When someone mentions the term “thought-provoking” in relation to films, you probably have something in mind. Perhaps a high-budget, star-studded cast, famous directors,or even Hans Zimmer as the architect of the soundtrack. Not to mention crazy special effects with black holes and Tyler Durden blowing up buildings or even a time-travelling Bruce Willis (I’m referring to 12 Monkeys, not Looper). I’m here to share with you a list of less well-known films. All will leave you scratching your head for days. Some even manage it with practically no special effects…I know, crazy right? I will sum up what makes these films amazing and interesting. But don’t worry; I’ll do it without spoiling any of the storyline (beyond what you would see in a trailer). Some of these are lesser known, others you may recognize. So let’s begin our countdown of the top 10 thought-provoking films you may never have heard of!
Coherence is a film relatively few film lovers have heard of. With a low budget of $50,000, filming took place over a period of only five nights. Before we even touch on the story elements that make this film intriguing and thought-provoking, there are some interesting facts to elucidate. For starters, most of the film relied on the improvisation from the cast. They had “goals” for their characters but they didn’t know how every scene would turn out. When the cameras appear shaky, this is largely due to the freedom offered to the actors to roam around.
Coherence tells the story of a group of friends who meet for dinner. Sounds exciting, huh? It just so happens that it coincides with a comet passing by close to Earth. This leads to strange events that get weirder as the night goes on. If you liked the premise of The Cloverfield: Paradox but would prefer better story-telling, then this film is for you. Playing on the ‘many world’s interpretation’ this is a movie that makes you tense for its entire runtime. Coherence leaves so many small clues hidden throughout it that you’ll never notice them all the first time around. Not that it matters as you’ll be eager to see this film more than once.
When you think of time travel films, you probably jump straight to Back to the Future, The Time Machine, Star Trek, maybe even Predestination or The Butterfly Effect. With a budget of just $7,000, Primer strives to be something unique. Tackling the more personal aspects of time travel, the film manages to be thrilling and suspenseful, all while scrambling your brain. To say this movie is thought-provoking is an understatement.
With a slower pace than you may expect and without any explosions, wormholes or DeLoreans, Primer still offers viewers a crazy time travelling experience. If you’re looking for a time travel movie that will leave you putting the pieces together long after the film has ended, then Primer is for you. If you have trouble with the timeline (I’m happy to admit that I did) then you’ll find plenty of YouTube videos explaining what the hell was going on! Pay attention to all the details and you’ll get the full experience that Primer can offer.
The Nines (2007)
When you think of Ryan Reynolds, your first thoughts are probably Deadpool, Van Wilder or the voice of Guy in The Croods. You may be unaware that he starred in a slightly smaller film back in 2007: The Nines. While not as low-budget as the previous two films, it’s certainly not a blockbuster film either. It grossed $62,745 in the US and has very mixed reviews. I for one found it to be a rather refreshing film. Is it the best film ever made? No. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the story-line that is has to offer.
Without getting into spoiler territory, The Nines covers several smaller stories that are all connected. Following Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis as these worlds slowly start to become one. Starting out with plenty mystery, this film does an excellent job of making you scratch your head. The payoff at the end may blow your mind or it may be underwhelming. I’ll leave such a conclusion up to you.
Speaking of films that leave you scratching your head, Enemy is a prime example of this. What would you do if you saw a movie and one of the actors looked exactly like you? That’s the battle that Jake Gyllenhaal faces as he attempts to track this person down. You may be familiar with Jake Gyllenhaal from films such as Donnie Darko, Source Code or Prince of Persia. While the latter may not leave viewers much to think about, the first two sure do.
Enemy is no exception and as the film plays out, with truly disturbing and terrifying scenes that appear out of nowhere, the final scenes of this film will leave you questioning everything you just witnessed. This may not be the sort of film you return to in a hurry but it’s certainly worth one or two viewings. The less you know about this film going in, the better. So fight the urge to watch trailers or read reviews and instead just dive in head first! If you’re looking for thought-provoking, then your search is over with Enemy!
The Man from Earth (2007)
We’ve covered the awful sequel to The Man from Earth before but the first film is one that everyone should see! While having a higher budget than some of the previous films we mentioned ($200,000) the entirety of this film takes place in a sitting room. The Man from Earth is storytelling at its finest. Whether you watch the trailers or read the synopsis for the film, you’ll get the same basic overview. To cut a long story short, one of the characters in this film makes the claims that he doesn’t age. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.
As friends and colleagues grill John Oldman (yes, his surname is meant to be a joke), played by David Lee Smith, we learn more and more about the character. At times you think he is insane, at others you begin to believe his story. Questions, answers, tensions, and fights all leading to some shocking revelations and alternative views of history. If you need something simple yet intriguing to watch, I couldn’t recommend this film more!
Mr. Nobody (2009)
Have you ever wondered how different your life would be if you’d made a different decision or chosen a different path? This film attempts to answer that question or at least explain how difficult it is to ponder. Perhaps one of the more well-known on this list, Mr Nobody boasts a star-studded cast, crazy special effects and a pretty huge budget of $47 million! So why is it on this list? Well, for starters, most people I mention it to have never seen it.
If you enjoy alternate timelines, mystery, confusion and journeys to Mars then this film is for you. It follows Nemo (not the fish) played by Jared Leto as he tries to decide whether to live with his mother or father after their divorce. One of the aspects of this film that is truly great is that all the mystery, all the questions, and all the weirdness are explained before the credits roll at the end: Essentially wrapping the film up for you in a nice, little bow. That’s not to say it won’t leave you with questions about your own life or your own view of reality!
When we’re talking about films you may never have heard of, Circle is at the top of that list (not The Golden Circle). This film was straight to video on-demand but don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t an interesting film. I mean sure, the blurb might not sound all too compelling: 50 strangers standing in a circle where every two minutes, one of them mysteriously dies.
Labelled as a psychological thriller/horror, Circle manages to pull you in. You begin to feel like you are one of the 50 strangers and as such; you desperately try to work out what is going on. As more clues reveal themselves and more strategy is put in place, you’ll find your brain working in overdrive to solve this puzzle.
This is another movie with very mixed reviews. But with a run-time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, there isn’t a great deal to lose. Some aspects of this film may be weird simply for the sake of it but I guarantee you’ll be searching for answers once the credits roll. It may not be thought-provoking in the traditional sense but it will certainly leave you with questions that you may never know the answers to.
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
If I told you that a film had a budget of $22 million and boasted a cast of stars including Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Kevin Dunn and Jason Schwartzman, you’d probably assume it was a pretty well-known movie. Yet I Heart Huckabees is certainly not well-known by any means. This thought-provoking film may not involve time-travel, multiple realities or immortality, but it’s intriguing none the less.
Ultimately, this film will leave you wondering whether coincidences are simply coincidences. Could it be that they have a deeper, hidden meaning or is that just nonsense? This film is weird, wacky and everything in between. Where other thought-provoking films may involve science fiction, this one focuses more on social science fiction (if that’s even a thing) and philosophy. If you need something lighthearted, relatively short and easy to watch then this film would be the perfect choice.
How would you react if while working on the moon you stumbled across your own dead body? Well, if you want to see how Sam Rockwell’s character would react, I suggest you check out this film. Ignoring the fact that it takes place on the moon and features incredibly advanced technology (including an AI voiced by Kevin Spacey), this film is relatively simple. Yet it manages to make the viewers consider the answer to a question about morality.
It’s hard to explain why this film is great without bringing up spoilers. What I will say is that with a great cast and a short run-time, you don’t have much to lose. This is possibly my favorite performance by Sam Rockwell and it shows his capacity for serious roles in films.
The Prestige (2006)
Ever wondered who is better at magic: Batman or Wolverine? Unfortunately that isn’t the question that this film answers. But it does feature Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two magicians competing to out-do the other. The Prestige is as intense as it is brilliant! You probably don’t imagine science fiction playing a role in the story of two magicians but with a guest appearance from Nikola Tesla himself (as a character, of course) this film gets crazier the further through it you get.
Out of all of those on this list, this film is the most popular and well-known. In the off-chance that you haven’t seen it, I felt it was my duty to include it on this list. This film literally has it all: great acting, an incredible story, mystery, romance, heartbreak, action, thrills, and perhaps even a touch of horror! You’ll spend most of the film trying to work out how each trick works and even after each magician reveals the secrets, you’ll still leave this thought-provoking movie with questions.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on this list of thought-provoking films? Do you think we missed any? Comment down below!
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