Who doesn’t love seeing an utterly bizarre and inexplicable film every once in awhile? Luckily, the cinema world has provided us with countless films that are surreal and insane in nature. We narrowed them down to the weirdest of the weird. From iconic directors like David Lynch and Harmony Korine to underground indie filmmakers, creatives out there have put the work into creating some of the world’s strangest films. Some are old, some are new, some were hits, and others were flops. All of them are worth watching at least once, especially if you need some out-there creative inspiration.
Some of these films are pretty thought provoking in their weirdness, and others are straight up gory and gross. We’d suggest skipping the popcorn if you want to endure one of the gory ones.
Beware of some spoilers that lie ahead and prepare yourself for The 15 Weirdest Movies of All Time.
David Lynch is considered by many to be the father of modern weird cinema and has several films on this list, starting with the 1977 surrealist body horror movie Eraserhead. One of his masterpieces, Twin Peaks, would be number one on the list of strange television shows should we ever make one. His films Blue Velvet, Rabbits, Fire Walk With Me, and Mulholland Drive are also great weird movies.
Eraserhead starts off with The Man in The Planet pulling some levers in space while the head of a Henry Spencer (played by Jack Nance) floats above the clouds. A sperm monster escapes his mouth and floats away. A good start to a weird film.
There are many scenes in the film, which has a very loose plot, that are considered uncomfortable and disturbing–most famous is the disturbing appearance of Henry Spencer’s baby. The film definitely has a lot of body horror and nightmare elements., but it’s also been praised for its precise use of sound and aural landscape.
Harmony Korine is the mastermind behind out-there gems like Spring Breakers and Mister Lonely. Gummo is probably the director’s most well-known and surreal film to date.
This 1997 art drama film had a diversely weird cast that included a young Chloe Sevigny. The film is set in the slum town of Xenia, Ohio after it was hit by a destructive tornado. The theme is loose in nature and follows the lives of several characters. Their destructive and strange ways of dealing with their boredom is the main plot point. The film features vignettes of other citizens of the town as well.
The characters range from bizarre to straight up terrible. Bunny Boy is a mute child that wears pink bunny ears and no shirt. Tummler is a horrible teen boy who kills cats for fun and huffs glue. There’s also a man who pimps out his sister, a child molester, a tennis player with ADD, and skinheads. The film explores a wide range of issues that include drug abuse, mental illness, poverty, and racism.
This 1983 Canadian science fiction film with body horror elements was directed by David Cronenberg and stars a young James Woods and Debbie Harry (of Blondie fame).
The film is set in Canada sometime in the ’80s. The chief executive officer and producer of a television station named Max (Woods) discovers a broadcast signal depicting extreme disturbing violence and gore. He becomes obsessed with finding the source of the signal and is thrown into a massive deceptive conspiracy involving mind control. All the while, Max is enduring increasingly bizarre hallucinations that are violent in nature. The plot cycles through many layers and has quite a few ultra disturbing scenes.
The film is considered a modern surrealist film with tech elements, dubbed “techno-surrealist”. Videodrome did very poorly commercially upon its release, but did receive mostly positive reviews. The film was even novelized by Dennis Etchison and several directors have expressed interest in creating a modern remake of the film.
12. Naked Lunch
This 1991 science fiction drama is an adaptation of the even stranger (and more amazing) novel by William S. Burroughs of the same name, as well as parts of his other works. The project was a co-production between filmmakers in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. The result was an utterly surreal, ugly, and somewhat humorous film. David Cronenberg, the director of Videodrome, also directed the adaptation. So he’s in the lead for “Weirdest Director” so far.
Naked Lunch follows William Lee, a pest control worker whose wife uses his insecticide as a recreational drug. He hallucinates various alien-like and roach-like creatures and accidentally murders his wife after a game of William Tell. He flees to a place called Interzone to escape murder charges. There, he encounters doppelgängers, horrific mutations, and other strange things. The story is loosely based on real events that Burroughs experienced as a drug addict and many characters are based on other beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
11. Funky Forest: The First Contact
Don’t watch this 2005 Japanese bizarre comedy film if you’re expecting a clear and concise plot. The film is by far one of the weirdest films out there. The cast included surprisingly big names, including Rinko Kikuchi from Pacific Rim and Tabanobu Asano from Ichi the Killer.
The film follows the lives of different people who all end up being connected in some way, including an audiophile, a guitar player, a portly white boy, and a disinterested girl. Animated scenes are mixed with scenes of two men in white suits arguing before an audience. The first half of the movie is fairly tame but still odd, while the second half of the film catapults you into WTF City almost immediately after the intermission.
Funky Forest: The First Contact acquired quite a cult following in Japan and around the world, with screenshots of the film becoming memes across various image boards and social media. The film is easily accessible online and is absolutely worth watching once. But be prepared– the two hour and thirty minute runtime is no joke and the filmmakers even included an intermission counter halfway through the film.
10. Cat Soup
This experimental Japanese surrealist anime film was released in 2001 and directed by Tatsuo Sato. The film is based on the manga artwork by Nekojiru.
Cat Soup follows Nyako and her brother Nyatta, two anthropomorphic kittens that embark on a journey to the land of the dead and back. Half of Nyako’s soul is stolen by a bodhisattva and, although she is alive, she remains in a vacant, catatonic state. Using clues left by the bodhisattva, the two kittens travel to the land of the dead to retrieve the other half of Nyaka’s soul. They encounter a bunch of really strange characters, including a giant penguin full of weather, a cat-eating maniac, and an elephant made of water.
Cat Soup won an Excellence Prize at the 2001 Japan Media Arts Festival and a Best Short Film award at the 2001 Fantasia Festival. The film was generally well-received in Japan but remains somewhat obscure. It’s definitely worth hunting down.
This 2010 independent dark comedy horror film may not be the greatest film ever made, but it definitely has an original plot– the film is about a tire that gains consciousness and starts killing people with its psychic abilities. Are you sold yet?
Rubber was directed by Quentin Dupieux and is an English-language French film. In the film, set in the nineties, a tire named Robert comes to life and eventually learns how to get up and roll. After realizing that it can crush small things by running them over and kill large things with some sort of psychokinetic power, Robert goes on a killing spree across a desert in California. There are a lot of interesting characters in Rubber, including a sheriff who breaks the fourth wall and a murderous accountant.
The film made it all the way to Cannes and is notorious for being a “love it or hate it” kind of film, with half of critics expressing distaste for the film while the other half expresses admiration for the film. Rubber is considered an indie cult film and is inarguably one of a kind.
8. The Holy Mountain
Strange films go back pretty far, and this 1973 film is considered a vintage classic. The Holy Mountain is a Mexican-American surreal fantasy film that was written, directed, produced, scored, and edited by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Oh, and he also stars in the film.
In The Holy Mountain, several characters based on tarot cards and astrological signs embark on a journey of spiritual transformation led by an alchemist. The imagery in the film is crude, artistic, and disturbing. The film is based on Mount Analogue by Rene Daumal and Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross. Daumal died before finishing Mount Analogue, so Jodorowsky improvised the ending. The film was praised for its psychedelic visuals and art direction.
While the film is weird, the circumstances surrounding its creation were also very strange. Before beginning principal photography for the film, Jodorowsky went seven days without sleep with the help of a Japanese zen master. He also used LSD throughout filming and distributed magic mushrooms to the other actors. It definitely shows.
7. Mulholland Drive
The second David Lynch film on our list is Mulholland Drive, a masterful American neo-noir mystery thriller from 2001. Justin Theroux and Naomi Watts star in this film with a very cryptic narrative. The film was originally supposed to be a television pilot, but after television executives rejected it, Lynch went ahead and produced it as a film.
In Mulholland Drive, an aspiring actress (Watts) arrives at her aunt’s home in Los Angeles. She meets a woman with amnesia who has been hiding in the apartment and helps her figure out her identity. There are many other vignettes that link together in the film as well as moments that are dark and disturbing in nature.
To this day, Lynch refuses to explain the cryptic ending or talk about his intention for the narrative, claiming that audiences should speculate for themselves what actually happened. The film seems nonsensical but feels very intentional, and will definitely make you think.
This 1989 gory American horror film from Brian Yuzna is a trip from beginning to end. Yuzna had previously produced the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator, another delightful film in a similar style to Society.
Society follows a wealthy high school student named Bill. After listening to a tape of what sounds like a violent orgy between his family members, Bill goes to a therapist. The therapist plays the tape, but what plays are totally normal sound and voices of his family. A friend of Bill’s confirms that the first tape was real, and the boy who gave it to Bill has been found dead. What ensues seems to be some kind of conspiracy that quickly descends into a surreal nightmare with shocking gore and mutating orgies.
5. Holy Motors
The film Holy Motors is one of the most thought-provoking films on this list. This 2012 French-German fantasy drama was directed by Leos Carax and features surrealist elements. It stars Denis Lavant and features Eva Mendes and Kyle Minogue in bizarre roles.
In Holy Motors, we meet a man named Oscar who leaves in a limousine to start his job. The nature of his job is mysterious and difficult to understand– throughout the day, he changes into various costumes and assumes different identities, which range from a disturbed red-haired kidnapper to a supportive father to a Chinese gangster. It is revealed that there are other people with this “job”. Carax described the film’s theme as a look into virtual reality and how the Internet era has made identity more and more slippery to define.
4. Black Moon
This 1975 French-German avant-garde film was directed by Louis Malle and filmed in English. Also, there’s a unicorn.
In Black Moon, the earth is in the midst of a gendered war between men and women. Lily attempts to escape the war by fleeing to the countryside, where she encounters some strange events. She meets a man who cannot speak but can communicate through touch. Naked children round up farm animals. Lily is breastfed by another woman. The unicorn shows up. Lily breastfeeds the unicorn. A great film for the whole family!
Black Moon is considered a critique of gendered oppression and the surreal fears that young girls have when they descend into adolescence. The film received mixed reviews and did not find much popularity. The film has been praised for being both baffling and funny, while negative reviews for the film expressed distaste for the perceived themes of beastiality and its uncomfortable nature.
3. In My Skin
If you think you have a bad habit, it probably (and hopefully) doesn’t compare to In My Skin‘s lead character. The 2002 New French Extremity film was directed by and stars Marina de Van.
In My Skin follows Esther, a young woman with a pleasant life and a loving boyfriend. Esther goes to a party with her peers and accidentally injures her leg. The injury is pretty bad, but it doesn’t seem to bother Esther, who goes out drinking with her friends and doesn’t go to the doctor until the next day. Esther descends into some sort of mental downward spiral in which she is addicting initially to picking at her wound and eventually to mutilating different parts of her body. Does it get worse? It sure does! Esther eventually begins preserving pieces of flesh that she rips off of herself for fun.
Greece doesn’t get a lot of recognition for films. This 2009 Greek surreal film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is definitely interesting, if not perplexing.
The film follows the story of a couple and their three grown children who live in a fenced compound. It becomes clear that the siblings have never seen the outside world. Their parents claim that they can leave once they lose a “dogtooth” (incisor tooth) and acquire a car. The sibling pass the time by playing competitive physical games and sneakily rewatching Rocky IV.
While it is obvious that keeping your children in a compound is abusive, it also becomes clear that the parents use violence to punish their children. Throughout the film, we see very strange depictions of incest and violence. Luckily one of the sisters gets a chance to escape, but it is hard to finish the movie feeling good about it at all.
If the outfits in this film don’t make you want to watch it, the insane plot definitely will. This 1974 Irish-American science fiction fantasy film was directed by John Boorman and stars a very furry Sean Connery.
In Zardoz, a post-apocalyptic Earth is composed of immortals and humans, called Eternals and Brutals respectively. Brutals live in an ugly wasteland and produce food for the Eternals, who live in a luxurious estate. Brutals often fight against one another, and a giant flying head called Zardoz supplies these exterminator Brutals with weaponry. Zed (Connery) is an intelligent rebel who seeks to end the Eternals’ tyranny.
The film inspired a DC Comics character (Vart0x) and the Zardoz head founds its way into pop culture. However, a lot of people hated Zardoz when it was released, citing its self-indulgent plot and pompous themes as unpleasant to sit through. While the film has its flaws, its eccentric flair and hilarious costume design will have you engaged at the very least. Go forth, and watch! Zardoz has spoken.