What to Watch Instead of ‘Tenet’ as You Wait for Time to Invert

Warner Bros. Tenet Release Date Christopher Nolan
With an uncertain future for Tenet, audiences need capable substitutes. Warner Bros.

Another day, another release date for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. This time around, the $200 million blockbuster is tenetively (see what I did there?) set to debut in 70 countries overseas on August 26 before hitting domestic theaters on September 3. Whether or not those dates actually hold is as much of a mystery as the actual plot of Tenet.

Instead of relying on Nolan to save the day after repeated delays, it’s time to start entertaining ourselves. The filmmaker is arguably the biggest directorial name in Hollywood at the moment thanks to his ability to marry blockbuster entertainment with multi-layered plots, weighty thematics and high-concept sci-fi (like the “inversion” of time that’s been teased in Tenet). He thrives by delivering ongoing mysteries that encourage the viewer to try and solve the puzzle for themselves. But he isn’t the only entertainer to craft mind-bending tales that capture our attention and stimulate our imagination.

As we wait for Tenet to finally arrive in theaters, here are three movies and three TV series that could provide similar thrills.


What Is It: Netflix’s first German-language original television series, which ran for three seasons.

What’s It About: A missing child sets four families on a frantic hunt for answers as they unearth a mind-bending mystery that spans three generations.

Why It’s Awesome: If you think Christopher Nolan enjoys deploying time as a narrative weapon, you haven’t seen anything yet. Dark plays out across multiple time periods with legacies and lineages connecting all of the major players in not so obvious ways. It’s an exercise to keep every character and time period straight. But like any good workout, you come out of it feeling a sense of accomplishment. Essentially, Dark is the second-coming of Lost.

Watch it: Netflix.

Vanilla Sky

What Is It: Director Cameron Crowe and star Tom Cruise’s trippy and divisive 2001 thriller.

What’s It About: The story of a young New York City publishing magnate who finds himself on an unexpected roller-coaster ride of romance, comedy, suspicion, love, sex and dreams in a mind-bending search for his soul.

Why It’s Awesome: Vanilla Sky remains a polarizing picture, with defenders and detractors aplenty. But it arrived at a time when Tom Cruise was still interested in working with singular filmmakers with unique visions and seeking out boundary-pushing material. The film will make you question what is real and what is fantasy. But the truth is that anything that molds you into who you are is truly real—a lesson Vanilla Sky imparts in non-linear fashion.

Watch it: Starz

Mr. Robot

What Is It: USA Network’s four-season mind fuck of a TV series.

What’s It About: A young cyber-security engineer who becomes involved in the underground hacker group fsociety, after being recruited by their mysterious leader.

Why It’s Awesome: Great performances from leads Rami Malek and Christian Slater help ground the wholly unique sensory experience that is Mr. Robot. Creator Sam Esmail is easily the most visionary filmmaker of the small screen, crafting a visually daring aesthetic to go along with the undercurrent of WTF-ness that flows through Mr. Robot. It’s Hannibal meets Fight Club and well worth your time.

Watch it: Amazon Prime Video


What Is It: South Korean 2003 neo-noir action thriller directed by Park Chan-wook. Don’t let the subtitles stop you.

What’s It About: Dae-Su is an obnoxious drunk bailed from the police station yet again by a friend. However, he’s abducted from the street and wakes up in a cell, where he remains for the next 15 years. Suddenly, he’s released and is invited to track down his jailor.

Why It’s Awesome: The less you know about the specifics going in, the better. All you need to know is that Oldboy features some of the very best and most realistic action sequences of the last 20 years. Oh, an don’t watch it with your family.

Watch it: Shudder


What Is It: Starz’s two-season TV series starring the incomparable J.K. Simmons.

What’s It About: What if there was another you? Howard Silk, a low-level agent at a spy agency, discovers the answer after finding that his company is hiding a gateway to a parallel dimension.

Why It’s Awesome: J.K. Simmons pulls double duty as both a mild-mannered pencil pusher at a secretive organization and his badass spy doppleganger from another dimension. Audiences must keep track of two sets of characters in two separate worlds, but it’s one helluva chess game. Had Counterpart aired on a different network, it would have been a much more buzzed about series.

Watch it: Starz

The Illusionist

What Is It: Edward Norton’s 2006 romantic mystery thriller co-starring Paul Giamatti and Jessia Biel.

What’s It About: Eisenheim is a brilliant stage magician, the greatest illusionist Vienna has ever seen. When his childhood friendship with Duchess Sophie von Teschen, now betrothed to the power-hungry Crown Prince Leopold, is rekindled he finds himself a target for the Prince’s anger.

Why It’s Awesome: Often overlooked due to its close proximity and similarities to Nolan’s own The PrestigeThe Illusionist is a slick and enchanting mystery that leaves you wondering about the nature of Eisenheim’s talents. It’s a love story hidden under the veil of a murder mystery whodunnit with a satisfying twist that rewrites the story.

Watch it: IMDb TV through Amazon Prime Video (for free) What to Watch Instead of ‘Tenet’ as You Wait for Time to Invert