15 Of The Best Netflix Films Under 90 Minutes, Because You're Still Quite Busy

Tom Nicholson
Photo credit: -

From Esquire

Alfred Hitchcock said a lot of extremely astute things about films, but he was never more correct than when he said that "the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."

In more civilised times, if you'd gone to see 2001: A Space Odyssey or Doctor Zhivago, you'd have been able to nip out for a wee and some popcorn during an intermission. The only way to get through Avengers: Endgame without dashing out was by drying yourself out for a couple of days beforehand.

No, the optimum length of a film is 90 minutes. Long enough to draw you fully into its world, short enough to necessitate judicious cutting of waffle, and just about trim enough to allow you time to do something else with your evening afterwards. These are the best 90-minuters on Netflix right now.

Three Identical Strangers (2018)

Three brothers – identical triplets – are separated at birth, but gradually find each other again. This sounds like a pretty simple documentary. It isn't. Boy, oh boy, oh boy, it isn't. The differences soon become apparent, and start to gradually pull the brothers apart, and the extraordinary circumstances of their original separation are revealed.


Easy A (2010)

The subgenre of teen films in which classic literature is transplanted into a middle class suburban high school is reliably excellent. Easy A ranks alongside Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You in those stakes, updating The Scarlet Letter and placing Emma Stone's Olive at its centre. A lie about sleeping with a boy from college gets out of control, and soon she's pretending she's slept with half of the school for reasons both noble and venal. Smart, sophisticated, and very funny.


Mountain (2017)

A different kind of nature doc. Swooping, graceful shots of sternly unfeeling mountain peaks and face while Willem Dafoe reads from Robert Macfarlane's book Mountains of the Mind, an exploration of why people are drawn to scale great peaks despite it being demonstrably insane. "What is this strange force that draws us upwards? This siren song of the summit?," Dafoe growls ruminatively, backed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.


Fruitvale Station (2013)

Ryan Coogler's feature directing debut and first collab with Michael B Jordan is based on the case of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by police at Fruitvale district station in Oakland, California, in 2009. Jordan is a tough but vulnerable Grant, whose last day on Earth begins innocuously but is ended by a couple of chance moments and decades of ingrained police racism. That it arrived at almost the exact moment Trayvon Martin's death became a rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement added it extra potency, and it's more relevant now than ever.


Videodrome (1983)

Body-horror doyenne David Cronenberg followed his telepathically induced explosion thriller Scammers with a spookily prescient horror thriller. A mysterious TV broadcast full of sex, violence and murder draws in Max Renn (James Woods) and Nicki Brand (Blondie's Debby Harry). It turns out the TV is warping the minds of viewers, resulting in hallucinations and some properly groundbreaking effects, which still look great.


Porco Rosso (1992)

Now that Studio Ghibli's back catalogue's been on Netflix for a while, you've probably already spun through My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, Ponyo and the other big ones. Porco Rosso's relatively uncelebrated, but it's a little gem. The 'red pig' of the title is an Italian former air ace who now chases 'sky pirates' around above the Adriatic, and who is also an anthropomorphic pig thanks to a curse. It's beautiful, droll and politically pointed.


Apollo 11 (2019)

This doc about the 1969 moon landings is, in pretty much every sense possible, incredible. It's the single most incredible event in human history, told with restraint and light-handedness, shot on eyeball-shreddingly sharp 70mm film stock that nobody outside Nasa had ever seen before. No talking heads, no narration, no recreations. Incredible.


Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

As we've argued before – very successfully – Aardman's Wallace and Gromit shorts represent the pinnacle of filmmaking in the 20th century. Its Oscar-winning feature-length debut matched up to them, drawing on Hammer horrors and creature feature B-movies but peppered with their trademark daftness. Who's stealing the Lancastrian locals' veg ahead of the big country show? "If you ask me, it's arson," says a Peter Kay-voiced policeman. "That's right, arson – someone arsein' about."


The Purge (2013)

Blumhouse's low-budget, dystopian action-horror has become so much a part of the furniture that you can describe any mildly dicy situation as being "like The Purge, this". In an attempt to get all the terrible impulses out of America's collective system, the government has instituted a new tradition. One night of the year, all crime's legal – even murder. Will Ethan Hawke and his wealthy LA family survive this year? Try to ignore the honking script and bask in its B-movie thrills.


Last Breath (2019)

The sea is scary. Cold, lonely, probably really soggy, and you might as well be on the surface of the moon for all the help that anyone could give you. This under-appreciated disaster doc is about exactly that nightmare scenario, played out through hauntingly grainy, genuine footage. While doing some repairs 100 metres down on the seabed, diver Chris Lemons' life support was cut, leaving him with no light, no heating for his diving suit, no radio, and only a few minutes of oxygen left.


When Harry Met Sally (1989)

You should, really, have already seen When Harry Met Sally. Fellow Chicago uni graduates Harry and Sally drive to their new lives in New York after graduation, bickering all the way about life, sex and relationships. They bump into each other again and again, gradually become mates, but keep jousting over their unhappy love lives. Nora Ephron's script crackles (Jess: "Marriages don't break up on account of infidelity – it's just a symptom that something else is wrong"; Harry: "Oh really? Well, that symptom is fucking my wife"), and Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher were never better. There has also never been a better collection of jumpers committed to film.


Coffy (1973)

If you're wondering where you've seen Pam Grier before, it might well have been in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Tarantino's a huge fan of this blaxploitation flick – and others in Grier's catalogue of brutal avenging heroines from the Seventies – which copped a lot of flak at the time and certainly isn't subtle, but which is full of genre thrills. Coffy is a vigilante who wants revenge on the people who've got her sister hooked on heroin, and she'll stop at nothing to get it.


The Stranger (1946)

A noir starring Edward G Robinson and Orson Welles, with Welles directing, The Stranger sees a UN commissioner on the tail of a fugitive Nazi but with nothing to work with except the knowledge that this Nazi absolutely loves clocks. Shocked by newsreels documenting the atrocities of the Holocaust which arrived in 1945, Welles insisted the real films be used at The Stranger's climax. It's a beautifully put together mystery-thriller.


Gascoigne (2015)

This doc's not exactly forensic on the more difficult, knotty sections of the former England midfielder's life and career: the wunderkind who burst into the Newcastle United team and looked like he could beat the world at Spurs, but ended up misfiring at Lazio, declining at Rangers, and then trudging from Middlesbrough, to Everton, to Burnley, to Gansu Chianma in China, and finally to Boston United, all with a serious alcohol addiction. But the emphasis here is on funny anecdotes, archive of Gazza doing his thing, and just what an extraordinary phenomenon he was.


The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

This one's very, very slightly over 90 minutes, but it's too good not to include. It's a sharp deconstruction of all those horror films where teens do self-evidently stupid things like splitting up to look for clues, as well as the hackneyed stereotypes who populate them: dumb jocks, ditzy cheerleaders, sloppy stoners and the like. It turns out they were being manipulated all along by forces beyond their reckoning, and now these teens are going to sort the shadowy powers-that-be out. Very funny, genuinely thrilling, and features a very young Chris Hemsworth.


Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more delivered straight to your inbox


Need some positivity right now? Subscribe to Esquire now for a hit of style, fitness, culture and advice from the experts


You Might Also Like