24 Years Ago, Forgotten $104 Million Sci-Fi Thriller Did 'Inception' Better Than Nolan

24 Years Ago, Forgotten $104 Million Sci-Fi Thriller Did 'Inception' Better Than Nolan
Image credit: Warner Bros., globallookpress

Ok, maybe not better…but it came close!


  • Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who likes to take risks.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio helped make Inception a success.
  • J-Lo had her own attempt at a psychological sci-fi thriller, and it ain’t bad at all.

Christopher Nolan is known for his groundbreaking cinematography. You only have to look at the number of awards Oppenheimer has collected to see that. But Inception was something else entirely.

A surreal heist movie that delivers on every level

Trying to fit Inception into a specific genre is difficult. It's a heist movie, a sci-fi movie, and something of a film noir with a certain... well Nolanesqueness to it.

Of course, none of that really matters when you consider that it's just a great watch. Ok, at times it can be hard to keep track of exactly what's going on, but it's tense and compelling, which is what many of us look for in a movie.

Add stunning visual effects and action to a mind-bending plot, and it's easy to see why it was one of the highest grossing films of 2010, boasting an IMDb rating of 8.8/10 and a 91% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The very concept of manipulating your way into someone's dream is both intriguing and would have immediately presented Nolan with some real challenges. How do you take a great concept that is so far beyond any reality we know and make it feel authentically real in our world?

24 Years Ago, Forgotten $104 Million Sci-Fi Thriller Did 'Inception' Better Than Nolan - image 1

I mean, as great as the Dark Knight films are, they require a different kind of suspension of disbelief. But if you thought that was a unique idea for a movie, think again.

Christopher Nolan wasn’t the first director to toy with gaining access to the unconscious mind

24 years ago, Jennifer Lopez starred in The Cell. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the movie followed a similar path into someone's mind – only back then, it was the good guys who had access to this groundbreaking technology.

J-Lo played Catherine Deane, a psychologist hired by the FBI to take a stroll through the mind of a serial killer. With one of his victims believed to be alive, the authorities are in a race against time to save her. But the killer is in a coma and can't be questioned about her whereabouts.

But just like the threat facing Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Inception, Catherine Deane is prone to unleashing all sorts of strange goings-on and blurring the lines between reality and the workings of the subconscious.

The Cell was less well-received than Inception

Great ideas don't always make great movies. And sometimes audiences just don't get a film. The idea behind The Cell is strong. It taps into many of the key elements of good storytelling.

We want the girl to be saved, there is tension from the time limit, and the chance to delve into an evil mind brings both a macabre interest and a significant amount of risk for the protagonist. But The Cell was widely panned upon release, and has done nothing since to convince audiences to get on board.

The film has a critics score of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 57%. As a directorial debut for Singh, it may have been a bit too ambitious. But I urge you to give it a try. Available for streaming on Prime, Apple, Google and Vudu, it's a movie that was ahead of its time.

The Cell is a psychological sci-fi thriller that didn't get the hype it deserved because Singh was relatively unknown. But it's gripping and has all the hallmarks of a movie that modern audiences will love.

Streaming sites offer many ways to get inside the mind of a killer, and we take them. This one may be fictional, but don't be fooled into thinking it's not thought-provoking and slightly disturbing.

The film made $104 million at the box office against a budget of $33 million – but it would almost certainly make much more if it were released today under Nolan's name.