WARNING: Some images and content on this list may be considered slightly NSFW, be advised. These movies had me scratching my head in confusion, both while watching, and after the fact. Some I loved, others not so much, but all of them left an impact on me.
1.THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)
I’ll kick off this list with the godfather of WTF, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and his nightmarish epic The Holy Mountain.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A film about a group of people who climb a mountain looking for enlightenment… I guess?
WHY IT’S WTF: Just about everything you see is completely insane. Jodorowsky and crew were high on LSD for the making of this, so that might have something to do with it.
2. DONNIE DARKO (2001)
Richard Kelly’s cult favorite Donnie Darko deserves its place on any WTF list.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A young man is tormented by a deranged rabbit who talks him into committing a series of crimes.
WHY IT’S WTF: Frank the Rabbit is one main factor. The time travel theories are pretty compelling too.
3. PERSONA (1966)
One of director Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces and arguably most WTF film. Persona was born from hallucinations he had while recovering from pneumonia.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A nurse caring for a mute actress slowly starts to find herself fusing with her patient’s persona.
WHY IT’S WTF: One of the most insane opening 5 minutes of any movie… filled with sex, violence, and old sick people.
4. HOLY MOTORS (2012)
Without a doubt, one of the stranger films to be released within this last decade. Holy Motors is Leos Carax’s bastard child of WTF.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Basically, you follow this strange man around Paris for the day while he continually changes appearances.
WHY IT’S WTF: How about a flash mob of accordion players who come out of nowhere.
5. EXISTENZ (1999)
Any of David Cronenberg’s films could make this, but we chose eXistenZ. Why? Because we can.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A famous game designer enlist the help of Jude Law to test her newest virtual reality creation. Is it real life or just a simulation? Basically it’s like The Matrix, but on drugs.
WHY IT’S WTF: Just google eXistenZ (here, we did it for you) and you will find image upon image of slimey, squishy, nasty little organic thing-a-ma-bobs. Cronenberg really broke the mold when it came to practical effects on this film.
6. GUMMO (1997)
Just like David Cronenberg, any Harmony Korine movie could top this list. You may know him best for his latest hit, Spring Breakers, but before that he conceived the WTF masterpiece known as Gummo.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A town in Ohio is torn to shit by a tornado and its residents try to find meaning to their uneventful lives in its aftermath.
WHY IT’S WTF: Out of this whole list, Gummo may be the most abrasive film and hardest to finish. But it’s like a wart, it grows on you.
7. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
Remember when we said Gummo might be the most abrasive film on this list. We lied.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A documentary crew heads deep into the Amazon jungle to make a film about a tribe of cannibals. As one would imagine, things don’t go well.
WHY IT’S WTF: It could be the rape. It could be death of real animals on screen. But for us, it’s the god awful soundtrack that belongs in a completely different movie.
08. HOUSE AKA ‘HAUSU’ (1977)
If you’ve ever watched a Japanese game show and thought “Man, this is weird”, wait until you see what they do with horror movies.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A bunch of young girls get trapped in a house that wants to eat them.
WHY IT’S WTF: Ahhh, what’s not WTF about Hausu? There’s not one normal thing about this film.
09. STROSZEK (1977)
For those familiar with his work, selecting just one Werner Herzog film is a challenge, because every one of them makes you say WTF at some point. For me, Stroszek has all the right elements of oddness to make this list.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A German flees to America with his prostitute girlfriend in hopes for a better life, and to escape a group of thugs. What he finds in America is as equally screwed up as what he left behind.
WHY IT’S WTF: Tonally the movie is just plain weird and not that typical. Then add the fact that Bruno S (the lead) lived most of his adult life in a mental institution and you get a extremely strange outcome; however, the ending is worth it’s weight in WTF– it’ll certainly stay with you long after the film has ended.
10. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)
Probably the most impressionistic of all the titles on this list. Terrence Malick’s masterpiece will certainly have you saying “WTF just happened?” after watching it.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Follow Jack (Sean Penn) as he jumps from childhood to adulthood and ponders the meaning of life.
WHY IT’S WTF: The Tree of Life takes you on a ride from the creation of time, to the dinosaurs, and then all the way up to the modern age. Plus the ending is the best depiction of the afterlife that I’ve ever seen on film.
11. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)
Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman is no stranger to WTF. In fact, I’d say anything with his name attached to it will dabble in absurdity. Out of everything he’s done Synecdoche, New York may be the most WTF.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Down and out theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) creates a production of New York City with a cast of thousands inside a huge hanger. Shit gets weird.
WHY IT’S WTF: Creating a play within a play within a play, Synecdoche goes extremely deep. Not to forget, one of the characters lives inside a burning house, NBD.
12. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)
What? You thought we’d make a list of WTF movies and not include anything by David Lynch? Please.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: As Laura Dern starts to evoke the persona of a character she’s portraying in a film, her life starts to unfold.
WHY IT’S WTF: There’s not much that isn’t nutty in Inland Empire. The bunny family and Laura’s transformation are utterly horrifying.
13. DOGTOOTH (2009)
Dogtooth is Greece’s official entry into the list; it’s especially screwed up and not for the easily offended.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: 3 siblings are held up at home, isolated from the outside world and then turn into upstanding citizens… just kidding. They turn into freaks.
WHY IT’S WTF: Maybe it’s the incest, or no… maybe it’s cat murder.
14. PRIMER (2004)
Primer is an indie sci-fi film from critically acclaimed director Shane Carruth, but just because it has a small budget doesn’t mean it isn’t massively F’d up.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A group of engineers build a machine that gives them the power to travel through time and anything else they want. Sounds great, but is it?
WHY IT’S WTF: You need an engineering degree to fully understand the film. Don’t believe me? Just try wrapping your brain around this diagram of the timeline in Primer. (spoiler)
15. DARK STAR (1974)
Long before John Carpenter was terrorizing film fans with such classics as Halloween and The Fog, he made a WTF caliber sci-fi film called Dark Star.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A group of astronauts assigned to blow up planets throughout the galaxy start to run into problems in deep space.
WHY IT’S WTF: There’s a evil beach ball and a dude who surfs in outer space. Enough said.
16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Continuing our run, we bring you the most WTF sci-fi film of them all… director Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Humanity sets off into space to try and discover the origins of a mysterious artifact found on the moon.
WHY IT’S WTF: A black monolith teaches early man how to kill. HAL 9000, the talking computer, goes crazy. Finally after a good acid trip through the galaxy, a giant space baby shows up.
17. MARTYRS (2008)
Another French submission to this list and probably the most messed up film of the entire lot.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: 2 girls enact vengeance on a couple who tortured them, afterwards they find themselves caught in an underground world of wickedness and pain.
WHY IT’S WTF: This is definitely a movie you don’t want to watch with your parents, let alone recommend to anyone. Everything in Martyrs is horrible, evil, and absolutely WTF. You have been warned.
18. WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976)
There are plenty of WTF movies about disturbing children, but one of our favorites is the little known cult classic Who Can Kill a Child?
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A couple vacation on an island where children have gone crazy and murdered all the adults.
WHY IT’S WTF: Kids fondling a corpse and playing pinata with dead bodies… that’s all perfectly normal right?
19. Waking Life (2001)
Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is the trippiest film on this WTF rollercoaster and for good reason.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Hmmm, good question. If I had to give a synopsis (and I do) I’d say it’s about a guy who floats from dream to dream and talks to different people about the meaning of life.
WHY IT’S WTF: Waking Life is overly philosophical, to a fault almost. Combine that with Linklater’s rotoscoping effects and you’ll be left thinking WTF.
20. Titicut Follies (1967)
Sometimes real life is more WTF than fiction and the documentary, Titicut Follies, proves that statement.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Step inside a Massachusetts Correctional Institution in the 1960s and see what madness really looks like.
WHY IT’S WTF: Titicut Follies was so unbelievable that it was banned from being shown in the US. Later the film would help close down the very institution it was focused on.
21. Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
Also known as They Call Her One Eye, this WTF film was a big inspiration on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A young woman is drugged and forced into prostitution. Over time she develops skills that help her unleash payback on all who abused her.
WHY IT’S WTF: Without question, the most NSFW film on the list, and I’m not talking about NC-17 NSFW. It’s way worse than that.
22. Barton Fink (1991)
Barton Fink is WTF worthy on so many levels. The paranoia, the madness, and everything else the Coen Brothers throw at you add up to make one hell of a movie.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A playwright from New York moves into a hotel in LA to start writing movie scripts for Hollywood. He quickly learns he’s in over his head and seeks the help of his neighbor… who is insane.
WHY IT’S WTF: The scene where John Goodman runs down a blazing hallway with a shotgun screaming “I’ll show you the life of the mind” will make anyone say WTF.
Adding on, because it was requested on Facebook. As of the publish date of this article – Holy Motors, eXistenZ, Primer are on Netflix instant. You can find full versions of Thriller (very NSFW), Persona, Dogtooth on youtube. Cannibal Holocaust is on Hulu Plus.