12 Movies Like Matilda (1996)

Staff & contributors

You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

Mike Leigh’s films have always touched on class politics, but seldom as directly as in this lowkey portrait of Thatcher-era London. Cyril and Shirley are a sweet working-class couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Their lifestyle is contrasted with Cyril’s sister and her husband who exist in a more comfortable middle-class setting, and then paralleled again with an upper-class couple living next door from Cyril’s mother. 

Even at this early stage of his career Leigh gracefully entwines these stories to create a moving and coherent narrative. ‘High Hopes’ as a title might be largely sarcastic, but the film is full-hearted and occasionally even optimistic as it strides its snarky way through the grim facades of 80s London.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cheryl Prime, David Bamber, Diane-Louise Jordan, Edna Doré, Heather Tobias, Jason Watkins, Judith Scott, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Phil Davis, Philip Jackson, Ruth Sheen

Director: Mike Leigh

That one of 1990’s scariest movies is a kids’ movie makes sense when you know it’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story (and directed by horror legend Nicolas Roeg, no less). The Witches dispenses with most of the trappings of kids’ films, swapping bright bubbliness and cute animal CGI for macabre thrills and uncanny valley puppetry courtesy of Jim Henson. It’s astonishingly scary, given its PG certification — not just for its intended audience but for adults, too. Death, grief, and evildoers who prey on children all make an early appearance and never leave the film’s frame, stalking young Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) across countries as they try to make a new start in England following a family tragedy in Norway. In typical Dahl style though, The Witches — with its creepy premise and high camp touches — finds a clever balance between being nightmare-inducing and deliciously fun, a tonal blend that harks back to the twisted appeal of traditional fairy tales.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Angelique Rockas, Anjelica Huston, Annabel Brooks, Anne Lambton, Anne Tirard, Arvid Ones, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Hawksley, Charlie Potter, Darcy Flynn, Debra Gillett, Emma Relph, Grete Nordrå, Jane Horrocks, Jasen Fisher, Jenny Runacre, Jim Carter, Leila Hoffman, Mai Zetterling, Michael Palin, Nicolas Roeg, Nora Connolly, Ola Otnes, Roberta Taylor, Rosamund Greenwood, Rose English, Rowan Atkinson, Serena Harragin, Sukie Smith, Sverre Røssummoen, Vincent Marzello

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Rating: PG

A quirky little movie about a reporter trying to get a story about a man who posted an ad looking for someone to travel in time with. The movie's main strength is the fantastic casting of talents that usually live in the series world (Jake M. Johnson from New Girl, Aubery Plaza from Parcs and Recreation, Mark Duplass), and although it might seem a little bit slow at the beginning, it is worth every second spent watching it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Aubrey Plaza, Basil Harris, Colin Trevorrow, Eli Borozan, Jake Johnson, Jeff Garlin, Jenica Bergere, Karan Soni, Kristen Bell, Lauren Carlos, Lynn Shelton, Mark Duplass, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Tony Doupe, William Hall Jr.

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Rating: R

Only a few people in Dita’s house are related by blood, but you wouldn’t know that by how they move. They’re tight-knit but argumentative, loving at times but spiteful in other instances. In other words, they’re complicated just like any other family. Housekeeping for Beginners makes a compelling case for the validity—and at times necessity—of found families like Dita’s, who all found each other after being shunned by their race and sexuality. As in his previous works, Director Goran Stolevski paints a realistic and relevant portrait here, one tinted with striking pain and poignancy, bound to leave your heart aching long after the credits roll.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alina Serban, Anamaria Marinca, Bislim Muçaj, Blagoj Veselinov, Irena Ristić, Mia Mustafa, Rozafa Celaj, Samson Selim, Sara Klimoska, Vladimir Tintor

Director: Goran Stolevski

Rating: R

Before her triumphant Oscar win for her role in Minari, Youn Yuh-jung starred in The Bacchus Lady as So-young, an aging sex worker strugglin to make ends meet. Youn brings a certain dignity to the role that’s rarely seen in typical depictions of sex work around the world. Her work isn't framed as something disgusting or immoral, but as something that's natural and normal. Writer-director E J-yong clearly sides with and respects the people that you don't normally see in K-dramas—characters that have been pushed aside in favor of the stereotypical “ideal” Korean. While meandering at times, the film's warm and bittersweet approach to these characters acts as a reprimand to Korean society on how they fail those at the margins.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chon Moo-song, Hyun-jun Choi, Jeon Moo-song, Jo Sang-gun, Joo In-young, Jung Jae-woong, Kim Han-na, Kim Hye-yoon, Moon-Song Chon, Park Gyu-chae, Seo Hyun-woo, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Yoon Kye-sang, Youn Yuh-jung

Director: E J-yong, Je-yong Lee, Lee Je-Yong

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

Elisabeth Moss is in it. Calling The One I Love a romantic-comedy, looking it up, or trusting anyone else about it -- especially my review, will ruin this film for you. Just watch it. If one's penchant is typically opposed to titles with 'love' in them, then it's for you. Just hit 'play', or 'start', or whatever. The initial wtf-ness that attracted me to it is compelled further by excellent acting. And Elisabeth Moss is in it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Charlie McDowell, Elisabeth Moss, Jennifer Spriggs, Kiana Cason, Mark Duplass, Marlee Matlin, Mary Steenburgen, Mel Eslyn, Sean O'Malley, Ted Danson

Director: Charlie McDowell

Rating: R

Jenna is a young woman living a rather unhappy life in a town in the American South. The highlight of her days is inventing and baking pies at the diner where she works, giving them names like the “I Hate My Husband Pie”. Her life, however, seems to have hit an unpleasant dead-end: as her pie suggests, she no longer loves her chauvinistic pig of a husband and, as if that wasn’t enough, she’s pregnant with his child.

Waitress is about one woman’s determination to dig through the sourness of life in the hopes of finding a layer of sweetness underneath. Premiering only months after lead actress Adrienne Shelly’s tragic death at the age of 40, Waitress features wonderful performances that make for a delicious film, with the right ingredients to hold everything together.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrienne Shelly, Andy Griffith, Andy Ostroy, Caroline Fogarty, Cheryl Hines, Christy Taylor, Cindy Drummond, Darby Stanchfield, Eddie Jemison, Heidi Sulzman, Jeremy Sisto, Keri Russell, Lauri Johnson, Lew Temple, Mackenzie King, Nathan Dean, Nathan Fillion, Sarah Hunley

Director: Adrienne Shelly

Even if it seems like nothing really "happens" for much of The Secret Garden, its characters paint quite the moving picture of neglected children and their indomitable capacity to find hope in the world. Director Agnieszka Holland tells this story with just the right amount of whimsy: at times it's spooky and magical, but everything is grounded in the charming performances of the film's young actors, who are allowed to be difficult, smart, and sorrowful whenever they need to be. It may be old-fashioned, but watching it in this new decade—when we're all trying to guard our kids from sickness and death—makes it feel all the more relevant.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Pickering, Andrew Knott, Arthur Spreckley, Colin Bruce, David Stoll, Eileen Page, Heydon Prowse, Irène Jacob, John Lynch, Kate Maberly, Laura Crossley, Maggie Smith, Peter Moreton, Walter Sparrow

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Rating: G

It’s very likely you already know about the fictional character Matilda, a clever but neglected child who discovers she has telekinesis and uses it for good. You may have even grown up watching the 1996 film multiple times, as I have, and secretly tried to move a random object with your mind to see if you somehow shared Matilda’s powers…as I have.

If so, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy the latest Matilda adaptation, aptly called Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical on Netflix. It’s pure energy, all bright colors and high-pitched emotions, but not overwhelmingly so. It is also funny and tender, and the techniques it uses to transition and transpose are eye-poppingly inventive. It stars Emma Thompson, once again prosthetic-ed to perfection; Lashana Lynch, a grounding and heartwarming presence; and Alisha Weir, a revelation of a child actor.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Music

Actor: Alisha Weir, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Riseborough, Ann Firbank, Bebe Massey, Charlie Hodson-Prior, Emma Thompson, James Dryden, James Laurenson, Katherine Kingsley, Lashana Lynch, Leon Ung, Matt Henry, Meesha Garbett, Noah Leggott, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, Sindhu Vee, Stephen Graham, Thomas Arnold, Tim Bentinck

Director: Matthew Warchus

Rating: PG

, 2014

Albert Maysles’ penultimate film celebrates fashion icon Iris Apfel, who charms everyone with her quick wit, no-nonsense attitude, and love for the craft. There’s something brilliant in the way the movie starts not by rehashing facts about her, but with Apfel herself going through the process of choosing what to wear. She's doesn't just pick clothes; there’s a kind of careful consideration made with each item she chooses, that she remembers every detail about (from where she got them, to the culture and history behind them), and that she intentionally picks in the name of joy. While the documentary doesn’t dive too deep into Apfel’s life, the woman is just undeniably cool. Simply going through her processes and listening to her talk is already an inspiration.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Bill Cunningham, Bruce Weber, Carl Apfel, Iris Apfel, Tavi Gevinson

Director: Albert Maysles

Rating: PG-13

From early footage of country-folk threshing their crops to blissed-out clubbers at a rave, there is a mesmerizing, insistent sense of rhythm and motion to Arcadia. Director Paul Wright has curated an astonishing array of archive material for this feature-length video montage examining the British and their sometimes uneasy relationship with the land.

Cut together in loosely chronological order, the footage is enigmatic, seductive, and disturbing, set to a haunting soundtrack from Adrian Utley of Portishead and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp. Watching Arcadia is hypnotic, like wading into the uncertain waters of time with a head full of shrooms. And that’s definitely a good thing.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ian Sexon

Director: Paul Wright