Dreams can whisk us far away from our mundane existence into the world of fantasy and adventure, which is not too different from movies themselves. It is not surprising that dreams have long been a source of inspiration for Tinsel Town. That said, the “it was all a dream” ending can be a bit of a controversial one, as some viewers and critics deride the trope as a cop-out. Certainly, some films use the dream ending to tie up loose ends in a flimsy plot.
However, there have been many films over the years that have skillfully and successfully pulled off the subconscious storyline and have been regaled as fan favorites. Furthermore, dream-based narratives are fascinating topics for debate and often make great conversation starters as viewers are always left with the inevitably unanswered questions: Was it all a dream? Was any of the fantasy based in reality? If you are a fan of a big-screen dreamscape, you are in luck. We have compiled a list of nine of the best movies that turned out to be a dream.
9 Take Shelter
Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon as small-town construction worker and father Curtis LaForche. When Curtis becomes plagued with visions of an impending biblical disaster, he begins upgrading his backyard bomb shelter. Desperate to protect his family from his persistent and devastating visions, and unwilling to confide in his wife, Curtis becomes obsessed with the project, creating tensions within his community and marriage. At the behest of his worried wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), Curtis reluctantly sees a counselor who suggests that his visions could have something to do with his own psychological history. Shannon’s performance is phenomenal as he draws audiences into his disrupted psyche.
8 Total Recall
Total Recall is based on the Phillip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as protagonist Douglas Quaid, a man plagued by dreams of a mysterious woman on Mars. When the dreams begin to feel more like memories, Doug seeks out a vacation rental company that implants fictional memories into one’s subconscious so that they can experience Mars without actually traveling to Mars. When the procedure goes awry, Quaid is confronted with the disturbing reality that his memories have already been tampered with, and he is in grave danger. Total Recall is one of the best movies that turned out to be a dream because of its climactic turn of events and non-stop action.
7 A Nightmare on Elm Street
In the late Wes Craven’s iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street, a former child murderer returns from the grave to seek revenge on his killers by tormenting their children when they are at their most vulnerable: in their dreams. Craven masterfully uses special effects in a fun and inventive way to conjure up a fluid subconscious surrounding, susceptible to the slightest suggestion. A Nightmare on Elm Street was a massive success in the horror genre and would spawn numerous sequels. There is also currently a reboot in the works. fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise celebrated the 35th anniversary of Dream Warriors this year, which is said to be the best in the series.
6 Dead of Night
Dead of Night is a 1945 horror movie that follows Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect who is invited to a country farmhouse by homeowner Elliot Foley to consult on some renovations. Upon his arrival, Walter gets an eerie feeling as he confesses to his host and fellow house guests that, despite being strangers to him, he has seen them all before in a dream. Furthermore, he remains convinced that something terrible will happen. Inspired by his unnerving revelation, the fellow guests share their own experiences with the paranormal. Dead of Night keeps audiences on the edge of their seat until the final horrifying reveal. Dead of Night was one of the first movies to play with the dream within a dream scenario that would make inception famous decades later. The Guardian rated Dead of Night the 15th overall best horror movie of all time.
5 Mullholland Drive
Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s acclaimed movie about Rita (Laura Harring) who loses her memory after a car accident and seeks to recover her lost identity. While holed up in an apartment building, she is discovered by aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts), who offers help. The film is presented as a dream logic narrative in a non-linear fashion, but breaks down into two distinguishable parts. The brighter and bolder dream world first unfolds the fantastical happenings surrounding the two young women, after which the dark and nightmarish truth presents itself. As with all of Lynch’s works, Mulholland Drive is a visceral and psychological mind bend you won’t soon forget, although you may need to watch it a second time to fully absorb it.
4 Open Your Eyes
Open Your Eyes (or Abre Los Ojos) follows the story of Cesar (Eduardo Noriega), a self-absorbed womanizer who finds himself in a mental institution, but can’t remember the details of how he got there. From then on, it is hard to distinguish dreams from reality as Cesar tries to make sense of his current reality. If you like films that keep you guessing, this one is for you as it has a lot of unexpected twists throughout. Open Your Eyes was the inspiration behind Cameron Crowe’s 2001 thriller vanilla Sky, although the original has the edge over the remake in this case.
3 The Matrix
Of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves stars as Thomas Anderson aka NEO, a computer hacker who has always seen the world differently from his peers. As such, he is called upon by the mysterious Morpheus to help liberate the human race from the illusion their world has become, known only as The Matrix. The Matrix is one of the best movies that turned out to be a dream for its terrifying and not too unimaginable premise that human beings would have their consciousness hijacked to serve as batteries for the malevolent AI machines who had overrun society. The Matrix has spawned three sequels, the most recent being The Matrix: Resurrectionswhich Reeves describes as the inverse of the original trilogy.
2 8 ½
8 ½ is a semi-autobiographical dramedy directed by renowned Italian director Federico Fellini that chronicles the story of Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a famous Italian film director who aspires to create a visionary science fiction film. Guido, however, finds himself plagued with personal problems which stifle his creative process. Fellini was inspired to make the film after suffering from a creative block himself. It is one of the best dream-based films because of how the seemingly random dream sequences once decoded come together to form a cohesive and engaging story about anxiety, the creative process, and external pressures. Roger Ebert honored the film as the best film about filmmaking and gave it a four-star review.
one The Wizard of Oz
In the best movie that turned out to be a dream, Dorothy Gale and her beloved dog, Toto unexpectedly land in Oz courtesy of a friendly neighborhood twister. When Dorothy discovers The Wizard of Oz can help her find her way back home to Kansas, she immediately sets out on foot and picks up a few friends along the way. While the fast friends follow the yellow brick road to Oz, The Wicked Witch of the West is stealthily plotting to avenge the death of her sister. The Wizard of Oz is perhaps one of the best examples of illustrating a dream world due to its clever use of color. The opening sequences in the movie and the final scene where Dorothy is in Kansas are filmed in black and white, whereas the moment Dorothy opens the door of her displaced home we see the dazzling Technicolor dreamland of Oz shining back at us. this summer The Wizard of Oz will return to theaters for Judy Garland’s would-be 100th birthday celebration.
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