When moviegoers emerge from their comfy seats and exit a theater, most turn to one another and share their first impressions. After a terrible movie, the reactions involve sayings such as “I spent how much money on that trash?” or “I wish I could get back the last two hours of my life.” Shoulder shrugs and noises like “Mehh” or “Hmmf” always represent mediocre movies, while even decent films get brushed off with phrases such as “Eh, it was good, but not great.”
The best movies, meanwhile, leave you stunned. You can’t find words to explain what you just witnessed. Even if you could, your brain won’t stop working to figure out how everything came together. Many movies have shot for this reaction, but only a few truly succeed. Check out any of the following movies to have your mind blown.
5. “The Butterfly Effect” (2004)
“Back to the Future” never really dove into the consequences of time travel as much as it should have. Fortunately, 2004’s “The Butterfly Effect” tackles that subject from just about every angle.
In “The Butterfly Effect,” Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, a smart college student who has blocked out painful memories from his past. One day, he discovers that by reading his childhood journals, he can revisit those forgotten moments and even change the past in hopes of saving his friends and family. As Evan quickly realizes that playing God comes with a high price, his life becomes much more fragile.
The movie says a lot about fate without making things too “heavy,” as Marty McFly would say, while still packing in a series of surprising punches that keep you guessing up until the end.
4. “Frailty” (2001)
Any movie starring Matthew McConaughey teeters on a line between completely unbearable and absolutely ridiculous. Luckily, the pot-smoking heartthrob spends most his time in “Frailty” narrating instead of acting.
This 2001 thriller begins with McConaughey’s character telling an FBI agent that he knows the identity of the “God’s hand” serial killer. From there, viewers witness the story of two boys who grew up watching their father kill “demons” at God’s request.
The movie’s ending is unpredictable and wildly entertaining. As if the horrific murder scenes aren’t enough, when the credits finally roll, “Frailty” will leave you cringing at its sinister twist.
3. “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990)
Although “Jacob’s Ladder” begins with a scene that looks like it belongs in “Apocalypse Now,” the movie doesn’t waste much time baffling viewers, who will undoubtedly struggle to keep up with its entangled plots.
Tim Robbins plays “Jacob Singer,” a Vietnam vet whose life gets abruptly interrupted by recurring nightmares and vivid memories from his tragic past. When his world begins to crumble, he fights to stay sane and discover what’s causing all the chaos.
A much grander theme underlies “Jacob’s Ladder,” which at the surface stands as one fantastic conspiracy film with touches of horror. The movie cuts from scene to scene in what seems like complete nonsense. But when all is said and done, all the pieces come together, only to send your mind wondering deeper and deeper.
2. “Memento” (2000)
Some people can’t stand movies that require lots of focus and attention to detail. If you’re one of those people, don’t watch “Memento.” You’ll just get frustrated and angry. If you do like those movies, rent this piece of genius now.
“Leonard,” the movie’s protagonist, suffers from short-term memory loss. To keep himself from forgetting, he scratches down notes and tattoos critical information to his body. But as he searches for his wife’s murderer, he must figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s just using him.
The makers of “Memento” do a great job of using the limitations of linear storytelling to its advantages. In a day and age where most movies tell the same old, predictable stories, “Memento” breaks the mold, testing viewers’ patience and understanding.
1. “Donnie Darko” (2001)
Perhaps the most confusing and over-the-top movie of the last decade, “Donnie Darko” has left more people scratching their heads than Lady Gaga’s gender.
The plot follows the title character who, after having a jet engine land on his family’s house, starts seeing an evil rabbit and takes a big interest in time travel. As the story unfolds, you see how the Middlesex, Va., townspeople wound up on the edge of a cosmic disaster, and only Darko can correct their course.
Words like “strange” and “bizarre” can’t express how far-out “Donnie Darko” is. Fully understanding the film takes a few viewings, but luckily there’s a director’s cut that helps explain things as they go on. Just make sure you’re paying attention the whole time, and don’t let that bunny scare you too much.
Grant Goerke can be reached at email@example.com