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15 Movies You Must Watch if You Love ‘American Beauty’

December 8, 2017
12 min read

“American Beauty” is a classic and most probably Sam Mendes’ best film so far. It deals with a variety of themes relating human relationships, self-understanding, identity, love and family, and explores its characters in depth, with care and respect. Lester Burnahm, the cynical husband of a conflicted family in full mid-life crisis, lost in his world and with an urge to break free, is a character known to all, with features we can relate to and understand. Also the search of love, beauty and acceptance, by young and old, and the exploration of one’s sexuality and desires is truly part of life and of the portrayal this drama offers.

The craft of creating real people with honest issues is what makes this film a masterpiece and what makes us want to see more. Many other films touch upon similar themes or characters or ways to express life, people and reality. They all have in a way or another resemblances to this film and will certainly enlighten or impress you in a similar way. Here is the list of movies similar to ‘American Beauty’ that are our recommendations. You can watch some of these movies like American Beauty on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

15. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

After coming out of a mental health establishment after having violently beaten up the man his wife was having an affair with, Pat, attained of bipolar disorder, goes back to his parents’ home. His desire is to get back with his ex-wife who no longer lives in the surroundings however a restraining order against him hinders him from pursuing his wish. After meeting Tiffany, a depressed widow, he becomes her dancing partner and begins practicing for an upcoming competition. Played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (who received an Academy Award for her performance), it portrays two characters who must beat their inner problems and face the reality of their actions. Surrounding them, each other individual contributes to this idea that real people have imperfections and problems and that life isn’t easy and does not come as a wrapped gift one must simply open and enjoy.

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14. A Serious Man (2009)

Another great achievement in Joel and Ethan Coen’s film career. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the protagonist’s role, a jewish middle-aged man, professor of physics living in 1967 Minnesota who’s life seems to be falling to pieces in this 2009 black comedy drama. From his personal life to his professional career, he sees the world as a big force standing against him which he does not know how to combat. From his wife wanting a divorce in order to marry somebody else to the blackmailing of a student wanting a passing grade, he suddenly questions his life and ultimately his faith. With their talent, the Cohen brother graciously succeeded once more in underlying serious questions under a cover of excellent black, mature humour.

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13. Closer (2004)

“Closer” is a masterpiece on love, pain, disappointment and reality. It follows the interconnection of 4 different characters, with a storyline that keeps shifting from one direction to the other, giving us insight on each and every one of their sides, which involve all kinds of feelings depending on which place they’re positioned. Starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, we’re given a story in which two couples are broken and enlaced when the woman of one and the man of the other meet and share a kiss. It’s theme and approach on romantic relationships certainly makes us think of the complicated and cold marriage between the protagonist and his wife in “American Beauty. An excellent film with a look and melodramatic feel to die for.

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12. Happiness (1998)

Once more depicting the lives of various individuals, in their struggles of finding themselves in a world full of chaos and dissatisfaction and in the attempt to create or re-strengthen human connection, we got the comedy-drama “Happiness” awarded with an International Federation of Film Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. From three sisters, to three families and the people entangled in their lives, we get to observe and explore their acts and decisions in an intertwined context. With a similar style and flow, it tackles rich and controversial themes and entails characters such as a romantically unfulfilled author, a secret pedophile, a weak and unconfident teacher and a Russian student in order to transmit its essence.

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11. Little Children (2006)

“Little Children” is about the lives of a number of individuals and the way in which they evolve regarding the feelings, emotions and situations of each character. Through 3 different storylines which interconnect, we get to know themes and elements that make us think of Sam Mendes’ masterpiece through the style and approach, the dreams and impossible fulfilment and perhaps even the ending as well, and how it relates to each character arc. First there’s Sarah and Brad who fall in love, although married to someone else and parents to little children. Then there’s Larry, Brad’s friend and former police-officer who was taken off his position for accidentally shooting a teenager in the past. Finally there’s Ronnie, a pedophile sex-offender recently freed from prison who lives with his mother and is often harassed by Larry. Starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Noah Emmerich and Jackie Earle Haley, it deserves admiration and certainly a watch.

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10. Storytelling (2001)

Second film by Todd Solondz (“Happiness”) on this list and once more we find the similar theme of the search of oneself and one’s place in the big world we live in. Here, we have two unrelated stories with different characters and actors, in which high-school and college are used as the background setting for these plots. In one, set in the 80’s and titled “Fiction” we have Selma Blair as Vi, a pink-haired student attending a creative writing class where the teacher, played by Robert Wisdom shares an intimate experience and relationship with her. The other one, set 20 years later and titled “Non-fiction” is about a documentary filmmaker filming the life of a dysfunctional family with 3 boys, from which one is applying for college, an important aspect for the parents.

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9. Lost In Translation (2003)

The famous film of American director Sofia Coppola which earned her an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, tells the story of two characters which, like Lester Burnham, are lost within their meaningless lives, confused feelings and falling relationships. Apart from its gorgeous visuals and meticulously crafted cinematography that mirrors the characters’ thoughts and emotions, we have a story that relies on two people meeting in a city that is not their own and developing a friendship that nevertheless is strong enough to lift this film on two solid feet. These two characters are Bob Harris played by Bill Murray, a movie star shooting an advert in Tokyo who’s in full mid-life crisis, and Charlotte played by Scarlett Johansson, a college graduate brought to the city by her distant photographer husband.

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8. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Emotionally heavy and with an Award-winning performance by Nicolas Cage, this film introduces us one character who will lead the storyline from start to finish. Like the protagonist in “American Beauty”, Ben Sanderson is a man suffering from mid-life crisis, however this one decides to leave to Las Vegas and drown himself to death with alcohol after his professional and private life come crashing down on him. However when in the City of Lights drinking and driving, he crosses paths with an attractive prostitute and although his intention was far from falling in love, some things simply don’t come as planned. Great and powerful.

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7. Fight Club (1999)

Although a completely different story, there are some striking similarities between the protagonist of this film and Kevin Spacey’s famous character. Edward Norton plays an insomniac traveling automobile recall specialist who narrates his pitiful and depressing life before everything takes a different turn. Just like Lester Burnham, he wakes up one morning and radically decides to change his lifestyle by quitting his boring desk-job and even going to the extent of blackmail his boss for money. Of course, he then shifts on to meeting a soap salesmen and ends up creating an underground fight club, which doesn’t quite happen in “American Beauty”, yet both characters begin as weak and unsatisfied individuals who decide to break free from their constraints and revolt against normality, which leads them both to dramatic yet iconic endings.

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6. The Squid And The Whale (2005)

A fabulous comedy-drama set in the mid 1980’s and the New York City borough Brooklyn. It recounts the splitting up of a family when Bernard, an arrogant selfish novelist and teacher, and Joan, an acclaimed growing writer and unfaithful wife, decide to separate and start a divorce. Their two sons, of 12 and 16 years of age, are hit with the news and deal with it in revolting ways, choosing different sides and ways to deal with the change in their lives. The mother begins dating the 12-year-old’s tennis teacher while the father moves in with one of his students. It is impressive that a film about a divorce and the way it impacts the degrading family spirit manages to paint this honest topic with humour and wittiness. A 5-star watch worth everyone’s time.

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5. Lolita (1962)

Stanley Kubrick’s classic resembles to “American Beauty” especially in two simple aspects which in both films take an important role in the storytelling process and depiction of the characters. Both protagonists, here Humbert Humbert and there Lester Burnham, share similar characteristics such as their age, status and failed marriage, wether present or past. Their equal projection of love and beauty onto young, underaged girls brings these two movies to the same element of the “Lolita complex”. While Lester fantasies on his daughter’s friend Angela during his mid-life crisis, so does Humbert, in a way, although this one takes it on a longer journey that will practically occupy the whole movie’s storyline. However, although obviously similar, which makes us believe that the 1999 film surely took inspiration from this iconic piece, these films finish with a completely different ending, as one understands the illusion of this idea of love and youth, while the other doesn’t and becomes totally and utterly submerged by it.

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4. Ghost World (2001)

Directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch (Jane Burnham in “American Beauty”), Scarlett Johnsson and Steve Buscemi, this film holds various similarities to the American classic we love within its themes, characters and outcomes. Portraying the casual lifestyle of two American high-school graduated teens, it follows how Enid and Rebecca reply to a romantic advertisement of a lonely man, pretending they’re somebody they’re not in order to set him up a date and mockingly observe his misery when nobody shows up. Although Enid is a naughty outsider teen, she soon regrets her act of immorality and tracks down the loveless and unsatisfied man only to start a friendship that will change her and the way she perceives the struggles of life.

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3. Ordinary People (1980)

Like in “American Beauty”, this drama and directorial debut of director Robert Redford deals with a family of ordinary people, or maybe that’s what it seems at the beginning. After the death of the older son of a family of four in a sailing accident, everything seems to break apart. While trying to find a way to come back to a normal life, they end up digging deeper and deeper into each other’s relationships. The surviving brother suffers from post-traumatic stress and struggles to find a balance in his social life and the father attempts to reconnect with his wife and son, while the mother denies the unfortunate loss and tries to restore normality by pretending things are fine. Her cold behaviour towards her shattered and suicidal son brings them into severe conflict which might end up destroying the perfect family status she seeks to find. Excellent in their performances, Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton have made this film become a beautiful and heart-wrenching piece that ended up with 4 Academy Awards and five Golden Globes.

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2. Magnolia (1999)

“Magnolia” is an excellent feature film starring an ensemble cast (from which Tom Cruise won a Golden Globe) who play different characters in different stories, that in a way or another interconnect through the events shaping their lives. They are all looking for love, happiness and trying to understanding the meaning of their imperfect lives they struggle to understand and accept. These characters’ feelings and goals are very similar to the ones we find in ”American Beauty”, where each and every one of them feel different types of dissatisfaction in the way they’re positioned in this world. With a mesmerising realism and depth, Paul Thomas Anderson recounts the inside of a police officer, a tv-show host, a child prodigy and a motivational speaker, amongst many others that will create the richness this movie holds.

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1. The Ice Storm (1997)

With an amazing ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Sigourney Weaver amongst other talented artists, “The Ice Storm” falls close to the legendary “American Beauty” while portraying the lives of two dysfunctional American families in which each member tries to deal with the changes surrounding them and their own internal troubles. Set during the Thanksgiving of 1973, we get to observe a teenager looking for answers to her questions and a cheating husband disappointed with his life and career in the background of families looking for new forms of escapism to get away from their flawed and disillusioned life paths. Intelligent, honest and true to its themes and directions, it might be the most similar pick to classic we all love.

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