Escapism is the name of the game when going to the movies. Getting away from it all for a couple of hours, losing oneself in someone else’s story while putting the daily stress and strife in the rearview can be quite relieving. That is until you find yourself sitting in a movie theater as the lights come back on wondering what you just saw. It was a confusing movie, and you can’t even decide if you liked it or not.
First and foremost, movies are meant to entertain. That doesn’t mean there are times as viewers that we don’t love a good challenge. But when you find yourself immediately googling the title of a film to try to find some answers, then you know the confusing movie was a little more than you bargained for.
Confusing movies have presented themselves for quite some time, as you will soon see. Some require a second or even a third viewing and even then, it still might not be clear as to what the writers or directors were presenting. We have found 7 of the most confusing movies ever made. How many of these had you saying, “What the hell?”
The Most Confusing Movies Ever Made
7. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Just mentioned the name, David Lynch, and you know you best buckle up for a wild ride and a confusing movie. The director, if nothing else, is known for his ability to throw some confusion into his films. Lynch likes to color outside the lines, so to speak, challenging audiences to interpret his movies at their own peril.
With Mulholland Drive, he does just that as the writer and director, telling the story of a woman who survives a sole car crash on Los Angeles’ famous Mulholland Drive only to find herself dealing with amnesia.
Naomi Watts and Laura Harring star in this Lynch film that never truly explains the reality, dream, and subconscious levels he delves into while attempting to solve the mystery of the woman with no identity and the mysterious blue box that comes with her.
6. Primer (2004)
Time travel has always been somewhat of a confusing sort of movie, even when handled properly. With Primer, audiences get an extremely low-budget film about Aaron and Abe, two engineers whose job is to create error-checking technology.
But as they are working on it, they accidentally build a time machine inside a small metal box. Seeing what it can do, Abe decides to build a much bigger version, one that allows the duo to travel back in time for a few hours.
What makes this one confusing movie is how time clashes with itself, making it a very difficult watch. Even worse are the technical terms writer/director/star Shane Carruth uses as an explanation, which easily loses his audience.
5. Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko has turned into a cult classic even though it represents one of the most confusing movies out there. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character, a troubled teen whose life is turned upside down by the appearance of a large, human-sized rabbit named Frank.
This rabbit is immediately disturbing, convincing Donnie to commit crimes while also informing him the world will be ending in less than 30 days. The Richard Kelly-directed film goes into confusion mode when parallel universes, time loops, and alternate timelines are presented to Donnie.
4. Inception (2010)
Truthfully, we probably could have filled this list with a few more Christopher Nolan films as he is the true master of confusion. Nolan loves to take his audiences on wild rides. Even if that means he will lose a few with his storytelling, different timelines, time manipulations and dreams within dreams within dreams.
Inception has it all, blending reality with the dream world and making it difficult to differentiate the two. The film is a heist movie, but it is no heist that you’ve ever seen. This one is the heist of dreams. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Tom Hardy, and Elliot (Ellen) Page star in this complex, reality-shifting film.
3. Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Nocturnal Animals offers the simple premise that the past will somehow always catch up with you. Sounds easy enough, until we get into the story within the story.
The film stars Amy Adams as a gallery owner whose author ex-husband presents her with his latest manuscript for her to read. The manuscript details the ex-couple’s marriage with director Tom Ford then pulling audiences into the novel, blurring reality with, well, more reality.
In this confusing movie, there are dream sequences, flashbacks, and parts from the novel that Ford uses to create a very complicated storyline about how we remember things from our past.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It is said that 241 people walked out of the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of those was screen legend Rock Hudson, who was said to have remarked, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” Hudson and the other 240 people were and are not alone when it came to this confusing movie.
Kubrick’s film, which starred Keir Dullea and the HAL 9000, has caused much consternation in the 55 years of its existence. The film has been dissected non-stop as the movie’s open ending has left many scratching their collective heads.
1. Tenet (2020)
Of all the Christopher Nolan films, Tenet is considered to be the most confusing movie. The plot is “simple” enough – John David Washington is the Protagonist, a man who can manipulate time, which is necessary for him to be able to stop World War III.
Tenet is not about time travel, per se, but instead about the manipulation of time. Things here move in both directions forwards and backwards. The movie becomes more confusing when Nolan uses both together.
And if that isn’t confusing enough, he then has scenes in the second half of the film that involve actions and characters from the first half who have rewound time to…wait, never mind. You have to see it to try to piece it all together. Good luck.