ByJohn Lally, writer at
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John Lally

I have been thinking a lot about sleep, and more specifically about sleeplessness. And it got me thinking, what are the best movies about sleep? There are a few lists, which I link to below…but I have a different take. To start, what makes a movie “about sleep?” You can take that literally, but to qualify the movie must be either set in a dream state, or have a plot about sleep. So the movie Insomnia with Al Pacino is about a guy who ends up sleep deprived because of the 24 hour day in the artic…that counts, its not on my list but it fits. The movie Awakenings with Robert DeNiro – thematically is about people who are sleeping through life due to drug withdrawal, but it isn’t set in a dream and it isn’t really about sleep so it is not in consideration (though it is a good movie).

1. The Matrix

Sleep connection: The Matrix is a computer-generated prison designed to keep humans asleep while their body heat is used to power a world ruled by machines. People are “asleep” their entire lives while plugged into the computer generated prison. When people are freed they are “born” into the waking world.

My reasoning: This is not just a great movie about sleep, it’s just a great movie. I truly think this is one of the best movies ever imagined. This was the first and only movie that ever inspired me to go BACK and buy a ticket, I saw it again immediately after the first viewing (that night!). We now know it was influenced by many things, including comics, and anime – but nonetheless it stands up as a remarkable individual work. The concept of people imprisoned in their own minds (as they sleep) and how that was brought to life in this film is truly incredible. I had to give this the #1 spot. I saw Bound, but after I saw this movie - I became (and remain) a life-long Wachowski's fanboy.

2. Inception

Sleep connection: Inception is the process of entering into someones dream state and placing an original idea there. It is the opposite of extraction, which is the process of stealing an idea from someone while they are in the dream state. The movie is about the dream state and what can happen there. Like The Matrix this movie poses a very interesting question, "What is reality?"

My Reasoning: Inception is one of the best movies ever made in my book. It is so hard to choose between this and The Matrix (#1). Inception is an amazing movie, what is more amazing to me is that "Inception" is may not even be Christopher Nolan's best movie, most people would say The Dark Knight is. Every great filmmaker has a defining movie, and a signature style. Inception reveals those aspects of Nolan, bending time from it's normal linear flow, and the commitment to practical effects. Similar to The Matrix there is no "obvious" audience for this movie, yet it delivered huge at the box office, WW $825 million.

3. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

Sleep Connection: The movie follows a recently broken up couple while one of them is erasing the memory of the relationship. The man (played by Jim Carrey) is having his mind erased through a technique that occurs while he is sleeping and dreaming.

My Reasoning: I don't usually go in for Rom-Drom, but in this case I make an exception. This was a visionary movie, and won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2004. This movie is just plain cool. Michel Gondry has a very unique way of bringing the dream sequences to life. We get these scenes shot with an overhead light that is too hot...leaving you with a lack of perspective on what is happening away from the actors. The shadows are almost as carefully constructed as the light. I actually believe that this film influenced Inception. It's not just the concept of a shared dream, I have specifics! There is a scene where Joel and Clementine are in a house in the Hamptons and it is “falling apart” while the memory is being erased. In Inception, when the dreams collapse they fall apart in a similar way (albeit with much more dramatic effect). Additionally the notion that a person can alter another persons memories in this way was original, I think "Inception" played off of that too. This is a great movie, and most critics agree. I would have put it higher, but as you see that would be hard.

4. Fight Club

Sleep Connection: The main character(s) narrated by Edward Norton, played by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton suffer from Inomsnia. The Edward Norton character can’t sleep and it has gotten so bad that he becomes schizophrenic and generates a new persona to cope with his sleep deprivation and overwhelming discontent, Tyler Durden (Pitt).

My Reasoning: A lot of lists would put Fight Club higher, and I can see that. This was a movie that didn’t get noticed right away, but now is recognized as a great film (#10 on the IMDB top 250). David Fincher and Brad Pitt are a great team, and I think this movie is their best work together. Fight Club is great filmmaking, from script, to cinematography, to sound, to music, to performance to's so solidly done. Fincher has a gift for suspense, and surprising the audience - he did it in Se7en and he did it in Fight Club. The sleep connection is there, and so it has to be on any top sleep movie list.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sleep Connection: In this first installment of the series, a young woman (Nancy Thompson) is tormented in her dreams by a dead neighbor, Freddy Krueger. Freddy was burned alive for his crimes in an act of vigilante justice by his neighbors (led by Nancy's father), and he has come back from the dead to haunt dreams and exact revenge.

My Reasoning: In the world of horror film, Freddy Krueger is truly one of the icons. And I think Freddy may even transcend horror. Of course, this franchise has been overdone…but the first offering, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was a great film. Terrifying and well put together – this put Wes Craven at his place in the horror hall of fame. Great cast in this movie, people forget that Johnny Depp was in this movie as well as a favorite of mine John Saxon (Roper from Enter the Dragon). This movie needs to be on any top sleep movie list.

What do you think of the list? Any changes? How does this stack up to the other lists?

This post originally appeared on movieraiders

My Top 10 Sleep Movie List on IMDB

Other Sleep related Movie Lists


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