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Sci-fi movies people still don't understand

In 1902, Georges Melies released A Trip to the Moon, and ever since then, science fiction has been one of the most beloved genres in all of cinema. In fact, if you look at the highest-grossing movies, a lot of them involve futuristic technology or take place on alien planets. Moviegoers love sci-fi because it allows them to explore new worlds and grapple with exciting concepts like time travel and artificial intelligence. However, when you're dealing with wormholes and alien life forms, things are bound to get complicated. While some sci-fi films are pretty easy to grasp (think Star Wars or Jurassic Park), others are a little more complicated. Maybe that's because these movies are intentionally ambiguous, perhaps it's because the director made a controversial decision, or maybe the story is so mind-bending that it's just plain impossible to wrap your brain around. From space epics to post-apocalyptic adventures, these are the sci-fi movies that people still don't understand.

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The mysterious Star Child of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the all-time classic sci-fi films. In fact, it's one of the greatest movies ever made. The film pushed the boundaries of special effects, took sci-fi from B-movie shlock to serious art, and made everyone afraid of killer computers. The movie also gained a reputation as a great film to drop acid to, thanks to the infamous star gate sequence.

After escaping the clutches of Hal 9000, astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) is sucked into an LSD tunnel right outside Jupiter. He's assaulted with all sorts of lights and crazy colors before winding up in cold, soulless hotel room. In just a matter of minutes, Bowman turns into an old man, and that's when a black monolith appears at the foot of his bed. These monoliths have been turning up the entire movie, sparking new stages of evolution whenever they appear. And when Dave reaches out to touch the big black obelisk, he turns into a glowing space fetus.

This magical floating baby is known as the Star Child, and in the film's final shot, it floats out into the galaxy, looking down at Earth. That Star Child has caused a whole lot of head-scratching over the years. Did Dave literally transform into an alien infant? Is the Star Child symbolic of humanity's next stage in evolution? Or could it mean something else altogether? We wish we could come up with the definitive answer, but as Hal would say, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

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The controversial ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a thoroughly depressing affair. This is a film where Haley Joel Osment breaks down crying because his "mom" abandons him in the woods. Granted, Osment is playing a lifelike android named David, but still, you can't just toss a heartbroken "mecha" into the wild. After all, the world is cruel to little androids. Poor David is bullied by human kids, sees his fellow robots ripped apart, and eventually finds himself stuck at the bottom of the ocean, desperately wishing he could become a real boy. It's a wish that will never come true.

And then there's that ending.

Two thousand years later, David is rescued by evolved A.I. The creatures take pity on the little mecha, and using advanced tech, they give David one last day with his mother (Frances O'Connor). And that's how the movie ends, with David cuddling his mom, happy at last. Sci-fi fans, however, were outraged. Many people think the ending is too schmaltzy, and they blame director Steven Spielberg. Originally, A.I. was originally a Stanley Kubrick project, so naturally, many assume Spielberg screwed up Kubrick's dark project by tacking on the sappy finale.

But as Spielberg points out, the whole "David gets to spend one last day with his mother" thing was actually Kubrick's idea. More importantly, this isn't a happy ending. The evolved mechas are granting David's wish because they're about to shut him down forever. They're going to kill this little kid, and we're watching his final fantasy (with a fake mother, no less) before he's put down. If that's not a Kubrick ending, then we don't know what is.

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The freaky time travel physics of Donnie Darko

Richard Kelly's cult classic Donnie Darko hit theaters in 2001, but fans are still trying to solve this incredibly complex sci-fi flick. The plot follows the titular Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teen whose life is saved by a six-foot-tall rabbit named Frank. As if that isn't crazy enough, the film soon introduces the concept of time travel and alternate dimensions, and it would take endless viewings to figure out the crazy physics at play here. We know Donnie has to stop an apocalypse, but what exactly does that have to do with wormholes? How do deceased characters come back to life, what's going on with that demonic bunny, and why is Donnie wearing that stupid human suit? It's all so complicated that Kelly released a Director's Cut to help fans put the puzzle pieces together. Donnie Darko is a movie that demands rewatch after rewatch, and while we have a good idea of what's really going on, there's no denying it's a mad movie.

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The New Age acid trip of Beyond the Black Rainbow

Before introducing the world to the Cheddar Goblin, director Panos Cosmatos broke onto the cinematic scene with Beyond the Black Rainbow, a psychedelic nightmare of a movie featuring a telekinetic girl, a slasher scientist, and a creepy creature with a doll-like face. It's a mind-bending movie that's been compared to films like El Topo and Eraserhead, and according to Cosmatos, the film's screenplay is only 11 pages long. In other words, this is a movie that takes its sweet time, drowning audiences with drug-fueled images that make you wonder if you're watching a film or going on an acid trip. The movie prompts so many questions — like what's really happening at the Arboria Institute? What's up with that glowing crystal? What is that horrific, crawling zombie? And what exactly happens to the villainous Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) after he goes beyond the black rainbow? By the time you come down from this incredibly disturbing trip, you'll either immediately want more, or you'll have completely lost your mind.

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The controversial final shot of Inception

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is a mind-bending movie where cities fold on top of each other, trains appear out of nowhere, and Tom Hardy can morph into Tom Berenger. In other words, it's a movie about the power of dreams. It takes place in the subconscious, where rules can be bent and mental barriers manipulated, but for all its incredible imagery, Inception sparked so much conversation because of a simple spinning top.

The plot of this sci-fi blockbuster follows a group of thieves, led by the enigmatic Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), as they try to implant an idea in the mind of a young business heir. If Cobb can complete the mission, he'll have his murky past erased, and he'll finally get to return to the U.S. and see his kids again. And wouldn't you know it? The mission is a success, and in the film's final moments, Cobb is reunited with his children… maybe.

There's actually a good chance that Cobb might be asleep — stuck in limbo for the rest of his life. Everything depends on that infamous top. If Cobb is in the real world, it will topple over eventually. But if he's still asleep, it will keep on spinning forever. The movie cuts right as the top starts to wobble, prompting endless debate ever about Cobb's fate. But according to Christopher Nolan, it's not such a big deal if the top falls over or not. As the director explained, the important thing for Cobb is that he's back with his kids. Whether this is reality or it's all in his head, the only thing that matters is that it's real for Cobb.

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The fate of humanity in Snowpiercer

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the Earth has turned into a desolate ice cube. The last remnants of humanity are living on a train that's continually circling the globe. Unfortunately, the train is sharply divided by class, with the proletariat starving in the back and the bourgeoisie partying in the front. Eventually, the peasants stage a revolt, which leads to Captain America destroying the train and killing everybody onboard.

Well, almost everybody.

Two children emerge from the rubble of the train — a little boy and a teenage girl — and as they step into the snow, they spy a nearby polar bear. Everybody aboard the train has long believed it was too cold outside for anything to survive. But here is a living, breathing creature, thriving in the great outdoors… so is that good news or bad news? Well, a lot of film fans believe this means the end of humanity. How are these kids who've spent their whole lives in a locomotive going to survive this freezing cold wilderness? Especially when that polar bear looks like he might enjoy a few human-sized snacks?

However, Joon-ho has a much more upbeat take on the film's finale. Speaking with Vulture, the filmmaker described the ending as "very hopeful," since the two kids will eventually "spread the human race." In other words, they're the new Adam and Eve. As for the polar bear, it's a symbol that life will go on, that the Earth is thawing out and humanity can still survive. Well, if they don't wind up as a bear's breakfast, anyway.

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Ava's shocking choice in Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a creepy film that looks at what might happen when humanity finally creates artificial intelligence. And what might happen? Nothing good. That's a lesson that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) learns the hard way after he's invited to participate in an advanced Turing test by billionaire tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac). The programming prodigy wants Caleb to see if his imprisoned android, an A.I. named Ava, is capable of independent thought. The only hitch is that Ava looks like Alicia Vikander, and Caleb starts to fall for her.

Ava and Caleb seem to grow close, and after realizing Nathan is a monster who's creating female androids for his own sick gratification, Caleb decides to break Ava loose. He hopes they can run away together, and Ava seems totally cool with Caleb's plan. But once she's free, she murders Nathan and locks up Caleb, leaving him to die as she sets out into the real world. However, her decision to betray Caleb left a lot of movie fans baffled. Why kill such a nice guy?

Well, Caleb might not have been as glaringly evil as Nathan, but he's not exactly a saint. Caleb only treats Ava like a human once he starts falling in love with her. Even though he's more polite, he views Ava like an object, just like Nathan does. He only decides to help her escape after Ava flirts with him and makes him feel special. As noted essayist FilmCritHulk points out, there's no way Ava wants to spend her life with another man who wants to possess her. She's tired of being a slave, so it's time to fight back.

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Colin Farrell's disgusting decision in The Lobster

Finding love is hard, but when you've only got 45 days to find a mate or be morphed into an animal, that makes things a lot more difficult. Unfortunately for poor David (Colin Farrell), if he doesn't find a partner in a few weeks, he'll be tossed into a mysterious machine and turned into a lobster.

However, things start looking up when he meets the Shortsighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). In this society, partners have to share a physical similarity, and since they both suffer from myopia, it seems they're a match… until Rachel is blinded. This leaves the lovers in a tricky situation. If they want to make this work, David will have to blind himself too. So the couple heads to a restaurant, where the Shortsighted Woman waits at a table as David heads to the bathroom, steak knife in hand.

In one of the scariest scenes in a non-horror film, David stands in front of mirror, holding the knife centimeters away from his eyeball. But before we can discover if he gouges his eyes out, the film cuts to the Shortsighted Woman sitting at her table. She waits and waits for David to return, and that's when the film goes black, leaving audiences to wonder if David did the bloody deed.

Well, not even the cast and crew know. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Farrell revealed that director Yorgos Lanthimos and screenwriter Efthimis Filippou never came up with an answer for the film's ending. As for himself, Farrell can see it going either way. "Honest to God, part of me thinks he does it. Then part of me thinks that when the camera cuts back to Rachel Weisz, I'm already in a f*****g Uber, heading down the road as fast as I can." The actor also suggested that maybe David actually faked blinding himself, so he could be with his lover and still keep his eyesight. Whatever your interpretation, it probably says a lot about the way you view romance.

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The monstrous mythology of The Endless

Written and directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, The Endless follows two brothers (played by the filmmakers) who escaped a UFO cult when they were younger, but a strange video lures them back to the group. Once they arrive, freaky things start happening, and they get the feeling there's something evil in the darkness.

By the time the credits roll, The Endless has posed a lot of complicated questions. What's up with the entity and the time loops? What's with those freaky statues? And what are the dudes from Resolution doing here? Well, the invisible demon haunting our heroes is a stand-in for horror movie audiences who like their stories to have dark endings. And as it turns out, the creature drew the brothers back to the cult in hopes of trapping them in a time loop. This particular desert is crowded with different loops, some which last seconds and others which stretch on for decades. And if you die in the loop or submit yourself to the beast, you'll be trapped forever.

That's why the cult members look so young. They've been repeating the same cycle every ten years. And at the end of each loop, the entity tears them to shreds, and they start over again. It's all part of the creature's need for scary stories with violent endings. (That's why some characters keep killing themselves. It's a better option than what the entity will do to you.) The Endless also takes place in the same universe as Resolution, so the characters from the 2012 film get an extended cameo here. They're trapped in their own loop, desperately trying to get out.

As for those monuments — the totem pole, the monolith, the dragon statue — those all represent the evil entity. They were constructed by victims stuck in these loops, and they're meant to express how these poor people viewed the demon. And judging by the age of some of these sculptures, it seems like this inter-dimensional creature has been trapping people for a very long time.

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Natalie Portman's enigmatic eyes in Annihilation

Whether it's the sight of a skull bear or slithering intestines, Annihilation is a movie that sticks in your mind. But even more compelling than a gigantic sharkagator is the film's ambiguous ending. After heading into the Shimmer — an ever-growing electromagnetic wave that mixes and matches DNA — a biology professor named Lena (Natalie Portman) encounters a metallic humanoid that tries to copy her likeness. Using a grenade, Lena kills the doppelgänger and burns down the Shimmer, but while she's saved the world, that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing for our hero.

Lena's whole reason for heading into the Shimmer was to discover what happened to her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). He's a soldier who went MIA after heading into the world's freakiest light show, and then a year later, he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, deathly ill. Hoping to save his life (and assuage some guilt), Lena ventures into the Shimmer to figure out what's going on, only to learn her real husband has killed himself. The guy back at the hospital is just a doppelgänger, much like the one that tries to take Lena's place.

However, there's something odd about the Lena who finally escapes the Shimmer. When she touches a glass of water, the liquid starts acting all weird. When she hugs her clone husband, we see the color in her eyes dance and wave, much like the lights in the Shimmer. Did the real Lena make it back home? Was she replaced by the doppelgänger somewhere during their struggle? Or perhaps the Shimmer altered her DNA and turned her into something new. Whatever happened, Lena is a new person, forever changed by literally confronting herself.