“Man, that was trippy!”
Most of us have probably used that phrase — or something close to it (“I was trippin’ balls!”) — even if the word “trippy” isn’t in our regular vocabulary.
It can be used to describe art, music, and of course, an actual psychedelic experience. But the place you’re most likely to hear the word is outside a movie theater.
What makes a movie trippy? Some say it’s a film that’s heavy on drug usage and references.
But cinemaphiles normally think of trippy movies as ones that go heavy on weird concepts, imaginative filming, and off-the-wall editing techniques. They create vivid images similar to those you might experience while tripping on acid or shrooms.
Some trippy movies are cheaply-made and not worth watching, but many are considered cinematic works of art. You don’t have to be stoned to enjoy them — but it certainly makes them more fun.
Here are 7 of the best trippy movies to check out.
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Don’t be scared away by the fact that this classic Terry Gilliam film is based on a book by one of the 20th century’s most incisive political writers, Hunter S. Thompson.
It’s also based on the life of one of the 20th century’s most prolific drug users — and the brilliance of his writing stems from the fact that Thompson blended sharp political observations with lurid details of his stoned experiences.
“Fear and Loathing” starts as a Las Vegas road trip flick, but Thompson (Johnny Depp) and his psycho lawyer (Benicio del Toro) quickly embark on a bizarre few days filled with mescaline, acid, coke, and other substances as they stumble their way through Vegas, encountering not only bizarre characters but also giant bats, eels, lizards, and orangutans.
The depictions of their distorted and sometimes animated hallucinations, along with the crazy (and crazed) action, make this film the trippiest you may ever see.
(If you loved this one, check out “Brazil,” another incredibly trippy movie from Terry Gilliam.)
2. Enter the Void (2009)
Oscar is an American drug dealer moving through the neon-lit clubs of Tokyo, and he gets shot and killed by police. But that’s just the setup for this long (3 hours) psychedelic flick.
Once Oscar is dead, his spirit floats above the world. He visits events from his extremely traumatic past, watches his own autopsy, views his prostitute sister’s activities in the future, and flashes back to key events from his life as he watches from behind.
Most of the movie is shot in first-person mode — and that person is high on the psychedelic substance DMT. The lighting and other effects are enough to trigger seizures in epileptics, the action is gruesome and explicit, and we dare anyone to watch “Enter the Void” without thinking they’re on their own mind-bending trip.
3. Altered States (1980)
William Hurt is a psychopathologist studying schizophrenia and decides to take his research into a sensory deprivation tank. While in Mexico, he participates in a native ceremony involving hallucinogenic mushrooms, takes the shrooms back for further study, and combines their usage with sensory deprivation.
The results are not only psychedelic and shocking but eventually cause his transformation into other types of life forms and even “nothingness.”
The mind-blowing psychedelic effects are one reason this film is trippy, but the plot (based on a work by Paddy Chayevsky and directed by Ken Russell) and the action (in one scene, Hurt’s character turns into an ape, is chased by wild dogs, eats a sheep, and then turns back into a professor) take trippiness to an entirely new level.
4. Donnie Darko (2001)
Don’t let the all-star cast (Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, and many more) fool you. This flick also features a man-sized rabbit who convinces Jake’s character that the world is about to end and he should start committing crimes.
Add in time travel, a plane engine crashing into Donnie’s bedroom, scammy motivational sessions, unexplainable vortexes, murder, and other, more bizarre plot twists, and you’ve got one of the all-time trippy movies.
5. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Stay with us here. There’s a secret portal that lets people enter the mind of actor John Malkovich.
A puppeteer and his co-worker sell access to Malkovich’s subconscious. A doctor has actually achieved immortality by finding the secret to entering the minds of successive victims. Malkovich briefly enters the portal and finds that everyone looks like him and can only say “Malkovich.”
And we haven’t even mentioned the pet chimp, the frantic chase by two characters through Malkovich’s mind, or the really trippy stuff.
When this movie was released, the title probably turned you off. Now that you’ve been educated get turned on and watch it.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey proved he could be a sensational serious actor in this movie, which is the trippiest rom-com you’ll ever see.
After a bad breakup, Carrey’s character’s girlfriend had all memories of him erased by a futuristic company, and he decides to do the same. However, during the procedure, he relives (in reverse order) events in their relationship — and the sequences during that lengthy part of the film are extremely trippy and surreal.
Despite the mind-bending filmmaking and effects, this is also a thoughtful and eventually heartwarming flick that’s suitable for a second or third “movie night” date, as well as a couple of hours through bizarre and trippy scenes that are definitely enjoyed with your favorite bud.
7. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
This one is bleak and dark, so don’t expect to feel like you’ve been on a happy, joyful trip when it’s over. It vividly portrays what it’s like to be hopelessly hooked on heroin (or, in the case of one character’s mother, amphetamines).
There are disturbing displays of the effects of drug-induced psychosis and the physical, mental, and life circumstance costs of heroin addiction. The cinematography is stark at times; at others, it’s enlivened by weird CGI effects and a hip-hop score.
“Requiem for a Dream” is an incredibly trippy movie — but that trip is a bad one from start to finish.
Trippy Movies: FAQ
Q: You didn’t mention “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Tron.”
A: You’re right. It wasn’t because they’re not movies that are great to watch while you’re stoned; it was because some might find their special effects to be a little more prehistoric than trippy and because we ran out of room. Others we might have put on that list: “The Trip” and “Yellow Submarine.”
Q: Aren’t movies like “Dazed and Confused,” “Pineapple Express,” and “The Big Lebowski” the best trippy movies?
A: We’d put them into a slightly different category: Best Stoner Movies. Add “Harold and Kumar,” “Friday,” and “Up in Smoke,” and you’ve got enough to watch during an entire day of smoking up and laughing your ass off.