10 Widely Misunderstood Movies

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Nearly everyone has had the experience of going to a movie with their friends, only to leave the theater and debate their interpretations of the ending. Well, it turns out that there are certain movies that people get wrong all the time. Here on TopTenz, we’ve gathered 10 such films to talk about how you may or may not have been getting them wrong all along.

Keep in mind, some of these reveal spoilers for the end of a film, which is why we’ve chosen titles that have been out for several years…

10. (500) Days of Summer

In 2009, the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer premiered in theaters. Many people related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s heartbroken character, Tom, and bashed Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer for being a villain who put him in the friend zone, despite being such a “great” guy. However, the film was meant to make the viewer examine their own behavior in past relationships, because everyone paints themselves as the victim after a breakup.

Throughout the entire movie, Summer makes it very clear to Tom that she is not looking for a romantic relationship. Despite her honesty about the emotional wall she put between them, Tom continued to believe that she was “the one,” and pushed his expectations on her. When she didn’t reciprocate those feelings, he felt betrayed. He fell in love with the idea of Summer, rather than listening and paying attention to the reality of the situation. During a 2019 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel revisited the film for its 10-year anniversary. Gordon-Levitt said, “I think a really fun thing to do is try to watch it and just put yourself in Summer’s shoes the whole time.”

9. Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest movies of all-time. Every single film student in the world has been forced to sit through this masterpiece by Orson Welles and analyze the deeper meaning. However, if you’re watching it as a casual viewer at home, it may be easy to misinterpret what’s really going on. In the film, we watch a man named Charles Foster Kane rise from poverty to become a millionaire. His dying word was “Rosebud,” and the journalists in the film go crazy trying to figure out what “Rosebud” actually is.

Donald Trump claimed that Citizen Kane was his favorite movie, and during an interview, he was asked to analyze Rosebud. He said, “A lot of people don’t understand the significance of it. I’m not sure if anyone understands the significance. But I think it means bringing a lonely, sad figure back into his childhood.” Throughout the rest of the interview, Trump describes Kane’s misfortune as a “modest fall,” and he said that character needed to get “a different woman” if he wanted to be happy.

Well… Trump was at least halfway right. At the very end of the film, we see the camera pan over all of Kane’s treasures, and it stops on his beloved childhood sled, “Rosebud.” Earlier in the movie, we see that he was playing in the snow with this sled during his last moments of childhood innocence. Basically, he spends the rest of the movie acquiring wealth, but he will never be as happy as he was as that care-free kid sledding in the snow.

8. The Shining

The Shining is one of the most famous horror movies of all time. But the author of the book, Stephen King, is famously frustrated that the director, Stanley Kubrick, was the one to completely miss the point of his story. The plot surrounds the Torrance family, who are spending the winter in a haunted mountain resort called the Overlook Hotel. In the beginning of the movie, Jack Torrance has been sober, and the hauntings do not begin until he starts indulging at the hotel bar.

In the movie, there is a scene where Jack is reading an issue of Playgirl magazine, which is full of pictures of nude men. Internet sleuths did some digging, and realized that that specific issue had an article about incest. There are several other clues in the movie that suggest that Danny Torrance was being sexually abused by his alcoholic father, which could explain the young boy’s deteriorating mental state. Combined with Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character, this made Jack Torrance crazy from the very start, and it’s possible to interpret the movie as being about mental illness, instead of a haunting. In the book, Jack Torrance is a good father who is struggling with his addiction, and their family tries to keep it together in the midst of a very real supernatural experience.

King notoriously disliked Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of The Shining so much that he made his own version in a TV miniseries. During an interview with The Guardian, King explains that The Shining was one of his favorite books, and the characters stuck with him for years. He decided to write a sequel called Dr. Sleep. Danny Torrance is all grown up, but he is obviously traumatized from the events of the Overlook Hotel. He inherits his father’s alcoholism, but is managing it by going to AA. We learn that he does, in fact, have psychic abilities. There will be a movie version of Dr. Sleep coming in 2019, starring Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance.

7. American Psycho

After American Psycho premiered in theaters, it was bashed for glorifying toxic masculinity and violence. It was even protested by the National Organization of Women, who demanded a boycott. But in reality, it was directed by a woman named Mary Herron, and it was meant to do the complete opposite of what everyone assumed.

As a dark comedy, we are meant to see how Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman is narcissistic and uncaring about other people. He also, incidentally, is a serial killer. Bateman admits that he is a murderer multiple times throughout the movie, but everyone around him is so self-absorbed that they aren’t even listening. According to the author of the novel, Bret Easton Ellis, “It was meant to be a critique of male behavior. A lot of people don’t realize that. They haven’t read the book.”

6. Donnie Darko

After Donnie Darko premiered in 2001, plenty of people felt their jaws drop by the end of the film. Fans cannot seem to decide if the character Donnie truly did send a plane engine traveling through time to save the world, or if he was simply mentally ill. Since he admits to having “emotional problems,” has visions of a giant rabbit, and frequently goes to therapy, the audience can believe either may be true. The writer and director, Richard Kelly, was just 26-years-old when he released Donnie Darko.

In 2017, he re-released a new Director’s Cut of the film so that he could go into more detail in order to answer the questions that fans had about the movie. He said,I wanted to provide a bunch more information than was there. It’s a very dense, layered film, and there’s a much bigger world beyond the film.” So, if you’re still confused by the plot, you may just want to watch this new cut and commentary.

5. Shutter Island

Shutter Island is about a US Marshal named Teddy Daniels, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. He is investigating the Ashecliffe Mental Hospital on an island outside of Boston. But in the twist ending, he is told that he was actually a patient named Andrew Laeddis, who was serving time for killing his wife. His doctor was allowing Laeddis to live out his fantasy of being a US Marshal, hoping that bringing it to a conclusion would help snap him out of his dissociative identity disorder. By the end, he relapses, and must be lobotomized. But he says, “This place makes me wonder. Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”

This had audiences losing their own minds over the ending. If you were confused as to what really happened in the movie, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Even Leonardo Dicaprio told the director, Martin Scorsese, “I have no idea where I am or what I’m doing.'”

While DiCaprio and Scorsese refuse to reveal the meaning behind the quote, most agree that Andrew Laeddis actually was cured, but he simply could not live with the guilt of his true memories.

The screenwriter, Laeta Kalogridis, adapted the screenplay from the novel by Dennis Lehane. The story was so complex Kalogridis had to make a 40 to 50 page outline, which took her an entire year, before she actually wrote down any of the dialogue. Every time you watch the film over again from another perspective, you will pick up clues about the truth that you never saw before.

4. Total Recall

In the 1990 movie Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man named Quaid who pays for a service called “Recall,” which promises to let anyone live through any fantasy scenario. He says that he wants to become a secret agent, but before the procedure finishes, he finds himself caught up in a series of strange events that lead him to the planet Mars.

At the end of the movie, we see him standing on Mars, looking out onto the horizon with his new lover. Fans of the film have debated over the years whether the events of the movie were actually happening, or if it was all part of the fantasy secret agent scenario he was paying for. According to the director, Paul Verhoeven, “Total Recall doesn’t say whether it’s reality or it is a dream. It’s really saying there’s this reality and there’s that reality, and both exist at the same time.” So, basically, everyone is right, and people can stop arguing over it.

3. Inception

The characters of the movie Inception enter dreams within dreams. They are on a mission to insert an idea into the subconscious of a powerful CEO. The only trouble was Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, was haunted by the memory of his wife, and she keeps trying to sabotage their mission. Each of the characters carry a totem with them to help them distinguish dreams from reality.

At the end of the movie, Cobb finds closure in his wife’s death, and he regains custody of his children. The camera focuses on Cobb’s totem, which is a spinning top. It looks as though it may topple at any second, signifying that he is in reality. But the movie ends before we learn if he is truly in a dream or not. Fans everywhere debated with one another over this scene. However, the true message behind the ending of Inception is that once Cobb has his kids, he chooses to make this his new reality. And, according to Christopher Nolan, he would rather the audience draw their own conclusions about what the ending really means.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a very trippy sci-fi romantic comedy. A couple named Clementine and Joel break up and choose to pay for a procedure that erases the memories of their relationship. It had many fans watching over and over again to try to see any hidden messages. Some people out there have a theory that Clementine and Joel have erased the memory of their relationship multiple times, and they are doomed to repeat this process forever. Since Clementine dyes her hair a lot, they theorize that each color represents a new timeline.

In reality, Clementine truly does change her hair color through the course of just one relationship. Each color represents the “season” of their love story — from green in the “spring” of new love, to blue of the icy cold “winter” of a breakup. The first time they got together, Joel was depressed, and expected Clementine to be his “manic pixie dream girl” who was going to solve all of his problems and make him a happier person. When she failed to live up to that expectation, things fell apart. In the end, Joel and Clementine find one another again, and choose to give their relationship a second chance. They no longer go into the relationship expecting perfection, which will ultimately be healthier for them.

1. Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club… Unless we’re talking about the 1999 movie, of course. After the film premiered, young men everywhere began idolizing Tyler Durden, and real-life fight clubs sprang up across the world. However, for those that walked away from the movie feeling compelled to punch somebody in the face and burn their house down, they completely missed the point.

The audience can relate on some level to Durden’s rejection of consumerism, and “working jobs we hate so we can buy (bleep) we don’t need.” But his all-out rejection of society is incredibly dangerous. It is meant to show how easy it is for desperate men to rally behind radical ideologies. In the final scene, Project Mayhem blows up the entire city. We are meant to recognize that he is crazy, and not someone to be idolized. During an interview, the author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, said: Ideally, each person would leave Fight Club and go on to live whatever their dream was—that they would have a sense of potential and ability they could carry into whatever it was they wanted to achieve in the world. It wasn’t about perpetuating Fight Club itself.”

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