13 of the Most Infamously Confusing Movies You Can Stream Right Now

13 of the Most Infamously Confusing Movies You Can Stream Right Now

Madame Web didn’t set out to confound the few who saw it. The comic book movie just ended up that way—because of incompetence, lazy filmmaking, or something else, we may never know for sure.

However, many films created by auteurs are intended to confound their audience, begging moviegoers to unravel the plot threads to find the story’s real message. More often than not, they are successful. But some movies leave audiences frustrated and still searching for a movie’s meaning after the credits roll. Here are a baker’s dozen films that have a reputation for baffling and bewildering audiences.

Tenet (2020)

There have been a multitude of blog posts and YouTube videos claiming they can explain the plot of Christopher Nolan’s time-travel adventure. While it does boast some eye-popping action set pieces, even the Oscar-winning director admits that this film, which stars John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, is “not all comprehensible,” so if you watch this mind-bending thriller, just enjoy the ride.

Dune (1984)

Honestly, almost any film directed by the surrealist David Lynch would fit on this list, but none of them have required a glossary to explain the world Lynch crafted from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece. When you also consider that director Denis Villeneuve managed to craft two hit films from the same novel, you start to wonder if Mulholland Drive is really that complicated.

Enemy (2014)

Speaking of Denis Villeneuve, the director’s follow-up to the moody Prisoners reunites him with that film’s star, Jake Gyllenhaal. This absolute head-scratcher about doppelgängers got little attention upon release, as is the fate for most of A24’s non-horror offerings. (Its marketing team doesn’t seem to have figured out how to sell films that don’t have a cool hook.) It has gained cult status in the decade since its release, while its Canadian-born director has moved into big-budget filmmaking with Arrival and his pair of Dune adaptations.

Barton Fink (1991)

The Coen Brothers’ film about a pretentious screenwriter trying to unlock his creativity took home a slew of awards at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, including its top prize, the Palme d’Or. But why? Is it because it satirizes Hollywood so well, or is it for its metaphorical take on heaven and hell? Chances are it’s both, but when you see John Goodman running down a fiery hotel hallway with a shotgun at the film’s end, you may wonder what message the directors were actually trying to convey.

Inherent Vice (2014)

Joaquin Phoenix plays an investigator trying to find his missing ex-girlfriend and her wealthy new beau, but that one case grows to three in an entertaining film filled with a great ’70s rock soundtrack, puzzling contradictions, and a labyrinthine plot that demands multiple viewings. The good news is that Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s equally complicated novel is a film you actually want to revisit.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Your favorite director’s favorite movie has such an unusual and mysterious ending that you’ll have to watch its subpar sequel, 2010: The Year We Made Contact, to understand what it all meant. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this classic’s groundbreaking special effects still (rather amazingly) hold up, making it worth a look.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (2011)

This film boasts a cast of every great British actor in the last 30 years, but condensing John le Carré’s complex, intricate spy novel into something digestible was something the filmmakers could not achieve. Instead, seek out the 1979 BBC adaptation starring Alec Guinness as former spy George Smiley, which tells its story of double agents and betrayal in just over five hours.

Under the Skin (2014)

There are plenty of subreddits dedicated to explanations about Oscar-winner Jonathan Glazer’s film about an alien (Scarlett Johansson) who seduces and harvests humans (we think) but then begins to sympathize with them (it’s a theory). It all boils down to one powerful scene with a baby alone on a beach that, for some, nails the film’s theme or, for others, muddles the plot.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays an avatar for the film’s writer and director, Charlie Kaufman. He struggles to put on a play inside a life-size replica of New York City he’s built with the MacArthur Grant he was awarded. As the years go on, the distinction between the play and the real world becomes muddled, leaving the actors (and the movie’s viewers) struggling to figure out what’s really happening.

Annihilation (2018)

As evidenced by the over 20 percent disparity between critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, this visually stunning yet bizarre sci-fi film starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac left moviegoers with more questions than answers. It’s about a biologist trying to discover what happened to her husband while inside a phenomenon called “The Shimmer,” but it’s likely the film’s ambiguous ending left audiences flummoxed and frustrated.

Asteroid City (2023)

It starts as another kitschy Wes Anderson film, this one about aliens making contact with humans in the small titular desert town. As the characters deal with the uncertainty of this development, it suddenly becomes a meta-satire about…storytelling? If you’re already a fan of Anderson’s style, there’s a lot to love here. If not, it’s doubtful this disjointed star-studded gem will sway you.

The Fountain (2006)

Brad Pitt reportedly dropped out of this film because he found the script Darren Aronofsky co-wrote illogical. Pitt was replaced by Hugh Jackman, who searches for eternal life over three different timelines. The stories never coalesced for the few who saw it, and it’s now considered one of the biggest box office flops ever.

Naked Lunch (1991)

Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert said in their televised review that they admired David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ novel about paranoia and addiction but couldn’t recommend it. It’s not hard to see why. Cronenberg integrates elements of the Beat writer’s life and work into the screenplay, but the film’s mystical elements and talking bugs make the plot almost incomprehensible.

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