Top 10 Quirky Films

The quirky movie. They’re “strange, not normal but cool” says Blandine Etienne as she takes a look at her favourite films from a genre Tim Burton and Wes Anderson know plenty about.

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My favorite definition of quirky is “strange, not normal but cool.” That is exactly why I like quirky movies. They will often take you somewhere you have not been before and introduce you to characters you never knew you wanted to meet. If you’re familiar with the actors Parker Posey, Johnny Depp, Tilda Swinton, and directors Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and John Waters, then you have seen a quirky movie. People usually have extreme reactions on viewing one; you either love them or loathe them. However, since so many movies are tiresome copies, sequels, or uninspired remakes, quirky movies are often hidden gems.

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10. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

This is a love story about an unlikely couple each of which is quirky in his/her own way. Harold is a young, spoiled, rich, anti-social man who is obsessed with rebelling against his mother and with death. He attends random funerals and meets Maude at one. She is a free spirited woman in her 70’s and invites him into her world. The story and the film’s style are quirky too.

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9. The Brother From Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)

An alien lands on Earth in Harlem, on the run from two bounty hunters from his own planet. It has the form of an African American man, played by the underrated Joe Morton, and is mute. As he tries to evade capture, he has encounters with humans and it’s funny how he manages to appear human to them while trying to navigate our world.

8. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)

Unemployed puppeteer Craig takes an office job at LesterCorp located on the 7 ½ floor. While there, he finds a hidden door that takes him into the mind of John Malkovich. This always lasts 15 minutes after which he is ejected & dumped next to the NJ Turnpike. Mayhem ensues when Craig’s wife, his co-worker, and John Malkovich find out about it.

7. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008)

Sally Hawkins gives a breakout performance as Poppy, an elementary school teacher who decides to take driving lessons after her bike is stolen. It is a delight to watch Poppy remain plucky and true to herself despite her driving instructor’s escalating hostility towards her and whatever else life throws at her.

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6. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

Director Richard Kelly made his feature film debut by writing and directing this trippy story. Teenaged Donnie is experiencing visions, escalating acts of violence, and an interest in time travel after debris from a plane crashes into his bedroom. Alienated from his school and his family, he experiences first love. Wonderful star performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.

5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

Mitchell also co-wrote & starred as Hedwig, a transsexual from Berlin who fronts a rock band currently touring the US. From her early life pre-op to her current dilemma of trying to prove her ex-boyfriend stole her songs, this story features wonderful characters and music. Great sing-a-long sequence with the lyrics appearing on screen.

4. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, 1999)

Forest Whitaker plays an African American hit man for the mafia. His only friend is a French-only speaking man played by Isaach De Bankole. Ways of the Samurai and a hip-hop soundtrack by the Wu Tang Clan juxtapose Ghost Dog’s philosophy with the deterioration of the mafia’s power.

3. Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004)

“Vote For Pedro.” This sweet natured comedy has become a standard at my house. Napolean Dynamite and his brother are left under the charge of their uncle who’s stuck in the 80’s after their grandmother gets injured in a dune buggy accident. Napolean comes into his own despite his family life, the school bully, and his uncle’s desperate business startups.

2. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park, 2003)

In perhaps the darkest quirky movie on my list, Min-sik Choi plays a family man who is kidnapped & held captive for 15 years by an unknown enemy. Once he escapes, he spends the rest of the movie trying to find out who and why someone wanted to exact revenge against him. There is an iconic fight sequence that has to be seen to be believed.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

This visual masterpiece was robbed of that year’s Oscar for Best Foreign film. A young girl discovers a fantasy world that provides escape from her new life as a stepdaughter of a Fascist military man in 1944 Spain. As the war escalates, so does the young girl’s peril in both worlds.

Honorable Mentions: Little Miss Sunshine, Pi, Raising Arizona, Ghost World, Edward Scissorhands, Black Snake Moan, Bagdad Café, Sugarbaby.

Written and compiled by Blandine Etienne.

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Your turn – what are your favourite “quirky” films?

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  1. Avatar
    amy Reply

    I don’t know if I would exactly… describe Oldboy as “quirky” xD maybe… something like “twistedly intense” LOL

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    DEZMOND Reply

    Speaking of Malkovitch, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE was also a rather strange one 🙂

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    Raghav Reply

    Interesting list, but I really wouldn’t put Oldboy or Ghost Dog as “Quirky”. I haven’t seen some of the films in the list and will have to check them out. But, Nepolean Dynamite is QUIRKY for sure… maybe Election Iwith Reese Witherspoon) would have made the list too

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    Rodney Reply

    You would not believe how happy I am to see Hedwig’s Angry Inch up there in this list.

    What surprised me was just how many of these films I’ve actually seen, which is 8! Only #9 and #10 remain as yet unwatched! Great list!!

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    Dan Reply

    I’d just like to welcome Blandine to the Top 10 Films team!

    Thanks for the comments guys – although “quirky” can mean a variety of things, Blandine has defined her interpretation of it as “strange, not normal but cool.” I can see Oldboy fitting all those things.

    Tim Burton is a great exponent of this – Edward Scissorhands is one that stands out but a personal favourite is Big Fish.

    I’d also say Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be a perfect addition. That reminds me, I haven’t seen it in a long while…must find the DVD! 🙂

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    Evan Crean Reply

    I’ve only seen three on the list: Napoleon Dynamite, Donnie Darko, and Hedwig. I never really understood the appeal of Napoleon Dynamite, but then again by the time I finally saw it, everyone else had already over-quoted it and ruined it for me.

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    Blandine Etienne Reply

    Hi All, thanks for the comments. I’m especially loving the other suggested movies. It was so hard to get my list down to just 10 movies 😉

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    Mette Reply

    Of these I’ve seen Harold and Maude (fantastic), Happy-Go-Lucky (hated it) and Pan’s Labyrinth (absolutely awesome).
    Cool list.

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    Pete Reply

    Well at least I’ve seen the top 3 and Donnie and Malkovich! Great choices on those 5. I’d rate Napoleon Dynamite possibly as my favourite! Definitely want to see Ghost Dog and Brother from Another Planet!

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    Lee Stevens Reply

    ‘da duv’ for quirky comedy short but only seen in a full theater , which after you see it that way, you will understand its uniqueness and zing.

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    Dan Reply

    @Mette: Like you, I wasn’t won over by Happy-Go-Lucky…Sally Hawkins’ performance was grating after a while. I usually love everything Mike Leigh does.

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    Jaina Reply

    Love that Pan’s is #1, but not sure I’d quite call it quirky. For me quirky’s more something like The Big Lebowski. That’s off the wall! Or perhaps, Hellboy. It’s definitely not your average comic book film.

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    Jareth Smith Reply

    This is a dreadful list and very few are “quirky”. What about Studio Ghibli? Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo etc. Fitzzcaraldo, anyone? How about some of Terry Gilliam’s stuff – Brazil? Monty Python – Life of Brian, The Holy Grail, Meaning of Life. Punch Drunk Love. Mary and Max. The list goes on. But, no, Napoleon Dynamite is, apparently more quirky than some of these……

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    Dan Reply

    @Jaina: The Big Lebowski is definitely off the wall! 🙂

    @Jareth: The term “quirky” is a bit difficult to define when applied to movies. I suppose what I might find “quirky” someone else might find run-of-the-mill. But personally speaking, I’ve always thought of Harold and Maude as one of the best films of its type in its undeniable quirks.

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    mark Reply

    For some peculiar reason they recently re-ran Liquid Sky in my home town. Saw it in the early 80s, but it was so damn quirky that I haven’t bothered with it since ….

    I agree with Jareth Smith on Fitzcaraldo – anything by Herzog in the first half of his career (especially his stuff with Kinski and the guy who played Kasper Hauser) deserves to be on quirky lists.

    And what about some of the Warhol/Morrissey collaborations? If not quirky, they deserve to be on the Cinema of the Ridiculous list.

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    Chris Reply

    There are many worthy contenders, love the Ghost Dog choice! I would also throw Eraserhead (1977) and Buffalo 66 (1998) into the hat.

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    Blandine Etienne Reply

    Hi again. I appreciate the disagreements. I’ve seen Herzog docs but not his narrative films, though those are on my queue of must see movies.

    Some movies I have found to be “too quirky”, a recent one being Submarine. Loved the cast and the director but not the film.

    I don’t know anyone else who likes Happy-Go_Lucky, nor Jesus Henry Christ. I saw Withnail & I so long ago that I honestly don’t remember it, so I didn’t want to add it but I will re-watch it soon.

    Yes, The Big Lebowski I see is one that is conspicuous for being absent on my list. I omitted it because I have never wanted to see it again but it is definitely quirky.

    Thanks for all the suggestions and the courteous disagreements.


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    Blandine Etienne Reply

    Can’t believe I forgot about Skeletons!!!

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Nice list ..but I would have included Todd Solondz film Happiness over Napoleon Dynamite – not a fan of this film.

  20. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    Also to one of the commenters on here FYI Liquid Sky is cult film wouldn’t consider it just quirky.

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    gokul Reply

    my list:
    3.old boy
    4.Samaritan girl
    5.Pan’s labyrinth
    7.eternal sunshine of spotless mind
    8.Run lola run
    9.Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
    10. a very long engagement

  22. Avatar
    Wally Zebco Reply

    ‘Withnail And I’

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    The more I go back to this list the more I see a lot was missed, but it’s a very hard list to write up I imagine. There is a lot of quirky films in cinema history! I agree with a lot of commentators here, I wouldn’t consider Old Boy & Ghost Dog quirky. There’s far quirkier films out there for example Happiness, After Hours, Lars and the Real Girl, Doom Generation,…..etc.

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    Fulmer Reply

    That’s a rather wide definition of “quirky”. Such latitude makes a top 10 quite difficult. I define it as, “Often departs from traditional narrative convention, difficult to assign genre status & characters whose behavior is mostly unpredictable.” I’ve seen all of your choices (some good ones there) & would add:
    1. 7 Psychopaths
    2. Barton Fink
    3. Italian for Beginners
    4. Factotum
    5. Zardoz
    6. The Guard
    7. Moonrise Kingdom
    8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    9. U Turn
    10. Playtime

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