Movies that people still don't understand

"I don't get it." Have you ever shown a friend a movie only to hear that response as the credits roll? It's not that it's surprising. People have widely divergent tastes, after all. But a lot of films are too heady and high-concept, or too confusing and clumsily made, and the only natural response is a resounding "huh?" Let's go over some of these more divisive pictures, and pat ourselves on the back for the ones we know inside and out. Spoilers ahead! 


This 2016 first-contact feature offers a twist on the alien invasion premise by focusing the plot on last-ditch efforts to communicate with an alien race across an utterly imposing language barrier. It's a slower, more low-key movie, much of the the runtime given over to Amy Adam's expert linguist as she makes progress with the interstellar visitors. Throughout, the narrative is interspersed with flashes of her character in another life, caring for a daughter doomed to die young of disease.

While the natural inclination is to presume that these are flashbacks, it turns out we're witnessing a tragedy that hasn't happened yet. We learn at the film's climax—along with Adams' character—that the aliens are unbound by the laws of time, and their bond allows her to see into the future. For some viewers, the twist threw an extra wrench into the end of a plot that some audiences felt had already established its own rules. The movie, while among the year's most critically acclaimed wide releases, earned a B Cinemascore, suggesting a decent number of people walked away somewhat confused. Well, there's always Men in Black.


First-time filmmaker Shane Carruth's microbudget time-travel feature is a mindbending accomplishment, with Carruth writing, directing, editing, composing, acting as one of the leads, and having his nice parents cater the production. The story goes that Carruth, a software engineer, taught himself how to make a movie in the lead-up to production, and put a good deal of work into getting the math right to make the mechanics of his time travel as theoretically sound as possible.

The result is an uncompromisingly intellectual feature in which the two leads talk naturalistically far over the audience's heads, making the film a puzzle to be solved as much as a viewing experience. And it's a good movie, focusing on two smart but otherwise pretty regular guys getting very much over their heads very quickly as they break and create new timelines, the consequences of their invention spinning rapidly out of their control. You don't have to "get it" to enjoy it—but trying to keep up is definitely part of the appeal.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Oh boy. This movie isn't confusing because it's too smart for the audience—it's just doesn't make any sense.

From Wonder Woman's motivations to the basic structure of the plot—the who-does-what-and-why of it—BvS is a movie that barely hangs together, stitched up by sound and spectacle. The much-maligned Martha moment wasn't just a "head-scratching" failure because it was weird, but because it wasn't enough to explain why Bruce Wayne would suddenly decide to not fulfill a mission he'd pursued obsessively, justifying killing Superman by citing one-percent doctrine in between Crossfit sessions. Why, if it's an "absolute certainty" that Superman is a danger to the world, is simply hearing he also has a mom named Martha enough to make Batman, in the very next scenes, describe himself as Superman's "friend"? This, coupled with the movie's confusing dream sequences and visitations from a time-travelling Flash—a character we never actually meet—makes the movie feel fundamentally illogical, incomplete, and frustrating—especially if you're a fan of the characters who really wants to care about the story.

Only God Forgives

Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling followed up their dreamy and fantastic Drive with a hard left turn into the abstract. Taking the action to Thailand, Ryan Gosling stars as, essentially, a 100 percent less interesting, not-driving version of his Drive character, wandering through the dreamy Bangkok cityscape like a modern-day ronin for reasons we're mostly left to guess.

In between, we're treated to surreal karaoke sequences from a character called both Lieutenant Chang and the Angel of Death, and described by the director as "a mythological creature that has a mysterious past but cannot relate to reality because he's heightened and he's pure fetish." The entire movie is like that. It's one of those films you can watch over and over again and never understand—it's either too impenetrable, or perhaps there's really nothing there.

Inland Empire

Of course a list like this is going to need some representation from David Lynch, the ur-king of surrealistic American cinema from Eraserhead on down. Mulholland Drive is a commonly cited misunderstood masterpiece, but at this point, everyone who cares has pretty much figured it out—the movie being, once you figure out the key, a pretty straightforward narrative.

Inland Empire, Lynch's 2006 follow-up (and his last feature film up to this point) is a completely different, bugnuts insane sort of beast. A three-hour, languid nightmare of a movie featuring Hollywood, street prostitutes, showbiz curses about "brutal f—ing murder" and a menacing situation comedy about rabbits, it makes Mulholland Drive look as easy to follow as an episode of Friends. It's also as close as Lynch has ever come to making a full-on horror movie, providing scares more startling and perplexing than he's ever dared before. To say it's not for everybody would be an understatement.


This claustrophobia-inducing 2006 psychological horror film from William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, is one of the only movies in the 50-plus-year history of the organization to earn an "F" Cinemascore. And it's not hard to figure out why—this picture is weird, and abrasive, and makes you feel like you yourself might be going insane. Starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon and a script based off a play by Tracy Letts, this metaphorically methed-out feature about two people slowly going insane in an increasingly-tinfoil-wallpapered hotel room proved just too manic and ridiculous for audiences looking for something a little more substantial than two characters caught in a feedback loop of their own insane delusions. If you know what you're getting into, though, what you get is pretty good.


Sometimes it feels like we're always talking about this movie's puzzling failures, but there are plenty of good reasons. It has one of the most obtusely vague shooting scripts of any blockbuster in recent memory. Occupying an ambiguous "prequel" status in the Alien film canon, Prometheus confused audiences with everything from its casting choices to its characters' basic motivations to its very denouement.

It didn't have to be that way, but the whole experience gives off an impression of "almost… almost," hints at plot and story without the necessary parts that make an audience care. We personally witnessed many viewers literally throwing their hands up in the air by the time the movie's wrapping up, unable to connect to anything happening. It's so weird and fundamentally unsatisfying, it's no surprise the franchise is eager to get distance, forgoing Prometheus 2 and calling the followup Alien: Covenant instead. Maybe they'll get it right this time.

The Butterfly Effect

Serious actor Ashton Kutcher's The Butterfly Effect is one of the dumbest movies ever to remain essentially watchable while being completely illogical, with a plot that falls apart if you think about it even for a second. Kutcher's protagonist, blessed (or perhaps… cursed) with the ability to use old personal tokens to phase back through time to memorable moments in his life, spends the bulk of the movie trying to fix his mistakes, usually only to emerge in situations that are even worse.

The premise of the movie, that the slightest change can change the course of your life entirely, gets betrayed consistently when the script needs it, breaking its own rules without explanation. In one scene, as Kutcher tries to defend himself inside a violent prison, he goes back in time to stab his hands and mimic stigmata, frightening the other inmates with his sudden new hand wounds. But if going back in time to change the slightest thing changes everything, then why is Kutcher's present still in jail? Why did the wounds appear as if by magic, instead of appearing scarred over after what should have been an entire life of having them? Is it really worth it to try and figure out this movie's logic, as it would be with the vastly superior Primer? Well… no. So if you don't get this one, don't worry. No one does. It's broken.

This is a headache

There's a reason why a lot of the most popular movies are "turn-your-brain-off" types. For better or worse, that's entertainment. Intellectual films can be absurdly fulfilling, opening our minds to ways of thinking we'd never contemplated—introducing us to something that, to us, is truly new. Transformers 12 can't do that, nor does it aim to. And it's good to have movies that don't connect with everybody. We're diverse people, with diverse tastes, and you can't like everything. Sometimes it's fun to not get things. Sometimes, it's frustrating. That's why we need Transformers 12.