Some films lack feel-good moments, while other well-crafted films know how to stir emotions. Once viewed, these movies leave behind a lingering sense of dread and despair. These are not the types of movies you watch for cheerful escapism, but instead, they strike a decidedly unsettling cord and have you reaching for your therapist's number.
1. Funny Games (2007)
When two conspicuously polite young men visit a vacationing middle-class family, things soon take a horrific turn as their true intentions come into focus. The most disturbing part about this flick is the seeming accessibility of escape and the seeming lack of a motive from the two antagonists. Seriously, watch this one and remember: don't talk to strangers.
2. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Before the powers that be killed him in his sleep, Fred Hampton was a 21-year-old revolutionary on the verge of uniting local gangs for a truly effective campaign against racial injustice. Judas and the Black Messiah takes a look at the way one undercover FBI agent infiltrated the Black Panthers to mess that all up.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
Released in 2001, Donnie Darko swirls together elements of sci-fi, teen drama, and existentialism for a film that can be funny, haunting, and intellectually challenging. The flick didn't do too well at the box office, but its inventive script and a strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal helped make it a cult classic.
4. Akira (1988)
With futuristic gangs, creepy child psychics, macabre violence, and themes of metaphysics, Akira is a whole lot to take in, and much of that is troubling. Luckily, it's just as entertaining, which is a big reason why the animated cyberpunk action movie is one of the most iconic in anime history.
5. The Matrix (1999)
So much about The Matrix suddenly feels far too… real. The red pills, the blue pills, the rise of machines (and machine learning), humans voluntarily living digital existences while humans are mined of their life force. These are just a few Matrix-derived terms and themes that don't seem as “thought-provoking” and “edgy” as they did in 1999. They seem downright predictive at this point.
6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Truly one of the most off-putting movies you will ever watch, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange will turn your stomach for reasons you can't ever quite put your finger on. Protagonist Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) leads a band of pillaging miscreants in a dystopian future England. When caught and sentenced, the film turns into a thought-control state that only heightens the madness.
7. Limitless (2011)
Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, might be seen as a cautionary tale easily translated to the “smart drugs” that power so many American brains today. In a society where everything is at your fingertips, and plenty of drugmakers promise to 10x your productivity, we might be wise to watch Limitless again.
8. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
In the vein of A Clockwork Orange, the animated film A Scanner Darkly is the product of the same revered sci-fi author who wrote the book on which Blade Runner is based. A trippy venture into a not-so-distant future where surveillance rules all and a hyper-hallucinogenic drug is wreaking havoc on the population's collective psyche, A Scanner Darkly is about as unnerving as mainstream films get.
Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and Woody Harrelson appear, but the star power will be little solace to those who thought they'd be watching just another “animated” movie.
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Mescaline, absinthe, LSD, and every other intoxicating substance under the sun mixed with the gonzo mind of Hunter S. Thompson. What could go wrong?
The hyperbizarre Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is meant to keep you on your toes, and it certainly is not a warm-and-fuzzy kind of film.
10. Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher's cult classic Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, will make you question what is real and perhaps even what it means to be sane. That's not the ideal film choice for anyone who feels teetering on the edge of emotional stability.
11. Joker (2019)
The psychological thriller Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, truly embraces the ethos of dark comedy. This means you will get plenty of the dark if you want the comedy. Mostly, though, Joker is just dark.
12. Signs (2002)
With all the UFO reports populating headlines daily, M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is the unwelcomed answer to a pressing question: What if the aliens aren't our buddies?
If you're inclined to believe that a real-life close encounter of the third kind might be in the cards shortly, Signs might not be the best choice for movie night.
13. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in this Academy Award-winning film about two recently single people dealing with mental illnesses. On the advice of his therapist, Pat (Cooper) always looks for the good, or silver linings, in life.
14. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Despite having the appearances of a romantic comedy, (500) Days of Summer will constantly remind viewers that it is not a romantic comedy. Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star as we examine their romantic relationship's rise, downfall, and fallout through nonlinear storytelling.
15. Happiness (1998)
Often referred to by fans as the best movie they never want to see again, Happiness is a pitch-black comedy that isn't afraid to look into the depths of human depravity.
16. Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese's classic features Robert De Niro as an unstable taxi driver. The film greatly inspired Todd Philips as he wrote the script of Joker.
17. You Were Never Really Here (2017)
The second Joaquin Phoenix film on the list, this 2017 movie sees Phoenix's character trying to find purpose in a depraved world. It's only 90 minutes, but they're an incredibly intense 90 minutes that never let up.
18. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, is a surreal mystery about a young woman who was in a car crash, but she can't remember anything leading up to the crash. She teams up with an up-and-coming actress to find out the answers, but as the story continues, it gets darker and more twisted.
19. Mother! (2017)
In a secluded mansion lives a man with his wife. As time passes for the two, life gets stranger and stranger as people start coming to the mansion, eventually professing their love and devotion to the man. It is one of the wildest movies in recent years and will have you questioning the entire movie.