18 Extraordinarily Experimental Feature Films


On July 11th, Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood will open in theaters. This film is uniquely constructed: Linklater began shooting the film in 2002, and followed the same actors for a 12-year period, watching them all grow up together. The ambition of the project can perhaps only be matched by Michael Apted’s Up documentaries, which met a group of 7-year-olds in 1964, and has visited them every seven years since. The last film in the series was 56 Up.

Boyhood is a bold experimental film that is trying something new with the cinematic form. Experimental films are perhaps the lifeblood of all cinema. Everything has to be new at some point, and we can’t discover what is new within a certain medium without a good deal of tinkering. Indeed, if one were to go back to the early days of cinema (say, the first three decades), one will find heaping helpings of surrealist and avant-garde short films made by filmmakers who, well, didn’t quite know what to do with the form yet, and were trying everything they could. Experimental films reveal the depth, the grandness, and the versatility of film. Movies are not just one thing. They can be anything. And why not experiment? Why not try new things?

So throw that three-act structure out the window. Stomp on your preconceived notions of film as a “storytelling medium.” Abandon all hope, Mr. Protagonist, Ms. Conflict, Sir Drama, Lady Closure and all you other Screenwriting 101 mascots. Below is a list of some of the most striking, daring, and extraordinary experimental films ever released.

(Note: This list will only include feature-length films, as the list of experimental and avant-garde short films is far too long to delve into here.)

Witney Seibold is the head film critic for Nerdist, and a contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly Trolling articles here on Crave, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.