7 Most Mentally-Challenging TV Shows and Movies ...


Unlike some of my friends, I don't seek out mentally-challenging movies and TV shows. At least, not all the time. I've been teased about this, but sometimes I don't have the attention span nor the desire to wade through a complex plot. Where my friends want to be mentally stimulated, I just want to be entertained. With some of the stuff we see on TV these days, it can be hard to find a happy medium. Even so, it can be done. Here are some of the mentally-challenging movies my friends and I have come across that are both interesting and easy to digest. I've included a link to each show/movie's IMDb page for more information.

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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This is one of my favorite mentally-challenging movies. Maybe it's because I liked “The Odyssey”, but it's interesting how an epic poem thousands of years old can be re-told (albeit loosely) in a 1930s Deep South setting and still be recognizable. Sure, Odysseus' son Telemachus turned into a group of little girls and his crew to a couple of bumbling convicts, but parallels can still be made. Even if you haven't read it though, you can still enjoy the story for its humor, odd characters and Grammy-winning music! No, that wasn't George Clooney singing.



One thing I find really interesting about this movie is that the main character-played by Jet Li-is never given a name. Even the IMDb page lists him as “Nameless”, but that doesn't stop his story (told mostly in flashbacks) and the intelligence behind it from having a stirring effect. The fact that it is in Mandarin with English subtitles gives it even more dimension, as does the sheer martial arts skills shown throughout the film. If for no other reason, watch it for the scenery. It's gorgeous.


Game of Thrones

In addition to having so many different story lines to keep track of (which is one reason the books it's based on have a list of the characters at the beginning), GoT makes the list of mentally-challenging TV shows because it takes viewers into completely different worlds without being too difficult to follow. Don't get me wrong-you *do* need to watch closely from the beginning to understand it - but I like that you don't have to have read the books to enjoy it. And I haven't. Yet, I love it.


Pulp Fiction

Say what you want about Quentin Tarantino, the man knows how to spin a yarn. This particular movie takes three diverging story lines - mostly told in flashback and out of order - and somehow manages to make them come together into an at least partially coherent ending. It took two watches for me to tie it all together. Then, there's the never-ending question, “what's in the briefcase?” I have my theories; I'm sure you have yours.



This J.J. Abrams offering is definitely one of those shows you have to pay close attention to. My husband and I once did a several days of "marathon watching" and, trust me, there are so many complex characters and story lines it was difficult to keep them straight. The fact that several of them completely changed personalities (no names!) made it even more interesting. I won't give away the ending, but it wasn't what I expected.



This is a 21st-century rendering of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective saga. One of the best things about this British show - besides Benedict Cumberbatch's eyes and accent - is that it visually shows a lot of the clues as they go through Sherlock's mind. Seriously, the words and equations fly around on the screen as he figures out where they all fit. Like some other British shows, each season consists of only three 90-minute episodes and goes through an entire year before it starts again. It's shows like this that make me love Netflix all the more. It's on BBC One in the UK and online, but I found it on PBS.


Cold Case

This might not seem like a mentally-challenging show compared to the others, but I mention it because it is thought-provoking in a different way. In it, the Philadelphia police department re-opens unsolved murder cases in an effort to get answers for the victims' families. It's really interesting how they use flashbacks interspersed with “present day” scenes to tell the story while tackling social issues of the time. For instance, one victim was an AIDS activist in 1983; another a Russian opera singer; still another was an Amish girl killed during Rumspringa. I love the “touch” at the endings, but you'll have to see it for yourself.

What are some of your favorite mentally-challenging movies and TV shows? Would you disagree with any on my list? Which have I left out? Discuss!

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once upon a time, same writers as lost

totally agree with this! and of course I loved the part about Benedict's eyes and accent but there are also his cheekbones!!!

once upon a time, same writers as lost


You also forgot House MD.

cold case is great. The cinematography techniques they use for the different time periods and themes for each different story are amazing.

you forgot supernatural

The boy in the striped pajamas should be in there

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