Similar to pornography, there’s something about Mindfuck Movies that, while undefinable with words, you just know it when you see it.
But given the growth of the genre, and therefore the sample size, over the last twenty years or so, it’s become far easier to drill on what exactly makes a Mindfuck Movie.
For example, according to Urban Dictionary, a “mindfuck” is “an idea or concept that shakes one’s previously held beliefs or assumptions about the nature of reality.” To expand on the base explanation provided by Urban Dictionary, I’d argue that a MindfuckMmovie is a film that’s deliberately obtuse, opaque, confusing, or vague in service of a larger plot mechanic and thematic narrative. The trick to the Mindfuck Movie, though, is pulling that off without losing sight of your characters or the storytelling thread — once it becomes about the mystery box cloak-and-dagger and not the characters we go on a journey with, you’ve spiraled out of control.
There are also different types of Mindfuck Movies, as the subgenre can be widdled down even further depending on the construction of the film or the type of twist it deploys (by the way, the below movies are not the master list — which had over 30 entries by the way — but simply examples of the different types of Mindfuck Movies):
- Groundbreaking technical achievements (2001: Space Odyssey, Inception)
- Well-earned and shocking twist (The Sixth Sense, A Beautiful Mind)
- Artistry (Arrival)
- Unique concept (Being John Malkovich)
- Mystery and narrator unreliability (Shutter Island)
- Rewatchability (Donnie Darko)
- Concept fueling plot/action (Edge of Tomorrow)
- Deeply character-focused (Ex Machina)
- Spawned a genre-defining trope (Fight Club)
- Ambiguous ending that doesn’t feel like a cheat (K-Pax, Vanilla Sky)
With all that in mind (pun intended), let’s get to it: the Top Five Mindfuck Movies of all time.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey is the type of movie that people write thesis papers about, as even scholars are still trying to wrap their heads around it.
Planet of the Apes
The twist at the end of the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes is so iconic that it’s essentially become shorthand for mindfuckery on the mainstream level.
Christoper Nolan’s Filmography
You could argue that outside of his The Dark Knight trilogy — and even still, all three of those films are complete with twists and turns — Christopher Nolan’s entire filmography is one big mindfuck: Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and the mother of them all, TENET — a film so confusing that I’m not even sure Christopher Nolan understands it.
The concept at the core of The Matrix — that our reality is actually a simulation — mindfucked an entire generation so deeply that society generally seems to accept that it could *actually* be the case.
The greatest director of a generation, Martin Scorsese, and the greatest actor of a generation, Leonardo DiCaprio, combined for a film that has you entirely in the dark until its final 15 minutes. What more could you ask for? Plus, not only does Shutter Island include the big twist about Teddy Daniels’ mental state, but it stacks the ambiguous “To live as a monster or to die as a good man?” gut-punch ending on top of it.
Looking for more mindfuck movies? Check out all of the excellent suggestions in this Twitter thread, and also make sure to check out the Post-Credit Podcast episode where we further break this list down.
The Best Mindfuck Movie of all-time is 🌀🤯 ⁉️
— Post Cred Pod (@PostCredPod) August 16, 2021