A tale of corporate espionage told in the most layered fashion possible. Dreams within dreams, emotions buried deep within, and stunning action set pieces that boggle the mind. Ever since Inception's release in 2010, audiences have been captivated and left wondering what exactly they just watched. A complex, intricate cinematic vision that left millions of viewers wanting more, and we're here to provide. Here are thirty of the best movies like Inception.
The 30 Best Movies Like 'Inception' To Watch For a Mind-Bending Experience
Where to begin besides the inspiration? As original as Nolan's vision seems, Paprika did it first. It may be a given considering that Inception is based on it, but these films share a ton of similarities. Paprika follows the battle between a dream terrorist and a researcher-turned detective. The high stakes of Inception are present here with the dream terrorist out for blood, planting nightmares, and attempting to share dreams. Where Inception falters, Paprika thrives. Satoshi Kon may lack the action prowess of Nolan, but Paprika makes up for it with greater emotional potency and slightly more ingenuity than its successor. This one is essential viewing for Inception fans.
2. Source Code
An out-of-body experience in the literal sense. Colter may not be inside a dream, but he certainly isn't conscious either. Source Code follows the Groundhog Day format of reliving the same events over and over again, but this time with 100x the stakes. Our protagonist wakes up in a body that isn't his, tasked with finding and stopping a bomber on a train. While Inception features characters going into someone's mind, Source Code features a character reliving someone's life, taking over their mind, and becoming one with their body. With an only 94 minute run time, Source Code makes every second count, bringing an experience fraught with tension, twists, and thrilling action.
Christopher Nolan is always gonna be Christopher Nolan, he proved that with Tenet. A time-bending, audacious epic that is far more deserving of the "mindfuck" title that Inception has been branded with. CIA Operatives trying to save the world by any means necessary, international espionage with the survival of the entire world on the line. Tenet is imaginative beyond belief and executed fully to its beautifully disorienting, thrilling, questionably coherent conclusion. Balls to the wall and undoubtedly (in my mind) Nolan's most purely entertaining, Tenet is an amalgamation of hundreds of ideas clouding Nolan's brain, and the result is phenomenal.
4. The Matrix
As much as I adore Inception, there's something electrifying about a Sci-Fi blockbuster of that caliber that actually has something to say. The Matrix as a standalone film and as a series communicates philosophical ideas and does so beautifully. What begins as a small coincidence quickly ramps into a large-scale battle with the rebels who wish to overthrow the computers that now control earth and its people. The cinematic technique of blurring the lines between reality and fantasy begins and ends with The Matrix. This is a guaranteed hit for sci-fi lovers and Inception lovers alike.
5. The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Reloaded is the most "all over the place" entry in the Matrix series. The glorious middle child of the original trilogy is strikingly similar to Inception purely in terms of structure. It features the same thought-provoking, disorienting content of Nolan's work, while also featuring some of the most remarkable set pieces in the history of cinema. The freeway scene makes the greatest Inception action moments look like child's play. The Matrix Reloaded is a guaranteed hit.
6. The Matrix Revolutions
There is one word to describe The Matrix Revolutions... metal. A large-scale CGI creation, two hours of straight action. While it may not be attempting to induce philosophical thought as much as its predecessors, I think it succeeds in that regard. The best visuals of the series are also featured here, doubling down on the binary look of the matrix, and inventing some of the craziest CGI creations of all time.
7. The Matrix Resurrections
The most disorienting entry in the Matrix saga. The franchise's mostly unwanted, but very welcomed 2021 entry took an audacious, unexpected approach. Framing the protagonist we know and love in some sort of meta light, Keanu Reaves' character takes on the role of a game developer for a game ABOUT Neo's history with the matrix. Not only this, but now dealing with dreams, therapy sessions, and alternate versions of characters, you truly have to focus to understand everything that is going down.
8. The Cell
A horror approach to the incredibly niche "diving into someone's mind" subgenre. The Cell is Tarsem Singh's incredibly stylistic approach to a tale about an unconventional psychotherapist's journey into the mind of a comatose serial killer. Tonally ranging from a tense serial killer thriller, all the way to a sometimes-cheap surrealist fantasy within the dream. The Cell does a great job at disorienting the viewer through the use of dream sequences, surreal, other-worldly, and scary. Inception fans who love the layered aspect of it will love this.
9. The Game
Fincher's most disorienting exploit is also his most underrated. The Game is an experience that is best experienced with no prior knowledge. What I will say is that this film succeeds in disorienting the viewer, we feel the same as our protagonist, and the lines between reality and charade are blurred in the same way that they are in Inception. Action-packed and constantly thrilling with twists and turns, The Game will not disappoint.
10. Waking Life
If you are looking for insight surrounding dreams as a concept that Inception lacks, Waking Life is right up your alley. Waking Life is a film I think about most days. Life-affirming and endlessly thought-provoking, this film will have you thinking more deeply about dreams, life, and what they mean. Also gives you some good tips on how to lucid dream if that interests you.
Trance is Danny Boyle's take on the overly confusing, inside-the-mind film. It's endlessly creative and original, following a gang that begins to work with a hypnotherapist. If anything is deserving of the overused "mindfuck" title, it's this. Trance is so extremely convoluted to the point where I'm not sure if it exactly makes sense, but it's definitely enjoyable.
Too convoluted for its own good? You decide.
My personal favorite Nolan film. Memento is told in the most interesting way possible, from end to beginning, through the protagonist's short-term memory. As Leonard learns and subsequently forgets, new information so does the audience. A mystery thriller told in reverse through short-term memory that could not be more thrilling. If Inception was a hit, this will be a home run.
13. Shutter Island
Shutter Island is a mind-bending experience from the great Martin Scorsese. While a majority of his films feature some form of psychological torment on at least one character's behalf, none of them reach the same level of distress that Shutter Island achieves. The film follows a U.S. Marshall's investigation of a patient's disappearance from a psychiatric facility on the mysterious island. His efforts are made more difficult and potentially thwarted by mysterious visions, a shady doctor, and blurry lines of reality and illusion.
Primer is a film by Shane Carruth, an extremely polarizing independent film director. Some deem his work as staggeringly brilliant, while others claim that it's pretentious. Primer is about a pair of friends, entrepreneurs, coworkers, and inventors, who accidentally create time travel. This film doesn't speak down to its viewers and it expects a lot of them. Carruth choosing not to dumb down any of the language used while actively challenging viewers to focus on the plethora of timelines unfolding. If you enjoyed the layered aspect of Inception and want something more challenging, this is the film for you.
Looper is an early Rian Johnson exploit that is one of the most convoluted takes on time travel to ever be put to film. Set in a future where time travel exists but is made illegal, and following a time traveling contract killer (loopers.) In this particular story, the contract killer gets his hardest task yet, going back in time to assassinate himself. Looper does a great job at making this seems hard to follow concept very easy to follow. In a similar way to Inception, it is a simplified take on an endlessly imaginative tale, this is bound to be a hit for every Nolan superfan.
Another one that I think is best seen knowing nothing. Annihilation is an unforgettable Sci-Fi horror outing from Alex Garland (director of Ex Machina, and controversial 2022 release Men. Annihilation follows a biologist/explorer's journey into a mysterious zone, in this zone, the laws of nature and logic do not apply. While it shares the same disorienting, science-fiction qualities that Inception has, it is more so characterized by a deep understanding of grief, emotion, fear, and overall human behavior.
Not everyone loves Inception for the disorienting concept, some just want a grand cinematic experience. When you talk about cinematic experiences of recent times, Dune is one you have to mention. Denis Villeneuve has proven his directorial prowess previously with Sci-Fi hits like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, but in terms of visual effects, large-scale action, and overall intensity, Dune is one of a kind.
Mr. Nobody is an overlooked 2009 effort starring Jared Leto as Nemo Nobody, as a normal, everyday guy who one day wakes up as a "mortal centenarian" in the year 2092. Foolish to dismiss this as nonsensical or incoherent as many critics did at the time, it can be described as ambitious, maybe overly ambitious, but it is perfectly coherent from end to end. In a similar vein to the previously mentioned Primer, Mr. Nobody demands your attention and doesn't speak down to its viewer. Deserves praise for the sheer ambition and visuals behind it if nothing else.
Coherence is one of the most intricately confusing films of the past decade. A film where reality is bent in ways that will leave you both scared, thrilled, and on the edge of your seat. This is a film that has left viewers creating flow charts just to understand the series of events that transpired. I wouldn't classify it in the "so intricate that it's off-putting" category though, Coherence is accessible as a casual viewing experience but has a wealth of micro-concepts and subtleties for those looking to analyze it more thoroughly.
Would be remiss of me to not include a Cronenberg film as ONE37pm's resident Cronen-bro. No one makes a disorienting film quite like him. Contains the themes of sex and violence that have become so prevalent in Cronenberg's repertoire while also being a film that will leave you questioning your perception of reality, much like Inception.
Long live the new flesh.
21. Edge of Tomorrow
Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow is an action-packed Tom Cruise sci-fi outing that manipulates time in the Groundhog Day cadence. Cruise's character is dropped into combat and immediately killed, but he soon finds himself living the same events over and over. As days go by he learns more and attempts to escape the loop.
Another Doug Liman effort that toys with the mind and employs creative filmmaking tactics that disorient the viewer. Jumper follows a man with the ability to teleport anywhere on earth instantaneously. As the story continues he discovers others like him and learns of a zealot plot to eradicate them all.
23. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko features a young Jake Gyllenhaal in a darkly mysterious role as a young man who just barely avoided harm in a bizarre accident. Following this event, he is haunted by visions of a large plush-looking rabbit that manipulates and entices him into committing crimes. This is a film by Richard Kelly, a filmmaker who has received cult praise in recent years thanks to this, Southland Tales, and The Box. This film belongs on this list in part due to its tendency to leave you thinking after the film ends, but also due to the lines between fantasy and reality being blurred.
24. The Prestige
Why not include more Nolan? He is a stylistically consistent director after all, and The Prestige is one of his films that toys with the mind most effectively. Following two magicians throughout an intense rivalry against each other physically, mentally, and professionally. It is one that will blow your mind to an incredible degree on first viewing and will not falter on subsequent watches.
25. Vanilla Sky
Tom Cruise has already been featured on this list a number of times, but Vanilla Sky is perhaps the most worthy of placement here. Cruise plays David Aames, a well-off man who gets into a horrible car accident that disfigures his face. Following the accident is when the film begins to earn the Inception comparison. The lines between reality and illusion begin to fade, it becomes Twilight Zone-esque, and life and death come into question. Vanilla Sky has never been the most critically acclaimed film, especially not when you consider it's directed by Cameron Crowe, but it's worth a watch for lovers of this mind-bending Sci-Fi subgenre.
26. Blade Runner 2049
Much like Dune, Blade Runner 2049 is an undeniably essential large-scale blockbuster from recent years. Stunning Sci-Fi visuals are a staple of Villeneuve films, but when combined with the ingenuity of the Blade Runner franchise and the ever-exciting action that transpires, this was guaranteed to be a hit.
27. Fight Club
David Fincher's second entry on this list, and deservedly so.
Fight Club is another film that will distort reality with a convoluted, yet definitely coherent screenplay. I would place it in the same comfortably confusing subgroup as Inception and Coherence. It follows Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as an insomniac and a salesman respectively in their descent into the therapeutic conceptual underworld of fight club. The idea spreads like wildfire until external forces get in the way and send their lives plunging into madness.
28. Doctor Strange
While the whole comic book world is experimenting with time-centric shenanigans right now, Doctor Stange was one of the first to do so, and in a way that I found charming during my die-hard Marvel phase, and still, find charming now. Doctor Strange is a film that follows Stephen Strange, a doctor who following an accident gets a second shot at life when a sorcerer takes him as an apprentice. The film employs creative VFX strategies to add to the stunning action sequences and also features a uniquely creative finale that manipulates time in a way that is both hilarious and dramatic.
29. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
When compared to the original, this feels less groundbreaking, but when viewed in a vacuum, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness employs some very creative methods of manipulating the viewer's perception of reality. All of these scenes are equally disorienting and stunning, especially when supported by stunning VFX work, my favorite in any Marvel film.
You know something is similar to Inception when the tagline is simply 'Dreams'. Ink is a mid-2000's low-budget outing from Jamin Winans. The spirit of a young girl is captured in the dream world by the titular evil nightmare-inducing mercenary. To rectify this, the 'dream-givers' must round up resources to save her soul. Fantastical and action-packed, Ink is admirable for its ambition despite a low budget and overall brooding atmosphere.
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