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Just watched Inception? Here are 8 movies with twists and cliffhangers to try next

We'll incept some similar films into your mind - no dream heists required.

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception
Published: Thursday, 16th June 2022 at 6:00 pm
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It's been over a decade since Inception steamrolled into cinemas like a folding dream city, and its impact on film has been felt ever since.

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From blaring horns to endless parodies to the rise of "-ception" as a suffix, the Leonardo DiCaprio film was ubiquitous for years afterwards, and Hollywood spent much of the 2010s trying to replicate the movie's unique mix of fresh ideas, blockbuster visuals and narrative complexity.

Not all films are quite able to live up to the juggernaut that is Inception, but thankfully there are plenty of smart sci-fi movies, twisty-turny thrillers and ambiguous endings out there that are well worth your time.

Inception was far from the first mind-bending movie and was itself inspired by the explosion of films questioning reality in the 1990s, the most obvious and notable example being the Wachowskis' groundbreaking hit The Matrix.

Director Christopher Nolan too also has an extensive collection of cerebral films that explore time, space and memory, with several featuring impressive twists that we'll list below.

So if you've just experienced Inception for the very first time and are looking for something similar, we've got a list of films that will blow your mind all over again.

1. Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Shutter Island (2010)
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Shutter Island (2010) SEAC

If after Inception you're after another 2010 thriller that sees Leonardo DiCaprio question his reality, then you're in luck - psychological horror Shutter Island was coincidentally only released a few months before the Nolan blockbuster and has a surprising amount in common. Directed by industry legend Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island sees Leonardo DiCaprio star as a U.S. Marshal who heads to a remote psychiatric facility in search of an escaped murderer.

It’s best you go into Shutter Island knowing as little as possible, but it’s safe to say there may be a plot twist or two along the way. As you’d expect from a Scorsese-DiCaprio collaboration the acting and direction are top-notch, crafting a chilling, unique and occasionally gruesome mystery that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In our Shutter Island review, we stated that "the director's fevered imagination draws on the creepiness of Val Lewton's 1940s horrors, the expressionistic Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and the dark glamour of Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas" resulting in a film that "weaves an impressive and gripping spell".

Be sure to return after you've finished to see our breakdown of the Shutter Island ending - it seems 2010 was a big year for ambiguous closing scenes...

Where to watch: Netflix, NOW

2. The Matrix

Keanu Reeves The matrix
Keanu Reeves (Warner Brothers)

Before Inception came along, The Matrix was the influential sci-fi action film of choice. Nolan is on record telling The Los Angeles Times that the seminal 1999 film was an influence, and it's easy to see how as both take place in realities that aren't necessarily real - Inception in dreams, The Matrix in a computer simulation. But scratch below the surface and the two have much more in common - both used their action sequences to illustrate the core concepts of their world rather than distract from them, both used their ideas to explore character, emotion and philosophy, and both would spend a decade being endlessly parodied and imitated.

However, regardless of its similarities to Inception, The Matrix is a film everyone should watch at least once. Its reputation may have been tarnished slightly by the underwhelming sequels, but the original stands up as one of the best science fiction films of all time thanks to a fresh concept, influential action choreography and iconic visuals. Alan Jones has nothing but praise for the iconic cyberpunk flick in our five-star The Matrix review, lauding the film as "an adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster ride of extraordinary vision and astounding power" that "pushed the boundaries of imagination and digital-effects technology further than ever before".

Where to watch: NOW

3. The Truman Show

Jimmy Carrey Truman Show
Jimmy Carrey Truman Show

Jim Carrey's zany style of comedy may seem the polar opposite of Christopher Nolan's serious directorial style, but it seems that both have had a shared interest in exploring realities that just might not be real. For those unaware, The Truman Show's highly prophetic plot follows an insurance salesman who slowly realises his entire life is a reality TV show with actors posing as his family, and decides to escape.

Inception and The Truman Show are those rare breeds of film that are both smash-hit summer blockbusters but also endlessly thought-provoking, with both blurring the lines of what is and is not real and following characters who become aware that their world around them is not what it seems. Both films use this for different reasons of course – The Truman Show uses this false reality to explore celebrity culture, reality television and surveillance, whereas Nolan is more interested in the human mind – however, if you’ve just watched Inception and are questioning whether you’re in a dream or not, The Truman Show is a perfect follow-up as you'll be wondering whether you’re secretly on TV also.

We were suitably impressed, writing in our five-star review that "this ingenious satirical comedy drama about media omnipotence is both dazzling and sophisticated from audacious start to poignant finale".

Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon, iTunes and Sky Store.

4. Memento

Memento
Memento © Twentieth Century Fox. SEAC

Inception may have cemented Christopher Nolan's status as the master of complex twisty-turny thrillers, but Memento was the auteur's first attempt at labyrinthine stories that play about with time (and the audience's heads). Nolan's breakout film, Memento follows an insurance investigator with short-term memory loss who uses polaroid pictures and tattoos to track down his wife's murderer.

As shown in Inception - and even more so in Tenet - Nolan has long been a fan of experimenting with time and non-linear narratives, and is shown clearly here as the main conceit of Memento. Here the movie is not shown in order – while black and white sequences are shown chronologically, colour sequences are shown in reverse to simulate the protagonist’s experience. As with Inception, it requires the viewer to become an active participant in keeping track of the story – and rewards audiences with an utterly original and complex tale that will keep you guessing until the very end, with all sorts of charts and diagrams created to explain the film’s unique structure.

David McGillivray points out how Memento, like Inception, is concerned about our perception of reality, writing in our five-star review that: "the ingenious structure makes the point that memory, although unreliable, is what we depend upon for our sense of reality".

Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon, iTunes or Sky Store.

5. Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich SEAC

Inception takes a neat original concept - a thief steals corporate secrets from people's dreams - and pushes it to its extreme, exploring a dream within a dream within a dream and adding a limbo layer on top for good measure. Being John Malkovich takes a similar approach, taking a unique and largely succinct premise - a puppeteer discovers a portal into the head of actor John Malkovich - but twists and turns then take the story in wild directions that no one saw coming.

Coming from the team of writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, it's no surprise that Being John Malkovich is highly meta and surreal, with Malkovich starring as a fictitious version of himself who is controlled by several other characters during the film. However it’s hard to stop watching – if you’re looking to have your mind blown in a rather different way to Inception, then Being John Malkovich will have you wondering if you’re stuck in a fever dream instead.

Alan Jones was particularly impressed with the film's many twists in his five-star review, writing: "Jonze's Kafkaesque mind trip is so far-out in conservative Hollywood terms, it's a real shock to the system. The fact that it manages to carry its open-mouthed audience through every awesomely enigmatic turn is its greatest accomplishment."

Where to watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes or Sky Store.

6. The Prestige

Christian Bale
Christian Bale in The Prestige

As one of the masters of cinematic twists and turns, it's no surprise that Christopher Nolan turned to magic tricks and illusions for one of his films. Set in Edwardian London, The Prestige follows two magicians who become enemies after a tragic accident, resulting in a bitter rivalry of stage one-upmanship that will cost them everything.

The Prestige is a tad more grounded than Inception, but like a good magician the film has plenty hidden up its sleeve and it is not just the on-screen audience who will witness a few tricks. The Prestige may be one of Nolan's more underrated films and is somewhat overshadowed by the gargantuan success of Inception, but the two share a lot of common - including both benefitting from rewatches to understand the complex plot.

It impressed Brian Pendreigh in our The Prestige review, who described the film as "a fascinating tale that twists and turns at every opportunity" but is "grounded by the seriousness with which [Nolan] treats his material and by fine performances all round." One of these fine performances includes that of Hugh Jackman - who is playing a far darker 1800s stage performer than he is in The Greatest Showman...

Where to watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes or Sky Store.

7. After

After We Collided
After We Collided Voltage Pictures

Teen drama can also get the plot twist treatment - and the one in After is particularly brutal. Based on Anna Todd's novel of the same name, After follows a new university student whose world opens up when she begins a rocky relationship with a mysterious stranger harbouring a dark secret.

Plot twists are usually reserved for psychological thrillers and science fiction, but here it is the romance genre that messes with our heads as it is a relationship that is full of twists and turns rather than the storyline. Perhaps what is most surprising however is how After came about - it began as fan fiction on the website Wattpad featuring members of the band One Direction, before being turned into a book after receiving one billion views. After has a surprising amount in common with Inception, however - right down to a cryptic and ambiguous ending...

Where to watch: Netflix

8. Us

Jordan Peele was previously best known for his comedy work as half of Key & Peele, but has recently become better known for directing twisty-turny horrors including Get Out, Nope and of course Us. The creepy film sees a family's beach holiday interrupted by doppelgängers of themselves dressed in red - who soon start terrorising them.

As a full-on horror movie, Us does of course has its differences from Inception - but shares just as many twists and turns, as you'd expect from a film about doubles. The two were also both huge critical successes as Us was heaped with praise after its SXSW screening, and lead actress Lupita Nyong'o was heaped with acclaim and nominations for her powerhouse dual performance. Just like Inception, this is a film you'll want to watch for a second time once you know the ending...

Where to watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes or Sky Store.

Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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