Movies you should only watch alone
Modern technology has made it possible to consume pretty much any type of entertainment alone—things that were once mostly a communal experience, including everything from films to music to television, can now be taken in using your favorite handheld device wherever you happen to be. Still, even as pop culture enthusiasts around the world are streaming more than ever, going to the movies remains one of our last real communal experiences. That’s the way it really ought to be, too…most of the time, anyway.
We’ve already run through the movies you shouldn’t watch alone, mostly because they’re just downright scary. Now we’re going through all the films you should watch alone for various reasons. Much of the time, taking in a film is an experience that can only be improved by sharing it with an audience, but trust us you won’t want someone sitting next to you while any of these movies are on.
All Is Lost
Robert Redford’s ability to grip audiences with a compelling performance has never waned throughout his career, and that gift is particularly evident in J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, an acclaimed 2013 drama in which Redford’s unnamed sailor endures a litany of increasingly life-threatening mishaps during a solo voyage.
Watching this film alone is a transformative experience. There’s only one character and he hardly ever speaks, which makes sounds that ordinarily might not be noticed—like thunder—all the more intriguing. When there’s little to no dialogue throughout an entire movie, with most of the sound coming from the main character shuffling around, what would normally be an ordinary background detail becomes a key factor in the film’s immersion. Every detail in All Is Lost, from the sextant to the roaring storm, requires the audience’s full attention.
Starring Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney as Lt. Matt Kowalski, Alfonso Cuarón’s hit 2013 space drama Gravity is a film that filled theaters for weeks—but in order to truly exert its devastating impact, it needs to be seen alone.
For one, the filmmakers do an excellent job of projecting Stone’s panic onto the audience after she’s marooned in space. Astronaut Sherwood Spring said watching the film, and relating to her fears, made him recall a moment from his own career: “We were going over to the dark side,” he told The San Diego-Union Tribune. “I remember hugging a beam in the shuttle until I adjusted to it all. Imagine having someone shine a light in your face for a long period a time, then, suddenly, it’s gone.” Fear is alleviated in a group setting, so truly putting yourself in Dr. Stone’s position requires watching the film alone.
Whether or not there’s sound in space is up for debate, but Cuarón’s command of Gravity’s soundtrack is the second reason you should watch it by yourself—and with the volume high. It’s the type of film in which the intensity continuously builds, amplified by the skillful use of sound. Even the crescendo in the score allows audiences to feel the emotional weight of Bullock’s character’s struggle to reach Earth—and survive. Just one sound, one second of distraction, can ruin the experience.
The Shawshank Redemption
Have you ever turned on the TV and started watching a movie, even if it’s already been on a for awhile, and just couldn’t stop? The movie may not be one of your favorites, or even one you’d normally choose to watch, but once you’re pulled in, you can’t turn away. That’s The Shawshank Redemption for many people. The Frank Darabont-directed film didn’t do too well at the box office, but it has since been recognized as one of the greatest films of all time.
Watching The Shawshank Redemption can change your life. (That’s what people keep telling Morgan Freeman, anyway.) When you’re in the midst of it, you don’t want any distractions—plus, if you don’t want people to see you cry, then you really don’t want to watch it with company.
Into the Wild
Based on the novel of the same name by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a recent college grad who braved the Alaskan wilderness in the early ’90s and sadly died from starvation a few months into his trek.
Beyond helping moviegoers escape their daily lives, films can make audiences think by relating to the characters or the story, and Into the Wild’s judgment-free dramatization of McCandless’ doomed pilgrimage offers a perfectly introspective example. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to abandon materialism and take an adventure of your own in the Alaskan wilderness? You wouldn’t be the first.
Duncan Jones’ feature debut Moon is another example of a lonely tale that messes with the viewer’s mind. Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, an astronaut at the tail end of his spell mining helium-3 on the dark side of the moon. Three years in space, alone, can affect someone in all sorts of ways, particularly psychologically—but when clones and artificial intelligence are involved, things can get odder still. Moon is hard sci-fi, and it requires the audience’s absolute attention. Watch it with the wrong people, and you’ll miss out on vital parts of the experience—but no matter how you see Moon, you’re in for an unforgettable ride.
Darren Aronofsky’s filmography is studded with Biblical symbolism, and The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as star-crossed lovers, offers a particularly absorbing example. The film is a visual spectacle, to say the least, but its three storylines are just as finely crafted and easy to lose track of if you aren’t paying close attention. Lose concentration and you could easily miss details crucial to grasping the story as a whole. The Fountain has an exceptionally emotional story, but watching it unfold with a group of friends might very well take you out of the moment.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford may be slow at times—okay, most of the time—but this dramatization of the titular infamous killing never stops building in intensity, due in large part to the directing style of Andrew Dominik and the masterful eye of cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Deakins’ unique style can make even the most mundane and overdrawn scenes appear remarkable. Don’t believe us? Watch this clip from the train robbery scene and see how hypnotic cinematography can be. You wouldn’t want to go to a museum and be distracted while you’re trying to admire a painting, so why would you want to tune out chatter during an artistic masterpiece like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?
Lost in Translation
Aside from featuring one of Bill Murray’s greatest performances, along with exceptional work from Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation earned Sofia Coppola only the third Best Director nomination offered to a woman in Oscars history, proving she had the talent to escape her famous father’s long shadow. Clearly, this is a movie that demands quiet concentration.
It isn’t that taking in Lost in Translation with a crowd will make you lose sight of the story—there isn’t much of a plot—but the self-reflection the movie motivates stands to be lost in the midst of a group. Like Johansson’s character learns in that unforgettable final scene, there are some secrets you only learn when you’re leaning in close enough to hear a whisper.
No Country for Old Men
Some of the most entertainingly weird films in recent cinematic memory—Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Burn After Reading—have either been written or directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and 2007’s No Country for Old Men is a particular standout. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, this modern Western thriller—fueled by powerful performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin—won Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars. It’s considered one of the greatest films of the century, as well as the Coen brothers’ masterpiece…and that’s saying something.
Westerns can be slow, punctuated with intermittent bursts of heightened action, and No Country for Old Men is a prime example. The tension, suspense, and thrills never stop building, and if forced to deal with distractions during the movie, you’d be taken right out of the story—ruining the experience altogether.
Any of Hayao Miyazaki’s films
Legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has done more for animation than many casual filmgoers might realize. His movies may not be as well-known to the general public as Disney’s library of hits, but from The Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises, Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli have expanded the genre to make room for sophisticated storytelling and mind-blowing visuals.
They aren’t event movies, though, and they aren’t made for watching with a group of friends. Tackling thought-provoking themes in their own distinctive style, Miyazaki movies demand the type of emotional room you can only offer while solo. If given the opportunity, it’s best to watch every single one of Miyazaki’s productions—even the short films—alone. You don’t want someone pointing out how cute something is every few minutes.