‘Inception’ Was Almost a Horror Film Instead of Sci-Fi

Eleven years after it debuted in theaters, Inception came to Netflix in August. This makes it the perfect time to revisit this movie that shook up audiences and left its mark on the film industry.

More than a decade later, fans can’t agree on important points about what happened at the end of the mind-bending thriller. But many don’t know that the entire movie could have been different. Writer and director Christopher Nolan first wrote the screenplay as a horror film. 

A very unique movie

Inception is one of those movies that people still talk about years after it came out. According to Mental Floss, it’s not just because no one can agree on what the end means (Was it a dream? Was it real? Is Cobb dead?), but also because the plot is so intricate. 

The story unfolds across ever-increasingly complex levels of dreams. Because so much of it takes place in dreams, Nolan intentionally gave the scenes a surreal look. During filming, even the actors sometimes had to look at the costumes to figure out what part of the movie they were in. 

“If in doubt, I could just look at my shoes and say, ‘Oh! I know which dream I’m in,'” explained Tom Hardy, who played Eames

To help everyone else keep the different dream levels straight, they took place in different settings. For example, one happened in the rain, one in the snow, and another one was inside at night. 

Partly because of the intricate storyline, Nolan took a long time to bring his vision to the big screen. He just wasn’t sure if he was experienced enough to tackle such a complex project.

‘Inception’ was almost a horror film

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan | Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic

According to Movie Web, Nolan first had the idea for Inception in 2005. At the time, he had recently finished making Insomnia, which he also wrote and directed. Perhaps because he was still thinking about the dark nature of that project, he originally planned to write the new screenplay as a horror movie. 

He wrote a first draft of the movie, but then he decided that he wasn’t ready yet to do the idea justice. He shelved the script and went on to work on three other hit movies: Batman BeginsThe Prestige, and The Dark Knight

With that experience under his belt, Nolan came back to his original idea. He explained later that he was interested in “the idea of people sharing a dream space… That gives you the ability to access somebody’s unconscious mind. What would that be used and abused for?”

It took six months of rewriting and revising the screenplay before he was ready to move forward with the project. 

It became an iconic part of cinematic history

Nolan’s strange, compelling thriller about highly skilled thieves who slip into people’s dreams made a huge impact. It was the fourth highest-grossing movie of 2010. Many critics still consider it to be one of the best movies of that year. 

Vox reports that the influence of Inception was seen everywhere. It showed up in dozens of memes. Shows like The Simpsons and South Park did parodies of the movie. And to this day, people are still talking about what the ending really meant. 

In the end, Nolan’s decision to take Inception in a different direction paid off. Although the surreal, threatening feeling of the story would have worked well as a horror movie, the thriller he created instead has had an enduring impact. 

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