Tenet is a sci-fi spy film, directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s a mind-bending thriller that follows a man only known as The Protagonist. After unknowingly taking a fake suicide pill to escape torturous mercenaries, The Protagonist discovers Tenet.
A shady organization, Tenet, recruits The Protagonist to hunt down bullets that invert entropy; that means they travel backward in time. After meeting his handler, Neil, they travel to Mumbai to track down an arms dealer, Priya Singh, who is suspected of having the bullets.
Tracking down Priya is only the first step in their mission to hunt down a Russian oligarch with precognitive abilities who plans to use the bullets to start the Third World War.
This film is fast-paced and fascinating. It’s up there with many of Nolan’s greats. While it’s been described as ‘preposterous’ by many, its ideas are compelling. If you’re able to suspend your disbelief, it’s a fun romp to be enjoyed by sci-fi and action fans alike. Just bear in mind that there can be a lot of ‘metaphysical babble’ at times.
This film has action, sci-fi, espionage, and globe-trotting. It sounds like a strange combination. You might finish watching, and think that you’ll never find anything like it again. Well, don’t worry. This list includes 12 of the best movies like Tenet. Ready for your next mind-bending adventure? Read on…
12 Best Movies like Tenet
1. Memento (2000)
English 1h 53m IMDb
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Let’s start with a Nolan classic, Memento. Instead of actual time travel, the audience travels backward through the story, as we’re given snippets of Guy Pearce’s Leonard’s hunt for his wife’s killer. The story-telling style is disorientating and perfectly encapsulates Leonard’s short-term memory loss.
Just like him, we begin with nothing to orient us but the tattoos on his body. Slowly, the story reveals that no one in this story is quite what they seem. With an 8.4 on IMDb, there’s little to criticize about this film. It keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
The only thing is that Memento is a little slower than Tenet, being more in the style of a film noir than a spy thriller. Although there are a few scenes with a gun-toting Guy Pearce to get your adrenaline pumping.
2. Predestination (2014)
English (Australia) 1h 37m IMDb
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
In Predestination, Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent on the cusp of retirement. For his final assignment, he must track down his nemesis: a criminal who’s repeatedly escaped him throughout time. The opening is exciting.
It’s electric and it keeps you hooked. Hawke’s character buzzes alongside the beguiling John, played by Sarah Snook, who takes on several different identities throughout time. The story throughout is compelling but gets a little slow during the second quarter.
There’s a lot of ‘tell’ and not much ‘show’. But then the story picks up in the second half, as the layers start to be peeled back and your mind starts to melt. In the end, your brain explodes, trying to comprehend it all.
There’s a lot to take in in this film and, while the pacing makes it a little hard to follow at times, Hawke and Snook carry you along expertly.
3. Spectre (2015)
English 2h 28m IMDb
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux
Now for more of a spy classic. Daniel Craig returns in his fourth James Bond film. In it, he follows a trail of clues from a cryptic message from his past that leads him to find the shady organization known only as SPECTRE. He goes on to learn who has been behind all of his pain in his recent missions.
This film is very stylish, set in beautiful locations. There are some heart-racing action sequences, like a supercar chase in Rome, and an epic pre-credits scene in Mexico City. To top it off, Christophe Waltz is perfect as Blofeld.
The main downsides to the story are that Waltz is a little underused and there are moments where you can tell that Craig is getting bored of the character. Oh, and there’s no time travel. Otherwise, it’ll scratch that spy/thriller itch.
4. The Game (1997)
English 2h 9m IMDb
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn
As it seems like harmless fun, Michael Douglas’ wealthy investment banker agrees to take part in The Game. As the game begins to turn his life inside out, he begins to question whether it is just a game, or a trap set to destroy him.
Unless you’re truly very rich, this film is pretty far-fetched. But that doesn’t matter, as the all-star cast, suspenseful writing and gripping directing make up for it. It has the same sense of intrigue as Tenet, with similar, heart-stopping action.
However, the denouement of the film is a little unbelievable by the standards of the film. Otherwise, it’s full of outstanding performances and a gripping premise.
5. Inside Man (2006)
English 2h 9m IMDb
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster
This one’s got a police detective, a high-powered broker, and a bank robber. While it sounds like the opening to a corny joke, it’s the premise of a gripping Spike Lee film. In it, the unlikely team must enter a high-stakes negotiation to save civilians after a genius heist turns into a hostage negotiation.
As usual, Lee’s one-of-a-kind directing is on its level. Denzel Washington makes an excellent turn as the good guy cop, with Clive Owen playing the super-intelligent criminal. It’s also a relief to see Owen avoid the ‘crazy’ criminal trope, opting for a more understated performance.
The only real downside is that it feels a little smug. It feels like the writing around Owen’s character focuses too much on making him seem clever, rather than on him being so. Some of the plans are more complicated than they need to be.
6. Dark City (1998)
English 1h 40m IMDb
Director: Alex Proyas
Stars: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly
Set in a mysterious future city, a man is surrounded by mysteries. Not only is it unclear where he is, but he is plagued by memories of his past, which include a wife he has no memory of.
He’s also being chased by a police inspector who suspects him of murder, and we, the audience, don’t know who to trust. The story is set in a rich, film noir-esque world that is explored throughout the story.
It’s really clear while watching it, why it’s considered an underappreciated classic, trapped in the shadow of The Matrix. The only downside is that, while satisfyingly mind-bending most of the time, it can be a little confusing.
The ending makes many of the mysteries clear, but more could be done to clarify the rest. However, it’s a complex story, and many of the ideas are difficult to express cinematically.
7. Primer (2004)
English 1h 17m IMDb
Director: Shane Carruth
Stars: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden
Four budding entrepreneurs and friends fight over a new invention. They know that there’s something bigger in the world than the error-checking machines that they’ve built. On the face of it, you’d think this would be a bad film.
It’s not easy to follow, there are no clear good guys or bad guys, and the production values have some issues. However, the story is so gripping, that none of that matters.
While there’s a sci-fi element to the story, it’s not really about that. It’s about the relationships between the characters. It’ll keep you up talking for hours, theorizing about what’s going on. It’s confusing, but it makes perfect sense.
8. Deja Vu (2006)
English 2h 6m IMDb
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel
This story twists and turns, and makes you wonder if you’ve been here before. It’s the story of an ATF agent who becomes obsessed with one of the victims of a ferry bombing in New Orleans that he has been assigned to investigate.
He investigates using a new piece of technology that allows him to observe the past, exactly as it happened. While it’s a sci-fi movie, it applies a fairly sober treatment of the genre, with very few CGI special effects, and a lot of character-driven drama.
However, the action doesn’t let up for a moment. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all lasers and explosions. It means that the story is full of narrative tension that keeps you hooked throughout the film.
9. Run Lola Run (1998)
German 1h 21m IMDb
Director: Tom Tykwer
Stars: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup
Lola really runs in this movie. After a botched money delivery, Lola must retrieve 100,000 Deutschmarks to help her petty criminal boyfriend. And she has 20 minutes to do it, which explains the running.
This film is so fast-paced, by the end you’ll feel like you’ve been running with her. It’s told at a pace that makes most music videos seem like they were shot in slow motion, and adeptly tells three versions of the same story that keeps you guessing until the final frame.
The action keeps you hooked, with a stunning soundtrack and expert editing. While there’s no time travel or espionage in this film, per se, it does have a similar pace to Tenet, and a mind-bending premise that’ll scratch the same itch.
10. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
English 1h 40m IMDb
Director: Josef Rusnak
Stars: Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Armin Mueller-Stahl
The Thirteenth Floor is a classic of the cyber-punk era of the late nineties/early noughties sci-fi. But don’t expect The Matrix. There’s virtually no CGI and no kung fu. In it, a computer scientist who runs a virtual reality simulation of 1937 becomes the prime suspect when his mentor is murdered.
Although it’s a science fiction film at heart, it holds up well as a whodunnit. While the story is complex, it’s told with coherence, as the characters drift between the real world and a simulation of 1937 Los Angeles.
As the story progresses, it becomes less and less clear what is reality and what is a simulation. The only downside is that the acting can come off as a little flat at times, and the violence and love story both seem a little forced. Otherwise, it’s a great film.
11. Coherence (2013)
English 1h 29m IMDb
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Stars: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
As a group of friends gathers for a quiet dinner together, a comment passes overhead. Strange things start to happen as the night progresses. It’s a great example of what can be achieved with imaginative directing and very little budget.
Populated by a cast of relative unknowns, it only took five days to shoot, but it doesn’t feel like it. It has all of the suspense and intrigue of a big-budget film. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story that make sense, and it doesn’t crumble under the weight of its own ambition.
The only real downside is that the twist ending feels a little rushed, and it feels like it was put in for the sake of it Otherwise, Coherence is a slow-burning psychological thriller that will scratch the same mind-bending itch that Tenet did.
12. Time Crimes (2007)
Spanish 1h 32m IMDb
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga
What a difference an hour can make. That’s something the protagonist learns in this time-traveling thriller. After accidentally going back in time an hour, a series of disasters ensue for him. I must warn you; the first few minutes of this film are dreadful.
But stick with it. If you do, you’ll watch one of the most exciting and innovative time travel movies out there. While the acting and the low budget can be off-putting in the first few minutes of the film, they become what makes this film work.
It grounds the film and really drives home the fact that none of this was created by a classic hero or an evil supervillain. It was created by an ordinary guy being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you liked Tenet because it’s outside the box, there’s something here for you.
And there you have it. The 12 best movies like Tenet. Some espionage junkies, some for sci-fi lovers, and some for thriller addicts. There are even some that span genres in the same way. While we all feel that hole inside us when a truly gripping movie has ended, hopefully, this list will help you.