Less Is More: 6 Exceptional Movies with a Handful of Characters, Ranked

Less Is More: 6 Exceptional Movies with a Handful of Characters, Ranked
Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Lionsgate

As they say, there is beauty in simplicity.

There is a subset of films that challenge the cinematic norm by achieving excellence with very few characters on the screen. Here are the six greatest films that prove that even a limited cast can be the source of deeply gripping storytelling and compelling experience.

6. Before Sunrise (1995)

Directed by Richard Linklater, this "right person, wrong time" installment of the Before trilogy is a captivating drama that centers around the spontaneous connection between two strangers, Jesse and Céline, in Vienna.

As the characters explore the city and engage in meaningful dialogue, their chemistry and deep connection evolve into an exploration of the nature of human connection and the value of living in the moment.

5. Conversations With Other Women (2005)

Directed by Hans Canosa and starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, this romantic movie uses the split-screen technique to tell the story of former lovers meeting at a wedding reception.

As they talk, the characters reflect on their past, present, and the choices they've made. Offering a unique perspective on love and loss, the innovative film format perfectly captures the characters' complex emotions.

4. Locke (2013)

Directed by Steven Knight, this road movie stars Tom Hardy as the only on-screen character, Ivan Locke, who makes a series of life-changing phone calls during a lonely car ride. With only the main character visible, the audience is plunged into Ivan's personal and professional turmoil, and the film serves as a perfect example of how one actor can tell the whole story.

3. Stalker (1979)

Based on the Roadside Picnic novel, Andrei Tarkovsky's science fiction flick follows three men — an author, a professor, and their guide — who venture into a mysterious and dangerous area known as the Zone.

Tarkovsky's signature slow-paced and immersive style is evident within the Zone, which is rumored to have a room that can fulfill a person's deepest desires, as this film delves into the thoughts and emotions of the characters.

2. Malcolm & Marie (2021)

Set in one location, this engrossing movie dives into the complexities of the characters' relationship after a movie premiere, focusing on the intense interactions between the two leads, portrayed by John David Washington and Zendaya.

The limited cast heightens the emotional impact and allows for an intimate exploration of love, ego, and human vulnerability.

1. Phone Booth (2002)

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Phone Booth is a suspenseful thriller set almost entirely in one location — a phone booth on a street in New York City. Proving how a simple premise can lead to an intense cinematic experience, the film follows Stu Shepard, played by Colin Farrell, a publicist who answers a ringing payphone and finds himself in a peculiar standoff with a mysterious sniper.