Without a doubt, bigger can sometimes be better when it comes to movies. Huge budgets, huge stars, big action scenes, and epic runtimes can add up to great movies. It’s no guarantee, but a huge movie is unlikely to get financed if there’s little chance it will appeal to most of the people who see it.
But William Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago that “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and maybe if he were alive today (and a movie buff), he’d say something similar about the IMDb Top 250; that the brief films are the soul of the list, if you will. These 10 films are all under 90 minutes long, and all more than earn their spot on IMDb’s prestigious list, having so much to offer within their short runtimes.
‘Modern Times’ (1936) – 87 minutes
Modern Times isn’t just one of Charlie Chaplin’s best movies, and it’s not just one of the best movies from the 1930s. It arguably can be considered among the greatest movies of all time full-stop. Made during the height of the Great Depression, it focuses on Chaplin’s signature Tramp character’s struggles to make ends meet, earn enough money to survive, and keep up with an increasingly modern, cold world that seems to be intent on leaving him behind.
It was Chaplin’s final silent movie, and an excellent farewell to that style of filmmaking that he’d perfected over his first couple of decades behind and in front of a camera. Modern Times is a fast and funny watch that contains everything great about Chaplin in just under an hour and a half.
‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988) – 86 minutes
My Neighbor Totoro is a simple, charming, and colorful family film from director Hayao Miyazaki, and among the best films made by Studio Ghibli. The plot involves two young girls who’ve recently moved to the country with their father, and their discovery of a fantastical forest full of otherworldly creatures and magic.
Part of the reason for My Neighbor Totoro’s brief length may be because is because it’s not too plot-heavy. Instead, it spends its time transporting viewers into a sometimes strange yet often beautiful and imaginative world that couldn’t have been realized by anyone except Miyazaki.
‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) – 84 minutes
Beauty and the Beast is one of the best Disney films made within the last few decades, and something of a modern classic. It does a lot in a short amount of time, with an ambitious story filled with fantasy, romance, humor, genuine drama, and great, memorable characters.
Despite being 45 minutes longer, the 2017 live-action remake – while not awful – feels like it actually achieves less than the animated original. It’s a testament to the craft put into 1991’s Beauty and the Beast – particularly its efficient screenplay and tight editing – that ensures it remains the best film adaptation of this story, earning a deserved spot in IMDb’s Top 250.
‘Persona’ (1966) – 83 minutes
Persona is a unique film by legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. While it’s moody and shot in black and white like many of his most iconic films, it’s the closest he came to directing a psychological thriller, rather than a straight drama, as it has a plot involving two women who, after bonding, find their personalities starting to merge.
It stands as one of the filmmaker’s most well-known films, but it might not be the best entry point into Bergman’s body of work, given its unusual storyline and some of its more experimental aspects. Still, at just 83 minutes, at least if it’s the kind of movie best watched twice to fully understand, it won’t take that much time to do so.
‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928) – 82 minutes
One of the oldest films found within the IMDb Top 250, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a retelling of the final days of the famed historical figure’s life. It depicts Jeanne d’Arc’s trial, after she’s accused of blasphemy for claiming to have spoken to God, as well as her brutal punishment (and eventual martyrdom) as a consequence.
Depicting a centuries-old tale, some liberties may be taken in the retelling, but it’s a more honest and confronting movie than many of the more popular, sanitized historical biopics that followed in its wake. It’s also an essential film for anyone interested in the history of filmmaking, as it employed numerous visual and editing techniques that were either groundbreaking or unusual for the time it was made.
‘Toy Story’ (1995) – 81 minutes
Pixar’s original feature film is still one of their best, though at 81 minutes, it also happens to be one of their shortest. Still, the amount of character development and story (and creativity) crammed into one movie about sentient toys learning to get along is remarkable.
Toy Story remains one of Pixar’s funniest films, and one of its best written. Among all the humor, it even manages to have some surprising emotion, including a scene where Buzz Lightyearlearns he’s one of many identical toys, and the high-flying climax that serves as a cathartic, beautiful ending to a movie that would still go on to have more than one great sequel.
‘Before Sunset’ (2004) – 80 minutes
Before Sunset is the middle chapter in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, which itself is one of cinema’s best and easiest to watch trilogies, largely thanks to how entertaining (and short) its three films are.
Also notable is how this second film in the decades-spanning love story between Jesse and Celine is the shortest non-silent film currently in the IMDb Top 250. It doesn’t waste a moment… that’s because the characters can’t waste a moment, given their surprise reunion after nine years has a strict time limit imposed, given the characters’ busy schedules.
‘The General’ (1926) – 79 minutes
Buster Keaton was a legendary silent film icon almost on the same level as Charlie Chaplin, and The General is probably his best movie. It’s one of cinema’s first action movies, following a hapless but determined hero as he sets out to rescue his train and the woman he loves from Union forces during the American Civil War.
This allows much of the film to play out like an extended car chase, and though the tone and technology used during filming are different, in this way, it’s genuinely comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road. There are plenty of stunts, action sequences, and some well-executed visual comedy, making it easy to see why this silent film resonates with the voters of IMDb’s Top 250.
‘The Kid’ (1921) – 53 minutes
One of Charlie Chaplin’s first feature films, The Kid, is only just a feature film. With the most popular cut-offs being 40 or 45 minutes, either way, it comes close to being a short film. Indeed, it is very simple, being a funny and moving comedy-drama about Chaplin’s Tramp character caring for a young boy after he’s abandoned by his mother.
It’s super simple and if anything, it’s so good you might wish it was a bit longer. But as Chaplin’s first fully-formed great movie (that wasn’t a short film), it’s an important film that’s also surprisingly still very watchable, even though it’s now over a century old.
‘Sherlock, Jr.’ (1924) – 45 minutes
Sherlock, Jr. is the shortest film currently in the IMDb Top 250, at just three-quarters of an hour long. It’s one of Buster Keaton’s best-known movies, involving an amusing, small-scale story about a man who does everything he can to become a Sherlock Holmes-style detective.
It can be difficult to judge Sherlock, Jr. as a feature film because of how short it is, but it packs a solid amount of humor and entertainment into its brief runtime. It’s a good film to watch for anyone interested in getting an introduction to Keaton’s style and sense of humor, given how it conveys much of what he had to offer as a filmmaker and actor in under an hour.
NEXT: Great Movies That Are Under 80 Minutes