Remember that episode “Fly” on Breaking Bad? I know some people call that episode “a masterpiece," while others call it the worst episode in the entire series. But you know what? I respect both opinions. It’s definitely debatable.
I'll tell you what's not debatable. “Fly” is what’s considered a “bottle episode.” What that means is that it’s an episode that costs a lot less to make than most of the others, and is usually confined to just one or two locations.
And guess what! Bottle movies exist as well. For example, the Quentin Tarantino cult-classic Reservoir Dogs would be one such film. And while yes, there’s more than one location in that movie, like with that famous opening diner scene, the film primarily takes place in a warehouse. So, what are some other fantastic bottle movies out there? Well, you’re about to find out!
The oldest bottle movie on this list, Rope, was one of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies I watched while I was still in my Hitchcock phase. The setting is a single apartment, and two upper class friends have just murdered a man. But, here’s the catch: they’re so cocky (or at least, one of them is), that they decide to host a dinner party in that same apartment that very night. Honestly, this one is kind of hard to watch, it’s so suspenseful.
The movie is bolstered by a great performance from Jimmy Stewart, who plays the two young men’s former prep school housemaster. He has a morbid sense of what a human’s purpose in life is.
And you gradually see the horror of when he finally realizes what he might have awoken in these two young men, as he used to talk to them about philosophies such as Nietzcsche’s concept of the Ubermensch. It’s a staggering movie, and it only takes place in one location. Which reminds me. I really need to watch Lifeboat next.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet, (His directorial debut no less! Which just goes to show that some directors can make a great movie on their very first try.) 12 Angry Men is one of the most famous bottle movies ever made.
The film centers around 12 jurors who are in a single room deliberating on whether an inner city kid is a murderer or not. It seems like an open and shut case as 11 of the jurors are utterly convinced that the kid is guilty, but one single juror (Henry Fonda, who was seriously robbed of an Oscar) disagrees.
The movie is a whirlwind of emotions, and by the end of it, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a true taste of the city without even leaving that room. I’ll tell you, for a movie that came out in 1957, it still packs one hell of a punch.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
John Hughes’ classic, The Breakfast Club, is one of the quintessential movies of the ‘80s. Starring Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, and Emilio Estevez, the film is about five wildly different teenagers (who may not be as different as they think), who have to spend a Saturday detention being monitored by a nasty vice-principal, played by the late Paul Gleason.
The film primarily takes place inside the high school, and throughout the story, we learn about all of the various characters, and just why they’re in detention in the first place.
But even though they all just seem like your standard archetypes on the surface, they all have rich backstories of either abuse or neglect, and they end up bonding with one another over the course of its run-time. There’s a reason why this ‘80s gem is still talked about today. It’s fantastic!
Best movie based off of a board game ever? Well, yeah, but it’s not really all that hard when your closest competition was the shameless movie, Battleship.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, and starring a whole host of great actors, including Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren, and of course Tim Curry, just to name a few, the movie truly embraces the mystery side of the board game by having a number of twists and turns (and multiple endings!) that one would expect from a movie based on such a family favorite game.
The film takes place within the confines of a New England mansion, but it feels so sprawling and immense that it’s easy to forget that we’re in just this one location. Oh, and it’s silly. So, so silly. It’s little wonder that it’s become such a cult classic. Don’t trust anybody, and especially not the butler!
Quite possibly Kevin Smith’s best movie, Clerks seems like the kind of flick that wouldn’t work, but does. Starring Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson as the clerks in question, and Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith himself as Jay and Silent Bob, respectively, Clerks takes place both inside and outside a convenient store, and a video shop.
The story is infinitely relatable (“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”), and uniquely comical. There were two sequels, but neither was able to quite capture the hilarity of the original.
Do not, I repeat, do not watch this Ryan Reynolds movie from 2010 if you are in any way claustrophobic. Because you might seriously pass out if you watch it. I’m dead serious. Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, Buried finds Ryan Reynolds’ character literally buried alive in a coffin for its short (but satisfying) runtime.
What makes Buried one of the greatest bottle movies of all time is that it’s literally just Ryan Reynolds in a cramped space on a cell phone, and it still manages to be one of the most compelling and riveting movies you will ever see in your entire life. I was genuinely breathless by the end.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Well, look who it is. Quentin Tarantino, who began his career with a bottle movie in Reservoir Dogs, returns to the format with this western starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, and many others. The Hateful Eight takes place in a cabin, and the tension becomes as thick and as deep as the snowstorm that they’re trying to escape.
What makes The Hateful Eight work, and my second favorite Tarantino movie (because nothing will ever surpass Pulp Fiction) is that each character is so uniquely different, and multilayered.
The dialogue is phenomenal, because duh, it’s a Tarantino movie, and the tightness of the cabin that our characters are stuck within brings new meaning to the Sartre quote, “Hell is other people.” What a movie!
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
It’s kind of funny that 10 Cloverfield Lane is seemingly, somehow in the same franchise as 2008’s Cloverfield, and 2018’s The Cloverfield Paradox. I say it's funny since Cloverfield is a giant monster movie, and The Cloverfield Paradox is an outer space horror flick, while 10 Cloverfield Lane is a bottle movie that takes place in a bunker.
What’s also kind of funny is that out of the three movies that I just mentioned, 10 Cloverfield Lane is arguably the best of the three.
Directed by Prey’s Dan Trachtenberg, and starring John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane is about a woman who gets into a car crash and wakes up chained to a wall. What follows is paranoia, rage, and…well, I’ll save that for you to discover, since the whole film makes you wonder what’s actually outside of the bunker. But, it’s a taut film with excellent performances, and a concept to die for.
There are many other bottle films that I could have mentioned (Locke and Hitchcock’s Rear Window are two others), but I thought eight was a nice number. For more news on all things cinema, be sure to swing by here often!