As philosopher Thomas Carlyle once eloquently said, “Speech is great, but silence is greater.” The cinema is full of memorable depictions of actions being more effective than conversation. Extensive dialogue is not always the key to success in creating a moving and compelling tale; many of Hollywood’s finest films feature very little words. Some of the most innovative and groundbreaking pictures utilize the power of silence, preferring to convey their messages through stunning imagery and powerful emotion.
In the early twentieth century, the United States movie industry was booming thanks to the success of silent films, demonstrating that it’s more than possible to craft a lucrative picture with little to no dialogue. Silent cinema was ushered out of Tinsel Town’s doors with the invention of the “talkie” and, as they say, the rest is history. It’s exciting for moviegoers when studios embrace their roots and take a less conventional approach to modern-day movie making, relying instead on star performances, dazzling cinematography and riveting plots. These are the best movies with almost no dialogue.
Based on the James Sallis novel of the same name, 2011’s Drive stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he attempts to help his debt-ridden neighbor. The action drama features the additional talents of Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, and Bryan Cranston and premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it received a standing ovation. Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling worked hard to trim down the script’s dialogue, despite it being 81 pages long. On that decision, Refn stated, “I love the language of silence […] The man who’s always more silent is always the one who’s unpredictable. Ryan was very much seeing The Driver as a man who would not have a conversation unless he meant to have one, so you eliminated all small talk immediately. ” Drive was a critical and box office hit, garnering praise for its visuals, cinematography, and powerful performances.
Disney’s 1940 spectacular animated musical Fantasy consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The film depicts various settings paired with the melodies, such as mythological, prehistoric, and supernatural backdrops. Besides a brief interaction with Mickey Mouse, the characters in Fantasy do not utter a single word in their breathtaking sequences and visuals. The fantasy masterpiece proves that storytelling can still be impactful without dialogue, and that music and stunning imagery can truly make a world of a difference. Fantasy was acclaimed by critics and audiences, with its premiere attracting numerous guests and Hollywood greats like Shirley Temple, Cecil B. DeMille and James Cagney. The New York Times proclaimed that “motion-picture history was made last night…Fantasy dumps conventional formulas overboard and reveals the scope of films for imaginative excursion. ”
Netlfix’s 2016 slasher Hush focuses on a deaf and mute writer who retreats to the woods to live a solitary life, but must battle for her life when she’s terrorized by a masked killer. Director Mike Flanagan made the main heroine a deaf mute due to his desire to create a film “Without dialogue.” Starring Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr., the horror flick is full of blood-chilling tension, nerve-wracking suspense and a daunting cat-and-mouse game between the resilient lead and her malicious assailant. Hush was a massive hit on the streaming platform and with critics, earning a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating and even gained the approval of the kings of horror William Friedkin and Stephen King, who said, “How good is Hush? Up there with Halloween and, even more, Wait Until Dark. White-knuckle time. ”
5 The Artist
2011’s Oscar-winning French dramedy The Artist is directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is shot in the style of a black-and-white silent film. The stunning picture features the talent of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, and follows an arrogant film star who develops a relationship with a young dancer in Hollywood’s silent era. Hazanavicius wrote the screenplay in four months and conducted extensive research about silent films in order to find the right technique for his storytelling and to not rely heavily on intertitles. Douglas Fairbanks, the swashbuckling king of silent films, served as inspiration for the script and characters in the picture. The Artist received widespread critical acclaim and won five Academy Awards including Best Actor for Dujardin; he became the first French actor to ever win in the category.
4 Cast Away
America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks famously stars in the 2000 survival drama Cast Away, portraying a FedEx troubleshooter who becomes stranded on a deserted island after his plane crashes. The plot centers on his desperate attempts to survive all alone and keep hoping that he’ll one day return home. To prepare for the role, Hanks gained 50 pounds during pre-production in order to make his transformation into the film more dramatic. Filming was then halted, so he could lose the weight and grow out his hair and a beard. During the emotionally moving drama, Wilson the volleyball is Hanks’ character’s personified friend, and is his only companion during his four years alone. When reflecting on the impact of Cast Away, Hanks said, “I made Cast Away because I wanted to examine the concept of four years of hopelessness, in which you have none of the requirements for living – food, water, shelter, fire and company. ” The screenplay and the star’s gripping performance were praised, with Hanks winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
3 The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his highly deserved Oscar for his engrossing performance in the 2015 Alejandro G. Iñárritu survival drama The Revenant. The harrowing tale follows a frontiersman in the 1820s who must fight for his life after a vicious bear attack and being left for dead by his own hunting team. The vast majority of the epic picture focuses on DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, as he braves the elements and countless adversaries on his crusade to evade death’s pursuit and exact revenge. Dialogue is sparse and in this truly character-driven film that is propelled by DiCaprio’s dominating performance. The actor fully committed to the role, eating a raw slab of bison’s liver and sleeping in animal carcasses that led to hypothermia. The Revenant was a blockbuster, grossing over $ 500 million and garnering numerous accolades; Iñárritu earned his second Oscar for Best Director as well as a Golden Globe.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey
Mastermind Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 groundbreaking sci-fi spectacular 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a voyage to Jupiter with sentient supercomputer HAL 9000 upon the discovery of an alien monolith. The innovative and cutting edge epic is noted for its scientific accuracy and exploration of themes such as human evolution, technology, existentialism, and meditation upon extraterrestrial life. Kubrick focused heavily on audio-visuals as opposed to dialogue, an approach that won praise and appreciation for the filmmaker. The soundtrack is full of numerous works of classical music by composers like Richard Strauss and Aram Khachaturian. 2001: A Space Odyssey is heavily regarded as one of the greatest and most influential movies ever made, and earned Kubrick an Academy Award for his direction of the visual effects.
1 A Quiet Place
The Office alum John Krasinski co-wrote and directed the 2018 horror flick A Quiet Place, which revolves around a father and mother who struggle to survive and raise their children in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by blind monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing. Starring Krasinski alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt, the film’s concept came to fruition in part from co-writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ experience watching numerous silent films in college and growing up close to farmland. The characters communicate in American Sign Language to avoid making sound, as the couple’s daughter (portrayed by Millicent Simmonds) in the movie is also deaf. Simmonds grew up with ASL and observed that each character’s use of sign language reflected their own personal motivations: the father had short and brief signs, indicating his survival mentality, while the mother used more expressive signs representing her desire for her children to live more than just survive. A Quiet Place‘s critical and commercial success led to its 2021 sequel, A Quiet Place Part II.
It’s quite the challenge to successfully fuse polar opposite film genres, but when done effectively it can yield remarkable and terrific results.
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