Dreams offer us a gateway into our subconscious, revealing ideas or feelings we've buried deep inside. Cinema has always taken advantage of the mystery that surrounds dreams and nightmares, and dream sequences have been a staple in movies for decades. They are often used to give us a glimpse into the inner workings of a character’s mind, revealing their fears, passions, and obsessions.
Sometimes these sequences work, and other times not so much.
Often times in movies, dreams are used to merely shock and awe an audience by showing us the fantastical, but with little payoff in return. Sometimes they are used to idly advance the plot or simply throw a shock gag our way. Dream sequences can often backfire, making a film seem more lazy than creative. Dreams are a tricky subject matter when used in film, and these next entries should have used the snooze button on this potentially nightmarish concept.
Here are 10 Movies That Were Ruined By Dream Sequences.
10 Apollo 13
Apollo 13 is the true story of three brave astronauts who fight to return to Earth safely after their spaceship incurs massive damage. Directed by Ron Howard, the film is in large part a success thanks to the attention to detail, and the incredible acting by the three film's three leads — Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton. While Apollo 13 is a riveting tale and a good movie overall, it isn’t without its share of hiccups.
One of these bumps in the road include a clichéd dream sequence by astronaut Jim Lovell, played by Hanks. It is clear that Lovell, on some psychological level, is afraid of the many dangers of the impending mission. While lying in bed one night before takeoff, Lovell has an intense nightmare where something goes horribly wrong on Apollo, and he proceeds to be sucked into space as the spaceship falls apart. While visually stunning and intimidating, the dream does little other than shock the audience at face value, and to foreshadow the upcoming events we already knew were coming.
9 Avengers: Age of Ultron
No matter how hard Joss Whedon tried, Age of Ultron just couldn’t measure up to the first enormously successful Avengers movie. But in the end you really can’t blame him; Ultron had the enormous task of including a mind-boggling array of subplots and characters that would make any normal director buckle under the pressure. Thanks to Whedon, all of the subplots manage to find their way in, although they’re don’t have the smoothest transitions.
When Scarlett Witch puts the Marvel team under a hypnotic spell, each member has their own hallucinogenic dream/flashback. For Captain America, he's transported back to the 1940s to a social ball with some seriously bad vibes. For Black Widow, she’s thrown back into the hyper-intense assassin school that helped her hone her skills, but also left her severely traumatized.
Nothing against Whedon or the Avengers, we love those guys, but dream flashbacks are often some of the laziest ways of communicating something to the audience. Instead of revealing these nuances through character, like Black Widow suffering from a traumatizing childhood, the movie goes the easy route by just showing us these scenes first hand. The sequence feels that much more disjointed when it appears on screen, and the icing on the cake is the Thor: Ragnarok tie-in (which Whedon apparently fought to leave out) which had audiences everywhere scratching their heads and going, “huh?”
8 Shutter Island
A film that has so many twists and turns that it rivals M. Night Shyamalan’s entire filmography, Shutter Island is a movie that throws so many different paths at the audience we might find ourselves losing our way. Indeed, the twist ending is surprising and thrilling, but the road to get there is made up of one device to throw us off the scent after the next. At a certain point it all starts to feel a little inconsequential when the hero of the story, Teddy, keeps having repetitive flashbacks that don’t quite add up until the final act.
Throughout the movie, dream sequences keep cropping up that plague and often confuse Leo DiCaprio’s Teddy. He’s unable to remember these certain memories, which frequently feature water, and a mysterious woman who turns to ashes. It isn’t until the end when we realize that the woman was Teddy’s wife, who he shot and killed after realizing she'd drowned their children. While the flashbacks become poignant, they are a bit of a red herring to what was really going on with Teddy’s delusions. The dreams become more of a throw-off than an add-on, and while the movie’s ending works, Scorsese makes the journey there a bit jarring.
One of the most visually impressive movies to be released in recent years, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a compelling piece of cinema that is ironically weighed down by a fake out dream sequence. Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Stone goes through hell when her spaceship is destroyed in a meteor shower. Her entire crew, including Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), is completely lost. Ryan is on her own as she struggles to find a way back to Earth.
When she finally gets to a backup space station, the impossible happens. Kowalski comes whisking through the front door after being lost adrift in space for hours. He climbs aboard, makes a few wisecracks, and proceeds to show Ryan where all the vodka on the ship is hidden.
Alas, the returned Clooney is a charade, and Ryan wakes up to realize the whole thing had been a dream. While the scene does have purpose here, representing Ryan’s subconscious to not give up, it still comes across as a total fake out moment to shock audiences.
6 Event Horizon
The horror genre is home to many tired clichés that include the idiotic decision-makers, the cell phones always going dead, cars never starting when they’re supposed to, and cops never believing anyone who says there’s a murderer on the loose. One of the most tired tropes still used today is the severely overused “never really happened ending.” This is a final scare in a horror movie that is meant to give audiences one last jolt before those credits start rolling, usually through a dream sequence that is at first believed to be reality, but then revealed to be nothing but an illusion for the viewer.
Sometimes, these spooky dream sequences can be used effectively, like in the original Carrie, but more often, the double blind ending just leaves the audience feeling cheated. At the end of the creepy space horror flick Event Horizon, there is but one lone survivor left in the entire crew after a battle with an evil spaceship from another dimension. Awoken from hypersleep by a rescue party, the hero thinks she is safe, that is until the rescue team member takes off his mask and reveals himself to be the dastardly bad guy who sabotaged the entire mission. Of course this is all a dream, and the survivor wakes up screaming and in shock from the actual rescue party. It’s an ending we have to roll our eyes at for seeing it coming a million light years away.
5 Man of Steel
Dream sequences are often criticized by screenwriters as one of the laziest things a screenplay can employ to further the narrative. Rather than being presented step by step what is happening in our character’s conscience, it’s far more interesting (and original) to see that character go through some sort of transition so we can put the pieces together ourselves.
Character narration through subtlety is challenging, but it pays off in the long run. Unfortunately, it’s not a particular strength of director Zack Snyder who presents most of his films’ characters through black and white depictions of emotion spoon-fed to the audience. In his 2013 revamp of Superman, the Last Son of Krypton finds himself on a Kryptonian spaceship for the first time and starts hallucinating due to the atmospheric changes.
During his dream, or hallucinogenic sequence, Clark Kent becomes horrified to see hundreds of skulls surrounding him as Zod lays out his master plan — like supervillains all too often do. The moment is meant to symbolize that Clark has the world on his shoulders, but comes across more forced than genuine. While the aesthetics of the scene are certainly eye-catching, it doesn’t serve to advance the character in anyway, which is slightly disappointing in a movie that had so much potential for a dream sequence, visually speaking.
4 Vanilla Sky
Vanilla Sky is one of those movies that leave you scratching your head when the credits start rolling. Cameron Crowe’s think piece is a film you have to watch 2 or 3 times before fully absorbing the material, and even then you might still be left befuddled. Tom Cruise plays self-indulgent publisher James Aames, who is involved in a terrible car accident with his resentful lover, played by Cameron Diaz.
When Aames comes to, he finds himself horrible disfigured by the wreck, and as a coping device he has dreams implanted into his mind. As the story progresses, he is unable to differentiate from what is real and what's a dream. The ending leaves most of these questions up for interpretation, as Aames jumps off a skyscraper — only to wake up.
Some believe that James was dreaming the entire movie and his jump at the end is a wakeup call of sorts. Others believe that he has frozen his body after the accident, and all the events afterward simply take place in his mind. Whatever the case, Cameron Crowe’s film is visually dazzling but quite dizzying in part because of its indulgent themes of dreams and reality. While a journey in the subconscious can be a great movie idea, Vanilla Sky winds up as a film with more style than substance.
3 Batman v Superman
While it has its moments (and it's certainly not as bad and critics make it out to be) Batman v Superman is far from a perfect movie. It stalls from an overabundance of ideas that lead to a rather messy production. A lot of scenes in the movie feel rather rushed and overwhelmingly jarring, but none more so than the out of left field "Knightmare sequence" in which Bruce Wayne suffers a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic earth.
In the dream that apparently isn't a dream, Bruce (decked out in half Dark Knight and half Mad Max gear) walks among a desert wasteland that (seemingly) was once Metropolis. The city is in ruins, and huge terrifying bug creatures roam the land. While Batman puts up a good fight, he’s eventually captured by a group of humans and taken to their leader, who turns out to be a very irritated Superman. In a dark turn of events, the Man of Steel proceeds to unmask the Caped Crusader, vaporize his companions, and murder his future Justice League teammate in cold blood.
At this point Bruce wakes up, only to see a mysterious wormhole in front of him with a shadowy figure dressed in red, who warns him about this terrible future. Just as quickly, Bruce snaps to yet again, only to find the wormhole gone (but papers around him flying around, indicating that at least the last part was real). Needless to say, this nightmare confused a fair amount of viewers, who were totally unsure of what to make of it. Although it’s obvious for fans to see that the Flash played a hand in this glimpse into the future, most audiences were just left perplexed as to why this scene was added — and what it meant.
2 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
By now, most filmmakers know better than to short change the audience with an entirely faked ending. Well, all filmmakers beside Bill Condon that is, the director of 2012’s Breaking Dawn Part 2. For the final installment in the popular young adult Twilight franchise, fans were all geared up for an epic showdown between the two opposing sides of the series. What they got unfortunately was a bit of a letdown. The film does include an action-packed fight, but the entire brawl is all one long dream sequence.
There's no easier way to cheapen the impact of a scene than to show the viewer that it was all simply a dream. The end fight is actually fairly grandiose in its scope, but the end result is basically a complete rip-off. The satisfying conclusion that could have been is completely wiped away, leaving only a blah ending that's as empty as it is unfulfilling. After 5 questionable movies, the Twilight saga ends on an incredibly bland note instead of an epic one, making the entire saga feel like one long bad dream (if only).
1 Star Wars Episode III
There’s nothing more disappointed than going to the movies, and finding that the ending is based on some trivial piece of exposition. It produces a weak payoff that makes the viewer feel cheated when the credits finally start rolling, and we wonder why we just sat through the last two hours for such a pathetic reward. This is never more evident than in the third episode of the Star Wars prequels, in which Anakin Skywalker makes his long awaited transition to the dark side. For years, fans had wondered what finally pushed the once noble Jedi over the edge into the realm of pure evil, and we finally find out that it was because of one simple nightmare.
Anakin’s biggest character flaw is that he becomes too attached to the ones he loves, which leads him down the road of anger and suffering. One night, the young Jedi has a dream of his wife Padme dying in childbirth, a fate that he becomes determined to prevent. It sets in motion a chain of events that eventually lead to the creation of Darth Vader and everything terrible that comes with it.
While the idea here is promising (who doesn't love to watch a guy slowly descend into madness?), it’s executed rather sloppily. Anakin’s motivation here is weak, and he succumbs to his new master’s wishes based on a pipedream that he'll show him how to save Padme. It is as unconvincing at it is absurd. It’s also a bit of a letdown to see that Vader’s mysterious origins eventually started with one bad night’s sleep.
Did we miss out on your favorite bad dream sequence? Let us know in the comments section.