Dreams are a peculiar phenomenon, and one that science doesn’t yet fully understand. We can take note of common themes in dreams — 34 percent of us report dreaming about the future, and another 40 percent of us report being chased—but the underlying biological reason for dreams is still fiercely debated. Some scientists believe it’s the brain’s way of simulating hypothetical scenarios, so our waking responses are better conditioned, while others believe it’s a way to consolidate short-term memories into long-term memory.
But regardless of why you think we dream, there’s no questioning that dreams have always been—and continue to be—a major source of inspiration. In fact, dreams may have had a much bigger role on the pop culture you’ve been exposed to than you realize.
Books and Movies Inspired By Dreams
These famous ideas and franchises all started out as mere dreams:
1. Misery. Your first exposure to Misery may have been the 1990 film starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, or it might have been the 1987 novel by Stephen King. Either way, you should know the story all started with a dream—or at least, the dream was a catalyst. King claims he was partially inspired by fan reactions to his 1984 novel The Eyes of the Dragon, but the basis for the story came to him in a dream he had during a flight to London. When he arrived, he sketched out the characters and plot.
2. Inception. As a movie that prominently features dreaming, you may not be surprised to learn that the origins of Inception are tied to director Christopher Nolan’s own experiences with lucid dreaming. In case you aren’t familiar, lucid dreaming is the practice of attaining wakeful consciousness in the middle of a dream, often with the intention of manipulating the dream environment. Nolan, frustrated with the difficulty of manipulating his own dreams, imagined what witnessing dream manipulation would be like on a grander scale—and Inception was born.
3. Frankenstein. The brilliant author Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) came up with the idea for Frankenstein after having a dream about a genius scientist who had the hubris to play the role of god. She, along with a group of friends, was in the middle of a competition to see who could come up with the greatest ghost story. And while historical sources can’t confirm whether or not she won that competition, she turned the story into a full-fledged novel in 1818, which has since become one of the most appreciated and adapted stories ever written.
4. Waking Life. Director Richard Linklater attributes the inspiration for many of his works to his own experiences in dreams, perhaps most notably the film Waking Life. Linklater claims to have been lucid dreaming somewhat naturally most of his life, and used his dreams to fuel some of the movie’s intent, development, and imagery. The film blurs the lines of reality with its surreal visuals, making it feel like a dream in its own right.
5. The works of Edgar Allen Poe. Master of mystery, horror, and suspense, Edgar Allen Poe may have been inspired by dreams when writing the majority of his works. He’s written many poems about dreaming, including Dream-Land and A Dream Within a Dream, but has also written an essay called An Opinion On Dreams, delving deeper into his personal philosophy that dreams are a sometimes-supernaturally-influenced state of consciousness. He says, “I believe man to be in himself a Trinity, viz. Mind, Body, and Soul; and thus with dreams, some induced by the mind, and some by the soul. Those connected with the mind, I think proceed partly from supernatural, and partly from natural causes; those of the soul I believe are of the immaterial world alone.”
If you’re working on your own short stories, books, film scripts, or fan fiction, consider turning to your own dreams for inspiration. You can keep a dream journal to improve your dream recall, and keep track of all your dreams’ subject matter. Or if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can dabble in the world of lucid dreaming, gaining conscious control over your own dream environments.
In any case, the next time you read or watch one of these installments, think how strange it would have been to dream about it before it existed—and wonder what current dreams may one day become a blockbuster film.