21+ Weird Movies: Pushing Cinematic Normalcy
A list of weird and strange movies that will put you off-kilter.
Sometimes movies should be confusing and unsettling.
There are only so many movies you can watch with the same predictable plot: All is well, a bad/chaotic force emerges, hope is lost, but then mythically and suddenly, the heroes defeat the bad force and order is restored.
At Creepy Catalog, we’ve tracked a lot of movies that subvert traditional storytelling. We have lists on the most surreal and shocking films, one of movies where the villain wins (or is just silly), and introductory essays on the most extreme French and Japanese films; all of these survey weird movies by almost all accounts.
So what makes this list any different than our other watch guides? Here we’re going to laser-focus on only movies that are all weird for an eclectic amount of reasons. Our ‘weird’ movies list focuses on films that contain some combination of the following criteria:
- Out of the ordinary;
- Boring, long, unenjoyable;
- Bizarre, provocative visuals;
- Nonlinear plot, a mashup of genres;
- Unusual meta-circumstances on how the film came to be;
- Unsettling or prone to make you feel like you’re in an altered state.
Thus, by “weird movies,” we mean movies that are going to push your boundaries to where you feel acid-like levels of displeasure and joy. In other words, this is a list of the top weird movies for you to consider watching tonight if you’re hungry to cleanse your palate of normalcy.
Great Weird Movies
The Magus (1968)
The general consensus about this film is that no one, including the audience and all of the film’s creators, has the faintest clue what the film is about. Novelist John Fowles was reportedly very unhappy with how this cinematic adaptation of his novel turned out. So was the film’s star, Michael Caine, who listed it as one of the worst movies he’s ever been in. So was actress Candice Bergen. Cinematographer Billy Williams said he found the film “strange” and “unfathomable.” Actor Peter Sellers, when asked by biographer William Goldman if he had any regrets in life, said he’d do “everything exactly the same, with the exception of watching The Magus (1968)”. In very basic terms, the “plot”—what can be discerned of it—involves a teacher (Caine) who arrives on a Greek island and falls into a dysfunctional psychological relationship with the island’s resident magician. The magician proceeds to put the teacher through a series of psychological tests involving Nazi reenactments and multiple psychological identities. Take from this film what you will.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s bizarre and blasphemous religious allegory caused quite a stir when it premiered at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Financed in part by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were fans of Jodorowsky’s 1970 epic El Topo, the film is based on “The Ascent of Mt. Carmel” by St. John of the Cross and “Mt. Analogue” by Rene Daumal. Jodorowsky portrays The Alchemist, a Christlike figure who seeks to lead truth-seekers to Lotus Island and up the side of Holy Mountain. In one especially revolting scene, The Alchemist is forced to breathe the fumes of his own feces as it’s transformed into gold. A review in Electric Sheep Magazine signals exactly how weird Holy Mountain can get: “One of the most memorable scenes is a chameleon and toad circus which depicts the Conquest of Mexico. Filmed in close-up, it’s a glorious orgy of amphibian slow motion with toads (the invading Spanish) dressed in monk’s cowls and armor clambering over gaudily dressed chameleons (the Aztecs) before the whole set (a scale model of an Aztec city complete with ziggurats) is blown to bits, all played out to a Nazi marching tune.”
The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1978)
With the alternate title Class Reunion Massacre, you might think that The Redeemer: Son of Satan might feature the classic slasher format that was so prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. But instead of featuring creative ways to kill the six former students returning for their 10-year high school reunion, this film takes a step outside the horror box right from the opening credits. So many questions are left unanswered. Why did a young boy walk out of a lake fully clothed at the beginning? And why does he have two thumbs on one hand? Why does the preacher have two thumbs on his hand as well? If you were looking for answers, you’re not going to find them here.
The Falls (1980)
The Falls has been accurately described as “manic and mechanical” — that is, a paradoxical combination of boring and exhilarating. With a runtime of almost four hours, multiple plot lines, made-up languages, beautiful music, and ironic juxtapositions, the film explodes with a weirdness that most will find nauseating but certain cinephiles and lovers of the absurd will cherish and see as a hypnotic masterpiece. What is it about? An unknown violent event starts turning people into birds or making them obsessed with birds; it also focuses only on people with the last name Falls.
What makes Society, the directorial debut of horror producer Brian Yuzna, a weird film is how it shifts tones and blurs the ground of annoying and amusing. Is this a soap opera? An erotic thriller? A body horror movie? A showcase of amazing makeup and costume design? It’s up for debate and thus makes the film a curious watch. A film critic at Los Angeles Times wrote of Society: “no one who sees the last half-hour of this movie will ever forget it—though quite a few may want to.” So do with that what you will.
Until the End of the World (1991)
This movie took over a decade to make. It was filmed on four different continents — Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia — and the dialogue moves seamlessly between French, German, English, Russian, Japanese, and at least three other languages. The original cut of the movie was almost 24 hours long! The version that was released in movie theaters on Christmas Day in 1991 was only 158 minutes long, though. Critics and moviegoers alike panned it as a colossal mess. It also cost over 20 million to make — a lot of money in the 1980s for a movie — while taking in only $752,856 at the box office.
The version that exists today is 4.7 hours long and was released in 2019 as the official director’s cut via the Criterion Collection. It is a strangely beautiful and boring movie. It is perhaps one of the best movies to watch to put you to sleep, which is a compliment — Until the End of the World is a dreamy movie that transcends shackles and leaves you stupefied in banality and a weird dew of awesomeness.
Fat Girl (2001)
Fat Girl seeps and oozes in an uncomfortable malaise. It’s a malaise illuminated by cringe sexual dynamics, metaphors that subconsciously haunt you, and a constant suspicion that things aren’t as they seem on the surface. Fat Girl also has one of the most unhappy endings imaginable, perhaps the best example of Diabolus ex Machina or the Devil from the Machine in recent cinema, where out of nowhere the plot line — which was already tragic — becomes irrevocably even more tragic.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike is a filmmaker known around the world for his mastery of the gruesome and the bizarre, and The Happiness of the Katakuris may be his greatest, weirdest achievement. This story of a family trying to successfully run an inn in the Japanese countryside is a musical horror comedy, but that description doesn’t even begin to do justice to this sprawling epic of strangeness. The guests who stay at the inn tend to die in random ways, the movie periodically shifts to stop-motion animation with no explanation, and there are even some dancing zombies in one scene. Regardless of whatever is happening, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a pure joy to watch.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Based on a short story by Joe Lansdale, Bubba Ho-Tep finds Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) confined to a nursing home in East Texas after having switched his identity with an Elvis impersonator. At the same home is JFK—Ossie Davis, who happens to be black, but one of the film’s charms is that despite how bizarre the plot is, everything is taken for granted. As Roger Ebert explains, “It has the damnedest ingratiating way of making us sit there and grin at its harebrained audacity, laugh at its outhouse humor, and be somewhat moved (not deeply, but somewhat) at the poignancy of these two old men and their situation.”
Southland Tales (2006)
Southland Tales is weird for a lot of reasons. The movie stars Justin Timberlake, Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Amy Poehler, Seann William Scott, and other incredibly famous actors. It also has a soundtrack by Moby. But the movie makes absolutely no sense to any general audience — like, no sense whatsoever — and it meanders for almost 2.5 hours. One reviewer said of the film: “Southland Tales was so bad it made me wonder if [the director] had ever met a human being.” It also cost $17 million to make and only generated $374,743 in revenue. Some will see the genius in the film though, maybe.
Holy Motors (2012)
Holy Motors is a movie that uses dream logic to create a beautifully crafted experience about performance. Well, it’s probably about performance, but it’s quite difficult to pin down any specific meaning from scene to scene. Denis Lavant stars in many different roles as a man who takes part in different scenarios as different people with his limousine driver Celine as the only connection between his different personas. To cap it off, the movie’s closing shots show that the limo Celine drives may be sentient as well — not that it has any relevance to what the audience has already witnessed.
The Platform (2019)
In a film whose horror is wrought through the dehumanizing claustrophobia of incarceration, The Platform refers to a literal concrete slab that starts at the top floor of the prison filled with food and then descends floor by floor, allowing the pair of inmates at each level to eat as much as they can for the two minutes per day that the Platform is stopped at their level. The lower one gets, the more starved…and crazed…and violent the inmates become. The film is obviously an allegory for a capitalistic society in which those at the top get all they want—and more—and are never once troubled by the idea of leaving food for those below them. Released in Spain as El Hoyo.
More Really Strange/Weird Movies
- El Topo (1970) director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal and violent quasi-Western is widely heralded as the film that began the “midnight movie” craze of the 1970s.
- Being John Malkovich (1999) directed by Spike Jonze, and starring — you guessed it — John Malkovich, this is often put on lists like this as a default weird film. It’s also generally speaking quite a good movie that got several Academy Award nominations.
- Forbidden Zone (1982) is an absurdist musical with a cult following and radically bizarre set of characters.
- Donnie Darko (2001) a high-school student (Jake Gyllenhaal) is haunted by a six-foot rabbit that only he is able to see.
- I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006) a young Korean woman is sent to an asylum after she declares that she is a cyborg rather than a human being.
- Tropic Thunder (2008) one film critic described watching this film as being like “getting mugged by a clown,” and as far as plot goes, this Ben Stiller film is very meta.
- Trash Humpers (2009) maestro of weirdness Harmony Korine directed this film about elderly voyeurs.
- Dogtooth (2009) a pair of parents keep their three children completely cloistered from the outside world.
- Enter The Void (2009) what would a roundup of strange movies be without one from French director Gaspar Noé? Flashing lights, violence, trippy visuals, and a dizzying occult plot make this a default film for cinephiles looking for a mind-bending movie.
- River of Fundament (2014) in our list of the most disturbing movies ever made, we ranked Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament number one. It is a strange, strange movie.
- Sorry to Bother You (2018) is one of the more interesting and provocative surrealist films of the 2010s.
- Midsommar (2019) is a strange movie from Ari Aster that subverts many expectations of what people come to expect from the horror genre.
- Fried Barry (2020) this Shudder Original is marketed as the R-rated version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and is a truly bizarre cinematic experience.
- We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021) is a weird film about the horrors of growing up and internet culture, shot from an almost found-footage-esque way.