The only thing better than the ever-elusive eight-hour (or more) night of sleep, is the ever-elusive perfect film. Now, we wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that these 10 movies meet the criteria for film perfection, but they are responsible for some of the most memorable dream sequences the film world has known. Some of our dreamers solve impossible mathematical equations, while others run in fear from neighborhood druggies. Some are experiencing beautiful fantasies while others suffer from night terrors featuring demon doctor clowns.
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The internet doesn’t know it yet, but Max Fischer of Rushmore is the true character responsible for the whole sips tea movement (Kermit the Frog just made for better memes). When Wes Anderson’s tale begins, Fischer (played by a young Jason Schwartzman in his film debut) is sitting in a classroom at his beloved prep school, casually asking his teacher about an extra credit assignment on the board. Like Ralphie Parker (who we’ll get to shortly), he dreams of standing out in a class full of sub-par, disappointing students. Immediately after his teacher explains that this problem is not really an extra credit assignment, but rather “probably the hardest geometry equation in the world,” (one which even Dr. Leaky at MIT couldn’t solve), he walks up to the board, takes a knowing sip of tea (or espresso), and solves the problem—using perfect chalkboard handwriting, no less. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta crack these equations and also save Latin.
All Ralphie wanted for Christmas was an official Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. Instead, he got grief from his parents, his teacher and even mall Santa himself, when what he really needed was their support. And the rifle. One of his many fantasies centers on his teacher Miss Shields, and the imagined response and accolades he knew he deserved for his incredible, masterful essay on his one and only Christmas wish. Ralphie’s fantasy speaks to all nerds—especially writer nerds—hoping for the day when their genius might be recognized (and/or for an excuse from writing themes for the rest of the school year). It may not have worked out in reality, but Ralphie, you get an A++++++ for trying.
“I can see his face, and I hope I never see that face ever outside a dream.” When Dan utters these words in Winkie’s Diner, it’s our first hint that things are about to get pretty terrifying, pretty quickly. In one unforgettable (and painfully suspenseful) scene from this David Lynch classic, we sit and listen as Dan recounts the embarrassing nightmare he’s had twice about the diner. By the time he gets up and follows Herb outside—slowly passing by small markers which seem to have no meaning (but are eery, nonetheless), sweating bullets, we’re partly convinced—and hoping—that he’s dreaming again, because we have no desire to see “the man in back of this place.” And when the man does show up (and frightens poor Dan to death), we can’t help but hope that we never see that face, ever outside of a David Lynch film.
Troy had quite a bit on her plate as the sole daughter of the Carmichael clan. In addition to a severe lack of privacy, a brother who struggled with black eyed pea phobia at the dinner table, and everyday drama on her 1970s Brooklyn block, she suffered from some pretty scary nightmares. In one scene (presented in that classic Spike Lee dolly shot) Snuffy the crackhead (played by Lee) and his one-armed buddy Right Hand Man chase Troy through the streets in the middle of the night and force her to get high. Luckily for Troy, in her waking life, she steered clear of brown paper bags and glue.
Remove all of Sam’s dream sequences, and Brazil would still be one of the strangest, silliest and most entertaining sci-fi fantasty/black comedies. The 1985 film from Terry Gilliam is set in a dystopian society full of strange machines and bizarre beauty practices (a time not unlike our own), and a totalitarian government that uses fear and ignorance to control the lives (and deaths, if your name is Buttle and not Tuttle) of its citizens. Although he tells his mother at the beginning of the film that he doesn’t want anything, doesn’t have “any hopes or dreams,” Sam Lowry is indeed a dreamer. His night visions and fantasies center on a woman he comes to meet in his real life. They become key to him unlocking the truth and attempting to break free of a repressive society (one from which he might only be free in his fantasies). Of all the dream sequences, the one featuring those horrifying hunchback babies—also the one where he loses his wings—might be the most memorable.
Forget about Mulholland Drive, forget about A Nightmare on Elm Street—the most horrifying, devastating movie nightmare of all time was experienced by Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) in Mike Judge’s Office Space. If you can conjure up anything worse than that image of Lumbergh—his unholy, disgusting, pig-of-a-boss—making sweet love down by the fire to Joanna (Jennifer Aniston, not fully pictured), all while holding that insufferable coffee mug and asking for those damned TPS reports, then you are not of this world. And you should probably go make a movie with David Lynch. As for the rest of us, if we could just go ahead and never see this scene again, that would be greeeaaaattttt.
A beautifully made but oft-overlooked film, Antwone Fisher , an adaptation of Fisher’s haunting memoir, was a heavy story often full of more tribulations than triumphs. But as Fisher (Derek Luke) recounted his days growing up in an abusive Cleveland foster home, one particular dream carried viewers through some incredibly difficult scenes. In the opening moments of the film a young Fisher (Malcolm David Kelley) has his recurring dream of being greeted by his entire family—including the members he never met, and those who may have abandoned him—while sitting at a table filled with all of the foods a deprived and neglected kid might dream of (but mostly pancakes). Unlike most of the dreams on this list, Fisher, with the help of a therapist on his naval base (Denzel Washington) is able to confront the nightmare realities he lived through to finally achieve the dream of a feast and family in the end.
No child who experienced this 1985 classic, and its horrifying bicycle clown/demon scene, was ever able to fully enjoy a circus again. Sure, we have Stephen King’s It, and the most recent season of American Horror Story introduced us to the terror of Twisty, but even those killer clowns pale in comparison to a group of doctors who were supposed to save the bicycle, but due to their demon-clown-like nature, opted to send it to the very depths of hell. Perhaps you could argue that the reality was even worse—Pee Wee’s bike was in the hands of Warner Bros. for the new Kevin Morton movie. But no, no. That clown dream was worse.
With all the lions, tigers, bears and horses of a different color, it’s easy to forget that the bulk of The Wizard of Oz is a dream. When Dorothy (Judy Garland) wakes up back in Kansas, surrounded by her family (her uncles looking awfully crow-like, and cowardly, and heartless), she has a revelation: “But it wasn’t a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you… and you were there. But you couldn’t have been could you? No, Aunt Em, this was a real truly live place and I remember some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful—but just the same all I kept saying to everybody was “I want to go home,” and they sent me home! Doesn’t anybody believe me?” We believe you, Dorothy. We believe you.
Darkness washed over The Dude as his incredible Gutterballs dream began to unfold to the tune of “Just Dropped In (To See What my Condition was In),” by The First Edition (featuring Kenny Rogers). In the 1998 Coen Brothers movie filled with so many epic, memorable scenes, The Dude’s dream stands apart from all else, what with those horrible white boy moves on the staircase and Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski in her unforgettable Viking bowler costume. Throw in a semi-erotic bowing lesson and the fellow at the end with the scissors, and you have a cinematic classic.