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Philosophical Movies for Thinkers

Updated on March 15, 2013

Movie Mind Funk

When it comes to filling out that section on forms where I am supposed to tell people what my favorite movies are, I am always at a loss.

I am a story junkie, it doesn't matter if the story comes to me neatly printed between two covers, or from the inside a DVD case. I love to be taken away from life, and folded up in the story of a life outside of my own.

In honor of all of the story junkies out there, I present my new lens series dedicated to the best storytelling on film. The first category I chose was the thinkers category.

I encourage thinking for yourself whenever possible, but sometimes entertainment is a way to do that. These are movies that force you to think, that make you ask yourself the question is all I see really reality?

Many if not most of these films are rated R, and are not recommended for young viewers.

These movies are food for the brain. Some of them are just plain thought provoking, some of them give you good reason to question reality, and some of them are downright bizarre. If you are looking for a movie that will give you some mental exercise, try these on for size.

American History X Compilation

American History X - Which is stronger, hate or love?

Our first film and one of my all time favorites is American History X. The story of white supremacist who is forced to take a long hard look at everything he believes. His younger brother has always seen him as a hero, and is now following in his skinhead footsteps. He struggles to save his brother from hatred before it is too late.

This movie will leave you with many questions, the strongest of which may very well be...

Which is stronger, hate or love?

Naturally I give this movie five stars, not just for the strong anti-hate message, but for the other questions it raises as well. An all star cast delivers stellar performances, and there is more than one scene that will haunt you for years to come.

Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, and the lovely Fairuza Balk

Fight Club - Why do we work at jobs we hate, to buy things we don't need, to impress people we don't even like?

Another Edward Norton movie, but it is hard to decide who steals the show because Brad Pitt and Ed Norton tend to vie for the spotlight throughout this movie. On first look this is a movie about a group of men getting together in a basement and beating the tar out of each other. Hopefully that's not all you come away from this movie with.

Underneath the strange veneer of "Fight Club," is a strong message about what life in America is becoming. Corporate America, the strive to get consumers to keep consuming, the way we live our lives trapped in a bubble of buying things we don't need to impress people we don't even like.

This movie is certainly disturbing, I won't deny that. However it will also hopefully leave you looking a little more closely at the way you live your life, and why you are living it in the first place.

Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meatloaf

Donnie Darko - What if you could go back in time, and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?

Again this movie has two levels, on the surface you have a teenager struggling with mental illness, and all of the fun things that make me glad I am no longer a teenager. Dating, controlling teachers, out of touch parents, and school bullies. With an added bonus of an imaginary friend in the form of a giant bunny trying to convince him that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.

On a deeper level you have an exploration of Donnie's mental illness, intertwined with visions, the concept of fate, time travel, and the physics of the universe. This is one of those movies that leaves you wondering exactly what you just witnessed.

This movie will leave you with more questions than answers, but the questions in this case just might be more interesting than the answers.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jena Malone.

Donnie Darko Compilation

I love this song, so haunting...

The Butterfly Effect - If I can make scars, do I have the power to heal them?

The essence of the butterfly effect is the theory that making small changes in one area can create huge alterations of events elsewhere. Can a butterfly flapping it's wings create a tornado around the world? Could we change the events of our past, and leave our present course unchanged?

In this movie a psychology student discovers by concentrating on the events of his past he has the ability to change them. When he comes back he finds not just his life, but the lives of those around changed, not necessarily for the better. With each change the world around him becomes more and more unbalanced.

This movie leaves you with the overwhelming question, if you had the power to change the events in your past, would you? Should you?

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Melora Walters, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott

The Butterfly Effect Compilation

12 Monkeys - Oh, wouldn't it be great if I *was* crazy? Then the world would be okay.

Imagine knowing the world was going to be destroyed, but you are powerless to do anything about it. The question itself is not unique, but the approach taken in this movie is. When the lines between sanity and insanity are blurred it begs the question, what is sanity really?

It is the year 2035, the world has been all but destroyed by a devastating plague. James Cole is sent back in time to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus. Along the way he ends up in a mental institution, and eventually discovers the source of the plague.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Joseph Melito, Jon Seda

12 Monkeys Compilation

Magnolia - "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us."

Do you believe in coincidence? Or is there some strange fate leading all us to the crossroads of life? We have all had things happen that were too bizarre to be just coincidence, but all of the evidence proves otherwise. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time?

This isn't the story of one or two people who find their lives entwined with one another, in the beginning the events seem random but as the stories begin to unfold you see that these ten lives have been connected all along, just waiting for the right set of circumstances to break free.

Starring: Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, and John C. Reilly

Magnolia Compilation

Being John Malkovich - Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is?

In what is most likely the most bizarre movie I have ever seen, John Malkovich plays himself or rather he plays John Cusack playing John Malkovich. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be someone else, this movie takes the scenic route to answering that question. There's only one catch, you can only be John Malkovich.

Why are the ceilings in the office so low? Why is there a portal into John Malkovich's head? Why is it hidden behind a file cabinet? What is the fascination with puppetry? You'll just have to watch the movie and figure that out, but I warned you, this one is really going to mess with someone's head.

Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Orson Bean, Ned Bellamy, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Carroll and of course John Malkovich (You know that right?)

The Matrix - What is "real"? How do you define "real"?

The reigning champion of the messing with your head genre, "The Matrix" tells such a vivid story that you find yourself wondering if reality really is real. A fantasy mix of philosophy, psychology, and technology woven together with strands of mythology to create a tale this is both fresh, and as old as time.

Computer hacker Neo is given the choice, stay enslaved inside of the matrix or join the real world to fight against the powers that control our very lives. Once you leave the matrix, there is no going back and life on the outside is pretty bleak. Is it better to seek out knowledge and find the truth, or to remain hidden and unaware as a mindless drone?

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving

The story of Jesus, Harry Potter, The Lion King, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings?

It is one simple thing that they all share.

Take a Guess. You will find the answer in the guestbook.

Any other movies mess with your head?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      All great movies. I havehave to addthe Inception

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      mr. nobody

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      vanilla sky, the island.. also good mindbenders

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      'Jacob's Ladder' will definitely mess with your head.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      All of them use lion symbology.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I've seen all the movies on this list except Magnolia (surprising, because I go out of my way to see any film I come across with William H. Macy in it) -- just added it to my Netflix queue!

      Not on your list:

      Catch-22 is one of my favorite films. The main character, played by Alan Arkin, tries to get out of military service during WWII by convincing his commanders that he is insane. The "Catch-22" is that by claiming to be insane, he is actually proving that he is sane, since only a sane person would claim to be insane to avoid bombing missions. The story messes with your head with other examples of a "Catch-22" and by the story being told through flashbacks and dream sequences.

      Another favorite is Slaughterhouse Five. The main character survives being a POW in WWII then later in life he is kidnapped by aliens. He randomly experiences parts of his past, present and future, never knowing which part he'll live next (similar to 12 Monkeys).

    • ayngel boshemia profile imageAUTHOR

      Ayngel Overson 

      9 years ago from Crestone, Co

      I'll have to add the movies suggested when I see them, hard to find in such a small area though.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Have seen about half of your selection. They were some heavy hitters for sure. Never to be forgotten. JustBon mentioned Memento. Have not seen it, but have been wanting to for so long. Enjoyed this read!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Dark City:

      Questioning reality of memories, Do we just accept things as we think they are?

      The Cube:

      How do people react under stress? Does your place is society dictate your usefulness? First one I found fascinating.. sequels not so much.

      The Game:

      They supply what's missing. What would it take to know what's missing in our lives? How much do we let our circumstances dictate our happiness?

      Sliding Doors:

      What if? What if you went home early instead of your usual routine? can a little decision change your whole life?

    • Rich-H profile image


      9 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Great selection of movies here..some I've not seen, but will try to. One that had me messed up was 'Memento', which I did a lens on a little while ago. It's a great movie, which keeps you engrossed all the way through. 5*s for this.

    • sittonbull profile image


      9 years ago

      Don't go to the movies much anymore, but early on "Blow Up" kinda did... and there were many others, but I would need some time to consider a synopsis of them! You like thinking... I can tell! 5*


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