10 Incredible Movies That Don’t Have Any Plot

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.

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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.

Driveways (2019)

This beautiful drama is set over a summer in New York State. Kathy and her son Cody drive to her estranged sister’s house, who had just passed. Kathy plans to quickly sell the house and go back to her normal life but that doesn’t happen when she learns that her sister was a hoarder. Forced to spend more time cleaning the house, her son sparks a friendship with the next-door neighbor, an old Korean War veteran.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, Gran Torino, right? The initial set up is the same but in Driveways is much more realistic, and its characters don’t really need to be redeemed (no one is screaming “get off my lawn” with a shotgun). In fact, the actor who plays the old man, the fantastic Brian Dennehy, brings so much kindness and heart to the story. It ended up his last movie before his passing, and what a beautiful farewell his performance is.

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.

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.

Our Little Sister (2016)

Hirokazu Koreeda can do no wrong. The director of Shoplifters and Still Walking is a master of dissecting complex family dynamics through a handful of events. In Our Little Sister, three close sisters who live at their grandmother’s house learn that their absent father has passed. They travel to the mountains to attend his funeral and meet their half-sister, Suzu, for the first time. Suzu is invited to live with the sisters and join their bond.

This movie is a true-to-the-form slice of life, it’s almost drama-free. This absence of plot is an absence of distractions: the sisters are all that matters to Koreeda. His only focus is on how this family becomes bigger, sees past grief, and how the group of close-knit sisters that grew up together can make room for a new addition.

Oslo, August 31st (2011)

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he’s going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

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.

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.

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.

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Still Walking (2008)

From the director of Shoplifters, Still Walking is a quiet movie about 24 hours in the life of a family gathering to remember the passing of a son. At the center of the story is the father, an emotionally distant man who commands respect both from his family and community. Opposite from him is the black sheep, the other son, who strives for his father’s validation. This dynamic is one of many depicted in this slice-of-life movie about how families deal with loss. It might seem like little is happening during the first stages, but the realism and subtlety with which the story is handled will gradually suck you into the beautiful atmosphere of Still Walking. And however distant the culture or setting in Japan may seem, you’re bound to recognize either yourself or your family in this movie.

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A quick recap

Split by genre of this selection on agoodmovietowatch.com
Comedy
2
Drama
18
Documentary
16
Romance
1
Average score
85%
from our staff
Average score
86.6%
from our users
There are
11
more suggestions in this category.
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