11 Movies Like Misery (1990)

Staff & contributors

Stand By Me follows four young friends as they journey around their small town searching for a rumored dead body. On the surface, it moves like an adventure story. The boys narrowly avoid guard dogs and leeches, speeding trains and tough teen gangs. But along the way, they also learn much about each other, in particular about the stark reality of their home lives and the growing depths of their inner struggles, so that beneath all the small-time thrill is a beating coming-of-age story. 

Based on a novella by horror master Stephen King, Stand By Me is terrifying in its ability to evoke the unique thorniness of passing through the gates of adulthood, but also warm and comforting in its reminder of the universality of this feeling.

Genre: Adventure, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bradley Gregg, Bruce Kirby, Casey Siemaszko, Chance Quinn, Corey Feldman, Dick Durock, Frances Lee McCain, Gary Riley, Jason Naylor, Jason Oliver, Jerry O'Connell, Jerry O'Connell, John Cusack, Kent W. Luttrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Korey Scott Pollard, Madeleine Swift, Marshall Bell, Matt Williams, O.B. Babbs, Richard Dreyfuss, River Phoenix, Scott Beach, Wil Wheaton, William Bronder

Director: Rob Reiner

Rating: R

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Caron Colvett, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Larry Krask, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Cannonball, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alison Tatlock, Amy Locane, Christina Gray, David Wiater, Diane McGee, Erin Cressida Wilson, Ezra Buzzington, Herbert Russell, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Shannon Convery, Stephen McHattie, Steven Fierberg, Steven Shainberg

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R

This Brazilian drama is about a loving mother of four, Irene, who has to deal with the upcoming departure of her eldest son. This news triggers Irene’s anxiety, who is trying to finish her high-school diploma as well as building a home for her kids.

Loveling is about being relentless in one’s pursuit of improving their situation, about empty-nesters syndrome, and the ups and downs of family life in general.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriana Esteves, Ariclenes Barroso, César Troncoso, Karine Teles, Mateus Solano, Otávio Müller

Director: Gustavo Pizzi

A residential dispute spirals out of control into full, xenophobia-fueled tragedy in this straightforward and elegantly made film that comes from a now-bygone era of mid-budget dramas for adults. House of Sand and Fog may come off as excessively bleak to viewers today, but it manages to capture a very particular mood of paranoia and distrust common in post-9/11 American cinema. And if nothing else, the film is worth watching for a trio of powerful performances that never resort to overacting: from Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, English screen legend Ben Kingsley, and an always compelling Jennifer Connelly, who was arguably at the peak of her career in the early 2000s.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Frazier, Aki Aleong, Al Rodrigo, Ashley Edner, Ben Kingsley, Bonita Friedericy, Brian Reed Garvin, Carlos Gómez, Cooper Thornton, Dan Brinkle, David Carrera, Dennison Samaroo, Elton Ahi, Frances Fisher, Frank Gallegos, Izabella St. James, Jennifer Connelly, Joe Howard, Jonathan Ahdout, Joyce Kurtz, Karl Makinen, Ken Kerman, Kia Jam, Kim Dickens, Marco Rodriguez, Mark Chaet, Matthew Waite, Max Jansen Weinstein, Michael Papajohn, Namrata Singh Gujral, Nasser Faris, Navi Rawat, Pamela Shaddock, Ray Abruzzo, Ron Eldard, Scott Kinworthy, Scott N. Stevens, Shani Rigsbee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Spencer Garrett, Tom Reynolds, Zoran Radanovich

Director: Vadim Perelman

As southern movies go, Fried Green Tomatoes is inoffensively sweet and realistic—it’s not afraid to touch on the genuine issues that plagued America in the 1930s while also cushioning some blows, as feel-good movies are wont to do. But the film seems less interested in presenting a clear picture of the past than it is in telling a specific tale: that of outsiders forming bonds and making it together in an unforgiving society. 

The main narrator is Ninny, an 83-year-old woman seemingly forgotten by everyone except Evelyn, an unhappy housewife who is “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Ninny recalls the stories of Sipsey and Big George, Black laborers who dared to succeed in their deeply racist community; of Smokey, the town outcast, who still helped people even if he was denied it himself; of Ruth, the domestic abuse victim; and of Idgie, the tomboy who spat on the face of all decorum. Then, of course, there’s the unspoken relationship between Ruth and Idgie, which hint at something quite radical for its time. 

These are all the people conventionally denied happy endings, and in period films, you’d expect to be abandoned in tragedy. But here they sing; they win and lose in equal measure, and even though it might seem like light and familiar fare to some, it still goes down heartily and unforgettably—funnily enough, like a plate of fried green tomatoes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Afton Smith, Bob Hannah, Carol Mitchell-Leon, Chris O'Donnell, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson, Constance Shulman, Danny Nelson, David Dwyer, Evan Lockwood, Fannie Flagg, Gailard Sartain, Gary Basaraba, Grace Zabriskie, Grayson Fricke, Haynes Brooke, Jessica Tandy, Jo Harvey Allen, Kathy Bates, Kathy Larson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Lois Smith, Macon McCalman, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Nancy Moore Atchison, Nick Searcy, Raynor Scheine, Reid Binion, Richard Riehle, Stan Shaw, Suzi Bass, Ted Manson, Tim Scott, Timothy Scott, Tom Even, Wallace Merck

Director: Jon Avnet

Rating: PG-13

In 2013, following the Ukrainian government’s termination of an EU agreement (in blatant disregard of what its citizens have been calling for), a wave of peaceful protests start to crop up at the country’s capital. Things escalate when the police violently disperse the protestors, but the people of Ukraine are not so easily held down. They fight back, growing in number and conviction each time they do, until an all-out war finally breaks out. 

Winter on Fire documents this series of events, staying close to the ground and allowing bits of humanity to shine through its subjects. In between chilling clips of the clashes, we're shown intimate interviews with people of all walks of life. They're doctors, actors, students, bankers, lawyers, and clergymen, from various classes, races, religions, and genders. Despite their many differences, all of them share one hope: to secure a better future for the people of Ukraine. 

Genre: Documentary, War & Politics

Actor: Bishop Agapit, Catherine Ashton, Cissy Jones, Kristina Berdinskikh, Kurganskyi Eduard, Natan Hazin, Serhii Averchenko, Valery Dovgiy

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

Rating: Unrated

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a parody of a parody, a multilayered confection of silliness that befits the musician it celebrates. It's the origin story of Weird Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) but with the surreal and satirical levels cranked up to a hundred. It's easy to get lost then, in the movie's freewheeling giddiness, but Radcliffe has a way of grounding the ultra-heightened comedy with his conviction and charm. The movie also doubles as a who's who in the 1980s music and comedy scene, and the unlikely pairings it brings together keep you entertained and nostalgic for a simpler, weirder time. 

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Music

Actor: 'Weird Al' Yankovic, Akiva Schaffer, Andrew Steven Hernandez, Anthony N., Anthony Nanakornpanom, Arturo Castro, Chad Guerrero, Conan O'Brien, Constantine Rousouli, Daniel Radcliffe, David Bloom, David Dastmalchian, Dean Sharpe, Demetri Martin, Diedrich Bader, Dot-Marie Jones, Emo Philips, Eric Appel, Evan Rachel Wood, Gordon Tarpley, Jack Black, Jack Lancaster, James Brown III, James Preston Rogers, Jimmy Walker Jr., Johnny Pemberton, Jonah Ray, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Jorma Taccone, Josh Groban, Julianne Nicholson, Julie Chang, Keanush Tafreshi, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael McKean, Mike Escamilla, Nina West, Paloma Esparza Rabinov, Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Riley Fox, Quinta Brunson, Rainn Wilson, Richard Aaron Anderson, Rocky Abou-Sakher, Scott Aukerman, Seth Green, Spencer Treat Clark, Thomas Lennon, Toby Huss, Tommy O'Brien, Trenyce, Will Forte, William Guirola

Director: Eric Appel

Rating: TV-14

After the sudden death of a teacher, 55-year-old Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar is hired at an elementary school in Montreal. Struggling with a cultural gap between himself and his students at first, he helps them to deal with the situation, revealing his own tragic past. A strong portrait without any weird sentimentality. 11-year-old actress Sophie Nélisse makes her brilliant debut.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Robitaille, Brigitte Poupart, Daniel Gadouas, Danielle Proulx, Denise Lamontagne, Émilien Néron, Evelyne de la Chenelière, Francine Ruel, Gabriel Verdier, Jose Arandi, Judith Baribeau, Jules Philip, Louis Champagne, Marie Charlebois, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Mohamed Fellag, Nathalie Costa, Nico Lagarde, Sophie Nélisse, Stéphane Demers, Vincent Millard

Director: Philippe Falardeau

Rating: PG-13