Ready for a quick cinematic escape? From animated delights to thought-provoking dramas, here’s our roundup of the best short movies that pack a punch in under 30 minutes.
La Jetée (1962)
La Jetée is a French classic that stands the test of time and proves that you don’t need a blockbuster budget to make an impactful film. Directed by Chris Marker, it’s a post-apocalyptic tale told almost entirely through black-and-white still photos, a storytelling choice that only enhances its haunting vibe. Despite its unusual format, the film’s narrative is so gripping that it inspired Terry Gilliam’s feature-length movie, “12 Monkeys.” Since it was primarily shown in festivals and smaller venues, exact box office numbers aren’t readily available. However, its impact on cinema and culture is priceless.
The Red Balloon (1956)
Here’s a film that feels like a warm hug. The Red Balloon, directed by Albert Lamorisse, is a simple yet deeply emotional French film about a young boy and his adventures with a red balloon that seems to have a mind of its own. You might think a film about a floating balloon would be dull, but it’s surprisingly captivating and tugs at your heartstrings. The Red Balloon floated its way to numerous awards, including an Oscar. While it didn’t have a typical commercial release, its widespread acclaim and distribution in educational settings have made it a classic that transcends box office earnings.
Luxo Jr. (1986)
Pixar’s Luxo Jr. is more than just a cute animation; it’s a cultural icon. This short film introduced the world to Pixar’s groundbreaking animation style, as well as their adorable, now-iconic desk lamp. At its core, Luxo Jr. is a tale of curiosity and playfulness, themes that would become a cornerstone of Pixar’s storytelling. The film never had a traditional box office release, as it often played before other Pixar features, but its legacy is invaluable. It even inspired the hopping lamp in the Pixar logo, making it a perpetual part of movie-going experiences.
Geri’s Game (1997)
Who would’ve thought watching an old man play chess with himself could be so captivating? Geri’s Game, another gem from Pixar, is a brilliant showcase of animation, storytelling, and character depth, all packed into a few minutes. It snagged the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and showed that animation could carry just as much emotional weight as live-action. As a short often played before Pixar features, it didn’t have a traditional box office run, but its influence and acclaim are undeniable.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren is like stepping into someone else’s dream or maybe even a nightmare. It’s a surreal ride that leaves you questioning the line between reality and imagination. While the film doesn’t follow a traditional narrative, it’s a gripping experience that’s been dissected and admired by film scholars for decades. Given its avant-garde nature, the film primarily had non-commercial screenings, making box office data less relevant than its lasting impact on experimental cinema.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
You know you’re in for a unique experience when the creators themselves, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, aimed for a film that wouldn’t make any rational sense. Un Chien Andalou is famous—or perhaps infamous—for its shocking, surreal imagery, including the unsettling scene of an eye being sliced open. Even though it’s a product of the 1920s, it remains jarringly modern and has influenced countless films and filmmakers. It was never a mainstream hit at the box office, but it’s been a mainstay in art house and academic circles for decades, proving that its shock value has enduring appeal.
Paperman is a romantic and whimsical tale from Disney that combines hand-drawn and computer animation, creating a unique, almost magical aesthetic. The film explores the idea that love can bloom in the most mundane places, in this case, a train station. Shown before Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman didn’t have its own box office earnings but added a lovely prelude to an already popular feature. The film earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, solidifying its place in animation history.
The House is Black (1963)
This Iranian documentary short film directed by Forough Farrokhzad is more of a poem than a conventional film. The House is Black delves deep into the lives of people afflicted with leprosy, offering an intense, compassionate look that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s a stark reminder of the human condition, showing us the faces we’d rather not see but need to. Lacking mainstream commercial release, the film’s value is in its eye-opening impact, not in box office numbers.
The Dam Keeper (2014)
This emotionally rich animated short film by Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi serves as a poignant narrative on friendship, loneliness, and acceptance. The Dam Keeper centers around a young pig who’s responsible for operating a windmill that keeps a dark fog at bay. Despite his role, he is bullied and misunderstood. The film didn’t have a traditional box office release but received critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.
Feast is a heartwarming tale told from the perspective of a Boston Terrier named Winston, who experiences his owner’s love life through the various foods he gets to eat. The short is both comical and touching, successfully condensing a full emotional arc into just a few minutes. While Feast didn’t have its own box office release, it played before Disney’s Big Hero 6 and received its own share of the spotlight when it won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.