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10 Movies like Donnie Darko to Watch if you Enjoy Gritty Thrillers

movies like donnie darko

If you loved Donnie Darko’s unprecedented themes of illusions, sci-fi, psychothriller and horror, look no further. This curated list of movies like Donnie Darko will offer you the best recommendations. 

Directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko has become a cult classic. Drawn from Kelly’s own experiences of anxieties as a teenager, the story places Donnie Darko (played by young Jake Gyllenhaal) a troubled adolescent with a history of Schizophrenia and violence as the protagonist. The movie opens with Donnie sleepwalking and encountering a Rabbit-headed figure called Frank, who informs him that the world will end in 28 days. Frank proceeds to encourage Donnie to commit crimes by convincing him that there will be no repercussions to his actions. As the story moves forward, Donnie meets a girl called Gretchen Ross who tells him that she too has been facing family troubles, they both end up dating. 

Donnie Darko presents the viewer with the themes of adolescent isolation and internal-external struggles with the unknown, not often being the most relatable character, Donnie proves to be an iconic, fearless, badass martyr which is what makes this movie special. The distinctive fantasy and nightmare of the uncertain experiences in an apocalyptic world set this movie apart from its counterparts.

We have compiled this amazing list of movies similar to Donnie Darko that are a must-watch, especially for you.  

List of Movies Like Donnie Darko 

  1. Fight Club
  2. 12 Monkeys
  3. Final Destination
  4. The Butterfly Effect
  5. Shutter Island
  6. The Uninvited
  7. Predestination
  8. The Royal Tenenbaums
  9. The Prestige
  10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

1. Fight Club (1999)

IMDb Rating: 8.8/10
Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: David Fincher

A David Fincher cult classic, Fight Club is about a depressed lonely man (played by Edward Norton) who suffers from insomnia. Fed up with his boring capitalistic life, he starts going to various support groups that are unrelated to his issues, as a coping mechanism but soon encounters a support group-hopping competitor Marla. He later meets an odd soap salesman, Tyler (played by Brad Pitt). Tyler introduces Ed Norton ‘The Narrator’ to a secret fight club. 

The dreamlike sequences of the Narrator’s fantasies and the subversion of the rules of the world are accompanied by thrilling action. The performances of the lead characters are worthy of high praise. If you have been looking for movies like Donnie Darko that place a character in the middle of a brilliant fantasy, you’re at the right place, this is a perfect choice for you. 

2. 12 Monkeys (1995)

IMDb Rating: 8/10
Cast: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt
Director: Terry Gillian

Starring Bruce Willis movie, 12 Monkeys is a Sci-fi/Thriller directed by Terry Gillian. The movie follows the journey of James Cole (Bruce Willis), a prisoner in the 2030s, who is recruited as a time traveller to go back to the 1990s on a mission to get information about a plague that is about to wipe out the majority of life on earth.

When he arrives at the wrong moment in the past, Cole is arrested and incarcerated at a mental hospital where he meets Jeffery Goines (played by Brad Pitt), a mental patient. Determined to save the world from its fate, Cole finds himself travelling back and forth in time discovering unfathomable secrets. If you have not seen 12 Monkeys yet, it’s one the best movies like Donnie Darko that you can watch. 

3. Final Destination (2000)

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
Cast: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith
Director: James Wong

Final Destination is a film series first created in the year 2000, and developed by Jeffery Reddick. Reddick based this series on real-life events of a woman cheating death. The movie begins with Alex Browning boarding a flight to Paris. He insists everyone get off the plane after having a premonition of the plane crashing. 7 people including Alex get off the Plane, soon to discover that it caught fire and exploded. Escaping death briefly, all the survivors get on with their life but it is soon discovered that they cannot escape their fate for very long. 

This supernatural series explores unconventional notions of life and death. If you were intrigued by the role destiny plays in a person’s chances of survival in a movie like Donnie Darko, Final Destination will create a story of unfathomable situations so close to reality that it is sure to make you question your own life. If you are already familiar with the series, you will be excited to know that the next, Final Destination 6 is in the works. 

4. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart
Director: Eric Bress

Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, The Butterfly Effect movie is based on the idea that even the smallest changes have unusual effects on complex systems like life. The main character Ewan Trebon is played by Ashton Kutcher. A college student, Trebon experiences incredibly painful headaches all throughout his life which often lead to blackouts. Ewan discovers that while he is unconscious he can travel in time and change the reality for people close to him, who have gone through traumatic events. 

However, it is discovered that changes he makes to past events drastically turn the present into chaos, leading him into experiencing terrifying alternate realities. The time-warping illusions of this sci-fi movie are executed well. If you want to watch movies similar to Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect is worth a watch.

Also Read: Movies like Arrival

5. Shutter Island (2010)

IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer
Director: Martin Scorsese

A movie made by the iconic filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island is an American neo-noir film. Leonardo Dicaprio as Teddy Daniels and Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule, two US Marshals that are sent to an asylum in a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Filled with twists and turns, the movie’s use of intense psychological elements creates a creepy eternal sensation in the viewer’s mind. 

Based on the novel of the same name written by Dennis Lehane, the movie brilliantly visualises the words ‘It’s just one moment of sanity mixed in the midst of all the other delusions.’ If you love movies like Donie Darko and its mystical and haunting elements, you cannot go wrong with Shutter Island

6. The Uninvited (2009)

IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
Cast: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Charles Guard

The Uninvited, a horror-thriller directed by Thomas Guard and Charles Guard was adapted from a South Korean psychological drama film A Tale of Two Sisters. The movie follows the story of a girl called Anna after she is released from a mental asylum. Anna discovers that her recently widowed father decides to get engaged to her mother’s former nurse, Rachel. Anna does not like this and finds support from her sister Alex. Both of them together plot revenge after suspecting that Rachel had something to do with the death of their mother. 

This may be one of the lesser-known films on this list but the story’s excellent character writing and terrifying horror elements leave a huge mark on the viewer’s mind. If you are interested in movies like Donnie Darko that surprise you endlessly, The Uninvited is the right pick for you. 

7. Predestination (2014)

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Created by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, Predestination is a mind-bending Sci-fi movie. Ethan Hawke plays a time-travelling agent who is assigned his final assignment before retirement. His job is to go back and prevent a bomb attack in New York in 1975. Sarah Snook, who has now become popular for her role in Succession, plays the role of an unmarried mother in this movie. 

The movie’s bizarre and intertwined nature of story-telling develops a unique experience for the viewers. For his final assignment, the temporal agent must catch the one criminal that has slipped his tail for years. Without going further into detail about the movie’s daring plot and great acting performances, it’s fair to say that Predestination will thrill the fans of experimental sci-fi movies like Donnie Darko. 

8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Cast: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: Wes Anderson

A Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums is about three gifted siblings who reunite after being distant from each other for years, only to meet their soon-to-die father. The father, Royal Tenenbaum is an eccentric man who left the family when the children were teenagers. Bringing a lighthearted and dramatised comedy, this movie centres on the theme of odd family structures and highlights the peculiarities of dysfunctional relationships. 

Some exceptional performances were given by Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow. Surprisingly sweet and funny, this bizarre movie will be great to add to the movie list if you want to see films similar to Donnie Darko but one which has a more cheerful vibe. 

9. The Prestige (2006)

IMDb Rating: 8.5/10
Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall,
Director: Christopher Nolan

One of Christopher Nolan’s early masterpieces, The Prestige is a drama set in the 1800s in London, with actors like Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and Sarah Borden. This is a story where two stage magicians Robert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred ( Christian Bale) become enemies after Julia, who is Robert’s wife, dies in a magic show accident. Robert blames Alfred for her death. Robert turns against Alfred and engages in a ruthless competition to become the greatest magician by creating the ultimate magic trick. 

Robert’s obsession with finding the answer to how Alfred achieves his mind-boggling trick leads him on a journey of unfathomable sacrifice. This brilliantly developed plot by Nolan is an absolute treat for the audience. If you want to watch films like Donnie Darko, or just want to watch an exceptional masterpiece, The Prestige is a great choice. 

Also Read: Movies like Prometheus

10. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

IMDb Rating: 8.3/10
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet,
Director: Michel Gondry

Winning the Academy award for the Best original screenplay, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind was created by Charlie Kaufman. Regarded as one of the most romantic films of all time, the movie can be explained almost like a fever dream of love but one that you remember well and with profound pleasure. Clementine (Kate Winslet) recently breaks up with her boyfriend Joel ( Jim Carrey). Unable to comprehend her feelings, she decides to have her memory of him erased, when Joel finds out about this, he too goes to do the same. 

The exceptional performances by the lead actors add a heartwarming depth to the story. The poetic cinematography of  Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind will mesmerise you. If you want to see a movie like Donnie Darko that not only feels similar to Donnie’s sci-fi story but evokes the emotions within, this movie will not disappoint. 

Honourable Mentions 

Here is a list of other great movies like Donnie Darko that didn’t make the cut but are worth a watch.

  1. Zodiac
  2. Ex-Machina
  3. Seven
  4. Vanilla Sky 
  5. Inception

When Lost aired over a decade ago, its successful narrative created a pop culture impact and changed the landscape of television. If you are a fan and want to watch shows like Lost then you can have a look at this list we made just for you.

Lost

The hugely successful television series Lost aired in 2004. The premise, as we know, deals with a group of people surviving a commercial passenger plane crash on a remote island. The show masterfully explores supernatural and sci-fi elements on this mysterious south Pacific island. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTu8iDynwNc

The use of cliffhangers at the end of each episode of Lost kept the viewers on the edge of their seats, desperately craving for the next episode to come. Even though it's a large ensemble cast, most of the characters receive a justifiable personal arch. Lost was inspired by the movie Castaway and became one of the most expensive pilots to be shot at the time! Lost continues to be appreciated for its originality in storytelling and dynamic character arcs. 

List of TV Shows Like Lost

  1. The Leftovers
  2. Manifest
  3. Lost Room
  4. Twin Peaks
  5. The Prisoners
  6. Battlestar Galactica
  7. The New People
  8. Flight 29 Down
  9. Fringe
  10. Alcatraz
  11. Under the Dome
  12. Dark

1. The Leftovers (2014)

IMDB ratings: 8.3/10

Cast: Carrie Coon, Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and Margaret Qualley

Creator: Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta

The director of Lost, Damon Lindel also created a supernatural drama series called The Leftovers. The show begins 3 years after an unexplainable global event called ‘Sudden Departure’  where almost 2 per cent of the population, nearly 140 million people, disappear. The Leftovers isn't about WHY people are gone, it's about how the ones who remain dealt with their loss, people often try to comfort themselves with dreams, angels, gods, or even death.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLT3YUALJno&t=8s

The Leftovers will leave you with so many questions but beyond words, you have to feel it and savour its unanswered questions to find peace. The Leftovers is an incredible television series that starts incredibly well but loses its way by the series's end. I have to say though, Carrie Coon has brilliant moments in the end. The Leftovers is so weird, fragmented and nonsensical at times that it reminds me of Lost. If you are looking for shows like Lost, I recommend that you give The Leftovers a try.

2. Manifest  (2018) 

IMDB ratings: 7.1/10

Cast: Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas and J.R. Ramirez 

Creator: Jeff Rake


The Manifest is a supernatural drama show about a bunch of people who discover that they lost 5 years of their lives when they landed in New York after their aeroplane faced severe turbulence. All the people on the plane were presumed to be dead. Now, these people have to find a way to adjust themselves to a new life around their loved ones. Mild spoiler! They learn their loved ones and the rest of society is not as they left it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1hNAIzkQWY

I found that the show’s premise was very intriguing and the actors give a very convincing performance. The narrative details of the show, however, in my opinion, are a bit sloppy and inconsistent. The writers surely have room for improvement but their concept is incredibly thrilling. Every episode of Manifest keeps you on your toes. Manifest has completed 3 seasons up until now and continues to be on air. Manifest is a pretty good choice if you want to watch TV shows like Lost.

3. Lost Room (2006)

IMDB ratings: 8.1/10

Cast: Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies and Peter Jacobson

Creator: Christopher Leone, Laura Harkcom

This lesser-known show The Lost Room is an American Sci-fi television miniseries which only had 3 episodes of 90 mins each and no follow-up seasons. The show was based on a very unique idea where the room in question (known as the ‘Lost Room’) and the objects in the said room had supernatural powers. This strange room is set in a 1960s motel along the iconic U.S. Route 66. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfWrECLnFYU

One day the protagonist (Peter Krause) Joe Miller’s daughter disappears inside the room. Joe, with the help of objects present in the room, tries to find his daughter Anna (Elle Fanning). The story of Lost Room was intensely engaging. I found the direction and the actor’s performances to be absolutely brilliant. It baffles me that the creators did not return to make another short season within the same concept. If you have been searching for TV series like Lost then I can assure you that Lost Room will be worth a watch.

4. Twins Peaks (1990) 

IMDB ratings: 8.8/10

Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Mädchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn and David Lynch

Creator: David Lynch

David Lynch, the well-known director of weird and captivating films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet created an iconic show called Twin Peaks. It is a hauntingly eccentric show about the investigation of the mysterious murder of a small-town homecoming queen named Laura Palmer. Believe me, as odd as the show may seem at first, you will grow to love it, after all, it is considered to be one of the best mystery shows ever created. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwn9ou_nf-I

With the mysteries, the supernatural elements and the list of bizarre characters, Twin Peaks has it all. In my opinion, the cinematography of the show was truly ahead of its time. Kyle’s Dale Cooper was especially entertaining. Twin Peaks’ experimental formula of the satirical soap opera is extremely unsettling yet rewarding to watch, I must warn you, it’s not for the faint-hearted!  If you are in search of TV shows like Lost then Twin Peaks won’t disappoint you.

The Prisoners (1967)

IMDB ratings: 8.5/10

Cast: Patrick McGoohan, Angelo Muscat and Geroge Markstien

Creator: Patrick McGoohan


The Prisoner centres around an unnamed British agent (Patrick McGoohan) who tries to flee his country after abruptly quitting his high-ranking government job. He is abducted and held captive in a strange ‘sea-side’ village that is isolated from the rest of the world. This village is a highly secure and monitored place filled with weird technology. There are only 17 episodes to this late 60s show but it manages to bring up such surreal surprises, it's sure to leave a great impact on the viewer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JrNr85fPms

The Prisoner’s unique concept influenced many popular shows including Lost. The creators of Lost even cited the show. I was very impressed by how ahead of its time The Prisoners proves to be. If you want to watch more shows similar to Lost the Prisoners should definitely be on your list.

6. Battlestar Galactica (2004)

IMDB ratings: 8.7/10

Cast: Katee Sackhoff, Edward James Olmos and Tricia Helfer 

Creator: Glen A. Larson

The 2004 Battlestar Galactica is a reboot of the original 1978 miniseries of the same name. Do not be mistaken by the title, the show is not related to Star Trek.  Battlestar Galactica is set in the 7th millennium AD and follows Cylons, the robot enemy of humanity that resurfaces to destroy the 12 colonies of Mankind. Only a few survive and are able to escape on ships led by a powerful warship called Battlestar Galactica. Mankind struggles to fight the Cylons and work their own political agendas and disputes while finding their long-lost 13th colony Earth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnYsf2Yv8i8

The show is a dark, intense and gritty socio-political commentary with EPIC cinematic value. The script is especially clever and as a huge fan of sci-fi shows, this show ticks the boxes in all the right categories. When the show was released, it blew the viewers and critics away. As far as an obsessive and gripping story goes, Battlestar Galactica is one of the most similar to shows like Lost. 

7. The New People (1969)

IMDB ratings: 7.3/10

Cast: David Moses, Zooey hall and Tiffany Boiling

Creator: Larry Gordon Aaron Spelling

The New People is an American Tv series that aired only for 1 season and is focused on a couple of college students who survive a plane crash. The incident takes place while they were returning from a trip to Southeast Asia, their plane crashes on an island in the south of the Pacific ocean. 

By now this show must already be sounding a lot like Lost to you, and it surely is. The remaining group of people discover an unusual truth about the island: there’s an above-ground unused nuclear test site filled with supplies for the survivors. If you want to see more plane survival stories like Lost then The New People should definitely be on your list.

8. Flight 29 Down (2005)

IMDB ratings: 7.2/10

Cast: Allen Alvarado, Halle Hirsh and Corbin Bleu

Creator:  Stan Rowgow D. J. MacHale

The show Flight 29 Down is a drama series about a group of pre-teens/teens who are stranded on a South Pacific island after their plane crashes in a tropical storm while they were flying from an eco-adventure camping trip in Palau. The show is in many ways a younger version of the Adult-centred show Lost but sans the supernatural elements. I’d say that the show draws inspiration from the show The New People.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLeG0w3kL8k

Flight 29 Down uses the technique of a video diary as a plot device for the viewers to keep up with the story of these children. It was very engaging to watch young intelligent characters finding their way on the island. The first two seasons of the show are quite engaging but I seemed to lose interest in its 3rd and final season. Regardless, Flight 29 Down is a really good series to watch if you want to see TV shows like Lost.

9. Fringe (2008)

IMDB ratings: 8.4/10

Cast: Anna Torv, John Noble and Joshua Jackson

Creator: J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci

Fringe is a popular Sci-fi crime drama television series. It may seem like a standard procedural drama at first, but the show actually explores the parallel universe, alternate versions of people filled with crazy scientific experiments. I personally had a great time watching this show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29bSzbqZ3xE

Fringe is actually inspired by shows like Lost, The X-files and The Twilight Zone. The 3 main characters of the show work with a special division called Fringe. There are so many brilliant twists and turns in Fringe that in my opinion, the show is at the top of its category. If you are searching for TV series like Lost, I strongly recommend you watch Fringe

10. Alcatraz (2012)

IMDB ratings: 6.9/10

Cast: Sarah Jones, George Garcia and Jonny Coyne 

Creator: Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt

This American fiction show is based on the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary built on Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay. The prison is now closed but once kept some of the most dangerous criminals of America. The show takes the liberty to make a show around the conspiracies of the place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V514ACIGp_k

In the interesting premise we see that under unknown circumstances, 256 inmates and 46 guards of the prison disappear without a trace. Later the disappeared ones start to appear one by one without ageing a day and resume their criminal activities with no realisation of disappearance. A special government unit is dedicated to finding and putting those criminals back in prison. If you are looking for mystery shows similar to Lost, try watching Alcatraz. 

11. Under the Dome (2013)

IMDB ratings: 6.5/10

Cast: Alexander Koch and Rachelle Lefevre

Creator: Stephen King

Based on a novel written by the sci-fi legend Stephen King, Under the Dome tells the story of the residents of the fictional small town called Chester's Mill, when a huge, transparent and indestructible dome suddenly cuts them off from the rest of the world. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_Y5YeYrqUk

Now the trapped residents try to find a way to discover the truth, origin and purpose of these domes. This journey forces them into situations where they learn more about each other than they ever knew. Under the Dome may not be on the top of this list but it’s quite a decent watch if you’re looking for mystery shows similar to Lost

12. Dark (2017)

IMDB ratings: 8.7/10

Cast: Louis Hofmann, Lisa Vicari and Gina Stiebitz

Creator: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

The German-language Netflix series Dark is an interesting blend of Science fiction and Mystery. Truly a compelling and mind-bending story to watch. At the beginning of Dark, many children suspiciously start disappearing in the German town of Winden. The dark past of generational mysteries of 4 families living in the town namely, Kahnwald, Nielsen, Doppler, and Tiedemann is brought to light.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrwycJ08PSA

After the discovery of a wormhole, the lives of the families intertwine more than one can imagine. I believe every element of the show is top-notch, especially Dark’s cinematography, which is a TRUE masterpiece. If you are looking for TV series similar to Lost then the intense and gripping story of Dark is sure to keep you engrossed.

Honourable Mentions

Here are a few TV shows like Lost that didn’t make the list, but you can check them out nonetheless: 

  1. Carnivale
  2. Yellowjackets
  3. Game of Thrones
  4. Black Mirror
  5. Flashforward