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The “All In Your Head” Movies

WARNING: The following article lists endings to several recent and older films. Therefore you probably should read this list in order to avoid watching these films. You’ll just end up spending $14 on a movie ticket to watch the kid in front of you text on his blackberry for two hours and then get a crappy ending to boot!

There has been a common “twist” ending employed in numerous films over the years that has been rearing its ugly head ever more increasingly. From B horror movies to big budget Oscar contenders, this ending is maddeningly used over and over again. It’s enough to make any cinema lover have a total snap with reality and lose their mind! It’s become the go-to ending for lazy screenplay writers the world over. Now we have all come to expect the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending- Bruce Willis is a ghost, blah, blah, blah. I’m not talking about those clichéd endings. This is a very specific sub genre of movies that feature a twist ending. I am of course referring to films in which one or more of the main characters is imaginary and all in the head of the other character- ala Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

Ever since Fight Club made a big cinematic splash in 1999, movie makers have gone psycho with this previously interesting twist. There are a lot of films out there that you may think are All in Your Head Movies (AIYH movies as the kids say). However, for our purposes, we shall define these films as those in which the main character is mentally insane and imagining someone else doing things that he or she is in fact themselves responsible for. They can’t be dead (living in the afterlife or as a ghost) and it can’t have all been a dream. So with that in mind sit back, relax, grab yourself some popcorn and enjoy this list of All in Your Head Movies… unless.. wait a minute? ..No! It can’t be! Maybe you already read it.. because you wrote it.. you are ME. Woaaaah.

Fight Club

This is the classic upon which all other recent AIYH movies must live up to. This film came out before this twist ending was all the rage and thus gets a pass on using the cliché. Most movie goers didn’t see this ending coming and when it was revealed that Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is all in the head of Edward Norton’s character it was truly amazing. The best part was the dizzying flashback showing us how Norton’s character was really Durden; even fighting himself in the parking lot!  Project Mayhem! Unfortunately after Fight Club it’s all downhill.

Secret Window

“You stole my story..” and two hours of my life. This is the line that the imaginary AIYH character John Shooter mumbles over and over again to Johnny Depp’s character, a writer who has locked himself away in a wooded cabin to finish his novel. Only Depp can’t get any writing done because the crazed yokel farmer keeps showing up claiming to have been plagiarized by the author. In retaliation the farmer supposedly kills Depp’s dog and burns down his soon to be ex wife’s house amongst other atrocities. The film isn’t half bad and some audiences might even be gripped with the suspense of this Stephen King inspired thriller only to suffer the let down of a textbook AIYH movie ending. We are treated to the full shabang complete with a spinning room and flash backs showing us what really happened sans the weird farmer guy.

High Tension

This brutal French horror film tells the story of a young woman, Marie, who goes to stay with her female friend’s family in the country side. While there the happy house is soon visited by a depraved serial killer and Marie witnesses the large man murdering the parents. What follows is a bunch of great, gritty slice and dice kill scenes. Up until the ending this is an awesome slasher flick that would be on any gore hounds short list. Therefore it’s sad for me to report that no other film defines how stupid the logic of an AIYH movie can be. It is revealed that Marie is actually the serial killer and is indeed the one that took out her friend’s family and committed the numerous other kills and acts of violence throughout the film. However there is no way Marie could have possibly done all of the things depicted in the film- especially the car chase in which her killer alter ego tries to push her off the road. AIYH fail!

A Tale of Two Sisters / The Uninvited

This is a tale of two all in your head movies. A Tale of Two Sisters was a great piece of South Korean horror- enough so that it had the honor of being turned into a miserable, watered down American remake: The Uninvited. While the original Korean film treats its “AIYH-ness” much more artfully and subtly, its American sister goes for the jugular bludgeoning its audience with an insane plot that would make Tyler Durden blush. The Uninvited follows the story of a young girl who comes home after spending time in mental institution for suicide following the death of her mother in a house boat fire. Once home, she and her sister are scared that their new step mom is to blame for their mother’s death, and indeed may be a danger to them and their father. No one will listen to their warnings, mainly due to the fact that the sister DIED in the fire and is all in the crazy girl’s head. This one gets props for concluding with the traditional series of flashbacks showing the main character that she is alone, doing everything by herself and without her sister.

Hide and Seek

This is like watching one of your favorite actors star in a skin flick. DeNiro! Oh come on, please God no. Why? Alas, Robert De Niro starred in an AIYH movie alongside a young Dakota Fanning. DeNiro’s character is a doctor who, after the death of his wife, moves to the country side with his young daughter. (A lot of AIYH movies involve living in remote areas where people can’t call you out for your imaginary friends.) While in their new home Fanning starts playing with a malevolent “Charlie” who De Niro thinks is all in HER head. After “Charlie” kills his lady friend we discover that the joke’s on him because “Charlie” is really De Niro. He created this split personality in order to kill his cheating wife and deal with his guilt. I wonder if “Charlie” was also responsible for biting this finger?

Shutter Island

I should have known better; I called this one as an All in Your Head movie just from watching the trailer. Alas. I couldn’t pass up a dreamy Leonardo DiCaprio movie. First of all, it takes place at a creepy mental hospital: the first thing that occurred to me is that Leo is the one who is crazy; this whole business of being a US Marshal in search of a missing patient is a sham. The one thing that is different about this movie is that the crazy character is aided in his delusions by others. The psychiatrists have put together an elaborate ruse to try and break him of his psychosis stemmed from murdering his wife who had killed their children. “Rachel Solando,” the patient Leo’s character was sent to find and briefly meets was, in fact, all in his head. His US Marshal partner “Chuck” is not really a US Marshal but a psychiatrist trying to help him. A Martin Scorsese film, this is the AIYH directorial equivalent of DeNiro slumming it in Hide and Seek.

The Machinist

Christian Bale lost over 60 pounds to star as a machinist who is suffering from insomnia. The scrawny, haggard man is tormented by “Ivan” whom no one else seems to be aware of. “Ivan” causes an accident at the factory causing a man to lose an arm in addition to kidnapping a boy. In the end “Ivan” is nothing more than an AIYH character sent to help Bale’s character cope with committing a hit and run accident where a boy was killed. The Machinist is a disturbing, well shot film but the inclusion of the AIYH plot twist earns it, its place on this dreaded list.

The Other

The poster says “please don’t reveal the secret of The Other.” I guess if you’re reading this it’s too late. My bad! This 1972 horror movie follows the story of twins Niles and Holland, one good and one a “mischief maker.” As you can imagine the mischief intensifies, with Holland causing their cousin to die on a pitch fork, an old woman to have a heart attack and their mother to fall down the stairs and become paralyzed. Now, a good twin and a bad twin is a sure sign of a AIYH movie and it is soon revealed that Holland is all in the head of sweet natured Niles. In fact (much like The Uninvited) Niles’ twin Holland has been dead since March.

Black Swan

No movie so shockingly exemplifies how terribly the All in Your Head ending can ruin an otherwise great film as this Oscar nominated picture does. Halfway through Black Swan I started to get that sinking feeling. “Don’t do it.. don’t do it!” I pleaded in vain to the screen. Finally we are all treated to what we knew was coming: Natalie Portman’s character has been completely imagining all the terrible (and HOT) things that Mila Kunis’ character has been doing. Now some in the AIYH movie fan community might argue that this doesn’t count since Kunis’ character actually exists outside of the other ballerina’s warped brain. However during the times when Portman is fighting with herself and.. ahem.. doing other things with herself, there is no one there- that character is all in her head. If Black Swan takes Best Picture this year it will truly be an All in Your Head movie milestone.

My one question is, if this is constantly happening in film, how many times does this actually happen in real life? Are there scores of people out there living with their imaginary friends and don’t know it? Are my friends all just stuffed animals lined up on the wall of my mental institution cell? Better yet, what are some of your favorite All In Your Head movies? ..That is if you actually exist.

I feel I should point out that "Secret Window" is based on Stephen King's story "Secret Window, Secret Garden" that was published in his collection "Four Past Midnight" in 1990. So even though the movie was made in the Fight Club Era, the story certainly precedes that.
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Yep, High Tension's ending makes no sense. Was that her in the truck giving herself a blowie with the decapitated head? I'd like to know how that worked. Actually, no I would not. There's a fan edit out there that eliminates the AIYH ending, it's worth looking for if you liked the rest of the film (try

And I didn't catch on to Shutter Island from the previews, but I figured it out about 10 minutes into the film. Really disappointing.
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thank you!! i was just having an argument last night with some friends about black swan, and how it COULD have been a great movie, were it not for that annoying "oh, look, it's not real! get it? did you get that it wasn't real? are you getting it?" excess toward the end/second half of the movie. sigh. yes, got it... got it.
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Loved both "Shutter Island" and "Black Swan." Took me a while to catch on to Shutter Island though Black Swan was pretty obvious considering how nutso the character of Nina was acting. Still, two great and very enjoyable films. And I think you do "The Other" - a VERY scary film for its time, a HUGE disservice by including it on this list. Your argument of all the AIYH movies stemming from "Fight Club" also does not hold up in this (and other) examples included here.
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Might as well list a bunch more spoilers for movies!!!!

Was going to go this weekend to see Black Swan with the wifey since it's hard for us to get out with the damned kids...guess I dont have to anymore now the ending has been revealed.
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@ Hiddnfox
I guess you missed that warning at the top of the page
"WARNING: The following article lists endings to several recent and older films. Therefore you probably should read this list in order to avoid watching these films. "
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I had the same sinking feeling during "Black Swan" and was so disappointed to realize that I was right. They pretty much lost me after that.

And while we are at it, what about AIYH's close cousin "It Was All a Dream (or Was It?)"
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It's somewhat unclear, but one interpretation of the ending of "Swimming Pool" (2003) fits this theme. That movie didn't make it explicit with flashbacks, so it's left up to the viewer to decide.

As previously noted, "A Beautiful Mind" does fit this as well.
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Fight Club was the founder of this genre?

More like Hitchcock's Psycho. It's the perfect example of this, except, of course, it actually gets it right. Where is the mother? She's all in Norman's head!

How could you forget this, most fantastic, movie?
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Re: Shutter Island

I was pretty pissed off after the first viewing, because, with the exception of Fight Club, I generally hate AIYH movies.

However, on repeat viewings, Shutter Island reveals some interesting stuff.

First, it's really interesting to watch the scenes play out with the knowledge that the MC is insane. The clues are all there.

Second, there's a subtext about holocaust denial-ism that is really interesting.
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As other comments have pointed out, the whole time I was reading this article, scrolling down to see the next movie in the list, I was waiting/half expecting to come across "A Beautiful Mind".

Fun read, though.
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There's a simple explanation for the apparent inconsistencies in High Tension: what we see in the movie isn't what Marie imagined - it's what she CLAIMS happened in her statement to the police.
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For a second I thought this was complaining about Tale of Two Sisters in the list, and I was about to be disappointed. Relieved to see it's about the remake. Because the original movie was really good, and I can hardly explain why. What the hell is under the sink! Gahhh!
I actually guessed the plot twist to Secret Window when my husband told me just a brief summary of the movie. I was like, oh, it's probably... And he was so upset. I had never seen the movie, or really seen anything about it, just knew it had Johnny Depp as a writer. Humorous.
I did like Black Swan, it was jarring. I thought the all in your head part could have been done better in some ways, but it didn't ruin it for me.
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MIKERBAKER!!!! I thought I was the only person in the world to have seen The Telephone! Now there's two hours of my life I'll never get back.
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It's poured over into video games as well... [spoiler alert]
That's right. Even they are picking up on this.
Call of Duty: Black Ops, I'm looking at you.
Got that same sinking feeling partway through that it was an AIYH character.
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The Devil's Chair and 44 Inch Chest also fall into this category. Both terrible movies and both AIYH style endings.

Even though it is an AIYH movie, I'd highly recommend Franklyn. Some stunning visuals
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I don't know if A Beautiful Mind counts as it's a true story. It's not just an story with an AIYH ending - it's what really happened (well more or less anyway).
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A Tale of Two Sisters was a great movie. I never seen the American version and if it is anything like all of the other it is horrible just like your review. One Missed Call was probably the worst adaptation I have seen of a really good foreign movie.
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fight club i think was one of the first dvd's that made use of the alternate angle feature. when you switch angels you see that there is nobody else in the car and so forth. its really quite nice (obviously after you seen the film normally)
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I don't think Angel Heart (1987) is strictly an AIYH movie, but it does have DeNiro, Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, and lots of violence.
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2003's Identity seems to be of the same genre, as does another Stephen King book-turned-movie, The Dark Half.

The Dark Half kind of takes AIYH literally. Well, I guess it's more like Some In Your Head.
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Angel Heart is closer to what The Dark Half was -- the Someone Else in Your Head. Johnny in Harry doing things that Harry (what's left of him spiritually speaking) doesn't know about/remember until the reveal.

It could be argued that Chicago partially falls into the AIYH catagory. A good portion of the musical and dance numbers can only be described as Roxie being delusional.
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Those who mentioned wizard of Oz and Inception, should remember that dreams in movies don't count. The reason being that dreams generally serve a purpose not just to fool the audience until the end. In wizard of Oz the ending is more of "She learned her lesson, home is where she should be" and then she woke up to find that she was dreaming. Inception also doesn't work because it is apparent from the get-go that some characters aren't real, and most are memories of real people, also dreams are used as tools, and in the end the main character has to decide that living in the real world is better than living in the past. Whether or not the ending was a dream, a part of the dream, or not, is an intensely debated topic that I don't think qualifies it as an AIYH ending.
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