This list was updated April 8, 2016 to reflect Netflix’s current offerings.
Are you getting tired of Gilmore Girls yet? Do you need something to watch that will (maybe) mess your brain up a little? Lucky for you, Netflix Instant is chock-full of mind-bending movies. Whether you’re looking for a time-traveling sci-fi love story or an animated philosophical ramble, these are the films that will make you scream at your laptop, “What the hell is going on?” In the best way possible, of course. (We’ll update this list as titles are added and removed.)
Holy Motors (2012)
Written and directed by French filmmaker Leos Carax, Holy Motors is composed of tiny vignettes strung together by the same protagonist. The film stars the director’s longtime muse Denis Lavant as “The Sleeper,” an actor whose gigs are mysterious real-life roles booked throughout his extremely busy day. Donning different outfits and makeup, which he changes in the privacy of his giant limousine, we follow “The Sleeper” as he becomes the consoling father of a shy teenage girl, an elderly dying man, and a model-kidnapping monster named Monsieur Merde. Whether everyone in Holy Motors’ world is an actor, each jumping from set to set and script to script, is unclear, but that’s what’s great about a film this beautifully bizarre.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a wacky fairy tale to begin with, but somehow, Czech animator Jan Švankmajer managed to make it even stranger. Alice’s “Wonderland” is a disturbing and dirty landscape, populated by all sorts of creepy-crawly stop-motion figures like taxidermied animals and broken dolls. Is Alice for kids? If your kids love nightmares, then give it a go. Otherwise, this bonkers art-house gem is probably better suited for older audiences.
The One I Love (2014)
Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a married couple who spend a weekend in an especially eerie, therapist-recommended resort. Directed by Charlie McDowell, The One I Love pushes the mumblecore relationship talk of most Duplass brothers movies into genuinely uncanny territory. You might see the twists coming, but The One I Love embraces their emotional implications, turning out something all the more fucked up and real.
Enter the Void (2009)
If you can’t make it through its mind-numbing, potentially seizure-inducing neon credit sequence, you might not be able to get through Enter the Void. Written and directed by the Argentine “New French Extremist” Gaspar Noé, the movie is about the death of a drug dealer named Oscar and how he views the world during an out-of-body experience. He floats above Tokyo, the viewer with him, as he peers into the lives of his damaged sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and the wildly messed-up world of drugs and sex he once was a part of. Noé basically thought up the movie on mushrooms, so that should just about explain this gorgeous and trippy flick.
Mr. Nobody (2009)
In this film, Jared Leto plays 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, the oldest man on Earth. Even though humankind in this future has invented immortality through stem-cell research, Mr. Nobody is still slowing edging towards death and trying to remember his life for a curious public. The film fluctuates between three major points in his life: his parents’ divorce, his first love, and the adulthood of his mid-30s. But his memories often change course, leaving viewers with a variety of potential outcomes. The film’s crazy time-jumping story line is definitely worth a watch, as are the compelling, romantic trials of Nemo Nobody.
Antichrist is a deliciously messed up Lars von Trier movie that will make you squirm, cower, and continually pause it to argue about the movie with your viewing partners. After the death of their only son, “He” (Willem Dafoe) and “She” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreat to a seemingly enchanted woods — where foxes whisper things like “chaos reigns” to passersby and hands protrude from trees — to work on their marriage. But when She starts becoming more and more obsessed with her thesis studies on misogyny and witchcraft, she lashes out at her husband in volatile ways. The film is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s biblical tone and crazy story line will surely keep you in your seat.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
A dying man reflects on his life, which is to say that he reflects on all of life, at least according to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme d’Or winning take on death and reincarnation. The man is visited by the ghost of his wife, and later, by his son (in the form of what appears to be a gorilla). Don’t try to cling to the plot. In Weerasethakul’s vision, everything exists at once, and clinging to the singular means missing so much more.
Upstream Color (2013)
The sophomore feature from Shane Carruth is even more oblique than his indie time-travel movie Primer. Henry David Thoreau, mind-melding with pigs, unnatural flora, hypnosis, the nature of love — if you end up liking this movie, there’s no way you won’t want to see it a second time to puzzle out its mysteries.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick’s erotic freak-fest and final film follows Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) after she admits she had intense sexual fantasies about another man a year earlier. What follows is a staggering amount of sex, an infamous prolonged orgy scene, and a whole lotta weird rituals. Grab a mask.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Director Paul Thomas Anderson saw how Adam Sandler could work as a serious actor, and in return Sandler delivered complexity in conflicted protagonist Barry Egan, switching between ferocious outbursts and timid musings with ease. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also shows up as a crazed sex-hotline and mattress store owner, which is always a good thing (but especially so in a movie this surreal).
Additional writing by Devon Ivie.