The Big Sleep As part of my day job (in sanitation engineering) 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 benzodiazapine 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 but it’s a great movie, so it was hard to place it.  I truly think this is one of the 10 best movies ever imagined.  This was the first and only movie that ever inspired me to go BACK to the box office after walking out, I saw it again immediately after the first viewing.  It has its flaws, but it was a game changing film on so many levels.  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 because “The Matrix” also ushered in a new era of film making.  The visual effects (bullet time) and live wire stunt work (woo ping).  This was a movie that often doesn’t even get made – because of its huge budget and unclear audience…but credit goes to Joel Silver (and WB) for having the vision to invest in this picture, and to the Wachowski’s of course, for imagining it and having the conviction to make it the way they wanted to.

This scene changed film...

This scene changed film…

#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.

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 probably not Christopher Nolan’s best movie, most people would agree “The Dark Knight” is.  Every great filmmaker has a defining movie – a project that they have focused on for years.  For Speilerg it was “Jaws,” for Scorcese it was “Gangs of New York,” for George Lucas it was “Star Wars,” and for Christopher Nolan I believe it was “Inception” – this movie reflects his genius as a filmmaker better than any other.  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 dreaming.

My Reasoning: Ok so the Movieraiders don’t usually go in for Rom Drom, but in this case we have to make an exception.  This was a visionary movie, and won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2004.  This movie is just cool.  Michel Gondry has a very unique way of  bringing the dream sequences to life.  Basically it’s shot with an overhead light that is too hot…leaving you with a lack of perspective on what is happening away from the actors, almost as if they are in a spotlight.  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 directing…it’s so solidly done.  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 Movieraiders favorite 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?


Other Sleep related Movie Lists

3 Responses to Movieraiders: Top 5 Sleep Movies of All Time

  1. John says:

    I created a longer, Top 10 list on IMDB.
    Please feel free to check that out if you want to see how this goes deeper.

  2. Lutz says:

    My main comment is that Dreamscape should be included. This is a great movie and given this is your 2nd Dreamscape snub, I think it warrants watching again.

    Other non-serious considerations for the list: Wizard of Oz and Vanilla Sky.

    My comments on your list/desciptions:

    1. The Matrix: I also loved this movie, but it has unfortunately been tainted for me now given how bad the 2nd and 3rd movies. The 3rd in particular was just god awful. I’m still pained by the ridiculous rave scene in Zion in movie two.

    2. Inception: Agree that this movie is fantastic. I love the story, but prefer the filmmaking. Just awesome to watch visually and a great cast. BTW, how are you calling Gangs of New York Scorcese’s defining movie??? Are you mad? Separately, I can’t wait to see how Tom Hardy’s career evolves.

    3. Spotless Mind: I have only seen this movie once. I enjoyed it. No other comments.

    4. Fight Club: This movie just gets better with time. I enjoy it and appreciate more every time I watch it. While Edward Norton has a reputation for being a pain to work with, he really is electric. I love his performance in Rounders in particular.

    5. Elm Street: Great call out on John Saxon. And RIP Jim Kelly. I used to have a serious crush on Nancy Thompson by the way.

    • John says:

      It’s a good catch on Gangs of New York. Defining isn’t the right word, maybe better said is the movie that a director dedicates the most to. For Scorcese Gangs was an obsession, he spent years and millions of his own money to see it made. Each great movie maker has a movie like that. In the way Apocalypse Now was for Copolla.

      On Dreamscape, I definitely thought about it…it was in my Top 10 ( I am curious who should be knocked off the Top 5 to get Dreamscape in?

      As horrendous as Reloaded and Revolutions were, and I am right with you on everything you said….I think the first Matrix still deserves its place in the upper echelons of any list…it was such an incredibly well made movie, groundbreaking on so many levels.

      I wasn’t sure you would support Inception

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