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20 best short movies under 90 minutes – and where to stream them

No stomach for three hours of weeping hobbits? These films get the job done in half the time

We all love an epic movie now and again, but sometimes you just don’t want to sit through two and a half hours of tedious exposition, big robots punching each other or little people rambling through the countryside. Here’s our guide to the best short movies.

In such times, you want a film that gets the job done in 90 minutes. The hour-and-a-half sweet spot is ideal for weeknight watching and – as the following list shows – it’s perfectly possible to tell a gripping, thought-provoking and all-round entertaining story working within such time constraints. To that end, we’ve assembled a collection of our favourite movies that don’t muck about, all available to stream on one or more of the main UK subscription services.

NB: some of the film runtimes shown below may be slightly above 90 minutes, but before shooting us an angry email please note that this includes the end credits. Skip those and you’ll be in and out in under an hour and a half, trust us.

Additional words by: Tom Wiggins, Matt Tate and Natalya Paul

The best short films to watch today

Commando

This delightfully over-the-top action movie ticks off just about every 1980s Hollywood cliché as former special forces soldier John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his best early-career appearances) takes on a ruthless Central American dictator’s entire army single-handed.

Commando has it all: explosions, punch-ups, car chases, improper use of garden tools, a gaggle of scenery-chewing villains and lots and lots of bullets. Schwarzenegger proves himself a vital and arresting screen star in spite of his slightly stilted acting (he’s much better in Predator, which followed soon after); his sheer physical presence is more than enough to carry this brilliantly entertaining romp home.

Running time: 90 minutes

Watch Commando on Disney+

Cloverfield

Cloverfield was perhaps the zenith of the “found footage” sub-genre of horror – and sure, it’s a patchy one, with every decent effort (1999’s The Blair Witch Project) seemingly matched by a dreadful one (2016’s Blair Witch).

But Cloverfield succeeds by taking the concept and conceit – that the viewer is watching real-life footage of the events, recovered after the fact – beyond its low-budget roots by setting the movie not in a creepy forest or secluded farmhouse, but in New York during a massive, initially mysterious disaster. So the viewer essentially gets a first-person view of the apocalypse, complete with gory deaths, collapsing buildings and much, much worse. It’s a fun ride while it lasts, but those who suffer from motion sickness might well have to check out early – Abrams does love his shakicam footage.

Running time: 85 minutes

Watch Cloverfield on Now

Halloween (1978)

The original slasher film with a silent, seemingly unstoppable masked killer stalking hapless teens, Halloween’s creepily “normal” suburban setting, chilling synth soundtrack (written and performed by director John Carpenter himself) and knife-edge tension make it a great watch over 40 years after it was made.

Jamie Lee Curtis became a star off the back of her debut performance as babysitter-turned-serial-runner-away here, Donald Pleasance provides gravitas as obsessed psychiatrist Dr Loomis, and the apparently motiveless Michael Myers, an invulnerable “shape” clad in his expressionless white mask, makes for a truly iconic expression of pure evil.

Running time: 91 minutes

Watch Halloween on Netflix

Watch Halloween on Now

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

A holiday favourite from way back in the 1980s, this hilarious and heart-warming road movie stars Steve Martin and John Candy as travellers forced to team up in order to get home in time for the Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Martin shines as the uptight middle-class straight man, the total inverse to Candy’s brash, motor-mouthed shower curtain ring salesman – so it’s no surprise when their journey turns into a series of clashes and arguments. It all ends on a positive note, of course, which is probably why this film has become something of a classic of its time. It’s certainly among the late Candy’s best movies.

Running time: 93 minutes

Watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles on Netflix

Source Code

Source Code is a bit like Groundhog Day, except it stars a dashing Jake Gyllenhaal, takes place almost entirely on a train and involves thwarting a terrorist plot which could level the entire city of Chicago. OK, so maybe it’s not that similar to Groundhog Day at all, except for its clever live-die-repeat structure.

Still, it’s a really good sci-fi action thriller – ably helmed by Moon director (and son of David Bowie) Duncan Jones – with enough twists, existential questions and heart to keep you hooked in until the credits roll.

Running time: 93 minutes

Watch Source Code on Amazon Prime Video

The Blair Witch Project

It wasn’t the first horror movie to utilise the found footage angle (or “gimmick” as some might say) but The Blair Witch Project was the first to break into the mainstream. A true box office phenomenon, its success was partly due to a marketing campaign that hinted at the movie being a true story. Was this real-life footage we were watching, cobbled together from tapes discovered after a trio of college film students vanished in the Maryland woods?

Of course it wasn’t – but the lo-fi handheld footage, unknown cast and their convincing sense of escalating panic as they realise they may not be alone in the forest all serve to create a disturbingly authentic feel. In the years since its release we’ve been deluged with similar films but this remains one of the best, and creepiest, examples.

Running time: 81 minutes

Watch The Blair Witch Project on Netflix

Palm Springs

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, two strangers who happen to be guests at the same wedding, find themselves trapped in an infinite time loop in this offbeat romcom. If they fall asleep or die, they wake up and have to live the entire day through again. The pair decide to make the most of this temporal purgatory, indulging in wilder and wilder behaviour safe in the knowledge that whatever happens, they’ll just end up back at square one. Life, it seems, has truly become meaningless.

If might sound like a cliched concept, but Palm Springs feels different by dint of focussing on a pair of people rather than just one. The chemistry and tensions between the two keep the film involving – and it’s very funny to boot.

Running time: 90 minutes

Watch Palm Springs on Amazon Prime Video

Paranormal Activity

Made on a shoestring budget and running with the “found footage” angle that was already long in the tooth by its release in 2009, Paranormal Activity can still put the willies up all but the hardiest viewer.

The story centres on a woman who believes she’s been haunted by some kind of supernatural presence since her childhood. A psychic warns her and her boyfriend against attempting to communicate with the presence – advice which, of course, they immediately ignore. Cue minor creepy occurrences captured on grainy night vision video, gradually ramping up to the point that you’ll be going to bed with the lights on.

Running time: 86 minutes

Watch Paranormal Activity on Amazon Prime Video

My Neighbor Totoro

Being wholesome and emotional without straying into cloying sentimental is a tough task, but it’s one Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have nailed time and time again. 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro is a prime example.

This film about a pair of young sisters who move into a new house and befriend a forest spirit in rural post-war Japan really does have something for everyone: an overarching sense of wonder; hand-painted bucolic beauty; a touching depiction of family life; a soaring score from the masterful Joe Hisaishi; and of course the titular Totoro, a now-iconic Ghibli character representing… well, all sorts of things if you care to think about it.

Running time: 87 minutes

Watch My Neighbor Totoro on Netflix

The Lion King

Hmm…not sure how much we really need to say about this one. It’s arguably Disney’s most beloved film of all time, Elton John did the music, and it features Rowan Atkinson as a sardonic talking bird. And that’s before we get to quite possibly the most traumatic death scene in any film, live action or animated. It’s The Lion King, you know? It’s good.

As you probably know, Simba’s coming-of-age battle to take his rightful place as King of the Pride Lands has been semi-recently remade using cutting edge CGI, but somehow lost everything that made the original so special in the process. If you want to revisit this timeless masterpiece, watch the 1994 version. And because you’re reading this article, we’re going to assume that you’ll appreciate the 30 minutes shorter runtime, too.

Running time: 89 minutes

Watch The Lion King on Disney+

Zombieland

This horror comedy hits the ground running, with a refreshingly self-aware opening credits sequence that lays out the ground rules for survival in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested America. Jesse Eisenberg’s cowardly Columbus stays alive by following those rules to the letter but his companion, Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, is a brash killing machine on a quest for the last remaining Twinkie. Sharp, witty and blessed with one of the most memorable cameo appearances ever, this is a zombie movie with plenty of brains.

Running time: 88 minutes

Watch Zombieland on Netflix

Porco Rosso

Another tightly paced Ghibli classic, Porco Rosso is set in the 1930s Adriatic – a place where airborne pirates harass tourist cruises until they’re seen off by our titular hero. He’s a louche, middle-aged Italian pilot who has (for reasons never truly explained) been cursed with the face of a pig. When the pirates hire a brash American fighter ace to take Porco out of the picture, his simple life is turned upside down.

With all this set against the backdrop of rising Italian fascism, Porco Rosso is richly served with thoughtful subtext and themes; as with all Ghibli films, these don’t smash you over the head with a metaphorical hammer, but reveal themselves through the story and its wonderful characters.

Running time: 94 minutes

Watch Porco Rosso on Netflix

Toy Story

People will always argue about which Toy Story film is the best, but nobody can dispute that the first is the most significant. The first entirely computer-animated feature-film and the film that launched Pixar as a studio, Toy Story is about as landmark as movies get.

For those who have been living peacefully under a rock for the last 25+ years, the film follows a gang of toys that come to life when humans leave the room. Their ringleader, a cowboy named Woody, is the favoured plaything of his owner Andy until the arrival of Buzz, a delusional action figure who believes he’s a real space ranger. The two fierce rivals eventually have to team up when they become separated from Andy, and the adventure that follows is as epic, dazzlingly inventive and yes, tear-jerking, as it was back in the mid-’90s.

Running time: 81 minutes

Watch Toy Story on Disney+

Attack the Block

Aliens arrive on Earth with bad intentions. Said aliens decide to land in a South London housing estate – and find out that South London housing estates are full of their own kind of hazards.

By refusing to cast judgement on the actions of its teenage protagonists (which include Star Wars‘ John Boyega in his breakthrough role), Attack the Block leaves you free to make up your own mind – though you’ll probably be too wrapped up in the action to bother. Directed by Joe Cornish, it’s by turns scary, funny and very cool.

Running time: 88 minutes

Watch Attack the Block on Netflix

What We Do in the Shadows

Taika Waititi’s outstanding mockumentary about a bunch of house-sharing New Zealand vampires really hits the horror-comedy spot – and doesn’t hang about while doing so. With plenty of laughs mined from the awkwardness of being a neurotic immortal living in the modern world, it’s certainly leaning more towards the comic side of the spectrum, but it’s not lacking in genuine moments of creepiness. If you’re a fan of This Is Spinal Tap as well as Interview with the Vampire, this is one movie to get your teeth into.

Running time: 87 minutes

Watch What We Do in the Shadows on Amazon Prime

I Lost My Body

Despite an Oscar nomination and some rave reviews at Cannes in the year of its release, this melancholic and genuinely unique animated gem still seems to have flown somewhat under the radar. It’s possible that a quick plot synopsis (understandably) puts people off. The plight of a severed hand travelling the streets and suburbs of Paris to get back to its owner is every bit as weird as it sounds on paper, and at times more than a bit disturbing, too. One word: rats. But it’s a great setup for some of the most creative animation we’ve seen in recent years. The story of how the young boy whom the hand belongs to came to losing it forms the other half of the film, and while it’s the sequences featuring the hand that left a lasting impression on us, I Lost My Body is pretty mesmerising for the duration of its 1hr 21 runtime.

Running time: 81 minutes

Watch I Lost My Body on Netflix

20 Feet from Stardom

This Oscar-winning documentary turns its stage lights onto a key (and all too often overlooked) contributor to pop music: the backing singer. Based entirely around interviews with performers, producers and the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting, 20 Feet from Stardom is an enlightening exploration of the lives of some of the most hardworking and talented professionals in the music industry – people who share a stage with global superstars night after night without a single audience member knowing their name.

Running time: 90 minutes

Watch 20 Feet from Stardom on Amazon Prime Video

Corpse Bride

In many ways Corpse Bride seems like a typical Tim Burton film: it’s dark, quirky and stars Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp – you get the gist. But this oddly romantic stop motion story does at least offer an upbeat ending. Victor, who is about to wed Victoria, ends up marrying the enchanted corpse bride by accident. Upon realising he actually loves Victoria, Victor has to fight his way back from the land of the dead to find true happiness.

Running time: 77 minutes

Watch Corpse Bride on Amazon Prime Video

My Octopus Teacher

If all you know about octopuses is how tasty they are when turned into takoyaki, Craig Foster’s captivating Netflix documentary might just make you change your order next time you go out for sushi.

The film follows a year in the conservationist’s life, in which he took a daily dip among the kelp off the coast of Simon’s Town in South Africa. It’s among this forest of marine foliage that Foster forms an unlikely inter-species bond with an unnamed female cephalopod and, with the help of a world-class underwater cameraman, captures some of her species’ truly mind-blowing skills, characteristics and behaviour on film. It gets a bit schmaltzy towards the end, but as an insight into the life and world of a creature that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi movie, it’s truly fascinating.

Running time: 84 minutes

Watch My Octopus Teacher on Netflix

Last Breath

Readers of a certain age will remember 999 – a BBC show from the ‘90s that reconstructed dreadful accidents and the dramatic, against-all-odds rescues that followed them. One week somebody would fall out of a plane, the next a teenager would have a javelin through the neck. Last Breath feels a bit like 999: The Movie.

It tells the true story of Chris Lemons, a commercial diver in the North Sea whose literal lifeline gets cut in bad weather, leaving him stranded 100 metres below the surface with almost zero visibility and not a lot more oxygen. Where 999 had to rely on reconstructions, talking heads and newsreader Michael Buerk’s narration, Last Breath also includes real video footage of the otherworldly environment taken from the divers’ wearable cameras, which makes it an even more tense, claustrophobic watch.

Running time: 85 minutes

Watch Last Breath on Netflix