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.