Cinema is an art form and, like any art form, it has its varying styles in its presentation and its perceptions. Like paintings, a film can be surreal, postmodern, abstract or try to tell us something by covering an image of Virgin Mary with feces. There's hundreds of films in the same vein that can be non-linear, surreal, or just make you watch and say to yourself a variety of "What the hell?" including the very popular "What the hell is going on?," "What the hell is that?" and the number one hit "What the hell am I watching?"
Below are 25 (to an extent) films that qualify to have those things asked while you watch. The only qualification for a film to be on the list is that it, at very least, needs to be good if not at least watchable (there are a lot of avant-garde films that even I can't sit through).
The stranger and weirder a movie is, as well as the better the film, the higher up the list it goes (it was a balancing act, hope I did it justice).
Let's follow the white rabbit...
25: Donnie Darko
Loner and social outcast, Donnie, is plagued by bad dreams, sleepwalking and the always enjoyable hallucinations of scary demonic rabbits named Frank. At its heart, it's a mystery film that never really explains the mystery but doesn't deter from constantly bring out mysterious scenes,clues and all around weird antics. Supposedly it all has to do with quantum physics and time theory which I don't even think the screenwriters fully grasped. It doesn't stop it from being entertaining, if anything to figure out what the hell is going on (and maybe be a little scared and creeped out while doing so).
Weirdest Moment: There are numerous weird moments with Frank, the bunny, in the movie, but none are quite as unsettling as the awkward and quiet theater scene where Frank just suddenly appears next to Donnie and Gretchen. It's like a bad dream someone has...then again maybe that's exactly what it is.
24: Carnival of Souls
One of the first great (and I mean great) pieces of psychological horror. What is reality? Am I imagining all this? Is it just a dream? Who can I trust? The film is hypnotic and tells the story of a young woman who, after a car accident, tries to rebuild a life in a new town. She's strangely drawn to an abandoned amusement park, has trance-like dreams and is constantly afraid she is being watched and followed by a ghoulish character only named "the Man" who, incidentally, is the director of the film. It has transcended its low-budget, b-movie roots with crafty directing and a sharp script and people are now finding it as one of the hallmarks of horror.
Weirdest Moment: At around the 1:10 mark of this clip our protagonist begins playing the church organ (her new job). It starts getting weird pretty quickly. Carnival of Souls is considered "public domain" so you can also watch the whole thing here. It's better serviced if you watch a nice, remastered DVD, though, and in a dark room.
23: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
A classic children's book was retooled for the big screen by the book's author, Roald Dahl in 1971. The difference, though, is it's a musical. A musical about an odd candy factory owner who's factor employs midgets (likely because they're cheap and eat less) entices children by making everything made of candy and sings and dances. So...it's kinda like Michael Jackson's Neverland. (too soon?)
But it is a charming, if not completely weird, bit of psychedelic-like cinema that retools your perception of reality, from the very first scene with Wonka pretending to be crippled to the very last where his Elevator shoots through the skylight and hovers over the city. It's eccentricity at its height, but as Wonka put it "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest man."
Weirdest Moment: You already know it. You know...for kids!
22: Blue Velvet
I'll say right now there are two filmmakers that appear a lot on this list: David Cronenberg and David Lynch. If you've seen their movies, that should be no surprise. If you haven't, you at least know their names. Blue Velvet, which Lynch was nominated for an Oscar I might add, may not be as surrealist and dream-like as his other films, but that doesn't mean its not without its sense of discomfort and odd characters. Blue Velvet tells the story of Jeffrey and his slow fall into the strange underworld of rather perverse and sexual people that Jeffrey soon finds himself drawn to.
Weirdest Moment: Baby wants to fuck. Sometimes you just have to jump out of the closet and say "look...I...I gotta go. You two....good luck with that."
21: Dark Star
This is John Carpenter's very first film. Wow...does it show. You can see flashes of future brilliance in there, between the scruffy beards and 70s haircuts but It's still a low-budget b-movie nonetheless. What I find interesting is that the DVD cover says "The Ultimate Cosmic Comedy." Yeah...it's not funny. It's satirical at times, but not particularity funny. It's just weird, and maybe that alone is what makes it so funny. It's about a lone, small ship in space that goes around blowing up planets until things start to go wrong. Especially when one member is asked to feed the alien they keep locked away in a room. Simple, effective, really strange.
Weirdest Moment: Just because an alien looks like a beachball (with legs) doesn't mean it should be treated like a beachball (with legs). This scene goes on for quite a while.
20: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson's odd and mindbending time in Las Vegas comes to full life in Terry Gilliam's adaptation of the classic, Gonzo-Journalist novel. The book is a little bit of non-fiction, a little bit of fiction and a hell of a lot of rambling monologues, thoughts and imaginative descriptions on the experiences of taking drugs. There really could be no better director to bring it to life and no better actor than Johnny Depp to portray the title character. Thompson was already a real-life caricature of himself, Depp played it to perfection. We see Thompson do a suitcase of drugs, along with his "lawyer" who is "a foreigner...probably Samoan," and then gallivant through Las Vegas like a clown at a circus. He's supposed to be there writing a sports article but instead exploits the over-the-top drug culture he was a part of and used his Vegas "job" as just an excuse to do every drug known to man. We get to share that experience. If anything, it should be a movie to keep kids off drugs. You don't want to end up like Hunter S. Thompson, do you?
Weirdest Moment: Word of advice, don't try to check into a hotel when you've lost all sense of reality due to the numerous drugs you've taken. The movie gives a new meaning to the world "lounge lizards."
19: Alice in Wonderland
Disney's animated classic, which is combination (or reimagining, if you will) of the books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, had quite a daunting task on envisioning Carroll's extraordinary classic tale. For some reason, rather than stay with a rather traditional presentation seen in Snow White or Cinderella, the animators took it to a new level by having the visuals as odd and striking as the story itself. Every little thing, down to the flowers and insects, are intentionally made to appear and act just a little "off" from reality (or sing, they like to sing) as Alice tries her best to find her way out of Wonderland...and each time she hopes the next leap will be the leap home.
Weirdest Moment: For some reason, the Walrus and the Carpenter sequence Alas,I have to say any scene involving that goddamn Cheshire Cat, who more or less mocks the whole fact that Alice is lost. Thanks, you aren't helping and prove yet again that dogs are superior because they aren't nearly as sadistic.
Existenz, excuse me eXistenZ (it's spelled like that for a reason) is about videogames. It's about bio-mechanical, videogames, actually. What does that mean, you ask? Well...the game controller things are fleshy, pulsate and you plug them into your body. The designer of these litle meat pods is under threat, assassins hunting her down, and then Jude Law shows up and the two of them have to play the game, which is strangely sexual and strangely addictive, to figure out if its been damaged. The game is like a virtual reality and, after some time, reality and fantasy begin to blend and they start to become sucked into its world (or is it their world?).
Weirdest Moment: Well, it's hard to say one is significantly weirder than the other. It's more the overall mood of the film that is just a little weird. The organic weapons or the fact that you plug the game pod into your body, the sexual and even orgasmic-like reactions to those playing it, the weird two-headed lizard-alien things that apparently some restaurant serves as food, the fondling of the controllers...oh...the fondling. It's more like a sum of all the parts put into a blender.
17:Requiem for a Dream
Another drug-based film that, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas previously on this list, shows us the experience and depths users will sink to. Unlike Fear and Loathing, though, it's not quite as, shall we say, "happy" with it all. Fear and Loathing is a fun trip, this is a bad one and it doesn't shy away from telling you and showing you just how fucked up drugs can make your life. It's more a series or collection of drug users destroying their lives and their futures with it, or lack of future I should say.
Weirdest Moment: Attacking refrigerators. Oh paranoia and drugs, what would we do without you? Goes together like pancakes and syrup.
Audition is a story of obsession and infatuation about a man who is looking for a woman he can start a new relationship with by sitting in on actress auditions. One catches his fancy. The movie's message says that what we might think we know about someone, going by merely appearances and brief encounters, isn't always the real person. Often, it's all an act. Takashi Miike is known for films that will shock you, and the complete 180 of visual presumption to truthful reality is never shown better than the cute and quiet Japanese girl with a very, very, very dark side. Watch at your own risk, it seems to love to play with your mind as much as she loves playing with acupuncture needles.
Weirdest Moment: Well, there's a lot I just don't feel comfortable posting and some that I don't have links to anyway. It's a rather disturbing and graphic film so I'll make do, and you should also, with this brief clip about the magic of burlap sacks and pretty girls.
A surprisingly funny, piece of filmmaking by one of my favorite directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, City of Lost Children) and Marc Caro. Delicatessen was his first film and, even though it's visually impressive, ends up being a mish-mash of strange scenes and stranger characters. It's about their lives, quirks and weird behaviors. Oh, did I mention it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and they all live in a ruined apartment building? Yeah, that too. The landlord likes to cook people and serve them to his tenants as well. That's nice of him and very thoughtful.
Weirdest Moment: Squeaky bed.
14: Being John Malkovich
Charlie Kaufman is known for the odd screenplay. I would consider this his masterwork. A guy starts a new job at an office where the ceilings are only about three feet high across the entire floor because the building's designer wanted to make a whole floor for midgets. One day he comes across a small door that leads to the mind of John Malkovich where the person gets to see the world through his eyes for 15 minutes then gets spit out on the side of a Jersey turnpike. That's the basis for it all, but man, does it go above and beyond the call of duty for it. Malkovich is an eternal vessel, there's a romance plot, something about pupeteering and learning to control Malkovich and stay inside him for years. It seems to never end, and man is it fun.
Weirdest Moment: If someone says "this little two foot door and tunnel leads to your mind"...maybe it's best that you don't enter it. John Malkovich with a woman's body is an image that will forever be burned into my retinas.
13: 8 1/2
Around the early 1960s, celebrated filmmaker Federico Fellini, known primarily as a champion of Italian Neorealism, turned his sites to a new style of filmmaking: art films. More specifically, movies based on the concept of dreams and how they intertwine into reality. It's a very personal film for Fellini, and one of his most celebrated (wining the Best Foreign Oscar) and is able to be both coherent yet odd and strange at the same time. Semi-autobiographical, it tells the story of a director attempting to make a movie, but he just can't get it done and constantly has daydreams and hallucinations.
Weirdest Moment: Really, I think the opening sequence defines the film. It's tone, it's quiet demeanor and the bad dream that emerges can all come through in the first few minutes. Also, yes, there is no sound at first, it's not your speakers. Fellini loved playing with audio as much as he did with visuals.
12: Lost Highway
Alright, it's about at this point things are going to start getting really weird. Almost to the point where I can't really describe the movies. At least the previous pieces of film have a solid semblance of a story and plot, but we're going to gradually start losing that starting now. They're just that bizaare. David Lynch's Lost Highway is a perfect example. I suppose I should start with the following: A man is accused of killing his wife, then he becomes a different person and lives a different life. No real reason, he just does. There's also random sex in the middle of a dirt road with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette.
Weirdest Moment: Some would probably say the dream sequence where Pullman seems to reenact and watch himself murder his wife. I say any scene with nutjob Robert Blake. Here's one now.Then again that dream sequence had Robert Blake in it as well (sort of)...well, point made once more, you creepy bastard.
11: The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover
This is probably the one movie on this list that nobody has really heard of, but it's also one of the more infamous. Gross, disgusting, uncompromising and was released just shy of getting an "X" rating (it settled to just be unrated). Let's start with the director, who was obsessed with death and decaying flesh, and had made numerous films around the subjects, the story is about a woman having an affair and her gangster husband, who is also a restaurant owner, and him finding out about it. It has itself quite the renowned cast (Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Alan Howard and Tim Roth). Then there's the way the whole film is shot. It either goes in long, slow scenes and extended shots or it edits itself and moves in unison with the music. It's colorfully vivid and lively, the contrast and splendor its most appealing attribute. It's also all shot on a sound stage (which if obvious and actually makes sure you realize it), has sex, nudity, torture, blood and gore, cannibalism, murder, and...somehow critical acclaim. It's not a movie for everyone, everyone meaning "most" here I should say, and is no doubt one of the strangest pieces of cinema you'll ever see. I'm not going to lie, this one of those films you will see once and never see or even speak of it again. I saw it once in college back in 1999 during my "artsy" phase...and I'm pretty good with it just staying that way.
10: Yellow Submarine
Should we thank the Beatles for drugs or the drugs for the Beatles? Somehow in 1968 both collided and out sprawled the psychedelic head-trip (that is supposedly for kids) known as Yellow Submarine. Captain Fred...yes, Fred...asks the Beatles to save his beloved Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. The Blue Meanies hate music, so the Beatles are there to save them. How? That's a damn good question. Play music and drive them away is all I can assume happens because the whole thing is about as straightforward and sensible as an Escher drawing.
I would like to give a slight shout out to another weird Beatles movie, the BBC-aired Magical Mystery Tour. What a long strange trip, indeed.
Weirdest Moment: Well, the whole thing is one long LCD trip put to Beatles music, so I'll go with the song that's the most trippiest: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Terry Gilliam's Brazil is methodical in its imagery and story. Some films will simply throw in random scenes of strangeness to confound you, yet in Brazil they all seem to have a purpose in some form or another. Similar to the world it presents, being to the letter and efficient yet strange and "off" somehow. It's pretty coherent, especially early on, but slowly dives in to be stranger and stranger as we progress. A wrong man is arrested for being a terrorist due to a bug (literally, a bug) in a the machine that misprinted his name. Eventually this mistake is discovered and our hero, Sam, who is off to investigate. We share his discoveries, his mysteries solved and his journey through the weird and bureaucratic (inefficiently bureaucratic, I might add, which makes for some great dark comedy) world of Brazil.
Weirdest Moment: Well now, this would be a "shitty" way to die. Especially considering that it doesn't really serve a purpose to the story as far as I remember other than to tell us De Niro is kind of a prick. There is also a scene where Bobby D is killed by being swamped by flying paper. Surprisingly, this scene couldn't be found nor could the various dreams of our hero as an Icarus-like hero fighting a 20 foot samurai, or the strange funeral. All those are far weirder, but are also far less funny, so it's a good compromise considering the lack of Brazil clips available.
8: Jacob's Ladder
Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam Vet who finds himself in some wacky situations. It's a screwball comedy with an all-star cast that brings the laughs about how silly ole Jacob is having a gosh-darn hard time getting his life together.
Oh, sorry. Got sidetracked there. I suppose that's wishful thinking. Jacob's Ladder is actually one of the more disturbing and dark films you'll ever see. Jacob is trying to get his life together, but it's because he's haunted by the most fucked-up hallucinations and nightmares a man could go through, ranging from creatures on subways, men with no faces trying to hunt him to his dead son appearing to him. It's not a fun ride and is probably the darkest film to watch on this entire list. If you haven't seen it, you've been warned. If you've already seen it, I'm willing to bet you aren't jumping up to watch it a second time.
Weirdest Moment: A tie between the hospital from hell that just gets worse and worse and the party where it starts as a guy maybe having too much to drink, at least that's what we like to think, and ends with a woman being impaled through her face. If there is a Hell, it's probably this.
Sleazy TV programmer Max Reen stumbles across an odd and hidden broadcast simply labeled "Videodrome" that shows torture, sex and murder. Supposedly it's fake but Max feels it's real. His stupid girlfriend, turned on by it all, goes off to audition and Max's investigation into the weird and surreal, if not disturbing, world of Videodrome, its secret transmission and how it all relates to the mind begins. It's Crononeberg at one of his weirdest and best and James Woods gives a very personal performance...all while really having something to say about violence and sex as entertainment. in fact, Videodrome more or less predicted what television was likely to become: more and more depraved.
Weirdest Moment: In one scene, Max begins hallucinatnig his torso is a vagina. Now we've all had dreams like that, so there's nothing out of the ordinary there. He also has a gun. Ok, still completely normal. We all like to randomly have guns in our possession while we watch TV. Then he starts fondling and playing with it until he shoves the gun into his torso only to lose it. Where'd it go? What does it mean? Supposedly it's symbolic on Max's masculine versus feminine side and how vaginas like to eat things (guns being symbolic for you-know-what). I say it's symbolic of mindfuckery at its best and should be left at that.
6: Altered States
There's nothing like mind experiments to screw you up royally. Altered States tells the story of a psychology professor (William Hurt) who feels he needs to prove that the subconscious is just as real as the conscious. Well...let's just say things get a little out of hand, what with his drugs, deprivation tanks and dancing... and we are given some of the most bizarre and even scary imagery you could ask for. The film is dark, many of the dreams and hallucinations religious and sexual in nature and Hurt gives a solid performance as a guy that knows it's getting out of control.
Weirdest Moment: Seven-eyed goat-headed Jesus on a cross.
5: Most Luis Buñuel Films
Probably the most influential figure for the odd, bizarre and weird films listed (his influence can be seen in almost all these), Buñuel was more or less the inventor of surrealist cinema, or at the very least its champion, and also a good friend of painter Salvador Dali which should give you an indication of the kind of people he attracts. Some of his work can actually be seen on Youtube should you be inclined. He wanted to make films about the concept of dreams, good and bad, even disturbing and, more importantly to him, uncomfortable. Story was secondary, the moment was priority. His most famous surrealist film, other than his 16 minute short with Dali entiteld "Un chien andalou" is probably "Las Hurdes" (Land Without Bread). By the late 1950s he grew more out of his experimental and surrealist films and began putting more narrative driven films together but remnants could still be seen in "Diary of Chambermaind" (my personal favorite Buñuel film) and "Belle de Jour." Buñuel's most acclaimed work, though, is one of his final films: "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Here he actually goes back to his earlier style of surrealist imagery and little to no plot. I don't want to make this a Buñuel history lesson, but his influence and importance needed to be addressed. You can find more about him online or rent his movies, most of which are available on DVD through the Criterion Collection. So if you're in the mood for watching an uncomfortable dinner part where nobody can leave, women with beards and strange bits about chickens, go for it. His approach, and even style, is often seen even today and is one of the most influential filmmakers in history. As with most of the films on this list, his are often analyzed and theorized to death and rarely do we get any clear answers from those that made them.
Intelligent, Spiritual, thought-provoking. Pi is the story of a mathematician, Max, who stumbles across a unique string of numbers. The string, apparently, is the answer to all of life's questions. Within its 216 numbers lies the solutions to everything, from predicting the future to understanding God. Now everybody wants it, and Max, unfortunately is also a shut-in paranoid schizophrenic. The film is entirely about paranoia and strangely, that paranoia shifts over to you and stays with you when you leave the theater. It's shot on grainy, high-contrast black and white and gives you a sense of authenticity to it all. It's that senes of "this is actually happening" that makes Pi work as well as it does. It feels more like a documentary than just a regular narrative film.
3: The Wall
Wow, Pink Floyd makes a film and its weird as shit. Who would have thought? For those who don't know, the concept album "the Wall" tells the story of Pink and his desire to destroy "the Wall." It's about isolation and eventual losing of one's mind - "Pink" locks himself away in a hotel room and gradually begins hallucinating and shaving his body hair (based on former Pink Floyd band member, Syd Barret). The film does all this with little to no dialogue and surreal imagery bombards the screen seeminlgy every few minutes (a good portion of it animation) and has countless metaphorical and symbolic scenes and shots.
2: Naked Lunch
Ok, stay with me here. Naked Lunch is a pseudo-autobiographical story by William S. Burroughs, who is known as an odd duck to begin with but also a renowned opiate addict (oh, this is already getting good). He runs off one day to Tangiers and decides to write a book. Now you have David Cronenberg wanting to do a film version of, what most considered, an unfilmable book. Ok, this list should give you and idea on his approach to things with eXistenZ and Videodrome. (Weird Book + Weird director = ????) Naked Lunch is the story of an exterminator who kills his wife, travels to Tangiers, enters a "hallucinatory" zone of the city where reality and fantasy merge into one. There he talks to insect-like humanoids and typewriters, all in his dream to become a writer. It has the usual Cronenberg obsession with flesh and deformity now with arthropods.
Weirdest Moment: Two words: Bug rape...and we''ll leave it at that. And I'm not posting a video. So instead enjoy the trailer.
This should be no surprise to anyone who has seen it. The film that put David Lynch on the map. It involves a deformed baby, some guy pulling levers and a woman with large cheeks that lives inside of our protagonist's radiator and dances and sing. Any of that make sense? No? Good, then you you just got a glimpse of what the movie is about. It doesn't have a typical linear structure, although you can maybe piece a story together about how our hero Henry (played brilliantly by the late Jack Nance) is afraid of parenthood, yet is strangely obsessed with it. It's surrealist cinema at its finest, yet most bizarre. A pinnacle of avant garde filmmaking, which took 5 years, as well independent filmmaking because Lynch never gave up during that time to get it done.
I could have put more Lynch films on this list. Mohalland Drive, Twin Peaks and his most recent film, Inland Empire (which includes stage plays with people dressed in rabbit costumes), were left off...I think people get the point by now.
Weirdest moment: The reveal of Henry's deformed Baby, the family dinner, the dream sequence the opening sequence...really, from beginning to end, it's the most bizarre thing you will ever see. This odd song kinda did it for me.
*Honorable Mention: Zardoz (a.k.a. Your Movie is weird and awful)
Wait a minute there, Zardoz. Where do you think you're going? You're not getting off that easy. I couldn't make a list like this without acknowledging this little gem. And by "gem" I mean "piece of shit." All the movies listed here are, at the very least, completely watchable. If this list were to include "bad" films it would be never ending. The ones here may be bizarre and strange, maybe even make you squirm in your seat and toy with your mind, but they are movies you can sit, watch, and enjoy to a certain degree. Some are even critically acclaimed and Oscar-wining. Zardoz is none of the above. In fact, it's one of the worst movies ever made and makes about as much sense as having Sean Connery wearing spandex...oh wait, it has that too. Alright then. Zardoz tells the story of a savage killer that comes into contact with the enlightened rulers of the world. I think...you know I have no idea what the hell its about. Something about guns and law and...a floating statue head.
Weirdest Moment: Jesus, where to begin? Let's begin here...and then you can go here. Lastly go here, because Connery reminds up how amazing of an actor he is. There's not one particular thing I can point out. Zardoz himself, maybe...but then have the women and the weird blankets and shirtless Connery pulling a chariot.... I don't know, man...I....I don't know. Game over
Sorry, your movie barely missed out: A Clockwork Orange, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dark City, The Wicker Man (1973), Natural Born Killers, Amacord, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Time Bandits, Fantasia, The Fountain, In the Mouth of Madness, Tommy, Vanilla Sky, Doom Generation, Solaris (1972), Lathe of Heaven, A Zed and Two Noughts, Suicide Club, Cube, Johnny Got His Gun, Dead Ringers, The Cell (the unofficial #26 of this list, but I went with Darko), The Fall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mirrormask, Wizards, Synecdoche New York.