10 Best Mental Illness Movies of All Time

Updated August 12, 2018
6 min read

The human brain is by far the most researched and (ironically), the most bizarre phenomena that scientists deal with today. The way we perceive different things we are exposed to is determined by this very fragile and sophisticated super-computer sheltered inside our skull. This list of movies portray mental disorders in the most authentic way. And for obvious reasons, portraying mental health on screen is challenge for everyone: both directors and actors. That’s why you find such movies being made only once in a while. Despite the challenge, few filmmakers have been able to break-through and were able to make great films about mental illness. Here is the list of top mental health and mental illness films ever. If you are interested, you can watch some of these movies about mental illness on Netflix or Amazon Prime or even Hulu.

10. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

‘A Beautiful Mind’ is based on the life of the of John Forbes Nash, Jr. An asocial Princeton University student, he is more than just a mathematician; making revolutionary breakthroughs in the field of mathematics. On learning that he suffers from a serious mental disorder, John treads on a path of self discovery; further attaining international acclaim by being awarded with a Nobel Prize in the year 1994.

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9. The Machinist (2004)

‘The Machinist’ is an asset to the psychological thriller genre. The craft of conveying an immensely complicated theme with such relative ease probably finds its provenance here. Reminiscent of the prolific works of Polanski, Hitchcock, Lynch and Kafka; the film keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout. Trevor, a machinist (Christian Bale) suffers from insomnia and hasn’t slept in a year. You read that right, in a year. But how does one wake up from a nightmare if one isn’t asleep? Christian Bale is the essence of this classic, his impressive body transformation being the highlight and adding to the authenticity.    

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8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

With an unusually lengthy title, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is a film based on a novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. A teenager, Kevin, is struggling with mental problems since his childhood. His mother, Eva, a travel writer, has left no stone unturned to express her affection towards him. Eva has always had bonding problems with Kevin since his childhood days as he used to cry as a baby incessantly and used to rebuff Eva’s clumsy attempts at affection. As the mother gets used to her strange child; Kevin’s final act is yet to unravel, something that will be beyond anyone’s imagination.

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7. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Jeniffer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper-starrer ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is an Oscar-winning film based on Bipolar Disorder, a condition that a huge chunk of the world today is grappling with. After attacking his wife Tiffany’s lover, Pat Solatano Jr. is sent to a mental health institution for an eight month stint by his father Pat Solatano Sr., (played by Robert De Niro). Not complying to the medication dosage, Pat feels like he can manage on the outside solely by looking for the ‘silver linings’ in his life. Pat and Tiffany hence embark on a love/hate friendship, each helping the other achieve her/his goal in life.

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6. American Psycho (2000)

“You’re inhuman!”, Reese Witherspoon’s dialogue in ‘American Psycho’ gives us a teeny glimpse of how blatant and cruel mental illnesses can get. Patrick Bateman is a rich and suave investment banker; someone with an uprising dignity in his profession. He loves wearing his flamboyance and being nice to women, wooing them with his charm. But by night, Patrick’s mind surrenders to his ruthless, cannibalistic other self and sets out on a spree: a killing spree. With Christian Bale as the lead and stars like Jared Leto and Willem Dafoe in vital roles, this film can’t find another of its kind.

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5. Black Swan (2010)

‘Black Swan’ speaks of jealousy, competition and rivalry. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) and Lily (Mila Kunis) are two ballerinas vying for the attention of the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel); who is looking for someone to succeed Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) as the new principal dancer in the ballet, ‘Swan Lake’. As Nina gets selected for the part, she battles the demons of her mind, paralysing her innocence and hence awakening a slumbering tyrant fostering within her. A tyrant that eviscerates all the joy from her life leaving her with no option but to succumb to the obliteration.     

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4. Shutter Island (2010)

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ is one of those films that keep you thinking all through them and then reveal themselves at the end, compelling you to keep up with every minute. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the ‘Ashecliffe Hospital’ on Shutter Island, a hospital that houses the criminally insane. As they investigate the disappearing of a patient, Teddy witnesses sinister happenings on the island and unravels its secrets; forcing him to doubt everything from his memory to his sanity.    

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3. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

A playwright and director, Caden Cotard wins a MacArthur Grant enabling him to put together the production of his dreams. He also has a wife, Adele and a daughter named Olive. When Caden starts experiencing alarming physical ailments, he starts getting skeptical about his own mortality. The extremely talented Philip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard essays a convincing role leading the starcast, in Charlie Kaufman’s directorial début.

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2. Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’ is intimidating and authentic. We can very well relate to the fear depicted in the movie, given the reason behind it. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) wears a fake smile on the happiest day of her life, her wedding day. Deep down; she senses impending death as Melancholia, a giant blue planet is hurtling towards the Earth and heading for a collision. It is a film that best represents what a severely depressed person has to go through.

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1. Memento (2000)

The genius behind Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ is by far unparalleled. This is a film that needs multiple viewing owing to its unique and non-linear screenplay. Leonard Shelby is an insurance investigator who witnesses the unfortunate incident of a man raping and killing his wife. Leonard learns that he suffers from ‘Short-term memory loss’, a condition unlike amnesia that holds him back from revisiting recently formed temporary memories. Devastated, he searches for the killer and the sole purpose in his life now is vengeance.

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