At some point, we’ve all been shocked by that plot twist where two characters are actually the same person. Whether it’s called schizophrenia, multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder, it’s a strong tool for inciting drama, conflict, and horror.
When done poorly, split personalities can cause any otherwise mediocre or passable movie to fall apart with incredulity. But when it’s done well, split personalities have the ability to bend the rules and create otherwise impossible narratives.
Here are the best movies with multiple personalities and personality disorders that are actually done well.
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10. Clean, Shaven (1995)
Peter Greene stars in Clean, Shaven as a schizophrenic man recently released from a mental institution. A danger to both himself and others, he incessantly believes he’s being tracked, cutting “transmitters” out of his head and isolating himself from the outside world.
Plagued by horrifying sounds, Peter ends up the suspect in a murder investigation when trying to find his daughter. Lodge Kerrigan directs this painful and disjointed drama, blurring the lines between what is real and what is imagined—just as our protagonist does.
9. Words on Bathroom Walls (2020)
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Words on Bathroom Walls follows the young and bright (and also schizophrenic) Adam, played by Charlie Plummer.
In his senior year of high school, Adam must juggle his schoolwork, love life, and passion for cooking, all while dealing with the numerous side effects of his medication.
When he isn’t drugged up on prescription pills, Adam is stalked by his hallucinatory companions who are fighting away “The Darkness” that creeps into his mind.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal, this coming-of-age tale is the most uplifting movie on this list of movies about personality disorders, balancing the turmoil of mental illness with optimism and hope.
8. Identity (2003)
James Mangold’s psychological thriller Identity puts a big twist on the classic whodunit mystery movie genre.
When ten strangers are caught in a storm and seek refuge at a motel, they learn that they’re being killed off, one by one. And as the title suggests, Identity is all about one question: who’s killing everyone?!
John Cusack leads the ensemble cast as a limo driver hellbent on finding the murderer. Is it the convict? The prostitute? Or the nine-year-old boy? It all leads to a Clue-like investigation.
And one of the suspects is found to have several distinct personalities due to their dissociative identity disorder, making Identity one of the best movies with multiple personalities.
7. Primal Fear (1996)
A courtroom drama unlike any other, Primal Fear has viewers on the fence regarding murder suspect Aaron Stampler’s innocence.
Edward Norton plays the stuttering, sweet-natured altar boy who’s accused of savagely killing a priest. Yet when placed under questioning, he has a breakdown and his alter ego takes over: a vicious sociopath named Roy.
Guilty or not guilty? Insane or responsible? These are the questions defense attorney Martin Vail, played by Richard Gere, must answer. But in any case involving multiple personalities, nothing is clear-cut.
6. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A Beautiful Mind is a biographical drama that’s not entirely accurate—but still thoroughly enjoyable—that won multiple Oscar awards back in 2002, including Best Picture.
In it, Russell Crowe depicts the troubled life of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., who suffered schizophrenia and autism. Nash is forced to choose between keeping his brains and his hallucinations, or undergoing brutal treatments (including shock therapy) that ultimately numb his intellectual talents.
Directed by Ron Howard, this tender drama is both a celebration of genius and a glimpse into the harsh reality of mental illness.
5. Split (2016)
Director M. Night Shyamalan is famously hit-or-miss, able to create masterpiece films like The Sixth Sense and insanely disappointing let-downs like The Last Airbender.
But with Split—and the other two films in the series, Unbreakable and Glass—Shyamalan demonstrates a return to form, showing off his directorial abilities with one of his best movies yet.
Split brought actor James McAvoy’s fame to new heights as he delivers an impressive performance as a kidnapper diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. McAvoy seamlessly transitions between his 24 unique alter egos within a matter of seconds.
From the sophisticated motherly figure Patricia to the nine-year-old boy Hedwig, Split is a dark and gritty mystery thriller that still manages to have fun exploring its different identities.
4. Take Shelter (2011)
Take Shelter is a nuanced and utterly absorbing character study starring Michael Shannon as a quiet family man who believes a storm is coming. Nightmares and hallucinations form a kind of sixth sense within him, and he begins to obsessively build a storm shelter.
Due to his family history of schizophrenia, he—and everyone around him—questions his reality. Is his paranoia justified, or is it simply a destructive force of mental illness?
Director Jeff Nichols never fully answers this question, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions from the ambiguous final scene.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
Who could forget the time-bending (and mind-bending) cult classic movie Donnie Darko?
Written and directed by Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko effectively launched Jake Gyllenhaal’s career with his portrayal of the disturbed Donnie, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
I’m not sure what’s more unsettling: hallucinating a giant bunny rabbit named Frank, or being told the world will end in exactly 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
Tangent universes, prophesies, and neurotic illusions obscure the film’s meaning and provide a lot to chew on. Film buffs still debate the merits and elements of Donnie Darko to this day.
2. Shutter Island (2010)
Of the many collaborations between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island is undoubtedly a fan favorite.
Set on a creepy island that’s home to the world’s most insane criminals, US Marshal Teddy Daniels is tasked with finding an escaped inmate who drowned her three children.
As the investigation grows more complicated, Teddy is increasingly pressured to face the truth he’s been avoiding.
Scorsese hints to this famous plot twist through some clever camerawork throughout the movie, where the conspiracy is made clear when you go back for repeat viewings.
1. Fight Club (1999)
There’s no way a list about movies with multiple personalities would be complete without including David Fincher’s infamous Fight Club. The cultural impact of this dark comedy goes beyond anything we can fit here, but it does earn its place in the number one spot.
Edward Norton leads as an unnamed insomniac automobile specialist who quits his job to begin a “fight club” with oddball buddy Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt.
By the end, he’s stunned to find himself the leader of an anti-capitalist terrorist gang, unaware that Tyler has merely been a projection of himself the entire time.
Like Scorsese, Fincher subtly points to his personality disorder through some savvy editing… so keep your eyes peeled!