16 Movies Like Brightburn (2019)

Staff & contributors

This film really satisfied my craving for an original thriller, despite the fact that I spent most of it thinking about how Logan Marshall-Green looks like a budget Tom Hardy.

He plays a guy whose wife is killed during a violent mugging that also leaves him paralyzed in the aftermath. When a billionaire approaches him with an Artificial Intelligence solution that would "upgrade" his body, he has a chance to take vengeance.

This is Robocop meets Ex Machina meets Blade Runner. It's original, low-budget without feeling low-budget, and honestly just so thrilling. It gives the genre of sci-fi a much needed upgrade.

Genre: Action, Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Abby Craden, Arthur Angel, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel, Christopher Kirby, Clayton Jacobson, Douglas Embry, Emily Havea, Harrison Gilbertson, James Ao, Kai Bradley, Kenny Low, Liam Howarth, Linda Cropper, Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Michael M. Foster, Ming-Zhu Hii, Puven Pather, Renah Gallagher, Ri-Jie Kwok, Richard Anastasios, Richard Cawthorne, Rosco Campbell, Sachin Joab, Simon Maiden, Steve Danielsen, Yuki Nagashima, Zia Kelly

Director: Leigh Whannell

Rating: R

, 1995

Like a long, slow drag of a cigar, Smoke is a patient pleasure. Adam Holender’s leisurely lingering camera and the film’s relaxed editing allow us to savor the actors’ performances and the thoughtful script uninterrupted, trusting in their ability to captivate us. And captivate us is exactly what novelist Paul Auster’s screenplay and the film’s superlative ensemble do.

The film kicks off in Auggie Wren’s (Harvey Keitel) Brooklyn smoke shop, where myriad customers linger to chat and unexpected friendships form. The serendipitous network around which Smoke revolves unfurls gradually, like a curling wisp of smoke: Auggie’s patron Paul (William Hurt), a writer's block-struck novelist grieving the violent death of his pregnant wife some years ago, has his life saved by Harold Perrineau’s Rashid, the estranged 17-year-old son of a struggling mechanic (Forest Whitaker). Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing also feature in Auggie’s portion of the film, one of its five loose vignettes (although the film flows much more fluidly than a chapterized structure suggests). Auster’s contemplative, dialogue-driven screenplay — along with the film’s unhurried editing and luxuriating cinematography — make Smoke a gorgeous example of the art of savoring, which is exactly what you want to do with this wonderful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ashley Judd, Baxter Harris, Clarice Taylor, Deirdre OConnell, Erica Gimpel, Forest Whitaker, Giancarlo Esposito, Harold Perrineau, Harvey Keitel, Jared Harris, José Zúñiga, Malik Yoba, Mary B. Ward, Mel Gorham, Michelle Hurst, Murray Moston, Stephen Gevedon, Stockard Channing, Victor Argo, William Hurt

Director: Wayne Wang

Rating: R

David O. Russel (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) is one of those directors who the more you dig into his past, the more you are rewarded. I Heart Huckabees is a great example of this, as is The Fighter (both are must-watch if you haven't seen them). But it is Three Kings that truly presented him as someone who can give great substance to big-budget movies. It stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and even director Spike Jonze (Her, Adaptation), in other words, a festival of talent at its peak. And it follows three soldiers who want use the end of the Gulf War as an opportunity to get rich. Their journey through a devastated and uncertain Iraq is a thrilling one, as Three Kings is action-packed. But the purpose of this movie lies somewhere between political satire around American interventionism and social criticism of the main characters. However, none of that stands in the way of this movie being an entertaining and exhilarating movie.

Genre: Action, Comedy, War

Actor: Ali Afshar, Alia Shawkat, Brian Bosworth, Cliff Curtis, David O. Russell, Doug Jones, Dylan Brown, George Clooney, Holt McCallany, Ice Cube, Jamie Kennedy, Jim Gaffigan, Jon Sklaroff, Judy Greer, Liz Stauber, Mark Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson, Nora Dunn, Rick Shuster, SaÁ¯d Taghmaoui, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sayed Badreya, Spike Jonze

Director: David O. Russell

Rating: R

, 2018

This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. 

You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. 

The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.

Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Cecil Blutcher, Colbi Gannett, Daniel Henshall, Danielle Macdonald, Jaime Ray Newman, Jamie Bell, Jenna Leigh Green, Joanna Herrington, Justin L. Wilson, Kylie Rogers, Louisa Krause, Maliq Johnson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Michael Villar, Mike Colter, Portia, Rob Figueroa, Rob Giumarra, Russell Posner, Samantha Jones, Seán Cullen, Vera Farmiga, Zoe Colletti

Director: Guy Nattiv

Rating: R

This movie narrated by Nicolas Cage is the incredible story of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Like Crazy): from being born to a Jewish Russian family in Leningrad to moving to the U.S. and ending with his sudden death at age 27. Anton, or Antosha as his loved ones called him, was a gifted kid: he was making his own movies at seven years old, taking highly sophisticated notes on Fellini movies, and picking up playing guitar in a short time. He took photographs that still show in exhibitions around the world. He led an extraordinary life, portrayed here, one that was cut way too short.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ben Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pine, Drake Doremus, Frank Langella, Guillermo del Toro, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Joe Dante, John Cho, Jon Poll, Jon Voight, Kristen Stewart, Martin Landau, Nicolas Cage, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Willem Dafoe, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Director: Garret Price

Rating: R

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Andy Aldrin, Bill Anders, Bruce McCandless II, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Janet Armstrong, Jim Lovell, John F. Kennedy, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, Patricia Mary Finnegan, Todd Douglas Miller, Walter Cronkite

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Rating: G

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andrei Mateiu, Bryan Jardine, Cezara Dafinescu, Cosmin Pădureanu, Dana Marineci, Daniel Filipescu, Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Hartmut Stanke, Ingrid Bisu, Ingrid Burkhard, Irene Rindje, John Keogh, Julischka Eichel, Jürg Löw, Klara Höfels, Luana Stoica, Lucy Russell, Manu Sabo, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Miriam Rizea, Nicolas Wackerbarth, Niels Bormann, Ozana Oancea, Peter Simonischek, Radu Bânzaru, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Sava Lolov, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Ursula Renneke, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Victoria Malektorovych, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Maren Ade

Rating: R

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Tadanori Yokoo, Toshio Hosokawa, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yosuke Mizuno, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R

Another indie zombie movie? Far from it. One Cut of the Dead, written and directed by Shin'ichirô Ueda, became a global sensation following its small theatrical run in Japan for its creative and original screenplay. A hack director and film crew are shooting a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility when they are attacked by real zombies. That’s all you need to know about the plot, as the film is full of surprises that will catch you off guard. Wondering how an independent film with a budget of just $25,000 was able to gross over $30 million worldwide? The answer lies in the film itself. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Ayana Goda, Donguri, Harumi Shuhama, Harumi Syuhama, Hiroshi Ichihara, Kazuaki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi, Mao, Miki Yoshida, Sakina Asamori, Shinichiro Osawa, Shiori Nukumi, Shuntaro Yamazaki, Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama

Director: Shin'ichirō Ueda, Shin'ichiro Ueda

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

You may have heard about this 2019 critic-favorite from clips like this one of a kid running to flee the movie theater during a screening. “little billy ran the f**k out the door”, the caption reads.

You will want to do the same. Recovering from losing her sister and her parents in a single incident, a young girl goes on a trip to Sweden to observe a ritual within a bizarre commune that occurs every 90 years. This cult’s idea of death and their traditions intersect with the girl’s grief to create unthinkable monstrosities.

Note: while some readers praise the movie for its depiction of anxiety, I highly recommend against watching Midsommar if you suffer from panic attacks.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Agnes Westerlund Rase, Anders Back, Anders Beckman, Anki Larsson, Anna Åström, Anna Berentzen, Archie Madekwe, Ari Aster, Austin R. Grant, Björn Andrésen, Ellora Torchia, Florence Pugh, Frans Cavallin Rosengarten, Gunnel Fred, Hampus Hallberg, Henrik Norlen, Isabelle Grill, Jack Reynor, Julia Ragnarsson, Katarina Weidhagen, Klaudia Csányi, Lars Väringer, Lennart R. Svensson, Levente Puczkó-Smith, Liv Mjönes, Louise Peterhoff, Mats Blomgren, Mihály Kaszás, Rebecka Johnston, Tove Skeidsvoll, Vilhelm Blomgren, Vilmos Kolba, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Zsolt Bojári

Director: Ari Aster

Rating: R

Better Days tells the story of Chen Nian, a quiet girl who starts experiencing bullying at her school after her classmate commits suicide for the same reason. But soon, she meets Xiao Bei, a teenage street thug who offers her protection. What starts as a melodramatic story at first becomes a gentle romance. 

Still, Better Days is focused on the psychological aspect of the characters, and how they manage pressure. It's a reminder of the inevitable harshness of reality: dealing with poverty, bullying, and dirty competition. But, in showing the bitter aspects of life, it also shows that there are still those who care and that those who are meant to meet will always find each other.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bozhan Ju, Gao Xuanming, He Jian Yi, Heliao Lüyun, Huang Jue, Jackson Yee, Wu Yue, Xie Xintong, Yin Fang, Zhang Xin Yi, Zhang Xinyi, Zhang Yao, Zhang Yifan, Zhao Runnan, Zhou Dongyu, Zhou Ye, 吴越

Director: Derek Tsang, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung

Rating: 0

A quiet movie about an unpredictable convict who gets enrolled in a wild mustang taming program. These initiatives, common around the country, offer fascinating parallels: both the horses and the inmates are emprisoned, both innately fight against their condition but are actively being made to comply. The central performance by Matthias Schoenaerts is nothing short of a masterpiece. He doesn't speak much and you almost don't want him to: everything else he does communicates so much more than words. Watching this movie just for him is reason enough.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruce Dern, Connie Britton, Gideon Adlon, Heath Hensley, Jasmeet Baduwalia, Jason Mitchell, John Logsdon, Josh Stewart, Kelly Richardson, Kieth Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Noel Gugliemi, Santina Muha, Thomas Smittle

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Rating: R

This musical drama about a Mumbai street rapper was India’s official submission to the Oscars. It was also produced by U.S. artist Nas.

Murad, who grew up poor and with an abusive father, starts working as a part-time chauffeur, which exposes him to the substantial inequalities that exist in Mumbai.

He incorporates all of this into his lyrics, and hopes to make it as a rapper in a story that sits somewhere between a musical and an adventure movie.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alia Bhatt, Amruta Subhash, Chaitanya Sharma, Jasleen Kaur Royal, Jyoti Subhash, Kalki Koechlin, Krishna Kaul, Kubbra Sait, Mona Ghosh Shetty, R. Bhakti Klein, Rahul Piske, Raja Kumari, Ranveer Singh, Sheeba Chaddha, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Srishti Shrivastava, Sushant Singh, Svar Kamble, Vijay Maurya, Vijay Raaz, Vijay Varma

Director: Zoya Akhtar

The disturbing conceit of a housewife swallowing inanimate objects may push some away, but those that can stomach it will find a searing exploration of patriarchal control over women’s bodies - an issue more relevant than ever in the US, as anti-choice zealots push closer to overturning abortion rights nationwide. 

An odd twist towards the end, and a tone-deaf bit about a Syrian refugee, make the film uneven. But, the edge of the seat suspense, sumptuously colorful cinematography, and Haley Bennet’s resonant performance make this worth seeing nonetheless. 

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alyssa Bresnahan, Austin Stowell, Babak Tafti, David Rasche, Denis O'Hare, Elise Santora, Elizabeth Marvel, Haley Bennett, Kristi Kirk, Laith Nakli, Lauren Vélez, Luna Lauren Velez, Maya Days, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Nicole Kang, Olivia Perez, Zabryna Guevara

Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Rating: R

An innocent-fun movie, Always Be My Maybe is a lovely thing to turn your brain off to. Sasha and Marcus are high-school best friends who dated briefly and went their separate ways. 16 years later, they meet again - Sasha is a famous chef, and Marcus is still living with his dad.

What really makes this movie is the writing from Ali Wong and Randall Park, who also play the two leads. The dialogue is sharp, believable and smart - going as far as covering themes of gender and parenting. But also, because a rom-com about two Asians from San Francisco is not exactly a common occurrence, the characters are fresh, the jokes are fresh - everything is fresh.

Watch out for the character who plays Marcus' dad, he plays the character of an overly honest Korean dad perfectly. And also watch out for Keanu Reeves, he plays a crazy version of himself!

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Adam Farnsworth-Lautsch, Ali Wong, Ashley Liao, Brian Cook, Byron Noble, Casey Wilson, Charlyne Yi, Chris Hlozek, Corey Seaver, Daniel Dae Kim, Eddie Flake, Ellen Ewusie, Emerson Min, Emilio Merritt, Jackson Geach, Jagen Johnson, James Saito, Jason Canela, JayR Tinaco, Johnny Walkr Jr., Karan Soni, Karen Holness, Keanu Reeves, Kenan Zeigler-Sungur, Kipp Glass, Latonya Williams, Maddie Dixon-Poirier, Marcella Bragio, Marco Soriano, Michelle Buteau, Miya Cech, Neil Webb, Nevin Burkholder, Oliver Rice, Omar Khan, Panta Mosleh, Peggy Lu, Peter New, Randall Park, Raymond Ma, Sean Amsing, Simon Chin, Sonia Beeksma, Steven E. Rudy, Susan Park, Tana Yu, Tyler McConachie, Vivian Bang, Xiao Qing Li, Yaroslav Poverlo

Director: Nahnatchka Khan

Rating: PG-13