From The Usual Suspects (1995) to Get Out (2017), here are 13 movies like Shutter Island.
(This article was updated on Nov 3, 2023 by Arun Kumar)
Martin Scorsese’s 2010 psychological thriller Shutter Island is the kind of film that keeps you up in the night as you try to assimilate and put together all the disjointed pieces of information into a rational whole. Gradually, all the moving parts line up to reveal the big picture. Based on Dennis Lehane’s best-selling 2003 novel, Laeta Kalogridis’s movie adaptation follows Edward Daniels, aka Teddy, a Deputy US Marshall who’s sent to a mental asylum situated on a remote island to investigate the case of a missing person.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy, who is accompanied by his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Right from the moment Teddy steps into the mental asylum, he sets out to discover the larger conspiracy involving the asylum. He believes the chief psychiatrist, John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), is conducting sinister experiments in the island’s lighthouse. But alongside Teddy Daniels, we discover that the truth is far more stranger than our expectations.
Shutter Island is a gripping suspense thriller, a chilling crime tale, and a moving story about a tortured soul all rolled into one. The things we hear in the film’s final stages force us to re-contextualize the information we have received throughout the narrative. Moreover, the film becomes an equally engaging watch in the second and third times as we hunt for the clues that lead to the explosive climax. Shutter Island gives us a mind-bending answer to a complex mystery. If you have watched the Scorsese movie enough times and are on the lookout for similar edge-of-the-seat mysteries and psychological thrillers like Shutter Island, here’s a list:
Movies Like Shutter Island
1. Gone Girl (2014)
Having read Gillian Flynn’s novel beforehand, I naturally had high expectations, and David Fincher certainly delivers. The story follows Nick Dunne, a writing teacher who becomes the prime suspect in the sudden disappearance of his wife. Rosamund Pike delivers a powerhouse of a performance which even earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. There’s plenty of twists and turns along the way, and the final scene still gives me the chills.
Similar to Shutter Island, Gone Girl is a complex psychological thriller that studies the human psyche through the twisted actions of Amy Dunne. At the outset, Gone Girl feels like a simple murder mystery. But as the narrative veers into darker territory, it becomes a profound look into mass media and a male-dominated society.
2. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Like Shutter Island, another film that put the false narrator trope to excellent use was The Usual Suspects, a 1995 neo-noir thriller by Bryan Singer. The plot revolves around the interrogation of Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, a small-time con-man. He recounts the events that lead up to a ghastly gun battle on a boat to a US Customs agent, Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri).
What initially seems like straightforward gang violence gets drenched in layers of deceit, violence, and, more importantly, twists. The result is a film that has you connecting the dots as you ask yourself again, “Who is Keyser Soze?”
Similar to Dr. John Cawley’s speech at the end of Shutter Island, the final reveal in Usual Suspects pushes us to reconsider the tale told by Verbal Kint and pick up the one alarming truth within the layers of lies. The final transformation of the central character is perhaps one of the most chilling moments in cinema.
3. Se7en (1995)
The second David Fincher film in this list, Se7en, follows two detectives, a rookie and a veteran, and their hunt for a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as a recurring motif in his murders. Even though Freeman’s great as an older man who learns not to give up the fight, I love what Kevin Spacey did with his character. He’s cold, menacing, and leaves a lasting impression despite the fact that he appears for a very short duration of the film.
Fincher’s movies often question the nature of reality. In movies like The Game and Fight Club, the protagonists’ relationship with reality takes us on a wild ride. While Se7en isn’t as twisted as Shutter Island, its examination of a twisted mind provides some unexpected twists. The ending alone makes Se7en a worthy entrant in this list.
4. The Sixth Sense (1999)
This is the movie that put M. Night Shyamalan on the map, setting the rhythm for the multiple twist-heavy films that he would follow up with. It stars Bruce Willis as a child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, whose patient, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) believes he can talk to the dead. Dr. Malcom is estranged from his beloved wife, Anna (Olivia Williams). Despite the personal turmoil, Malcolm tries to help Cole until he truly understands the truth behind Cole’s experiences.
The line “I see dead people” became a popular catchphrase after its release and was featured in AFI’s Top 100 movie quotes. The plot twist of Sixth Sense is one of my all-time favorites, second to only Unbreakable with its stunning revelation of Elijah’s secret identity.
Where to watch: Hotstar
5. The Prestige (2006)
Widely regarded as one of the best films of Christopher Nolan, The Prestige demands multiple viewings to truly appreciate its genius. It narrates the story of Angier and Borden (Christian Bale), two rival magicians who engage in competitive one-upmanship.
Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, the rivalry between the magicians intensifies over the discovery of a teleportation machine. It all leads to unexpected final reveal that makes us question the obsession of these magicians.
A big reason why we’re willing to suspend disbelief and completely buy into the story is the casting. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are perfect and rise beyond their underwritten roles. A final twist almost sends a jolt down your spine and sheds light on the fatal impact of the tussle between the two leads.
6. Black Swan (2010)
Similar to Shutter Island, Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller features a lead who’s lost her grip on reality. Natalie Portman, in what for me was a career-defining performance, plays the role of a committed ballet dancer who struggles to maintain her sanity after winning the lead role in an upcoming production of “Swan Lake.” Having grown under the shadow of a domineering mother, Portman’s Nina Sayers finds it hard to handle to the pressure of embodying the dark lead role, Odile.
Alternating between moments of sheer exhilaration and utter distress, Black Swan’s a mesmerizing production that deserves to be added to your watch-list. It’s a slow-burn study of an individual losing herself to madness while engaged in the pursuit of creating high-art.
Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar
7. Split (2016)
The second instalment in M. Night Shyamalan’s Eastrail 177 trilogy, Split follows Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities, and he kidnaps three young women and imprisons them in an underground facility. Like Shutter Island, the central challenge lies in convincing the protagonist of his mental health issues and prevent further harm to himself and others.
James McAvoy’s in terrific form and does a fine job of selling his character’s varied personae. The scene towards the third act of the film where he switches from one personality to another with relative ease is an absolute masterclass.
It’s a shame that Glass, the conclusion to the franchise doesn’t quite do justice to his character. You’re better off viewing this as a standalone film.
Where to watch: Netflix
8. Memento (2000)
The second Christopher Nolan film on this list, Memento is an audacious attempt at narrating two parallel storylines, one told chronologically and the other in reverse. Based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story Memento Mori, the plot revolves around Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a former insurance investigator with anterograde amnesia, who is on the hunt for an individual who brutally raped and killed his wife. He uses an elaborately designed system of polaroid photos and tattoos to track information that he can’t remember.
Similar to Shutter Island, Nolan’s narrative immerses us into the warped reality of the protagonist before incorporating an unforeseeable twist. Memento also shares similar themes with Shutter Island, like memory and trauma. It’s a fascinating movie-watching experience that only gets better with every re-watch.
9. Get Out (2017)
Both Get Out and Shutter Island start off in a similar fashion. An unsuspecting protagonist is thrown into an unfamiliar environment that isn’t quite what it seems. While Scorsese’s film is conceived around the central character’s mental illness, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is built around race. Daniel Kaluuya stars as a young African-American who visits his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the weekend. Little does he know the unsettling events that await him.
While Shutter Island chronicles the protagonist’s understanding of his mental health issues, Kaluuya’s Chris in Get Out seeks to escape from a mad and murderous society. Get Out works not only as a genuine horror film but also as a savage indictment of the systemic racism prevalent in the US.
10. Open Your Eyes (1997)
One of the best psychological thrillers, Alejandro Amenabar’s Open Your Eyes is a fascinating and mind-bending study of the blurring lines between illusion and reality, like Shutter Island. The story revolves around handsome and philandering Cesar (Eduardo Noriega). Just when Cesar feels he has found the love of his life – Sofia (Penelope Cruz) – his face is disfigured after an automobile accident. The idea of cryogenics and plastic surgery comes into play as Cesar finds it futile to live a life without beauty. But as the narrative progresses, Cesar and us viewers find it hard to understand what is real and what isn’t.
While Shutter Island offers us a clear-cut ending regarding Teddy Daniels, Open Your Eyes has an ambiguous ending, leaving the answer to the mystery open-ended. The film encourages multiple interpretations about its spiritually desolate protagonist.
11. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Adrian Lyne’s haunting mystery drama follows a traumatized Vietnam War veteran, Jacob (Tim Robbins). His mind often conjures the carnage in the Vietnam jungle as his platoon struggled for survival. Jacob also seems to be suffering from dissociative identity disorder as he sees demon-like creatures around the dilapidated city. He believes an external influence like a secret government program is the reason for his own hallucinations. Is there concrete evidence behind Jacob’s belief in a conspiracy?
Jacob’s Ladder is a brilliant study of what severe trauma does to the human mind. Like Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the film profoundly immerses us in the fears and dark delusions of its protagonist. Jacob’s journey to find the answer to his problem feels as riveting as Teddy Daniels’ quest.
12. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Shutter Island is a mental asylum inmate who becomes the subject of an elaborate and innovative treatment method. In Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, Bruce Willis’ James Cole is a time-traveler, whose forewarnings of a catastrophic future land him in a mental institution. Written by Janet and David Webb Peoples, Twelve Monkeys is set in a virus-ravaged future where humanity is forced to dwell in the underground. James Cole is one of the subjects chosen to test the time-traveling machine, whose mission is to stop the culprit or organization that spread the virus in the past.
For a good portion of the narrative in Twelve Monkeys, we are kept in the dark regarding James Cole’s sanity. Though we see images of a dystopian futuristic society, we wonder if it’s a manifestation of Cole’s severe delusion.
13. Identity (2003)
James Mangold’s atmospheric psychological thriller unfolds in a seedy, isolated motel somewhere in the Nevada desert. The guests are confined to their rooms due to heavy rainstorms, and the phone lines are down. Soon, as in Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, the motel guests get murdered one by one. The events in the motel are juxtaposed with the visuals of a serial killer who is about to encounter capital punishment. The connection between the two on-screen events offers entertaining twists and fascinating psychological theories.
Like Shutter Island, Identity uses the mystery genre to deal with the themes of memory, delusion, and reality. Though the writing in Identity is a little more cliched, the ending redeems some of the film’s flaws. The film has an extraordinary ensemble cast, including John Cusack, Alfred Molina, and Ray Liotta.
A large part of Shutter Island’s fun is in solving of the mystery along with the lead character. The twists are part of a bigger narrative with subtle foreshadowing and clues scattered throughout the film. This is also exactly why multiple viewings of such films can be very rewarding. Your turn! What other movies like Shutter Island would you recommend that aren’t on this list? Tell us your favourites in the comments below.
A self-proclaimed movie buff who swears he's funnier on the Internet than he is in real life. He also constantly makes sitcom references to make sense of a life that is slowly succumbing to entropy.