Some movies are so profound, heart-wrenching, or moving that they deeply affect us on the first watch, but we never want to go on that cinematic trip again. We scoured an online movie forum filled with film buffs to find the top 25 films cinephiles only saw once but have stayed with them ever since.
1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Director David Lynch weaves a mesmerizing tale of dreams and reality in this enigmatic neo-noir film. Following the story of an aspiring actress who arrives in Los Angeles with amnesia, the film ventures into the dark underbelly of Hollywood.
As identities blur and the narrative takes surreal twists, viewers are left captivated by the haunting imagery and a puzzle-like narrative that invites endless interpretation.
2. Hereditary (2018)
Ari Aster's directorial debut delivers a chilling and unsettling exploration of family secrets and inherited trauma. The film follows the Graham family, who grapple with a series of tragic events after the death of their secretive grandmother.
With exceptional performances and an atmosphere of dread, Hereditary expertly blends psychological horror and supernatural elements, leaving viewers with haunting imagery and lingering questions about the darkness that can dwell within families.
I watched Hereditary once in 2018, and I feel like I never need to see it again after the disturbing imagery I witnessed. However, it made a lasting impression, given that its unbearably unsettling tone has fundamentally transformed the horror genre.
3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Nicholas Cage delivers a raw and intense performance in this powerful drama. The film revolves around Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic screenwriter who moves to Las Vegas with the intention of drinking himself to death. As he forms an unlikely bond with a prostitute named Sera, their relationship becomes a poignant exploration of loneliness, addiction, and the fleeting nature of human connections.
This unflinching portrayal of self-destruction involves a lot of ugly, tragic, and painful moments that stick with you, with no real redemption, making a second watch unnecessary.
4. Hard Candy (2005)
Hard Candy is a psychological thriller about manipulation and vigilante justice. Hayley, a teenage girl, meets Jeff, an older man she suspects of being a child predator. What starts as a seemingly innocent encounter quickly turns into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.
The film tackles disturbing subject matter with a taut script, intense performances, and an unsettling examination of power dynamics, forcing viewers to grapple with their own judgments and moral compass. A few viewers say this movie “scarred them.”
5. Perfume: Story of a Murderer (2006)
Based on the acclaimed novel, this dark and atmospheric film follows the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a perfume apprentice in 18th-century France with a unique talent for capturing scents. Driven by an obsessive desire to create the perfect perfume, Grenouille embarks on a macabre journey that leads him to commit heinous acts. Perfume is a visually stunning exploration of obsession, artistry, and the fine line between genius and madness. An Alan Rickman fan who was drawn into the movie by his mere casting insists they think about this intense movie often but can't bear to watch it again.
6. Martyrs (2008)
A French horror film that pushes boundaries, Martyrs tells the story of Lucie, a young woman who seeks revenge on the people who kidnapped and tortured her as a child. What begins as a revenge tale evolves into a harrowing exploration of suffering, transcendence, and the existence of an afterlife.
With its graphic and disturbing imagery, Martyrs challenges viewers to confront their limits and grapple with profound philosophical questions. The film is hard to watch the first time due to its graphic, cruel violence, let alone a second time. The film is controversial for its graphic portrayal of brutalization which many viewers believe was unnecessarily horrific.
7. Irreversible (2002)
Directed by Gaspar Noé, Irreversible is an unflinching and nonlinear tale of revenge and its consequences. The film follows two men, Marcus and Pierre, as they seek revenge for the brutal sexual assault of Marcus' girlfriend. Through a series of long takes and a reversed narrative structure, the film forces viewers to confront the unsettling nature of violence and its lasting impact on the psyche.
Much like Martyrs, Irreversible features a lot of graphic violence, but it also has a notably long, unbearable scene that depicts sexual assault.
8. Come and See (1985)
Set during World War II, this Soviet war film directed by Elem Klimov portrays the devastating impact of the German invasion on a young Belarusian boy named Florya. Through Florya's eyes, viewers witness the horrors of war, the loss of innocence, and the dehumanizing nature of conflict.
Come and See is known as the quintessential anti-war film because of the way it chooses to highlight the atrocities of war. Its visceral and unflinching depiction of violence and suffering is a stark reminder of the human cost of war, which the viewer can't escape, forcing them to grapple with the consequences of military action.
9. Mother! (2017)
Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller unfolds as an allegorical tale that delves into themes of creation, devotion, and the destructive nature of fame. The film revolves around a couple, referred to simply as “Mother” and “Him,” whose tranquil existence is disrupted when uninvited guests invade their home.
Mother! is a deeply symbolic and unsettling experience, with its allegorical layers prompting viewers to contemplate themes of environmental degradation, religious symbolism, and the cyclical nature of existence. This movie will trigger your fight or flight response, with many viewers citing feelings of anxiety, suffering, and mania the film imposes on them as reasons why they haven't ever watched it again.
10. The Lobster (2015)
Yorgos Lanthimos presents a surreal and darkly comedic dystopian world where being single is strictly prohibited. In this bizarre society, single adults are sent to a hotel to find a romantic partner within 45 days, or they will be transformed into an animal of their choice.
The Lobster satirizes societal expectations and the absurdity of love and relationships, leaving viewers with thought-provoking commentary on conformity, identity, and the lengths people will go to find companionship. While the film is poignant, witty, and hilarious, at times, it can be disturbing and feel too to finish. It's difficult for many viewers to get through and is a polarizing film, so it's not one for repeated viewings.
11. Tusk (2014)
Written and directed by Kevin Smith, Tusk is a horror-comedy that tells the macabre tale of a podcaster who becomes the victim of a deranged man's twisted experiment. As the podcaster is transformed into a walrus, the film utilizes body horror to explore notions of identity and the limits of humanity. By blending dark humor with disturbing imagery, Kevin Smith creates a truly unbearable watch. I had to pause several times to collect myself and question the ramifications of my choices. It is terrible the entire way through, and I hope never to see it again.
12. Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg's poignant and powerful masterpiece, Schindler's List, is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of over a thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Through stunning black-and-white cinematography and compelling performances, the film explores themes of heroism, redemption, and the darkest depths of human cruelty.
Schindler's List is an emotionally charged and unforgettable film that prompts deep reflection on the resilience of the human spirit and the atrocities of genocide, but it's an emotionally taxing journey revolving around some of the darkest periods of human history.
13. Antichrist (2009)
Lars von Trier's provocative and controversial film, Antichrist, examines the disintegration of a couple's relationship as they retreat to a remote cabin in the woods after the death of their child. As their grief turns into a descent into madness, the film explores themes of grief, sexuality, and the inherent evil within humanity.
Antichrist is visually striking and emotionally harrowing, leaving viewers unsettled and contemplating its disturbing imagery and profound psychological themes. There's one scene in particular that solidified my never watching it again, and if you ever watch it, you'll know exactly which one I'm talking about.
14. The Lighthouse (2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse is a mesmerizing psychological horror film set in the late 19th century. It follows two lighthouse keepers who descend into madness while isolated on a remote island. With its stunning black-and-white cinematography, atmospheric tension, and powerhouse performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse immerses viewers in a claustrophobic and surreal experience.
15. Saint Maud (2019)
Saint Maud, directed by Rose Glass, is a psychological horror film that tells the story of a devoutly religious nurse who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of her terminally ill patient. As her obsession intensifies, the boundaries between devotion and madness blur, leading to a climactic and unsettling finale.
Saint Maud is a chilling exploration of faith, obsession, and the fine line between spirituality and delusion. With its atmospheric tension, striking visuals, and a standout performance by Morfydd Clark, the film leaves viewers haunted by its exploration of religious fervor and psychological unraveling.
16. Happiness (1998)
Directed by Todd Solondz, Happiness is a dark comedy that interweaves the lives of several suburban individuals, each grappling with their inner demons and struggles for happiness. With a blend of humor and discomfort, the film delves into taboo subjects such as predation, sexual frustration, and existential despair. Happiness challenges societal norms and provokes introspection, leaving viewers with a lingering sense of unease and a complex examination of human desires and the pursuit of happiness.
17. It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
Don Hertzfeldt's animated film presents the life of Bill, a stick figure character suffering from an unnamed mental illness. Through a series of vignettes, the film explores Bill's fragmented reality, grappling with themes of memory, mortality, and the fleeting nature of existence. With its hand-drawn animation and introspective storytelling, the film evokes a profound emotional response and invites contemplation on the fragility of life and the human experience.
One film buff on a movie forum thinks It's Such a Beautiful Day is as good as it gets for meeting these criteria. While people will be tempted to name a lot of shock films, the ending of this film got them to think things over and pushed them into mindfulness, even influencing them to explore the Middle East and Africa, in part, because of this movie.
18. I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Adapted from the novel by Iain Reid and directed by Charlie Kaufman, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is a mind-bending exploration of identity, memory, and the nature of reality. The film follows a young woman who accompanies her boyfriend on a trip to visit his parents, only to find herself trapped in a surreal and unsettling experience. With its nonlinear narrative and existential themes, I'm Thinking of Ending Things challenges viewers' perceptions of reality with its bleak and confusing imagery.
19. Anomalisa (2015)
Co-directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is a stop-motion animated film that delves into themes of loneliness, connection, and the human condition. The film follows Michael Stone, a disillusioned customer service expert who perceives everyone around him as having the same face and voice, except for one anomaly. With its meticulously crafted animation and introspective storytelling, Anomalisa explores the complexities of human relationships and leaves us contemplating the nature of individuality and the search for meaningful connections.
20. Midsommar (2019)
Directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is a visually stunning and emotionally intense folk horror film. It follows a group of friends who travel to a remote Swedish village to participate in a midsummer festival, only to find themselves immersed in a sinister and increasingly disturbing cult.
Through its striking visuals, atmospheric tension, and themes of grief and emotional catharsis, Midsommar lingers in the mind, inviting reflection on toxic relationships, cultural rituals, and the boundaries of sanity. The opening scene is pretty brutal, as is the way her boyfriend's friends speak about Dani. Then there's that one messed-up scene that changes everything, and that other one, and that other one.
21. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
David Lynch's prequel to the cult television series Twin Peaks delves into the final days of Laura Palmer, a young woman whose murder serves as the central mystery of the show. The film explores Laura's descent into darkness, unraveling the secrets and trauma that haunt her life. With Lynch's signature surrealism and a haunting performance by Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me delves into the enigmatic world of Twin Peaks, leaving viewers with a haunting and perplexing meditation on trauma and the duality of human nature.
22. Joker (2019)
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker presents a dark and gritty origin story of the iconic Batman villain. The film follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill failed comedian who descends into madness and becomes the anarchic criminal mastermind known as Joker.
With Joaquin Phoenix delivering an unforgettable performance, Joker attempts to offer a chilling exploration of societal alienation, mental health, and the destructive power of a society that fails its most vulnerable. While the film achieves a gritty atmosphere and intense character study, I think its so-called thought-provoking social commentary falls flat. This one didn't live up to previous iterations of the Joker for me. I look forward to the sequel but will not rewatch this one.
23. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Based on the novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a young German boy whose father is a high-ranking SS officer. Set during World War II, the film explores the innocence of childhood juxtaposed with the horrors of the Holocaust as Bruno befriends a Jewish boy interned in a concentration camp. Through the eyes of a child, the film highlights the consequences of blind obedience and the tragedy of human divisions. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a haunting portrayal of the impact of war on young minds, leaving audiences with a profound sense of sorrow and contemplation and definitely tears streaming down their face.
24. 500 Days of Summer (2009)
Directed by Marc Webb, 500 Days of Summer presents a nonlinear narrative that deconstructs the romantic comedy genre. The film follows the ups and downs of Tom and Summer's relationship, dissecting the complexities of love, expectations, and the nature of memory. With its realistic portrayal of the joys and heartbreaks of romance, 500 Days of Summer resonates with viewers who reflect on their own experiences of love, rejection, and the challenges of navigating relationships in a world filled with uncertainties.
25. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies is known to be one of the most brutal Studio Ghibli movies of all time. The movie is set in World War II as two siblings have to find a way to survive as one of the biggest wars tears their country apart. A lot of people love this movie but say they were only able to watch it once because it was so heartbreaking.