There are so many things I love about cinema including its unique ability to visualize things. Through movies filmmakers can tell some amazing stories and they can sometimes visualize things that we can’t otherwise express. For example just look at dreams. We can try to describe some of our dreams, but it can be extremely hard to do. But not in the movies and that is what I’m looking at today. These are five of the best movie dream sequences. To set guidelines I decided to stay away from movies that spend most of their time in dreams. Movies like “Inception”, “The Wizard of Oz”, and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Now there are a ton of others to choose from so I wouldn’t call this a definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie dream sequences are nothing short of phenomenal.
#5 – “Shutter Island”
I’m a huge fan of Scorsese’s psychological thriller “Shutter Island”. The lead character Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a U.S. Marshal tormented by painful dreams. Scorsese uses these dream sequences to reveal different bits of information about Teddy’s painful past. One of his most haunting dreams shows him and his wife Dolores in their apartment. Their conversation is full of anguish and hints at even more shocking revelations to come. The dream ends with Teddy embracing his wife and her turning to ash in his arms. It is such a dark and potent scene that gets me every time.
#4 – Raising Arizona
There are so many things that I love about the wacky comedy “Raising Arizona” from the Coen Brothers. All Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter want is to start a family of their own. It’s just that they are two of the dumbest people you would ever meet. But they are two of the most lovable and sympathetic dummies which makes the ending of the film so good. It features a dream sequence where the couple has grown old and all of the things they thought impossible has come true for them. I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen the film, but let’s just say it’s an incredibly touching moment in a film filled with craziness.
#3 – “Spellbound”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the fabulous Alfred Hitchcock would be on a list featuring great movie dream sequences. And how can a list like this not include his 1945 classic “Spellbound”. The film stands out thanks to its stellar cast led by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. But it also features an amazing dream sequence created by the surrealist Salvador Dali. Dali’s finished sequence was actually 20 minutes long and way too lengthy for the film. It was cut to around two minutes and while many would love to see Dali’s full vision, he does offer up a wonderful and truly trippy dream sequence nestled in this great movie.
#2 – “Aliens”
When it comes to science fiction and especially sequels it doesn’t get much better than James Cameron’s 1986 gem “Aliens”. This is a true favorite of mine and it has found its way onto several Phenomenal 5 lists. This time “Aliens” shows up due to its great dream scene early in the film. Ripley has just been rescued after 57 years in stasis. While recovering in the infirmary she has a terrifying dream of an alien inside her that is about to burst out. What makes it so great is we never see it coming. Cameron sets us up and lures us in before revealing the terror we see is actually a dream. I still remember the first time I saw it.
#1 – “8 1/2”
Honestly you could compile a Phenomenal 5 list of dream sequences just from this wonderful Italian classic from Federico Fellini. Without question Fellini’s visual style plays an important role in this film about a director struggling with an intense case of ‘director’s block’. He shows it most in his dream sequences none better than the movie’s great opening. It starts with the lead character Guido suffocating in the cab of his car as a host of people simply sit by and watch. He escapes by an almost angelic ascension only to find himself still tied to the craziness that is his life. That’s a vague description, but lets just say it is a brilliant scene worth experiencing for yourself.
So there are just five of the many great movie dream sequences. See something you agree or disagree with? See something I missed? Please go to the comments section and let me know what would have made your list.
Ooooh, nice that you put “Spellbound” on here, it’s definitely one of the major highlights from the film for me (well apart from Gregory Peck who literally had me spellbound, ahah). What a great idea for a Phenomenal 5, and I really should see 8-1/2 soon, I’ve only seen the underwhelming remake, NINE.
8 1/2 is sooo good. It’s not a movie that you can fully get with just one viewing. I’m working on a review for it now.
Spellbound had to be on there. Can you imagine what Dali’s full 20 minute sequence would be like? Wow.
Interesting choices. I was expecting some of the “standard ones”. First things which come to mind for me are Paprika, Dumbo and of course Inception.
Dumbo is a good choice. I mentioned Inception in the opening paragraph where I talked about guidelines I set for myself.
I love a good dream sequence, they’re usually so stunning to watch and always inventive.
True. And there are so many good ones. For example I hated to leave off A Christmas Story. Ralphie’s daydreams are great!
Great idea, Keith! 8.5 and Spellbound, great choices. I am a fan of ‘Shutter Island’, too. It’s hard only picking 5. On my list would include Inception, Papillon, and The Wizard of Oz 🙂
I mentioned both Inception and Oz in my opening paragraph. I wanted to set some guidelines. I think those two would be obvious choices which is why I went that route.
Yep. That’s why your list is interesting because it includes the not-so-obvious.
When I was reading it my wife and son both jumped in and said “Inception will be on there”. I absolutely love that movie. The Paris cafe scene was one I had in my mind from the start.
That’s the film where I “fell” for Marion Cotillard. Her acting and screen presence was as strong as all the tricks of the camera.
Ooooooh she was sooo good in it. Beautiful, ominous, and haunting. Love me some Cotillard!
SO much yes to all of these. I’m so pleased with your #1. That may be my favorite opening scene in any film!
It really is an amazing opening, right. I have revisited 8 1/2 twice recently and I’m making my way through writing a review. It’s not a film that you can do justice to just by jotting down a few words. Look for it in the next couple of weeks!
What a great list! I find the non-verbal language of dreams, in films, fascinating. I need to watch 8-1/2.
Thanks so much and I love your observation. You’re exactly right, dreams don’t need to verbalize everything. That’s the key reason why the sequence from 8 1/2 is so incredibly good. Definitely give it a look whenever you get a chance. I’m working on an extensive review of it now. There is so much to chew on when it comes to that film.
Very cool that you included Spellbound here mate, great choice! I really need to see 8 1/2, one of those I want to tick off my list!
Thanks bro. Spellbound had to be on here. 8 1/2 is so good. Several dream sequences from it could have made this list. Look for an 8 1/2 review coming up in a couple of weeks! (teaser, teaser)
Some great choices here bro, but really, how can Fellini’s 8 1/2 not be #1. That’s an absolute work of art, man!
Thanks man. Hard to beat “8 1/2”, right? As I mentioned elsewhere I’ve just recently revisited it twice in hopes of finally tackling an extensive review. It’s impossible to do the movie justice in a couple of paragraphs. About halfway through the review now and I still think of things to say about it.
It’s hard tackling classics, man. Very hard. I’ve found myself in that position a few times and even though I was happy with my end review, I could still have said plenty more.
So true. I’m getting a lot of practice. This is the first year I have tried one of these BlindSpot things and I’m really enjoying it. But practically all of the films I have chosen are considered classics.
Oh! You’ve given me so many movies to see. Thank ye! 😀
That’s great to hear. All of these are worth seeing beyond their simple dream sequences. But the dreams are so well done that they stand out.
Great choices, and interesting points made, although I haven’t seen Spellbound – that’s one I really should get around to!
One of my favourites is in An American Werewolf In London – kind of a ‘double’ dream sequence. Do you know the bit I mean? It scared the life out of me when I was a kid and when I watched it again last year it struck me as a really inventive way of getting a fright into the film.
The scene in the hospital, right? If I remember right they totally screw with the audience by making you think the dream is over. And I thinking about the same one? There is also the Nazi monster dream as well. Is that the one? I think I really need to revisit the movie. It’s a good one.
That’s the one! It holds up as being scary today (disclaimer: I am a wuss and don’t watch much horror)
LOL! No you’re right. I remember it because it did make me jump. That’s a really good one to mention.
Awesome choices! I think Wild Strawberries would be somewhere on my list, it’s a very ‘realistic’ dream sequence. And Mulholland Drive which is basically one long dream.
Good mentions. Mulholland would probably fit in the category I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I really need to check it out again.
Excellent picks here my friend.
YES for Shutter Island! I thought it was a great watch with some good performances and you are right… those dream sequences! Aliens also had a scary one, I love it!
Glad to hear you liked Shutter Island too. Do you remember some of the initial reaction to that film? There were some people that hammered it pretty good. I never understood it because I think it’s fantastic and I appreciated Scorsese doing something different.
Yeah, it gets a lot of flak from a lot of people, but I thought it was a really good movie, and a incredible adaption of the book. It was something different for Scorsese, and I thought it was handled excellently.
I really need to read that. It has been on my shortlist for a while.
Well, if you liked the movie I think you will enjoy the book. Lehane is a very talented writer!
Well this particular Phenomenal 5 just gave me one more reason to see Scorsese’s Shutter Island. As if I needed anymore. . . lol! Great list Keith. Though I’ve seen only Aliens out of them all.
Only Aliens? Really? You definitely need to see Shutter Island. I really love that movie and I was a bit taken back by some of the negative response once it came out. I think some people were accustomed to one form of Scorsese and that’s what they wanted in Shutter Island. But he tinkers with a number of different genre and I found it fascinating.
And as for “8 1/2”, I’ve been working on an extensive review of it for several weeks now. It is a true classic. I hope you’ll check it out once I finally get it posted.
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