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Taking Storytelling Risks: Hollywood's 15 Most Rebellious and Unique Films

Updated on December 18, 2019
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 13 years.


In recent years, Hollywood films have become rather generic at best. It was clear how each story was going to end at least ten minutes into it. A lot of the cinematic surprises have been replaced by 3-D films to poorly make up for bland storytelling. It also doesn't help that it cost more to see a film that wasn't worth the digital upgrade to begin with.

With a difficult economy keeping moviegoers at home, Hollywood needs to get some of its creative mojo back before movie theatres are completely abandoned for Netflix. Here are a list of fifteen films that helped shake Hollywood to its core and can be used as a springboard to revive it once again. (Not to be copied with pale film imitations.)

Stellar Special Effects/Make-Up

Star Wars (1977)- The good versus evil story has been done repeatedly before and since Wars' release, but it was the jedi action that kept people interested. It was made cool to be a jedi warrior with a much better weapon than just an ordinary gun. The story allowed heroes to think a little more before leaping into action. The sight of Chewbacca, Yoda and R2D2 also sometimes made a larger impression than the jedis themselves.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)- Let's face it. The most profoundly memorable thing about this film was star Brad Pitt aging backwards before the audience. He was born as a very old man and died as an infant. It was a unique concept that should belong in Ripley's Believe It or Not if it was actual reality. Pitt did an admirable effort to portray a special man trying to be normal, which earned him an Oscar nomination but it was the effects that made a larger impression.

Dreamscape (1984)- Okay, this film didn't necessary reinvent the wheel in effects, but it was still an interesting story nonetheless. The thought of scientists being able to access dreams was innovative and terrifying that people could easily violate someone's deepest thoughts. Dennis Quaid played the resident smart aleck with a conscience as he became privy to an assassination plot formulated by a surprisingly disturbing Christopher Plummer as a government head with control issues. The dream graphics were a sight to behold, but also a clear victim of 1980s leftover videogame designs. In the end, Dreamscape simply proved that dreams were meant to be private and not government property.

Tron (1982)- The story itself took a backseat to movie visuals that made the audience believe they were inside a videogame. In 1982, Tron's visuals were staggering compared to the 3-D films of recent years. When people watch Tron now, the movie could easily be compared to an old game of Tetris. The cult classic film even garnered a long awaited sequel last year in Tron Legacy that ramped up the effects for the modern day masses for the better. It was also a trip to see original star Jeff Bridges reprise his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn.

The Matrix (1999)- The effects and the story went hand-in-hand as they rebeled against the standard Hollywood system. Through Keanu Reeves' Neo, the audience was allowed to experience a new kind of film that bent cinematic logic for the better. (Even though the sequels weren't anything to write home about.)

Challenging Story

Mulholland Drive (2001)- Was Naomi Watts a naïve L.A. newcomer or a jaded woman suffering from a broken heart? Should the audience truly care? Not really. Just sit back and enjoy a once failed television pilot for the masterful film it was.

Memento (2001) - Director Christopher Nolan's potboiler was told from ending to beginning as memory damaged Guy Pearce tried to figure out what happened to his wife. The story itself was heartbreaking when the truth was revealed, but it was the plot device that echoed Pearce's disjointed memories that made the greater impact.

Deja Vu (2006) - What would you do if you had the opportunity to stop something from happening? Cop Denzel Washington had the chance to stop a disaster and save a mysterious woman he could love. All he had to was access the technology of his new department and he would be home free. He just needed to figure out how to survive and handle the grave consequences of changing fate.

Inception (2010) - Nolan's latest mindbending film that made it impossible to understand in one viewing. The head scratcher of an ending made it unclear as to whether Leonardo DiCaprio was still trapped in his dreamworld or living in reality. It also helped that the special effects were absolutely top notch such as creating multiple dream worlds and manipulating dreams for the better or worse.

eXistenZ (1999) - Jennifer Jason Leigh played a videogame programmer on the run inside her game with partner in crime Jude Law's help. What remained a challenge in director David Cronenberg's film was when the characters stepped out of the game. Cronenberg never clearly lets the audience know when the game ends and reality takes over.

Uncomfortable Concepts

Black Swan (2010)- Most moviegoers believed Swan to be Natalie Portman's breakthrough performance, while others saw it as a disturbing look into the mind of a perfectionist. Portman's dancer had her first chance at stardom and went to extreme lengths to keep the leading role. Her paranoia and obsessive behavior made it unclear whether the obstacles were real or simply figments of her imagination. When the truth was revealed, the audience were jarred by a sadly serene ending as Portman returned to reality with them.

Donnie Darko (2001) - A surprising indie film full of a wide variety of stars, such as Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle, delved into love and teenage insanity. The bunny of doom imagery also mixed a dark blend of innocence and fear at the same time. It was clear that Darko was unlike any movie ever seen at that time. The ending wasn't a happy one, or a logical one for that matter. It also spawned a forgettable straight to video sequel and Director Richard Kelly hasn't been able to replicate its success since then.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Director Stanley Kubrick was no stranger to controversy from his decades of directorial experience, but it was Orange that made audiences the most uncomfortable. Alex DeLarge, the film's protagonist, was a disturbed young man with preference for violence over reason. It was terrifying to watch him terrorize innocent people, but it was more frightening when the system decided to take extreme measures to change him. It was unclear whether it was a good thing to do so, or if it would even last.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) - Musical superstar David Bowie portrayed an alien visiting Earth for the chance to save his dying planet. It was shocking to watch an innocent creature become corrupted by American commercialism as he turned to greed instead of compassion. Bowie's alien ended up getting burned by his American friends as they turned him into a lab rat when it suited them. In the end, he got the last laugh as he watched his tormentors aging rapidly and he stayed exactly the same. The only difference was now he no longer trusted them anymore and his planet was gone.

Brazil (1985) - It was about a young man (Jonathan Pryce) trapped in a corporate society where order was everything. He believed in that order until he caught a mistake that cost a man everything. Afterwards, he decided to rebel against the system and search for his own private utopia. The man does get there, not just the way audiences expected he would. Brazil's most profound memory was watching Katherine Helmond literally stretch her face in a twisted form of plastic surgery that should be seen to be believed.

In the end, Hollywood should examine these fifteen movies for themselves to see what moviegoers have been missing. If studios tried to hire more innovative people, the movie industry should receive the wake-up call it deserved. In the meantime, rent the Oscar nominated Inception to see what the fuss is about.


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