The Wachowski siblings’ The Matrix took the world by storm when it was first released back in 1999. This was more than just your average, run-of-the-mill sci-fi actioner. This was a groundbreaking masterpiece that challenged moviegoers’ conception of their own reality. It combined influences from William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Japanese kung fu cinema to deliver a movie unlike any we’d ever seen before.
But it was not the first or last science fiction film to capture the hearts and minds of the moviegoing public like that. So, here are 10 Mind-Boggling Sci-Fi Movies To Watch If You Like The Matrix.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way right off the bat. As soon as Christopher Nolan’s Inception was released, parallels were drawn with The Matrix. But aside from its combination of lofty sci-fi concepts and breathtaking action sequences, the two really don’t have much in common.
Inception is a heist movie, but instead of stealing money or jewels, Dom Cobb and his team are plotting to steal an idea by entering a man’s dreams. The film gets very complicated when it delves into dreams within dreams within dreams, but much like The Matrix, it is a viewing experience unlike any other.
The best thing about Annihilation is that its premise is never fully explained. There’s nothing scarier in the real world than unexplained scientific phenomena, and as it turns out, there’s nothing scarier than that in the movie world, too.
Alex Garland’s follow-up to his fantastic directorial debut Ex Machina stars Natalie Portman as the leader of an all-female group of scientists heading into “the Shimmer,” a quarantined zone filled with plants and animals that are mutating to become distorted, disturbing versions of themselves. It’s a visual delight, and as with all the best sci-fi movies, there’s an overriding human theme: grief.
8 Ghost In The Shell
Not the whitewashed, CGI-laden live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson – the 1995 anime original. With the deceptively simplistic premise of a security agent hunting down a hacker, Ghost in the Shell explores the philosophical reflections of a world dominated by advanced technology.
Director Mamoru Oshii masterfully uses the world of the future to hold a mirror up to the world of the present, all with beautiful animation and an impeccable score by Kenji Kawai. Ghost in the Shell actually had a tremendous influence on the Wachowskis when they were mapping out The Matrix trilogy and visualizing how it was going to look.
7 Total Recall
This is the 1990 original, not the 2012 remake. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a blue-collar guy in a near-future world who hears about a new company that implants memories of vacations in your head, which is cheaper than actually going on the vacations.
So, he goes to their offices, asks for the memories of a spy mission to Mars, and midway through the simulation, he comes to and thinks he is actually a spy who went to Mars. The movie is a mind-bending tapestry of plot twists. Just when you think you know what’s going on, someone comes along to tell you that you’re wrong. It’s a real head-trip.
6 The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing is probably closer to a horror movie than a sci-fi movie, but there are sci-fi elements and it is mind-boggling, so it earns its inclusion on this list. It stars Kurt Russell as one of a group of American scientists at a remote Arctic outpost who are faced with a malicious alien creature that can take the form of anything – including any of them.
This leads to all the scientists becoming paranoid and not trusting each other. Ennio Morricone provided the tense musical score, which helps to create a sense of claustrophobic terror, while Carpenter’s typically sharp direction carries the whole thing.
Moon is the directorial debut of Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, and it’s just as simultaneously thoughtful and surreal as his dad’s music. The premise seems boring on paper, but it slowly becomes an introspective ride.
The plot sees Sam Rockwell’s lone character on a three-year mining expedition to the Moon in the near future, excited to complete his third year and return to his family on Earth, when he begins to realize that his reality isn’t all that it seems and his mental state devolves. Plus, not to spoil anything too specific here, but there’s an earth-shattering plot twist that makes a second viewing vital.
4 Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman’s incredible screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind uses a sci-fi premise to tell a very human story. It stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as a couple who enjoy a short but passionate relationship before Winslet breaks up with Carrey, leaving him heartbroken.
That’s where the sci-fi element comes in: there’s a company that claims to be able to remove memories from people’s heads. So, Carrey hires them to erase Winslet from his memories, but something goes wrong and he’s left stranded in his own mind, sifting through murky memories. It’s a breathtaking movie, directed spectacularly by the great Michel Gondry.
3 Twelve Monkeys
Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys is a feature-length remake of the seminal French short film La Jetée, which has a cyclical narrative that gives the audience an existential shock. Gilliam’s film has that, but it also has two A-list stars – Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt – and a sci-fi plot involving time travel, dystopia, and a devastating viral outbreak.
Its bleak vision of the future is simply unforgettable. The movie was followed a couple of decades later by a TV adaptation on Syfy, which ran for four seasons and, to a lot of people’s surprise, was pretty fantastic.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey might just be his finest film, and sci-fi cinema’s defining work. It released back in 1968 – before Star Wars, or Close Encounters, or Alien, or even the Moon landing. A cinematic epic in the truest sense, 2001 begins with the seminal “Dawn of Man” sequence, which suggests that apes first evolved into humans when they discovered violence and began using it to solve all their problems.
The movie only gets deeper and more thought-provoking from there, with musings on artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial existence, and the meaning of life. Dozens of viewings later, you’ll still be discovering new things.
1 Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi neo-noir Blade Runner might have bombed at the box office when it was first released, thanks to competition from mega-hit E.T., but it has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” whose job is to hunt down androids who have left their post and assimilated themselves into society.
But it’s not just a schlocky pulp action movie about a cop chasing robots – it’s a contemplative, existential masterwork that makes you question the nature of identity. It was followed by a surprisingly great sequel, but no matter how great the sequel was, nothing could top the original.