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27 Movies like Inception: Menacing Limbos

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Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorIf you enjoyed being confused and charmed by ‘Inception’, the chances are, you’ll love ‘Memento’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ or ‘Abre los Ojos’. ~ Jonny Sweet

“They say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential – that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.”

Apparently, it took Christopher Nolan almost a decade to perfect his script and idea for the blockbuster film ‘Inception’… and the results are there for all to see. Presumably, you saw the film, you loved the film, and are now chomping at the bit for similar ones.

Well, you’re in luck. Because I, too, saw the film, loved the film, and went out in search of similar ones. So, here are two handful of movies like ‘Inception’.


Movies Similar to ‘Inception’…

‘Memento’ (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

“You don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth.”

Released in 2000 (shortly before the time when Nolan is rumoured to have first entertained the idea of producing a dream-based concept film), ‘Memento’ tells the story of Leonard, a man suffering from insomnia who has made it his life’s work to avenge the rape and murder of his wife by tracking down her killers.

The only problem… he can’t remember who they are, or any new evidence he finds out about them.

His solution? Tattooing all of the clues he comes up with on his body. Throw in great performances from Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss to compliment Guy Pearce’s fine showing as the lead, and you have an enthralling and intriguing film which makes you think and keeps you guessing until the very end.

‘Inception’ and ‘Memento’ both delve into the depths of the human psyche and deliver unexpected twists, though the former deals with dreams and the latter with waking reality.

‘Abre los Ojos’ (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)

“Open your eyes.”

Do not make the mistake of viewing the vastly inferior American remake ‘Vanilla Sky’ starring Tom Cruise; to get the full impact of this great story, go to the original, where Penelope Cruz delivers just as charismatic a performance as she does in the vapid rehash.

Dabbling in the lines between real-life and perception, ‘Abre los Ojos’ addresses similar themes to those in ‘Inception’, and will make you ponder the limits and frailties of the human mind.

‘Abre los Ojos’ and ‘Inception’ both explore how advanced technology can play with our perceptions of what’s real and what’s not, though the latter is more heavily concentrated on dreams.

‘Lucia’ (Pawan Kumar, 2013)

‘Lucia’ regales the viewer with one man’s struggle to escape the torment of insomnia by living out his fantasies in his dreams. As in ‘Inception’, the enticing bliss of the dream becomes a tangible danger in spoiling his own real life, as he loses his grip on the distinction between the two.

In many ways, ‘Lucia’ could be seen as India’s answer to ‘Inception’; both focus heavily on the blurred lines between waking reality and dream-filled slumber – though ‘Lucia’ doesn’t have nearly as many fight scenes, car chases, or all-out action set pieces.

Both ‘Lucia’ and ‘Inception’ involve the protagonists spending much of their screen time chasing through dreams, though while ‘Lucia’ is more character-driven, ‘Inception’ relies more heavily on high-octane drama.

‘Shutter Island’ (Martin Scorcese, 2010)

“Sanity’s not a choice, Marshall. You can’t just choose to get over it.”

On the other hand, if you like Christopher Nolan, but love Leonardo DiCaprio, then check out ‘Shutter Island’. You can find more movies like ‘Shutter Island’ here.

Similar to ‘Inception’ in its depiction of a man struggling to keep his sanity together in the face of adversity and a lost wife, the story brilliantly showcases DiCaprio’s acting talent and Scorcese’s direction, and once again, will have you guessing until the denouement.

Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley give great supporting performances, among others, to make a film that foreshadows and compliments ‘Inception’ in its subject matter and calibre.

The protagonists of both ‘Inception’ and ‘Shutter Island’ are battling with personal demons – particularly the dead spouses of  Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters – though the former concentrates more on dreams and the subconscious.

‘Birdman’ (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014)

“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

Aptly starring Michael Keaton as an aging superhero actor looking to reboot his career (ahem), the strength of ‘Birdman’ lies in its combination of fluid camerawork, impressively emotional performances, and fantastical elements. In this manner, it’s incredibly similar to ‘Inception’.

Of course, the plot could hardly be more different than Nolan’s movie, but the sheer magnetism of both films are comparable, as are their pendulous endings.

Like ‘Inception’, in ‘Birdman’, we are unsure of how much of the action is really occurring and how much is simply the fabrication of a damaged mind.

‘A Scanner Darkly’ (Richard Linklater, 2006)

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?”

Or, if you haven’t lost faith in the English language yet, but are bored by traditional cinematography, why not try this gem?

What’s this, you say? A film where Keanu Reeves’ acting doesn’t totally suck? I know, I couldn’t believe it either; although, to be fair, he is partially animated.

The innovative shooting style of this movie, along with its interesting subject matter of identity and the ego in a dystopian state, and some fantastic turns from Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder, make for an entertaining popcorn-muncher that delivers more than just a simplistic message.

Our perception of reality is explored in innovative ways in both ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Inception’; in the former, this takes the form of a cartoon-like imagery, in the latter, it’s an unusual and dreamlike subject matter.

‘Adaptation’ (Spike Jonze, 2002)

“What I came to understand is that change is not a choice. Not for a species of plant, and not for me.”

This tale of a successful but self-loathing writer as he attempts to convert a best-selling novel into a screenplay and slowly loses his mind in the process may at first glance appear to be very different from ‘Inception’. However, the ingenuity of the storyline, with its unpredictable twists, surreal events and fantastic finale, will evoke similar feelings of disorientation and confusion in viewers.

Furthermore, Nicolas Cage reminds us that he can actually act (on occasion) with a lead performance to rival that of DiCaprio.

Like ‘Inception’, ‘Adaptation’ distorts the viewer’s perception and understanding between reality and fantasy, ripping the carpet from beneath them – albeit on a very different and slightly more mundane topic.

‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (Robert Weine, 1920)

“Spirits surround us on every side… they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child.”

Again, the style of this film is so different to Nolan’s because of its era (it’s a silent film, for starters!) but the “OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-THE-HELL-JUST-HAPPENED” factor is just as strong at the final curtain.

Indeed, in addition to the crazy sets and sinister undertones, it is this very factor which has maintained ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ as a favourite of film buffs over the ages, despite its obvious disparities with modern film.

The ending of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ has had viewers squabbling over the true version of events in the story – in exactly the same way that the closing scene of ‘Inception’ has.

‘Irreversible’ (Gaspar Noé, 2002)

“Time destroys everything.”

Noé tells the story of how a brutal murder came to pass through a narrative unfolding in reverse order (in much the same way that Nolan did in ‘Memento’, too), which gives an added layer of meaning to the title and a whole extra dimension to the forcefulness of its message.

Though the film doesn’t pack as big a punch as ‘Inception’, its attempts to subvert the norms and try new things are things which Nolan has been equally successful with.

The fancy camera tricks, unorthodox narrative technique, and raw emotion on display in ‘Irreversible’ evoke memories of ‘Inception’… but the former is far more grounded in reality and prone to extremely graphic violence than the latter.

‘Mulholland Drive’ (David Lynch, 2001)

“Just forget you ever saw it. It’s better that way.”

Want a break from actor and director? Fine. Give ‘Mulholland Drive’ a whirl, though don’t expect to understand it the first time round. Or second time. Or third time…

In typical David Lynchian style, ‘Mulholland Drive’ throws up a whole lot of interesting characters, tropes and motifs, and doesn’t bother to explain all of them in any amount of comprehensive detail.

Indeed, internet forums are still churning out possible theories as to what exactly the hell is going on in the film; though you might emerge from its viewing none the wiser, it’s a fun ride all the same.

You really have to pay attention to both ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Inception’ to keep up with the action – although with the former, doing that is still no guarantee that you’ll have a clue what’s going on!

‘Rashômon’ (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.”

The contradictory viewpoints in ‘Rashômon’ are reminiscent of the various stages of dream-life in ‘Inception’; they offer up alternative perceptions of the world around us and question what, in the end, is really real.

Because of this, Kurosawa’s masterpiece is sure to delight all fans of ‘Inception’, since he pioneered the technique of the unreliable narrator and the ambiguous ending, which Nolan uses to such great effect in his film.

Although ‘Rashômon’ and ‘Inception’ are set and filmed in very different eras and places and employ completely divergent approaches towards their distinctive topics, the ambiguous endings of both leave the reader teetering on the edge of uncertainty.

‘Persona’ (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

“The important thing is the effort, not what we achieve.”

‘Persona’ is obviously far more dated than ‘Inception’ and it undoubtedly shows its age in pacing, acting and cinematography. However, the techniques on display by Bergman were every bit as forward-thinking as those in Nolan’s picture at the time, meaning that fans of such cinema would be loath to miss it.

It also dabbles in ambiguity and confused realities in a similar way to ‘Inception’, leaving you guessing exactly what happened in the action which unfurled before you.

As with ‘Inception’, the protagonist of ‘Persona’ is dealing with personal problems which cloud their judgement and unsettle the viewer as a result.

‘Gone Girl’ (David Fincher, 2014)

“What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

Adapted from the popular novel, ‘Gone Girl’ appears to be the standard tale of a wife gone missing and the inevitable (and unfounded) suspicion which falls upon her husband. However, author Gillian Flynn deftly turns this tired trope on its head, introducing a twist in the plot midway through that completely changes the complexion of the movie.

By its deflating denouement, the viewer will be spellbound, exasperated and thoroughly drained – in much the same manner as they were with the rollercoaster that is ‘Inception’.

Though one deals with a failing marriage and the other with an attempt to infiltrate dreams, ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Inception’ employ similar twists and turns to keep the viewer enthralled with their innovative storylines.


If You like ‘Inception’, You Will Like…

Okay, okay, so you’ve seen the previous suggestions and you’re still not satisfied. Well, don’t worry, because there are even more films out there similar to ‘Inception’.

If you’re looking for something new that perhaps isn’t exactly the same as Nolan’s masterpiece, but incorporates some similar elements and leaves you with a similar unsettled feeling, read on.

‘Paprika’ (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

“…the Internet and dreams are similar. They’re areas where the repressed conscious mind escapes.”

There are many other films based on dreaming, such ‘Waking Life’, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ and ‘The Science of Sleep’. However, all of these are very different in terms of their approach to the subject. Some are surrealist experiments, some philosophical debates, some cutesy arthouse pics.

For a dream film which shares a lot of similarities with ‘Inception’, see the 2006 Japanese animated movie ‘Paprika’.

Nolan cited ‘Paprika’ as one of the influences for ‘Inception’… and it’s easy to see why. The movies share a lot of similar tropes, such as dreams within dreams, technology to delve into dreams, implanting ideas into people’s dreams and reality colliding with the dream world… and it even shares some specific scenes.

For example, there’s the elevator, each floor of which leads to a different dream (with one particularly traumatic one), the glass shattering upon touch and a strangely familiar hotel backdrop.

For all that, the two are very different. ‘Paprika’ is far more surreal, and as a result, realistic as a dream-world; ‘Inception’, for all its plot intricacy, is too logical to be a convincing dream.

Both ‘Inception’ and ‘Paprika’ deal with the infiltration of our dreaming minds using advanced technology, but while the former is a logical heist thriller, the latter is an animated surrealist imagining of what such a scenario might entail.

‘Triangle’ (Christopher Smith, 2009)

“I feel like I know this place. I recognize this corridor.”

How this movie only has a 6.9 rating on IMDb is beyond me: I think it’s a total masterpiece of the genre.

Perhaps the error lies in its billing. From the trailer, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was just another slasher picture, or that the ‘Triangle’ of the title refers to the Bermuda triangle.

Indeed, I’d encourage you not to bother with the trailer at all, since the less you know about this clever gem the better. Go in with an open mind and an attentive eye and you can’t fail to be enraptured.

Revealing why it’s similar to ‘Inception’ would spoil the movie, so I’ll just let you know it carries the same WHAT-THE-HELL factor… or at least, it did for me.

Both ‘Triangle’ and ‘Inception’ use clever plots and novel ideas which may leave the viewer scratching their head afterwards, but whilst one is a heist set in a dreamlike setting, the other is a tense thriller.

‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (Michel Gondry, 2004)

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.”

This fantastic film stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet both playing against type as they attempt to get over their painful breakup by using advanced technology to delete their memories of each other.

The hitch? Halfway through the process, they realise the barbarity and inhumanity of the act and attempt to sabotage the operation.

Like ‘Inception’, the film features the protagonists running away through different levels of the subconscious; in ‘Inception’, it was a dream setting, in this one they traverse their own memories.

Both ‘Inception’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine’ feature characters who are trapped inside elements of the subconscious. Whereas in the former, this takes the shape of a dream, in the latter, it is memories.


‘The Machinist’ (Brad Anderson, 2004)

“I know who you are. I know who you are. I know who you are.”

If you see this one for no other reason than to witness Christian Bale’s dedication to his art, check out ‘The Machinist’ for his freakishly skinny physique.

Apparently, he lived on nothing but coffee and apples for months to get into the character of Trevor Reznik, which is all the more impressive when you factor in his appearance in ‘Batman Begins’ not too long afterwards.

‘The Machinist’ deals with similar themes to ‘Inception’ in that it features a protagonist struggling to come to terms with his own flawed perception of reality and how that’s tempered by his dark past. Just like ‘Inception’, it will keep you guessing throughout; and just like ‘Inception’, it will have you applauding the ingenuity of the twist at the final curtain.

Both ‘The Machinist’ and ‘Inception’ follow troubled protagonists struggling to come to terms with a murky past in a life where not everything is as it seems, though the latter is much more concerned with dreams than the former.


‘Twelve Monkeys’ (Terry Gilliam, 1996)

“There’s no right, there’s no wrong, there’s only popular opinion.”

If you missed this great Bruce Willis flick from the late 90s, go back and check it out. Brad Pitt pops up as an eccentric eco-terrorist, while Willis is flawless as the confused and unwilling time-traveller.

Though the subject material is very different to that in ‘Inception’, the curvature of its plot – as well as that of its character arcs – recall Nolan’s film to mind.

For the über-hipsters of cinema out there, check out the French short ‘La Jetée’ from 1962, upon which ‘Twelve Monkeys’ is based.

Both ‘Twelve Monkeys’ and ‘Inception’ involve complicated plots and evolving characters, though while one deals with time travel, the other focuses on dreams.


You Can Always Rely on the itcher Team for More Recommendations

Our writers David Milloy, Jane Howarth, Thanasis Karavasilis and Michael Taylor have managed to come up with some more great suggestions.

‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ (Terry Gilliam, 2009)

“Nothing is permanent, not even death.”

A travelling showman tries to save his daughter from the devil with the help of Heath Ledger’s Tony. To complete the quest, Tony has to step into a series of magical worlds (perfect if you liked Inception’s layers).

It’s very Terry Gilliam, so it’s quite a strange, meandering movie.

‘The Matrix’ (The Wachowshis, 1999)

“To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”

A regular guy is signed up to break through the Matrix, where he discovers a running battle that’s unseen in what he thinks of as the ‘regular world’.

This movie’s also the originator of the Bullet Time shot, which is a mirror of the way the ‘Inception’ team plays with timelines.

‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (Adrian Lyne, 1990)

“See. According to this, you’re already dead.”

A man who returns home from the Vietnam War suffers from hallucinations. When he can’t control the flashbacks that continuously haunt him, he slowly but surely goes mad.

‘Angel Heart’ (Alan Parker, 1987)

“No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.”

A private detective is contracted to discover the whereabouts of a famous singer. He soon starts to become suspicious as, for some reason, all the people he questions about said singer meet a tragic death.

Soon, he finds out that he didn’t get hired at random.

‘Donnie Darko’ (Richard Kelly, 2001)

“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.”

What would this article be without the gritty cult classic ‘Donnie Darko’?

Dealing with the paradoxes and complexities of time, this film is about a teenage boy who becomes more and more strange and cruel while losing touch with reality.

‘The Prestige’ (Christopher Nolan, 2006)

“No one cares about the man in the box, the man who disappears.”

Two stage magicians in the 19th century find themselves in a battle to destroy the other, each trying to create the perfect illusion on stage.

‘What Dreams May Come’ (Vincent Ward, 1998)

“What some folks call impossible, is just stuff they haven’t seen before.”

Having died in a car accident, a man enters his afterlife, a beautiful world that can become everything he wants it to be. Things start becoming difficult when he wants to save his wife who was sent to hell for killing herself.

‘Somewhere in Time’ (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980)

“Please, don’t leave. You have no idea how far I’ve come to be with you.”

After seeing a photo of a beautiful stage actress who was born more than 50 years before him, dramatist Richard becomes obsessed with her. When he learns that time travel is not as impossible as he thought, he goes back in time to meet the woman he’s so fascinated by.

‘Total Recall’ (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

“Baby, you make me wish I had three hands.”

A man whose biggest wish is to visit Mars goes to a company that can put false memories into a person’s brain. The procedure doesn’t go as expected, though, and he finds out that his whole life is one big false memory.


Even More Movies That Are like ‘Inception’?

Still not satisfied? Well, go and re-watch ‘Fight Club’ then, or better yet, read the book. For something a little lighter, try ‘The Science of Sleep’. Or, for a wackier film, watch ‘Holy Motors’.

So, is your mind completely messed up now? Or can you just not get enough of those twisted movie suggestions? Paola can help you find more mind-expanding titles in her article on films like ‘Limitless’.

Enlighten Me!

Enlighten me and others by leaving your favourite films that are like ‘Inception’ below.

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

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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