Christopher Nolan’s Inception has had a legacy of becoming a slick and trippy experience of an action film. The very premise was a mind-bending ordeal of a special team delving into a man’s dreams within dreams to plant an idea that will change the world. The deeper they proceed into the dreams, the tougher the mission and the more likely one could lose their sense of what is reality and what is a dream. The film’s surreal nature poses deep questioning of just what is real and how aware we are of our own world. Here are 10 films of a similar nature to additionally consider when it comes to reality-altering thrillers.
It is perhaps one of the most iconic we-live-in-a-simulation movies and for good reason. The Wachowski siblings directed one of the most mesmerizing marriages of sci-fi and action, inspired by a number of genre pictures. The film followed the unlikely hero of Neo (Keanu Reeves) when he discovers that his entire existence up to adulthood has been controlled by machines. Awakened from his sleep, Neo leads the few remaining awakened humans on an adventure in and out of the simulation to stop the sinister robots and programming that imprisoned them for many years. The film is most comparable to Inception for both its reality twisting aspects and the gravity-defying action sequences. The influence of The Matrix was bold enough on its own to inspire many philosophical books on questioning our existence, in addition to the array of parodies for its incredible bullet-time sequences of slow-motion action. So successful was the film that it led to the sequels of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, in addition to the animated anthology of The Animatrix.
Ghost in the Shell
Of course, if we’re talking about The Matrix, you can’t leave out Ghost in the Shell, one of the most blatant inspirations. Based on the iconic comic book series, the movie takes place in a future where all human beings have digital brains amid other cybernetic parts. However, when those brains are easily hacked and cybernetic parts become manipulated, different security is required. Section 9, led by the cold Motoko Kusanagi, investigates such matters. But considering Motoko is more machine than woman, she finds herself losing touch with what it is to be alive. And when she encounters a being born from the programming of the internet, her questioning of existence is further complicated. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell is a mixture of both philosophical questioning on what it means to be human when so much of ourselves are dependent on technology and exciting action sequences of cloaked assassins and destructive tanks. The film became such an icon of anime that it would expand into TV series, TV specials, and the sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
Based on a novel by Phillip K. Dick, Total Recall takes place in the future where humans can now enjoy vacations more as memory implants than going through all the hassle of the physical experience. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds himself interested in having such an experience and opts for the procedure. But when the procedure goes awry after requesting a spy vacation, he starts to question just who he really is as dangerous men pursue him to Mars. Pumped with exciting action scenes and an ambiguous questioning of existence throughout, Total Recall has become one of Schwarzenegger’s most high-concept films for both its amazing visual effects and its constant questioning of what is real when everyone seems to be telling him different things. The film additionally stars Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox.
The future is organic in David Cronenberg’s creepy and gross-out sci-fi mystery of eXistenZ. In this weird world, video game systems have now become organic devices that attach themselves to the user’s spine for the ultimate in immersive gameplay. But when one of the game designers, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), seeks protection after being targeted by an assassin, the businessman Ted (Jude Law) finds himself acting as a bodyguard as he follows Allegra into a twisted world of virtual reality. The game world seems apparent at first until so many elements start to bleed and confuse, where Ted finds himself trapped in an altered reality of guns assembled from bones and people who speak in repeated chains of dialogue. As a mixture of body horror and sci-fi mystery, eXistenZ becomes all the more intriguing a tale as it continues to warp reality amid grotesque sequences of living game consoles and human bodies being turned into mushy outlets for electrical desires. If Cronenberg’s Videodrome questioned our influence of television on the mind, eXistenZ does the same for video games.
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) finds himself as a murderer in a city. The problem is that he can’t remember even committing the murders. In fact, he can’t seem to recall much of anything up to the point where he awakened in a hotel to the chilling realization. As John digs deeper into finding out what really happens, he uncovers far more than just a murder case. He finds that the city he has been occupying has been entirely orchestrated by a group of beings known as the Strangers, who constantly reshape and retool everything and everyone in the city after every night. Dark City not only asks if our lives are being controlled but if we’ve been the subject of a reset button many times over.
Director Duncan Jones is behind this time-altering thriller. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself engaged with a secret military project that distorts reality. He is given the opportunity to experience the last few moments of Sean Fentress’s life before he died in a train explosion. With each death, Colter comes ever closer to solving the mystery behind who staged such a bombing. But the closer he comes to the answer, he may just find a way to prevent the bombing from ever occurring at all. That success all depends on how properly he can utilize his time in this ticking-clock thriller with sci-fi peppering. The film additionally stars Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.
Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) was a prisoner who faced time for killing the man who murdered his family. He is given a second chance when tasked with bringing justice to a virtual reality environment by tracking down and stopping the computer-generated criminal of SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe), modeled after a number of different and dangerous criminals. But when SID finds a way out of his world and ventures into our own, Parker needs to track down this artificial creation of terror before he can pursue a violent spree in our own world as technology becomes the killer. Directed by Brett Leonard, the film acts as both a dangerous story of technology gone awry and questioning the tinkering of virtual realities.
Based on the comic book series by Robert Venditti, Surrogates depicts a future where humans have resorted to living in the outside via body doubles known as Surrogates. With these artificial bodies, people can enter a world free from the pains of death. This would seem to create a perfect society but then a mystery series of real deaths start popping up in the community. With this mysterious development, it’s up to FBI Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) to solve the case. In order to crack this conspiracy, however, he’ll have to do his work outside of a Surrogate, putting his own body on the line in a world that has placed less value in themselves when armed with robotic bodies, operated safely in their homes. The film additionally stars Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, and Ving Rhames.
A Scanner Darkly
In yet another adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly is a drug-induced haze of a thriller. Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves) works as an undercover cop trying to bust up a drug operation. To do so, however, Robert requires a reality-distorting suit that is constantly changing his physical appearance to prevent the public from knowing his true identity. Among the drug users he hangs with, Robert finds himself becoming an addict himself and going so deep into the world of psychedelics. The film, directed by Richard Linklater, is made all the more surreal thanks to the wild animation of rotoscoping the actors. The all-star cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, and Rory Cochrane.
The future of video gaming takes a darker turn when real human lives are transformed into avatars. In this dystopian tale, death row inmate Kable (Gerard Butler) finds himself being electronically manipulated by a geeky gamer to become the top player in Slayer. But when Kable is released from being a slave of technological entertainment, it’s up to this tough prisoner to lead a revolution against a society that has turned human beings into a product, used for either violent combat or sexual interactions. With incredibly frenetic direction by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the film is a fast-paced and gritty ride of how easy it is for humanity to become wrapped up in simulations when not considering who such vices affect.