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15 Great Films With Extremely Simple Plots

26 March 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Gavin Miller

movies simple plots

Not all great films are complicated, convoluted and stuffed with details, characters and visual grandiose. Some movies force you to look deeper and find those complexities and themes in undercurrents and symbolic motifs, while on the surface the film itself appears to be quite simple.

Simplicity in film can be beautiful and poetic, and without a complicated plot or frenzied discourse taking up the whole script, a lot more can be achieved in other areas of storytelling and design. Simple movies can often times be the most honest and visceral ones, as well as the most powerful and thought-provoking.

These films can be of any genre, because stripping down a story to its minimum is often the best way to get the themes and messages across, and do so in the most genuine and truthful method. Many movies benefit from their complex and multifaceted structure, but here are fifteen excellent examples of films that benefit from simplicity, and flourish regardless.

 

15. Buried

buried

This claustrophobic thriller is intense to a deadly degree, and is both terrifying and admirable as an act of filmmaking. Ryan Reynolds wakes up buried alive, and the whole running-time of the filmtakes place inside his coffin. The brilliantly simple premise is clearly concocted for maximum visceral effect, and it’s unbelievably compelling for the whole ninety-five minutes.

The tenseness of Buried’s last act is so incredible that it truly must be experienced to be believed. You will walk away from this film shaken, and you may not recover from it for some time.

 

14. Vivre Sa Vie

Vivre-Sa-Vie

Vivre Sa Vie is one of Jean-Luc Godard’s more overlooked films, but it’s definitely one of his most original and interesting.

The full French title translates to “To Live Her Life: A Film in Twelve Scenes”, and that’s just what it is. In twelve scenes, Anna Karina’s character is shown slowly descending into and getting involved in prostitution, but the film itself is filled with Godard’s signature flair, and it’s never heavy-handed or dour. The simple concept of telling a story in twelve individual scenes is interesting, the end result is truly different, and something to be seen.

 

13. Night on Earth

night-on-earth

Jim Jarmusch’s thoughtful and quiet Night on Earth is humble in its ambitions, and sweet in its sentiments. Four segments make up this film, each set in a different city and the night of one taxi driver makes up each segment.

This simple, interesting premise makes for an off-kilter film that ranges from sad, to funny, to just plain blissful. One of Jarmusch’s more overlooked pieces, Night on Earth is poetic and profound in its simplicity, and is definitely worth checking out.

 

12. 127 Hours

127 Hours movie

Danny Boyle’s psychological and intimate true-story recounting of a man who cut off his own arm after being trapped under a boulder is startlingly visceral, powerful and affecting. There are a few flashbacks, but almost the whole film is set in one spot.

James Franco is fantastic and commanding as Aron Ralston, and the film itself is fascinating, inspirational and at the pivotal scene, truly hard to watch. A film taking place almost entirely in such a small space is an impressive thing to pull off, and Boyle does it here with visual flair and passionate direction.

 

11. The Straight Story

the straight story

David Lynch’s “most experimental movie” is a sweet and simple fable with its slow pace and beautiful story. The Straight Story may be Lynch’s most conventional film, but it proves that he has great reach, and can work comfortably in different genres.

The story is very simple: an elderly man decides to travel 240-miles on his riding lawn mower to see his estranged brother, who has suffered a stroke and may not be around long enough to make peace with. This is a film both happy and sad, and it’s about as blissfully uncomplicated as movies get.

 

10. Slacker

slacker

Richard Linklater’s hilarious debut is not a narrative or story, but simply a day in Austin, Texas. The film mostly follows younger citizens of the city, and simply observes them as they go about their lives, talk to friends and go off on monologues and tangents.

This influential and very likable film set the ground for filmmakers like Kevin Smith, and it truly is one of the best and most successful independent films of all time. Slacker has no real plot and is instead completely-dialog based, and with this minimalistic and unique premise, works wonders.

 

9. The Blair Witch Project

blairwitchproject

Simplicity and horror go hand in hand. The more simple and realistic a horror film is, chances are it will be more scary. The Blair Witch Project was a huge sensation when it come out in 1999, and the genre has not been the same since.

The scariest aspect of the film is how realistically it’s all presented; the audience is made to believe that what they’re watching is a the real footage of an unfinished documentary discovered in the woods after the filmmakers disappeared. It’s an ingenious idea, and the only bad part about it is the countless knockoffs it has inspired. A truly terrifying and game-changing film.

 

 

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  • disqus_UiQNODaC1z

    Halloween? Seriosly?

    • Dris

      Yes, it fits all the criteria. Its plot is simple as hell, and the clever directing made it a cult classic.

    • Levi Everaerts

      I feel bad for horror fans who still think Halloween is the best horror films ever made.

  • Pavel Dumitrescu

    How about Before Sunrise or The Red Balloon (short film)?

    • RockyJohan

      you can pretty much put 75% of Richard Linklaters movies on here 😉

  • Roger Dodger

    If I confused premise with plot I would probably not publish my article.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Besides Alien, I thought Predator was a simple plot that worked really well.

    • Joel Zachariah

      get to da choooper !

  • Jim Drenthe

    IMPORTANT: Bullock survives in Gravity, Clooney dies but comes back as a ‘vision’.

    • Joel Zachariah

      Thank you captain

  • Ted Wolf

    thanks for including the Straight Story, a very overlooked, rich and deeply moving movie.

  • Heber Muhammad

    Nebraska ?!

    • Nodar

      yes !!!

  • Dave Anderson

    Decent list, though I would have included The Road Warrior.

    • RockyJohan

      Or Mad Max: Fury Road 😉

      • Martin Coloma

        My first thought

  • Genaro Barbosa

    The man from earth

    • Ankur Deb

      That was a simple plot?

      • Joel Zachariah

        Yes it was…. :/ what is so complex in that?

        • Ankur Deb

          I don’t remember why I wrote that.

  • Márcia Santos

    How is 12 angry men not on this list?

    • Payel

      yeah! I absolutely second that!

  • Nodar

    what about Carnage (2011) ?

  • rahul tiwari

    by simple i think we meant what can easily be made lets say in the confines of a room,apartment or a single location stuff of independent film maker galore.. most of the films we consider masterpieces had simple story lines ..they even didnt’ have a complex 3 act structure…the top 3 in this list doesn’t follow that criteria..’dinner with andre’ by Malle seems to be missing in this list

  • Manfred Winter

    “The swimmer” with Burt Lancaster, one day from early morning to afternoon.

  • Biswajit Bhattacharya

    what about
    castaway?
    the godather?
    12 years a slave?
    there will be blood?
    lincoln?
    leon the professional?

    • Joel Zachariah

      um bro … none of these have a simple as hell plot …. good films .. but different from the list

      • Biswajit Bhattacharya

        well bro, none of these are hard to comprehend, most of them come with a PG rating, but it’s ‘simple as hell’ for its audiences.

        • Joel Zachariah

          true … this list is not about any movie that even closely resembles an intricate plot … i would add castaway but the others just dont fit this list … its my opinion after all ^_^

        • RockyJohan

          yeah ehm Bro i dont think you understood the premise of this list…bro.
          Godather? Is that a sequel to highlander?

    • Joel Zachariah

      There will be blood is not a movie with a simple plot… the main emphasis on this list is a movie that didn’t need many settings to complete… like a movie that outlines a day or two in the life of someone… minimalistic shooting and a rich story… but no intricate story progression…

  • Sahil Sachdeva

    12 angry man and requiem for a dream also had fairly simple plot

    • Joel Zachariah

      Not so sure about requiem for a dream…

  • Mihai Meseșan

    I would add “Locke” to this list

    • Joel Zachariah

      Yes why isn’t it in this list?! Or maybe this list was made after it released?

  • Alex Serezis

    I would definitely add: Phonebooth, Death and the Maiden, Locke and Rashomon.

    • Jessica Rogers

      Definitely locke

  • FlyteBro

    Anyone who’s still hailing Blair Witch as “game changing”, and claiming that it “inspired many knockoffs”, is actually saying they don’t know much about movies. Anyone with even the faintest love for cinema, knows that Cannibal Holocaust did the same thing 20 years prior, and also know it’s Blair Witch that’s the knockoff!

  • Jessica Rogers

    Moon should definitely be on this list

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  • Mihai Marin

    The Return (2003) by Andrey Zvyagintsev should have been on this list.

  • Lucas Kao 高智鵬

    Good list, would also include

    The Warrior by Walter Hill
    Any films by jacques Tati (Playtime, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday)
    Under the Skin
    Essential Killing

  • Eric Epstein

    Wages of Fear?

  • nona

    Where is The Shining ?

  • Bivek Shrestha

    Deadpool should have been in the list.

  • Eri Taide

    What does “simple” means in here?

  • Sam

    where is before sunrise series.