Have you ever watched a mind-boggling movie that left you scratching your head, wondering what just happened?
You’re not alone. Plenty of confusing movies take a while to unwrap and understand what we just saw.
The jigsaw site Im-a-puzzle compiled a list of 150 films renowned for their puzzling plots and ambiguous endings. Then, they analyzed searches for each film followed by ‘explained’ to find out which films have us the most confused.
Whether you’re looking for something with multiple layers to disentangle, or want to know what to avoid, here are the most confusing movies of all time:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Despite being released nearly 55 years ago, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s interstellar cult classic has continued to baffle audiences since its release, with audiences searching for an explanation of the film’s plot 4,200 times a month on average.
The lesser acclaimed sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, should help viewers clear up confusion around that obscure psychedelic ending. Or not?
The first of Christopher Nolan’s films to feature in the top 15, Inception sees viewers searching for an explanation for the film 4,500 times a month on average.
The movie’s ambiguous ending, which concluded with a shot of Cobb’s spinning totem before cutting to black, continues to leave audiences questioning the authenticity of our protagonist’s reality 12 years after its release.
Ranking just ahead of Inception, Nolan’s second directorial feature follows a man with anterograde amnesia as he tries to piece together information about the murder of his wife through self-inflicted tattoos and polaroid photographs.
An explanation of the film’s plot racks up 4,600 searches a month, likely due to its non-linear storyline, which cuts between a chronological and reverse narrative of our main character.
The Matrix (1999)
A movie that has become such a household name is synonymous with describing anything that indicates we live in a simulation.
The mind-bending classic, directed by siblings Lana and Lilly Wachowski, continues to have audiences looking for an explanation of the film’s premise. More than 20 years after its release, there are 5,200 searches every month on average.
Directed by the Spierig twins, Predestination sees Ethan Hawke star as a temporal agent who travels back in time to prevent a criminal from detonating a bomb in the present.
The film’s convoluted plot involves its protagonist unknowingly facing off with versions of himself from multiple timelines in this time travel paradox. Understandably, Predestination stacks up 5,900 searches a month for an explanation of its plot.
Fight Club (1999)
The controversial classic from acclaimed director David Fincher takes a surprising tenth place on the list, also receiving 5,900 searches a month.
While the twist in the third act of the film may contribute to the confusion for some, a second viewing may help clarify any questions viewers might have regarding who Tyler Durden is and what he is supposed to represent.
This sci-fi drama stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and receives 6,000 searches monthly, taking it to ninth place on the list.
The plot centers around Louise Banks, a linguist enlisted to communicate with aliens who have arrived on Earth. Upon assimilating the alien language, Bank’s perception of time is altered in a way that allows her to see the future. That concept appears to have left many viewers wondering how this could be possible. And reading the short story the film is based on just adds to the befuddlement.
The Shining (1980)
The second Kubrick classic to make a list, The Shining, racks up 6,300 searches a month from viewers looking for an explanation for the film.
Many viewers were likely left wondering about the significance of the final shot, which pans to a photograph on the hotel wall featuring Jack at the center of a 1921 party. The shot has posited several interpretations, including that he has been absorbed into the Overlook Hotel. Sadly, the sequel film, Doctor Sleep, only confounded the confusion for many.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Written, directed, and produced by fashion designer Tom Ford, the neo-noir psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals generates 6,600 searches from audiences trying to unpick the film’s meaning.
The film sees Jake Gyllenhall play both former husband and fictional novel protagonist as Amy Adams reels from her crumbling marriage, hoping to rekindle their relationship.
The third of Nolan’s films to appear on the list, Interstellar has audiences searching for an explanation for the movie 7,100 times a month on average.
The film relies on heavy theoretical scientific concepts to make sense of its space travel plot points. It also has an extensive run time of 2 hours 49 minutes, likely contributing to many wondering how it all fits together.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Starting the top five is David Lynch’s surrealist mystery thriller, which has audiences searching 9,700 times a month for an explanation of the film’s meaning.
The film follows the story of Betty, who befriends a woman with amnesia following a car crash. The film was originally pitched as a TV pilot (Lynch also created the bewildering Twin Peaks), which executives rejected, and Lynch later created an ending to create the feature.
The stylized look of the movie and the lack of explanation around the narrative by the director leaves Mulholland Drive largely open to interpretation by its audience.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s psychological thriller takes the fourth spot, with 18,000 searches every month for an explanation of the film’s story.
A baby-faced Jake Gyllenhaal leads as troubled titular character Donnie, who has visions of a figure donning a rabbit costume telling him that the world will end in 28 days. The movie concludes with sci-fi elements such as a time travel vortex influencing preceding events. That makes for a confusing initial viewing that seems to require some explanation or a second watch for many.
Shutter Island (2010)
Taking the third spot is Scorsese’s Shutter Island which receives 31,000 searches per month as people look for an explanation for the plot.
The story follows US Marshall Teddy Daniels as he investigates the disappearance of a patient from a psychiatric facility, only to uncover a series of strange things going on among the island’s residents.
The film has audiences second-guessing who they can trust and ends with a climactic twist that seems to have people struggling to separate the good guys from the bad guys.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Charlie Kaufman’s psychological thriller seals second place, with viewers searching for an explanation for this film 50,000 times a month on average.
The Netflix original intertwines the story of a couple visiting their parents’ farm with shots of an elderly janitor working in a high school. Later they join these narratives together for some abstract visual storytelling that is never quite explained to the viewer.
The last of Nolan’s films to feature in the list, Tenet takes the top spot as the most confusing movie of all time according to viewers, who search for an explanation for the film 70,000 times a month on average.
The time-twisting thriller received a mixed reception from audiences during its release two years ago, sparking a divide partly due to its audio mixing and convoluted story. It left many wondering what the characters were saying and what the film was about.
Conclusion – What Confusing Movie to Watch?
Sometimes you’re looking for a movie with different layers to figure out. Other times you’re just looking for a fun movie to watch, and you want to avoid confusing movies altogether.
One thing is for sure if you’re looking for something interesting to watch and don’t mind being confused, watching one of the movies on the list will be a fun ride.
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Marjolein is the founder of Radical FIRE. She has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance. Radical FIRE is a personal finance blog that helps you live your dream life through making more money and investing. We want you to reach your financial goals and have fun while doing it!