20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (2024)

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20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (1)

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20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (2)

Movies have a kind of power that few other art forms possess. They can make you laugh, cry, bite your nails in suspense, or look away in fear. Sometimes, a few very special films can present fascinating themes of profound philosophical value that will make a reevaluation of one's way of thinking about life itself necessary. Some of these films are generally agreed to be better than the others, but their exploration of deep universal themes is always complex.

Existentialism films have been around for quite some time, exploring narratives where characters are confronted with the absurdity of existence, the burden of freedom, and the question of how to create meaning in their lives. When done right, existentialist movies like Solaris and The Truman Show can stay in the mind forever, leaving a message that leads one to live life in a different way.

20 'Like Someone in Love' (2012)

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (3)

Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami's final masterpiece, the French-Japanese production Like Someone in Love is among the most underrated examples of existentialism in film. Set in the bustling streets of Tokyo, the movie follows sociology student Akiko (Rin Takanashi), who is also a high-end sex worker. When she's sent to the elderly former professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), she's surprised at how he's more interested in dinner and conversation than sex.

Akiko's story may not seem like an existential one at first glance, but a closer look at Kiarostami's subtle approach to her narrative highlights the protagonist's feeling of being trapped and ashamed. Viewers are forced to watch Akiko's burden of loneliness as she struggles to reach out to her grandmother. In the end, the movie delicately examines self-discovery and identity. – Hannah Saab

Rent on Apple TV

19 'Stranger than Fiction' (2006)

Directed by Marc Forster

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (4)

A criminally underrated comedy film, Stranger than Fiction follows an IRS auditor named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who lives a mundane life. One day, he begins to hear a bizarre voice that seems to be narrating his life story. As he tries to uncover the source of the narration, he learns that he's a character in a book that's bound to end at some point.

While billed as a gut-busting comedy, Stranger than Fiction is also among the most dread-inducing existential movies. As Harold attempts to fight back against his predetermined fate, viewers are forced to question their own predictable daily routines and even the very concept of free will. The film is not usually commended as the extraordinary dramedy that it is, but its thought-provoking narrative definitely makes it worthy of more praise. – Hannah Saab

stranger than fiction

PG-13

Release Date
September 9, 2006
Director
Marc Forster
Cast
Will Ferrell , William Dick , Guy Massey , Martha Espinoza , T.J. Jagodowski , Peter Grosz

Runtime
113 minutes

Rent on Amazon

18 'Melancholia' (2011)

Directed by Lars von Trier

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (5)

Anyone looking for a good dose of existential dread needn't look further than Melancholia. This apocalyptic film revolves around the relationship between two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). When a mysterious planet threatens to collide with Earth, the sisters' already strained relationship is challenged. It's far too depressing a movie for many viewers, but those able to stomach it are in for an unforgettable experience.

The movie is one of the best ever about mental illness, exploring the various reactions people can have to depression and mortality. Melancholia's artful slow sequences evoke an almost visceral fear and understanding that death is never truly far away, but the only constant certainty in life. The film's message about acceptance and the value of connection makes the uniquely subtle sci-fi elements hit hard. – Hannah Saab

Melancholia

R

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.

Release Date
May 26, 2011

Director
Lars von Trier
Cast
Kirsten Dunst , Charlotte Gainsbourg , Alexander Skarsgard , Brady Corbet , Cameron Spurr , Charlotte Rampling

Runtime
130 minutes

Watch on Hulu

17 'Sideways' (2004)

Directed by Alexander Payne

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (6)

Based on Rex Pickett's eponymous 2004 novel, Sideways is a road trip film unlike any other. It's centered on two men in their forties, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who go on a wine-tasting trip to California. Along the way, audiences learn about Miles' struggles as a failed novelist and Jack's anxieties about getting married.

One of the great films where "not much happens", most of Sideways is just two middle-aged men finding purpose and adventure in their lives through wine (just not Merlot) and sex. Their flaws, fears, desires, and need for purpose are brilliantly spliced into drunken conversations and funny mishaps on their road trip, its relatable existential themes slowly bubbling toward the surface. – Hannah Saab

Sideways

R

Release Date
October 22, 2004

Director
Alexander Payne
Cast
Paul Giamatti , Thomas Haden Church , Virginia Madsen , Sandra Oh , Marylouise Burke , Jessica Hecht

Runtime
124

Rent on Apple TV

16 'Anomalisa' (2015)

Directed by Charlie Kaufman

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (7)

Writer-director Charlie Kaufman has existentialist themes in pretty much every single one of his films, but rarely as strongly as in Anomalisa, the story of a middle-aged man called Michael (David Thewlis) who struggles with crossing the gap between the self and the other. In his world, everyone speaks with an identical voice (Tom Noonan), until a unique woman voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh comes into his life.

A stop-motion work of art that proves animation isn't just for children, Anomalisa is full of Kaufman's typical surrealistic idiosyncrasies. It's a powerful film about loneliness, the difficulty of connecting with others, and the crushing weight of subjectivity, which audiences immediately responded to. Anomalisa thus got a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, the only R-rated movie to ever do so.

anomalisa

R

Release Date
December 30, 2015

Director
Duke Johnson , Charlie Kaufman
Cast
Jennifer Jason Leigh , David Thewlis , Tom Noonan

Runtime
90

Watch on Kanopy

15 'The Great Beauty' (2013)

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (8)

The Great Beauty is a gorgeous art drama that follows Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a 65-year-old seasoned journalist and theater critic who spends his days attending the social events of Rome and appreciating its beauty and history. Jep begins to have a crisis after his 65th birthday, though, and looks beyond mindless parties and mundane activities to find "the great beauty."

This award-winning movie is one of the highest-rated Italian films on IMDb. Yet, The Great Beauty is rarely cited alongside other existential films, but it should be. Jep's growing discontent with his social circle, questions about his own identity, and incredible search for meaning in the absurdity of the everyday encapsulate a version of the existential journey most people must eventually take. – Hannah Saab

Watch on Max

14 'Fight Club' (1999)

Directed by David Fincher

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (9)

Fight Club is a cult classic that needs no introduction. It tells the story of an unnamed protagonist known only as the Narrator (Edward Norton), who lives with insomnia and depression. His life changes when the anarchic soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) talks him into starting an underground fight club with him.

While it may not be the most subtle or nuanced existentialist movie, Fight Club offers powerful commentary on consumerist culture and alienation, aided by visceral twists and turns. The message ends up becoming a question about whether "the things you own end up owning you." Coupled with an explosive ending, the movie inspires existential dread and a reevaluation of one's place in the consumerist world.

Fight Club

R

Release Date
October 15, 1999
Director
David Fincher
Cast
Edward Norton , Brad Pitt , Helena Bonham Carter , Meat Loaf , Zach Grenier , Richmond Arquette

Runtime
139 minutes

Rent on Amazon

13 'Synecdoche, New York' (2008)

Directed by Charlie Kaufman

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (10)

Charlie Kaufman's directing debut might just be his most ambitious work to date. In Synecdoche, New York, a theater director (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of the best acting performances of the 21st century) struggles with his work and the women in his life as he tries to create a life-size replica of New York as part of his new play.

Synecdoche, no doubt one of the best existentialism movies of the 21st century, presents the heartbreak brought by failure in capturing the entire scope of life through art. Endlessly complex and analyzable, Kaufman's masterpiece shows the poignant relationship between life and death, and how inherent to human nature it is to want to leave a legacy behind. While definitely best suited for audiences that enjoy head-scratchingly bizarre films, it's a must-see for anyone who enjoys philosophical movies.

Synecdoche, New York

R

Release Date
October 24, 2008

Director
Charlie Kaufman
Cast
Philip Seymour Hoffman , Catherine Keener , Sadie Goldstein , Tom Noonan , Peter Friedman , Charles Techman

Runtime
124

Rent on Amazon

12 'Birdman' (2014)

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (11)

Another one of the great examples of existentialism in pop culture, the multi-awarded modern masterpiece Birdman is a film that showcases the flaws of fame. Made to look like it's all one long unbroken shot, it's centered on Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a Hollywood has-been known for his titular superhero role, who is now trying to prove his worth as a thespian with a Broadway play.

Frantic, stressful, and strangely relatable despite Birdman's very specific characters, it's impossible not to feel what the protagonist does as he tries and fails to rebuild relationships, revive his career, and deal with the difficulties that come with the artist life. Of course, Riggan's perspective is unique as a faded actor, which only makes his entire ordeal more interesting. – Hannah Saab

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Release Date
November 14, 2014

Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast
Emma Stone , Edward Norton , Naomi Watts , Andrea Riseborough , Zach Galifianakis , Michael Keaton

Runtime
119 minutes

Watch on Max

11 'Waking Life' (2001)

Directed by Richard Linklater

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (12)

Waking Life is a mind-boggling animated film that should never be excluded when discussing existentialist movies. This experimental animated film follows the ethereal experience of an unnamed young man who meets all sorts of people on a surreal journey, each imparting important bits of knowledge from their respective fields and personal experiences.

Its stunning rotoscoped trippy visuals only serve to emphasize the heaviness, range, and depth of subjects it covers in a way that's both enthralling and easy to follow. Viewers can expect to think about topics like free will, consciousness, the value of dreams, and the meaning of life over the course of Waking Life, presented in the kind of down-to-earth way that Richard Linklater's filmography tends to be characterized by. – Hannah Saab

Waking Life

R

Release Date
March 7, 2002

Director
Richard Linklater
Cast
Ethan Hawke , Lorelei Linklater , Wiley Wiggins

Runtime
99 minutes

Rent on Amazon

10 'Wild Strawberries' (1957)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (13)

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is known for sensitively and poignantly dealing with dark existentialist themes that most filmmakers don't dare to touch. Wild Strawberries, one of his best works, sees an elderly professor (Victor Sjöström) confront the voidness of his existence after leading a life of coldness and apathy.

The film beautifully portrays the pain of loneliness and the journey of correcting one's mistakes, as well as the implications of aging with a fascinating senior character as its protagonist. It reminds viewers about the good things in life and the importance of spiritual growth, with a kind of deep emotional relatability that only Bergman was capable of in his time.

Watch on Max

9 'The Truman Show' (1998)

Directed by Peter Weir

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (14)

Everyone remembers their first existential crisis, that weird moment when they first started to wonder whether there was more to life than they originally thought. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey in one of his greatest works) has a whole other kind of crisis as he begins to discover that for his entire life, he has unknowingly been the star of a reality show.

At once a beautiful coming-of-age and an idiosyncratic dramedy, The Truman Show has two core concerns in its narrative: On the one hand, the ubiquity of surveillance in mass media and the control it holds over people's lives; on the other, a scathing existentialist satire that ponders on concepts like free will and the quest for identity. There aren't many movies that inspire viewers to wake up to new views of reality, but this one surely does.

The Truman Show

PG

Release Date
June 4, 1998
Director
Peter Weir
Cast
Jim Carrey , Laura Linney , Noah Emmerich , Natascha McElhone , Holland Taylor , Brian Delate

Runtime
103

Watch on Hoopla

8 'Solaris' (1972)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (15)

Andrei Tarkovsky, one of cinema's greatest poets and philosophers, dove deep into what it means to be human across his entire filmography, but rarely with as big a focus on existentialism as in Solaris. Based on Stanislaw Lem's seminal novel of the same name, this is a sci-fi film about a psychologist sent to a space station orbiting a mysterious planet, in order to discover what's driving its crew mad.

One of Tarkovsky's most complex and thematically rich works, Solaris deals with philosophy and love as one and the same: Love makes people more human, and so does philosophy. The film celebrates life and nature, and it asks the question of whether existence is possible without human interaction. Typically regarded as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, Solaris is an obligatory watch for fans of the genre.

Watch on Criterion

7 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' (2022)

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (16)

Multiverses are the new big thing nowadays; and in the midst of this new sensation, the Daniels' award-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once (the first-ever film to win six above-the-line Oscars) came out. An infinitely complex and ambitious sci-fi dramedy, the movie shows a middle-aged Chinese immigrant (masterfully played by Michelle Yeoh) on a mission to save reality by connecting with the lives she could have led in other universes.

The film tackles countless intricate themes like nihilism, love, generational trauma, and parenthood, to name but a few. Everything Everywhere All at Once is hilarious, incredibly emotional, and profoundly thought-provoking. The movie argues that if we're already here in this massive and senseless world, we might as well face it with kindness and positivity.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

R

Release Date
March 25, 2022
Director
Daniel Kwan , Daniel Scheinert
Cast
Jenny Slate , Michelle Yeoh , jamie lee curtis , Ke Huy Quan

Runtime
139 minutes

Watch on Amazon Prime

6 '8½' (1963)

Directed by Federico Fellini

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (17)

Wonderfully directed and written by perhaps the greatest Italian auteur in history, Federico Fellini, sees a film director played by Marcello Mastroianni creatively barren at the peak of his career, looking for refuge in his memories and fantasies. It's one of those surrealistic movies that leave you scratching your head in delightful confusion after the credits roll, and it's always a treat to re-watch.

Dynamic, visually stunning, incredibly meta, and weird like few of its kind, the movie was called "the best film ever made about filmmaking" by the famous critic Roger Ebert. It's about art, about fractured consciousness, and about what makes life worth living.

Watch on Max

5 'The Seventh Seal' (1957)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (18)

Another legendary film by director Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal is an important work of art that depicts the journey of a disillusioned knight (Max von Sydow) who comes back from the Crusades in the 14th century to find devastation in his community. Soon, he meets the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), one of the best representations of the Grim Reaper in media, and plays chess with him in an attempt to find out the purpose of his life and faith.

Despite being almost 70 years old, the film has held up incredibly well and is worth watching today. The protagonist's search for meaning in the face of chaos, violence, and death gives the movie an atmosphere of existential dread. As with any great masterpiece, it doesn't directly answer any of the questions it poses, instead inviting audiences to contemplate those ideas themselves. It's usually agreed to be not just one of Bergman's best, but one of the best films of all time in general.

Watch on Max

4 'Ikiru' (1952)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (19)

Legendary director Akira Kurosawa, one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers, was no stranger to existentialist themes in his movies, but few of them are quite as life-changing as Ikiru (which means "to live"). It's a film about a bureaucrat trying to find the meaning of life after discovering that he's dying of cancer, with a groundbreaking second half that is bound to surprise even the most seasoned cinephiles.

Aside from being absolutely heartbreaking and yet beautifully life-affirming, Ikiru is a moving contemplation of mortality and a reaffirmation that one's life holds whatever meaning one wants it to hold. It's the kind of story that makes viewers want to go out into the world seeking to be better people, thanks to a level of emotional power that very few other films hold.

Watch on Max

3 'Stalker' (1979)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (20)

In the world of Tarkovsky's classic movie Stalker, without a doubt one of the best in the sci-fi genre, faith has disappeared and people don't believe in anything. In this spiritually barren environment, a man guides a writer and a professor through an area known as the Zone, in search of a room that grants one's innermost desire.

In this film, Tarkovsky depicts the importance of faith, spirituality, human connections, and how all those things intersect. It's a celebration of philosophy and of the arduous but ultimately rewarding path to transcendence, characterized by Tarkovsky's typical deliberate pacing and keen eye for some of the most gorgeous scenes in any film of this kind.

Watch on Max

2 'Apocalypse Now' (1979)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (21)

One of the best war movies of all time, Apocalypse Now is a timeless classic and a masterpiece. Set during the Vietnam War, the film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who is given a top-secret task up the Nung River to track down and kill the rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). In the process, Willard begins to understand precisely why Colonel Kurtz has started his own cult-like murderous group deep in the jungle.

While it may not be the first thing viewers think of when considering existentialism, Apocalypse Now is so much more than a war film. Apocalypse Now is a surreal, disturbing, and hallucinatory voyage into the dark heart of the jungle, as well as an unsettling trip into the worst of humanity. It will make audiences contemplate the unimaginable horror individuals are truly capable of given an inhuman context like war.

Apocalypse Now

R

Release Date
August 15, 1979

Director
Francis Ford Coppola
Cast
Marlon Brando , Martin Sheen , Robert Duvall , Frederic Forrest , Sam Bottoms , Laurence Fishburne

Runtime
153 minutes

Rent on YouTube

1 '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

20 Best Existentialist Movies That Will Make You Reevaluate Life (22)

Stanley Kubrick is considered by many the single greatest filmmaker in history; and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also happens to be widely considered Kubrick's best work, it's not hard to see why. In this two-and-a-half-hour-long sci-fi epic, king among movies about existentialism, humanity finds a mysterious object buried in the Moon and sets off to find its origin with the help of the world's most advanced computer, HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain).

With minimal dialogue, 2001 tells a rousing story spanning millennia. It's an intimidating but also inspirational evaluation of the human condition in relation to the infinity of time and space. Kubrick reminds viewers that in the grand scheme of things, humanity still has a long way to go in awakening its spirit and consciousness. 2001 is considered one of the most ambitious, beautiful, and memorable films ever made, a reputation that it has rightfully earned.

2001: A Space Odyssey

G

Release Date
April 2, 1968

Director
Stanley Kubrick

Cast
Keir Dullea , Gary Lockwood , William Sylvester , Daniel Richter , Leonard Rossiter , Margaret Tyzack

Runtime
141

Watch on Max

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