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Photograph: Warner Bros.‘Gravity’

The best movies under 90 minutes

Less is more with these 20 quick-fire classics

Adam Goldman
Written by
Adam Goldman
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Everybody loves an epic, but sometimes you just need a quick hit. Whether it’s a two-and-a-half hour action masterpiece (we’re looking at you, Mission: Impossible 7) or a weekend-long streaming binge, these days it’s harder and harder to fit great viewing into your busy schedule. But as our friends at the 90 Minutes or Less Film Fest podcast would testify, there are some great options that won’t eat up your whole night – some of them might even fit into a generous lunch break. We’ve compiled some of the best movies that are 90 minutes and under so you don’t even have to invest time in finding them. Here’s a list of great picks for every taste and mood that prove less really is more.

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Best movies under 90 minutes

Frances Ha (2012)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Before she gave us Barbie, Greta Gerwig (in collaboration with director and partner Noah Baumbach) gave us Frances Halladay, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of Frances Ha. Shot in black and white in a Brooklynite homage to Manhattan, this charmer is a New York movie down to its bones. Aside from being hilarious and touching, Frances Ha is also a fun peek into the origin stories of Adam Driver, who would go on to collaborate with Baumbach on Marriage Story, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s hunk-dork Michael Zegen.

How long? 86 mins

Rope (1948)
  • Film
  • Drama

It’s no surprise to find a Hitchcock film on this list, but Rope is really a treat for the cinephile in your life. One of his most tense, tight and experimental films, Rope follows the immediate aftermath of a murder as Brandon and Philip, two ‘aesthetes’ (is that a euphemism? You decide!) host a dinner party in the same room as their victim’s hidden body. Gross, right? Rope has much to recommend it, but it’s best known for appearing to take place in just a few long, unbroken takes, though the truth is of course somewhat more complicated. Thank the magic of the movies for that.

How long? 80 mins

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  • Film
  • Comedy

Office Space is one of those movies that you can’t help but watch when you’re channel surfing and you happen to see it on TV. Or it was, back when channel surfing was a thing and ‘on TV’ was a concept that made any sense. At any rate, Mike Judge’s spiky but good-natured comedy endures not just because of its quotable script and stellar cast, but because it was weirdly ahead of its time in the way it skewered the deadening office culture that we all started quiet quitting a few years back.

How long? 89 mins

Rashomon (1950)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Roger Ebert famously called cinema ‘a machine that generates empathy’, and the miracle of Rashomon is how deftly Akira Kurosawa manipulates that machine – and his audience – by playing with perspective. A classic that makes its way onto pretty much every greatest films list, Rashomon tells the story of a murder in Heian-era Japan from three radically different perspectives. Ultimately what matters isn’t which story is true (because, you know, what even is truth?), but what the three versions of the story say about the people telling them, and about humanity at large.

How long? 88 mins

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  • Film
  • Horror

Before he was a queer icon, the Babadook was just a humble monster in a great indie horror movie. Not sure how it happened but somehow this modern classic has avoided the franchise treatment – so far, anyway. The Babadook is a quick hit of spooky horror that feels homemade in the best possible way. Plus, it’s Australian so the accents are fun. Somehow both a coming-of-age story and an exploration of grief, The Babadook manages to feel both cosy and terrifying.

How long? 90 mins

  • Film
  • Horror

The Paranormal Activity franchise might have spun a bit out of control in recent years (they’re up to six sequels and counting), but the original is a minor miracle of a movie and perfect for a quick jolt if you need to scare yourself silly in less than two hours. Picking up stylistically where Blair Witch left off, this fun spin on the found footage genre influenced a whole generation of spooky horror flicks over the next decade.

How long? 86 mins

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Harold and Maude (1971)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Hal Ashby’s beloved black comedy Harold and Maude is a dark play on life, love, and mostly death. Harold is a morbid young man who delights in staging elaborate fake suicides and freaking out his family. Maude is his 79-year-old opposite who delights in life and tries to improve the world little by little with the time she has left. Opposites attract, you know the drill – but in this case it’s not exactly a romance and the ending, while it might be happy, is not what you’re expecting.

How long? 90 mins

  • Film
  • Comedy

Christopher Guest’s filmography is pretty much just cult hit after cult hit, so it‘s never easy to pick a single favourite. Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman are both comedy classics, but for that extra push over the cliff This is Spinal Tap can’t be beat. What’s remarkable is how much of the movie still feels fresh and relevant 40 years on – probably helped by the fact that the preposterous extremes of the music industry haven't changed all that much. It’s also worth noting that so much of modern comedy goes right back to Spinal Tap: there’s a case to be made that without it, there’s no The Office, Parks & Rec or Abbott Elementary.

How long? 82 mins

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  • Film
  • Horror

Much like This is Spinal Tap eventually gave us a whole substrate of mockumentary comedy pop culture mainstays, Blair Witch is the grandmother of Paranormal Activity and its subsequent sequels, spin-offs and imitators. What’s impressive about the OG in this case is how slight it is: just 81 minutes of haunting shakycam and heavy breathing and it’s bound to stick with you. While this franchise has been spun off into movies, video games and even comics, it’s refreshing to remember that the original concept was so simple and well-executed.

How long? 81 mins

  • Film

Want to talk microbudget? Sean Baker’s hilarious, moving sophomore directorial outing Tangerine was shot on three iPhones. Yeah, for real. It’s a masterclass in making art that’s so specific that it becomes universal, and Baker used the success of the film to catapult himself into the Oscar-nominated The Florida Project. Tangerine is about two trans sex workers hunting for one of their boyfriends who may or may not be a cheater, but in a broader sense it’s about the difficulty of getting what’s yours in a hostile world determined to trip you up at every step. Carve out 88 compelling minutes for it.

How long? 88 mins

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  • Film

This is one of those movies where the elevator pitch must have been incredibly simple but somehow it just works. ‘Guy in a phone booth and also there’s a sniper pointing a gun at him’ pretty much sells itself. Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker are all great, with an important assist from Katie Holmes. Phone Booth smartly leaves you wanting more: as soon as the central tension at the heart of the story is resolved, they roll credits. We stan an efficient thriller.

How long? 81 mins

  • Film
  • Comedy

Rushmore is the only Wes Anderson movie that’s eligible for this list (unless you count the delightfully weird short Hotel Chevalier from 2007 that screened before The Life Aquatic). Rushmore lays out a set of themes that would end up being at the center of Anderson’s filmography for decades: daddy issues, the pressure to overachieve, impossible unrequited love, and of course Luke and Owen Wilson. It’s a short-but-sweet delight that still stands alongside his very best stuff.

How long? 90 mins

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  • Film
  • Science fiction

The premise of Cube – a group of strangers thrust into a mysterious, deadly situation and forced to cooperate or get picked off one by one – feels a bit old-hat at this point, but back in 1997 it was downright fresh, and we’ll take this cult Canadian B-movie over a handful of Saw sequels any day. There’s some Battle Royale in the DNA here, and even a bit of Harlan Ellison’s classic sci-fi novella ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’. It may be campy, but there’s stuff going on under the hood, too. It’s a must for Squid Game fans, too.

How long? 90 mins

  • Film
  • Drama

Richard Linklater’s love of playing with the passing of time is clearest in Boyhood, in which the audience watches a kid grow up over the course of many years in one (slightly overlong) movie. But 20 years before there came Before Sunrise, a breezy romance about a chance encounter that leads to a magical evening for two tourists in Vienna. And after that was its first follow-up, Before Sunset, which picks up nine years later when Jesse (Ethan Hawke, perfection) and Céline (Julie Delpy, luminous) meet again and… well, not to spoil it, but the movie and its subsequent sequels are intimate, cosy viewing.

How long? 80 mins

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Grave of the Fireflies (1998)
  • Film
  • Animation

This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but sometimes you just need to cry, you know? Isao Takahata’s late ’80s tearjerker is out of character for Studio Ghibli, but it’s an enduring classic nonetheless. Grave of the Fireflies follows siblings Seita and Setsuko in the last days of World War II as they struggle to survive following the brutal bombing of their home city of Kobe. Fireflies is no gentle depiction of the effects of war – it’s not exactly My Neighbor Totoro – but everyone should see it.

How long? 89 mins

End of the Century (2019)
  • Film
  • Drama

The gay mumblecore revival arguably kicked off with Andrew Haigh’s Weekend in 2011. We’ve since had HBO’s Looking (also a Haigh production) and Francis Lee’s gorgeous God’s Own Country, but End of the Century from first-time director Lucio Castro is the most directly in conversation with Haigh’s breakout film: even its Spanish title, Fin de Siglo, echoes Weekend’s (Fin de Semana). Javi and Ocho meet for the first time (or is it?) and may or may not live happily ever after (or do they?). Featuring exactly one all-timer of a weird jump scare, End of the Century is a must-watch for any fan of queer cinema or slightly surreal romance.

How long? 84 mins

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  • Film
  • Science fiction

In the grand tradition of Rope, Gravity largely takes place in several astonishing long takes. While that doesn’t mean exactly the same thing given that so much of this film was animated by computers, the results are still breathtaking. Gravity is a 90-minute theme park ride that keeps you gripping your arm rests until its last frame. And it’s not surprising that this movie slaps as hard as it does, given its pedigree: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are all legends individually, and together the results are undeniable.

How long? 90 mins

  • Film
  • Animation

The Toy Story franchise has a pretty good run, to be honest, unless you count last year’s Lightyear which we obviously don’t. While the original movie might not have the visual polish or the emotional heft of later entries in the series, it’s an incredibly charming and efficient little story, not to mention introducing a whole lot of beloved characters we’re still enjoying 30 years later. This one is good for kids of all ages.

How long? 77 minutes 

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  • Film

Tom Tykwer’s hipster crime thriller is up there with Pulp Fiction and Go as classic Rashomon-style adventures that illuminate a single set of events by presenting us with different perspectives on the same moment in time. Lola stands out because of some fourth wall-breaking shenanigans, energetic animated interludes, a killer thumping soundtrack and the performance of a lifetime from Franka Potente, running (and running, and running, and running) to save her boyfriend from some very angry German gangsters.

How long? 80 mins

  • Film
  • Animation

Some say The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie, while others insist that it’s a Halloween movie. Everyone is right! The truth is that it’s never the wrong time of year to watch Henry Selick and Tim Burton’s perennial classic. From Danny Elfman’s earworm-y tunes (do yourself a favour and check out Fiona Apple’s cover of ‘Sally’s Song’) to the gorgeous stop-motion animation, this one is a feast for the senses.

How long? 76 mins

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