Watching psychological thrillers & mysteries is my favorite pastime as a writer. That’s because these movies give my brain a break from work … but they also massage my creative muscles, inspiring new ideas for my next projects.
If you, too, are a cinematic puzzle-solver who prefers to figure out the story on your own, here’s the ultimate list of 50 brain-wrecking movies that’ll leave you scratching your head until the very end.
So nuke those popcorn, ease into your pajamas, and get ready to have your “mind = exploded!”
Scroll down for spoiler-free synopses (taken from IMDb) and official trailers. This list was last updated in 2022 with new additions.
|13||The Sixth Sense||1999|
|17||The Usual Suspects||1995|
|21||10 Cloverfield Lane||2016|
|24||Edge of Tomorrow||2014|
|41||A Tale of 2 Sisters||2003|
|45||The Stanford Prison Experiment||2015|
|46||The Invisible Man||2020|
|51||The Man from Earth||2007|
|52||Crimes of the Future||2022|
|53||Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind||2004|
|54||Dark (Netflix German Series)||2017|
In this highly convoluted time travel saga, we go on a journey with two young scientists who must deal with the repercussions of toying with their latest invention.
For his final assignment, a top temporal agent must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. The chase turns into a unique, surprising and mind-bending exploration of love, fate, identity and time travel taboos.
After being kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in five days.
4. The Handmaiden
A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
5. The Others
A woman who lives in her darkened old family house with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that the home is haunted.
6. Goodnight Mommy
Twin boys move to a new home with their mother after she has face changing cosmetic surgery, but under her bandages is someone the children don’t recognize.
After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9 year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be.
A linguist works with the military to communicate with alien lifeforms after twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world.
10. Mulholland Drive
After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.
A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
12. The Shining
A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future.
13. The Sixth Sense
A boy who communicates with spirits seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.
A man with short-term memory loss attempts to track down his wife’s murderer.
15. Ex Machina
A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.
16. American Psycho
A wealthy New York City investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
17. The Usual Suspects
A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which began when five criminals met at a seemingly random police lineup.
18. Fight Club
An insomniac office worker and a devil-may-care soapmaker form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.
Desperate measures are taken by a man who tries to save his family from the dark side of the law, after they commit an unexpected crime.
20. The Machinist
An industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity.
21. 10 Cloverfield Lane
After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
The case of a missing girl takes us through a journey of human greed and brushes upon the egos and repressed emotions of the characters.
23. Jacob’s Ladder
Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to uncover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusions, and perceptions of death.
24. Edge of Tomorrow
A soldier fighting aliens gets to relive the same day over and over again, the day restarting every time he dies.
25. Gone Girl
With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.
In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent into the past, where a hired gun awaits – someone like Joe – who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by sending back Joe’s future self for assassination.
A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.
A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.
31. Donnie Darko
After narrowly escaping a bizarre accident, a troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes.
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet’s power problems.
33. The Orphanage
A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.
A simple yet proud farmer in the year 1922 conspires to murder his wife for financial gain, convincing his teenage son to assist. But their actions have unintended consequences.
35. Taxi Driver
A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.
A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
37. Black Swan
A committed dancer struggles to maintain her sanity after winning the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
After a famous author is rescued from a car crash by a fan of his novels, he comes to realize that the care he is receiving is only the beginning of a nightmare of captivity and abuse.
Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.
Two detectives, a rookie and a veteran, hunt a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his motives.
41. A Tale of 2 Sisters
A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.
42. Gerald’s Game
A couple tries to spice up their marriage in a remote lake house. After the husband dies unexpectedly, the wife is left handcuffed to their bed frame and must fight to survive and break free.
Inspector Surjan Shekhawat, who is dealing with a depressing past, has to investigate a high profile murder case, deal with his crumbling marriage and use the help and solace of a prostitute by the name of Rosie.
A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.
45. The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, twenty-four male students are selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.
46. The Invisible Man
When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
A mythological story about a goddess who created the entire universe. The plot revolves around the consequences when humans build a temple for her first-born.
49. Get Out
A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
50. The Babadook
A single mother and her child fall into a deep well of paranoia when an eerie children’s book titled “Mister Babadook” manifests in their home.
51. The Man from Earth
An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine.
The entire film is shot in just one room, and is the most cerebral, intellectually challenging masterpiece of the decade.
52. Crimes of the Future
This is an extremely weird & uncomfortable watch.
It’s not so much on the “jump scare” side as it is on visceral & bodily horror imagery. If you like stories with gore & offbeat plots, it’s a lovely thriller, provided you can handle all the blood & surgery.
As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment in the future, many bodies are undergoing new transformations & mutations.
Accompanied by his partner, celebrity performance artist Saul Tenser showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in a series of theater-like performance surgeries.
Meanwhile, a mysterious group tries to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.
53. Eternal Sunshine
This isn’t a thriller, but its certainly riveting & sci-fi enough to be classified as a film that’s both psychologically & philosophically challenging.
Joel and Clementine begin a relationship after a train journey together. However, having had their memories clinically erased, they do not remember their tumultuous past.
54. Dark (3 Seasons)
I know we’re only talking movies, but this Netflix thriller series is good enough to break the rules. It’s a mind-bending spiral that only some people will get in their first viewing.
The story, spread across three inter-connected timelines, makes use of time travel like no other work of fiction ever has. It’s an unbeatable masterpiece that’ll leave you gasping until the very end.
That’s all, Folks!
That brings us to the end of our list. Which titles did you enjoy the most? Did I miss any quality ones? Let me know in the comments below!