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33 Movies like Shutter Island: Mind-Bending & Wicked

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Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorDo you enjoy when the silver screen has its wicked way with your mind? Did ‘Shutter Island’ (2010) push your buttons? If so, check out ‘Take Shelter’ (2011), ‘Moon’ (2009) and ‘Enter the Void’ (2009). ~ Jonny Sweet

“This is a game. All of this is for you. You’re not investigating anything. You’re a fucking rat in a maze.”

In ‘Shutter Island’, director-actor combo Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Di Caprio were reunited in a fantastic mystery thriller which will keep you guessing until the very end, delivering an unforeseen twist in style and leaving just enough ambiguity to spark debates amongst you and your friends.

If you are into this sort of cinematic mind-messing… you are a movie pervert. But so am I! There are plenty of good movies like ‘Shutter Island’, including a whole host of blockbuster titles such as ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), ‘Fight Club’ (1999) and ‘Inception’ (2010). All of these play with your mental faculties as you grasp your way around the complex plot, before hitting you with a sucker punch of a twist at the death.

But you’ve already seen all of these classics, haven’t you? In search of some fresh cinematic meat? No worries, I can help with some great ‘Shutter Island’-like movies.


Movies Similar to ‘Shutter Island’…

‘The Jacket’ (John Maybury, 2005)

“When you’re dead, the one thing you want is to come back.”

A chance encounter between an amnesiac Gulf War veteran and a little girl and her mother stranded by the roadside is immediately followed by the brutal killing of a policeman – with the erstwhile war hero the only suspect and unable to recall the incident.

Subsequently incarcerated in a mental institution, the veteran is subjected to revolutionary techniques by an avant-garde doctor… which may just open the pathway to alternate realities.

Mental institutions serve as the backdrop to both movies, but whereas ‘Shutter Island’ is content in limiting its focus to the sanity of its cast of characters, ‘The Jacket’ delves into the world of time travel.

‘The Machinist’ (Brad Anderson, 2004)

“A little guilt goes a long way.”

Like him or loathe him, Christian ‘I am Batman’ Bale demonstrated his dedication to his art by apparently subsisting on apples, tuna and coffee alone in order to slim down for this freakishly thin role, just months before he assumed the role of the caped crusader.

In this disorientating film, he plays a humble machinist suffering from all sorts of personal problems, including insomnia, amnesia and a decided lack of appetite.

‘The Machinist’ and ‘Shutter Island’ both play with the concepts of reality and sanity, but while the former is set inside an industrial factory, the latter takes place in a mental institution.

‘Memento’ (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

“We all lie to ourselves to be happy”

Coming from the same director as ‘Inception’ (do check out more movies like ‘Inception‘!), this thriller follows Leonard, a man so traumatised by the brutal rape and murder of his wife that he suffers from short-term memory loss. Consumed with a desire for vengeance, he ensures he won’t forget his mission by tattooing every new clue he finds on his body.

Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano combine to give three stellar performances in this great film which explores the complex and perhaps sadistic nature of the human psyche.

Remember ‘Sammy Jankis’.

Both ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Memento’ look at the fragility of memory – and the possible danger this fragility poses in our lives, when acted upon in extreme situations.

‘Gothika’ (Mathieu Kassowitz, 2003)

“Come on, honey, time to wash away your sins.”

‘Gothika’ tells the story of a psychiatrist who wakes up one day to find her life altered by a chance meeting with the ghostly vision of a girl – henceforth, she finds herself on the other side of the bars in her own hospital.

The rest of the film concerns itself with her attempts to remember the exact events leading up to her incarceration, including why she is being accused of the brutal murder of her husband. The eeriness and supernatural elements in the story, and the special effects, are very reminiscent of Scorcese’s work.

Like ‘Shutter Island’, much of the action in ‘Gothika’ takes place inside a mental asylum as the lead character tries to unravel the mystery of why they are there.

‘Secret Window’ (David Koepp, 2004)

“You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. It’s the most important part of the story, the ending. And this one… is very good. This one’s perfect.”

Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, ‘Secret Window’ focuses on an author who is confronted by an aggressive stranger who claims he stole the idea for one of his novels. As he attempts to outmanoeuvre the man, he finds his grip on reality beginning to slip – and the sanctity of his mind is not the only thing imperilled, either.

Though Johnny Depp gives one of his poorer performances (zany but without the charm – think Jack Sparrow minus the mojo), the novelty of the story still holds it high enough aloft to deserve a viewing.

Although ‘Secret Window’ features a writer and ‘Shutter Island’ a detective, both main characters are struggling to unravel a mystery which jeopardises their own sanity.

‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959)

“Is that what love is? Using people? And maybe that’s what hate is – not being able to use people.”

Two female heavyweights of yesteryear Hollywood clash as Katharine Hepburn attempts to have her niece Elizabeth Taylor lobotomised in order to suppress the mysterious truth surrounding the death of her beloved son.

Again, the lines between sanity and insanity are given a good shake-up as Tennessee Williams’ intriguing stage play is brought to the silver screen and horrible secrets are revealed.

As with ‘Shutter Island’, ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ concerns itself with the incarceration of a mental patient and the acts that led to their apparent loss of mental faculties – though the two films take places in very different eras and circumstances.

‘A Beautiful Mind’ (Ron Howard, 2001)

“Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?”

Russell Crowe plays real-life historical brainbox John Nash, whose evident mathematical brilliance is offset by his tendency to hallucination and delusion.

The film explores the themes of schizophrenia and mental disability in a less dramatic but no less compelling manner than ‘Shutter Island’, handling this biographical story in a delicate and mature fashion.

‘Shutter Island’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’ both focus on the inner cerebral workings of a talented individual and the thin line between genius and insanity.

‘Abre Los Ojos’ / ‘Open Your Eyes’ (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)

“Open your eyes.”

Anything Tom Cruise can do, Eduardo Noriega already did better… or at least, that’s true in the original version of the film which would inspire ‘Vanilla Sky’. When a handsome man is horribly disfigured in a brutal accident, he seeks unorthodox treatment to help him try to come to terms with the world that has come crashing down around his ears.

‘Abre Los Ojos’ is a sort of Spanish precursor to ‘Shutter Island’, which asks similarly bewildering questions about reality and fantasy but in a futuristic setting.

‘Take Shelter’ (Jeff Nichols, 2011)

“You’ve got a good life, Curtis. I think that’s the best compliment you can give a man; take a look at his life and say, ‘That’s good’.”

While ‘Memento’ and ‘Black Swan’ were still fairly mainstream movies, this peach of a film from Jeff Nichols may well have crept under your radar.

The story Michael Shannon (another favourite director-actor combo) as a young family-man who becomes increasingly prone to apocalyptic visions involving a storm of biblical proportions. As he struggles to differentiate between reality and fantasy, he becomes unsure of his own abilities as a husband and father.

Both ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Take Shelter’ feature protagonists battling personal demons in films that are heavily influenced by themes of insanity and family and the danger relationship between the two.

‘Black Swan’ (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

“The only person standing in your way is you.”

Darren Aronofsky doesn’t disappoint again in this excellent and taut suspense movie about a young ballerina who struggles to cope with the pressure of her newly-acquired role as the lead dancer in the New York City production of Swan Lake.

Juggling her own personal relationships, an overbearing mother and the increasingly-encroaching presence of the ‘Black Swan’ – the character she is reluctantly consumed by – Natalie Portman is flawless in this trippy psychological thriller.

‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Black Swan’ deal with themes of mounting pressure and possible insanity and both contain great plot twists, though whereas one deals with an asylum, the other looks at a professional ballet dancer.

‘Moon’ (Duncan Jones, 2009)

“I hope life on Earth is everything you remember it to be.”

The year is an unspecified date in the future, when all of humankind’s energy concerns have been solved by the discovery of solar energy on the moon. Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, the astronaut-technician charged with 3 years of service on the moon, whose only interaction is with an incredibly intelligent and surprisingly sympathetic computer named GERTY. Comparisons with HAL from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ are inevitable; though Kevin Spacey’s drone is infinitely more compassionate.

However, as Bell’s agreed work period comes towards its conclusion, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems and that his employers might be more morally reproachable than assumed.

An astute criticism of corporate greed, the film also poses serious questions about the ethics of our advancing technology. Meanwhile, Rockwell, charged with shouldering the burden of over 90 minutes of screen-time alone, acquits himself admirably and confirms his standing as one of the finest actors working today.

Like ‘Shutter Island’, ‘Moon’ deals with themes of isolation and possible ensuing madness, in a world where nothing is as it seems – though whereas the former takes place in a mental institution, the latter is concentrated in a space station on the moon.

‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ (Shane Meadows, 2004)

“God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.”

This tale of vengeance wrought by a returning army veteran on the gang of hoodlums who tormented his mentally challenged brother may appear to share very little in common with ‘Shutter Island’… but watch it all the way through, and then we’ll talk.

Quite aside from any similarities with Scorcese’s film, the performance of Paddy Considine as one of my top 10 movie villains of all time warrants a watch on its own merit.

In both ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, one man’s quest to right a perceived wrong leads him down a dark and dangerous path.

‘Enter the Void’ (Gaspar Noé, 2009)

“You know the good thing about LSD, if you can manage to overcome your fears, you can take your hallucinations wherever you want.”

Warning: not one for the epileptics!

Enter the Void takes place in the psychedelic and dream-like world of downtown Tokyo, where a young drug dealer’s seedy occupation and leisure activities catch up with him. Following a botched drug deal, our protagonist is shot by police, only for his disembodied soul to revisit the events preceding his death and either invent or spy upon those following it, depending upon your interpretation.

The innovation of the cinematography is truly breath-taking, though its slow-paced and repetitive nature might be too much for some. Expect trippy visuals, bright colours and a narrative so disjointed as to confuse and confound in equal measures.

As in ‘Shutter Island’, in ‘Enter the Void’ it is very difficult to know if things are exactly as they seem – though whereas the first film concentrates on madness, the second revolves around drug abuse and death.


If You Like ‘Shutter Island’, You Will Like…

Still got a hold of your wits after all of those mindbenders? Well worry not, there’s plenty more cinematic puzzlery to boggle those brains of yours.

Straying out of the sphere of mental health, here are a selection of other what-the-hell flicks to unstraighten some cerebral laces and get plenty of mental knickers in a twist.

‘eXistenZ’ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

“eXistenZ. Written like this. One word. Small ‘E’, capital ‘X’, capital ‘Z’. ‘eXistenZ’. It’s new, it’s from Antenna Research, and it’s here… right now.”

In a world in which a profligate youth are spending more and more of the precious grains in their hourglass in the alternate realities located inside a games console, ‘eXistenZ’ draws attention to how this can lead to a confusion about which is more real – the game or life?

Whereas ‘Shutter Island’ is fixated on exposing the illusions of a deranged mind, ‘eXistenZ’ blurs the lines between illusion and reality within the realm of gaming.

‘Oldboy’ (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

An aging but seemingly harmless drunkard is abducted and imprisoned inside a hotel room. Just as he is about to achieve his freedom through a painstakingly carved escape route, he is released – with no explanation for his incarceration or his subsequent liberation.

Prepare to be dazzled, disgusted and deeply affected as you unravel the mystery along with him.

Though thematically they’re very different, ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Oldboy’ will have you scratching your head throughout as you attempt to untangle the labyrinthine plot – only to hit you with the mother of all sucker punches at the final curtain.

‘Being John Malkovich’ (Spike Jonze, 1999)

“There is truth, and there are lies, and art always tells the truth. Even when it’s lying.”

This über-meta exploration of how it might feel to live inside the mind and control the actions of another human being features John Cusack in his finest role to date, Cameron Diaz in her most unusual performance and the eponymous John Malkovich in typically shouty form.

While ‘Shutter Island’ examines the dangers of one’s own mind, ‘Being John Malkovich’ posits what it might be like to literally crawl inside the psyche of someone else.

‘Brazil’ (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

“This is your receipt for your husband… and this is my receipt for your receipt.”

A biting indictment of the bureaucratic, consumerist and increasingly desensitised world we live in, ‘Brazil’ is a masterpiece in every way.

Beautifully shot, beguilingly acted and brilliantly funny, this is Franz Kafka meets Monty Python.

If ‘Shutter Island’ is a chilling thriller which deals with the issue of mental health, ‘Brazil’ is a far more light-hearted satire upon the relative (lack of) sanity of modern-day society.

‘Mulholland Drive’ (David Lynch, 2001)

“Acting is reacting.”

The master of surreal cinema David Lynch does not disappoint but certainly does infuriate with this head-scratcher of a film which distorts reality more effectively than consuming a whole bottle of Jägermeister on acid.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand just what you witnessed after the first showing… or the second… or the third…

Though ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Shutter Island’ are thematically worlds apart, they both contain enough shocks and plot twists to keep you guessing throughout (and in the case of the former, well after the credits, too).

‘Ex Machina’ (Alex Garland, 2015)

“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”

This intelligent drama from writer and director Alex Garland (of ‘The Beach’ fame) examines the pitfalls of our ever more sophisticated technology and asks pertinent questions about what happens when artificial intelligence outstrips our own.

Both ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Ex Machina’ posit intelligent and intriguing questions about the human mind, but while the former is more concerned with exploring sanity, the latter focuses on our growing preoccupation with technology.

‘Lucia’ (Pawan Kumar, 2013)


If you could escape the monotony of reality through the consumption of a pill which induces exceedingly lifelike dreams, would you do it?

That’s the conundrum raised by this acclaimed Kannada movie from India, giving limelight to a cinematic sphere often disregarded outside of its homeland.

While both films concentrate on how we can be certain of what’s real and what’s not, ‘Shutter Island’ peers directly into the minds of the insane and ‘Lucia’ investigates dreams, drugs and the mental complications which result.


Can Your Mind Still Take It?

What are you saying? Your mind hasn’t been bent enough yet?

Hard to believe, but here are some more suggestions, and for some reason it seems that 2006 has been a great year for these kind of psychological thrillers.

  • ‘The Prestige’ (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
  • ‘The Departed’ (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
  • ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
  • ‘The Illusionist’ (Neil Burger, 2006)
  • ‘Limitless’ (Neil Burger, 2011)
  • ‘Children of Men’ (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
  • ‘Blood Diamond’ (Edward Zwick, 2006)
  • ‘V for Vendetta’ (James McTeigue, 2005)
  • ‘Salt’ (Phillip Noyce, 2010)
  • ‘Unthinkable’ (Gregor Jordan, 2010)
  • ‘Source Code’ (Duncan Jones, 2011)
  • ‘Predestination’ (The Spierig Brothers, 2014)
  • ‘American Psycho’ ( Mary Harron, 2000)

Still Guessing?

I have tried to list some of my favourite films that capture the same sense of intrigue and post-coital satisfaction for your mind as Scorsese’s masterpiece.

However, the world is full of mind-bending movies; which ones have I missed?

Help me out below in the comments section.

**For a video playlist of the recommendations, please click here.

We do appreciate and encourage your comments. We always reply to them so please don’t be shy.
I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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