30 Of The Best Movies That Clock In 90 Minutes Or Less

30 Of The Best Movies That Clock In 90 Minutes Or Less
Contributor: Ross Johnson

Just when you thought blockbuster movies couldn’t possibly get any longer, the fine people at Universal Pictures announced the runtime for the next, long-delayed entry in the James Bond series. When it opens in October in the US, No Time to Die is set to keep movie-goers in their seats for a bladder-busting 2 hours and 43 minutes. Pretty epic for a spy caper.

No Bond movie has been short, mind you: Quantum of Solace, the briefest in the series’ history, runs 106 minutes; 2015’s Spectre is second-longest at 158 minutes. And Bond isn’t even an outlier among modern franchises: Avengers Endgame stretched to 182 minutes, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 155 minutes. It seems everybody thinks they’re David Lean these days and that every action movie is Lawrence of Arabia.

Long movies are sometimes great, but length isn’t always (or even often) an arbiter of quality. Heck, some of the greatest films in history — across decades and a wide-swath of genres — tell their stories very effectively in 90 minutes or less. What follows are 26 of our favourites. Hang on. It’s about to get pithy up in here.

Detour (1945)

Running time: 68 minutes

It’s not a rule, exactly, but noir films seem to thrive at around 90 minutes — that being, perhaps, the approximate limit of our ability to watch a character descend into inescapable darkness. Detour follows Al Roberts, a small-time piano player who comes into some cash and decides to hitchhike across the country in pursuit of his best girl, who ran off to Hollywood to be a star; unsurprisingly, he encounters some bumps along the road when someone who picks him up winds up dead and Al sorta accidentally assumes his identity. 

The picture was made sloppily and on the cheap, but somehow became a classic in spite of all that. It’s now in the public domain and free on YouTube, though as it has recently been restored, you’re better off catching it on one of the big streamers.

The Set-Up (1949)

Running time: 72 minutes

The wildly eclectic Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, etc.) directed The Set-Up, with all of the grit and sweat required of a movie of its kind (that being a film noir sports drama), scraping off all the gloss of his prestige pictures. The result is one of the best boxing movies of all time, as well as one of the very best noirs.

Frankenstein (1931)

Running time: 71 minutes

One of the earliest and nearly the best (second only to its sequel) of the Universal horror classics, Frankenstein squeezes enough iconic imagery into 70 minutes that it has remained fresh for almost a century.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Running time: 71 minutes

A couple of friends heading out for a fishing trip pick up a passenger, one who just happens to be a thrill killer responsible for several earlier robberies and murders. That tense premise plays out perfectly under the careful eye of director Ida Lupino, an actress as well as one of the very few women directing American films during the ‘50s.

Safety Last (1923)

Running time: 73 minutes

Keaton was more daring, and Chaplin more poignant, but Harold Lloyd was more purely focused on laughs, and no less brilliant than his better-remembered contemporaries. Safety Last! is his most famous film (thanks to the memorable clock scene), and it’s also very nearly his best, with a lot more plot and gags than just the clock bit.

Cat People (1942)

Running time: 73 minutes

Producer Val Lewton traded freedom for prestige early in his career, taking over RKO’s B-movie unit and making shorter movies for cheap. There were very few restrictions placed on him, except for the stipulation that the movies needed lurid titles to draw attention — and, so: Cat People, ostensibly about a new bride who turns into a panther, but really a beautifully shot psychosexual drama about sublimated desire.

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Running time: 77 minutes

Comedy, like horror, often thrives at a shorter length, never getting a chance to wear out its welcome. Carole Lombard is great in this smart screwball, playing a hick from a nothing town in Vermont who’s brought to New York City by a cynical reporter (Fredric March) desperate for content. it seems she’s dying of radium poisoning, and the story about her poignant last night on earth will be a headline grabber. Except that she’s not dying — it’s all a scam, and a satire of both the manipulative tabloid press and our hunger for tragic tales that feels at least as relevant nearly 75 years later.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Running time: 78 minutes

Superhero movies rarely clock in at anything under 6 hours (some of them feel that way, at least), but perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the best is much shorter… and a cartoon. A theatrical spin-off of the revered Batman animated series of the ‘90s, Phantasm sees an old flame reenter Bruce Wayne’s life even as a new vigilante arrives in Gotham. It’s tippy-top-tier Batman, cartoon or no.

Rope (1948)

Running time: 80 minutes

Hitchcock’s great experiment almost had to be on the short side, given the constraint he placed upon the movie: the whole thing had to look as though it were filmed in one continuous take (in reality, it’s a series of ten-minute takes, if only because that was the most film the cameras of the day could hold). Snooty lovers played by John Dall and Farley Granger stage an elaborate dinner party while concealing the body of a former classmate in nearly plain sight — see if you can spot the culprit.

Before Sunset (2004)

Running time: 80 minutes

Sequels are often longer than the original, so it’s a tribute to director Richard Linklater that he’s able to accomplish more in the followup to 1995’s swoonily romantic two-hander Before Sunrise even with a run time that’s 20 minutes shorter. It helps that the brisk film ends beautifully, memorably — and abruptly.

Hush (2018)

Running time: 81 minutes

Mike Flanigan, post-Oculus but pre-Doctor Sleep, directed this efficient thriller about a deaf horror writer stalked by a killer in a remote cabin. Smartly, the writer is more than just a helpless victim, and the result is a tense cat-and-mouse game that never lets up nor tires you out.

Sweetheart (2019)

Running time: 82 minutes

Sweetheart gets to business almost immediately, finding Kiersey Clemons trapped on an island in a movie that’s part monster-movie, part-survival horror. That’s all you need to know to have a bloody good time with this one.

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Running time: 84 minutes

Spike Lee’s first feature film launched his career with the story of a woman (Tracy Camilla Johns) enjoying the type of sexual freedom typically granted to men. It’s smart, funny, and surprisingly sex positive, if a little problematic by modern standards.

High Noon (1952)

Running time: 85 minutes

Though it seems subtle today, High Noon’s anti-blacklist, anti-witchhunt politics were so clear to audiences at the time that John Wayne called it “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Any movie that pissed off John Wayne that much is fine by me. He made the much-longer Rio Bravo in response and… well, that movie’s also a classic, but it’s 2 hours and 21 minutes long. High Noon does much more with less, and holds up much better.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Running time: 85 minutes

Dramas based on real events tend to be drawn out, but it’s the straightforward efficiency of Ryan Coogler’s first feature, based on the real-life killing by police of a young, unarmed Black man in Oakland, that makes it so beautiful, and so harrowing.

Evil Dead (1981)

Running time: 85 minutes

Some movies are on the short side simply because it’s cheaper that way. That may or may not be the case with Sam Raimi’s horror comedy cult favourite, but Evil Dead doesn’t suffer one bit from its truncated runtime. In fact, every movie in the eventual franchise comes in at around the 90-minute mark, give or take, this one having established the perfect length for gross-out practical horror.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Running time: 85 minutes

A New Zealand horror mockumentary that launched an unlikely franchise, this movie packs a lot of jokes into 85 minutes.

My Neighbour Totoro (1986)

Running time: 86 minutes

Animation being a complicated and sometimes expensive proposition, films in the medium tend to run shorter than live-action features. Surprisingly, director Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Studio Ghibli movies tend to run closer to the two-hour range (he can take as long as he wants, really), but an exception is the classic My Neighbour Totoro, about two girls and their adventures with wood sprites in rural Japan. It’s pretty much a perfect movie from the first frame to the last.

Toy Story (1995)

Running time: 81 minutes

Speaking of keeping animation short and sweet, Pixar used to be able to do it. These days many of their films approach (or exceed) two hours — it’s understandable, they’ve earned our patience — but it’s no accident that the shortest of the Toy Story films is still arguably the best, a perfect execution of an absolutely impeccable premise. (Yes, it’s likely only this short because it’s also the first all-CGI movie ever, but sometimes constraints aren’t weaknesses.)

The Palm Beach Story (1942)

Running time: 88 minutes

Claudette Colbert is on the lookout for a rich husband, though she’s already married to an inventor played by Joel McCrea. No matter — they love each other, but could use the money that a second husband could bring in. This could have been a dark satire, but as directed by Preston Sturges, it’s as big-hearted as it is silly.

Rashomon (1950)

Running time: 88 minutes

You could tell me that Akira Kurosawa’s much-imitated rumination on the nature of justice and the frailty of memory is only 88 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure I remember it differently. Consider this proof that an all-time classic doesn’t need to take all night to sit through.

Aeroplane! (1980)

Running time: 88 minutes

There are so many memorable moments and lines here, and they come at such an incredibly fast clip. It’s maybe not the greatest slapstick comedy of all time, but it “shirley” has one of the highest hit-to-miss ratios — even some of its doofiest gags are still good for a chuckle, 41 years later.

Crank (2006)

Running time: 88 minutes

There’s such an effective high-concept here, it is 100% possible, and very much advised, to look past any of the film’s inherent silliness and just admire it on that merit. Jason Statham plays Chev Chelios, a man poisoned in such a way that he needs to keep his adrenaline levels at a constant maximum, or he’ll die. How he keeps ramping himself up, well, that’s the fun part. It’s loud and gleefully over-the-top, and it would totally collapse if it was even a few minutes longer.

Attack the Block (2011)

Running time: 88 minutes

The movie that teamed John Boyega with future Doctor Who Jodie Whitaker is unique in spotlighting a British street gang living on a council estate who also happen to be the only hope against brilliantly designed alien invaders. It’s too much madness for more than 90 minutes.

Run Lola Run (1998)

Running time: 80 minutes

This German import is more than two decades old, and yet I’m still hesitant to spoil the twist of the thematic engine that drives it, so I’ll just say Franke Potente never stops moving throughout its one hour and 20-minute runtime; it’s a thriller that kicks like a caffeine-addled late night video game binge, and if it was a minute longer, she (and the premise) would have collapsed from exhaustion.

Stand By Me (1986)

Running time: 89 minutes

Stand By Me doesn’t feel short and, in this case, that’s not an insult. The unlikely Stephen King adaptation doesn’t waste a second of its runtime, with director Rob Reiner crafting one indelible, nostalgia-for-childhood drenched scene after another as he tells the story of a group of friends who head out into the woods in pursuit of rumours there’s a dead body to be gawked at.

The Thin Man (1934)

Running time: 90 minutes

The onscreen couple that set the template for some of the best relationships (without really being bested) in film history began here. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and I couldn’t tell you a thing about the central mystery — only because the boozy chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell is the real draw.

Polyester (1981)

Running time: 86 minutes

Even at a brisk 86 minutes, John Waters manages to pack a lot of raunchy laughs into this, his best, if not his most outrageous, movie. It doesn’t matter if you catch that the story of beleaguered suburban housewife Francine Fishpaw (played gloriously by the iconic Devine), who watches as her seemingly picture perfect family falls prey to sex and depravity, is a pitch-perfect parody of Douglas Sirk melodramas; it’s still gloriously, subversively hilarious throughout (and even better in Odorama).

Killer of Sheep (1978)

Running time: 80 minutes

Director Charles Burnett brought Italian-style neo-realism to Watts in the ‘70s in telling the story of Stan, who works long hours at an LA slaughterhouse. This portrait of a Black working class family is funny and frequently profound, and was only recently recovered and restored.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Running time: 90 minutes

Time has lent some class to this French classic, praised and derided equally upon its release for its gross-out effects (which are incredibly tame by today’s standards). When able to see past the horror elements, the film plays more like a dark fairy tale, brutal, but weirdly poetic and beautiful.

Halloween (1978)

Running time: 91 minutes

What’s that you say? This inarguable horror classic, a slasher that birthed a thousand imitators, actually runs ninety-one minutes? You can file your complaints with the guy in the weird William Shatner mask.

Claudine (1974)

Running time: 92 minutes

I’m cheating by two full minutes to squeeze in this underrated ‘70s socially aware classic with Diahann Carroll as a struggling single mother and James Earl Jones as her sometimes boyfriend. Carroll received an Academy Award nomination for her against-type performance.


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