Originality can sometimes seem in short supply. You’ve doubtlessly had the experience of going to a movie and feeling like you’d seen the story before, just under a different title. Other times, you probably felt as though you knew everything that was going to happen within the first five minutes. There is a theory that there are only seven basic plots in all of fiction, and that may account for some of it. Doubtlessly, though, Hollywood’s desire to give audiences what has already proven successful is the larger force at hand here.
Thankfully, every once in a while, a movie offers up something truly bizarre and new. Such plots can yield magic or disaster. Either way, it’s exciting to see them step off the beaten path, and we pay tribute to some of those brave films here.
For the sake of sanity, we’re sticking with pictures that have received mainstream theatrical release and avoiding the temptation to jump down the rabbit hole of obscure B-movies (a never ending rabbit hole if there ever was one). The titles that follow are of varying quality, but they all share the trait of having very odd stories to tell.
Here are the 15 Weirdest Movie Plots Of All Time.
15. Being John Malkovich
Anything from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman would qualify for this list, as he’s the reigning king of you’ve-never-seen-anything-like-this-before movie plots. Even better is that Kaufman brings a high level of quality to his work. Yes, his stories are fundamentally bizarre, but they are also intelligent and emotional.
Perhaps the weirdest of Kaufman’s tales is 1999’s Being John Malkovich. It’s the story of a depressed puppeteer (played by John Cusack) who discovers a hidden portal inside an office building. (A building with a Floor 7 1/2, no less.) Anyone who traverses that portal ends up inside the head of actor John Malkovich for fifteen minutes before getting spat out alongside the New Jersey turnpike.
Plots don’t come much kookier. Being John Malkovich uses its premise to explore a variety of themes, including celebrity, creativity, romance, the aging process, and the desire to live as someone else. The film was widely celebrated by both critics and audiences, and is viewed as a modern classic.
Sean Connery is associated with his outstanding work playing James Bond. His Oscar-winning turn in The Untouchables comes to mind as well, and for sci-fi fans, his work in Highlander is a highlight. Fans of weird cinema, however, cherish Zardoz, a 1974 science-fiction film directed by John Boorman and co-starring Charlotte Rampling. Connery’s unorthodox costume — a big red diaper — is only one of the strange sights on display.
Set in 2293, Connery plays Zed, a member of the Exterminators, a group of assassins. They take their orders from their god, Zardoz, who just happens to be a giant flying stone head. Zed has his doubts about the credibility of this deity, so he starts investigating. His skepticism turns out to be founded: Zardoz is actually the creation of a bunch of immortal beings, the “Eternals,” who merely want to control the masses. He sets out to expose them. In a red diaper. Oh, and did we mention Zed discovers that the name “Zardoz” is inspired by The Wizard of Oz? Because that totally happens.
13. The Human Centipede
Sometimes a movie becomes more famous for its plot than for its actual content. Tom Six’s The Human Centipede was far from a blockbuster, but even people who would never dream of watching the film know what it’s about. In fact, the whole premise caused quite a stir when the picture was released in 2009.
The awesomely-named Dieter Laser plays a deranged doctor who kidnaps three innocent people – one man and two women – in order to conduct a rather gruesome experiment. He sews his victims together, anus to mouth, so that they share one digestive tract. He calls this creation a “human centipede.” The film shows him nabbing his victims and conducting the procedure, then documents the attempt of these poor individuals to escape (which is impossible, since they’re sewn together). Most notably, The Human Centipede‘s plot makes sure to have the doctor feed the guy in front so that…well, you probably already know. Six followed up with two sequels that took the plot to even more stomach-churning extremes.
Kids’ movies by nature have a little more leeway when it comes to weird plots. Children like things that are sillier or more exaggerated than adults typically do. Still, some movies aimed at the wee ones get really out-there. One such example is Disney’s 2009 comedy G-Force, a film we’re pretty sure Zach Galifianakis wishes he could strike from his resume.
This the story of an evil tech billionaire (played by Bill Nighy) who schemes to take over the world by having all his products rise up and do his bidding. Working to stop him is a group of genetically-engineered guinea pigs with advanced secret agent skills. You read that right: guinea pigs. Galifianakis plays the government researcher who has spent years training them. Anyone who’s ever owned a guinea pig knows they don’t do a whole lot more than eat and poop. In G-Force, the animals act like furry little James Bonds, using high-tech gadgets and fighting villians with martial arts moves. One can only assume this movie was conceived under the influence of some pretty heavy duty drugs.
11. Night Shift
We tend to think of the 1980s as being a fairly conservative time. It was, after all, the era of Ronald Reagan. While it most certainly was a conservative decade in some respects, artistically speaking, the ’80s were actually pretty progressive. Quite a few of the movies released during that time could never be made today — or couldn’t be made the same way, at least — thanks to political correctness and changing social mores. One of them is 1982’s Night Shift.
Henry Winkler plays a former stockbroker who leaves Wall Street behind and ends up working in the New York City morgue. He teams up with unhinged coworker Michael Keaton to run a prostitution service out of their place of employment. During the day, autopsies are conducted. At night, tricks are turned, and the two self-made pimps rake in plenty of cold hard cash. In turning a morgue into a brothel, Night Shift makes you think of sex and death simultaneously, which is a pretty bold comic idea. It’s also somewhat hard to believe that a movie exists which plays prostitution for laughs. Even crazier is that the director of Night Shift is none other than Ron Howard.
10. Career Opportunities
There was an awkward period in John Hughes’ career. He’d gained fame writing intelligent, relatable teen movies. Then his Home Alone became one of the biggest box office hits ever to that point, and he started writing a bunch of dopey slapstick comedies that tried to mimic its success. Career Opportunities, which debuted in 1991, has a foot on both sides of the John Hughes fence.
The strange plot centers around a perpetual screw-up (played by Frank Whaley) who gets a last-chance job as “night cleanup boy” at Target. He’s locked in the store overnight, only to discover that his dream girl (Jennifer Connelly) fell asleep in the changing room after attempting to shoplift. They connect while roller skating through the aisles and trying on clothing. The plot then shifts tone as two dim-witted criminals break in. Whaley and Connelly have to comically foil these thieves.
Career Opportunities was a bit of a troubled production. Its release date was changed a few times, and there were heavy rewrites and reedits. (The original screenplay bears little resemblance to what actually ended up onscreen.) In the end, the movie is most notable for being about a guy spending the night in a Target.
9. Harry and the Hendersons
It seems unfathomable now, but in the 1970s, Bigfoot sightings were taken seriously. The nightly news reported on them, and there was a lot of public discussion as to whether Sasquatches could really exist. Children went to bed at night frightened that one of the big hairy creatures might be lurking outside their windows. These days, Bigfoot is fodder for a cheesy cable “reality” show (Finding Bigfoot), and that’s about it.
By 1987, Sasquatch mania had died down, but that didn’t stop writer/director William Dear from unleashing Harry and the Hendersons on the public. The movie takes a very comedic approach to its subject, telling the story of a nice suburban family that “adopts” Bigfoot after accidentally hitting him with their car. Yep, it’s a comedy about Bigfoot becoming domesticated. John Lithgow stars as the family patriarch who has to keep his new “child” safe from authorities, as well as a hunter determined to capture Bigfoot for his own gain.
Harry and the Hendersons was modestly successful at the box office. Who knows — had it done better, it might have inspired a sequel in which the Hendersons take in the Loch Ness Monster. We would have had to watch that one.
8. Q: The Winged Serpent
Q: The Winged Serpent, released in 1982, has one of the most gloriously weird plots in horror history. Michael Moriarty plays a lowlife criminal who hides in the peak of NYC’s Chrysler Building following a botched diamond heist. He discovers that a winged Aztec god known as Quetzalcoatl is perched up there. (One has to wonder which other New York landmarks might be hiding ancient creatures.) Occasionally, the beast leaves the safety of its metropolitan skyscraper to snack on people, though oddly, the authorities never seem to spot it. Moriarty, meanwhile, tries to extort money from the city in exchange for information about all the brutal “murders” taking place. And when he wants to get rid of someone, he simply guides them up to the massive nest where the thing feeds.
Q had some unlikely supporters, most notably veteran critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The latter used to tell a story about running into the movie’s producer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, at the Cannes Film Festival. “All that dreck,” Ebert said, “and right in the middle of it, a great method performance from Michael Mortiarty!” Arkoff’s reply: “The dreck was my idea.”
Ghostbusters is such a revered classic that it’s easy to forget how fundamentally bizarre the plot is. A bunch of scientists strap portable nuclear devices on their backs and use the streams from those gizmos to wrangle ghosts, which are then placed into little boxes for disposal. But wait, it gets even weirder! An evil god wants to rise, so it possesses the body of a young woman, eventually turning her into a demonic dog-like creature. Later, it uses mind control to force the scientists to summon a gigantic marshmallow man, which they must then defeat.
Trippy, right? Imagine being the studio head trying to decide whether to give that concept a green light. Of course, Ghostbusters is sublimely funny, and its weirdest plot elements are also kind of subversive. The movie mocks belief in the paranormal at the same time that it celebrates such belief. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. On screen, it works to perfection. This is one of those wondrous cases where weirdness yields magic.
6. The Big Lebowski
Joel and Ethan Coen are masters of intelligent silliness. Their comedies — which range from Raising Arizona to the recent Hail, Caesar! — feature exaggerated characters navigating outrageous situations. You laugh, but often there is a greater method to their madness. Coen movies are not filled with lowbrow, Adam Sandler-esque jokes. Instead, their gags are intricately crafted to catch you off guard, thereby generating bigger laughs.
That’s certainly true of 1998’s The Big Lebowski. The plot here is even weirder than normal. Jeff Bridges plays Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski, a bowling-loving stoner who is mistaken for a millionaire of the same name by some thugs who break into his apartment and urinate on his beloved rug. (As you may well know, the rug really ties the room together, hence his dismay.) The Dude then seeks out the rich Lebowski to demand restitution for the damage, with the help of his high-strung veteran bowling buddy, played by John Goodman.
5. Dude, Where’s My Car?
It is doubtful that anyone would describe 2000’s Dude, Where’s My Car? as a classic. That said, it’s kind of impressive how the movie’s plot goes from one sort of weirdness to another, completely different kind of weirdness. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, yet it’s one this stoner comedy pulls off.
Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott play potheads who wake up hungover and cannot remember where they left their vehicle. They go out in search of it, encountering a series of strange people along the way. A 90-minute movie about two bros trying to remember where they parked? That’s the first level of weird. Then it gets exponentially weirder. Later on, the guys find themselves in the middle of a battle between two groups of space aliens. It turns out that, during their night of debauchery, they accidentally picked up a device with the power to destroy the world. Their problems go from not being able to find their car to having to ensure the “Continuum Transfunctioner” doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Dude, Where’s My Car? was largely savaged by critics, although it maintains a reputation for being enjoyable under various forms of intoxication.
4. Bubba Ho-Tep
Over the years, there’s been no shortage of theories that Elvis Presley is still alive. Where he is and what he’s doing is dependent on which version of that conspiracy theory you hear. It’s fairly safe to say that none of them hold any water whatsoever, but such is the love and devotion of Elvis fans that some of them steadfastly refuse to believe that he has left the building, so to speak.
Phantasm director Don Coscarelli has some fun with this idea in his 2002 film Bubba Ho-Tep. Not only is Elvis (Bruce Campbell) still alive, but so is JFK — the former president is anachronistically portrayed by Ossie Davis. The character claims to have been patched up and dyed black after the assassination attempt — and the pair are both residents of a Texas nursing home. When a stolen Egyptian mummy is accidentally unleashed in the community, it starts feeding on the nursing home’s residents. The singer and the former leader of the free world team up to stop it. Fortunately, they have an electric wheelchair at their disposal.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a horror movie with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, and the goofball plot has earned it a not-insignificant cult following over the years. A special edition Blu-ray of the film is coming later this year from Scream Factory.
3. Weekend at Bernie’s
Weekend at Bernie’s has one of the darkest dark comedy plots ever. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman play two low-ranking insurance company workers who are invited to a Labor Day party at the home of their boss, Bernie (Terry Kiser). When they get there, they discover that Bernie has passed away. To prevent the other guests from finding out, they spend the weekend hauling his corpse around and acting as though he’s still among the living. To their surprise, the ruse works, although they have to continually find new ways to keep it up.
Given the weird, morbid nature of that plot, it’s a wonder anyone lined up to see Weekend at Bernie’s. Death is an uncomfortable subject, even in comedy. Watching two guys carry around a dead body for two hours doesn’t exactly sound like fun. The movie was only a modest box office hit, but once on home video and cable, its popularity increased significantly. Eventually, it spawned a sequel, which was much less well-received. A plot so bizarre apparently only works once.
Rubber is the story of a tire that abruptly becomes sentient in the middle of the desert, then goes on a killing spree in which it uses telekinetic powers to make its victims’ heads explode. Police attempt to find a way to stop it while a bunch of spectators sit in the desert with binoculars, watching this bizarre scenario unfold.
If that description made you laugh, it was probably intentional. Writer/director Quentin Dupieux uses this absurd plot to explore the theme of anthropomorphism. In one especially memorable scene, the tire (billed in the credits as “Robert”) becomes aroused after glimpsing a naked woman. Rubber is also a satire of Hollywood. The spectators represent the audience, and the movie itself represents any of the myriad ill-conceived/crazy/inexplicable films the studios put before the public in any given year. (You know — stuff like Nine Lives.) Even if you have no interest in the deeper satiric levels it aims for, Rubber can still be enjoyed as a movie about a tire blowing up people’s heads. You sure don’t see that every day.
1. Nothing But Trouble
After co-writing Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd decided to try his hand as a director. His debut was the 1991 comedy Nothing But Trouble, the title of which would turn out to be quite apt. Chevy Chase and Demi Moore play flirting neighbors on a short road trip together. While passing through the tiny Pennsylvania town of Valkenvania, Chase is pulled over for a minor traffic violation by a cop (John Candy) and forced to appear before the local magistrate, a penis-nosed old man, played by Aykroyd himself. Chase and Moore are given the death penalty for failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign. They try to escape, only to discover that the judge’s decrepit mansion is booby-trapped, complete with a machine called “Mr. Bonestripper” that does exactly what its name implies.
Nothing But Trouble also features two deformed, diaper-wearing creatures, plus Candy playing not only the cop, but also the cop’s sister. Chase is forced into a shotgun wedding to that sister as a reprieve from death, and the rap group Digital Underground makes an appearance at the wedding ceremony.
Problems abounded with this film. Warner Bros. changed the original title — Valkenvania — and bumped the movie’s release date around a few times. When it finally came out, reviews for Nothing But Trouble were abysmal, as was its box office business. Chase later admitted he took the role only as a favor to his old friend Aykroyd (who, incidentally, never directed again). Still, the picture has its defenders. Anyone who cherishes a truly weird plot will admire the insanity that takes place throughout its ninety-four minutes.
Do you have a favorite movie with a bizarre plot? We want to hear about it! Give us your thoughts in the comments.
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