Minimalism is an art as well as a science, and those who truly grasp it, can work with anything at their disposal. Just like Tom Hanks makes friends with Wilson the Volleyball while he’s marooned on the island, directors make use of the least number of things at their disposal to make a movie meaningful.
Here’s a list of the movies which proved that you don’t need over the top production and expensive locales and soaring budgets to make a winner of a film.
1. Rope (1948)
Directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, this movie revolves around two people who murder their classmate by strangling him with a rope in their apartment. If this doesn’t stir you, they then hold a dinner party after hiding his body, to show how perfect their crime was.
2. Yaadein [Hindi: Memories] (1964)
Picture this: A black and white film. A single actor narrating and reminiscing about his family. The only other actor is his wife in the end as a silhouette. This movie directed by, produced by, and starring Sunil Dutt found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the fewest actors in a narrative film.
3. Duel (1971)
Not many know that this was Steven Spielberg’s first ever feature film to hit theatres. Keeping it raw and full of paranoia, Duel has one travelling businessman who is followed dangerously by a gas truck. The driver is rarely seen and the movie is all about the ‘duel’ or fight they have on the highways.
4. Silent Running (1972)
This is one cult favourite science fiction movie. After the initial entry of a few cast members, the rest of the entire movie is about one astronaut sent to destroy a greenhouse aboard a space station, and a robot. He plans to not follow his orders and the rest of the film is him trying to salvage the greenhouse.
5. Un homme qui dort [French: The Man Who Sleeps] (1974)
This is a French film. It’s black and white. It has no dialogue. It has just one actor. Can anything else BE more minimalistic than this? This story is about a student who is saturated by human life and goes off the grid and the only dialogue is his mental narration spoken by a woman through voiceover.
6. Secret Honor (1984)
Based on the one-man play, this movie is a fictional depiction of President Richard M. Nixon recounting and musing over his life and career and how he got entrenched in the Watergate scandal and his resignation. The entire film is a monologue, with only one actor.
7. Before Sunrise (1995)
Two people meet coincidentally on a train journey to Paris and decide to get down at Vienna to spend the day together. This beauty by Richard Linklater is just two people talking and roaming the streets of Vienna and how they ultimately fall for each other.
8. Cast Away (2000)
A FedEx courier plane crashes in the ocean. After all his fellow crew is dead, one man must survive on the island and find his way back or get rescued. Tom Hanks delivers a stellar performance in this minimalist movie, which has only him throughout the movie, except few other cast members in the beginning and end.
9. Tape (2001)
Another Linklater movie, this story chronicles a night in a hotel room where a friend starts video shooting another as the latter starts confessing about something from his past. The events and the story become more complicated when their female friend also joins them.
10. Hard Candy (2005)
This gruelling movie depicts a psychological conversation happening between a teenage girl and an older fashion photographer who is a paedophile. Majority of the film takes place in the photographer’s house, and the torture done by the teenager on the photographer will leave you disturbed.
11. Exam (2009)
Eight people are shortlisted for a highly respectable job and they must give a final examination. Majorly shot inside the exam room, this movie is tension splitting at the seams as there is only one question on the paper and the candidates start stressing out on the answer.
12. Moon (2009)
In this futuristic science fiction film, a man mines for a special kind of gas for three years on the surface of the moon. The solitude has helped solve a lot of issues for him, but new complications start to emerge as his stint on the moon nears completion.
13. Buried (2010)
An entire movie shot inside a coffin. An American truck driver, played by Ryan Reynolds, in Iraq is captured and wakes up to realise that he’s buried alive in a coffin. He has just a cell phone and a lighter with him and he has to find a way to get out of his claustrophobic death trap.
14. Devil (2010)
This story, written by the acclaimed M. Night Shyamalan, chronicles five strangers stuck in an elevator. But this is no escape story. They realise that one person from them is the devil, as people start getting killed, one by one.
15. Brake (2012)
Think of Buried, but on drugs. A secret service agent wakes up in the trunk of a moving car and he’s running out of time. His captors have a deadly plot against the President and he has to think quickly and act quicker still, if he is to get out of this alive with minimum collateral damage.
16. Gravity (2013)
Two astronauts, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, suffer a disaster during a spacewalk when their shuttle explodes and they are left adrift with only each other as support. This movie won multiple awards for its brilliant imagery and in spite of the huge budget, it was utterly minimal.
17. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Two lovers have lived on for centuries in this decaying world. They are vampires, and now their survival is dependent only on the pure blood they can source. Set in two cities, and starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, with limited appearances from few others, this movie is an offbeat delight.
18. Under The Skin (2013)
Scarlett Johansson’s best performance yet as she drives around town picking up men, only to lead them to their death in a mysterious manner back at her place. With minimum dialogue and intriguing characters, this movie has to be seen to raise more questions than it can answer.
19. Locke (2013)
Probably one of the best and most intriguing films of the lot, this movie features Tom Hardy driving a BMW SUV for the entire length of the movie. He talks to people on the phone as he manages to handle multiple calamities which have sprung up in his life. The other cast is just the four or five people with whom he talks on the phone as voice actors.
20. Room (2015)
A mother raises her son in a room in which they are both held captive for over 10 years. She creates a world full of enigma around him so that he doesn’t question anything outside of the Room, as she calls it. But when they plan their escape, they must gear up to face a stronger opponent: the open world.
The crux of these movies is to use the minimum number of ‘plot props,’ or basically items and ideas used to support a movie, like locations, characters, subplots, camera angles, complex stories, etc. By doing this, they have achieved the true sense of minimalism in one form or the other.