A lot of our favorite movies tend to be those that make us think; that stay with us long after the credits roll. They’re often very different from the cookie cutter movies we get in theaters all the time that follow the same tropes and story structure. However, because they’re so different, the meaning of these movies are still being hotly debated today. Some of them are movies that never experienced the success they deserved because audiences didn’t connect with them, while others are clearly stories created to make a philosophical point. Either way, we watched all these movies to find their real meaning and we think you should add all fifteen of these movies to your watch list.
15. Fight Club – What Does “The Middle Children Of History” Mean?
Fight Club is a movie about anti-consumerism that has more product placement in it than most are willing to concede. Some of the biggest scenes involve IKEA, Starbucks, and more big-name brands. However, this is just one way the movie goes about making its main point: that we are not and will never be the contents of our wallet. More pessimistically, we’re probably never going to be a truly great generation since we don’t have a uniting event bringing us together. The movie is also about how men often don’t have a place where they can be themselves the way women can, and while it’s a man’s world, they need a safe space just as much as a woman will. “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
14. Drive – Is The Driver A Werewolf?
This is the movie that made Ryan Gosling famous, by the way. The thing that really confused people about this movie is all of the steady shots and total silence in it. Even some of the director’s friends didn’t get this movie. According to an interview with Nicolas Winding Refn, the director, the movie isn’t just about the power and purity of love, it’s also about how the driver himself is a werewolf, at least symbolically. According to him, the movie is supposed to a metaphor for his personal love for his wife. “Ryan, the character is a man who deep down within is a werewolf because deep down he’s a man who’s psychotic, but he’s also a man who’s two people – he’s one person by day and one person by night. So Ryan’s analysis is completely correct in how he verbalizes it; I may verbalize it in a different way, but the core is exactly the same DNA.”
13. Memento – The Beginning Of Christopher Nolan’s Incredibly Confusing Filmography
You will not be surprised to find out that this is not the only Christopher Nolan movie on this list, but this is one of his first movies. If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a guy who can’t retain memories for more than fifteen minutes who needs to find his wife’s killer. The movie is really trippy because we’re seeing it from the perspective of a guy who can’t remember things that have just happened to him, and it’s hard to gauge the movie’s meaning, especially since we’re seeing it out of order. That being said, the movie does a great job of showing how changeable memories can be with its non-linear storytelling. It also shows the many, many drawbacks of messing with a guy who can’t make new memories.
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – The Meaning Of Life?
This movie isn’t necessarily hard to follow, but people really didn’t understand how many layers this story has. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about a regular British guy who makes friends with an alien doing research for a book with the same name as the title, and that alien goes on to save the human from being vaporized along with the planet Earth. They then meet up with the President of the Galaxy and find mice trying to calculate the ultimate question, the answer to which is 42. It’s based on a series of books and is personally one of my favorite movies of all time. The book touches on major philosophical issues about whether there’s a God or not, the nature of humanity, and the vastness of space. It’s genuinely a great movie and you should definitely go see it.
11. Black Swan – Exposing Ballet’s Dark Underbelly
Black Swan is a unique movie because let’s face it, not too many people would have gone to see a movie about ballet before that. Basically, this movie takes the whole “everything is beautiful at the ballet” concept and beats it to death with any weapon it can find. In this, ballet isn’t a beautiful world, it’s dark and terrifying and eats dancers alive. I actually danced ballet for most of my childhood and while I wasn’t exposed to its dark side, I can tell you that it has the potential to have your self-esteem take several big hits. Ballet is also murder on your body: famed ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn once said: “I’m sure if everyone knew how physically cruel dancing really is, nobody would watch — only those people who enjoy bullfights!” It also shows the internal world of a perfectionist and how people often live double lives without realizing that’s what they’re doing.
10. Shutter Island – What Actually Happened To Him?
Shutter Island is one of the trippier Scorcese offerings, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s also one of the many movies where Leonardo DiCaprio suffers on camera and is not rewarded with an Oscar. This is another movie that’s not told in a linear way, primarily because telling the story in a linear way kind of destroys what makes the story and the storytelling cool. The story seems like it’s about a guy investigating a case at the titular island who’s married with no children. It turns out the story is actually about the same guy who’s a patient of the island because he went insane after he didn’t get help for his manic wife, who killed their three kids and burned down their house. There’s a lot of ways the movie foreshadows this, like using water and fire as storytelling devices, for example. The movie does a good job of showing the fragility of the human psyche, but it does take a second watch or possibly reordering the film in a linear way to really get what’s going on.
9. Donnie Darko – Bunny Rabbits In Time And Space
This movie is one of those that has the ability to shape entire world views once you figure out what it means. This movie basically takes the concept of multiple universes and adds a giant bunny, and it’s great. There are a lot of science-based theories about what we’re dealing with here that we honestly don’t have enough time and space to get through here. What you need to know is that this is way more than your average coming of age story. There are time loops and temporal distortion and Groundhog Day levels of repetition and Inception-level layers to things. Donnie himself is what’s known as a Living Receiver and the bunny is called the Manipulated Dead in this theory. It’s all a lot to take in, but I can assure you that those who do are wholeheartedly committed to Sparkle Motion.
8. American Psycho – So How Many Guys Did This Guy Kill?
This movie is based on a book that ends with uncertainty, so the movie does the same. Fans have been debating what the end of the book and movie means for a long time now. We don’t know how much of the story even actually happened given what we know at the end. Did Patrick Bateman really kill all of those people, or did he just imagine it all? Personally, I think he did kill all of those people, except one: Paul Allen, which is ironic because Bateman hates Allen more than anyone in the world, Sure, he’s a serial killer and totally insane, but those things exist separately. We know from watching the movie that we’re seeing the whole thing from the eyes of Bateman, who’s not reliable at all, which is why the end is just so confusing. The movie and book are looking to prove the point that the inside does matter.
7. Inception – What Happened To The Spinning Top?
Inception is practically a verb at this point: to incept someone is to totally confuse them, but in a good way. If you haven’t seen this Christopher Nolan movie, you’re really missing out: the whole thing is about the nature of dreams and on a meta level, the nature of reality. We know that the end shows a spinning top that never fell down, but we don’t know if it ever does. Perhaps that is the point: reality is what we as people accept. Nolan addressed this himself when he went to speak at a Princeton graduation ceremony.
6. The Matrix Series – So ‘The One’ Was Who Again?
This Wachowski sisters’ trilogy has been discussed to death, and there’s a lot to unpack here. This movie has been emulated, parodied, and imitated, but there can only be one Matrix trilogy. The first one was incredible, the second was great, and we won’t talk about the third. This is a series where humanity is used as a big battery for a computer simulation, and taking it at face value leaves a lot of plot holes open. In reality, even the people who took the red pill are being deceived: there’s no power plant and everything is a simulation with the goal of using human minds to be creative for the machines, not their bodies for fuel. There’s also a lot of evidence showing that ‘The One’ is not Neo, but Agent Smith, just saying. Watch it again with that in mind and I promise you your mind will be blown.
5. No Country For Old Men – Is It Really A Western?
This is one of those movies that really earned its Best Picture Oscar. It’s a Coen Brothers movie and it’s a western, but it doesn’t end like any other western. In this movie, the bad guys win, the hero dies, and there’s no shootout at the end. This movie basically laments the end of the idealistic world we often think we know and shows that losing that idealism is a lot like losing your innocence. We grow up being told and believing that the world is decent and kind, only to find that the world was never those things. It also shows that while justice gets served, it’s also random, as some people die as a result of their actions and others get off scot-free.
4. Lost In Translation – What Was That Ending All About Anyway?
Lost in Translation is a Sofia Coppola movie about the nature of loneliness and isolation. It uses camera angles and color to show how out of balance main characters Charlotte and Bob are, and once they meet, the camera balances out the shot. There’s another scene that has been talked about since the movie came out: the whisper scene. In the final scene in the movie, Bill Murray whispers something to Scarlett Johansson, and it’s his last line in the whole film. We can’t hear what was said, and the line was unscripted so not even the director knows what he said. To this day, the only people who know what was said in the film are Murray and Johansson. Now that’s an incredible cinematic secret.
3. Interstellar – Christopher Nolan’s Space Adventure
This is probably the only movie you’ll see outside of the MCU that will unironically use the word “tesseract”. This film is about a group of scientists and engineers trying to find a new planet to live on. We have no idea when the movie takes place, but we can infer that it takes place in the very near future. The movie’s meaning basically boils down to “respect the planet.” This is a movie, so the characters were able to use weird science to explore the possibilities of new planets and possibly saving humanity, but in the real world, we only get one planet and we need to treat it well. There’s also a lot of talk about wormholes, love, and gravity, but those things are still being debated, especially the love part, which could be considered a welcome change of pace from all the science or just plain cheesiness.
2. Push – Easy To Follow But Highly Underrated
This is one of those movies that is probably not the crown jewel in the resume of any of the actors involved, but it’s honestly a great movie that just wasn’t all that appreciated while it was out. It also has a pretty cool soundtrack that was unfortunately never released. Reviewers called it convoluted and thought it was just generally a weird movie. It’s a really interesting concept, though: bringing superpowers and magical capabilities into the real world, creating a low-fantasy movie that plays with some fun ideas. Unfortunately, while the deeper meaning of this movie is that everyone is unique and capable of greatness, the script is a bit middling and the message kind of gets lost, so you’re going to have to look for cues in the acting. Thankfully, all the acting in this is pretty stellar, so that won’t be a problem.
1. Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels – That One Time Guy Ritchie Made A Good Movie
A Guy Ritchie action movie made this list, but there’s a good reason for that: this movie is actually pretty cool. It’s really funny and is the first movie to employ the slow-motion fight scenes for which Ritchie would soon become famous for. This is a good example of a movie that was marketed to men and appeals to men but uses the female gaze. This is also a movie that got made way under its initial budget and it had a lot of help from A-listers to get it released. This movie started Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham‘s careers and it ended up getting Guy Ritchie married to Madonna, who loved the soundtrack to the movie so much she released it on her own label. The reason why this movie is so hard to understand is due to the weirdness of the script.