This list features 35 unique, inventive and innovative films considered the most original films by IMDb voters released since 2000.
#35. Elephant (2003)
Gus Van Sant’s school shooting indie drama feels part-surreal, part-documentary in execution fit with a near-real time progression, lingering tracking shots and long takes, becoming a light but powerful indictment of violence and an intelligent study in the role cinema can play in reflecting life.
#34. Inland Empire (2006)
David Lynch’s Inland Empire merges together the reality of an actress’s life and the fantasy of an acting role she takes, pushing her and the audience into a maddening world of confusion, disruption and horror.
#33. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
A triumph of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly uniquely and quite masterfully uses the camera to force the audience to embody the perspective of Bauby as he awakes from a stroke and comes to understand his condition, create a shocking and immersive experience of how such a terrible ailment would feel.
#32. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel tells the story of identity and deception in a future dystopia constantly under police surveillance in the midst of a drug addiction epidemic. The film was shot digitally and animated using interpolated rotoscope giving a unique look complimenting the films drugged out atmosphere and events.
#31. Hard Candy (2005)
Hard Candy’s harsh moral dilemma explores a cat and mouse game when the roles are reversed. In doing so, the film juxtaposes the moral depths of pedophilia with teenage sociopathy in a tense, claustrophobic two-person setup.
#30. Waltz with Bashir (2008)
An unusual use of animation to highlight war crimes, Waltz with Bashir renders the exploration of memory amidst the fog of war in completely abstract terms as the animation dissolves into raw live-action footage of the aftermath of a horrendous massacre.
#29. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Cameron Crowe’s remake of the Spanish feature Open Your Eyes is a cult film using a dreamlike narrative to explore man lost in a horrific paradox of where his life went wrong.
#28. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 dramatic adaptation of a stage play uniquely focuses on an African-American-centric story set in a southern Louisiana bayou and wonderfully places a young girl in folklorish fantasy.
#27. Waking Life (2007)
A mix of adult animation, docufiction and drama, Richard Linklater’s 2001 feature explores the nature of reality, dreams, consciousness, the meaning of life, free will, and existentialism in a lense just as wide and varied.
#26. Irreversible (2002)
No stranger to shocks, Gaspar Noe presents his rape and revenge thriller in backwards order, forcing the audience to process vile, grotesque actions first, and the context and reasons for them afterward.
#25. Primer (2004)
Shane Carruth’s sci-fi thriller is a mathematical puzzle piece that must be seen several times to understand and solve as it layers the implications of time travel upon itself piece by piece.
#24. The Fountain (2006)
Darren Aronosfky’s science fiction drama tells three different stories with analogous sets of characters and the use of match cuts and recurring visual motifs to reflect upon the themes of love and morality.
#23. Valhalla Rising (2009)
Nicolas Winding Refn is no stranger to divided reception, but his allegorical film Valhalla Rising presents a rather unique, unusual symbolic vision fit with both his trademark violent aesthetic and Norse/Viking mythological trappings.
#22. Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void takes an out-of-body experience to the extreme, using the camera as the viewpoint of its main character, offering a near-hallucinatory, visceral experience into the subconscious.
#21. Upstream Colour (2013)
Shane Carruth’s strangely explores two people who unbeknown to them, have their lives and behaviors affected by a complex parasite with a three-stage life cycle (humans to pigs to orchids).
#20. Dogville (2003)
Lars von Trier’s Dogville strips away all aesthetic baggage with a minimalist blackbox theater approach to tell an allegory about America’s history of hypocrisy and exploitation through the moral dilemma of a woman escaping trouble in a small town.
#19. The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick’s expressionistic and spiritual take on the process of life handled with a sublime visual approach and an loose yet immersive narrative that divided critics and audiences alike.
#18. Synecdoche, New York (2009)
Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut uses his trademark world-bending visual and narrative approach to follow an ailing theatre director working on an increasingly elaborate stage production whose extreme commitment to realism begins to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality.
#17. Sin City (2005)
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller masterfully bring a series of comic book characters and stories to life in this anthology film, using a distinctive and recognizable visual approach lifted from both the comic book world and film noir influences.
#16. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
David Lynch’s masterpiece layers reality and dreams into one state of consciousness to explore an aspiring Hollywood actress’s descent into madness after a maddening journey of failure, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and guilt.
#15. Under the Skin (2013)
Under the Skin is a visual detour into the abyss of alien devouring, done with seductive spontaneity and naturalism.
#14. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Cloud Atlas is a mosaic of sorts, exploring personalities or souls throughout a spectrum of stories, environments, experiences and dilemmas to explore the ripple effects of human existence.
#13. Mr. Nobody (2009)
Jaco Van Dormael’s cult film is a speculative sci-fi drama exploring an 118-year-old mortal in a world of immortal humans using a nonlinear narrative and a many-worlds interpretation. Wading through his fading memory, we explore his life and possible alternate paths that branch out at three central points, bringing about an existentialist examination of human mortality.
#12. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream is a horrific yet ethereal look into the self-destructive world of addiction.
#11. Pan’s Labyrinth (2009)
Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy tells a period fairytale through the eyes of a young girl dealing with broken family. The film uniquely weaves together a personal journey with historical references to Francoist Spain, and Del Toro’s trademark macabre explorations fit with strange, magical creatures brought to life by make-up, animatronics and CGI.
#10. Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko’s layered narrative presents alternate realities and parallel universes with detailed subtext and visual panache. A combination of 80s teen angst and timeless adolescent malaise, its a striking and unique Lynchian-esque entry.
#9. Avatar (2009)
While not the most original story, its 2009 release was presented in a mind-blowing 3D format with striking depth of field perception to the audience that no 3D film has surpassed in a regular theater.
#8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry’s surrealist drama uses the augmentation and willful extraction of memory to explore the divergences of existence it would cause, and wraps the narrative structure into such divergences.
#7. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Likely Wes Anderson’s magnum-opus, this quirky caper is “a story within a story within a story within a story” reflecting on friendship using artistic set pieces, off-color humor and eccentric characters in a connective building block of unraveling mystery.
#6. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road is an illustrative post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy action thriller personifying modern day social mores and conflicts into its characters and environments to explore themes of feminism, war, environmental ruin and tribalism.
#5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
A.G. Inarritu’s fifth feature is a surreal piece of satire exploring the fleeting nature of celebrity, identity and existence in the modern world with a stream-of-conscious visual approach that blurs the lines between sanity and insanity, and reality and fantasy.
#4. Boyhood (2014)
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a comprehensive chronicle of millennial adolescence, shot over the period of 12 years.
#3. Memento (2000)
Memento uniquely places the audience in the perspective of a character with disjointed memories, fusing psychology with narrative.
#2. Hardcore Henry (2015)
Hardcore Henry is an ultra-violent sci-fi, action thriller, using point-of-view cinematography to illustrate its fervent intensity.
The Fall (2006)
Southland Tales (2006)