The Best Movies with the Fewest Characters

Who says you need people to make a good movie?

Alfonso Cuaron’s spacey anxiety-fest Gravity hits theaters this week, and stars George Clooney and a whole lot of Sandra Bullock’s Speed face (you know the one). Early reviews seem to suggest that the actors were able to pull it off despite being the only two on-screen for the duration of the film, but they aren’t the first actors to throw a big movie on the backs of a few, and come out on top. These are our favorite flicks that are light on the actual cast.


Sharing a location (as long as you concede that “space” is a location) and a general feeling of extreme loneliness with Gravity, this sci-fi thriller was carried by Sam Rockwell’s intense performance opposite, well, Sam Rockwell (Kevin Spacey turns in a Hal-caliber performance as the ship’s computer as well). How did the director get such an accurate and haunting idea of what being marooned alone in space would be like? Oh yeah, this was his dad.


Plenty of small-cast movies are based on plays, but Tape, which takes place entirely in real-time inside a motel room, takes the tension trophy by a considerable margin. The film centers around two old friends who reunite, only for one to secretly tape-record the other confessing to a rape he committed in high school, and then invite over the victim of said crime. What follows is the three sitting together playing Chinese Checkers and ordering pizza and not departing on a gut-wrenchingly horrible and twisted tour down memory lane (just kidding, it totally is that).


This is the undisputed champion of unsettling movies short on characters. The Stephen King adaptation is such a sledgehammer to the chest (or the ankles, we suppose), that even King himself liked the film, and that guy didn’t even like The Shining (a film just a couple characters too many to end up on this list). And of all the batshit insane characters that Kathy Bates has played throughout the years, no one quite gives us the willies as much Annie Wilkes. And that’s including when she took all her clothes off.

Open Water

In the same agita-causing wheelhouse of Gravity, this independent flick captures a couple set adrift in the middle of the ocean, or as we like to call it – the outer space of earth. With no other characters, locations, or props, the couple carries the movie in the big way. More impressive than the performance itself is the fact that they did it while in the water with fucking real-life terrifying sharks. Speaking of which, are sharks attracted to urine as well as blood? We’re asking for a friend. 

Photos by Columbia/ Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013)