No film has garnered so much theorizing from movie buffs quite like Inception.I’m sure that after watching the film, you’ve heard people say “Is it real, or is it still a dream?” or “Why is the top still spinning?” Or you could have uttered some of these thoughts yourself!
Indeed, this 2010 sci-fi thriller is one heck of a masterpiece from visionary writer-director Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the film is about a group of professional “information thieves” who penetrate a person’s dream-state subconscious to implant or steal an idea, whatever’s needed for a job to get done.
Mind-blowing, huh? Just how does one do that, entering another person’s subconscious dreams and existing there to execute a mission? Obviously, these folks live inside a Knowledge Society where information is its greatest currency – and they have high tech gadgetry to lock/unlock a person’s mind.
While Nolan’s film challenged us viewers to creatively question realities this decade, did you know that other films from the past also did that same great cinematic trickery? Have you seen these ‘90s movies like Inception? Let us pitch 8 of them for you.
1.The Matrix (1999)
Directed by the innovative writing-directing sibling tandem called The Wachowskis, no film explores questioning reality more than The Matrix did. The film proposes that we’re all living inside a made-up world, and we’re not aware of it. In this constructed society, reality is manufactured for us as we play along with our designated roles in life.
This 1999 sci-fi cyberpunk film starred Keanu Reeves as the hacker-slash-corporate nobody Mr. Anderson who discovers that his humdrum world is not what it seems to be. Following digital crumbs, he is soon lured into an underworld that reveals a hidden reality underneath his own.
Meeting fellow society outcasts of this “real world,” he dons his hacker persona of Neo, who has the big task of being “The One” to shake up reality as everyone knows it. His mission? To bring down The Matrix that cages the minds – and bodies – of humans. Can he hack it?
The film’s exciting storylines and innovative special visual effects captured the imagination of viewers of the late ‘90s. To this day, The Matrix still serves as a reference for other sci-fi thrillers out there, especially those that deal with computers, information, and the existence of humanity. In this sense, this is truly one of those great movies like Inception, as both stories deal with altered realities that affect the lives of innocent human beings.
After this film, other Hollywood flicks started featuring similar visual effects, intriguing multi-layered storylines, and more martial arts-infused fight scenes in their stories. So yep, this one is indeed a pioneering film of sorts, in more ways than one.
2.The Truman Show (1998)
Talk about not knowing your true reality as you perform your tasks in your daily suburban existence, take a look at the 1998 film The Truman Show to watch another film that questions current realities – where the hero discovers that everything in his life is fake. This is a film that could get you asking “If I were Truman, what would I do?”
The film’s pitch is in itself a great catch: What if you grew up to be an adult, not knowing that, all your life, you’re the huge star of a long-running reality TV show? All your moves are documented by hidden video cameras, and each detail of your life is broadcast to a worldwide audience from the moment you were born up until you became an adult. Such a shocker!
This is the reality that Truman discovered for himself. Played superbly by Jim Carrey, The Truman Show is directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol. In a way, this is one of those movies like Inception because, like Nolan’s work, the plot paved the way for certain technical aspects of innovative storytelling. This influence is not only evident in films, but also in television.
The Truman Show is indeed ahead of its time. Who would have thought that this film could become a precursor for the reality TV fare we now know today? The storyline in itself reeks of Big Brother-hood, so to speak, and it’s interesting to watch the layers of realities that Truman slowly uncovers, one by one, in his lifetime.
3.The Usual Suspects (1995)
Character story arcs are interesting in movies that try to bend them a little. And bend it did for The Usual Suspects.
This 1995 film starred Kevin Spacey as Verbal, a seemingly small-time crook picked up by the police. The whole film presents him as a person with disability, trying to narrate to the police what happened in a massacre that he escaped from.
Sounds plain enough for a detective film, right? But wait ‘til you find out just how this story unravels, and why it belongs in our list of movies like Inception. Apparently, there’s an involved criminal named Keyser Soze. According to Verbal’s narration of events, Soze is a mysterious criminal who’s way ahead of everyone, very ruthless and cunning, and smart enough to outsmart everyone – especially the police.
Verbal’s appearance as a “weakling” makes his storytelling believable, even if there seems to be lots of convoluted details and sketchy loopholes in his narrative. But one thing’s for sure: he made Keyser Soze sound like such a huge character in the underworld that it’s nearing urban legend proportions. Will the police buy it or not?
Since we’re not a fan of spoilers, we won’t reveal the last sequences of what happened here. It’s up to you to find out. But like Inception, The Usual Suspects will make you rethink the realities presented in the whole film. And it will also make you question the whole film based on the last scene alone. Yes, it’s that exciting and challenging.
4.Primal Fear (1996)
Another movie that will get you intrigued about the nature of human beings and question their decision-making is this 1996 film called Primal Fear. The movie stars Richard Gere as a hotshot defense attorney out to save the accused altar boy named Aaron, played by Edward Norton, from being convicted of the murder of an archbishop.
Seems like an ordinary whodunit with a Catholic backdrop, right? But there’s more to that plot. This movie provides an interesting view of how one human being could live – and believe – in various realities.
As the defense attorney discovers more details about his client, he finds out that there’s another side to the guy. As it turns out, Aaron sometimes turns into Roy, his other persona. Unlike the meek and mild-mannered appearance of Aaron, Roy appears vicious as a villain. Yep, we’re talking multiple personality disorder here. This unexpected twist gives the attorney some knots of unease, since he’s now unclear of what reality to present to the courts.
As one of the ‘90s movies like Inception, the character twists that Primal Fear unravels and eventually reveals towards the end will find you questioning human beings and their take on reality. Specifically, you’ll ask yourself whether it’s possible to indeed alter one’s own reality for the sake of survival. The character’s motivations in both films have the similar swim or sink instinct, as they try to outwit their enemies in order to survive. And to survive means saving their own skin only, sometimes at the expense of others around them.
5.The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Hollywood indeed loves its story teasers and character twists during the ‘90s, much like how it still likes those things this 2010s and beyond. Watch The Shawshank Redemption and you’ll see why.
This 1994 film is set in 1947 and stars Tim Robbins as Andy, a banker who got imprisoned for supposedly murdering his wife and her lover. Inside the prison, he connects with an old man named Red (played by Morgan Freeman), who can smuggle in small items for a fee.
As the convicted banker spends his long years in prison, he accidentally develops another trade inside of it. He helped one prison guard with some tax problems, and word about it soon spread among the other guards. Later on, the guards were approaching him to help with their taxes and other financial dealings. This culminated in the prison warden soliciting his help in this department as well.
The story might appear simple, but wait ‘til you hear what the prison warden has Andy the banker doing. The warden figures into some money laundering schemes, and Andy is forced to help him out with it. The banker works his financial paper wizardry, to the delight of the corrupt warden. However, unknown to the warden, the banker uses some of his wits and redirects some of this money to a fictitious account. And what happens 19 years later into the story is what makes this count as one of the good ‘90s movies like Inception.
Nope, still no spoilers! You have to get a copy of this movie to find out what happens next. And, like Inception, once you get towards the ending sequence of the film, you’ll look back at all of the events that transpired beforehand – and ask yourself “Whoa, how did that happen?” Nope, we’re not telling! Go watch it.
6.Fight Club (1996)
Wouldn’t it be great if Edward Norton were in Inception, too? That would have made this ‘90s countdown more exciting and intriguing. But it’s as equally riveting anyway, since he figures prominently in another one of the greatest ‘90s movies like Inception: Fight Club.
Adapted from the novel with the same title penned by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is headlined by Norton and Brad Pitt. Norton plays the clean-cut fed up corporate worker while Pitt plays the iconic Tyler Durden, a rough-looking soap salesman. The two men discuss many things like how the corporate world fools people into having false ambitions, and how corporate capitalists have fashioned people into becoming hapless consumerists.
Now before you dismiss this film as just another boring film with intellectual blah-blahs, control your remote! If Inception had its interesting narrative twists, Fight Club has its narratives twisting because of the character twists revealed at the end.
As mentioned, Tyler is a rougher man than Norton’s corporate-looking character. But that soon changes. As the two discuss ideas and concepts, they also engage in bouts of what we now term as “toxic masculinity.” In other words, they’re men who want to shake off things by being “manly men,” an idea that entraps men into being more macho than ever, at all costs.
And what could be manlier than punching the daylights out of each other? Thus, their “fight club” was born. In this underground exercise of shaking off some steam, men get into a fist fight without using any sort of boxing gloves. This endeavor soon gains popularity with other men, and it eventually polarizes the friendship between the two originators.
Soon enough, tension rises, and secrets are revealed. But we can’t really give away the ending since it will ruin the overall effect of the film. So go get a copy and watch it instead. And regardless of the topic, we’re pretty sure that both men and women would love its Inception-like twist!
7.The Sixth Sense (1999)
Perhaps no genre does story and character twisting more than the horror-thriller, as it’s generally an expected device in this kind of film. Thus, it’s no surprise that one of its kind is included in our list. Yep, get ready to be puzzled and spooked by The Sixth Sense.
Released in 1999, The Sixth Sense stars Bruce Willis in a tame role. If you’re used to him as an action star, this one’s quite different. The adrenalin rush will be there, for sure – and it’s revealed when you least expect it!
The film is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the filmmaker who’s fond of such Inception-like twists and endings. This film is no different, as it follows the story of a child psychologist (Malcolm Crowe, played by Willis) and a boy he tries to help, named Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment). Can you say “I see dead people” with a straight face? Yep, this is where that famous movie quote came from.
As a psychologist who felt guilty about a previous client’s mishap, Crowe tries to help Cole, since this boy seems to have the same psychological problems as the previous client. And that problem is, yep, seeing dead people! He sees them and communicates with them, as if they’re still alive. It seems that these dead people are not aware of their current state of being, well, undead!
There’s a lot that the psychologist unravels in the boy’s story, as the boy also reveals that the ghosts who approach him still have unfinished business in this world. In some instances, the boy and psychologist tandem tries to help complete some of this business for others – before they face their own businesses in life – or maybe death?
So what happens next? Watch it to find out!
8.Total Recall (1990)
The last but certainly not the least in our list is Total Recall, the original one with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This one was directed by Paul Verhoeven and somewhat based on or inspired by a short story penned by master sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick.
The futuristic story narrates the tale of Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, a seemingly simple construction worker who’s married to a pretty wife and leads a simple life. But he is intrigued and bothered by some dreams where he finds himself living in Mars, or at least visiting it. This dystopian fantasy features people already living in Mars, and there also exists a certain technology that could implant memories in your brain, for a fee.
Itching for a life that he doesn’t really know of, the simple construction worker tries the memory implant technology to play up his fantasy of being a secret agent. However, his problems begin when he discovers that he has specific memories that were suppressed. And guess what: those memories are of him being a secret agent! It’s like his fantasy came to life all of a sudden, yet he’s unsure how it happened.
This is where the film parallels with that of Inception’s storyline. The twists and turns of Total Recall finds our underdog hero slowly turn into a confident rebel of an agent. And what happens next with this construction guy-turned-powerful agent would be a series of plot twist after plot twist that will have you at the edge of your seat, quite literally!