Most Disturbing Movies That Challenge Your Psyche and Reality

by Harsh Kushwah

A curated collection of the most disturbing movies in history, accompanied by links for watching and trailers.

most disturbing movies of all time

I’ve seen some disturbing movies in my time (and yes, sometimes, the plot and acting are what scares me!).

The movies that often stay with me, though, challenge something we take for granted – our perception of reality.

Disturbing movies are the ones that create dissonance in a structured mind. They make you question everything you believe in.

Often, it’s the gory, violent, and gruesome movies that fall into the ‘disturbing’ genre. However, I find this narrow definition incomplete.

Psychologically disturbing films are not for the faint-hearted. They take on topics we don’t think about and often accept without question – such as rules,  morals, beliefs, and even the point of existence. 

These films can also drive you to nihilism, to the endless void of nothingness.

They can make you break your illusions and see a different reality (and might even help you develop a new perspective).

1. The Man from Earth

Most of the scenes in this movie were shot in a small house.

The film centres around a unique story that will challenge everything you have read about human history, science and religion (I know that’s a big call).

The dialogues will challenge your reasoning, and the arguments (civil) will make you question your understanding of history and existence.

The premise is simple and brilliant – it’s a story about a man who has lived for thousands of years, claiming to be connected to the most significant events in the world, sometimes witnessing (but mostly being present) during the most volatile times in human civilisation.

As he tells his story to a captivated audience in a small cabin, the incredulity of the story starts to reduce as those around him tussle with the seemingly implausible concept.

Oftentimes, in life and films, brilliance lies in simplicity. This movie is a perfect example. 

The Man from Earth may also help you understand the world from a completely different perspective to what you have been taught. That itself makes this film discombobulating and quite disturbing movies of all time. 

The disturbed feeling remains even after watching the entire movie. Something in your psyche will change forever.

2. The Blair Witch Project

I generally don’t enjoy horror movies. I detest ‘jump scares’, the age-old template of evil and the innocent trapped in the unforgiving landscape, house, or hotel.

However, The Blair Witch Project is a movie that I recommend to those who seem to think they have a better understanding of the world.

Our realities are based on our observations. And our observation can skew when we are in a different mental state, especially when we are afraid.

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This movie will make you see an everyday, normal event of a few friends in a forest, facing an abnormal phenomenon and struggling to comprehend it all. 

A feeling may slowly seep into you while you watch. And, before you know it, you are in the middle of one of the most disturbing aspects of existence – the fear of the unexplainable, the unknown.

It’s easier to face your fear when you know what it is – what you see. 

It’s another thing altogether to face something that you can’t even perceive.

This innovative movie is a cult classic. Undoubtedly, it ranks among the most disturbing movies of all time, intended to push the limits of the human psyche.

3. Pi

Before I became a writer; I was a researcher and a mathematical modeller.

I see maths as a language, and I see it everywhere in nature and life.

Pi spoke to me on so many levels, not the least the mathematical elements. However, it is so much more than a film about numbers.

A logical mind can perceive things differently. It can see pattern on a leaf, understand the game between pigeons and a hawk, and perceive order in random events.

However, having this ability can take you to a different level of understanding, and your inherent fears, as a human, can take you on a delusional tour. 

This disturbing movie deals with a brilliant mathematician looking for patterns in a stock market. 

In his quest, he has ventured into number theory, non-linear dynamics, and even social dynamics. 

His pattern-finding ability gets him entangled with government agencies and religious people.

But his challenge is his own mind. What he sees is what haunts him. But what he sees also excites him. This curiosity and fear take him on a roller coaster of seeing the world uniquely.

This film will help you understand why some of the most intelligent people choose to live a simple, ordinary life. 

Because their brain and inner world are sometimes complicated, they seek a peaceful and uneventful life with fewer complications. Pi will help you understand the psyche of these types of people and also help you feel “not alone” if you are one of these thinkers who sees things differently than people around you.

This movie is shot in black and white and has several other production elements that add to the overall effect of the plot and concepts. It may be disorienting to some viewers.

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I added it in the ‘most disturbing movies list’ because it makes you realise that “knowing the future” can make your life difficult, and you might find solace in “not knowing”. 

For those who can “see”, staring into endless possibilities can be distressing. 

“Infinity can be Exhausting”.

And it will make you face one of the oldest pieces of wisdom –

disturbing movies quote

Check out our video review of “Good Will Hunting,” which deals with similar challenges of intelligent minds.

4. The Truman Show

Gaslighting was the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ in 2022.

It can be an insidious form of abuse and make the victim feel as though they don’t understand the world around them.

Also Read- Understanding the “Psyche” of Violent Men – TV Show Recommendations for Men

Altering or denying someone’s perception of reality can make them question everyone and everything. (“I’m sure I put the keys on the table. I remember knocking over the glass of water.” No, you didn’t, you must have forgotten! Your memory has always been unreliable…) 

It’s incredibly destabilising and almost impossible to detect yourself.

The behaviour of gaslighting someone can cause a victim to become consumed with doubts and paranoia. 

It can make you repeat a question in your mind, over and over again – “Am I on a TV?”

The Truman Show movie depicts this exact question brilliantly. 

The movie follows the story of a boy who has been unknowingly filmed by a TV show. Everything in his life has been orchestrated. It is such an elaborate plan that it doesn’t even feel like a manipulation; it seems so ‘real’. No one seems to be a victim. Everyone seems to be enjoying it.

(Except the one suffering the manipulation).

This movie will make you understand how a person might feel when they are being manipulated. But it may make you go beyond the individual character’s experience to question everything in today’s world.

The algorithms of social media, advancement in neuromarketing, the persuasive tactics of leaders, the hidden “sponsored” content, the covert advertorials, the shadow marketing etc. may make you question – 

quote by harsh kushwah
5. The Machinist

This disturbing movie will make you see any distraught or traumatised person in a different light and leave you pondering – what must have happened to that person?

It could be the homeless man alone on the streets; the delusional woman on the train station, or the silent kid in the corner of the class.

Everyone has a truth that makes them question their existence.

And everyone has a lie that makes the foundation of their life. 

In between these, our world exists.

What makes this film so disturbing is the level of damage a man can endure in his body, and yet can’t handle his mind.

A very different-looking Christian Bale stars in the film. The enigmatic actor lost over 60 pounds for this role, mostly living on an apple and some tuna, cigarettes, and coffee. 

His ‘method acting’ went to an extreme level (which, by itself, was disturbing). 

But his noteworthy portrayal also highlights that a man can instantly go from heaven to hell. 

(I can’t divulge more or I’ll need a spoiler alert).

The disturbing nature of this movie reminded me of the following quote – 

disturbing quotes
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