Last Updated on November 19, 2022 by OtakuKart Staff
It has been over 20 years since Donnie Darko first hit the screens. The absolute cult classic is still a fan favorite after over two decades. The one-of-a-kind idea that the creators improvised for the movie, the twisted plot, open-ended climaxes, and the dark-themed storyline all have an appeal so great that fans cannot get enough of it. Donnie Darko was one of those few films that left the audiences quite shocked.
The movie is one of the reasons why the production genres of dark fiction, psychological thrillers, philosophical inclusion, and suspenseful drama gained momentum afterward. The signature to the movie is the demonic and life-sized rabbit called “Frank,” who is instructing Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) to commit wrongdoings.
Movies Similar To Donnie Darko
The lines between what is real and what is not are blurred eventually, and the film centers more on metaphysics. If you feel drawn to a darker genre or something that aligns with the movie, here is a list of 38 movies like Donnie Darko. This list puts together films that have an inherently dark plot, a deeper understanding of adolescent life, or simply a twisted plot that will keep you guessing.
Daydream Nation is quite frankly called a “funnier, sunnier Donnie Darko”; this is not an understatement. Although the movie is not directly similar to Donnie Darko, it holds some elements similar to the latter. In incorporating these elements, the movie also has some of the film “Juno.” Kat Dennings impresses with her portrayal of a teenager named Caroline who movies into a smaller town.
Eventually, she also begins an affair with her teacher, something she tries to cover up for by beginning an affair with a student named Thurston. While this love triangle progresses, a serial killer that goes after young girls is haunting the town. This coming-of-age movie is very real in some aspects and is an experience you should have at least once.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about a young woman who is traveling with her boyfriend to meet his parents, who live on a faraway farm. Soon enough, strange events begin to happen here on this farm.
She eventually begins to find herself engaged in hazy and dreamlike sequences that dissolve her concept of reality with time. The darker turn that visiting the parents’ house resulted in is the key resemblance that this movie has with Donnie Darko.
The Cloverfield Paradox
The Cloverfield Paradox dives deep into the categories of alternate realities and is a good fit for someone who liked Donnie Darko. The movie showcases a group of astronauts on a space station that is orbiting the Earth.
Their purpose is to resolve the prevailing energy war on the planet using a particle accelerator. They try to find their way back as the planet becomes hazy and seems to be disappearing. Before they can even return, a terrifying alternate reality materializes. They get stuck in a range of paradoxes eventually.
The Magdalene Sisters
The Magdalene Sisters is a moving tale based on the agony of women who have been termed as “fallen” and housed by the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. The storyline is a raw take on the insensitivity and injustice towards women. The plot signifies such complex emotional intricacies, the likes of which grasp you. The characters Margaret, Bernadette, and Rose will make you root for them.
Their fear, compassion, and outrage are collectively felt by the audience. You will see how big of a hold the Church has on the masses and how corruption ran through it. The movie does not sugarcoat the harsh reality of being a woman in the older time and rather a tribute to another page in the history of the injustice faced by these women.
Being John Malkovich
The movie “Being John Malkovich” primarily focuses on the exploration of alternate and parallel realities as well as universes. Just like Donnie gets stuck in a surreal whirlwind of circumstances, this film revolves around a puppeteer Craig who finds a tunnel at his workplace that teleports him into the mind of an actor named “John Malkovich.” Everything around him gets transformed into an array of strange states of affairs.
Stranger Than Fiction
The story of this movie is about an IRS auditor who happens to hear a voice in his head that is narrating his everyday life to him. The premise of the movie revolves around another person being the author of another’s life.
When this character tries to find the woman who is writing his story to get her to change the tragic events that will happen in his life, he suffers from mental instability and pressure in the attempt. The film spreads light intensively on the free will we have as people.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most brilliant movies when it comes to the dilution of what reality is. The parallel world, whether outside or inside of us, remains the key theme throughout the film. The plot is regarding a couple who happen to get erased memories of each other after they split up. This is made possible by a new procedure.
The story is highly nonlinear, so it is advised to pay ample attention to how the couple goes from people who loved each other, then drifted apart and then did not remember each other at all. What happens next is a whole lot of confusion between the two of them as they struggle to protect their memories and run away from harsh realities.
“The Prestige” is adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest by the same name. The story is about two magicians who are at odds with each other and happen to be rivals. In the dream to become the greatest showman ever, these men get fuelled by passion and lust. This movie is set in the 19th century and is also Christopher Nolan’s fifth directorial creation.
The hunger of man to reach heights greater than himself can drive him into insanity, and “The Prestige” depicts just that. The tragedy and the charisma involved make it all the more exciting to see. It is all full of illusions and magic in the best way possible, all thanks to the wonderful showman that Christopher Nolan himself is. It is popularly said that the director-producer is the reason why his movies come out so brilliantly!
The Butterfly Effect
In “The Butterfly Effect,” Ashton Kutcher delivers one of his best performances as Evan, a college student. Evan begins to black out after having extremely painful headaches. While he is unconscious, he begins to travel through time, specifically into the time when he was a child.
He relives his darkest days as a child due to this. He attempts to change the past of not just his own but also of his friends. In the present world, these changes have terrible consequences, which he realizes much later. The movie dwindles between the current timeline and that of Evan’s eerie childhood.
The Truman Show
The Truman Show is the first of its kind movie that portrays life how it is perceived on reality TV. This movie pioneered a genre of its own. The protagonist, Truman, lives a life he deems perfect. This belief of his is shaken when he finds out that it is all made for television display. The movie makes you question whether your life is even of your own free will or not. It is a movie unconventional for its time and still a watch you will not regret.
Predestination is truly one of the best movies ever created in this genre. No movie has been able to come remotely clear in being the mind-boggling, puzzling, and intriguing ride that this one has put the viewers on. The concept used in the film is that of a casual time loop paradox in which the lives of two distinct individuals are told in such a profound manner.
If you immerse yourself in this experience, you will be both astonished and baffled. The sci-fi movie also has such a raw manner of portraying the life of Jane, one of the primary characters. The climax stands as one of the most unbelievable even until now. Ethan Hawke impresses considerably in this must-watch. You are sure to revisit the movie multiple times to experience the thrill over and over.
Inception is a wonderful take on the dream realities that exist in our mental realms. “A dream within a dream” is how the tagline read very much resonates with the plot in which the protagonist, Dom Cobb, travels dimensions within dreams. His purpose is to mainly enter the dreams of other people and steal intel from there.
While he attempts to commit espionage through his techniques, he is also bound by the memories and thoughts in the deepest recesses of his mind that materialize as he delves further into the dream world. Inception is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will seem different each time you watch it because chances are you will not get it fully just by the first time.
This list is incomplete without some Jake Gyllenhaal starters, for the actor’s expertise in mind-boggling and complex works is supreme. Jake plays Lou, who you can very much call a grown-up Donnie. Lou is trying to make his way through a dark and violent hellscape.
He is a cameraman who sells his work to news stations. The differences between factual reality and made-up fiction no longer exist after some time, and morality loses significance too. This movie involves all of the classic escapades you witnessed in Donnie Darko, with a lot of stirring crimes.
Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream takes a different turn in portraying characters that get dissociated from the world. The storyline follows four people who have formed an addiction of four different kinds. This leads to them becoming captives of their delusional worlds.
These worlds also depict the stages of their “death.” The creators let you get familiarized with all four of these characters thanks to the sense of isolation created amongst them. The movie shifts to each of them individually and respectfully to depict their personal experiences with addiction and stress.
Jared Leto is seen as Harry Goldfarb here, who tries to hide his emotions through drug usage but soon gets stuck into an inescapable cycle of addiction. Jennifer Connelly plays Marion, Harry’s girlfriend and an aspiring fashion designer whose addiction grows beyond her control. Marlon Wayans portrays Tyrone, a friend of Harry’s.
Mysterious Skin is about Brian, who lost five hours of the memory of his life back when he was eight. In trying to recollect those events, he runs into Neil, who was part of his little league team during the summer of the blackout.
Brian had been truly believing that he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he repeatedly had that included Neil, who knows the truth. When Neil comes back home for Christmas, Brian attempts to find out answers through him. This story of a boy who does not remember and a boy who does is a story that will stay with you.
The Illusionist is about a young magician called Eisenheim. He returns to his native town and happens to reunite with his childhood sweetheart. This woman is far above in terms of social class. The movie is stunningly detailed to the watcher while being highly engaging with an explosive finale.
The patience of the creators in putting together this piece is remarkable. Edward Norton does great justice to the character as the main protagonist, and Jessica Biel’s performance has also been widely applauded. Edward’s performance intensifies in the second half through beautiful expressions and astonishing magic skills.
Another Jake Gyllenhaal starrer is “Enemy” in which he plays Adam Bell, who is a college History professor. He and his wife are currently expecting a baby, while the former also is engaged in an extramarital affair. His life becomes strange when he happens to meet Anthony Claire, his doppelganger.
The mind-boggling ride that this movie takes you surpasses even that of “Inception” and “Primer.” The movie has been adapted from the Jose Saramago novel from 2002. The true plot of the film remains unknown and unseen, leaving it all to your deductions by the end. The overlying question that the movie poses to the viewer is whether the two men are doppelgangers or are two sides in the coin of the persona of the same man.
Jake Gyllenhaal impresses again in an action-packed thriller that revolves around an army pilot Stevens who is recruited on a high-priority mission to identify the bomber of a Chicago train. He suddenly finds himself in the body of another man on that train minutes before the train explodes.
After every unsuccessful event, he wakes up in a locked cockpit with communication to the Air Force Captain, who tells him that he has to identify the person behind the bombing. Stevens goes around in circles attempting several times while also forming a bond with the girl in front of him on the train. The story reveals its darkness by the end when Steve identifies the bomber.
Memento is widely known for its dark themes and psychologically thrilling screenplay. The movie had also been remade in India by the name “Ghajini.” The plot is about a man who suffers from amnesia in search of a man that killed his wife. He constantly clicks pictures on his Polaroid camera and covers his body with tattoos to collect the information he cannot remember.
In this brain-teasing experience, we see more of Christopher Nolan’s expertise in presenting an intelligent work. The film follows a dual timeline, one going in chronological order while the other goes in a reverse manner. The watchers try to put together this puzzle of a movie through these timelines. Guy Pearce beautifully sits into the character and makes this film even more likable. You are going to enjoy every minute of it.
The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense is a diverse generic movie, packing horror, mystery, suspense, thrill, and a lot more all in one. The popular line “I see dead people” comes from this movie, delivered by the troubled child character called Cole Sear. The movie centers around this kid who can see and connect with dead people. He is helped by psychologist Malcolm Crowe who is just as troubled as he is.
This movie is one of the greatest classics in the horror and thriller genres, and those who have viewed it can never let go of the great experience they had while watching it for the first time. The entire movie keeps you looking for answers and plays hard with your imagination. Bruce Willis does great justice to his character and also even delivers one of the best performances of his career.
Vanilla Sky stars Tom Cruise as David Aames, who seems to be a “perfect” man. He has it all, good looks, women, and money. It all becomes a dream when he meets with an accident and gets disfigured in the process. The movie’s plot presents the harsh truth of the impermanence of a person’s life.
David suffers under the ambit of his very own consciousness. The movie connects to Donnie Darko with a much healthier manner of approaching the supernatural genre. The movie impressed a wide audience and has even been nominated for remarkable awards.
Prepare to witness one of the plot twists in cinema with the movie “12 Monkeys”, much similar to Donnie Darko. The storyline is set in the year 2035, when Bruce Willis, who plays James Cole, was convicted due to several unspeakable crimes. He and another character, Jeffery (played by Brad Pitt), travel back in time to look into a horrific plague that killed two-thirds of the human population. Their arch nemesis is Dr. Reilly, who attempts to stop them from doing so. If you wish to experience a vibe similar to Donnie Darko, make sure to keep 12 Monkeys on your watchlist.
What this list is missing is a Christian Bale movie, and “The Machinist” fills that necessity. Bale plays the role of Trevor, a sleep-deprived and physically weakened lathe operator (hence, the Machinist). Not having slept for months, Trevor starts to encounter peculiar incidents both at work and at home. He grows insane upon having these experiences.
This movie can be psychologically quite thrilling as well as triggering due to its dark themes. Even so, the movie is an exceptional take on the life of a man whose life and work get disturbed so strangely. What is even more fascinating is using the color theme to dictate the mood set in by the agony of the main character.
Christian Bale had undergone a complete physical change to commit to this role, and he did not disappoint. Throughout the movie, he keeps the audience engaged along with the plot that automatically draws your deeper attention as you continue watching. It is promised that even those who are not very fond of psychological thrillers will consider this a remarkable experience.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the role of Lee Holloway in the 2002 film “Secretary.” Lee is a compassionate person, but she is very socially awkward as well. She finds it hard to live as a young adult and even gets hospitalized on account of self-harm. She then makes sure to care for herself and eventually lands a job as the Secretary of E. Edward Grey (played by James Spader), who is an attorney.
The two eventually strike a bond, realizing their opposing natures attract each other. Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance form the factors in their compatibility as they begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship.
This helps them both have a sexual awakening of their own. Contradictory to a movie like 50 Shades of Grey, which portrays a rather unhealthy and unrealistic side of a BDSM affair, Secretary is a wonderful take by showing that consent lies at the fundamentals of every relationship.
From the creator of Primer comes a neo-sci-fi romantic drama called “Upstream Colour.” The movie is about a woman who gets drugged, brainwashed, and robbed. Subsequently, she finds herself drawn to a strange man who went through the same experience. The story itself acts like a puzzle you have to put together as the film progresses. This original, unique story is portrayed so well through and through.
Another classic is the movie “Mulholland Drive,” which takes you through the quirks of the human mind. The movie’s cast puts together Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Mark Pelligrino, Robert Forster, Justin Theroux, and Ann Miller. The David Lynch direction begins with Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), who comes to Los Angeles in the hope of being a successful actress. She meets Rita, who has survived a horrific accident and also has amnesia.
The two befriend each other, and the plot progresses from there. A huge underworld full of crime and ghostly illusions is unleashed with time as Rita attempts to recover her lost memories. Betty also happens to develop a feeling of love towards Rita with time, but the story somehow is a tragic one. The hallucinations of the movie that haunt the characters make Mulholland Drive quite similar to Donnie Darko.
The plot of the movie is housed in a world where humans have overcome mortality. In this world, the 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, the last mortal person on Earth, is nearing his end. He gets interviewed regarding the life he has lived, which he recounts at three points in time.
First, as a nine-year-old whose parents got divorced. Second, as a fifteen-year-old that fell in love. And lastly, as an adult at the age of thirty-four. The movie was confused a little when it realized that the three stories were contradictory to each other. This also helps the movie use a nonlinear way of presentation. The experience provided by the film is quite subjective but surely does not fail to engage the audience.
The Man from Earth
The storyline starts with Professor John Oldman packing his stuff to move and begin a new life. He calls upon friends over to his place to tell them about the departure. Upon their arrival, the first question he asks them goes- “What would a man from the Upper Paleolithic look if he had survived until the present day?” Since these friends are scientists themselves, they attempt to answer his question through research while wondering whether the man is making a bad joke or is presenting a narration.
This thriller opens up its plot with a dinner party with eight friends. All of a sudden, a comet strikes and causes a power outage in the neighborhood. Only one house remains lit up, one with shattered windows.
Peculiar feelings strike their minds once they discover that inside the house are their very clones in a setting similar back where they were. All of them meet their clones except the couple named Kevin and Emily. It is confusing to everyone as to whether they are the actual Kevin and Emily or just their clones.
This terrifying movie was directed by Park Chan Wook from Korea. The movie has been said to make the audiences shudder from the very premise that it deals with. The story is about Oh Dae Su, who gets drunk and arrested on his daughter’s birthday.
After he is bailed out, he makes a call. Soon after, he mysteriously disappears. Without reason, he is now kept in one single room for fifteen years. He is released one sudden day. What happens afterward is only for the watchers. The cult classic film pushes the genres of its genre remarkably.
Kate Winslet debuted with this intense movie revolving around the deep friendship between two teenage girls. The friendship eventually culminates in the murder of one of their mothers. The girls eventually form an unhealthy friendship after they develop a world of their own, a delusional and imaginary one. The subsequent plot revolves around fantasizing and a lot of hallucinations, all coming together for a tragic story.
Ex Machina is a thriller a lot of people have been sleeping on. The Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac starrer impresses with its themes of mind control. The incentive given to the main characters is to gain control over the mind of others through Artificial Intelligence.
The plot deals with the idea of a robot named Ava, for whom the scientist-CEO Nathan Bateman recruits Caleb Smith, a programmer with great talent. Eventually, Nathan is involved in wrongdoings by upgrading Ava for selfish pursuits.
Ava tries to warn Caleb regarding Nathan’s actions. With time, Caleb learns that his housekeeper is also an Android. Caleb goes down a mental spiral as he learns of Ava’s deception through the chilling plot twist presented later in the movie.
The Fountain is a wonderfully made sci-fi and fantasy movie, putting forward a story with three interconnected parts. The first is that of an ancient conquistador given by the Queen of Spain for locating the tree told of in the legends, the one in the forests of South America.
The second is that of a modern-day doctor struggling to find a cure for the terminal brain cancer that his wife has. Finally, the third is of a futuristic space traveler who is transporting the sacred tree across the cosmos. The movie packs beautiful performances by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in depicting a saga of the ambitious pursuit of eternity.
Ghost World is based on the comic book Daniel Clowes by the same name. The movie follows the lives of two teenage outcasts, Rebecca and Enid. This dark comedy houses great performances by the lead cast. Enid happens to befriend a lonesome older man, played by Steve Buscemi, which is the center of the plot. The screenplay is quite original, and the characters win hearts with their accurate portrayals. This is quite a unique movie in itself.
Timecrimes involves a man who happens to time travel to an hour ago by accident and gets stuck in a series of unforeseeable circumstances. There are thrilling disasters for him everywhere. Even after being a low-budget film, we find that this is a great work in the genre of thrillers and worth a try. The work by actors is impressive, as well as the storyline.
Enter the Void
Perhaps one the most thrilling piece of work on this list, Enter the Void does not fail to amaze with its dark, psychedelic themes. An American drug dealer living in Tokyo gets killed at a nightclub. Eventually, his spirit floats up over the sky in the city.
Past, present, and future all weave together to form the tale of his life. The movie deals with the ever-present question of “What happens when we die?” The themes can get too much to take for a lot of people, given the drug abuse and gore in the movie.
The last Leonardo DiCaprio venture on this list is Shutter Island. The film has the most open-ended climaxes of all time, with no specific explanation of how some circumstances unfold with time. Set in 1954, U.S. Marshals Edward Daniels and Chuck Aule set out to investigate a distant island. The island is home to a psychiatric facility that caters to insane people.
A patient has broken free from the facility, and the two men are required to look into it. In the process, Daniels struggles with his traumatic past. Shutter Island plays with your mind by telling you the story of this man whose past haunts him while he works with a current problem. The plot progresses fiercely, and the depiction is nothing that you would have expected.
With a hint of romance and complexities of its own, the plot of “I Origins” is a sci-fi genre. It is about a biologist who is fascinated by the human eye and how distinct it can be. The dialogue writing for this movie has been done well. The plot significantly deals with the dwindling between science and religion and is a good watch for anyone intrigued by the ever-present debate between the two aspects.