The film is a modern storytelling medium designed to evoke various emotions from the audience. From laughter, sadness, excitement, wonder, terrifying, and triumph, each movie has a particular goal that it wants to deliver to the audience by the closing credits. However, there are other films out there whose primary aim is to confuse or stew the noggins of the viewers. These movies feature completely left-field plots that either subvert the expectations or leave the audience scratching their heads entirely.
To be fair, the movies in this list tend to require repeat viewing as their plots are so wild and strange that initial viewing will pretty much leave moviegoers with a perplexed look in their eyes. Below are movies with the most outlandish and confusing plots of all time.
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Movies That Feature Strange Plots
1. Donnie Darko (2001)
Considered today a cult classic and the film that put Jake Gyllenhaal’s name on the proverbial map, one cannot deny the utter bonkers plotline that Donnie Darko gleefully showcases. Well, with a movie about time travel, wormholes, and alternate realities coated in teen angst, it is pretty much a given how topsy-turvy the story can get.
Donnie Darko stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular troubled teenager who suffers from sleepwalking and encounters a strange entity in a creepy rabbit suit named Frank. Frank warns Donnie that the world will end soon and a series of strange events start occurring around Donnie, such as an unknown jet engine falling into his bedroom.
Donnie Darko can be interpreted as a movie about schizophrenia. It can be about existentialism, or it can just be about a troubled teenager with a dimension-hopping friend in a rabbit suit about the end of the world. All in all, Donnie Darko is a must-watch for those looking for films with unique and strange plots.
Duration: 1 h 53 min
2. Tenet (2020)
Christopher Nolan doesn’t shy away from films that force audiences to use their noodle while also giving some amazing action set pieces. His repertoire of films with strange or confusing plots includes Memento, Inception, The Prestige, and Interstellar – all are incredible movies to watch. However, his time-traveling action opus, Tenet, tops them all with its non-linear storytelling that can leave audiences dazed and confused.
To this day, it is still quite difficult to fully grasp the movie’s plot. Tenet is about a special agent tasked to stop World War 2 from the future by going back in time. The film has a fantastic and imaginative take on the whole time-traveling concept by blending the idea of moving forward and backward in time simultaneously on the screen.
Similar to how the title is an example of a palindrome, Tenet is an innovative take on time travel, but it can leave audiences entirely up in the air the first time around.
Duration: 2 h 30 min
3. Primer (2004)
Primer is a science-fiction independent movie about time travel drenched in layers of subtle information and detail that can be categorized as a new type of puzzle rather than a film. The story follows four friends building an experimental protein super incubator but instead manages to invent an actual time machine.
The experimental plot that Primer utilizes can get overwhelming for moviegoers to such a degree that a disclaimer states that repeat viewing might be necessary. If even the film’s marketing tells audiences that the plot can be pretty confusing, one can bet that it is far more convoluted than expected.
Primer also touches upon the philosophical question regarding the notion of time travel. As stated earlier, this movie is more akin to a puzzle than a movie. However, for those who are looking to sink their teeth into a truly unique and experimental movie experience, Primer is one that checks all the boxes.
Duration: 1 h 17 min
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Quite possibly the most mainstream movie with a highly confusing plot, this classic from the genius mind of Stanley Kubrick is a must-watch for science-fiction fans. The film centers around the evolution of mankind, where it is revealed that leaps in humanity’s evolution were all triggered by a mysterious black monolith.
Each significant stride in the progress of humanity was all triggered by a mysterious monolith. For example, once mankind was able to travel to the moon, it was discovered that there was also a hidden monolith hidden in Earth’s companion.
A new monolith has been discovered orbiting the planet Jupiter, and a group of astronauts and an AI named HAL is tasked with retrieving this mysterious alien artifact. The film pretty much teeters at the very edge regarding its plot. For much of the movie, the story is relatively comprehensible. It is not until the final moments of the film that it becomes a strange psychedelic trip through the universe.
The closing scene of 2001 leaves a massive question to audiences as to what exactly it is they saw. Confusing? Yes, but 2001 does offer audiences the ability to interpret the ending based on their understanding.
Duration: 2 h 29 min
5. Eraserhead (1977)
Eraserhead is a film from the twisted mind of David Lynch. That description alone should be enough to explain why Eraserhead is on this list but doesn’t do it justice as to how confusing and disturbing this movie is.
The plot of Eraserhead is pretty straightforward. It follows the story of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a factory worker who finds out that he is the father of a newborn infant. While that might seem a cause for celebration, it isn’t if the newborn infant is a deformed mutant baby that cries day and night.
Eraserhead cannot be appropriately described on paper; it is a movie that needs to be experienced for a chance to comprehend the insanity on display. The film is undoubtedly about the fears of parenthood and loneliness, and Lynch’s fever dream directing style makes Eraserhead both a harrowing and confusing experience.
Duration: 1 h 29 min
6. Only God Forgives (2013)
In this 2013 psychological crime thriller from director Nicholas Winding Refn, we follow the story of drug smuggler and gym owner Julian through a bizarre journey of revenge and redemption. The movie is shot in such a way that it is hard to distinguish what is real and what is not.
The film can be pretty hard to follow if the audience has no idea about its themes going in, which was the case during its release, left a lot of moviegoers asking what they had watched? However, what makes Only God Forgives incredibly confusing is how it is not a traditional movie in every sense of the word. Instead, the film is a mind-melting pot of metaphors and a dreamlike scene.
To help prepare interested viewers going in, think of Only God Forgives as more of a dark fantasy than a crime thriller that it seems to have been advertised as.
Duration: 1 h 30 min
7. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Part autobiography, and part acid trip, The Wall is undeniably one of the strangest things ever to be put on celluloid. The movie tells the life of Pink Floyd, from his troubled childhood to growing up amidst the use of illegal drugs.
The title stems from the metaphorical wall that Pink surrounded himself with to avoid the pain of the outside. As the movie progresses, Pink will start to tear down the titular wall and finally free himself from the darkness.
The movie also devolves into an insane psychedelic trip as the character of Pink starts to suffer further from his mental breakdown. This episode is showcased by using a mix of animation and disturbing imagery bordering on horror.
The film also tackles the dangers of fascism and how it erodes the creativity and freedom of an individual. The Wall is a wild and trippy experience that will make audiences ask what they got themselves into.
Duration: 1 h 35 min
8. Pi (1998)
Pi is a movie about a reclusive mathematician named Max (Sean Gullette) who believes everything is connected with a numerical equation. Max also suffers from headaches and blackout attacks which further compound his paranoia and hallucinations.
Pi is the directorial debut of Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan) and tiptoes in between psychological thriller and surrealism. Max is an unreliable narrator due to his mental state, making the audience question every scene in the film.
Pi is such a confusing film as there are many questions that audiences will never get an answer to – well, maybe not in the traditional way. Still, the entire movie is pretty identical to solving an extremely complicated mathematical equation that will undoubtedly leave most in utter confusion.
Duration: 1 h 24 min
9. Hukkle (2002)
Hukkle is an experimental film that follows the daily lives of villagers from a quaint rustic town in Hungary. The movie features almost no dialogue as we watch along with an old man with a hiccup as he observes the daily happenings in his village. That is pretty much the gist of the movie, and there is a vaguely touched upon subplot about murder that will most likely fly over everyone’s head until the end.
This movie is one of the most bizarre ones, but the whole senseless plot is part of its charm. Is everything simply what it appears, or is something else happening behind the scenes? These questions and much more will… never be answered, I guess.
Duration: 1 h 18 min
10. House (1977)
House is a Japanese horror movie that tells the story of seven friends who stay in a haunted house. That is where the film stops making sense, and what happens next are some of the most insane things ever put on film, which is putting it mildly.
House is an odd mix of horror and comedy with its surrealist style that pushes the insanity meter to 11. But, again, this is a movie that must be seen to appreciate, as simply reading the film’s description entirely is a massive disservice to the absurd and hypnotizing experience that it delivers.
Duration: 1 h 28 min