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Best alternate reality movies you can stream right now

Movies often transport viewers to another reality. So … do alternate reality movies transport you to an additional reality? Or do they transport you back to the original reality? Is this what the MCU is talking about in all of their films featuring the multiverse? While you ponder these existential questions, we’re here to provide you with some of the best alternate reality movies you can stream right now, as long as your head isn’t hurting too much from the layered confusion.

Are alternate realities not your thing? Maybe you’ll have better luck with our choices for the best space movies of all time or even the best superhero movies of all time.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
60%
7/10
pg-13
126m
Genre
Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Stars
Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by
Sam Raimi
Watch on Disney+
Alternate reality and Marvel’s promotion of its “multiverse” go hand in hand. In the second Doctor Strange caper, the eponymous superhero must battle against one of his former allies, the Scarlet Witch, who is consumed by grief over the life she discovered she could’ve led in another reality of her own (see: WandaVision). The movie continuously distorts one reality from another, which could be a psychological trip for some viewers. Also, while not a horror movie, it is one of the scarier Marvel movies since the company’s cinematic universe came to be more than a decade ago. Doctor Strange doesn’t have the same goofy charm as other Marvel heroes, but the film is a fascinating case study in how alternate realities could dictate our own lives.

Source Code (2011)

Source Code
74%
7.5/10
pg-13
94m
Genre
Thriller, Science Fiction, Mystery
Stars
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Directed by
Duncan Jones
Watch on Amazon
The alternate reality of Source Code is more akin to time travel, as U.S. Army Captain Captain Colter Stevens tries to identify the terrorist who sparked a train explosion, placed inside the same eight-minute sequence repeatedly. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Stevens, putting in a strong performance as always. The movie is a sci-fi extravaganza, but characters are given the room to breathe, creating a more layered, human story. Comparisons to the time loops of Groundhog Day are obvious, but Source Code manages to play with expectations in a much more confounding way.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Sorry to Bother You
80%
6.9/10
r
112m
Genre
Fantasy, Science Fiction, Comedy
Stars
Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler
Directed by
Boots Riley
Watch on Netflix
This movie is in the realm of heightened reality, ready to make viewers of all stripes uncomfortable. Sorry to Bother You stars Lakeith Stanfield as a Black marketer who adopts a white accent in an attempt to succeed at his job. From there, corporate conspiracies begin to unfold and capitalism is on the chopping block as the American Dream comes into focus for Cash Green. There’s plenty of political satire to go around, but the most unnerving part of the film is when the artificial reality of the film feels just as real as the “true” reality.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Tron: Legacy
49%
6.8/10
pg
125m
Genre
Adventure, Action, Science Fiction
Stars
Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
Directed by
Joseph Kosinski
Watch on Disney+
The sequel to the campy 1982 Tron, Tron: Legacy carries the story into the 21st century. Jeff Bridges is back as Kevin Flynn, and the story follows his adult son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), as he’s transported into the “Grid,” a light-filled VR world. The plot leaves something to be desired, but the visuals are fantastic, as is the music from Daft Punk. The production design of the film is worth the watch alone.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
58%
6.9/10
pg-13
119m
Genre
Adventure, Action, Comedy, Fantasy
Stars
Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Directed by
Jake Kasdan
Watch on Starz
This movie is more similar in tone to Ready Player One than to the original Jumanji. In this 2017 reboot, a group of teenagers are transformed into video game avatars as they struggle to survive the perils of the classic game, a la the Robin Williams classic. What the film lacks in emotional depth and character development it makes up for in fun and comedic debauchery, thanks to the solid tandem of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, with a rare splash of Jack Black for good measure. Thankfully, this is not nearly as scary as the original, making it an easier family watch. Its sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, came out in 2019. A third installment is likely on the way.

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix
73%
8.7/10
r
136m
Genre
Action, Science Fiction
Stars
Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Directed by
Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Watch on HBO Max
The Matrix is far from the first film to look at alternate realities, but it may be the most well-known and most influential. At the turn of the century, the Wachowskis delivered the first movie of a trilogy (recently rebooted) that upended all expectations of science-fiction movies. The original film follows Neo as he discovers his world is just a simulated reality, built to harvest energy from humans. Some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history stem from The Matrix, such as the red pill versus blue pill conundrum, and the use of bullet time to enhance action scenes. The sequels and resurrection of the franchise don’t match the caliber of the original, but all are worth streaming if you’re ready to get lost in a new reality for an entire day.

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

The Butterfly Effect
30%
7.6/10
r
113m
Genre
Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars
Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz
Directed by
Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
Watch on HBO Max
One of the most oft-repeated sentiments in stories involving time travel is that it’s better to learn to live with the past and be grateful for your present. Things, after all, could always be worse. But what if the trauma you suffered as a child is unthinkable? Shouldn’t you get a pass when it comes to the conventional time-travel rules? Not according to The Butterfly Effect. Ashton Kutcher stars in the thriller as Evan, a college student whose childhood trauma includes sexual abuse and almost being murdered by his own father. So when Evan discovers that reading his childhood journal somehow gives him the ability to return to the past and change what happened, he goes for it. But the more he does it, the more unpredictable alternate futures he creates — each one more disastrous than the one before it. Worse still, years of contradicting memories begin pulverizing his mind. While critics weren’t the biggest fans of The Butterfly Effect, audiences clearly parted ways with reviewers and helped pave the way for 2006’s The Butterfly Effect 2 and 2009’s The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations.

Parallel (2018)

Parallel
5.8/10
104m
Genre
Science Fiction, Fantasy
Stars
Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Alyssa Diaz
Directed by
Isaac Ezban
Watch on Amazon
Reminiscent of 1990’s Flatliners, the thriller Parallel likewise asks a high cost from its heroes for traveling to where they shouldn’t. Not long after finding a mysterious mirror in their attic, four housemates discover that the mirror inexplicably leads to parallel universes. Two of the housemates use it to steal intellectual property, another to find a way to mend fences with his father, while one just wants to use it for sexual conquest. In each case, the housemates learn they must pay increasingly darker tolls for using the strange mirror, and it won’t be long before the cost is too high.

Palm Springs (2020)

Palm Springs
83%
7.4/10
r
90m
Genre
Comedy, Romance, Science Fiction
Stars
Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons
Directed by
Max Barbakow
Watch on Hulu
What starts off as nothing more than a goofy rom-com becomes a lot more interesting in 2020’s Palm Springs. Things are getting steamy between Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and Nyles (Andy Samberg) when the latter is shot by an arrow. Injured and warning Sarah to stay away, Nyles crawls into a nearby cave. Sarah ignores the warnings, follows Nyles, and suddenly, they’re both pulled into a powerful vortex. Sarah wakes up, and it’s the morning of November 9 — which is impossible because it just was November 9. An interesting twist on the time-loop trope, Palm Springs is much more than a Groundhog Day clone through superb writing and a much darker tone. The nihilism that just about anyone would experience in such a weird turn of events comes through a lot more clearly in Palm Springs while still proving hilarious.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's a Wonderful Life
89%
8.6/10
pg
130m
Genre
Drama, Family, Fantasy
Stars
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Directed by
Frank Capra
Watch on Amazon
This holiday mainstay probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you consider alternate reality movies, but considering the premise, it certainly fits the bill. It is, after all, an alternate timeline that is revealed to the despondent George Bailey (James Stewart) as he considers suicide. When Bailey pleads to have never been born, the wingless angel Clarence (Henry Travers) deposits him in a new version of Bedford Falls, where his absence leaves it a much more depressing place. Not only is It’s A Wonderful Life often considered one of the greatest films of all time in spite of bombing at the box office, but it also stands out as a life-affirming entry in an otherwise often dark list.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko
88%
8/10
r
114m
Genre
Fantasy, Drama, Mystery
Stars
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, James Duval
Directed by
Richard Kelly
Watch on HBO Max
Donnie Darko may very well take you more than one screening to wrap your head around. At first, Donnie Darko seems like nothing but an off-kilter tale about a mentally ill teenager and his disturbing hallucinations. But as the story unfolds, the titular hero proves to be experiencing something potentially apocalyptic involving time travel, destiny, and the creepiest rabbit suit you’re likely to see in this or any other dimension.

Coherence (2013)

Coherence
65%
7.2/10
89m
Genre
Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars
Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
Directed by
James Ward Byrkit
Watch on Amazon
Coherence is a wonderful hidden gem. Initially, the film gives us nothing more than friends gathering for a dinner party. After a comet passes overhead, however, things start going sideways as doubles of people and places appear. We don’t want to say too much because what keeps you teetering on the edge of your seat all through Coherence is the mystery of exactly what is going on.

Superman: Red Son (2020)

Superman: Red Son
6.4/10
pg-13
84m
Genre
Science Fiction, Animation, Action
Stars
Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader
Directed by
Sam Liu
Watch on HBO Max
What if, rather than landing in Kansas, the ship carrying the infant Kal-El came down in the Soviet Union? That’s the premise of the excellent animated movie Superman: Red Son, based on the 2003 DC Comics mini-series of the same name. In Red Son, Superman works for Joseph Stalin — until the Kryptonian takes the reins of the Soviet Union for himself. Along with getting to see altered versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and more, what’s most intriguing about Red Son is that while Kal-El is essentially the same guy, he is so not the same guy. In other words, this Superman is, at heart, a good man, but one raised to believe in the teachings of Stalinism. The animation and the flying and the punching may be the main reason to watch this one, but it also offers an interesting argument for how our beliefs are formed not by individualism but by the random chance of where we’re raised.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Michileen Martin

Michileen Martin has written about pop culture in general and comics in particular for two decades. His work has appeared in numerous sites including Looper, PopMatters, Popdose, and nerdbastards.com. He probably knows more about the Incredible Hulk than you.

Holden Walter-Warner

Holden is a writer with a focus on streaming service guides. He has also written content for Screen Rant and FanSided and is eagerly anticipating every Star Wars series set to debut in the coming years.

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