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21 Movies like Limitless: Potently Powerful Brains

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Paola-Bassanese-authorThe magic of cinema allows to explore infinite possibilities including the limitless potential of the human brain. Whether it’s enhanced chemically or simply a natural gift, the genius brain allows for some truly mind-blowing silver screen story telling. Best movies like ‘Limitless’ and ‘Jumper’ include awe-inspiring movies like ‘Lucy’, ‘The Butterfly Effect’, ‘Push’, ‘Red Lights’ or ‘Source Code’. ~ Paola Bassanese

“How many of us ever know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?”

Pushing the Boundaries

Wouldn’t you like to become immediately cleverer? It only takes a small, innocent pill… But is it that innocent? This is one of the questions examines in their publication on smart thinking. In ‘Limitless’ (2011), directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Robert de Niro and Abbie Cornish, an underground discovery about enabling untapped brain power can cause all types of consequences.

Having established that ‘Limitless’ pushes the boundaries of reality and creates a hyper-reality based on enhancing brain power, my question now is: shall we look at both chemically-enhanced brain power and natural genius? Yes, we shall.


Movies Similar to ‘Limitless’…

‘Inception’ (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

“I specialize in a very specific type of security.”

What is reality and what isn’t? The mind is a powerful tool of creation. A movie that even has a cultural reference to another movie played by one of the lead actors, Marion Cotillard: you can hear ‘Rien de Rien’ by Edith Piaf, the role that made Cotillard a global icon (‘La Vie en Rose’, 2007).

Brain cells get activated, stimulated, accelerated with different stimuli while the overlapping dream state and awake state are confusingly running in parallel.

“True inspiration is impossible to fake”. The concept of the movie is mind manipulation – inception is planting ideas into people’s minds through the use of technology.

This is a must-watch movie because of its stellar cast (where else could you have Leonardo di Caprio and Michael Caine in the same room?) and innovative script.

Dream stealers manipulate minds to capture valuable information. A new form of espionage that transcends physical confines. Fascinating, isn’t it? If you want to explore this topic further, it’s worth reading Jonny Sweet’s article on movies like ‘Inception’.

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Let’s get those brain cells on overdrive, flip them like pancakes and shake them up.

‘Formula 51’ / ‘The 51st State’ (Ronny Yu, 2001)

“Rules are like, arbitrary – made up for those people who believe in like, Santa Clause.”

Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Carlyle star in this movie about an American chemist who creates a new mind-altering drug and wants to market it in the UK. Less sophisticated than the other films in this list, this is more of an action movie than a brain teaser, however the topic is similar to ‘Limitless’.

The new drug is marketed as the 51st State, because it induces an enhanced mental state magnifying euphoria and pleasure by 51 times.

Just in case you are starving for some action, ‘Formula 51’ goes one step further and will leave you breathless.

‘Lucy’ (Luc Besson, 2014)

“It is estimated that human beings only use ten percent of their brain’s capacity. Imagine what would happen if we could access one hundred percent.”

Is ‘Lucy’ just a mash-up of previous action and sci-fi films? Let’s say it’s a tribute to both Luc Besson’s previous works ‘La Femme Nikita’ and ‘Leon’, and similar movies to ‘Limitless’ like ‘The Matrix’. There’s also a pinch of ‘Tree of Life’, if you’re asking, and a smattering of ‘Inception’ and ‘Fight Club’. It’s an enjoyable romp, skipping and hopping through movie history and genres.

The concept of the femme fatal is central to this film: ‘Lucy’ is the iconic film noir seductress who is not afraid to be evil, especially when the baddy is Choi Min-sik of ‘Old Boy’ fame.

As the New York Times describes it, the movie goes “from hyper to hyperkinetic”: it’s fast, it’s furious, it’s confusing but in a good head-scratching way.

‘Lucy’ is part continuation of ‘Limitless’, part essay on the untapped powers of the brain. Lucy’s (Scarlett Johansson) mind capacity gets expanded ten times after a drug enters her bloodstream.

She is a less lovable character than Eddie Morra, as Lucy’s survival instincts kick in and she becomes ruthless.

Morgan Freeman was born to play Professor Norman, saviour and sage; he gets the best line of the movie: “Humans are more concerned with having than being”. I wish he taught at my university, back in the day.

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Basically the female equivalent of Eddie. There’s action, there’s mind-messing, there’s sci-fi. What’s not to like?

‘Source Code’ (Duncan Jones, 2011)

“What would you do, if you knew that you had less than eight minutes to live?”

Directed by Duncan Jones (yes, we all know he’s David Bowie’s son!) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga.

The ‘Source Code’ is a government programme that allows people to travel in time and change the direction of events.

You know that feeling when you wake up from a dream and you wish you could change the ending? Well, that’s what this film is all about.

There’s a bit of superhuman and supernatural in this movie – suspend judgement and enjoy the show.

Check out this article for more movies like ‘Source Code’.

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‘Source Code’ is like ‘Limitless’ and ‘The Butterfly Effect’ rolled into one with plenty of flashbacks and flashforwards and mind-messing stuff.

‘Awakenings’ (Penny Marshall, 1990)

“What I believe, what I know, is that these people are alive inside.”

Let’s go off the beaten track, shall we? Let’s talk about regaining mental power after years of “power outage” caused by illness.

‘Awakenings’ is one of those movies that will stay with you and it is blessed with some wonderful performances by Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

A group of people who were stricken by encephalitis lost most of their cognitive functions but a young doctor wants to trial a new drug to help them recover some of their faculties.

Hopes of finding a miracle cure and the reality of human being’s frailty are put under the microscope; a moving story based on real life events.

Prescription drugs are not as dull as you may think.

‘The Butterfly Effect’ (Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber, 2004)

“You can’t change who people are without destroying who they were.”

This movie is more about the supernatural side of the brain, with flashbacks and the ability to change the course of events.

An incredible performance by Ashton Kutcher, a departure from his usual comedies and rom-coms to play a dramatic role. There’s a lot of childhood trauma and trying to make amends with the past.

This is simply a great movie like ‘Limitless’ with an oniric AND nightmarish style.

Have a look at this article if you want to watch some great movies like ‘The Butterfly Effect’.

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Just like ‘Limitless’, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ has a bit of a nightmare feel about it couple with a sense of exultation from being able to change the course of events.

‘Red Lights’ (Rodrigo Cortés, 2012)

“There are two kinds of people out there: those who really think they have powers, and those who think we can’t figure them out.”

Starring Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy, ‘Red Lights’ is an intriguing story about trying to unmask a medium – does he really have supernatural powers?

Once again the brain is the lead character.

There’s enough action to entertain the boys, and enough dialogue and psychology to engage the girls.

De Niro is on top form, playing a blind celebrity medium who can both terrify and comfort people – any reference to spoon-bending TV mediums is purely coincidental. Weaver and Murphy are the skeptics – they are on a mission to prove that this celebrity stage psychic is a fraud.

Emotions run high as family tragedies can cloud people’s judgement. You may love it or hate it, but give it a go just in case.

A bit of Broadway razzmatazz with plenty of tricks to make you doubt your own mind.

‘Good Will Hunting’ (Gus Van Sant, 1997)

“You can do anything you want; you are bound by nothing.”

How about a maths genius who never studied formally but whose brain is the size of a planet?

Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver and Robin Williams, ‘Good Will Hunting’ is the story of a school janitor at MIT in Boston with behavioural problems who is found to be a mathematical genius.

Robin Williams plays the shrink who coaches him while Ben Affleck plays his best friend.

There’s many layers to this movie, from Will addressing his criminal past to his redemption, falling in love and tapping into his incredible mathematical skills.

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This is a more traditional storyline with no special effects, however ‘Good Will Hunting’ is a fascinating movie about the power of our brains.


If You Like ‘Limitless’, You Will Like…

We have found that people who like ‘Limitless’-like movies often also enjoy movies like ‘Jumper’ and ‘In Time’, as well as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Johnny Mnemonic’. Here they are for you to discover or re-discover.

‘Jumper’ (Doug Liman, 2008)

“I like to walk for a change. Makes me feel normal.”

‘Jumper’ relies on a strong cast including Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Bell to drive an intriguing plot about teleportation (“anywhere is possible”).

Personally, I’d love to be able to jump from place to place and avoid public transport! And what about being able to visit the most exotic places in the blink of an eye?

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‘Jumper’ may not have received critical acclaim, but it is well loved by fans who particularly appreciate the action sequences.


‘In Time’ (Andrew Niccol, 2011)

“Do I really what to spend my life trying not to die by mistake?”

With a cast including Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried that leaves you star-struck, ‘In Time’ is pure escapism with a nod to ‘Gattaca’.

A sleek and glamorous thriller (and ‘The Big Bang Theory’s’ Leonard makes an appearance too).

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‘In Time’ is a dystopian view of reality where people are genetically engineered. Although not very original in its concept, the movie compensates by being visually stunning. Read more on genetic testing here.


‘The Matrix’ (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)

“You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.”

Amongst other films like ‘Limitless’ we can find the mega-famous ‘The Matrix’. Here hyper-reality exists and can be taken orally at mealtimes.

Do you prefer the blue pill (creating illusion) or the red pill (painful reality)? Warning: do not operate heavy machinery…

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There’s plenty of similarities between ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Limitless’, with alternative realities and enhanced intelligence. ‘The Matrix’ is more unsettling in its portrayal of reality as bleak and the need of humanity to escape.

‘Johnny Mnemonic’ (Robert Longo, 1995)

“I can carry nearly eighty gigs of data in my head.”

In ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, a data courier stores clients’ info into his brain so he is only as valuable to others as the data temporarily loaded in his head.

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Cyberpunk action flick which now may look dated now but it’s considered a precursor to ‘The Matrix’. Like ‘Limitless’ it is an underdog story.


More Movies like ‘Limitless’: Hidden Gems

I can almost hear you right now, saying “But what about some hidden gems? We want more movie suggestions!”

Well, fear not, thanks to some more digging I have found a few more titles like ‘Limitless’ and ‘Jumper’ that we can throw in the mix.

I asked fellow itcher contributor Ren for some tips and here are some of her suggestions:

• ‘Lawnmower Man’ (Brett Leonard, 1992)
• ‘Brainstorm’ (Douglas Trumbull, 1983)
• ‘Altered States’ (Ken Russell, 1980)

And there’s more. Two of the best picks from the mind-expanding movie genre are ‘The Dead Zone’ and ‘Push’.

‘The Dead Zone’ (David Cronenberg, 1983)

“I have had a vision that I am going to be President of the United States someday. And nobody, and I mean *nobody* is going to stop me!”

‘The Dead Zone’ is another film about mind expansion but with a dark twist and another Christopher Walken -led sci-fi thriller (he also stars in ‘Brainstorm’). A coma caused by a car accident unleashes unexpected psychic powers…

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‘The Dead Zone’ has a similar theme to ‘Source Code’ with manipulation of time and visions of the future. What would you do if you could change the future?

‘Push’ (Paul McGuigan, 2009)

“You already know the ending to this story. You can only draw it so many ways.”

Starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning, ‘Push’ is the story of two people who have a natural gift, from predicting the future to manipulating objects remotely.

It is a story of survival and upheaval.

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This film is much darker than ‘Limitless’ but there’s plenty of action to keep you hooked.


These Films Have Been Suggested by Our Readers

We decided to add an extra section to this article as we were getting so many fantastic movie suggestions from you in the comments. Sure, we could go on and on with lists of 10 or 100 movies like ‘Limitless’ but here at itcher we prefer to cherry-pick the titles that best match the feeling of watching that movie.

Personally, I feel so happy that many of you joined in the conversation – you guys rock!

So, by popular demand, here are other films similar to ‘Limitless’ which you suggested we add to our list.

‘Edge of Tomorrow’, ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘Looper’ have been voted by you as great movies to watch if you like ‘Limitless’.

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Doug Liman, 2014)

“What I am about to tell you sounds crazy. But you have to listen to me. Your very lives depend on it. You see, this isn’t the first time.”

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt travel through time and re-live the same day over and over to fight an alien army. At this point I would also add to this movie choice ‘Predestination’ (Michael Spierig; Peter Spierig, 2014) because it has a similar time-travelling theme. Andy talks about it in his article.

As each day repeats itself, the experience helps Cage (Tom Cruise) to learn new skills and build military intelligence.

Sure, there’s no alien invasion in ‘Limitless’ so the parallels stop there, however the increase in knowledge that builds up over time is comparable to what Eddie (Bradley Cooper) goes through.

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Less subtle and with more special effects than ‘Limitless’ but if you like breathless action this movie is for you.

‘Donnie Darko’ (Richard Kelly, 2001)

“”Donnie Darko.” What the hell kind of name is that? It’s like some sort of superhero or something.”

‘Donnie Darko’ is a cult classic (I admit I only watched it recently as it has been talked about so much on itcher, social media and movie circles) and deserves watching on repeat (because it’s that good). Therefore, when I received a suggestion to add ‘Donnie Darko’ to this list I almost had to face-palm myself: why didn’t I think of including it? So let’s remedy that now!

The mind is the superstar of this metaphysical thriller that blurs fantasy and reality. Teenage years can be tough, especially if you are different and live in a small town.  A heart-wrenching performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and one of the most innovative scripts of this century. For more movies that share this “Darko-style”, have a look at other similar films.

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The inner workings of a troubled mind are on full display for both our horror and elevation. The pace is different compared to ‘Limitless’ and there’s no glitz and glamour, which makes ‘Donnie Darko’ a gritty but compelling film.

‘Looper’ (Rian Johnson, 2012)

“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…”

Bruce Willis at his best in this visually stunning sci-fi crime action time travelling movie. Crossing over different genres, ‘Looper’ takes you on a journey for justice with plenty of twists and turns. This movie picks up the pace and looks at a bleak future when time travelling has been outlawed and is the domain of criminals. If you are a fan of Emily Blunt you get treated to another movie choice here!

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Brilliant minds put to the test in a race for survival: ‘Looper’ is epic and is on a grand scale with many special effects. Like ‘Limitless’, it’s all about the fight of an individual using all his skills to get through another day.

‘Rain Man’ (Barry Levinson, 1988)

“Uh oh. Underwear on the highway. Uh oh.”

‘Rain Man’ is award-winning story of two brothers: one is a genius, one is a selfish crook. The ground-breaking story of a man with autism and his manipulative brother. 4 Oscar wins, a Golden Globe and many international prizes say a lot about this film, which has become a classic.

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No special effects, just a very good story of how brilliant the human mind is, and a heart-warming message to boot.


Exploring Different Realities: How Would You Like to Dream?

We also need to mention a few films that are worth watching and that have been picked by itcher magazine’s readers: ‘Phenomenon’ (1996) directed by Jon Turteltaub, ‘Frequencies’ (2014) directed by Darren Paul Fischer and ‘Transcendence’ (2014) directed by >Wally Pfister.

How far removed from reality do you want to be when watching a movie? Maybe you have other suggestions for films like ‘Limitless’…

If you do, please share back. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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

I am Paola Bassanese, and I love twitter – I think in slogans! I am a contributing author at itcher mag covering mainly quirky movies that I like and that I hope you′ll like too. [n-e-x-t] I have written a few books including The Foraging Home Cook, and also write about health and lifestyle for the Huffington Post. I consider myself to be a Londoner even though I was born in Italy. I love 80s music and foreign language films, but I also enjoy going to the opera and ballet.
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42 thoughts on “21 Movies like Limitless: Potently Powerful Brains”

    1. Hi @disqus_dKEB0lsMWU:disqus enjoy Red Lights, let me know if you like it. I think it has a slow start and then it builds up to be really good! Fantastic performance by Robert De Niro

    1. Hi Mark, sorry I missed your comment! Thanks for the suggestion, we might add a section to the article to include titles that people have mentioned in the comments

    2. Hi Mark, sorry I missed your comment! Thanks for the suggestion, we might add a section to the article to include titles that people have mentioned in the comments

  1. Great post! I’m going to watch most of these now. The collection of movies you have listed is fabulous! Thank you. :)

    1. Hi Kushal – The Butterfly Effect is excellent (who knew that Ashton Kutcher was that good?). Glad you liked the list! We always aim to improve our articles so we’ll keep an eye on forthcoming releases that may be similar to Limitless

  2. Hy Paola can you to make a list of movies similar to …. i am very much interested in such movies… thank you..

  3. i don’t find lucy that much interesting as i was expecting it to be…but it is fine…. great work done by scarlett…

    1. Hi Geran, would you say that Donnie Darko should be included? I think that’s fair enough, we can look into expanding this article. It is surely a mind-bending film plus it’s excellent, so I agree it could potentially be part of this list

    1. I know, I know… but with today’s sensibility it looks dated – when I watched it 20 years ago it was innovative and original. Sorry you feel disappointed with that choice, but hopefully you enjoyed the other recommendations!

      1. I’ve watched it. This film makes us think that the world is running in the frequency law. Where someone could close or far away or difficult to interact because of the law frequencies. In this film, humans are born with a frequency that can determine his fortunes. And what if there is someone can set or adjust that law.

  4. None of these are like Limitless except Lucy, which I tried to get into but couldn’t, nothing seems to have that same wit and cleverness that Limitless did, I mean… aren’t there any other movies about a drug that drastically increases mental acuity?

    1. Hi Bobby. Thanks for your comment. In that case we would recommend checking out the new ‘Limitless’ TV series, it has exactly the same premise as the movie. Let us know what you think.

  5. lucy seems to be good enough… don’t forget Morgan Freeman dialogues !! its a catch !! i still have to look for a movie thats grows naturally to 50 70 % and things changing.

    1. Hey Vishal! Thanks for your suggestion, we always love to hear recommendations from the itcher community. If you fancy finding more movies like Limitless (or Lucy!) you might like to try the itcher app. Why not download it and let us know what you think?

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