27 More “Essential Films for the Student of Philosophy,” As Suggested By Open Culture Readers

A post of ours last week on philo­soph­i­cal films piqued the inter­est of many a film-lov­ing, philo­soph­i­cal­ly-inclined read­er, and raised an impor­tant and per­haps unan­swer­able ques­tion: just what is a “philo­soph­i­cal film”? Does such a crea­ture even exist? Read­er Albert Hoff­man sug­gest­ed that “a real­ly great movie always is a philo­soph­i­cal movie, always opens the path to impor­tant philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions.” I find that state­ment hard to dis­pute, but then find myself also agree­ing with anoth­er read­er, Assy­outi, who writes “all bad films can be resources for philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sion.” Why not? What a philo­soph­i­cal film is depends, per­haps, on the def­i­n­i­tion of words like “philo­soph­i­cal,” “film,” and “is.”

In any case, the orig­i­nal­ly ref­er­enced list of 44 “essen­tial movies for the stu­dent of phi­los­o­phy,” com­piled in 2010 by Matt Whit­lock for Mubi, laid out some fair­ly spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria, name­ly that such films “(seem to be) incar­na­tions of clas­sic philo­soph­i­cal thought exper­i­ments or movies that have a major philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem as a main theme.” Yet, in addi­tion to films that fea­ture philoso­phers as char­ac­ters or par­tic­i­pants, this seems to me broad enough to cov­er an enor­mous range of movies—from Hitchock’s Ver­ti­go, a favorite of “pervert’s guide” the­o­rist Slavoj Žižek (above), and near­ly every film crit­ic every­where, to (speak­ing of bad films) Bill and Ted’s Excel­lent Adven­ture.

As I men­tioned in the pre­vi­ous post, the four years since Whitlock’s list have pro­duced a num­ber of movies that deserve inclu­sion, sev­er­al of which were high­light­ed in the com­ments. Addi­tion­al­ly, read­ers men­tioned sev­er­al over­looked films that cer­tain­ly meet the bar. And if we are to loosen up our definitions—and why not—the list expands even fur­ther. In that spir­it of inclu­sion, we offer an adden­dum to Whitlock’s 44, below, with the ever-nec­es­sary dis­claimer that this new list does not in any way exhaust the sub­ject. We do hope, how­ev­er, to spark fur­ther dis­cus­sion and, more impor­tant­ly, intro­duce inter­est­ing, thinky movies for read­ers to dis­cov­er. So, with­out fur­ther pre­am­ble, here are 27 more “essen­tial movies for the stu­dent of phi­los­o­phy,” in no par­tic­u­lar order, as sug­gest­ed by our always astute Open Cul­ture read­ers:

  1. Mind­walk (1990)
  2. Rosen­crantz & Guilden­stern Are Dead (1990)
  3. My Din­ner With Andre (1981)
  4. Step­pen­wolf (1974)
  5. Wings of Desire (1987)
  6. Cocteau’s Orphic Tril­o­gy—Blood of a Poet (1930), Orphee (1950), Tes­ta­ment of Orpheus (1959) [yes, this is three films, but we’ll count them as one for the pur­pos­es of this list]
  7. Pos­si­ble Worlds (2000)
  8. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  9. The Holy Moun­tain (1973)
  10. THX 1138 (1970)
  11. 99 Francs (2007)
  12. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
  13. Enter the Void (2009)
  14. Stalk­er (1979) — fea­tured ear­li­er today on OC
  15. Viva La Muerte (1971)
  16. I Stand Alone (1998)
  17. Iris (2001)
  18. World on a Wire (1973)
  19. Locke (2013)
  20. The Wid­ow of Saint-Pierre (2000)
  21. The Tri­al (1962)
  22. Life of Bri­an (1979)
  23. Being There (1979)
  24. Bladerun­ner (1982)
  25. Out­landish: Strange For­eign Bod­ies (2009)
  26. Is the Man Who Is Tall Hap­py? (2013) — see the trail­er above.
  27. Thir­teen Con­ver­sa­tions About One Thing (2001)

As you sure­ly know, the list that pleas­es every­one has yet to be invent­ed, so if you don’t find your sug­ges­tions on this one, please don’t take offense. The exer­cise has been more than worth the price of the tick­et for me—I’ve added quite a few titles to my nev­erend­ing list of films I absolute­ly must see before that whole buck­et thing. No doubt even the hippest among you has found a sur­prise or two here to add to yours. And if you’re dying to add num­ber 28, 29, 30, etc. then, please, let us know in the com­ments below. Or, if you want even more sug­ges­tions, check out the titles that were men­tioned on our Face­book page.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

44 Essen­tial Movies for the Stu­dent of Phi­los­o­phy

Watch The Idea, the First Ani­mat­ed Film to Deal with Big, Philo­soph­i­cal Ideas (1932)

Daniel Den­nett and Cor­nel West Decode the Phi­los­o­phy of The Matrix in 2004 Film

Two Ani­ma­tions of Plato’s Alle­go­ry of the Cave: One Nar­rat­ed by Orson Welles, Anoth­er Made with Clay

The Drink­ing Par­ty, 1965 Film Adapts Plato’s Sym­po­sium to Mod­ern Times

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (8)
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  • Ethan says:

    Gilles Deleuze from A‑Z
    The Act of Killing

  • Donald says:

    Include work from inter­est­ing con­tem­po­rary philoso­phers like Cor­mac McCarthy and Ter­rence Mal­ick

    The Tree of Life
    The Thin Red Line
    The Coun­selor
    The Sun­set Lim­it­ed


    l’abécé­daire- DELEUZ



    DEDAL — 2001




  • Christopher Palermo says:

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly cin­e­ma has always been and will con­tin­ue to be a rather clunky deliv­ery sys­tem of philo­soph­i­cal wis­dom. I sug­gest read­ing, hik­ing, and star­ing off into space as a much more potent alter­na­tive.

  • Matthew Hampson says:

    I teach The­o­ry of Knowl­edge (at the high school lev­el). I use the fol­low­ing films to set the stage for dis­cus­sions about every­thing from ethics to epis­te­mol­o­gy (most­ly with a bias toward Exis­ten­tial­ism). The films (not list­ed in order of deliv­ery or rel­a­tive impor­tance):

    1. Bladerun­ner
    2. Do the Right Thing
    3. Sling­blade
    4. The Hurt­lock­er
    5. Gat­ti­ca
    6. Memen­to
    7. Brazil
    8. Ghost in the Shell

  • J Morris says:

    The Thin Red Line

  • Jordan Willis says:

    I would high­ly rec­om­mend adding Cor­mac McCarthy’s THE SUNSET LIMITED and Ing­mar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL. Both are espe­cial­ly great for the bud­ding exis­ten­tial­ist.

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