Brilliant movies where nothing happens

Lights, camera, inaction?

Assault On Precinct 13 is one of John Carpenter’s best movies, but it’s certainly not his most complex. Set-up aside, it’s fair to say that not much actually happens.

As an ode to the release of The John Carpenter DVD Boxset earlier this week, we've compiled a list of our favourite movies that do exactly the same. I.e. Nothing.

Assault On Precinct 13

Assault On Precinct 13 is based on Rio Bravo, so it’s hardly surprising that the plot is one note. Even so, Carpenter takes Howard Hawk's ball and runs with it. Or rather, locks it in a disused police station and lets it fester.

Instead of worrying about trivial things such as subplots or development, Carpenter treats his movie like a pressure boiler. He continually cranks up the tension, only to sit back and watch the situation explode. It might get messy, but it's a whole lot of fun.

One-Sentence Pitch: A group of policemen get stuck in their precinct when a street gang attacks it.

Reservoir Dogs

We're interested to see Inglorious Bastards for many reasons, but one of them has to be how Tarantino manages to tell a story where his characters can't just sit down and yabber.

More so than other Tarantino's movies, Reservoir Dogs is about talking. We concede that a few flashback sequences and some gun play breaks up the dialogue, but we'd hardly complain if they weren't included. Thanks to Tarantino's sharp pen, the need for anything other than gangster gossip and Madonna metaphors are superfluous.

One-Sentence Pitch: Some bank robbers spend an hour endlessly debating why their last heist went wrong.

Taxi Driver

“What's Taxi Driver about?” we asked ourselves. “Loneliness? Isolation?” There was a pause. It didn't sound like a plot to us.

Taxi Driver is driven so much by metaphor and theme that it's entirely possible to forget that Travis Bickle does nothing for most of the movie. Paradoxically, it means that any action Travis does make – no matter how small – is fascinating, as if he were a specimen in a laboratory to watch.

One-Sentence Pitch: A man gets a job driving a taxi and kills a group of pimps after driving around for a bit.

Bug

William Fredkin’s 2007 effort is a movie where quite literally nothing happens, unless you believe that the aphid infestation of Ashley Judd’s home is real.

Objectively, the characters talk a lot, have a little sex, and then spend the remainder of the movie playing let's pretend. Albeit with severe consequences.

Set in one location, Bug is the kind of movie that relies on the performances to carry it. Which they do. Credit has to be given to Fredkin too, for keeping the movie fresh by presumably finding every conceivable angle available in the claustrophobic location.

One-Sentence Pitch: A man and woman imagine they’re infested by insects, so they barricade themselves in the woman’s hotel room.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Jim Jarmusch's 2003 indie hit is about a lot of things – obsession, joy, musicians, to name a few – but not a lot of things happen in its 95 minute running time. And by 'not a lot,' we mean nothing.

You can't help but get caught up in it all, though. Tight pacing, snappy dialogue and great performances all play large parts. But above all, the atmosphere that holds the movie together is just as intoxicating as the narcotics it centres upon. 

One-Sentence Pitch: A number of characters sit, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. Or don't, depending on their view of the narcotics.

Before Sunrise

Most Richard Linklater movies are renowned by being free and easy with plot, but at least most of them are based around something. By comparison, once the characters step off the train in Before Sunset, you could be anywhere.

Linklater focuses on dialogue, but it hardly hits the giddy stratospheres of Tarantino territory. Instead, laid back and easy going musings sprout forth like the characters were two freshman art students on a first date.

It sounds like a pretentious movie for people (read: students) who have time to pine for sleepless nights full of conversation and connecting with a special someone, but Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpby manage to steer it into a believable romantic tale.

One-Sentence Pitch: A man and woman walk around the streets of Vienna after meeting on a train.

Elephant


When Gus Van Sant announced he was going to make a flick themed around the Columbine shootings, eyebrows collectively raised.

Little did we know that he wasn’t about to make his first exploitation flick but one of the most moving – and realistic – mediations on teenage life we’ve ever seen.

We spend most of the flick following around different kids, listening in on their average conversations, smiling at their small dramas. Then, the gunkids arrive and it’s all the more shocking because of the slow-paced intimate time we’ve spent with their targets

One-Sentence Pitch: Several characters go to school one day.

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