The Twilight Zone is an iconic piece of pop culture. Premiering back in 1959 on CBS, for five whole seasons, the show produced big-budget short stories that fell into the genres of horror, science fiction, superstition comedies, and even gripping dramas. Rod Sterling famously hosted the show, luring audiences night after night to experience something out of the ordinary. A fun fact: Sterling was not just the host of the show; he wrote around 80 of its episodes that aired, making him the godfather of strange and unusual occurrences in narrative form on television.
The Twilight Zone has had such an impact on culture that eventually it bled into film. It even got its own movie adaptation in the early 1980s, but that’s for another article. Let’s talk about the films that feel like an extended version of an episode of the old show (or maybe even the more recent version, hosted by Jordan Peele). Many filmmakers like exploring abstract plot lines and worlds that would fit perfectly in a place like The Twilight Zone.
12 Take Shelter (2011)
Release Date September 30, 2011
Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon as a Midwest-living construction worker who has a wife and kids. His simple life becomes plagued by his visions of a looming storm that ends the world. He begins to trust his visions and builds a shelter in his backyard. It’s a film that is part family drama, part apocalyptic science fiction story that takes turns and massive swings in plot as it goes on.
The End of the World
Take Shelter presents itself like an indie drama, but dives deep into a man’s psyche. One could argue that it’s about mental health; others argue that we have all kind of been there in terms of what Michael Shannon’s character is going through in the film. The Twilight Zone always did a good job of tapping into our fears of reality being a little out of whack from time to time, and Take Shelter does that magnificently.
11 Shutter Island (2010)
Release Date February 14, 2010
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island dives into the horror/psychological thriller genre and is about two Federal Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) who are investigating the disappearance of a woman from an insane asylum that sits on a secluded island. The focus of the film relies heavily on DiCaprio’s character, Teddy Daniels, who battles his own personal darkness while investigating the island.
Scorsese Dark, Twisted, Strange Noir
In true Scorsese fashion, it’s violent, loaded with striking imagery, and has an unforgettable pacing to it that only the director could pull off. However, how many of Scorsese’s films give us such a psychological twist as the one in Shutter Island? The reveal at the end that tells us who Teddy really is shocks us. But Scorsese sets the film’s final moments up to make us think that maybe even that ending that was fed to us could also be a lie as well.
10 Total Recall (1990)
Release Date June 1, 1990
Total Recall takes place in 2084 and is about a man named Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who goes and visits a company called “Rekall” that plants fake memories inside your mind. In doing so, the bored construction worker asks to have memories of life on Mars, a utopia of sorts at this time, implanted in his mind. This all backfires because he actually did live on Mars, and the life he actually has now is a fake one. The company he visited for a fake vision planted in his mind now wants him dead.
Although Total Recall markets itself as a big-budget action film with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead, Total Recall is actually one of the best science fiction films of the last thirty-plus years. It is adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Total Recall feels like it could live in a world like The Twilight Zone. It’s a story about something we all don’t think a lot about, but it’s actually one of the scariest things that can happen to us while we’re alive. It’s about the loss of identity.
9 The Mist (2007)
Release Date November 21, 2007
The Mist is an adaptation of the Stephen King novella about a big storm that goes through a Maine town and creates a big power outage and a lot of damage. A father and son head into town to gather some supplies and end up getting trapped in a small market with some other townspeople as a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Within the mist are creatures that reveal themselves, and within the store, the people reveal their sinister side as well.
Stephen King Could Write Twilight Zone Episodes
You can’t help but wonder how much of The Twilight Zone Stephen King watched when he was young. It would have been on the air when he was a teenager. There must be numerous episodes he could have drawn inspiration from if he did. The Mist explores the unknown fears that come with an extraordinary event, and also about the monster inside us all that can come out when being tested. Lastly, although quite a gut punch, it’s an ending fit for something like The Twilight Zone.
8 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Release Date July 2, 2003
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines focuses on a now-older John Connor (Nick Stahl) who lives off the grid in the present time of the film. Thinking Judgment Day is something that has been put to bed changes quickly as Skynet sends the T-X back in time to kill Connor. However, also stepping back in time is The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), assigned to keep John Connor alive and prepare him for his destiny.
No Fate but What We Make, Right?
You most likely were not expecting this one to be on the list. As bad as the franchise has gotten over the last few installments, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines still has a coherent throughline. It may not have James Cameron’s fingerprints all over it, and that is kind of why it’s put here on the list. The idea of being in control of your own destiny and being able to change the future is explored a lot in T2. However, in T3, ‘fate’ is a theme that is explored more in the sense that no matter what you try to do with your life that goes against the grain of what you feel is already planned out for you, it will still catch up to you.
For most of the movie, John Connor thinks The Terminator is there to help stop Judgment Day, but in actuality, it’s there to help prepare him for it. It’s scary to think that if the world were to come to an end, there is basically nothing we can do about it.
7 The Invitation (2015)
Release Date August 5, 2015
The Invitation is a film directed by Karyn Kusama that deals with a man who goes to a dinner party held at the house he used to live at. There, he encounters his ex-wife, who has now found a new life with her new husband, and it turns out the pair have sinister intentions for their guests.
Why The Invitation Feels Like The Twilight Zone
The Invitation is a claustrophobic, tense thriller that puts its protagonists in a situation that’s going to be hard to get out of: a dinner party with an ex and the cult leader’s new man in her life. Being lied to and trapped in a situation you can’t break free from is a terrifying thing, if you think about it. The Invitation has a plot line that feels like a prank is being pulled on its protagonist, but you keep wanting him to uncover the mystery of what is going to happen at this dinner party. But what really lines up this film with The Twilight Zone are its final moments, when you learn that the house that they were all staying in was not the only house performing this sinister act.
6 The Truman Show (1998)
The Truman Show
Release Date June 4, 1998
The Truman Show is part comedy and part drama about a man named Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). For his whole life, he has been many people’s form of entertainment, as his life has been documented on a live broadcast of hidden cameras following him everywhere he goes. When Truman begins to learn the truth about the so-called world around him, he decides to break free from it all.
The Strange Can be Funny
The Twilight Zone was never always meant to scare us or mess with our minds. Sometimes, episodes aired that brought out some humor. Season two saw the release of “A Salesman Can’t Lie,” which oddly feels in the vein of the film Liar Liar, which starred Jim Carrey. Now, we are full circle. The Truman Show has comedic elements to it, but it’s more of a quirky drama that only Peter Weir could pull off. It’s an out-of-the-ordinary plot, and yet the core message hits home to all of us about finding our true selves.
5 Memento (2001)
Release Date May 25, 2001
Runtime 1hr 53min
Memento follows the character Leonard (Guy Pearce), who is in pursuit of the man who murdered his wife. However, he has a rare form of memory loss where it feels like every fifteen minutes he can’t remember exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it. The mystery of all this unfolds in a way you would not expect.
Nolan’s Noir Movie
Christopher Nolan has to be a fan of The Twilight Zone. The mind-bending style of his films lines up perfectly with just about any episode the show has ever aired. Memento feels like an updated version of some sort of noir-style mystery tale that the show once aired. It’s a puzzle of a million pieces, and putting it together is a daunting thing for both its protagonist and the audience. But the mystery that takes shape in it is reminiscent of the early days of the show.
4 The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Sixth Sense
Release Date August 6, 1999
The Sixth Sense captivated audiences with its terrifying tale that follows a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who is plagued by the fact that he sees dead people in his everyday life. He ends up befriending child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe, but what comes from this connection between the two is unimaginable.
“I See Dead People”
With an iconic one-line delivered by Osment and an even more iconic ending that not one audience member in the world saw coming, The Sixth Sense is a film often compared to the overall theme of The Twilight Zone. It was a movie that brought back a plot twist ending, something that had seemed to have gone away in movies at that time. It’s a plot twist that clearly feels like it drew inspiration from any jaw-dropping truth we would see in an episode of the show.
3 Mulholland Drive (2001)
Release Date June 6, 2001
In Mulholland Drive, an amnesiac woman (Laura Elena Harring) wonders the streets of Los Angeles; she takes refuge at the apartment of a woman (Naomi Watts) who came to L.A. to become an actress. She decides to help the woman try and find her true identity as they trace her steps throughout the city.
The City of Angels
David Lynch was going to make an appearance on this list one way or another. His films pull back the layers of society and take us down a deep wormhole. Mulholland Drive makes Los Angeles feel like a dream, or a fantasy even, and the atmosphere of it is both engulfing and utterly terrifying. It’s a true exploration of the bizarre and weird; what more would you expect from Lynch? To make things even more interesting in terms of comparisons, Mulholland Drive was actually conceived as a television series by Lynch.
2 Get Out (2017)
Release Date February 24, 2017
Get Out is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, who crafts a tense, horrifying, and also comedic story about a Black man who takes off with his white girlfriend for the weekend to meet her parents. In doing so, he encounters strange events with the Black workers on the estate and becomes a target for something sinister.
Jordan Peele Loves The Twilight Zone
Peele has gone on record as being a fan of the series, so much so that he would become the host of the updated version for CBS. The director seems to hold this aesthetic of the horrifyingly bizarre in high regard as he continues to make films in that vein, and in doing so, he continues to put a mirror up to society within the themes of his films.Get Out is thought-provoking and relentless in conveying its message to an audience, either through horror or comedy.
1 Inception (2010)
Release Date July 15, 2010
2010’s Inception is part big-budget heist film, part psychological action thriller, and part art film. The film follows Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a man who has the ability to enter your mind and implant an idea into your dream that will then affect you in the real world. Cobb gets a chance at redemption when he takes a job to implant an idea into a billionaire’s mind, but around every corner, even in someone else’s mind, his own past still haunts him.
Christopher Nolan’s $160 Million Arthouse Movie
Nolan got a big budget as a ‘thank you’ from the studio for The Dark Knight to go make a passion project. In return, the film grossed nearly a billion dollars. But in terms of being compared to The Twilight Zone, it is once again proof that Nolan could helm any sort of project that deals with the power of the mind. Everything about the strange and odd routes that the mind can take is on full display in it.
From a train blasting through downtown traffic all the way to the one true love that you lost, haunting your dreams. Inception, in some ways, is a big-budget, two-and-a-half-hour segment of The Twilight Zone; it’s a roller coaster of a movie that ends in an incredibly beautiful way that still has us guessing about it to this day.