budget.

Pi follows maths genius Max who has found a 216 long number that may unlock the stock market, be the name of God or is perhaps the key to the mystery of the universe. Or it could be all of these things.

Aronofsky packs his first film so full of ideas you won’t be able to stop your head spinning. It’s as if the director was worried he would never get to make another film, so wanted to make sure he shoved everything he had into this one.

We hope this list gives you something to think about. If you’re still looking for a sci-fi move after reading it, why not take a look at our ultimate sci-fi watch list?