By watching many movies, genre tendencies become expected. When you sit down to watch a baseball movie, or a basic romantic comedy, the outcome is often pretty predictable, and the film itself is reliably formulaic. In many genre movies we welcome this predictability and these clichés, as they’re what’s expected and what you want to see.
Some films however, deviate from the “rules” of their genre, and go unexpected routes – taking the viewer to unfamiliar and unexpected territory. When a film of an established genre dares to turn things around or upside down, it usually makes for a great movie, and these films are often some of the best cinematic discoveries, as they provide an experience that offers something new that we aren’t used to or have never quite felt. Here are fifteen awesome genre films that do the unpredictable and revel in originality.
15. Donnie Darko
Genre (Sub-genre): High School
Donnie Darko is a weird and disturbing film that simultaneously is about time-travel, the end of the world and teen angst. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie, who sees visions of a giant bunny rabbit named Frank who prophecies the end. There are many interpretations of this film, but as enigmatic and bizarre as it is, one of the most memorable aspects of it is its depiction of the teenage experience. A teen film like no other.
14. Let Me In
Genre (Sub-genre): Vampire
As far as American cinema goes, the phrase “vampire love story” has an embarrassing, pathetic connotation. However, Matt Reeves’ remake of Let the Right One In is a beautiful, dark and bitter-sweet story, complete with great performances from Chloë Grace-Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as well as some spectacular genre scares and gore that were actually well-done and for a purpose. Let Me In is not a “vampire movie” in the contemporary genre sense. It is a wonderful film that is sad, scary and tender.
13. Mary and Max
Genre (Sub-genre): Animation
Animated films are often associated with “kids movies”, and sometimes the genre in not taken as seriously as it should be. Mary and Max, however, is definitely not a kids film, nor does it associate itself with the kinds of tropes and clichés you are prone to witness in a classic animated movie.
There’s nothing wrong with those clichés, if that’s what you’re looking for, but some animated films have a darker, edgier spirit, and this is one that definitely will catch you off guard. Mary and Max is a very quirky and weird movie, one of that must be seen to be understood. Beyond the basic plot of the pen-pal friendship between an Australian girl and a middle-aged New York man, it’s hard to explain this film. Mary and Max is a beautiful story – one that moves this author to tears on every viewing.
This claymation film has an odd sense of humor, and it takes you to places both unexpectedly weird, dark and humorous, and is an absolute must-see for any fan of animation or of movies in general.
12. All Is Lost
Genre (Sub-genre): Adventure
Survival films often resort to melodrama, excess and over-done characters and plotting. Even some of the more memorable films of the genre, like Cast Away, suffered from these downfalls – inserting unnecessary subplots and drama, and trying too hard to make us care about the characters. All Is Lost is the finest survival/adventure story in recent memory, and this near-silent masterpiece is anything but what you would expect from a film of this genre.
This is a compelling tale, and one aspect of the film that leaves a massive impression is how well it makes you feel alone and isolated. By stripping down the genre to its bare-minimum and adopting a minimalist style, All Is Lost succeeds in being harrowing, poetic and moving. Robert Redford is the only actor in the movie, and his outstanding performance is the anchor of this magnificent film.
11. Pulp Fiction
Genre (Sub-genre): Gangster
Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus Pulp Fiction is quite possibly the most odd and unique gangster film ever made. It’s strongly character and dialog based, and with its non-linear structure it will have you coming back for more. The black comedy and violent outbursts really give the film personality, and it’s watchable and entertaining for all of its two and a half hours. Pulp Fiction puts more emphasis on the characters than on action, and the film is simply one-of-a-kind, unpredictable and something very new.
10. District 9
Genre (Sub-genre): Science-fiction
Most alien-related science-fiction films seem take one of two routes: either the aliens are bloodthirsty monsters arriving at Earth to destroy mankind (Independence Day, War of the Worlds), or they are misunderstood, kind beings who deserve our compassion (E.T., Avatar).
District 9 complicates the matter by putting the aliens somewhere in between. The “prawns” are disgusting, violent and repulsive-looking creatures, and while they’re not welcome here on Earth by many, they certainly aren’t monsters either. As the film progresses, we start to grow truly compassionate for the prawns, as we understand their plight and see their horrible state of living in a Johannesburg slum.
This allegorical film deals with aliens in an unexpected and political way, and it takes a chance in trusting that we’ll actually grow to care about cockroach-lobsters, which by the way, is a much riskier chance on the filmmaker’s part than to trust we will sympathize with sexy blue humanoids.
9. Harold and Maude
Genre (Sub-genre): Romantic Comedy
Harold and Maude is a delightfully weird film – one that many filmmakers wouldn’t be brave or edgy enough to make. The romance here is between a young death-obsessed man named Harold, and a 79 year old women named Maude. This oddly-touching romance laced with hilarious black-comedy is like no other movie.
The Cat Stevens soundtrack, excellent performances, jet-black humor and compelling central relationship make this film not only a bizarre success, but a romantic comedy like nothing you’ve ever seen before.