The 10 Best Mind-Bending Movies on Netflix

Updated May 28, 2024 • Staff

The idea of a mind-bending movie (or a mind-blowing movie, or a mind-fuck; whatever you want to call it) is pretty hard to nail down, but it usually boils down to something that surprises you, does something unexpectedly complex with its plot, or leaves you feeling dazed long after the credits roll. Many films, especially on Netflix, try to replicate this feeling but may only focus on the shock factor. So we've put together a list of little-known but high-quality movies on the streaming giant that have surprises up their sleeves or get you to see things in a different way—while still remembering to be great movies as a whole.

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10.

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Brett Eidman, Fredi Bernstein, Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
9.

RRR (2022)

Set in 1920s India, RRR follows two revolutionaries who strike up an unlikely bond and fend off the British regime from their home. In their epic journey to protect their people, they encounter a number of setbacks that prompts them to put their incredible combat skills on full display. 

Despite its three-hour run, RRR never drags, thanks in large part to its breathtaking action sequences and eye-popping visuals. It may contain all the familiar beats of a blockbuster, but RRR is notably grounded in its central, political theme of anti-colonialism, the sincerity of which keeps the film's big heart beating palpably throughout. 

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Actor: Ahmareen Anjum, Ajay Devgn, Alexx O'Nell, Alia Bhatt, Alison Doody, Chatrapathi Sekhar, Edward Sonnenblick, Ivan Kostadinov, Makrand Deshpande, Mark Bennington, N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Oleh Karpenko, Olivia Morris, R. Bhakti Klein, Rahul Ramakrishna, Rajiv Kanakala, Ram Charan, Ray Stevenson, S. S. Rajamouli, Samuthirakani, Shriya Saran, Spandan Chaturvedi, Varun Buddhadev
Director: S. S. Rajamouli
Rating: Not Rated
Go to Netflix
8.

Blue Ruin (2013)

Blue Ruin is a superbly acted, visually striking drama about a man's poignant and brutally violent journey for revenge when the culprit responsible for the murder of his father is released from prison. While it might seem like any other revenge tale, it is so well-told and smart that any other similarities with its crowded genre gently fade away. The first 15-20 minutes are pretty slow, but the pay-off is hot fire.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Abigail Horton, Amy Hargreaves, Bonnie Johnson, Brent Werzner, David W. Thompson, Devin Ratray, Eve Plumb, Jeremy Saulnier, Kevin Kolack, Macon Blair, Sandy Barnett, Sidné Anderson, Sidné Anderson, Stacy Rock, Ydaiber Orozco
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
7.

Good Time (2017)

A fast-paced thriller, and "actually dangerous" movie as envisioned by its directors, Good Time is about a bank robbery gone wrong and one brother trying to get his other brother out of jail in its aftermath. It's a deep and fast dive into New York's criminal underworld that will not give you the time to catch a single full breath. The rhythm here is, without exaggeration, unlike anything I've seen before. It's anxiety-inducing and very... primal. Incredible work featuring a career-pivoting performance from Robert Pattinson as the loose criminal that will do literally anything in the pursuit of seeing his brother free.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Ben Safdie, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Cliff Moylan, Craig muMs Grant, Dorothi Fox, Edgar Morais, Eloisa Santos, George Lee Miles, Gladys Mathon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Laurence Blum, Lucas Elliot Eberl, Mahadeo Shivraj, Megan Dodd, Michael McClard, Michael Shershenovich, Necro, Peter Linari, Peter Verby, Rachel Black, Ratnesh Dubey, Robert Clohessy, Robert Pattinson, Rose Gregorio, Roy James Wilson, Saida Mansoor, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Shaun Rey, Souleymane Sy Savane, Taliah Webster
Director: Ben Safdie, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, Joshua Safdie
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
6.

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

This documentary starts with Alex Lewis, who gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in the hospital not knowing who he is. He doesn’t remember anything (not even what a bicycle or a TV is, or who his mother or father are), but he remembers his twin brother, Marcus. When Alex gets back into his childhood home, he’s full of questions, and Marcus is full of answers. However, slowly, Marcus realizes his power to reshape Alex’s version of their past. Marcus leaves one important detail from Alex’s life that makes this documentary (as if it wasn’t already) such an insane story. I know I said it’s a sad movie, but it’s also fascinating and, ultimately, humanizing of the brothers’ experience.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Kathleen Rainey, Laura Obiols, Marcus Lewis |, Thomas Mulhurn
Director: Ed Perkins
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
5.

Gather (2020)

This insightful and uplifting documentary is about a growing movement within indigenous communities: obtaining food sovereignty by going back to pre-genocide ways of cultivating food.

The violent changes that have affected indigenous communities don’t impact just the people, but also the animals, the fish, and the land. All of these are now bearing the brunt of climate change.

Historically, North American governments forbid Native people from fishing and cultivating their foods as a way to repress them and create dependency. Gather is as much a recognition of the damage that was done as it is a forward-looking vision about how these communities are taking control of their faiths.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Director: Sanjay Rawal
Rating: 0
Go to Netflix
4.

Leave the World Behind (2023)

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga
Director: Sam Esmail
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
3.

Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski (2018)

This is an amazing documentary but be warned, the main character has some weird characteristics.

By coincidence, an art collector stumbles upon an undiscovered collection of sculptures and paintings that can only be described as the work of a genius. There was almost no reference to the artist, but upon research the collector finds that they are by a man called Stanislav Szukalski. He traces him down and finally locates him living anonymously in a California suburb. 

The documentary, Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski, is a collection of tapes from numerous interviews in the 1980s between the collector and Szukalski. He was helped by George DiCaprio, who would later produce this movie with his son Leonardo (!). 

In these interviews it becomes clear that Szukalski is pure genius. The funny thing is that he seemed to be well aware of this fact himself. 

Remember the weird characteristics I mentioned in that first sentence? Here we go. Szukalski’s past is full of a lot of antisemitism, sexism and bigotry. 

The question that lingers is how exactly can this forgotten-genius story be reshaped by the discovery of his twisted opinions. Can the artist be separated from the art? It’s a personal matter for the people who found Szukalski and later made this movie. It might never get as personal for you, but this movie will sure try to provoke an answer.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Adam Jones, Charles Schneider, Gabriel Bartalos, George DiCaprio, Glenn Bray, James Kagel, Nick Tate, Rebecca Forstadt, Robert Williams, Stanislav Szukalski, Suzanne Williams, Timothy Snyder
Director: Irek Dobrowolski, Ireneusz Dobrowolski
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
2.

The Look of Silence (2015)

A follow-up/companion piece to the award-winning The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is another compelling documentary from Director Joshua Oppenheimer. Both films aim attention at the Indonesian Genocide of 1965-66, when the military government systematically purged up to one million communists. While the first film's focus was on the culprits and on providing facts, the second one lets us meet the victims. One victim in particular: a soft-spoken optician named Adi Rukun, who meets with various members of the death squad who murdered his elder brother Ramli, under the guise of giving them an eye test. As he questions them about the killings, the murderers, again, show little remorse and eagerly provide the lurid details to the many executions. It's a stunning and provocative look at the legacy of historical mass killings, along with the insidious propaganda that provokes them, and continues to justify them to younger generations. A testament to the power of cinema to remember the forgotten.

Our staff rating: 9.1/10
Genre: Documentary, History
Actor: Adi Rukun, Amir Hasan, Amir Siahaan, Inong, Joshua Oppenheimer, M.Y. Basrun
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
1.

Icarus (2017)

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it's Rodchenkov's likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can't help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you're not into sports!

Our staff rating: 9.4/10
Genre: Documentary, Mystery
Actor: Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Don Catlin, Grigory Rodchenkov, Jacques Rogge, Nikita Kamaev, Richard Pound, Sebastian Coe, Thomas Bach, Victor Webster
Director: Bryan Fogel
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix

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