Top 10 Dream Films: Reality? Never!

It’s been too long since I have had a Movie Top 10 so it’s great to welcome Steph Spiro to The Top 10 Blog with this stunning list of her Top 10 Dream Films: (Reality? Never!)

Steph’s Twitter bio tells you everything you need to know about her -‘Twitter addict. Writer, blogger, lover of movies, pop culture, psych, social media, creativity, sharing. If you would like to find out more about Steph you can connect with her on Twitter @stephspiro

This has been a summer of film dreams, a season of awakening (into other dreams – literally). The film Inception dominated the box office, and naturally, like any good dream, we don’t want that feeling to end. So I’ve compiled a list of films that I believe are the Top 10 Best Dream Films to extend the dream beyond summer Inception (and yes, I’ve cheated a bit). This is my list:

1. Dream Vignettes

Kurosawa’s Dreams

Kurosawa’s Dreams is a series of vignettes, of dreams ” from euphoric to frightening “ constructed within the architecture of emotion (or inside the frame of a painting and sporting a killer Scorsese cameo as Van Gogh). The vision of fear and wonder experienced by a child walking under a rainbow clutching a dagger is stunning. It triggers a soul-deep extension into misty-eyed collective limbo. Kurosawa’s dreams are shattering, lucid, dancing like an angry Kabuki orchard inside your head.

2. Soul Seeks Children

The City of Lost Children

A soulless man in a tower is incapable of dreaming so he kidnaps children to steal their dreams. Problem is, the scared children only have nightmares. The man in the tower speaks to an aquarium-bound brain. A circus strongman enlists the help of a plucky streetwise urchin to rescue his relentlessly hungry kid brother from the clutches of the dream-stealing fiend and his army of maniacal cyclopes. Bizarrely touching, dream-like, red-hued and slimy. The film begins with an unforgettable dream image of cloning demonic Santas.

3. Lucid Dreaming

Vanilla Sky/ Open Your Eyes

We can group these two together because Vanilla Sky is a remake of Amenabar’s Open Your Eyes. The dream-image of Penelope Cruz straddles both strangely exhilarating films. They make us feel like we’re permitted to communicate with a chosen self via pre-selected, pre-paid destiny from the bottom of a frozen lake. The films play out like masked-over fever dreams, nightmares that shimmer under ice, a lucid dream trap. The films are an ode to futuristic placidity, probing the icy facade and the many masks we wear, even when we’re dreaming. Honestly, where else can you find no traffic in Times Square and Tom Cruise sprinting into the horizon? Yeah, it’s a total dream.

4. The Anxiety Dream

Living In Oblivion

It’s a film within a dream within a film within a dream. It’s structured in 3 parts: the first two parts are anxiety dreams about filming a movie scene and the third part is the filming of an anxiety dream. An independent filmmaker played by Steve Buscemi is living in this grainy oblivion that feels like ghetto Snow White on album-scratching repeat, rewired by the sleeping brain.

5. Kinky Leather-Clad Dream Machinery

The Matrix/eXistenZ

We all know The MatrixPerhaps the reality we know is just a dream fueled by our own perpetually sleeping bodies. We must take the blue pill and follow the white rabbit out of our collective dream and into a sleepless world without leather. eXistenZ is a Cronenberg film about a slimy pod game. The virtual reality game plugs directly into the central nervous system via a licked and lubricated hole in the back. The game architecture is layered. There’s a strategy to the dialogue. Limbo is littered with gutted, slimy creatures. The pod is eerily iPod-ish (and pre-iPod era). It’s a kind of wheezing blob that has to be massaged before it enters our subconscious. It’s a fascinating film and a great companion piece to The Matrix:

6. Altman’s Fever Dream

3 Women

Robert Altman constructed 3 Women from his own dream residue. It stars Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek as roommates. The plot seeps like a watercolor. It’s organic, a lot like a painted dream. It grows out of itself and curls around, brushes, strokes. The dream-plot is wishy-washy and fragmented. It becomes something it’s not and like any other dream, we allow it to mutate and blossom and change erratically because we like the feeling of what’s happening. The characters shape-shift rather than arc. The colors seep over a sleepy afternoon consciousness. A woman draws creepy mythic images in soft pastels at the bottom of a pool. It’s unnerving and beautiful. It makes perfect dream sense, but mostly it just meanders and makes shadows amid fluctuations of light and feeling like the sunlight behind your closed eyelids.

7. Your Eyes Do The Walking

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/ The Science of Sleep

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep are both Gondry films, so I paired them. Sunshine is a memory film, but dream and memory are both constructed by us, in our heads.  We create our memories just like we create our dreams. The only difference is the state of consciousness. In Sunshine, the memory is wiped during sleep via enormous headgear, reverberating layer after layer of the dream-sheen in reverse. Memories are dream-like, and cars fall from the sky. Not to mention Tobias is building a birdhouse. The Science of Sleep is a game show dreamland hosting images of guest-star parents, images, perceptions, and tin-foil-filled bathtubs. It collects the dime store stitched-together knick-knacks of sleep and stitches them together to construct a happy ending segue from dream to reality. Hero and Heroine ride off into a cellophane horizon on a felt pony.

8. Dream Goggles

Until The End of the World

This one is old school. Wim Wenders pieces together the ultimate soundtrack, although it is not conducive to deep sleep. Two people on the run find each other and share a device that allows them to see their dreams when they’re awake. The same device can restore sight to the blind. It’s like dream TiVo. Unfortunately, total access to your dreams is addictive and our hero and heroine sit around in a perpetual acetylcholine haze with giant antiquated-looking metal goggles strapped to their faces (yeah, it’s a little dated, but still really fascinating). The goggles were definitely not Apple-brand or user-friendly, but they get the job done.

9. REM Chat-Room

Waking Life

Something dawned on you when you heard the children’s song: Merrily merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. You began to suspect that you were perhaps, a butterfly dreaming it was a human, or, worse yet, a brain in a jar experiencing sights and sounds and smells and tastes“ all of them but dreamstuff. And so you waited for death in order to wake up, in order to find out whether you were strapped with spotted wings and surrounded by a glass jar.

But it turns out you missed the mark. It is not life that is a dream; it is death that is a dream.”

-David Eagleman, Sum


Sleeping boy drifts through many philosophical conversations and pseudo-cartoons that speak with soul shimmering tremors. Is he dead? I think he might just be trapped in the Internet. ‘Tis the nightmare of Chatroulette.

10. I Gotta Wear Shades.

Dream A Little Dream

The Coreys do a little dreamland two-step. Feldman accidentally suckers the sleeping soul outta Robards and he’s not giving it back. Also refer to this one as: ‘Looking at Lainie’s spandex.’ Need I say more? It’s the 80s. ‘It’s a party. Who’s got the chips?!’

*Honorable mention:

Dream Death Finale

All That Jazz

The image of death (Jessica Lange) approaching the final curtain call is heartbreaking. The Broadway director dreams his own show-stopping number as he’s dying on the operating table. He sings a ‘Bye Bye Life’ duet with Ben Vereen and dances flanked by two girls wearing gut-suits. Metallic heads witness the final good-bye. I can’t, in good faith, leave this one off the list. It’s killer.

Waking Dream

Fellini’s 8 1/ 2


Soaring out of gridlock to fly a man-kite by the ocean. We must at least acknowledge one of the most brilliant dream sequences in film.

The exquisitely spooky dream-film Picnic At Hanging Rock begins with a girl waking up to a sepia-toned summer dream-Poe narrative: ‘All that we see or seem. Is but a dream within a dream.’

Film itself is like a dream and the architecture is often so real, we’d just assume it was extracted from our own subconscious and perhaps the characters on screen will turn on us, make the jump into our level of reality, and attack. Those of us familiar with The Purple Rose of Cairo, or the dozens of 3-D films infiltrating the multiplex nowadays, will be familiar with the reality of dream, the thin line of sky between what we see and what we seem. The flickering images caught on film are constructed like a memory, destined to haunt us, reaching out, planting thoughts and images saturated in muted color. Film is inception. When the lights are low and the dusk between mind and memory suddenly becomes an orchestral sunset, our reality folds upon us and we doze. Please allow Paris to enclose on the clouds for 5 more minutes?!

Layer my thoughts and extract gravity from my pulse. I want to fly a little longer…

Many thanks Steph for a superbly written post! Now let us know what you think of Steph’s compilation, do you have any other ‘Dream’ films that you think should be included?

  • Erkrose

    Awesome list! Beautifully written.

  • Great list, well done Steph. Some of my favorite films are present, 81/2, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Living in Oblivion, Eternal Sunshine… all spectacular. A couple I haven’t seen and will make a note to check them out.

  • Liz

    Beautiful Post Steph! Thought provoking films, good images, great text! 2 Thumbs UP!

  • driouxcipher

    Great list! I would add that The Matrix and eXistenz wouldn’t exist without the Doctor Who story, “The Deadly Assassin” from 1976, without which the concept of a computer (called “The Matrix”) that plugs directly into a person’s brain, creating an alternative reality wouldn’t exist.

  • dtd

    What a thrill to be reminded of film sequences I had totally forgotten about [or a few, I had not seen].
    Steph is an amazing soure…and delightful/insightful writer.            dtd

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