Celebrate Donnie Darko's 20th Anniversary With These 10 Psychological Thrillers
If you are a Donnie Darko fan and still can’t get over the philosophical ideas, the dark and twisted visions, and, yeah, Jake Gyllenhaal, then why not have a movie night with titles depicting all kinds of similar themes? The cult classic turns 20 this year, and we’ll always remember it as an offbeat psychological thriller that wasn’t afraid to push the genre’s boundaries. Replete with a life-size demonic rabbit named Frank instructing Donnie to commit evil acts, plus a constant questioning of reality, the metaphysical film is in a league of its own – but there still are a lot of films that follow similar lines of thinking.
Ahead, find 10 movies that remind us of Donnie Darko, and consider bringing out the bunny ears – they’ll just add to your perfectly eerie movie marathon.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Donnie Darko is known for its surreal elements, from the evil giant figure in a rabbit costume named Frank to its constant toying with reality and parallel universes. Similarly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a nightmare-like thriller that follows a young woman as she travels with her new boyfriend to meet his parents on their secluded farm, where bizarre events soon occur. Constant hazy dreamlike sequences bring about questioning of the self and what reality even means in the first place.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
If you love films that make you philosophically question parallel realities and the meaning of memory, much like Donnie Darko, you’ll love the romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Much like the Jake Gyllenhaal classic (minus the bunny, and with many more hair-color changes), this movie centers on an estranged couple who have chosen to erase each other from their memories by way of a new procedure. Playing with the theme of time through a nonlinear narrative, this is a beautiful film you’ll want to watch again and again.
If Donnie Darko is one of your faves mostly because of Gyllenhaal himself (definitely don’t blame you!), then consider adding Nightcrawler to your Netflix list. Just like watching a grown-up Donnie, main character Lou must navigate a dark, violent hellscape as a budding cameraman who sells his footage to news stations. A psychological thriller that makes you question the true difference between fact and fiction and what’s ethical and what’s not, this movie has all of Darko‘s nocturnal escapades and thrilling crimes, with a super-relevant angle.
Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is a quintessential movie when it comes to the exploring of alternate realities and parallel universes. Much like Donnie experiences a surreal vortex, in this film, puppeteer Craig (John Cusack) discovers a tunnel at his boring job that leads him into the mind of actor John Malkovich. This portal leads to a transformative experience both for Craig and the people who surround him, and it gets very weird (in a good way).
Stranger Than Fiction
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you suddenly found out your life was being written by an author and that you would die at the end of the book? That is exactly Stranger Than Fiction‘s premise, which follows an IRS auditor (Will Ferrell) as he hears a voice in his head narrate his daily life. As he sets out to find the woman who’s writing his story and make her change the tragic ending, this unconventional dramedy puts mental stability into question. Much like in Donnie Darko, this film questions how much free will a person really has.
A classic for the ages, Taxi Driver follows a protagonist who, similar to Donnie, is an isolated, disturbed loner whose night crawls lead him into bizarre, nightmarish territories. An insomniac, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a taxi driver in New York City who can no longer tell fact from fiction. Detached from the real world and diving into insanity, his fantasies and obsessions turn dark, quick.
The Cloverfield Paradox
If you love Donnie Darko‘s deep dive into an obscure alternate reality, messing with all conventional conceptions of time and space, then The Cloverfield Paradox is right up your alley. Following a group of astronauts aboard an orbiting space station as they try to solve Earth’s energy wars using a particle accelerator, they must find a way home as the planet seems to disappear. Suddenly, a horrific alternate world materializes, leaving all kinds of paradoxes to be explored.
One of the best analyses of dreams, reality, and the significance of waking life, Inception is synonymous with the depiction of the surreal on the big screen. Much like in Donnie Darko, the protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) travels dimensions – but here, it’s to enter people’s dreams and steal their secrets. Uncanny with the added hint of espionage, the resulting philosophical questions are actually quite similar to Darko.
The Butterfly Effect
One of Ashton Kutcher‘s best movies, The Butterfly Effect is about a college student named Evan who starts to black out with intense headaches. These experiences trigger time travel while he’s unconscious, making him relive dark childhood memories. As he begins to alter his own past as well as that of his friends, Evan soon realizes there are terrible consequences to these changes in the present day. These eerie, twisted alternate realities mirror Donnie Darko‘s own bleak parallel universe.
The Truman Show
One of the first movies to explore life through the lens of reality TV, and what reality even means in the first place, The Truman Show pioneered an entire genre in 1998 that was continued by movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and even Donnie Darko. In this film, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives a perfect life – until he realizes it’s all a simulation made for television. A movie that makes the viewer question the nature of life itself (and our control over it), it broke conventions at the time of its release and is still an incredible watch.