9 thought-provoking movies that will leave you questioning the world around you

My favorite movies are those that leave a mark on you long after they’ve ended.

Movies you think about for days on end. Movies that completely shift your perception of life, yourself, and reality in general.

The bad news is that films of this kind are quite rare.

The good news is that I’ve compiled a list of 9 thought-provoking movies for you so that you don’t have to go to the ends of the Earth to find them.

Bring out some popcorn, sit back, and relax.

The show’s about to start…

1) Shutter Island (2010)

Have you ever wondered whether the story you’re telling yourself about who you are might be false?

What if your brain’s just playing tricks on you? What if reality as you know it is nothing but an illusion born of a confused and out-of-control mind?

Shutter Island, a 2010 movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, explores exactly that – and more.

Set in 1954, the film is centered around a U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels who travels to a hospital for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island.

He is determined to investigate and resolve a criminal case – an inmate called Rachel Solando has mysteriously disappeared – only to find out that the staff are highly uncooperative.

As Edward and his partner Chuck begin to get more and more familiar with the hospital’s surroundings and the island itself, things get progressively more complicated and eerie.

What happened to Rachel Solando? And why do the staff refuse to take Edward’s case seriously?

Watch Shutter Island and find out.

2) The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir and starring Jim Carrey, works on a similar principle as Shutter Island – it questions our own perception of reality.

Unlike Shutter Island, however, this movie is also going to make you laugh (as you’re scratching your head in puzzlement, pondering the large questions the story poses).

Truman Burbank thinks he lives quite an ordinary life in an ordinary town. What he does not know is that ever since he was born, his life has been a popular TV show streamed all across the country.

Every single person in his life is an actor. His job isn’t real. His conversations with others are full of product endorsements and advertisements without his knowledge.

Yeah. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

Let’s be real, though. At some point in your life, you’ve probably also wondered, “What if my life is a movie or a TV show? What if everything is one big scam?”

Well, The Truman Show brings that idea to life.

Will Truman realize what’s happening to him and make his way out of the fakeness that’s his whole universe?

You’ll have to see for yourself.

3) Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Everything Everywhere All at Once absolutely blew me away when I saw it in the cinema.

It’s been almost two years since then, and I still think about it from time to time. That’s how powerful the story is.

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, this is the movie you want to see if you’re fascinated by the idea of multidimensional universes.

What if there were infinite dimensions out there, each one slightly different from the next?

What if there is a world where you’re a cook, one where you’re a ballet dancer, and one where aliens invade the Earth? And what about a universe with nothing but rocks in it?

The options are endless.

This multidimensional drama centers around Evelyn Quan Wang, a middle-aged Chinese woman who owns and works at a laundromat. A version of herself from a parallel universe turns her whole world upside down, and together, they have to save the multiverse.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is hilarious, absurd, and incredibly immersive. What’s more, it leaves you questioning the world around you.

What if you’re but one version of yourself? What if there are billions of universes in which you lead lives completely different from your own?

“Befuddling” is one way to put it.

4) Cloud Atlas (2012)

The movie Cloud Atlas (directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer) is based on a 2004 novel by David Mitchell.

As someone who read the book and watched the movie, I can confirm they are both brilliant.

What makes the story so unique is that it spans hundreds of years and comprises many different characters, all of whom are somehow connected to each other.

The basic idea is that every action you make can have a significant impact on another person without you realizing it.

What you do in the here and now can have consequences for someone fifty years in the future, and your own life may gain a different meaning thanks to a person who lived two centuries ago.

It’s a bit like that Chinese proverb: “The flapping of the wings of a butterfly can be felt on the other side of the world.”

Cloud Atlas has stayed with me for many years since I read and watched the story unfold, and I highly recommend it.

5) Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Stranger Than Fiction 9 thought-provoking movies that will leave you questioning the world around you

Harold Crick is an ordinary man with an ordinary job. There is only one thing about him that distinguishes him from other people: he hears the voice of a woman narrating his life.

He seeks the help of a literary expert, and soon, they figure out that Harold Crick may be a fictional character written by an author.

It’s as absurd as it sounds, and yet that’s exactly what makes Stranger Than Fiction (directed by Marc Forster) so very captivating – the absurdity of it all makes you laugh, only to go, “Huh. What if I’m a fictional character, too?”

What if you are indeed?

6) Being John Malkovich (1999)

Being John Malkovich, directed by Spike Jonze, is one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s also utterly brilliant and thought-provoking.

The central premise is that a small hole in the wall lets anyone enter the inside of the head of an actor John Malkovich. Once you crawl in, there you are, witnessing the world through John’s eyes.

As I said, it’s bizarre.

The movie does pose some interesting questions, though.

How can you be sure that you’re in charge of your actions? What if the body you’re in isn’t actually yours or what if everything that you do is decided by someone else?

The movie definitely gives you stuff to ponder over when you’re in the shower or trying to fall asleep.

7) Interstellar (2014)

Ah, Interstellar. One of my favorite films of all time.

Set in a dystopian world where humanity is struggling to survive, a team of astronauts embark on a mission to find a new planet. If they’re successful, humans will be finally able to leave planet Earth and settle elsewhere.

Sounds like a typical science-fiction movie, right?

Except Interstellar is phenomenal in all ways that count.

It’s the best space movie I’ve ever seen, and what’s more, it delves into some really deep topics, including the nature of time and space, as well as the sacrifices one needs to make on a personal level in order to ensure the survival of humanity.

Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan himself, Interstellar will blow your mind.

8) The Matrix (1999)

You didn’t seriously think this list could be complete without The Matrix, one of the most famous science-fiction movies of all time, did you?

If you haven’t seen The Matrix yet, don’t worry. It took me a long time to get around to watching it. And when I finally did… man, did I have a good time.

Written and directed by The Wachowskis, The Matrix is a typical Hero’s Journey type of story. An ordinary man is dragged into a dramatic conflict, and before he knows it, he’s knee-deep in problems and challenges that completely transform his life.

The major selling point of The Matrix is that it makes people question the inherent nature of the world around us.

What makes you so sure that the universe as we know it is our base reality? What if it’s a simulation? What if the real world is so bleak, so sad, that everyone prefers for their mind to exist someplace else?

I guess we’ll never know. All we can do is watch The Matrix and ask questions.

9) Inception (2010)

Yet another film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan) is a classic.

Unlike other movies on this list, this one’s all about dreams, and as an avid lucid dreamer, I’m all for it.

Inception is the perfect blend of action and mind-shattering ideas.

If there are multiple dreams existing within a dream, is reality just another dream? And how can you distinguish between the two if the dream state has completely sucked you in?

Final thoughts

As you can see, most of these movies will leave you with many questions and almost no answers. Answers aren’t the point, though.

The point is that you start asking.

Denisa Cerna

Denisa Cerna

Hi! I’m a fiction author and a non-fiction freelance writer with a passion for personal development, mental health, and all things psychology. I have a graduate degree in Comparative Literature MA and I spend most of my time reading, travelling, and – shocker – writing. I’m always on a quest to better understand the inner workings of the human mind and I love sharing my insights with the world. If any of my articles change your life for the better… mission accomplished. Get in touch at denisacerna.writing@gmail.com or find me on LinkedIn.

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