June 12, 2011 5:16 pm

Psychological movies are not all about pscyhotic individuals and psychologists, nor are they all thrillers. Some psychological movies portray hope and the triumph of human resilience; however, few film-goers would deny that Alfred Hitchock was the king of psychological film, and his films portray both darkness and possible redemption. The following top psychological movies of all time are just a sampling of some of the greatest psychological films produced by Hollywood (and elsewhere).

The movies are listed in order of release to show the vast difference in earlier movie portrayals of psychological issues and current perspectives on the same.

  1. MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Heroes and exemplars abound in this epic film about a white attorney in the Depression-era South, who defends a Black man accused of rape. Based upon Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this film serves as a historical note about prejudice and social inequality.
  2. In Cold Blood (1967): Nominated for four Oscars, this film was based upon the book of the same name, penned by Truman Capote. The film goes into the lives of two men on trial for killing the Clutter family in Kansas. Some scenes were filmed on the locations of the original events, in Garden City and Holcomb, Kansas including the Clutter residence. In 2008, In Cold Blood was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
  3. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975): Look at this movie as an historic (yet satirical) venture into the barbaric and controlling treatment of patients at a psychiatric hospital during the mid-twentieth century. This film, which stars Jack Nicholson, remains as fresh and shocking as when it was released.
  4. Taxi DriverTaxi Driver (1976): Directed by Martin Scorsese, this is a gritty, disturbing, nightmarish modern film classic that examines alienation in urban society. It explores the psychological madness within an obsessed, twisted, inarticulate, lonely, anti-hero cab driver and war vet (De Niro). Jodi Foster, who also starred in Silence of the Lambs (see below), was required to undergo psychological tests to see if she would bear up during filming.
  5. The Breakfast Club (1985): The Breakfast Club is a 1985 teen film widely considered a definitive work in the genre. A timeless film that takes on teen issues and group dynamics. As late as 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
  6. Fatal Attraction (1987): This movie struck so many chords that the term, “fatal attraction,” came to mean “murderous obsession.” Fatal Attraction spawned numerous other movies about middle-class families besieged by a lone psychotic intent on infiltrating and destroying the fabric of the family unit, including The Stepfather (1987), Pacific Heights (1990), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992), and Fear (1996).
  7. Silence of the Lambs (1991): An intelligent psychiatrist turned psychopath Hannibal Lecter (portrayed by British actor Anthony Hopkins) brought a major commercial and critical success to this film. This film remains so disturbing that it was rumored that co-star Jodi Foster refused to participate in the sequel. The film was a five-time major Academy-Award winner.
  8. The Prince of Tides (1991): A troubled man talks to his suicidal sister’s psychiatrist about their family history and falls in love with her in the process. A great portrayal of transference, as well as a taste of southern life. Although not as critically acclaimed as the novel by the same name, the movie was a box-office hit and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
  9. The Fisher King (1991): This movie script follows a path that is as convoluted as the personalities who fill that script’s roles. The film tackles homelessness, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PSTD), depression, manic flights, romance and a Holy Grail.
  10. Shawshank RedemptionThe Shawshank Redemption (1994): One of the most popular films ever made, perhaps due to the ease an individual can relate to the story of a man wrongfully imprisoned but never giving up hope. A great film to recommend as a treatment adjunct.
  11. As Good As It Gets (1997): Ever wonder how obssesive compulsive disorder affects some relationships? This movie, starring Jack Nicholson, tries to improve his behavior to impress a single mom (Helen Hunt) with a chronically asthmatic young son.
  12. American Beauty (1999): A depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis decides to turn his hectic life around after developing an infatuation for his daughter’s attractive friend. A great script centers this Oscar-winning film about mindfulness, finding beauty in each moment, and the possibility that each individual holds for change.
  13. Analyze This (1999): Released just eight years after The Prince of Tides (see below), this movie shows the shift that the public took on analysts and psychologists. More of a pop culture film, Billy Crystal plays a psychologist to Robert Deniro’s gangster client character, creating less drama and more comedy.
  14. Memento (2000): A man who suffers from retrograde amnesia uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. This movie was an art-house noir made for $5 million and released by a novice distributor after no other company would touch it. After approximately months in release, the film even entered the list of top 10 highest-grossing films.
  15. A Beautiful Mind (2001): Based upon the true story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. and his struggle with schizophrenia, this film pulls audiences into Nash’s harrowing journey. The film also is a note to triumph, as Nash receives a Nobel Prize later in life for his mathematical discoveries.
  16. Donnie Darko (2001): This surrealist psychological thriller film depicts the reality-bending adventures of the title character as he seeks the meaning and significance behind his troubling Doomsday-related visions. Despite its poor box office showing, the film began to attract a devoted fan base. Additionally, the film received widespread critical acclaim.
  17. Iris (2001): This film is bsed upon John Bayley’s memoir of his wife, Irish Murdoch, and is a portrayal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Jim Broadbent won an Oscar for his portrayal of John Bayley.
  18. The Ted Bundy Story: Antisocial personality disorder personified in a killer who stalked and killed at least 30 women during the 1970s and 1980s. Sadistic and sociopathic, Bundy holds many of the disorders and personality traits that forensic police now use to profile other serial killers. In real life, Bundy underwent multiple psychiatric examinations and his diagnosis changed frequently.
  19. Capturing the Friedmans (2003): This documentary film focuses on the 1980s investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2003. Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Jarecki so recognizes the archetypal figures in the Friedman home that he knows to push things any further through heavy-handed assessment would be redundant.”
  20. Running with Scissors (2006): The son of an alcoholic father and an unstable mother, Augusten Burroughs is handed off to his mother’s therapist, Dr. Finch, and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch’s bizarre extended family. A comedy-drama film, this is one of a few films based upon an actual memoir.