The Top 8 Movies on Dreams, Lucid Dreaming, and Assorted Mind-Weirdness

10 Nov

The Island by balt-arts

The Island by balt-arts

In keeping with this weeks earlier posts on movies, I decided to list all the good dream and lucid dream themed films out there!

If you are interested in dreams, I think you’ll find these movies worth watching.

Let me know what you think!

You might notice some of these movies bleed into other mind-related themes. My study of dreams naturally leads to a fascination with consciousness and states of mind, and so my movie list naturally reflects that in as much as it ties back into my fascination with dreams. 🙂

1. Vanilla Sky (2001)
– The most popular movie to introduce the split... listen closely and you'll hear the tape cutting and rewinding hereconcept of lucid dreaming to the masses. Although, to be fair, the movie does play loose with the idea of lucid dreaming – i.e. he doesn’t really know he’s dreaming, he’s just mapped out intentionally a dream life that he wants to have, and then falls into it, unconsciously, and lives his life. I love this movie. I still remember the first time I saw it at a friends house. I literally was ready to watch it again from start to finish as soon as it ended.

2. Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) (1997)
– This is the original Spanish version of Vanilla Sky. IOpen Your Eyes‘m really not trying to collect hipster points by saying this version is better, but it might just be better, to be honest. There are certain scenes in the original version that are cooler than any scene in the Hollywood version. For instance, I where he runs out of the building to the outdoors screaming “I want to wake up” was just awesome. Watching this, I understood how it might feel to be completely delusional and kill people, that to you, aren’t even real, but just characters in what you now recognize is an illusion.

By the way, Penelope Cruz is in this version, too. Weird eh?

3. Waking Life (2001)
– This movie is incomparable to anything else. Waking Life The entire film issequences of intense philosophical dialogues on dreams and reality. I found it disjointed and sometimes hard to follow, but overall fascinating. Adding to the dizzying dialogue, the film uses this strange animation technique where they film real people and added animation over this footage. The result is a strange combination where everything looks real but you know it’s not.

I’ve written more about Waking life here.

4. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Ah, David Lynch! The master of fucked Mulholland Driveup films! I adore his work and I think Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece.

This film has been interpreted in a million different ways and for good reason, as Lynch is a master at open-ended film making where nothing really makes sense, even when you briefly think it does.

Every Little Star... I like approaching this as if it’s a sequence of different dreams all loosely connected. Notice how within each scene, what’s happening seems incredibly meaningful and consequential, often with a corresponding overwhelming flow of emotions. What’s literally happening in the scene doesn’t necessarily translate to what’s meaningfully or “emotionally” happening, yet there’s this connection between the two somehow.

This level of disjointedness between what’s happening and what’s being felt is so common in dreams.

When the next scene comes along, it starts all over again and it’s not necessarily related to the scene before or after, but again, while it’s happening it feels incredibly meaningful and important.

I had this dream...This is very much like a night of dreams that you feel are related but don’t really make sense, yet at the time, it all made sense to you, complete with the added bonus of baffling emotions.

I’ve written some more about dreams and David Lynch’s films here.

5. Science of Sleep (2006)
– This a cute love story wrapped around a dream-theme. The Science of Sleeppreviews made it look more about dreams and the dream world than it really is. I absolutely love the scene where he falls asleep talking on the phone, and then, fully conscious in the dream state, continues the phone conversation excitedly, reporting what he’s seeing in the dream. (The camera then shows him sleeping silently with the phone near his head.) Ironically, after seeing this movie I had a dream about this character and it did not trigger anything in me to ask “Wait a minute…am I dreaming?”

6. Altered States (1980)
Hippy culture within academia, sense deprivation tanks, Altered Statesreligious ramblings, and lots and lots of drugs make for one interesting sci-fl flick. Loosely based on the work of researcher and ketamine-happy John Lily.

I’ve written more about Altered States here.

By the way, this movie was voted in the Top 100 Sci-Fi Films of All Time, so I guess that makes it a classic, eh?

7. eXistenZ (1999)
Sci-fi movie about virtual reality and…well, you can guess where it goes from there. 🙂 I didn’t really like it, but a lot of people do.

8. Stay (2005)
– This film blends up the reality between a therapist and hStay is patient and offers another wrap-around plot.

It does get surprisingly strange with some really odd, bizarre sequences for such a mainstream film.

The acting by Ryan Gosling is beautifully crafted, so much so that his depressed & suicidal character is so well acted that I felt a bit like him when it was all over.

And Some Dream-Related Movies I Haven’t Seen But Would Like Too…

The Good Night (2007)
– Penelope Cruz again stars in a film about dreams and lucid dreaming. Lots of big names in this film – I wonder if it was popular or will be popular? Too be honest I’m not even sure if in the States it’s hit the theatres yet or already came and went. (I am out of it when it comes to popular culture, so to speak.) I definitely gotta see this though. The plot centers around a man who falls in love with a girl literally in his dreams, and then finds her in real life.

I find it amusing that Danny Devito is supposedly this crazy, nutty lucid dreaming guru in the film. Like we’re all crazy in the head, eh? 🙂 Sure…

Wide Awake and Dreaming (2003) – Does anyone know anything about this black and white film on lucid dreaming? All I can find is this entry on IMDB. I would like to know more.

Some Japanimation Film I Can’t Remember the Name of (2007)
– And google is not being cooperative. Does anyone know what I’m talking? There was a semi-independent japanimation film – or at least I think that’s the correct genre – that came out this year, related to dreams and lucid dreaming. I believe the lead character was female. I meant to see it, never did, and now I cannot find out anything else since I cannot remember it’s name. Dammit.

Update 12/8/2007: This movie is called Paprika! Check out this post on Paprika at Reality Shifter for a great review.

Lucid (2006) – Another film I’ve found from searching online for lucid dreaming movies. Not much info out there but I am intrigued that this is called a “black indie film” at Amazon
. The movie poster and tagline look horror-esque.

The Door (2005) – A thriller about lucid dreaming and shared dreams. Looks worth watching. If Netflix has it, I will get it soon. I found a review of it here and here’s the official website for The Door.

So, what did I miss?

What do you think of the movies in this list?
What’s your favorite dream movie?

P.S. If you like these movies, I bet you’ll also dig Donnie Darko, even though it doesn’t really have anything to do with dreams, it’s just weird.

Update July 2010: The Inception movie absolutely deserves to be on this list too. 🙂 Freaking awesome film!

Photo by balt-arts

35 Responses to “The Top 8 Movies on Dreams, Lucid Dreaming, and Assorted Mind-Weirdness”

  1. t November 10, 2007 at 5:08 pm #

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

    Although it doesn’t contain dreaming, the main character is “awake” in his past memories while they are being erased, and he tries desperately to hold onto at least some of the memories that are being erased.

  2. Ben November 10, 2007 at 11:16 pm #

    AH! How could I forget Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?! This is one of my favorite films. Thanks!!

  3. Jacob November 11, 2007 at 6:56 pm #

    Although it’s not directly about dreaming, I would include The Matrix on a list like this as the fundamental theme deals with the reality that is created by our minds.

  4. Ben November 11, 2007 at 7:19 pm #

    Jacob you have perfectly described this movie list by saying its “…fundamental theme deals with the reality that is created by our minds.” I might have to edit the post to write this in.

    And you’re right about The Matrix. It’s a classic and it does belong here.

    Perhaps I was subconsciously excluding it due to the 3rd one sucking so much; I recently watched it again and man, it was even worse than the first time I saw it, and that’s saying A LOT.

  5. TPM November 13, 2007 at 6:44 am #

    Paprika is the anime film you were thinking of.

  6. Ben November 13, 2007 at 3:21 pm #

    Paprika! That sounds familiar. So is it a film worth watching?

  7. Nazz November 13, 2007 at 4:09 pm #

    how about Sharboy & Lavagirl 3D adventure?I know,it’s a bit kiddy-kiddy film,but it does show the main character Max who loves to write his dreams in a dream journal & live out his ‘dream’ characters =D

    p/s: fave Max quote-“some dreams are so strong that they become real”

  8. TPM November 13, 2007 at 6:36 pm #

    I haven’t rented it yet, but I plan to. The trailer is still on Apple’s site:

  9. Ben November 13, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

    Thanks for posting that link to the trailer. Now that I know the name I should look for it on Netflix.

    I had no idea that movie was about dreams! The fact that it’s a kids movie doesn’t bother me. Some of my favorite movies are kids movies! 🙂 The way you describe it makes it sound really cool, actually.

  10. Ben November 13, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

    I thought of another one:

    Nightmare on Elm Street!

  11. nihat barin November 21, 2007 at 10:46 pm #

    the thirteenth floor

  12. Ben November 22, 2007 at 2:13 pm #

    Never seen Thirteenth Floor…. is it any good?

  13. Machunga November 23, 2007 at 3:57 am #

    The japanese one is probably Paprika, its quite good, fun at least. This is my first answer on your blog so i’ll go ahead and thank you for all the other links you’ve posted, they’ve been very helpful.

    here’s a blog I keep with some friends of mine and were we write the dreams we have every now and then and try to find relationships in them and write about what we want to dream about whch sometimes works too. it’s in Spanish so I don’t know if you’ll be able to understand anything but ohh well, here you go

    thanks again for blogging. Good night!!

  14. Ryan November 29, 2007 at 11:02 pm #

    paprika is worth watching – very hyperkinetic, but also one of the better depictions i’ve seen yet of the fluidity of dream content.

    i also recommend 13th floor. in fact, thirteenth floor is basically a lower budget “matrix” and i think it is better, more believable characters too. it came out the same year and was completely overshadowed by all the tight black leather.

    on the dreamy front, but not necessarily @ dreams: city of lost children. it’s like dark city but better and weirder.

    and also the original dream movie: the wizard of oz.

  15. Ben December 1, 2007 at 12:38 am #

    Dude…Wizard of Oz – Nice catch. I do love that movie. Not only does it have the dream theme going but let’s not forget the drug theme as well!

    I gotta see 13th Floor and Paprika. I saw Paprika at the store the other day when my wife and I were renting a movie… but I could not convince her to watch a strange anime film on lucid dreaming with me. Hmmmm.

  16. Dream Character December 12, 2007 at 5:17 am #

    You gotta check out a movie called Existenz

    Pretty straight forward Lucid Dreaming flick….

  17. Awesker December 24, 2007 at 8:53 pm #

    You might also want to check out The Science of Sleep. Although not nearly as thought provoking as the others on your list (which is a great list by the way), it keeps with same waking/dream fabric.

  18. Lucid January 25, 2008 at 10:13 am #

    Donnie Darko

  19. Martin March 9, 2008 at 1:22 pm #

    L’Année Dernière à Marienbad/ Last year at Marienbad(1961)from the french cineast Alain Resnais is one of my favourite movies on lucid dreaming. The main character is trying to convince a dream personage that he has seen her before. Obviously she can’t remember. I love what Resnais did to the dream characters. They seem to talk on and on about the same things, unaware of their own existence. This is one of the nouvelle vague classics. A must-see! Not only for oneironauts, but for film enthousiasts in general.

  20. kahl April 10, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    this movie was more about a double identity/schizophrenia concept, but overall it was a dream sequence throughout the film


  21. dreamR August 28, 2008 at 5:35 am #

    there is also a documentary on Lucid Dreaming called “Explorers of the Lucid Dream World”
    It is short (12 minutes), but definitely worth checking out.

  22. Andre August 1, 2010 at 3:06 am #

    Perchance to Dream A Twilight Zone episode did a very good job in this movie. It is very much like Inception.

  23. Andre August 1, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    The Menagerie is an old star trek episode about drug or dream induced state.

  24. Andre August 1, 2010 at 5:04 am #

    WHEN I DREAM AT NIGHT by mark anthony music video about dreaming.

  25. Andre August 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Believe it or not Inception was not the first movie that Dicaprio was in that involved dreams. He existed in Rose Bukater dreams in the movie Titanic. List to the song by Celine Dion

  26. Dreamergirl August 11, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    I can’t remember the name of a cartoon I saw about 20yrs ago, it was about a peaceful town that suddenly discovered they were part of a dream, then they built a machine to come out to reality and turn off the alarm clock of the man who was dreaming them… when they finally did it, they transformed into flamingos, because the dream changed… does any one know what movie am I talking about?? thanks a lot!

  27. Riverman September 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    The name of the cartoon is ‘Rarg’.

    Great article, I’m going to be checking out a few movies from this list.

  28. Ben September 22, 2010 at 1:57 am #

    Awesome! Thanks for this tidbit of info Riverman!

  29. molly October 22, 2010 at 5:21 am #

    Ryan : i also recommend 13th floor. in fact, thirteenth floor is basically a lower budget “matrix” and i think it is better, more believable characters too. it came out the same year and was completely overshadowed by all the tight black leather.

    The 13th floor is actually an adaptation of Simulacron 3, a science-fiction novel written by Daniel F. Galouye. I’d recommend checking out Fassbinder’s “Welt am Draht” (World on a wire) instead; released in 1973. For other films dealing with dreams, I’d advise watching Wojciech Jerzy Has’ ‘The Hour-Glass Sanatorium’ and ‘The Saragossa manuscript’, Sergei Parajanov’s ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’, Jaromil Jireš’ “Valerie and her week of wonders”, Walerian Borowczyk’s “La bête”, Jaques Rivette’s “Céline et Julie vont en bateau” + most of Guy Maddin and Luis Buñuel’s films.

  30. Seth December 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Do you have a list of dream books? (I noticed some of the movies were adaptations of books.)

    There is a new book that came out called Lucid a novel by Anthony Head. (I don’t think it’s the actor.) I started reading it online last night and it’s very, very weird. I like it.

    check it out at


  31. Chris December 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    The Lucid film about the girn named Dorothy is on the link you posted. Click on the video link, but it was nothing special about that one.

  32. Chris December 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Sorry I mean Wide awake and dreaming

  33. Stefan Alexandrescu October 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Alice in Wonderland (1954, Disney version)

  34. Elius March 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    “Jacob’s Ladder” made in 1990 is a great movie with different levels of dream/reality !! def one of my favourites of this kind

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