10 Incredible Movies That Don’t Have Any Plot

September 15, 2019

Often when people say a movie has no plot, they mean that it’s character-driven. That’s why if it sounds like an insult when someone complains about lack of plot, it probably means that just don’t like character studies or weren’t in the mood for one.

I once wrote about this exact thing in an article, and a cinephile friend messaged me back saying: “the best way to get me to watch a movie is to tell me it has no plot”.

I couldn’t agree more. And as writer Patrice Nganang put it: “there are stories that simply do not need a plot.” Some worldwide favorites didn’t have a plot as part of their structure. Notably: The Tree of Life, Dazed & Confused, Breakfast Club, Napoleon Dynamite, Big Lebowski, Garden State, Burn After Reading and Lost in Translation. More recently, Her, Youth, and A Separation have become great examples. See, the plot thickens…

Terrible puns aside, plot is rarely an indicator of quality (or popularity). The movies in this list are not about what happens, they’re all about the characters. I absolutely love each one of them, and I think you will too.

The Square (2017)

The Square is a peculiar movie about a respected contemporary art museum curator as he goes through a few very specific events. He looses his wallet, his children fight, the art he oversees is does not make sense to an interviewer… Each one of these events would usually require a precise response but all they do is bring out his insecurities and his illusions about life. These reactions lead him to very unusual situations. A thought-provoking and incredibly intelligent film that’s just a treat to watch. If you liked Force Majeure by the same director, The Square is even better!

User rating: 77/100. Staff rating: 79/100.
Another Year (2010)

This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film.

User rating: 80/100. Staff rating: 80/100.
Youth (2015)

Youth is a film about Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) a famous composer vacationing at a resort in the Swiss Alps with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an accomplished filmmaker, and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). While Fred shuns his work (including an opportunity to play for the Queen of England) and muddles himself in disillusionment, Mick works fervently on his final film, intended to be his life’s crowning achievement. Their remaining time is spent intermingling amongst the guests and reminiscing upon their lives, their achievements, their failures and their undying yearnings. From writer/director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Youth is another charming work offering an array of eccentric characters and quirky scenarios, while also serving as a touching examination of age, wisdom and ultimately personal reckoning.

User rating: 79/100. Staff rating: 81/100.
Columbus (2017)

What goes well with a love story? Creative architecture. Columbus the movie is such a great and genuine exploration of this idea, filmed in Columbus the city – a weird experimental hub for architecture that actually exists in real life! After his architect father goes into a coma, Jin (John Cho), a Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus without a foreseeable end. In Korean tradition when a parent dies, the son should be in the same place physically otherwise they can’t mourn. While waiting to see what will happen to his father he meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), an aspiring architect herself, who’s also stuck in Columbus because of her mother. This is a beautiful movie with real-life issues and situations, to be especially appreciated by viewers who don’t mind a slow narrative in exchange for a meticulously-crafted movie.

User rating: 93/100. Staff rating: 81/100.
Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says “is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself.” Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that’s not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I’ll tell you that it’s a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You’ll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.

User rating: 84/100. Staff rating: 87/100.
Samsara (2012)

In the grand tradition of the ethnographic world tours like Mondo Cane, Samsara hits you in the face with the diversity and wonder of human life on earth. Unlike many of its predecessors, which often descended into colonialist gawping, Samara maintains a non judgmental gaze. This film uses no words or narration to travel the world showing you the breathtaking beauty of various countries, cultures, religions, cities, industries and nature. Shot on 70mm film, the definition and clarity has to be seen to be believed.

User rating: 90/100. Staff rating: 90/100.
Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Like Father, Like Son is a profoundly interesting, multi-layered Japanese film about a young couple who come to learn that their son was unknowingly switched at birth with another boy, and begin a complicated relationship with their real son and his family. Both sides struggle to cope with the looming possibility of returning each boy to his true parents, while the differences between the two families in means and lifestyle lend further complications to their attitudes and their ability to find a resolution. It’s an even-handed yet poignant story that examines the difficult emotions around parenthood and parental expectation, including a meaningful examination of the “nature versus nurture” argument. Very honest and real — you’ll enjoy it even more if you appreciate the intricate style of Japanese cinema. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

User rating: 94/100. Staff rating: 90/100.
After the Storm (2017)

A quiet, smart and well-crafted movie by the much celebrated director Hirokazu Koreeda. Like his other work, notably Like Father, Like Son and Nobody Knows, it addresses family dynamics and how they surface. Once a successful writer, Ryota is now a private detective who spends the little money he makes on gambling instead of paying child support. His ex-wife and son are increasingly alienated by his behavior, until one day, during a storm, they all find themselves trapped in Ryota’s childhood home. Subtly touching on notions of inter-generational bond and tension – this is the kind of movie of which you’ll remember flashes long after you watch it.

User rating: 78/100. Staff rating: 91/100.
The Great Beauty (2013)

A critical favorite and award-show sweeper, The Great Beauty celebrates the sheer decadence of Italian cinema and the Italian capital, Rome, in a tour de force of luxury and gorgeousness. Following an aging bon vivant and Roman socialite who squandered a youth of artistic promise for the simple pleasures of being, the film is a meditation on art, regret, pleasure and the beauty of the eternal city.

User rating: 85/100. Staff rating: 95/100.

A hot summer night, around 2 a.m. You’re outside talking with a close friend about life, happiness, and the human condition. That quality and depth of conversation, which you reach at best a couple of times a year is present throughout the 106 minutes of The End of the Tour.

The film depicts the story of David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel, and his interactions with then Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg.

It’s like being with two smart friends and discussing your life and theirs in the sense that it is deeply personal, very smart while being simple, and unpretentiously relevant.

Performances are nothing short of perfect as Segel completely transforms into the character, and everything is authentically orchestrated with the deft hand of The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt. A rare and important film.

User rating: 85/100. Staff rating: 95/100.