Hollywood Screenwriting Directory

Top 10 Best Nonlinear Films

First and foremost, I think it’s important for me to specify what I mean by “best nonlinear films.” I do NOT mean the Top 10 best films (and screenplays) that are nonlinear. I mean the Top 10 best uses of a nonlinear structure. So, my top spot will be the film that I feel uses a nonlinear structure most effectively and successfully (emphasis on the “my”).

In my research, I’ve found a variety of reasons that screenwriters and directors adopt the nonlinear structure. Some use it to help our understanding of the story, for example, the use of flashbacks to help the audience put together a particular character’s backstory. Others use it for decoration, and the film would scarcely be different if the events were told in chronological order. This grates on me… really grates. I also found a lot of films masquerading as nonlinear. City of God, which I absolutely LOVE, is classified on Wikipedia as nonlinear, which is completely laughable.

If every film that is book-ended by a present moment, with the rest of the film as one chronological linear flashback, was considered nonlinear, this task would have been glacial and probably futile. A true nonlinear film should be more than just a classic cut-and-paste bookend. So the films on this list all take intelligent, interesting approaches with nonlinear structure in a way that improves the film because of it. If a writer can create an amazing story, and then make it even better by mixing up the narrative, then that’s a writer to admire. Obviously, I’m not saying that nonlinear films are the best things since sliced – and generously buttered - bread; but I think we should appreciate extra complexities that improve the movie going experience.