The best short films have a few key things in common: concise storytelling, great performances, an original concept, and stunning visuals. You can learn from each, but which are the best to watch?
Right now, we’ll give you our list of the best short films of all time. We’ll also break down these short movies to show you how to make your next project one of the best short films of all time. Commence learning.
Best Drama Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
BEST DRAMA SHORTS
Short films have the best narratives
The best films will also have the best dramatic performances. Take a look below for some of the most exceptional movies.
1.1 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
The Red Balloon
Albert Lamorisse directs this short film about the experiences of a young boy and his balloon in Paris.
It’s one of the greatest survival and friendship stories ever told. The imagery lends itself to suspense, and it makes me think of Cast Away.
1.2 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
The Phone Call
Mat Kirkby directs this short film about a volunteer at a crisis center who receives a phone call from a man slowly poisoning himself to death.
The film has a great ticking clock that somehow seems both urgent while also relaxed enough for character development.
1.3 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
Seth Winston directs this Oscar winning short film about a session guitarist hired to help a famous rock band finish up their latest album.
This is a perfect example of a miniaturized story that works great as a short film that may not have worked as a feature.
1.4 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
Wes Anderson directs this short film about two past lovers who reunite in a hotel room in Paris, and is a prologue to The Darjeeling Limited.
The film works so well because the logline is also the synopsis. The film is about past lovers, and how we view them.
1.5 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
This is a great film by director Lynne Ramsay that works really well as a short because it shows us three moments in a girls life where she learns something about the world. Often this can be less than pleasant.
There is something very focused and yet hands off about this film. Anytime you can say that, I think you’ve got a winner.
1.6 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
Glory At Sea
Director Ben Zeitlin used this clever idea to catapult his name into the ranks of serious directors, and went on to helm Beasts of the Southern Wild which earned him Academy Award nominations for directing, writing, and best picture.
This film is great and it plays with reality and death in such a unique way it’s no wonder this is one of the best ever.
1.7 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
The full display of Stephen Daldry’s directing ability is evident in this short film that launched his career. The promise of his future work such as Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader, is definitely evident in Eight.
The writing is concise and focused. Those with an especially good eye can notice some of the director’s style in his later offerings. Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close to his first film. From stunning tracking shots to close-ups, Daldry seems to say I know film theory and can put it to use.
1.8 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
Lick The Star
Director Sofia Coppola uses this short film to talk about celebrity, teen angst, and suicide. The whole thing is done with such an objective point of view, and the realistic tone mixed with the dramatic imagery works well.
The film also features Peter Bogdanovich and Zoe Cassavetes.
1.9 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
If you have yet to see a Gaspar Noe film, this may be the perfect bite size snack for you. He makes films that are not easy to watch, but they’re good enough to make you wonder why that is, and to challenge yourself.
The films aren’t ugly, but they aren’t easy to digest.
1.10 BEST DRAMA SHORT FILM
This short film is a recent arrival to the festival circuit, having screened at least thirty festivals such as the Academy Awards qualifying Hollyshorts, and was screened by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.
Writer/director Marvin Nuecklaus creates stunning photography, with a keen use of visual color palette for time delineation.
Best Comedy Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
2.1 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
A Dog’s Life
Charlie Chaplin was one of the first directors to realize what a gold mine Dogs and Children would be on film, or maybe he is to blame. The film shows how an out of work man, harassed woman, and stray dog all have their vulnerabilities and reasons for living.
Nothing Chaplin ever did was completely comedy, and while there are plenty of laughs in this film, the message still works today, and forever.
2.2 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
Martin McDonagh was already a celebrated playwright at the time that he made this short film, but he then went on to write and direct In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The film has a great cast, and is simple enough to work as a short film.
2.3 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
The Music Box
James Parrot directs this short film that takes cues from the greek story of Sisyphus, who was cursed for eternity to push a rock up a hill that would never make it to the top.
They swap the rock for a piano, and the tragedy for some serious laughs.
2.4 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
Director Wes Anderson took this film to Sundance where it got very little attention, but those who saw it loved it. This short film about boredom, crime, adolescence, and masculinity launched the careers of the Wilson Brothers, and of course Anderson himself.
Much like THX, this is a must watch for that reason alone.
2.5 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
It’s Always Sunny On TV
A small story about a bunch of vain actors. This short film paved the way for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to become one of the greatest comedy shows of all time, and it started with a conversation about cancer.
The performances and writing made this idea work.
2.6 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
This short film, directed by Tim Burton and funded then scrapped by Disney, this darkly humorous film about a dog brought back to life.
The film shows where Burton was headed, and gained him even more attention as a filmmakers beyond just a visual artist.
2.7 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
Jim Cummings writes and directs the Sundance Film Festival award-winning Thunder Road. The film was adapted into a long-form feature film and was a giant hit in France.
Director Jim Cummings turned a substantial profit from this short film and gave the world a very signature calling card.
2.8 BEST COMEDY SHORT FILM
This short film directed by Paul Briganti makes fun of materialism and social competition in a way that doesn't hold back. It has irony, a smart theme, a bite size premise, and is filmed pretty well.
The film was accepted by the SXSW film festival.
Best Horror Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
3.1 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
The Big Shave
Martin Scorsese may be synonymous with mob films and Leo DiCaprio, but before all the glitz and glamour he made a film about a guy shaving.
What could be so terrifying about a guy shaving? Haven’t you already answered that question with your own question?
3.2 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
The Smiling Man
This short film from director A.J. Briones grabs the terror bull by the horns, and places a little girl all alone in a face to face with pure evil.
Again, this is a short film and the filmmakers understand that simplicity is often your best friend. Show off your skills.
3.3 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
This short film directed by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton deals with the topic of bullying, and a young man who summons an ancient spirit in an effort to seek revenge.
I actually quite like Birch trees.
3.4 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
David F. Sandberg made this film and it is another one that takes some of the great horror tropes of all time, and relies on nothing else. It is sort of like eating a buttermilk donut, sometimes that plan taste is the best to have.
This short went on to become a feature length film.
3.5 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
This short film is truly disturbing, and instead of relying on some distant or supernatural evil, this film shows our own need to please and to be loved as the ultimate horror.
I don’t want to give any huge details away, but if you love horror but are tired of jump scares and raspy trailer voice, check out this short film.
3.6 BEST HORROR SHORT FILM
This short film directed by Andrés Borghi shows a woman with the desire to keep the memories of her loved ones alive and the unintended consequences that follow.
Horror films are as much about filmmaking as they are about dread. Check this film out to see both.
Best Sci-Fi Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
4.1 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
Alive In Joburg
Neill Blomkamp proved his abilities to none other than legendary director Peter Jackson with this short film that inspired the hit film District 9.
Peter Jackson said Blomkamp “needed to be making films”, and hired him to his visual effects studio in New Zealand.
4.2 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB
This film by George Lucas paved the way for some of the greatest films of all time like Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
They also made a feature length version with Robert Duvall, and while the pacing is a little slow there is a ton of insights for any filmmaker.
4.3 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
This fantastic short film by Spike Jonze also happens to be a bit of a corporate advert for Absolut Vodka, but the quality, thoughtfulness, and execution of the film sort of erases any ill will that may generate.
This short film, based on the book The Giving Tree, is a film about sacrifice, love, and existentialism all rolled into a nice looking package with Andrew Garfield playing the lead.
4.4 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
Trip To The Moon
The influence of this film from director and actor George Melies cannot be overstated. Out of the hundreds of film this Godfather of cinema completed, this is the one that has stood the test of time.
The story follows a group of astronomers who voyage to the moon. They explore the surface, come to blows with the natives, before returning to earth with a captive.
This short film has cutting-edge special effects… for the time. In 1902, seeing Trip to the Moon must have been like seeing Titanic for the first time. The writing is great even without a word of audible dialogue.
The enduring theme of the exploration of man was cleverly realized in this short film. The film was heavily pirated in its’ day even though it was financially very successful.
4.5 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
This film by Giacomo Cimini takes place both in a virtual world and the real world, and uses a father and son relationship to illustrate an already tenuous relationship with society and the outside world.
If you’ve ever felt like you were born outside of your intended time era, give this film a watch.
4.6 BEST SCI-FI SHORT FILM
This film directed by David Sandberg can be found on Netflix, and I highly recommend it for several different reasons. It’s funny, has some corny but great special effects, and seems completely uncompromised.
This film was crowdfunded, and received something close to $300,000 from kickstarter during its heyday.
Best Animated Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
5.1 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
What’s Opera, Doc?
This short film by Chuck Jones is his best. I’ve never turned this short film off, or looked away. That is the true sign of any great piece of entertainment, and on top of that this short film makes me laugh, cry (in the right mood), think, and sing.
What a fantastic short film.
5.2 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The concept: An old man plays chess with himself in the park. Simple enough. How did Pixar tell this story? By having the man assume the multiple characters in the chess match.
The combination of concept, storytelling and, yes performance, even if it is computer generated imagery, works to make this academy award-winning short film one of the best. That Golem scene suddenly have new meaning?
5.3 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Imaginary Flying Machines
This film was produced by Studio Ghibli and features the legendary Hayao Miyazaki as a talking pig who narrates the film all about the human power of flight, and a bunch of different machines used to achieve it.
Great animation, great story, great short film.
5.4 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
World Of Tomorrow
The World of Tomorrow is an Academy Award winning film that takes is anything but conventional. Animation give a lot of latitude, and director Don Hertzfeldt understands that very well.
5.5 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Man Who Planted Trees
This short film directed by Frédéric Back and based off the book by Jean Giono. Christopher Plummer narrates and plays the hero who recalls his experience of being saved by a shepherd who plants trees in a barren valley eventually creating a place similar to the Garden of Eden.
This film is not only about man and nature, but about the healing powers we both can provide. It’s a two way street.
5.6 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
This is the only music video you will find on this list and it definitely deserves to be on any list of groundbreaking short films. This short film is “ever so satisfying”
When pop-rock superstar Bjork enlisted Michel Gondry to make a video the chances were high that they would make something unique.
5.7 BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Sanjay’s Super Team
Every filmmaker should see this Pixar short film for the amazing combination of original concept, strong storytelling, and stunning visuals.
Director Sanjay Patel based the story on his own childhood. Taking the familiar story of a clash of interest between two generations, Patel used the Hindu deities and the superhero storyline to create a magical short movie. It is truly a delight for all ages.
Best Experimental Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
6.1 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
Un Chien Andalou
Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí wrote a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions. Then they went and filmed it, without any apparent compromise.
To watch any of these experimental films is to understand that you are no longer in the realm of conventional cinema, but that doesn’t mean cinematic language and thematic expression are abnormal, in this film or any other film for that matter.
6.2 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
A post-apocalyptic, cautionary tale and a masterpiece of writing, this short film is one of the best of all times. Twenty-eight minutes long and entirely in black and white, La Jetee is ahead of its’ time.
The themes are as relevant today as they were sixty years ago. Importantly, it pays homage to the French New Wave movement.
6.3 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge
The short film seventy years later was specially presented on an episode of The Twilight Zone. Adapted for the screen and directed by Roberto Enrico, the story is simple, but the telling is what makes it jarring and original.
It was a winner at the Cannes Film Festival. In addition, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge received both the BAFTA and the Academy Award for the best Live Action Short film.
6.4 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
This film from Kenneth Anger caused the Nazis to become upset at him for misrepresenting their flag. A censorship advocacy group called the police, had the theatre manager arrested and the print seized before the whole case went to the California supreme court.
This film set precedent for legal censorship cases across the country, and in some ways dismantled the shard censorship laws that remained from the McCarthy era. Oh, and the film is pretty great too.
6.5 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
From The Drain
This film from David Cronenberg shows two men in a mental institution bathtub talking about what is in the drain. It led to films like Eastern Promises, History of Violence, and Existenz, so it is totally worth watching.
Also, it is interesting to watch a lot of the interviews Cronenberg gave during the period of creating this film, so if you have time watch those too.
6.6 BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILMS
David Lynch has made a few experimental short films, but The Grandmother is his best. The reason it is his best is because it has more cinematic technique to analyze than other short films from David Lynch.
Often his films are shot in such a simple manner that you ponder the art and meaning rather than the cinematic techniques.
Best Documentary Short Films
RUN TIME UNDER 45 MINUTES
7.1 BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
Night And Fog
Writer-director Alain Resnais used writing and structure as well as a compilation of archival footage from all over Europe to bring this short film to life.
Using motion pictures and stills, there is no fancy Hollywood razzle-dazzle in this no-nonsense look at the horrors of the Holocaust.
What makes this film truly extraordinary is not the subject matter.
This was not the first film to detail the atrocities of the Second World War.
It is the structure of the film that makes this short film stand the test of time as one of the best short documentary films of all time.
Resnais tells a complete story with a gripping subject matter but structures the story in an essay form.
A beautiful telling of a nightmarish story
The events are told chronologically with the footage from Resnais’ present day, in color, and the archival footage edited seamlessly.
The tracking shots lead to the Nazis marching in step. The overgrown fields of the 1950’s blend into the ghastly scenes of genocide.
The writing here is unsentimental and unapologetic. It makes Night and Fog one of the best short films, documentary or otherwise, of all time.
7.2 BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
The Mushroom Club
This powerful Academy Award-nominated short film from director Steve Okazaki revisits the story of the first use of the atomic bomb by the United States against Japan.
The real story in this 34min film is the effects on the lives of those who experienced it. In response to the lackluster coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb, the filmmaker collected these stories of survivors in the short tragic anthology.
The director presents questions that no one wants to ask. The answers provide a harrowing portrait of “victory” from the point of view of those who lived in the aftermath of the bombing.
The survivors or hibakusha get to tell their story. The structure is less important as are the filmmaking skills. The stories come together to make one unforgettable film.
7.3 BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
God Sleeps In Rwanda
The best documentary short films all seem to tackle the darkest and most tragic reaches of the human experience. This is no exception.
Director Kimberlee Acquaro received a Pew Fellowship and later an Academy Award nomination for her film.
Once again, the story’s subject matter is the leading player. But the writing in this short film is essential to the telling of such heavy themes as genocide and human depravity.
Narrated by Rosario Dawson, the writing here doesn’t overwhelm the stories of the five women who rebuild their lives and redefine women's roles in Rwanda. This short film is a story of hope.
7.4 BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
The Death of Kevin Carter
Director Dan Krauss paints a tragic portrait of the life of a journalist in this superb short film. The short film comes in at a sparse 27 minutes but packs a punch of any feature-length film.
The film sheds light on the suicide of journalist Kevin Carter a few months after winning the Pulitzer Prize and the death of a close friend. The familiarity of Kevin Carter’s work makes the viewer an accomplice
The film is thorough in the examination of Carter’s life and the events leading to his death. The amount of research that goes into the documentary short is staggering and worthy of its’ Oscar nomination.
7.5 BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
This Oscar-nominated short film of 2017 is one of the few documentary short films that delivers a message of hope and redemption.
This short film is the story of a restaurateur looking to open the best French restaurant in America.
The catch? The restaurant is staffed with ex-convicts looking to change their lives. They have a few weeks to learn the kitchen skills.
Ex-convicts serve a dose of humanity with their skills. The structure of the story is where filmmakers can really learn a thing or two.
Starting the film on the opening night as an amuse bouche and then serving up the entrèe as the staff is initiated into a brand new world of traditional French cuisine.
It is funny as a fish out of water stories, frustrating to witness how lives can take a sudden bad turn and a pleasure to watch as men and women are redeemed in a kitchen.
How to Write a Short Film That Gets You Noticed
Now you know about 30 great short films. You could literally watch any of these films and know that you saw something worth a watch. Now it’s time for you to develop your own short film idea.
Check out How to Write a Short Film That Gets You Noticed. This is a fantastic resource that will keep you on track, and help organize your idea.