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One of Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest hits started as a low-budget horror

We're obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio's best movies, and we wish he'd made this one as a low-budget horror instead of a blockbuster sci-fi.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb in Inception

Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Inception is one of the defining science fiction movies of its era. Released in 2010 with an eye-watering $160 million budget, it proved that blockbusters could be simultaneously bombastic and mind-bendingly complex, demonstrating that you don’t have to sacrifice intelligence to achieve mass appeal.

It’s one of several big-budget hits from Leonardo DiCaprio‘s career, alongside the likes of Titanic, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Don’t Look Up. But Inception, one of the best science fiction movies ever, was almost entirely different, originally intended to be a low-budget horror flick. “I was thinking along the lines of a horror movie at first,” said director Christopher Nolan, in an interview with The Telegraph.

“I was looking for a device whereby the dreams would become important to the story, and the thought that someone could invade your dream space and steal an idea is immensely compelling to me,” continued the filmmaker. We’re not surprised that Nolan thought the idea lent itself to thrills either: it sounds like he took some (sub?)conscious inspiration from one of the best horror movie series ever in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Leaning more into science fiction helped to differentiate his movie from the Freddy Kreuger franchise though, and ultimately ended up being a great decision. Sci-fi and Nolan go together like Batman and Robin, even if neither of his sci-fi films since Inception (Interstellar and Tenet) have been quite as wholeheartedly successful.

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Having said that, when you consider the plot from a horror angle it really is nightmarish. The entire concept of not knowing for certain if you’re stuck in a dream or not has a certain claustrophobia to it, and feeling trapped in a dream you don’t want to be in is a genuinely terrifying experience. We love Inception as it is and it’s one of the best movies of the century so far, but we’d pay good money to see a more horror-orientated version of the film.

As for Nolan’s initial desire to keep things smaller scale and on a reduced budget, that quickly fell by the wayside fairly too. He said, “It’s intimate and emotional, but I realized I had this concept that lent itself to an epic-scale movie.”

While a low-budget version of Inception certainly sounds appealing, we think Nolan made the right call once again in his decision to take things bigger and embrace the grand opportunities of the story. Even from a purely visual level, some of the huge-scale VFX work (the cityscape folding in on itself Doctor Strange-style) is astonishing and captures a dream-like sense of impossibility.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy in Inception

It’s fascinating to consider what Inception might have been, but all this really goes to show is precisely why Nolan is one of the best directors alive: out of all the directions the story could have been taken in, he chose the right path. In any list of the best Christopher Nolan movies, Inception is always going to find itself in the top half.

Of course, it helps that Leonardo DiCaprio has the lead role too. He’s never anything but a great choice to lead a film, as the new movie Killers of the Flower Moon has proven so recently. As for Nolan, the recent Oppenheimer just showed yet again that he’s still at the peak of his powers too.

For more movie magic, let Tom Hanks tell you a mind-blowing Star Wars fact, before checking out the progress being made on the most exciting upcoming Marvel movie: Deadpool 3. You should also read our Killers of the Flower Moon review for DiCaprio’s latest big screen masterpiece.