20 Hollywood Movies That No One Can Understand To This Day

The majority of Hollywood movies have comprehensible plots at their core, satisfactory story arcs and easily absorbed conclusions. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, more intricate and complex tales take precedence over accessibility, ultimately leaving audiences scratching their heads. Even years after their release, these enigmatic motion pictures are still being decoded for meaning. Did you understand what any of these 20 mind-bending films were really about?

20. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

The first movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy left much to be desired for some fans. The film chronicled the early life of Anakin Skywalker, as well as the Jedi training of a young Obi-Wan Kenobi courtesy of Qui-Gon Jinn. However, it’s everything in between that makes this a tough motion picture to follow. From out-of-place political themes, to its overly complicated plot concerning the Galactic Senate and trade embargoes, The Phantom Menace is unfathomable to most viewers. Even director George Lucas labeled it “disjointed” in 2017.

19. Triangle (2009)

If you’re looking for a movie that will really test your gray matter, look no further than the mind-bending mystery thriller Triangle. It centers on a group of friends lost at sea, with their only refuge coming in the form of a cruise ship. But what happens on that ship is what really boggles the mind. In true Groundhog Day fashion, the Christopher Smith-directed movie loops and repeats itself until the viewer no longer knows what’s real and what’s not…

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18. Bug (2006)

Films don’t come much more intense than the William Friedkin-directed horror flick Bug. It focuses on the extreme mental health issues of its two protagonists as their grip on reality begins to loosen. However, while you’re watching it, you might feel like you’re starting to lose your mind too. The man behind The Exorcist released this oddity upon the world and arguably it got somewhat lost in translation. Many viewers couldn’t wrap their head around what they were seeing – ultimately the crazed interactions between two unstable people in a hotel room progressively clad in silver wrap.

17. Antichrist (2009)

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Eccentric filmmaker Lars von Trier habitually shocks audiences with his projects, and Antichrist was no different. The film tells the story of a couple who are grieving over the loss of their son, with frightening events taking place soon after when they go to stay at a remote cabin. This movie divided opinion with its extremely explicit sexual content and questionable subject matter, but it also baffled many viewers with to its difficult-to-grasp plot points and abstract imagery.

16. Only God Forgives (2013)

Although visually stimulating, Only God Forgives confused almost everyone with its smattering of non-sequitur scenes and open-ended questions. The protagonist Julian – played by Ryan Gosling – is a respected figure in the criminal underworld. When his brother Billy is killed, however, Julian seeks retribution for the death of his sibling. Despite such a simple premise, the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed movie’s myriad changes of direction left many scratching their heads.

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15. Prometheus (2012)

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Michael Fassbender stole the show with his performance in this 2012 Ridley Scott production. Yes, it’s the Alien-inspired sci-fi romp Prometheus. In it, a group of explorers search for the secret to mankind’s existence – landing on a mysterious planet where humanity’s fate is threatened by dark forces unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. With such a lofty premise comes a need to provide expert storytelling. Sadly, audiences were arguably left somewhat marooned themselves by a lack of satisfying answers to the profound questions posed.

14. Cloud Atlas (2012)

Speaking of ambitious, they don’t come much more aspiring than the star-studded sci-fi flick Cloud Atlas, directed by Tom Tykwer and Lana and Lilly Wachowski. The film combines six different plots spread across past, present and future times, although properly linking them up is the tricky part. Many cinema-goers were left mystified by an apparent lack of coherence at the heart of the stories, with fiction and non-fiction merged in a way that made it almost impossible to decipher the true story or meaning of the film.

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13. Cube (1997)

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Six unconnected individuals from all walks of life find themselves encased in a giant cube. Why? Well, no one really knows… Released in 1997, the Vincenzo Natali-directed flick Cube garnered a dedicated cult following thanks to its classic horror movie traits and intriguing plot strands. Few, however, felt any more enlightened when the credits rolled than they had when the film began. Was it a government conspiracy? An alien experiment? Even after a prequel and a sequel, we’re still none the wiser.

12. Inception (2010)

What more can be said about Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece Inception that hasn’t already been said? Incredible visuals, stunning performances and a breathtaking score are just a few of the many things it gets right. But let’s face it – the star of the show is really the plot. The protagonists enter their target’s dreams to try to plant an idea, but really, that’s just a sliver of what ends up transpiring. The movie tears up the rulebook and makes its own, leading to many viewers getting lost in a sea of nested dream states.

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11. Under the Skin (2014)

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Sometimes when a film blends two disparate themes together, the results can be somewhat confusing. Under the Skin was one such example. Jonathan Glazer’s movie is set in Scotland, and features a unique take on the alien abduction theme commonly found in cinema. Scarlett Johansson plays an extra-terrestrial who scours the earth looking for victims, only to ultimately repent of her crimes against humanity. It could be a metaphor for the struggles that young women face in life, but really, this sci-fi-social commentary fusion is completely open to interpretation.

10. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Wachowskis’ first movie in this sci-fi trilogy, The Matrix, was a thought-provoking, captivating and symbolic breath of fresh air at a time when Hollywood blockbusters were largely all style and no substance. Fast-forward to The Matrix Reloaded, and much of that aura and mystique had dissipated, leaving fans instead with a storyline bordering on the impenetrable. It was the ending which really left audiences dumbfounded, thanks to an inscrutable conversation between hero Neo and an entity known as The Architect – a dialogue of which many people still can’t make sense to this day.

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9. Twelve Monkeys (1995)

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If you’re looking for some light viewing, be sure to stay clear of Twelve Monkeys. The film is the very definition of dense due to its wild array of plot points and narrative strands. Directed by Terry Gilliam, the movie centers on time travel, with a lethal virus having wiped out almost every living creature. Those humans who survived endure a subterranean existence, and the only way to fight the pandemic is to go back in time to try and find out where and how it all began. What happens after that is the stuff of complicated movie lore.

8. Possession (1981)

Just because you can’t understand a movie doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense. Many critics found this out first-hand after seeing the delicately woven genre-defying film Possession. Andrzej Zulawski’s opus poses as a monster movie at first, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s a very contextual affair, telling the extreme hardships of a marriage gone sour and the trouble that such an event can bring with it. However, its nuanced storytelling was largely lost on audiences at the time of its release, many of whom ultimately missed the real plot.

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7. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

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It’s not just elaborately concocted plots that can cause misunderstanding among viewers, but inconsistencies as well. The Butterfly Effect arguably fell victim to this, failing to cover some glaring plot holes. The main character – played by Ashton Kutcher – has the ability to go back through time to right the wrongs in his life, often altering things for the worse. However, critics claim there are so many errors in the basic mechanics of the movie, directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, that any analysis shatters its whole premise.

6. Black Swan (2010)

Few films of the last ten years are as open for interpretation as Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Natalie Portman is spellbinding as a dancer who becomes embroiled in heated competition with a fellow performer. This melodrama is far from straightforward, however, exploring the human psyche in ways which are difficult to fully rationalize. This motion picture has many theories surrounding it, the most prevalent being that the main character is schizophrenic. However, we’ll probably never know for sure…

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5. Memento (2000)

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Another ambitious effort by director Christopher Nolan, Memento is jumbled up from beginning to end. It’s told from the point of view of a man who can’t retain memories for longer than 15 minutes. Out to seek revenge on the person who killed his wife, the lead character’s inability to make sense of what’s going on around him is effectively communicated to the audience as well. It’s little wonder so many people have a hard time understanding it – piecing together this jigsaw puzzle is no mean feat.

4. Primer (2004)

Some films are hard enough to understand with dialogue that you can make sense of, but when you don’t even know what the characters are talking about, they’re practically impenetrable. Primer, directed by Shane Carruth, is a perfect example. It centers on four tech entrepreneurs who accidentally stumble upon the ability to travel through time. However, it’s the immense amount of technical jargon in the movie which really turned a lot of people off. Many found it complicated to the point of irritation – a movie satisfying only for those with scientific backgrounds.

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3. Eraserhead (1977)

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From the bizarre to the downright insane, Eraserhead is the stuff of nightmares. With little dialogue, ambiguous themes and surreal imagery, this is a movie which you could watch again and again and still be mystified. It’s regarded by many to be about man’s fear of becoming a father, but director David Lynch has said that the film is open for interpretation, and no single theory has completely accorded with his idea of what the movie is truly about.

2. Videodrome (1983)

Rarely does a film revolve around something which hasn’t been widely discussed before in the public domain, but Videodrome was an exception. David Cronenberg’s movie focused on many revolutionary ideas, including the use of mass media and the merging of man and machine at a time when such topics weren’t generally publicly debated. With its use of gratuitous violence and televised propaganda, few can deny Videodrome blazed a pioneering trail.

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1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

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As off-the-rails as some of the movies on this list are, hands down the most impenetrable of them all is surely Mulholland Drive. To this day, nobody can divine its true meaning, thanks to an incredibly complex narrative and intertwining story arcs. This David Lynch opus has so many different plot strands, character introductions, and changes in focus that even giving this movie a synopsis is a task bordering on the impossible. All you need to know is that you’re in for a bumpy ride with this one – and so is your brain…

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