In 1998, Peter Weir and Andrew Niccol gave us the Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show. A psychological dramedy unlike any other, it would spark several conversations about the nature of reality television and the depravity of entertainment, and even went on to inspire psychoanalytic literature and the naming of a new form of delusion. To find more movies like The Truman Show would seem like an impossible task, given its unique premise and subsequent influence.
And yet, there are a few that do make the cut.
Best Similar Movies Like The Truman Show
The Truman Show’s most immediately-recognizable theme is its take on reality television. Just a layer beneath that, however, is its assessment of surveillance states and totalitarian control. Additionally, it offers a tertiary look at concepts like groupthink, agency, and morality.
Despite its complicated themes, it still manages to tell a cohesive story with charm and grace. Here are a few more films that offer a similar experience.
Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
The Contenders is a satirical dark comedy that takes some pretty direct shots at the modern era of reality television. The premise of the movie is simple: six contenders will be selected to battle to the death. The reigning champion must then compete once again in the following series, and if they win three in a row, they’re free of the games for good. Anyone who tries to escape will be killed.
The movie might seem quite similar to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. But it gains a unique edge owing to the choice to showcase the events as if they were part of a reality television show. The audience is only given as much information as one might reasonably expect from a reality show’s seventh iteration. The contestants seemingly accept their fate, none choosing to rebel in any way. And the audiences cheer for their brutal demise.
Contenders, while offering satire also delivers quite a punch with its depiction of the shamelessness of reality shows. But its target isn’t the reality genre itself: it is the viewers who revel in other people’s misery.
Real Life (1979)
Comedian Albert Brooks stars in this parody of the reality show, The American Family. Playing himself, Brooks lives with and films a dysfunctional family for a year, becoming increasingly involved in their lives, often to dangerous ends.
What makes this film interesting is instead of focusing solely on the subjects in the show – the family – it also follows the person on the other side of the lends. And Brooks’ journey from leading the show despite its potential inhumanity to being the one who ultimately loses his mind trying to cope makes for an interesting arc.
Death Watch (1980)
Leaning even more heavily into a critique of the reality genre is Death Watch. Set in a future where dying from an illness is as rare as seeing a unicorn, the film follows Katherine, a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness which makes her a global spectacle.
A reality crew, enthralled by her suffering, offers her money so they can film her slow death. They also go a step further and have her doctor prescribe her medication that will kill her faster instead of help relieve her pain.
Katherine goes on the run to escape the merciless eyes of the public, but the crew makes increasingly inhumane attempts to track and record her. Where many movies like The Truman Show take more comical approaches to the same subject, Death Watch presents it in all its disgusting reality.
The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix was a groundbreaking film that shifted how we viewed not just dystopian science fiction in film but our perceptions in real life as well.
The movie straddles two worlds: “reality” which is actually a simulation and actual reality, which is a leather-laden cyberpunk futuristic dystopia where humans and intelligent machines are at war. Thomas Anderson, under his hacker alias Neo, finds himself in the middle of this battle. And he has very little time to make sense of it all before the machines try to eliminate him.
This movie, like The Truman Show and the rest of this list, tackles some heavy topics. Determinism, free will, groupthink, and premeditated futures and choices all factor into the philosophy of The Matrix. And at the core of it all is the message of freedom.
Movies Like The Truman Show and The Matrix
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
One cannot discuss the legacy of The Matrix films without also addressing the work that inspired it: Ghost in the Shell.
This neo-noir cyberpunk anime – itself adapted from Masamune Shirow’s manga of the same name – would serve as inspiration for the Wachowskis, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and many more.
What made this movie so influential? Aside from its gorgeous animation, Ghost in the Shell also tackled deep philosophical concepts, the most important one being identity. After all, in a world where the lines between man and machine are blurred beyond recognition, what makes us human, really?
This central theme carries through the entire Ghost in the Shell franchise, offering one of the most intriguing works on identity thus far.
Minority Report (2001)
In 2054, the specialized police department Precrime uses psychic foreknowledge to apprehend criminals before they even commit a crime. When one of their own is accused of a murder that hasn’t happened yet, he goes on the run. And along the way, he uncovers cracks in the system that make him question everything he has ever known.
A high-octane ride, Minority Report earned significant praise for a variety of reasons, its themes being a major one. While seemingly being a science fiction action flick, Minority Report is also a tech-noir thriller with an insightful critique on politics, totalitarianism, preventative justice, surveillance states, determinism, and individual agency.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Cube is a science fiction horror film set, unsurprisingly, in a cube. Individuals awake to find themselves trapped in it, unaware of how they got there. Any attempt to escape leaves them face to face with a fatal trap. They must use their wits to escape the labyrinth. How far will they get?
Often hailed as an underrated horror film, Cube is as much a visual treat as it is a treat for the horror aficionado. The film has sometimes been criticized for what it chooses not to tell its audience, but most would argue that’s what makes it compelling.
The Truman Show’s big reveal sets in motion the titular character’s escape. In Cube, however, the reveal does not matter. Instead, what grips you are the choices people make when their survival is threatened.
Movies Like The Truman Show on Netflix
Netflix has earned a reputation for its ability to bring all kinds of content to a wider audience. Thanks to that, movies that might have slipped past you before are now getting their day to shine.
Here are a few movies like The Truman Show currently on Netflix.
Nerve stars Dave Franco and Emma Roberts as two participants in an online game of truth or dare. Seemingly harmless, the game in actuality involves an audience of “watchers” who suggest increasingly dangerous dares to up the ante.
Nerve’s premise is simple enough, as it tackles the perils of the internet equivalent of reality shows. But what makes it an interesting watch is seeing the lengths an audience will go to in order to be entertained. Additionally, its choice to have its leads be teenagers adds to its message.
And beyond all that, the film is also a really entertaining techno-thriller that will keep you hooked, wondering just how far its characters will go to win. Ironically enough.
Lens is a bilingual South Indian thriller drama. It centers on Aravind, a man addicted to voyeurism who gets a lot more than he bargained for when the online world takes him hostage.
While certainly not without its flaws, Lens does have its merits. The subject’s seemingly perverted sexual desires are, ultimately, just the facade. The film’s real beauty lies in its ability to showcase how a perfectly regular individual might end up losing themselves to a convoluted game of online thrills.
Circle opens with fifty people in a room, each on a designated platform. When they try to break formation, they die. Thereafter, every two minutes, someone is killed. When the group soon realizes they get to vote on who dies, it begins a game of wits.
Like Cube, Circle features an unseen “villain” and a game of survival. But where Cube focused on the struggle itself, Circle tries something different with its ending.
The Truman Show gives us reprieve in Truman’s escape. The Matrix offers us a choice. The Contenders leaves us horrified. Cube allows us to decide how it ends. Circle, however, offers no real answer, no reprieve, and no solution to the themes it presents. The “villains” don’t really matter. The circles don’t matter.
What does matter are the choices made. Because when the sole survivor finally exits their prison, the choices they made are etched onto them like a badge of dishonor. And now, the whole world knows just who they really are.
Depravity is in The Eye of the Beholder
Let’s face it: the reality genre is as soul-crushing as it is addictive. With the era of streaming, it’s easier to access content without having to expose your guilty pleasures to the world. Ultimately, there’s joy in watching someone else’s “reality” as a way to escape from your own.
The Truman Show was one of a kind. It took the subject of its “reality show” and transformed him from spectacle to sympathetic lead. You root for him to break free, you feel the catharsis when he does. Yet, this is also the most optimistic version of this tale. As this list of movies like The Truman Show demonstrates, the reality is far more gruesome when the lines between real life and fiction blend.
But that’s a tale for another time.
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