Since its birth, modern cinema has been used as a medium to explore every facet of our imaginations. Filmmakers utilized unique visual techniques to transport viewers to faraway places teeming with life and adventure. From hauntingly trippy soundtracks to complex visuals and storylines, there’s no shortage of ways for filmmakers to create unique, lasting experiences for audiences.
Watching films with mind-bending visuals, strange environments, and distorted realities can be an incredibly enriching experience. These films can be strange, surreal, and even downright weird. Most of the films featured on this list have nothing to do with psychedelics. Yet, we can’t help but feel tripped out, amazed, and baffled by their individual strangeness. So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and silence your phone as we guide you through some of our favorite, trippiest movies ever.
Sci-fi romance is in the air. This stunning film follows the love between Neptune, an intersex runaway, and Matalusa, a coltan miner. Set in Burundi, the lives of both characters converge as they independently make their way to a hacker encampment. The film, co-directed by Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams, debuted at Cannes Film Festival in 2021. The plot is tricky to describe: Williams said he wanted to “find a way to talk about everything at once, without necessarily preaching.” The technological and the analog combine into a trippy Afrofuturistic musical.
Le voyage dans la lune ( A Trip To The Moon )
Initially released in 1902, this short film by director and writer Georges Méliès is considered the first true science fiction movie ever made. The story follows a group of scholars that devise a plan to fly to the moon’s surface using a bullet-shaped spaceship. After landing in the eye of the man on the moon, the travelers explore mushroom-filled caves, battle aliens, and are ultimately captured by the inhabitants of the celestial body.
A Trip To The Moon stands out as a striking example of how cinema can stretch our imaginations and create incredibly trippy aesthetics. The film’s sleek production, lively soundtrack, and social commentary on colonialism helped cement its place in history. At the same time, the storyline and special effects—which were practically unheard of at the time—paved the way for sci-fi films for years to come. It was originally released in black and white, but the 15-minute film was recently colorized and is available for free on Youtube.
Step into an avant-garde fantasy world. Released in 1971, Luminous Procuress is a queer treasure from filmmaker and multimedia artist Steven Arnold. The film was applauded by some of the trippiest artists in history: Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol—Arnold was actually a protégé of Dalí. The movie earned Arnold the “New Director” award at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1972. The plot follows two early hippies as they embark on a journey of gender-bending self-discovery, after being lured into dreamy den by the Luminous Procuress. The film is still considered an underground cult classic today.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Follow Hushpuppy, a six-year-old from Southern Louisiana, as she confronts the insurmountable forces of life head-on. Her father’s health is fading. Her home was flooded by melting icecaps. She comes face-to-face with aurochs, prehistoric beasts thought to be the ancestors of today’s cattle. This 2012 film—directed by Benh Zeitlin—was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
The Final Exit of the Disciples of Ascensia
This trippy film isn’t a blockbuster hit. You won’t find it in the “psychedelic cinema” canon. But, we have to say, it is absolutely a worthy watch. (Plus, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube.) The Final Exit of the Disciples of Ascensia comes from animator Jonni Phillips, who used various innovative mixed media techniques to create a visually stunning—yet strange—tale about a UFO cult. Some elements are digital; some are colored pencils and construction paper. Somehow, these hodgepodge materials manage to come together to create a film that you can’t take your eyes off.
Sorry To Bother You
Boots Riley wrote and directed this surrealist dark comedy as a critique of capitalism. The 2018 movie is set in an alternate version of present-day Oakland, California. Cassius “Cash” Green (LaKeith Stanfield) takes on a job as a telemarketer, only to find that he is often met with discrimination. Following the advice of an experienced co-worker, Cassius adopts a “white voice” and aristocratic persona when speaking to customers. Cash becomes a telemarketing success, but his fortune ultimately comes at a hefty price: Will he choose profit or his responsibilities to his labor union? Riley incorporates magical realism and science fiction elements to create a dystopian reality.
Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Jared Drake, the quirky storyline follows George Washington Winsterhammerman (played by Zach Galifianakis) as he attempts to live life normally despite the growing crisis of people suddenly exploding due to stress. This dark comedy hilariously touches on the collapse of society and artificial relationships while keeping us entertained for an hour and thirty minutes of complete absurdity.
Pi is a dark and mysterious movie depicting a mathematician’s journey as he attempts to uncover a hidden numerical code that could explain the patterns found in nature. The film is recorded on high-contrast black-and-white film, and its gloomy vibe helps lure viewers into the main character’s mind as he descends into madness. All the while, Pi explores weighty topics like religion, mysticism, and the universe. Filmed on a shoestring budget, the bleak ending and haunting overtones make Pi a brilliant and eerily trippy movie.
When a group of friends travel to a remote Swedish village to experience the rare midsummer festival, things begin to go awry. What starts as a beautiful holiday slowly turns into a waking nightmare: The group is swept up in the village’s bizarre pagan rituals. Florence Pugh puts on an electrifying performance as Dani, an American woman who, after learning about her sister’s suicide, decides to tag along with the group as they make their way to Eastern Europe.
But, fair warning: This film contains scenes of graphic violence—it’s not one you’ll want to watch on any psychedelic. (We have other lists for that.) Midsommar is equal parts trippy and disturbing: The kind of movie that will leave you checking the closet for monsters before bed.
2001: A Space Odyssey
In Stanley Kubrick’s dramatic redefining of the sci-fi genre, we follow an alien monolith that appears when humans discover how to use tools. Proving that a trippy movie can come from the simplest of ideas, this film manages to transport viewers to the suffocatingly cold vacuum of space while making us question humankind’s future.
Kubric’s interpretation of space travel and use of special effects was unheard of at the time and continues to inspire conspiracy theories about whether the moon landing was faked. It’s been fifty years since Kubric this masterpiece was released, and we still aren’t sure we fully understand this trippy take on humanity’s thirst to explore and consume.
Ganja & Hess
If a taste for blood doesn’t bother you, you’ll probably enjoy the trippy movie Ganja & Hess. This classic film debuted in what many consider the first heyday of psychedelics and the heart of a period of great social change: 1973. Directed by the multi-talented Bill Gunn, this horror film was applauded by international audiences: The Cannes Film Festival named it among the ten best American films of the decade. Yet, contemporary critics say the film is only now receiving the accolades it rightly deserves. The plot is a vampiric romance: An archeologist, Dr. Hess Green is stabbed by an ancient contaminated dagger and soon after develops an unquenchable thirst—and a love affair with his former assistant’s wife, Ganja.
A Scanner Darkly
This trippy film takes place in the near future, where an undercover police officer finds himself immersed in a risky new narcotic and slowly starts to lose his sense of self. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly takes us on a mind-blowing visual journey due in part to its unique use of “rotoscoping,” a process that allows animators to trace each live-action shot frame by frame. Layered with anti-police-state overtones and released during the height of the Bush administration’s war on terror, this trippy take on the future of government surveillance is still relevant and just as chilling today.
Considered by most to be America’s first counterculture film, this psychedelic trip through the sixties stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as motorcycle outlaws that must make their way through the southwest. The movie successfully conveys the atmosphere of the era, highlighting the trepidation of the public towards hippies and the hunger for liberty among the counterculture.
The inclusion of graphic drug-related scenes, in particular the cemetery trip where the main characters take LSD with two women, heightens the craziness, intensity, and confusion of the film, while the movie’s documentary-style editing and rumors of actors taking actual drugs while on set makes this one of the most accurate portrayals of the hippy movement in America.
Proving that you don’t need dialogue to be considered one of the trippiest movies, Koyaanisqatsi makes the list while offering no discernable storyline to follow. This unconventional epic wordlessly shows the rapidly changing landscape of humanity and leaves viewers to interpret the film however they please. From science’s greatest achievements to everyday consumerism, each scene examines the world around us from a unique and trippy angle. Scored by the legendary Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi will leave you feeling unnerved and inspired to post more nature-themed time-lapse videos on Instagram.