Memory loss has been used as a storytelling trope in many films throughout history, often because it provides plenty of opportunity for added drama and unpredictable endings. Here’s a closer look at some movies about memory loss that you’ll definitely remember.
1. Before I Go to Sleep
This thriller, based on the novel of the same name by S.J. Watson, stars Nicole Kidman as a woman who wakes up every day with no memory of her life as a result of a horrific past accident. But when scary new details start to emerge, it forces her to question everything that she believes she knows about her life, as well as the people in it like her husband (Colin Firth) and doctor (Mark Strong). The film was directed and written by Rowan Joffé.
2. The Vow
The 2012 romantic drama starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams is inspired by the story of real-life couple Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. McAdams plays Paige Collins, a woman who suffers brain trauma as a result of a car accident just ten weeks after her wedding. The injuries erase all memories of not just her marriage, but also her entire relationship with her husband, Leo (Tatum). Though the movie didn’t receive particularly positive reviews from critics, it was a box office success. After debuting at No. 1 in its opening weekend, it went on to gross a worldwide total of over $196 million, making it the sixth highest grossing romantic drama film of all time.
3. The Bourne Trilogy
The first installment of one of the most popular action film franchises, it was based on Robert Ludlum’s novels and debuted in 2002. The movie stars Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a man who suffers from retrograde amnesia and attempts to discover his true identity over the course of three films with follow-ups, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007. Each of the flicks amped up the action and garnered a devoted following that eventually culminated in the highest growing August opening ever (a record that was later overtaken by Guardians of the Galaxy).
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This beloved, award-winning flick follows former lovers Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) who hire someone to erase all the memories of their relationship after a particularly bad fight. But as he undergoes the process, Joel finds himself revisiting the memories in reverse, and upon seeing some of the happier times, tries to preserve at least some memory of Clementine and his love for her. The film was met with overwhelming critical acclaim and its writers went on to the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
5. Total Recall
Ironically, this original famous 1990 sci-fi action films stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his most memorable roles. The actor plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who discovers that he is actually a secret agent formerly named Carl Hauser. His character must then travel to Mars in order to uncover his true identity and figure out why his memory was erased. The flick was a success both critically and commercially, earning a 84 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and debuting at No. 1 at the box office. The film eventually grossed over $261.2 million worldwide. A Total Recall remake was made in 2012 starring Colin Farrell.
6. 50 First Dates
The 2004 rom-com film garnered a lot of attention before its release, mostly because it marked the second collaboration between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (with the first being The Wedding Singer). The flick follows Henry Roth, a marine veterinarian known for being a womanizer, as he tries to win over Lucy Whitmore, a woman who suffers from short-term memory loss due to a car accident. Every day he must come up with new, creative ways to “meet” her and remind her of her feelings for him. Though the movie is a fairly typical rom-com, it has plenty of funny moments and earned more at the box office (about $196.3 million) than the duo’s third and most recent collaboration, Blended.
7. Finding Nemo
Probably one of the most memory challenged characters of all time is Pixar’s Blue Tang fish Dory. The heartwarming animated film follows clownfish Marlin as he attempts to find his son, Nemo. Though Dory’s short-term memory isn’t the main storyline of the film, it acts as a major and repeated plot point throughout the movie, both for comedic effect and for added drama (when Dory forgets crucial facts). The Academy Award-winning film is not only critically acclaimed, it’s also one of the most adored and best selling animated movies of all time. A sequel, centered specifically on Dory, is set for release in 2016.
The 2000 mystery psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia and is unable to store any new memories as the result of an attack by two men. In order to find the identity of the second attacker, he uses his own system of notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos. The movie is memorable for its unique presentation, which is split into two timelines — one in color and one in black and white. The movie was met with a hugely positive critical reaction and was eventually nominated for Original Screenplay and Editing at the Oscars. It was also considered a box office success, earning $39.7 million worldwide.