Here's a list of 15 films where the scarcity of human contact feels — in these strange times at least — like a good thing.

By Leah Greenblatt
April 14, 2020 at 02:04 PM EDT
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You know those satirical movie trailers that recut comedies as horror shows? When Harry Met Sally becomes a clammy claustrophobic thriller; Willy Wonka, a golden ticket…to hell.

That’s not unlike how it feels, through the lens of constant COVID panic, to go back and watch even the most ordinary interactions unfold on screen: The raucous high-school hallways of Booksmart? Teenage death wish! Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s groovy pool parties? Who needs the Manson Family when you have shared dance floors! Hustlers’ teeming strip club, with its miles of sticky tables and well-handled dollar bills? Just lick the pole and end it all.

If anything, the full-body revulsion that now comes from watching characters casually shake hands, step into a crowded elevator, or, God freaking forbid, kiss a stranger feels like a sensical reaction to what’s become our new (ab)normal — the same Darwinian impulse that guides us to steer clear of open alligator pits or not eat a slice of pizza off a subway seat.

Some recent releases do seem strangely prescient, or at least better retrofitted for Corona dread: The Lighthouse, in which Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are literally the only two men on a tiny rock-slip of an island; Parasite, with its de facto house arrest; Little Women, which reminds us that even an innocuous visit to a neighbor can kill your favorite, if vaguely underwritten sister.

But if every innocuous rom-com now seems like the starter kit for a Contagion sequel, it’s also become oddly self-soothing to watch the kind of movies that once felt almost unbearably lonely: dramas and thrillers, mostly, where nothing crowds the frame but Tom Hanks and his volleyball, Sandra Bullock and uncountable miles of space debris, or Tom Hardy squinting manfully in a car (though without, for once, one of his trusty masks).

In that spirit, here's a list of 15 films where the scarcity of human contact feels — in these strange times at least — like a good thing.

Ad Astra (2019)

Lonely Astronaut movies could make up this whole list; James Gray’s cool-toned drama is both a heady metaphysical showcase for Brad Pitt’s soulful solitude, and a timely reminder that while maybe no one in space can hear you scream, they also can’t cough COVID-19 all over you.

All Is Lost (2013)

A nameless man (Robert Redford) wakes up to find his sailboat rammed by a wayward shipping container; what follows is a harrowing nightmare at sea, though also probably still far safer than letting anyone over 70 near a cruise ship.

Into the Wild (2007)

The true story of a college kid named Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) who traded crass commerce and human contact for a land where even the moose stay six feet away.

The Guilty (2018)

A Danish police officer’s emergency-call shift takes a turn when he is patched through to a possible kidnapping scenario. The twist? He can't leave his chair.

Locke (2014)

Just a man (Tom Hardy) in the driver’s seat of an SUV, trying desperately to keep his family, his marriage, and his livelihood from falling apart, one increasingly brutal speaker-phone call at a time.

Wild (2014)

Watch Reese Witherspoon scream into the void, make friends with a fox, and learn more than she ever wanted to know about heroin withdrawal and hiking boots.

Life of Pi (2012)

It helps to know that Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning tale of a shipwrecked boy trapped in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is all a metaphor, especially if you’re worried about current tiger infection rates.

Cast Away (2000)

The standard by which all man-alone movies are judged, and tacit permission for even non-Tom Hanks humans to feel okay about having long emotional conversations with inanimate sports gear.

I Am Legend (2007)

When a re-engineered virus wipes out 90% of the world’s population, Will Smith’s lone-wolf virologist is left with nothing but his wits, his German shepherd, and a swarm of cannibalistic night mutants who seem really strong for a group of people who supposedly have measles.

Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuarón sends Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on a mission to fix the Hubble telescope; only one of them may make it home alive, but at least they got seven Oscars for their time.

Moon (2009)

Sam Rockwell’s contract worker mans a remote station on the lunar surface with nothing to keep him company but his own thoughts, an AI bot named GERTY, and because it is Sam Rockwell, a doppelganger dance-off.

Buried (2010)

If anyone can talk their way out of being buried alive in a coffin with no more than a Zippo lighter, a cell phone, and 90 minutes of real-time oxygen, Ryan Reynolds does kind of seem like that guy.

127 Hours (2010)

Because you would rather watch James Franco saw his own arm off right now than walk into a Chipotle with more than two people in it.

The Shallows (2016)

All Blake Lively wants is a solo surf session in paradise; a hangry shark has other plans.

WALL-E (2008)

Technically not a solo movie at all — excepting the first 20 minutes or so, which is like a tiny, brilliantly existential Buster Keaton comedy starring the world’s most expressive trash compactor.

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