10 Movies That Take Place Inside a Character’s Head


Pixar’s latest film Inside Out opens in theaters this weekend. The 3D-animated movie is set inside the mind of a young girl named Riley, whose emotions are personified by an all-star voice cast, including Amy Poehler. “The film reinforces a white-bread and hetero-normative version of family, while also creating a wild, female-centric road-trip adventure story, a groundbreaking Thelma and Louise for kids that celebrates difference,” writes our own Sarah Seltzer. Inside Out is hardly the first film to use the mindscape as a place of dramatic action. Here are ten other films, including a few that might make you question how sane a character truly is.

Eyes Wide Shut

In Eyes Wide Shut, a successful New York City doctor, Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) discovers that his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) had previously contemplated an affair. The confession sparks a nightlong sexual odyssey that leaves viewers wondering if Bill imagined the evening of debauchery. Bill also imagines a torrid affair between his wife and a naval officer she took notice of during one of their vacations, which fuels his irrational thinking (or dreaming). Stanley Kubrick’s movie was based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which helps support the dream theories surrounding the surreal narrative.

Fight Club

A miserable insomniac and a soap salesman cross paths and form an underground fight club that empowers them to take back their lives. The kicker, of course, is that the characters first invented by author Chuck Palahniuk live inside the mind of one man, who suffers from a dissociative personality disorder. Cue a thousand theories about what it all means that have been a topic of debate since the ’90s.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

We can’t think of a place we’d rather be less than inside our own memories about a failed relationship, but Michel Gondry makes it seem poetic.


Nicolas Winding Refn takes us inside the disturbed criminal mind of a convicted felon, who has spent three decades in solitary confinement, narrated by the prisoner’s alter-ego, Charles Bronson.

Abre los ojos

Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 film Abre los ojos, Open Your Eyes (which inspired the terrible American adaptation Vanilla Sky), finds the life of a young playboy turned upside down after a disfiguring accident. Nothing is as it seems from then on, leaving us in suspense until the end when we discover that the character’s perception of reality has been influenced by science.

The Wizard of Oz

The novel that inspired The Wizard of Oz presents the tale as pure fantasy, while the film declares that Dorothy imagined the world where flying monkeys and witches lurk along the Yellow Brick Road. It’s amazing what a concussion and a tornado can do.

Being John Malkovich

Being trapped inside John Malkovich’s head doesn’t seem so bad — at least until strangers start using his noggin to live out their own fantasies, and JM discovers that the exit from his cortex dumps people into a ditch along the New Jersey Turnpike.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If we have to be trapped inside Scott Pilgrim’s videogame-esque fantasies about winning the girl for 112 minutes, at least Alison Pill’s Kim from fictional band Sex-Bob-Omb is there to roll our eyes with.


Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film imagines what would happen if people could enter another person’s subconscious and inspired the growing use of the verb “incepted.”


We will gladly take any opportunity to enter the mind of David Cronenberg — or his character Max Renn (James Woods). In Videodrome, Max discovers a snuff television broadcast that alters his life and forces him to “leave the old flesh” in a wildly surreal, posthuman way that could only come from the imagination of Cronenberg.