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10 Best Doppelgänger Horror Movies

Some of the scariest films involve doppelgängers. These ten offer a mirror to the tragic failure of humanity. Don’t look away.
Doppelganger Horror Collage
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2020

5. Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock

Doppelgängers and doubles are prominent in a few of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, but Vertigo is the most twisted and exciting of the bunch. Often cited as the director’s most personal film, Vertigo is the earliest example of doppelgänger horror on this list and stars James Stewart as a detective who gets hired to retrieve his friend’s wife. But he’s obsessed with the woman who isn’t real. When he meets her double, he spirals out of control and makes her start dressing like the so-called imaginary woman he fell in love with. While Vertigo hints at the supernatural, there’s a perfectly plausible explanation for the double at the end. However, the real horror lies in its examination of a broken and twisted psyche. It’s utterly haunting. (Kieran Fisher)

4. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive David Lynch

At first glance, Mulholland Drive is about doppelgängers and doubles, but as its labyrinthine plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that what is truly at play is the fracturing of the self. The divisions in identity here are perhaps not created by film but are certainly fostered by cinema as both an industry and a visual medium. David Lynch’s magnum opus is a richly complex take on personal identity and interpersonal relationships that, even on umpteenth viewings, continues to possess a beautiful unknowability. Fittingly, Mulholland Drive on its own could be one hell of a double feature. Any viewing will create the desire to immediately re-watch and with so much at play, the experience will never be the same as it was the last time. (Anna Swanson)

3. Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation Alex Garland doppelgänger horror

To adequately discuss the doppelgängers of Annihilation is to inherently spoil the film, so if you haven’t seen Alex Garland’s blending of sci-fi, horror, and philosophical ideations on life: what are you doing? Go watch it now. Are you back? Great. When we are first presented with the alterna-Kane (Oscar Isaac), we don’t know he is an alien double like the one Lena (Natalie Portman) squares off against in the finale. Rather, in a way that is surely an explanation for the doppelgänger phenomenon through history, we believe Kane’s changed behavior is some form of post-traumatic stress, not unlike a soldier coming back from war (which we know Kane has via flashback). His reality has been inextricably altered in an extraterrestrial world, but as we learn, that’s not all that’s been changed. Ultimately, Annihilation is just an LSD-soaked version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where something from the stars plans to take us over, slowly and methodically. But what makes the annihilation entity far scarier than the pod people is that they want to do more than just change humans, they want to alter the very fabric of reality on Earth. Gotta admit, nowadays that doesn’t sound half bad, right? (Jacob Trussell)

2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Final Shot doppelgänger horror

Jack Finney’s acclaimed novel The Body Snatchers has seen numerous adaptations over the years, both official and otherwise. None, though, have captured doppelgänger horror and the fear of losing your identity or the identity of loved ones so horrifyingly as Philip Kaufman‘s late ’70s masterpiece of paranoia. An alien invasion has begun, but rather than obliterate humanity with lasers and rectal probes, these crafty visitors are beating humanity at its own game — by becoming us. People are copied and discarded fleshy bags of trash while their copy incubates and awakens fully formed. Are they better than you? Than us? Probably, but it’s their adherence to conformity that dooms our own species to extinction. Hmm, maybe there’s a lesson there… Like John Carpenter’s film below, this is top-tier horror appearing on more than one of this year’s lists, and its effect is no less powerful no matter how many times we watch. (Rob Hunter)

1. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter The Thing doppelgänger horror

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a movie that never exhausts. A Halloween doesn’t pass without a dozen or so film writers championing its brilliance. It’s a masterpiece, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree (and if you do, I wouldn’t trust them, because they’re probably the Thing). For me, with every watch, a new piece of dread becomes my focus. Some might not think of this as doppelgänger horror, but on this recent viewing, I found my stomach churning early as Blair (Wilford Brimley) conducts his autopsy of the mangled, burnt creature, and the genetic calculations start to formulate. If this alien lifeform can perfectly replicate a human, would it even know that it was not human? Meaning, would you know you’re not human? Is the Thing the double, or are you? This impossible knowledge is the ultimate scare of the film, and as Kurt Russell and Keith David sit across from each other in the final moments of the movie, the questions of their biology churn your stomach. If you can even claim your stomach to be your stomach. (Brad Gullickson)

Now that you and your double have read and enjoyed this list twice, maybe it’s time for even more 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)