Best Philosophical Movies – From 1920 to Today

Philosophy and Movies are an inseparable couple, as theater and tragedy. Images are a powerful mean to send messages, maybe a better way than words and books. Images stroke people, impress mind more than anything. Ideas spread better trough images than written words. There are no philosophical questions ignored by cinema. God, mind, thruth, others, politics or metaphysics have all been dealt in many many films. Many of great movie makers / directors are ardent readers of philosophy. From Chaplin to The Wachowskis brothers or Bergman, here is a list of major philosophical movies:

Film of the 2010’s:

Dennis Villeneuve: First Contact

Villeneuve stages the arrival of UFOs on earth. Subject many times treated, but never in this mode. Indeed, far from entertainment, Villeneuve takes advantage of these beings from elsewhere to pose the question of otherness and the difficult communication between the subjects. The result is both profound and overwhelming.

Topics: communication, otherness, death

Nolan: Interstellar

A science fiction film on paper, Interstellar is in reality a magnificent thesis film, posing a vision of time, heritage and the human condition.

Topics: time, the human condition, legacy

Bong Joon-ho: The Snowpiercer

The Snowpiercer, a film adapted from a French comic strip, takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been decimated by an ice age. The survivors live on a train that never stops and is the only possible survival refuge. This train is a fact, a double metaphor:

  • inequality: since the wealthy live in luxury in the front carriages, the people living in precarious conditions at the back: the hero, bearer of the class struggle, will have the mission of reassembling the train to free Its pairs
  • speed: this train in perpetual motion represents the world running to its own loss, incapable of understanding that life is possible outside of its model. The polar bear seen at the end of the film designates this possible life, this alternative.

David Fincher: Gone Girl

Fincher has accustomed us to social criticism: from Fight Club to Social Network, the director depicts a decadent and idle America. In Gone Girl, he tackles mediacracy and the modern couple. All the characters are despicable (Amy, a mythomaniac, her husband Nick who cheats on her, the journalists, eager for scoops) and live under the reign of appearance.

Morten Tyldum: Passengers

In this science fiction film recounting the emigration of passengers from earth to a new planet, a journey lasting 90 years and during which the passengers are plunged into a deep sleep, one of them wakes up prematurely. Alone awake for 2 years, he chooses to break his loneliness by “waking up” another passenger, thus condemning her to live, or rather to die, during this crossing. The film describes, sometimes with strong clichés of course, the vertigo of loneliness, the difficulty in making choices and their irremediable nature.

  • Films of the 2000’s:

Michel Gondry: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The film depicts a failed, impossible love between Joel and Clémentine, who have loved and separated for years, helped by technology allowing them to erase each other. But as in Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, they constantly fall in love with each other. Michel Gondry seems to present the following alternative: either forgetting to affirm the present life, or memorize to remain oneself. In this dialectic, his characters choose life.

Related philosophical questions: love, memory, destiny, identity

David Fincher: Fight Club

Fincher delivers with Fight Club a film with dual ambitions: social, through its criticism of consumer society, and existentialist, through the moral and identity invention of its main character, Jack.

Related philosophical questions: consumption, modernity, identity

Christopher Nolan: Inception

A high-flying metaphysical film, Inception asks the question, without answering it, of knowing if reality exists, constituting a kind of position of radical skepticism.

Related philosophical questions: dreams, love

Christopher Nolan: Memento

Leonard is the victim of very particular amnesia, or rather of a very short-lived memory. He tries to find back his identity. But through this impossible quest, it is the spectator who constitutes his identity, who “constitutes” him in the phenomenological meaning. The thesis is clear: identity is a creation of others, instead of being a self and autonomous construction.

Related philosophical questions: memory

Paul Thomas Anderson: There will be blood

A monstrous film retracing the life of an oilman in America of the 1920s, Anderson takes advantage of this golden subject to deal with the fight between capitalism and religion. Through this fight, Anderson tells the story of the birth of modern capitalism.

Related philosophical questions: religion, capitalism

Woody Allen: Match Point

Related philosophical questions: tragedy, love, ambition

  • Films of the 90’s:

Terry Gilliam: 12 monkeys

Related philosophical questions: time travel, epidemics

Sam Mendes: American Beauty

Related philosophical questions: everyday life, despair,

Peter Weir: The Truman Show

Related philosophical questions: media

Andrew Niccol: Gattaca

Related philosophical questions: eugenics

Darren Aronofsky: Requiem for a dream

Related philosophical questions: addiction, TV, drugs

Tony Keye: American History X

Related philosophical questions: Racism, tolerance,

Wachowski: Matrix

Related philosophical questions: reality, identity, modernity, Plato

Amenabar: Open your Eyes

Related philosophical questions: reality, identity

Mann: The Insider

Related Topics: power, politics, journalism

Terence Malick: Thin Red Line

Related philosophical questions: war, meaning of life

Danny Boyle: Trainspotting

Related philosophical questions: addiction, destiny

  • Films of the 80’s:

Clint Eastwood: Bird

Related philosophical questions: music, fate

Martin Scorsese: Raging Bull

Related philosophical questions: resilience,

Stanley Kubrick: Shining

Related philosophical questions: mind,

Jean-Jacques Annaud: Quest for Fire

Related philosophical questions: humanity, human condition

  • Films of the 70’s:

Stanley Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange

Related philosophical questions: violence, society

  • Films of the 60’s:

François Truffaut: Jules and Jim

Related philosophical questions: love

Jean-Luc Godard: Contempt (Le Mépris)

Related topics: love, jealousy,

Mike Nichols: The Graduate

Related philosophical questions: seduction

  • Films of the 50’s:

Sydney Lumet: 12 angry men

Related philosophical questions: death penalty, justice

Elia Kazan: A Streetcar named Desire

Jean-Luc Godard: Breathless

Godard Quotes

  • Films of the 40’s:

Orson Welles: Citizen Kane

Related Topics: media, power

René Clair: Beauty of the Devil

Related topics:

John Ford: The Grapes of Wrath

Related Topics:

Flemming: Docteur Jekyll et M. Hyde

Related topics: self, conscience, unconscious

philosophical movies

  • Films of the 30’s:

Jean Renoir:  Great Illusion

Related questions: war, power, solidarity

Chaplin : Modern Times 

Associated philosophical concept : human condition, modernity, alienation, class struggle

Jean Renoir: The Human Beast

Related questions: sex, woman, unconscious,

Fritz Lang: M

Related topics: Evil

Frank Capra: Mr Smith goes to Washington

Related philosophical questions: power, politics

  • Films of the 20’s:

Murnau : The Last Laugh

Related questions: loneliness, human condition

Chaplin: The Kid

Related questions: fatherhood, human condition

Lang: Metropolis

Related questions: communism, consumer society, totalitarianism,

Cite this article as: Tim, "Best Philosophical Movies – From 1920 to Today, September 14, 2022, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, September 14, 2022,

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