Memory-loss is not always the most accurately portrayed disorder depicted in the entertainment industry; even Soap Operas have been stereotyped as using amnesia for lack of an adequate writing staff. However, when it is utilized effectively, it can be a remarkably intriguing plot device which could very well instigate the whole momentum of the film at hand. With The Vow being released, we’ve decided to rank the top ten films which strictly concern Memory-Loss from Worst to Best.

10.) Shutter Island (2010)

Martin Scorsese’s noir film is undone ultimately by the incredibly foreseeable plot twist Marty wasn’t altruistic enough to avoid. However, the visually effective film manages to thrust the viewer into a cinematically lush tour through Hitchcock references with Leonardo DiCaprio as a detective who can’t remember he’s a patient, and attacks the senses so fully it is still an adequate piece of cinema. Leo’s repressed memories of what his wife did are a perfect example of how to more truthfully present memory loss and the emotional effects it can realistically accumulate in a person’s life.

9.) The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Oh, you rolled your eyes. I caught you. As far as Memory-Loss is concerned, this escapist joke of a film does still manage to apply the unique idea of Blackouts, which kicks this film up a notch above the almost equally predictable Shutter Island. That the memory losses were created from the time-jumping I personally found interesting, and memory-loss certainly had never been faced with this sci-fi angle previously. We’re only at nine, people, keep reading. (Or looking at the pictures, like most of you readers are)

8.) Finding Nemo (2003)

If there is one redeeming piece of humor from Finding Nemo which will endure even the most boring skeptic, it is the portrayal of short-term memory loss as a recurring joke throughout the film belonging to the loveable blue fish Dori, voiced by comic success Ellen DeGeneres. It becomes a major catalyst of the plot, and serves as a wonderful balance to the very serious, very worried father of Nemo. The context of Memory-Loss as a humorous thing is nowhere else portrayed so fully and with such comical edge and delivery, and indeed, is an incredibly rare depiction of such a disadvantageous disorder.

7.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Now a cult film of sorts, this exceptional piece of film expression won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. As a romantic science fiction film in which both of our characters end up volunteering for a procedure which removes any knowledge of their relationship from their minds altogether, resulting in spotless minds, the sheer originality of the premise is so overwhelming, both fiercely personal and universal in distinguishing pain and catharsis and the determination to escape issues of the heart—even by means of deliberate eradication of memory—there is no question that this film is absolutely a remarkable view of memory-loss in cinema.

6.) The Bourne Identity (2002)

No gadgets. No back-up. Jason Bourne became a cinematic explosion of superior governmental product, surpassing even Ethan Hunt as a formidable opponent. The gritty atmosphere of its source material (penned by Robert Ludlum), however much the story itself deviated, reinforces the grim nature of searching for who you are and discovering you’re an assassin for the US Government. Bourne’s amnesia is the most inopportune disadvantage imaginable for his line of work, and crafted the definitive action film of its year, and indeed of its genre. Memory-loss won’t get anymore exciting than this.

5.) Spellbound (1945)

Alfred Hitchcock, David O. Selznick, Ben Hecht, Ingrid Bergman, and Gregory Peck. Do you need to know anything else? Oh yes: the dream sequence was designed by Salvador Dali himself. The story features amnesiac patient Gregory Peck who has been accused of murdering the replacement for the head of his mental hospital. Psychoanalyst Ingrid Bergman must unlock the reasons behind his amnesia to discover if he really did kill the man while on the run with him from the police. In all the best ways, this film utilizes amnesia as a major plot device to a murder mystery in the spirit of the Noir films of the time.

4.) Marnie (1964)

If Tippi Hedren’s performance in The Birds was too adequate for you, and based on that performance alone you have judged her as an actress entirely, you have not seen this film. Just under two decades later, Hitchcock harnessed a screenplay also about Memory-Loss, in this case, Repression. Marnie, our protagonist, is afraid of thunderstorms and the color red. However, she is also a thief, and this makes for a superb sequence in which she steals from the vault of her workplace.

She is a criminal, and yet, in many emotionally sympathetic ways the disadvantage of her phobias remains sympathetic. Everything she is and everything she fears is a direct result of an event in her childhood she cannot remember, and Sean Connery, who has fallen in love with her, must fix her if she is to accept him. Memory-Loss at its most fantastic, and yet, presented with enough realism to get away with it.

3.) The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The 1960s were rich with paranoia, and Psycho is the cinematic equivalent of the tip-off, by suggesting even our bathroom—the area of highest security and privacy—is invaded. Invasion. That’s the key to this film, directed by the famous John Frankenheimer. It delineates the full threat of Communist invasion via Memory-Loss. How? Well, a Korean War POW is brainwashed by the Communists into becoming a political assassin, completely unable to recall who and what he was beforehand. Memory-Loss as a weapon—now that is a masterful application of this disorder in cinema, a wildly suspenseful and terrifyingly plausible plot device in the world of the film.

2.) Fight Club (1999)

“When you wake up in a different place at a different time, can you wake up as a different person?” So inquires the tagline for this hit cult film, fueled by a script nothing less than extraordinary and driven home by a top-notch director who puts the camera (digitally or not) in more imaginative places than just about anyone else in Hollywood. The Narrator’s incapacity to perceive time and place rationally is actually a result of Amnesia, which is the fundamental dimension of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly MPD, changed because too many claimed to have it). The inability to remember who he is allows the darker, Id personality-type to emerge and assume control. He has forgotten who he is for 90% of the film, and the sheer visceral nature of the film easily places it second on this list.

1.)  Memento (2000)

Based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan, this masterpiece of modern noir is an engaging, intellectually-driven assault on the mind which fully captures the entire depth of Memory-Loss as a premise. Christopher Nolan (Inception) helms this story in which a man, Leonard Shelby, is continually searching for the man that raped and killed his wife—but can no longer make new memories since that event, when his head was smashed into a mirror.

Using clues from his notes and tattoos he must overcome the short-term memory loss. As noir as it gets, femme fatale and all, this bluish and grim film features two separate narrative lines moving backwards and forwards—and ultimately reveals that the climax is at the very beginning of the film. It’s emotional, exciting, humorous, and a mystery with a remarkable conclusion. There is no question that this film is the definitive use of Memory-Loss as the basis for its story.

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