33 Movies Like Nightmare Alley (2021)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Nightmare Alley ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Wise, superbly acted, and gorgeously put together, all of these apply to Nightmare Alley. In a world where remakes are more in vogue than needed, Guillermo del Toro shows us how it's done. A sumptuous tale of a man's rise and fall guarantees some spectatorial pleasure, but having both Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett in the same film (plus unsung genius Toni Collette and all-round-favorite Willem Dafoe) pushes us into talent overload, in the best possible way. In addition to its thrilling plot and studded cast, Nightmare Alley is also psychologically literate enough to make a carnival out of the human soul. It's no surprise that in 2022, it got four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture where it certainly would have had my vote.

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Anna Dworak, Gisle Tveito, Hans Olav Brenner, Herbert Nordrum, Ine Jansen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Marianne Krogh, Renate Reinsve, Ruby Dagnall, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Thea Stabell, Vidar Sandem

Director: Joachim Trier

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aoba Kawai, Aoba Kawai 河井清叶, Ayumu Nakajima, Fusako Urabe, Hitoshi Omika, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kotone Furukawa, Shouma Kai

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: R-13

Poignant, delightful, and simply gorgeous, Licorice Pizza just might be Paul Thomas Anderson's best work to date. The period dramedy follows two young people, one in her 20s and one in his teens, as they strike an unlikely but lovely friendship and try to find their place in the world. They may be 10 years apart, but they're stuck in the same swirl of rejection and confusion that trap a lot of ambitious people like them. The premise is far from original, but Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman turn in captivating performances (made even more impressive by the fact that this is both their film debut). There is an ease and naturalism to both their chemistry and onscreen performances that’s hard not to love.

The thick and wistful patina of the ‘70s, the comedic asides, and the colorful supporting cast all also help paint an overall charming picture that shouldn't be missed.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Somner, AJ Carr, Alana Haim, Alex Canter, Alex Herschlag, Allegra Clark, Anthony Molinari, Ariel Rechtshaid, Benjamin Barrett, Benny Safdie, Bottara Angele, Bradley Cooper, Cassandra Kulukundis, Charlotte Townsend, Christine Ebersole, Ciara Williamson, Cooper Hoffman, Craig Stark, Dan Anderson, Danielle Haim, Delaina Mitchell, Demelza Cronin, Destry Allyn Spielberg, Dick Rudolph, Eloy Perez, Emily Althaus, Emma Dumont, Erica Sullivan, Este Haim, Fatimah Hassan, Gerren Hall, Harriet Sansom Harris, Hazel Schaffer, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Isabelle Kusman, Iyana Halley, Jeff Willy, John C. Reilly, John Michael Higgins, Jon Beavers, Jonathan Goetzman, Joseph Cross, Karen Kilgariff, Kat Barnette, Kimiko Kasai, Kirk Saduski, Lakin Valdez, Laura Louise Richardson, Liz Cackowski, Louis Delavenne, Mark Flanagan, Mark Wolfson, Mary Eileen O'Donnell, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Max Mitchell, Maya Rudolph, Mick Giacchino, Nate Mann, Paige Locke, Patrick Salway, Pearl Minnie Anderson, Ray Chase, Ray Nicholson, Richard B. Larimore, Rogelio Camarillo, Ryan Heffington, Sasha Spielberg, Savannah Ioakimedes, Sean Penn, Skyler Gisondo, Steven Herrera, Tim Conway Jr., Tom Waits, Tyler Young, Waylon Richling, Zoe McLane

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hiroko Matsuda, Jin Dae-yeon, Masaki Okada, Park Yu-rim, Perry Dizon, Reika Kirishima, Ryo Iwase, Satoko Abe, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Sonia Yuan, Toko Miura, Toshiaki Inomata

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Unrated

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Director: Céline Sciamma

After Love is a beautifully powerful and quietly moving outing by emerging British filmmaker Aleem Khan. It follows Mary (Joanna Scanlan), a white Muslim convert who discovers a life-changing secret her husband has managed to keep from her all these years.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that After Love is charged with the sort of deep-seated emotion we sometimes don’t know how to express. It’s also a powerful reminder that there’s no one way to love or grieve or celebrate the people around us; sometimes, there’s just feeling. And Scanlan does a wonderful job of restraining then conveying all of that in devastating and commanding moments throughout the film, a feat that earned her the much-deserved best actress award at the 2021 BAFTAs. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Karim, Elijah Braik, Jeff Mirza, Joanna Scanlan, Narayan David Hecter, Nasser Memarzia, Nathalie Richard, Subika Anwar-Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Talid Ariss

Director: Aleem Khan

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

In Playground, we follow seven-year-old Nora as she navigates friends and school. Through her eyes (and often on her eye level), we witness her and her brother trying and often failing to fit in.

The film is an unfiltered account of their formative years, and possibly a reflection of our own. Commercials and kid-friendly media would have us believe that childhood is simple and pure, but the truth is it isn’t exempt from the major pitfalls of humanity. Children will mimic whatever they see, reasonable or otherwise, and the resulting order won’t always be ideal. Case in point: in the schoolyard, free of adult supervision, Nora and her peers push and tease and harass one another. 

It’s painful but relatable, a microcosm of our own complicated world, and though the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelties of bullying, it’s also filled with moments of empathy and warmth.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne-Pascale Clairembourg, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden, Sandrine Blancke, Simon Caudry

Director: Laura Wandel

, 2021

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it's life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran's official submission to the Oscars. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ali Reza Jahandideh, Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Farrokh Nourbakht, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Maryam Shahdaie, Mohsen Tanabande, Sarina Farhadi

Director: Asghar Farhadi

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

, 2021

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Bo Asdal Andersen, Daniel Karimyar, Elaha Faiz, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Mikhail Belinson, Milad Eskandari, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: PG-13

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alka Balbir, Guillaume Tremblay, Katia Krafft, Miranda July

Director: Sara Dosa

Rating: PG

Asif Kapadia, the genius of biopics who gave us Senna, is back with this documentary on an even bigger sports personality: Argentinian soccer player Diego Armando Maradona. Considered as possibly the best soccer player of all time, Maradona's footage on the pitch is pure wizardry, and you'll feel that way whether you are a soccer fan or not. But that's not the focus of this documentary. What happens outside the pitch is more interesting: from Maradona's modest beginnings to the passionate hatred (and love) that entire countries develop of him. And it doesn't make his story less interesting that during his time in Naples he was affiliated with the mafia.

This is an excellent documentary that distills 500 hours of footage into 2, giving you all you need to know about a character who captured the imagination of a big part of the world for decades. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alberto Bigon, Ciro Ferrara, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino, Dalma Maradona, Diego Armando Maradona, Diego Maradona, Gonzalo Bonadeo, Maria Rosa Maradona, Pele

Director: Asif Kapadia

Rating: TV-14, TV-MA

Francois Cluzet, who you may remember from The Intouchable, plays a man whose wife is killed and is accused of murdering her. To make matters even more confusing, signs that his wife is actually still alive surface. This well thought out thriller is at all times the furthest thing from boring and has, among other great components, well crafted chase scenes as the protagonist looks for 8 years of unanswered questions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Mercouroff, André Dussollier, Anne Marivin, Brigitte Catillon, Christof Veillon, Danièle Ajoret, Dorothée Brière, Éric Naggar, Eric Savin, Florence Thomassin, François Berléand, François Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche, Guillaume Canet, Hugo Sélignac, Jalil Lespert, Jean Rochefort, Jean-Noël Brouté, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Joël Dupuch, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laurent Lafitte, Ludovic Bergery, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Martine Chevallier, Mikaela Fisher, Nathalie Baye, Olivier Marchal, Philippe Lefebvre, Samir Guesmi, Sara Martins, Thierry Neuvic

Director: Guillaume Canet

Rating: Unrated

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it's an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Nanfu Wang