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The 50 Best Movies Under 90 Minutes

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

This post was originally published in October 2016. We have updated and re-promoted it for the release of the live-action Ghost in the Shell.

Sure, it’s great to turn off your mind and immerse yourself in a three-hour-long orgy of cinematic excess. But sometimes, you just want a good story, capably told, that gets in and out and in less than 90 minutes. After all, you’re a busy person, with many responsibilities! Maybe you’ve only got a short window, or maybe you’re just trying to sneak in one more movie in a late-night marathon. Whatever your motivation, here are a few dozen (relatively) brief films worth your limited time.

1. Dumbo (1941)

Disney’s fourth animated movie was conceived as a model of simplicity and efficiency, made to recoup the losses of Fantasia. Even so, in just 64 minutes we get flying elephants, a valuable lesson in an interspecies mouse-elephant friendship, and what was, for at least one 5-year-old watching it on video, the astounding experience of seeing an adult have to explain why Dumbo was drunk. (For other time-efficient nostalgia trips, nearly every pre-1990s Disney movie clocks in under 80 minutes, including Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and The Jungle Book.) 64 minutes.

Available on: Amazon.

2. Frankenstein (1931)

“It’s alive!” It sure is — James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein buzzes throughout with the frenetic, fearful energy of its metaphorical origins in Mary Shelley’s novel. Boris Karloff’s monster is about as iconic as anything the movies have ever produced, and it only took 70 minutes for him to put a mark on horror that lasts to this day. 70 minutes.

Available on: Amazon.

3. Pickpocket (1959)

French filmmaker Robert Bresson’s movies can feel like alien experiences: expressionless, spare, and slowed to a crawl, they withhold from the audience most of what they expect from a filmic experience. But Pickpocket, with its noir-inflected plot and tense theft sequences, is a good entry point — and that last shot is a doozy. 75 minutes.

Available on: Amazon.

4. Before Sunset (2004)

The second film in Richard Linklater’s Before series, Before Sunset clocks in at a svelte 80 minutes. But in that short time, it paints a picture of two lives lived entirely without each other — and the specter of that absence, as much as the astonishing chemistry of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, is what anchors one of the greatest love stories ever told. 80 minutes.

Available on: Amazon PrimeiTunes, Google Play, Sony Entertainment and YouTube.

5. Rope (1948)

One of the great pieces of fiction devoted to the idea of “the perfect crime,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope represents the master at his most technically innovative. Shot in a series of long takes, Rope is edited to look like one long, continuous scene, presaging the technique that Alejandro G. Iñárritu would employ in his Oscar-winning Birdman. Hitchcock didn’t think the experiment worked out, but hey, it was worth a shot. 80 minutes.

Available on Amazon, Apple and Sony Entertainment.

6. Primer (2004)

Even more than its 77-minute run time, Shane Carruth’s labyrinthine time-travel masterpiece is remarkable for an even greater feat of economy: It only cost $7,000 to make. That’s because Carruth did pretty much everything — writing, directing, producing, editing, and composing the music for the movie himself. But all the money in the world can’t buy ingenuity like this, which is why the movie is now a cult classic for fans of brainy cinema. 77 minutes.

Available on Netflix, AmazoniTunes, Google Play and YouTube

7. Toy Story (1995)

You can debate over whether the original adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear is superior to the sequels, but you can’t debate one thing: Its run time is objectively shorter. Pixar didn’t need much time to set a standard for computer-animated features that few of its successors could match. 81 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

8. The Squid and the Whale (2005)

An acerbically witty and deeply honest look at divorce from the inside, The Squid and the Whale solidified Noah Baumbach’s very specific vision of Brooklyn malaise. Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels’s marriage implodes, while the couple’s eldest son (Jesse Eisenberg) flirts with douchebaggery, and their younger son (Owen Kline) discovers the joys of masturbating and smearing the result in unexpected places. 81 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

9. A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

“What is love?” It’s turning a half-baked Saturday Night Live sketch into a half-baked feature; Will Ferrell’s performance, as one half of a brotherly duo with fellow SNL-er Chris Kattan, is the epitome of making something from absolutely nothing. 82 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

10. Sleepwalk With Me (2012)

Comedian Mike Birbiglia’s auteur turn is a concise portrait of the stand-up lifestyle with one added wrinkle: He sleepwalks. The sleepwalking is a metaphor, and the comedy is a tantalizing sample of Birbiglia’s stuff, even in dramatized form. Next time you can’t decide between a stand-up special and movie, split the difference with this. 81 minutes.

Available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

11. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s cyberpunk manga is a high point of ’90s animation, Japanese or otherwise. Taking place in a futuristic Japan where cybernetic enhancements are the norm, its main character, cyborg agent Major Motoko Kusanagi, must track down an elusive hacker who has been taking over the networked brains of government officials. Come for the visuals, which would influence two decades of Hollywood action fare, stay for the heady philosophical robot angst. 83 minutes.

Available on Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube.

12. The Killing (1956)

If you’ve seen a heist movie in the last 60 years, consider that it probably pays an incalculable debt to this, Stanley Kubrick’s breakout film — a bona fide classic the director made at the tender age of 28. More about the clockwork preparations that go into planning a racetrack robbery than the actual robbery itself — though it certainly delivers in that respect — The Killing packs more narrative meat than most television shows manage in a season. 85 minutes.

Available on iTunes and YouTube

13. Slow West (2015)

You could almost think of John Maclean’s Slow West as a cover of the Western genre — but one by a band that has more than a little talent of its own. What Slow West lacks in originality, it makes for in the vibrancy of its colors, the vivacity of its performances — Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn are at the top of their respective games — and the fury of its climactic shootout. And it’s less than half as long as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 84 minutes.

Available on Amazon PrimeGoogle Play, iTunes, Sony Entertainment and YouTube

14. Blackfish (2013)

Twitter aside, there’s no better way to get indignant in a short amount of time than by watching Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary look into the world of captive killer whales. Blackfish had substantive change on more than just SeaWorld’s share price — laws regarding orca captivity have been passed in the film’s wake, and SeaWorld has moved away from live performances featuring killer whales. 83 minutes.

Available on NetflixAmazon, Google Play, Youtube, Sony Entertainment and iTunes.

15. Borat (2006)

Considering the breadth and influence of Sacha Baron Cohen’s groundbreaking mockumentary, it’s hard to believe the film is only 84 minutes long; hell, it takes longer than that to say its full title. But Cohen moves with aggressive intent through a series of killer gags — though if we never hear someone say “my wife” again, that would be fine. 84 minutes.

Available on AmazonYouTube and Sony Entertainment

16. Pi (1998)

Like Primer, Darren Aronofsky’s debut Pi is a film whose short run time and low budget belie an almost unbelievable amount of complexity. Where Primer uses that complexity as a framework, Pi wears it on its sleeve, creating a movie overflowing with ideas and possessed by their power. If you were ever bored by math in high school, let Aronofsky reinvigorate your taste for numbers. 84 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

17. Black Dynamite (2009)

If you’ve ever wondered how blaxploitation cinema looks from the vantage point of the present, Black Dynamite is your answer. In a fleet 84 minutes, it nicely pays homage to, and sends up, most of the hallmarks of ’70s movies like Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and Shaft. But Black Dynamite also has enough jokes and absurdity to justify its existence on its own merits, not just as a parody of the past. 84 minutes.

Available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

18. Chronicle (2012)

As superhero movies become more and more bloated, why not revisit this gem: an origin story with a svelte run time that leaves you wanting more, instead of dreading an entire lumbering franchise to come? 84 minutes.

Available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

19. Fruitvale Station (2013)

Though it easily could have become didactic, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan kept their story of gunned-down Oscar Grant as appealingly intimate as possible. 85 minutes.

Available on Netflix, AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

20. Elephant (2003)

As the film’s told in real time, you wouldn’t want a school-shooting movie like Elephant to be any longer than it is. Thankfully, what director Gus Van Sant gives us is poetic and provocative. 81 minutes.

Available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

21. Run Lola Run (1998)

Fittingly, this Tom Tykwer–directed thrill ride is as fleet as its title. Packing more into 80-ish minutes than most movies would think of for an entire two-hour run time, it’s a triptych of “what if” stories in which Franka Potente must scrounge up enough cash to save her dumb but hunky boyfriend from certain doom. Then again, perhaps doom isn’t all that certain in the next life. 81 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

22. High Noon (1952)

Watch this Gary Cooper Western at high noon, and you’ll be free to grab lunch at 1:30! 85 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

23. The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi’s original horror classic was made as cheaply as it could be — there wasn’t enough money for more time! — but that’s part of why it’s so low-fi effective. 85 minutes.

Available on YouTube.

24. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

This rockumentary’s speakers may go to 11, but the film’s run time doesn’t. 82 minutes.

Available on Amazon PrimeiTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

25. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

The 87-minute mark is just about ideal for comedies, including this cult fave about surprisingly mundane vampires starring Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (who’s directing the next big-budget Thor sequel). 86 minutes.

Available on YouTube.

26. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Short enough to enthrall your children but potent enough to thrill adults, Tim Burton’s stop-motion spectacular is more than just the Halloween costumes it’s spawned. 76 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

27. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Before he had two hours and five minutes to spend on giant dinosaurs in Jurassic World, director Colin Trevorrow turned in this comparatively trim sci-fi rom-com with Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza. Since the movie’s about time travel, it’s fitting that it doesn’t waste yours. 86 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

28. District B13 (2004)

From Taken director Pierre Morel comes this fleet-of-foot action film where a walled-off ghetto provides plenty of opportunity for crime … and parkour! 84 minutes.

Available on Amazon Prime and Sony Entertainment.

29. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

The cuddly cartoon creature Totoro may be large, but he can be light and nimble when necessary. So, too, does this wonderful Hayao Miyazaki film deliver pure pleasure with a feather’s brief, soft touch. 86 minutes.

Available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

30. Paranormal Activity (2009)

The found-footage format lulls you into complacency with its long takes, but the film itself can’t be too long, or else you’ll just get bored. The quick and nasty first installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise set the template with a scary-short run time. 86 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

31. Child’s Play (1988)

Malevolent doll Chucky wants to play with your child … but only for the length of a time-out. 87 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

32. City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece carries so many of his most famous sequences on its slim spine. Watch it in appropriately silent wonder. 87 minutes.

Available on Amazon, Google Play and YouTube.

33. Breathless (1960)

Everything about Breathless is abrupt: Jean-Luc Godard’s French New Wave trailblazer brought short shots, jump cuts, and short hair into fashion (at least for Jean Seberg). Godard does it all in a brisk run time that’s still still 65 minutes longer than anyone’s ever been able to hold their breath. 87 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

34. Zombieland (2009)

Not all short movies have to run with ruthless efficiency. Zombieland manages to turn a zombie apocalypse into an occasion for lazy hang-out comedy. Our core foursome — Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin — even has time for an extended stay at Bill Murray’s house. 88 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

35. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Each frame of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox had to be painstakingly arranged by hand, which is as good a reason to keep things brief as you’ll find in moviemaking. 87 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

36. Airplane! (1980)

Stuffing hundreds of punch lines, visual gags, and non sequiturs into less than 90 minutes, Airplane! boasts arguably the highest laughs-per-minute ratio in cinema history. Surely, we are serious. 88 minutes.

Available on Amazon PrimeiTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

37. The Limey (1999)

Steven Soderbergh was at the height of his powers with this taut crime thriller, which stars Terence Stamp as a British gangster out to avenge the death of his daughter. The director’s flair for unconventional edits sets the film apart from the usual revenging-dad films (though Stamp’s brilliantly unexpressive face doesn’t hurt, either).

Available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

38. The Wicker Man (1973)

Before there was Nicholas Cage in a bear suit, there was Edward Woodward as a prim Christian detective investigating a pagan colony run by Christopher Lee on a remote Scottish island. Woodward still ends up in the same place Cage does — but 14 minutes faster. 88 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes and YouTube.

39. Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Todd Solondz’s off-kilter coming-of-age tale follows the adventures of Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo), a lonely tween navigating a particularly brutal suburban hellscape. Thank goodness it’s so short — there’s only so much time a person can spend with their face hidden behind their hands. 88 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes and Sony Entertainment.

40. Crank (2006)

Jason Statham got kidnapped by some bad guys and now he has to keep his heart rate elevated … or else he will die! The result is 88 minutes of pure adrenaline. 88 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

41. Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

The debut feature of Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy follows two black San Francisco residents (Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins) the day after a one-night stand, as they stroll through the city debating racism, gentrification, and black love. A Netflix staple, this low-key rom-com comes heavily recommended. 88 minutes.

Available on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.

42. Attack the Block (2011)

How do aliens in movies always know to show up in Times Square or the White House? Isn’t it more likely they’d end up in a random field somewhere, or, as in Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, a grimy tower block in south London? The homespun charm of this sci-fi film made it a cult hit, and helped launch the career of its young star John Boyega. 88 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes and Google Play.

43. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Sometimes you just want a movie that’s going to give you exactly what it says on the tin. Over the course of one wild night in suburban New Jersey, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) do indeed make it to White Castle, but only after dealing with racist cops, drug-crazed Princetonians, and a troublemaking Neil Patrick Harris. (Is there any other kind?) 88 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

44. Rashomon (1950)

In less than 90 minutes, Akira Kurosawa told a torrid tale of rape and murder through unreliable narrators. The subsequent six decades have seen his trick ripped off by everybody else. 88 minutes.

Available on Amazon and iTunes.

45. Stand By Me (1986)

Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Body” leaves out the frights for which the author is known, but keeps King’s ineffable dread of the unknown: For the four teen boys who go in search of a dead body, the danger lurking around the corner is simply adulthood. If only puberty could be handled this quickly in real life. 89 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes and Sony Entertainment.

46. Eraserhead (1977)

In heaven, everything is fine. In the world of Eraserhead, the first feature of David Lynch, everything is emphatically not fine: Strange industrial noises fill the soundtrack, all efforts at human connection go awry, and worst of all, our hero has fathered a disgusting inhuman creature the wriggles and oozes all over its crib. Lynch apparently cut 20 minutes out of the film — keeping it in would have been the only thing that made this movie weirder. 89 minutes.

Available on AmazoniTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

47. March of the Penguins (2005)

It took French director Luc Jacquet and his cinematographers a year in Antarctica to shoot this stunning, Academy Award–winning documentary about the ultra-extreme breeding ritual of Empire penguins, who have to travel insane distances in insane conditions to feed themselves and their young. Come for adventure, danger, monogamous penguin love, and those super-cute chicks. 80 minutes.

Available on Amazon, Google Play and Sony Entertainment.

48. Frances Ha (2012)

Noah Baumbach is the king of brevity. This modest comedy feels short, in part because Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote the script) is so darn likeable as a 27 year-old, not-exactly-aspiring dancer drifting through New York, trying, somehow, to get her shit together. 86 minutes.

Available on NetflixAmazon, ITunes, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment.

49. Sexy Beast (2000)

Ben Kingsley is on literal fire as a sociopathic criminal with an endless stream of amazing quotes (“Look at your suntan, it’s leather. We could make a fucking suitcase out of you.”) who teams up with Ray Winston’s retired criminal and Ian McShane’s crime lord for one last heist, cutting every single person he meets straight to their core. 89 minutes.

Available on Amazon.

50. The Lion King (1994)

Disney’s most epic movie is also one of its shortest: It takes just 88 minutes for Simba to complete the circle of life, from baby lion hoisted into the sunlight, to teen lion living with a warthog and a meerkat, to adult lion who battles his evil uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons, working that deliciously evil purr). It’s the only version of Hamlet that’s less than three hours. 89 minutes.

Available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

The 50 Best Movies Under 90 Minutes