15 Movies You Forgot Are Really Just One LONG Flashback

Over 400 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 15 Movies You Forgot Are Really Just One LONG Flashback
Voting Rules
Vote up the movies that take an extended trip back in time.

Flashbacks are a fairly common storytelling device in films. Less common are extended flashback movies. These are the cases where the entire story is one great, big flashback, as opposed to just an individual scene or two. They start with some kind of setup, then proceed to take us back to the past for a lengthy stretch before wrapping up with a return to the present at the end.

What's fun about these pictures is that, in many cases, you can actually forget that you're watching a flashback. The plot's momentum will sweep you up, keeping you mentally in the moment. When this happens, it can even be a little surprising once the movie comes back to present day because you've been so invested in the story. However they make you feel, there is something admirable about a film that skillfully uses extended flashbacks not as a gimmick, but as a critical storytelling device.

Which of these movies best pulls off the long flashback idea? Your votes will decide. 

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures / Paramount Pictures

  • When Does The Movie Start? An elderly veteran, James Ryan, walks through a cemetery. 

    When Does It Flash Back? After coming across the tombstone he's looking for, Ryan is overcome with emotion. He begins reflecting back on the efforts of Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his platoon to locate and rescue him during WWII. After much heavy combat, they do indeed find him, but Miller is fatally wounded in the process. His final words are "earn this," which he directs at Ryan. 

    How Does It End? The older Ryan cries at the gravesite, asking his wife if he's been a good man. Decades later, he's still trying to make sure he's earned the sacrifices that were made for him. The film ends with him saluting Miller's tombstone. 

    220 votes

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  • 2
    218 VOTES

    When Does The Movie Start? An old man named Paul Edgecomb lives in a nursing home. While watching the classic movie Top Hat, he becomes unusually emotional. 

    When Does It Flash Back? Paul tells a female companion that the film reminds him of his time working as a prison guard on Cold Mountain Penitentiary's death row. This leads to the flashback, which depicts how a prisoner named John Coffey, who appeared to have some sort of magical healing powers, changed not only life in the prison, but also Paul's life personally. 

    How Does It End? Paul reveals that Coffey healed one inmate's pet mouse, which is still alive decades later. More shockingly, he reveals that Coffey healed him, as well. He's 108 years old and, far from seeing longevity as a gift, he views his elongated existence as a curse. After all, he is doomed to watch everyone around him perish. 

    218 votes

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  • 3
    226 VOTES

    When Does The Movie Start? A feather floats through the air, landing in the hand of Forrest Gump as he sits on a bench at a bus stop in Georgia. 

    When Does It Flash Back? A stranger sits down next to him. He offers her a piece of chocolate, compliments her shoes, and then says he can probably remember his own first pair of shoes. Thus begins him recounting the story of his remarkable, eventful life. 

    How Does It End? After detailing his meeting with important political figures, a literal run across the country, and a romance with his true love Jenny that leads to her becoming pregnant, Forrest sees their young son off as he boards a bus for the first day of school. Jenny is no longer alive, but the boy is a piece of her that remains. Looking down at his feet, he spots the feather resting by his shoe. The wind picks it up and carries it off. 

    226 votes

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  • 4
    162 VOTES

    When Does The Movie Start? Gordie Lachance is reading a newspaper article. It's about a man who was fatally stabbed in a restaurant.

    When Does It Flash Back? He sees that the deceased, Chris Chambers, was his childhood best friend. This leads him to reminisce about an incident from their youth where they and two friends journeyed to a remote location in order to view the corpse of a deceased boy who'd gone missing. 

    How Does It End? Gordie, it turns out, is writing about this episode, which ended when the boys made an anonymous call to the police, alerting them to the location of the boy's body. Reflecting back on Chris - and his demise attempting to break up a fight - spurs him to walk away from the typewriter, go outside, and play with his son. His life was clearly changed by this incident from his past.

    162 votes

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  • When Does The Movie Start? A mysterious criminal named Keyser Soze shoots criminal Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and sets fire to the cargo ship where they've just carried out a criminal act. 

    When Does It Flash Back? Only two survivors make it through the ordeal. One of them is Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), and he's grilled by US Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about what happened and who Soze actually is. Kint begins to relay the story of how a group of criminals was assembled to work for this unseen figure. 

    How Does It End? At the end of his wild tale, Kint makes Kujan believe that Keaton was the mastermind behind the whole operation. He then walks out of the police station. Kujan notices that names and details in Kint's story seem to have been drawn from objects around the room. That's when the realization strikes - Kint is Soze, and he's just let a criminal get away. 

    120 votes

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  • 6
    133 VOTES

    When Does The Movie Start? Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool, violently dispatches a bunch of goons on a highway overpass. They're formidable foes, yet no match for him. 

    When Does It Flash Back? After we watch this ballet of violence, Deadpool addresses the audience, as he does throughout the film. Recognizing that we want to know where he came from and how he got his abilities, he describes himself by saying, "I may be super, but I'm no hero." He then begins telling the story of his life, beginning with a cancer diagnosis. 

    How Does It End? Deadpool's past and present collide, as he finally gets bloody revenge against Ajax, the demented doctor who claimed to have a cure for Wade's cancer but really injected him with a serum designed to turn on any mutant genes he has inside him. He also reconciles with his fiancee Vanessa, whom he left in an attempt to shield her from seeing him become sick. 

    133 votes

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