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7 Movies Like Tenet You Must See

September 3, 2020
6 min read

‘Tenet’ is a movie ahead of its time. Movie maestro Christopher Nolan’s latest ‘Tenet’, is a celebration of the imagination. If you’ve ever wondered what the result of Christopher Nolan stumbling into the director’s chair of a Bond film would look like, ‘Tenet’ is your answer. Put simply, ‘Tenet’ is a thought experiment gone wild. To Nolan’s credit, directing a time-travel film that runs circles around Netflix’s ‘Dark’ is no small feat. 

‘Tenet’ is unlike any other film Nolan has directed and far, far unlike any other science fiction movies Hollywood has produced thus far. Yet, we attempt to curate an intricate list of films for those who crave more of its mind-numbing storylines and themes. Given that you’ve seen ‘Tenet’, understood/appreciated its complexity, and are hungry for more, and let’s assume you’ve already consumed all that Nolan has to offer and have included titles outside of his impressive oeuvre. If you haven’t, we’ve included a list of his must-see greats at the very end. Meanwhile, you can watch many of these movies like ‘Tenet’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

7. Vanilla Sky (2001)

‘Vanilla Sky’ is perhaps the inventor and sole proprietor of the mind-boggling genre. So mind-boggling, it almost eclipses ‘Tenet’ in its stark raving mad plotline. Both movies are mad hatters of modern cinema, exploring concepts, complex and spine-chilling that are beyond belief. In ‘Vanilla Sky’, Tom Cruise plays a rich playboy whose life is altered when he is involved in a life-threatening car crash. Although it doesn’t involve elements of time travel, it does feature lucid dreaming, explorations of the psyche, and a terrified Cruise sprinting through a completely empty Times Square. And that’s just scratching the surface.

6. Arrival (2016)

‘Tenet’ may not be the masterclass in filmmaking that ‘Arrival‘ is, but it comes close. When extraterrestrial beings forebodingly land in disparate locations around the world, linguist Louise Banks is asked to interpret their language, philosophy, and the purpose of their mission. Interestingly, the language employed by Arrival’s extraterrestrial beings comprises palindrome phrases written in a circular script. ‘Tenet’ too, employs the use of palindromes through its title and various other symbolism. It does so to reflect its central theme of traveling, both, backward and forward in time. ‘Arrival’s’ alien palindrome language is beautifully interwoven with the concept of time travel. 

5. Donnie Darko (2001)

‘Tenet’ and ‘Donnie Darko‘ not only take on the challenge of time-travel storytelling, but they also redefine the concept in its entirety. Both are layered stories with symbolism that runs deep. ‘Donnie Darko’ stars Jake Gyllenhaal as neurotic teen Donnie, who begins to experience visions of the world ending. Unlike ‘Tenet’, the movie is not all doom and gloom, though. Where conventional science-fiction movies stick to more somber storytelling, ‘Donnie Darko’ features some impeccable comic timing and humor.

4. In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

As far as a strong thematic likeness to ‘Tenet’ goes, ‘In the Shadow of the Moon‘ probably gets the closest. An lá ‘Tenet’, which transmutes from a spy movie into a thrilling tale of time travel, ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’ poses as a serial killer flick, only to evolve into a tale of time-traveling assassinations. Directed by Jim Mickle, ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’ depicts the journey of a police officer, Lockhart, who harbors a decade-long obsession with a mystifying killer. At their core, both movies also have a distinct cataclysmic element to them.

3. High Life (2018)

If ‘Tenet’ and ‘Arrival’ had a movie baby, it would be ‘High Life’. ‘Tenet’ and ‘High Life’ are great explorations and meditations on time and space travel, respectively. Robert Pattinson, too, seems to have a great affinity for larger than life, genre-defying science-fiction cinema, for he plays pivotal roles in both ‘Tenet’ and ‘High Life’ to critical acclaim. ‘High Life’ is a poignant story of a group of prisoners sent on an interstellar journey towards a black hole, all while being experimented on. Directed by visionary director Claire Denis, it is just as stunning as ‘Tenet’ in its visuals and equally captivating in its storyline.

2. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Both ’12 Monkeys’ and ‘Tenet’ revolve around going backward (in Tenet’s case, forward too) in time to prevent an impending apocalypse. Both movies feature a particular kind of apocalypse: environmental catastrophes. While climate change has taken over ‘Tenet’s’ universe in the future, the world in ’12 Monkeys’ is laid siege to by a deadly virus. Bruce Willis portrays prisoner James Cole who is selected to venture back in time to reverse the effects of the deadly virus. In a time where our world battles its own virus, ’12 Monkeys’ is, in many ways, an ominous piece of cinema. 

1. Primer (2004)

Both ‘Primer’ and ‘Tenet’ contend with the moral and ethical conundrum time travel poses. While ‘Tenet’ is a race against the clock (no pun intended) to stop the activation of a device that could invert time forever and cause a cataclysm, ‘Primer’ tells the tale of two engineers moonlighting as tech entrepreneurs who discover that time-travel is no better than a double-edged sword. Where ‘Tenet’ is bold and audacious, ‘Primer’ strives to be as unsophisticated as it could be. Director Shane Carruth aimed to depict a sober and realist perspective of the invention of time travel. In ‘Primer’, the two engineers, Abe and Aaron, believe they’ve hit the jackpot when they accidentally discover a form of time travel. Soon, they discover something else: there’s more to time travel than what meets the eye.

If you’re new to Nolan and itching for more of his distinct cinematic touch, here goes: ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Memento’ are great introductions to his impressive portfolio of work. For intermediate viewers, ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Inception’ are a great way to learn more about the director’s work.

Bonus: While Netflix’s acclaimed science-fiction series ‘Dark’ isn’t 2 hours long and requires more of a commitment than Nolan’s flick did, it is nearly as rewarding as ‘Tenet.’ Put it on your watch list, if you can afford the time. 

Read More: Review: Tenet is a Spy Thriller With a Time-Travel Twist

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