As a storyteller, Nolan’s signature is creating mind-bending films steeped in philosophical and metaphysical themes all sewn together with a disjointed narrative. That’s my long-winded way of saying, his movies make you say “WTF?” and rewatching them is a must.
While the initial viewings of his movies are enjoyable on a surface level, it’s impossible to catch all of the details and layers that make his movies so rich. Take “Inception,” for example, the script took Nolan eight years to write and Inception was to be the first time Warner Bros. would entrust him with a film not based on already established characters like “The Dark Knight” Trilogy. It was a big bet that the studio was making and Nolan didn’t let them down. “Inception” went on to be one of the most disruptive films in entertainment history and caused movie lovers to reasonably expect that movies could not only be action-packed but intriguing and thoughtful.
There are few other filmmakers, if any, quite like Nolan. So it was impossible to sincerely curate a list of movies that the Inception-lover would like and not include a heck of a lot more Nolan films. After your millionth viewing of “Inception,” you should check out this list of other mind-bending philosophical movies that feel similar but have their own intriguing stories to tell.
“Interstellar” is another imaginative film from Christopher Nolan and, much like “Inception,” the story will make you think long and hard about choices. Not only are there intricate scientific discussions like the concept of time, famine, and gravitational pull at-play but also love as its own force.
“Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and other A-listers that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception” McConaughey’s performance is absolute perfection as a complicated man dealing with an emotional tug of war between love and duty.
If you could save the world what might you be willing to sacrifice? And for those willing to journey far and wide into the beyond, what about the people they leave behind?
Visually, the cinematography of “Interstellar’s” space scenes is incredible and is sure to leave you as fulfilled as some of the practical effect shots and physics-defying scenes in “Inception.”
“Interstellar” might very well be the most similar to “Inception” due to its core themes. It’s sure to be a movie to watch that will visually stun you and pull at your heartstrings.
“Arrival” is a 2016 science-fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer. The screenplay was adapted from the science-fiction novella “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chang. If you’re considering reading the book, my suggestion is to read “The Story of Your Life” only after watching “Arrival” to get the full hard-hitting impact of the film.
“Arrival” follows Louise Banks, a linguist, played by Amy Adams and Ian Donnelly, a physicist, played by Jeremy Renner as they try to communicate with alien beings that simply arrived one day. What do the aliens want? Are they friend or foe? Time is working against Louise and Ian as they work tirelessly to communicate with the aliens. You’ll find that like Inception and “Interstellar,” the exploration of time, choice, relationships, and consequences are central to the film.
Beyond the similar philosophical themes, “Arrival” also shares incredible cinematography with “Inception” and “Interstellar.” The entire movie is supported by a best-in-class original score from Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannasson which engulfs you in Louise’s journey and evokes the deepest emotions ranging from fear to euphoria.
3. “The Matrix”
It’s hard to believe that we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of "The Matrix," the most influential action movie to explore a dystopian world and artificial intelligence. The action-packed movie starring Keanu Reeves caught on like wildfire among movie lovers. And, today, it remains a cult-classic with a formula that many movies tried to unsuccessfully emulate.
"The Matrix" explores philosophical discussions of perception, destiny, and theology all woven between fight scenes that defy physics. like “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “Arrival” the story behind the story is an exploration of choice. The difference though is “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “Arrival” address how choice affects interpersonal relationships while "The Matrix" explores how choice is the key factor that defines humanity.
If you loved “Inception,” you’ll likely also enjoy watching “The Matrix” for its action, suspense and tension but also the deeper metaphors that make for endless discussion with your friends.
4. “Fight Club”
We’re about to break the first rule of “Fight Club,” a movie based on “Fight Club,” a book written by my favorite author Chuck Palahniuk. As with all Chuck Palahniuk books and movie adaptations, the story follows a nameless and depressed protagonist who finds himself in the most twisted and precarious situations.
The protagonist, played by Edward Norton, lives a dark and dank life until he meets a soap salesman, Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Through Tyler, both the protagonist and viewer are taken on a wild ride that explores discussion of consumerism, capitalism and fighting against “the man.”
Inception lovers would love “Fight Club” for the disjointed storytelling and anti-capitalist discussion. Unlike Inception, and many of the movies on this list “Fight Club” isn’t a sci-fi movie, it’s raw and real. There are no spectacular visual effects and there’s nothing glamorous about any of the characters. You aren’t likely to be inspired by any of these people and that’s what makes the film so different and charming.
The “incredibly screwed up protagonist” is author Chuck Palahniuk’s signature and this method of storytelling was groundbreaking for the film industry. Often times things that are ground-breaking aren’t received well. The film style of “Fight Club” is an acquired taste and general viewers weren’t prepared. The movie tanked in the box office and critics universally panned it.
“Fight Club” is a must-watch, not only because it’s an incredibly thought-provoking film but because it’s one of the few films that critics were so wrong about that defied the odds and went on to become a major success with a huge cult following.
5. “The Prestige”
“The Prestige” is a 2006 psychological thriller and another movie on this list from Christopher Nolan. Like with “Inception,” the viewer experiences a similar feeling of immersion as we explore the layers of complex characters, choice, consequence, and non-linear storytelling all bundled in Nolan’s signature practical effect visuals.
In the “The Prestige, Nolan brought together key actors that he worked with on “The Dark Night” series in Christian Bale who plays Alfred Borde, a working-class magician, and Michael Cain who plays John Cutter, a stage engineer. Cutter navigates the relationship between Borde and Robert Angier a wealthy magician played by Hugh Jackman, as they take turns attempting to one-up each other and making choices that are often catastrophic on many levels.
While in “Inception” Nolan pulls the viewer deeper through layer after layer of human consciousness, in “The Prestige” Nolan uses illusion itself to engulf the viewer as well as the main characters. Are you seeing what you think you’re seeing? Like so many movies on this list, it’s impossible to capture all of the details and easter eggs that fully flesh out the movie without multiple viewings.
“Memento” makes the list of movies like “Inception” as yet another incredibly-told, mind-bending, twist and turn filled psychological thriller from Christopher Nolan.
Like with “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and “The Prestige,” Nolan takes us on a journey of non-linear storytelling that envelopes us exponentially as time goes on. However, in “Momento,” the layers are truth or memories rather than anything based on science.
The film stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator. After being beaten by two men, Leonard suffers from anterograde amnesia which means he’s unable to retain new memories and has to resort note keeping strategies that would rival any cubicle worker.
“Memento” is so masterful because we’re truly along for the journey with the main character. We don’t know any more than he does and we’re forced to piece the clues together with him all while navigating Nolan’s signature timeline manipulation.
7. “Shutter Island”
“Shutter Island” is a suspenseful psychological theory by Martin Scorsese. The most obvious similarity between “Inception” and “Shutter Island” is Leonardo DiCaprio as the main character. In “Inception” DiCaprio plays Dominick "Dom" Cobb an extractor that performs corporate espionage by way of infiltrating people’s subconsciouses. In “Shutter Island” DiCaprio plays a U.S. Marshall by the name of Edward "Teddy" Daniels sent to an insane asylum to investigate a patient’s disappearance.
At first glance, it sounds like the two characters and storylines couldn’t be any more different but as “Shutter Island” progresses the similarities are uncanny. So uncanny that it’s sparked a Reddit debate about whether or not “Inception” could actually be a sequel to “Shutter Island.” After watching both movies in succession, it’s easy to put on your tinfoil hat and amuse the theorists.
Martin Scorsese does an incredible job telling the story of a complicated man living with guilt and regret. We follow Teddy as he tries to uncover the mystery of the disappearance. But like, with “Inception” there are emotional layers within the story that manifest as obstacles to his goal. They make Teddy, and frankly, the viewer question the very notions of perception and reality. Can you truly trust what you’re seeing?
Like “Inception,” “Shutter Island” requires multiple viewings, and not because the film is too difficult to follow but because each time watching the film you discover different easter eggs and realize that the truth was always right in front of you.