Buddhism, Rebirth, Zen Buddhism

Movies with Reincarnation as their Theme

The idea that a soul can be reborn into a new body has inspired many literature, art, and film works.

Reincarnation has been a topic of fascination for centuries, with beliefs varying across different cultures and religions.

In cinema, reincarnation (called Samsara in Buddhism) has been a recurring theme that has captivated audiences with its mystical and thought-provoking nature. From epic love stories to supernatural thrillers, movies about reincarnation have explored the complexities of human existence and the mysteries of life and death. 

In this article, I will list my favorite movies exploring reincarnation and how they have shaped our understanding of this ancient belief.

The Fountain (2006)

Director: Darren Aronofsky 
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz
Duration: 1 hour and 36 minutes

The Fountain is a visually stunning masterpiece directed by Darren Aronofsky that explores the themes of love, death, and the cycle of life through the lens of reincarnation. The movie follows three parallel stories set in different periods, all involving characters searching for the fabled Tree of Life, which is said to grant eternal life. The film stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, who play various incarnations of the same characters across the three storylines. As the stories unfold, they weave into a complex meditation on the nature of existence and the human desire for immortality. The Fountain is a powerful exploration of the mysteries of life and death and the possibility of rebirth and renewal.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Director: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Lilly Wachowski
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant 
Duration: 2 hours and 52 minutes

“Cloud Atlas” is a 2012 science fiction drama film directed by Lana, Lilly Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer. The movie follows six interrelated stories set in different periods, from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, each featuring characters connected by their actions and choices throughout their lives. The film stars an ensemble cast, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent, who play different roles in the interconnected storylines. As the stories unfold, they explore themes of reincarnation, karma, and the interconnectedness of all beings. Through its intricate storytelling and visually stunning imagery, “Cloud Atlas” is a powerful meditation on the cyclical nature of existence, the human capacity for both good and evil, and the hope that comes with the possibility of redemption and renewal across multiple lifetimes.

I Origins (2014)

Director: Mike Cahill 
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun
Duration: 1 hour and 46 minutes

“I Origins” is a 2014 science fiction drama film directed by Mike Cahill that explores the concept of reincarnation through the story of a molecular biologist, Ian Gray, played by Michael Pitt, who becomes obsessed with finding scientific evidence for the existence of the soul. When Ian meets a mysterious woman named Sofi, played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, he becomes convinced that they have shared past lives together and embarks on a journey to discover the truth about their connection. As the story unfolds, it delves into themes of love, spirituality, and the search for truth in the face of scientific inquiry. Through its thought-provoking premise and compelling performances, “I Origins” offers a unique perspective on reincarnation, exploring the idea that scientific investigation and spiritual belief can coexist in the search for answers to the mysteries of existence.

Little Buddha (1993)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci 
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Bridget Fonda, Chris Isaak, Ying Ruocheng, Alex Wiesendanger 
Duration: 2 hours and 23 minutes

“Little Buddha” is a 1993 drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci that tells the story of a young American boy, Jesse, who is believed to be the reincarnation of a revered Buddhist teacher, Lama Dorje. As Jesse’s parents and a group of Buddhist monks seek to discover the truth about his identity, the film explores the life of Prince Siddhartha, who would later become the Buddha (Keanu Reeves), and his spiritual journey toward enlightenment. Through flashbacks and dream sequences, the film depicts the story of the Buddha while exploring themes of cultural identity, spiritual awakening, and the possibility of reincarnation. With stunning visuals, powerful performances, and a unique approach to storytelling, “Little Buddha” is a thought-provoking exploration of the Buddhist concept of rebirth and the power of faith and spirituality.

Chances Are (1989)

Director: Emile Ardolino 
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Cybill Shepherd, Ryan O’Neal, Mary Stuart Masterson 
Duration: 1 hour and 48 minutes

“Chances Are” is a 1989 romantic comedy film directed by Emile Ardolino that tells the story of a young woman named Corinne Jeffries, played by Cybill Shepherd, who believes that her deceased husband, Louie, has been reincarnated in the form of a young man named Alex Finch, played by Robert Downey Jr. As Corinne and Alex begin to fall in love, they are forced to grapple with the possibility of his true identity and the implications it may have for their relationship. The film also features Ryan O’Neal as Corinne’s former lover and Louie’s best friend, who becomes involved in the situation. Through its lighthearted approach and romantic storyline, “Chances Are” offers a unique take on reincarnation, exploring the idea of eternal love and the possibility of second chances.

A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

Director: Lasse Hallström 
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, Peggy Lipton, Britt Robertson 
Cast 1 hour and 40 minutes

“A Dog’s Purpose” is a 2017 comedy-drama film directed by Lasse Hallström, based on the 2010 novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron. The movie follows the story of a dog who reincarnated multiple times and discovers the meaning of his existence through his relationships with different owners. Throughout his various lives, the dog experiences different forms of love, loyalty, and loss. As he continues to be reborn, he begins to understand his purpose in life and his connections with the people who have loved him. Through its heartwarming storyline and depiction of the bond between humans and their pets, “A Dog’s Purpose” offers a unique perspective on the concept of reincarnation and the possibility of eternal love and connection across lifetimes.

Defending your Life (1991)

Director: Albert Brooks 
Cast: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant 
Duration: 1 hour and 52 minutes

“Defending Your Life” is a 1991 romantic-comedy film directed and starring Albert Brooks. The movie follows the story of Daniel Miller, played by Brooks, who dies suddenly and finds himself in the afterlife. He must defend his life choices in a cosmic court presided over by judges. As he faces various challenges and reflects on his life, Daniel meets Julia, played by Meryl Streep, who is also on trial in the afterlife. The two develop a connection and explore the possibility of love and reincarnation. Through its witty humor and unique premise, “Defending Your Life” offers a thought-provoking exploration of the afterlife, karma, and the idea of reincarnation, while also providing a lighthearted look at the human experience and the choices we make in our lives. It’s one of my favorite movies.

The Tree of Life (2011)

Director: Terrence Malick 
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler 
Duration: 2 hours and 19 minutes

“The Tree of Life” is a 2011 experimental drama film directed by Terrence Malick that follows the story of a family living in Texas in the 1950s and their experiences with loss, grief, and spirituality. The film explores the larger themes of life, death, and the universe, weaving together the family’s story with images of the cosmos and the creation of the universe. Through its nonlinear narrative structure and poetic imagery, “The Tree of Life” offers a unique exploration of the concept of reincarnation and the cyclical nature of life and death. The film features powerful performances from its cast, which include Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. It has been praised for its stunning cinematography and philosophical themes.

The Age of Adaline (2015) 

Director: Lee Toland Krieger 
Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn
Duration: 1 hour and 53 minutes

“The Age of Adaline” is a 2015 romantic-fantasy film directed by Lee Toland Krieger that tells the story of a young woman named Adaline Bowman, played by Blake Lively, who stops aging after a near-fatal accident. Adaline lives a solitary life, moving from place to place to avoid suspicion until she meets a man named Ellis Jones, played by Michiel Huisman, who begins to unravel her mysterious past. Adaline must confront the possibility of revealing her secret and facing the consequences of her immortality as their relationship develops. Through its unique premise and romantic storyline, “The Age of Adaline” offers a fresh take on the concept of reincarnation and explores the themes of love, mortality, and the choices we make in life. The film also features strong supporting performances from Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn.

Birth (2004) 

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall 
Duration: 1 hour and 40 minutes

“Birth” is a 2004 drama film directed by Jonathan Glazer that tells the story of a woman named Anna, played by Nicole Kidman, who believes that her deceased husband, Sean, has been reincarnated as a 10-year-old boy. Despite skepticism from her family and friends, Anna becomes increasingly convinced that the boy is indeed her husband and begins to unravel emotionally as she grapples with the possibility of his return. As the story unfolds, it explores themes of grief, loss, and the search for meaning in the face of mortality. Through its haunting imagery and powerful performances, “Birth” is a thought-provoking exploration of reincarnation and the possibility of eternal love and connection across lifetimes.


In this article, I proposed several movies that investigate the idea of reincarnation in different ways. From exploring past lives in “Cloud Atlas” to the poetic representation of the cycle of birth and death in “The Tree of Life,” these films have challenged our notions of time and mortality.

The idea that our souls continue after our physical bodies die is not just religious. Still, it also allows us to contemplate the purpose and meaning of our existence. 

In conclusion, exploring reincarnation in cinema has been an opportunity to ponder the nature of existence, the meaning of life, and the possibility of an afterlife. These films remind us that death is not the end but a continuation of our soul’s journey.