I remember the first mumblecore movie I ever saw. It was 2011, and I was sitting at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston for a screening of Your Sister's Sister. What unfolded was a movie unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was this opus of naturalistic lighting, real dialogue, and messy personal relationships. 

It's still one of my favorite movies ever, and it opened the door to me that I had not known previously existed. Mumblecore cinema grew to be one of my favorite subgenres. It was something that felt so accessible and so real. 

Today, we're going to talk about those movies. We'll look at examples, talk about which ones are considered the best, and detail why filmmakers continue to choose mumblecore over and over again. 

Sound good? Let's go. 

What Are Mumblecore Movies?'Win It All'Credit: Netflix

What Are Mumblecore Movies?  

There are so many genres and subgenres of cinema to explore. Mumblecore is one of my favorites because I think it is accessible to everyone. You can make these movies for a very low budget. And because of the acting style, you don't need professionals—just people willing to participate. 

It's a genre that I think has been continuously invented and reinvented over the last two decades. And it's only growing more now. 

"Mumblecore" Definition 

Mumblecore is a subgenre of independent cinema. It is characterized by realistic acting and dialogue—much of which is improvisational. These movies are almost always low-budget and emphasize dialogue over plot. They focus on the personal relationships of adults.

What Are Mumblecore Movies?VHSCredit: Blumhouse

What Is "Mumblegore"?

One of the fun things about mumblecore is that it is so malleable to other genres. Many filmmakers make something called mumblegore, which is a horror version of mumblegore films. 

Some popular examples of mumblegore are Baghead (2008), The House of the Devil (2009), Entrance (2011), You're Next (2011), V/H/S (2012), The Sacrament (2013), and Creep (2014).

Characteristics of Mumblecore Films 

As we said in the definition, these movies are signified by naturalistic dialogue and acting. They're usually shot digitally and have a handheld quality, focusing on slice-of-life problems and solutions. Much time is spent on interpersonal issues.

These are movies for adults. They deal with things like infidelity, breakups, marriages, loss of direction, and many other serious concepts. but they also usually have a slice of comedy to them. There are laughing moments, and the tone can change, as it does in real life. 

What Are Mumblecore Movies?'Frances Ha'Credit: A24

Why Filmmakers Like Mumblecore

For me, this subgenre always feels so accessible. Because of its low-intensity in filmmaking style, you really get to concentrate on a story. And because much of it is improvisation, there's a magical sense of creating something in the heat of the moment. 

Making huge movies costs a lot of money, but mumblecore generally can be made if you have access to a camera, a mic, and some editing software. You can even shoot it on your phone. That sort of accessibility is always going to attract a lot of people. 

What Was the First Mumblecore Movie?

Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski is called the "Godfather of Mumblecore" because his 2002 directorial debut, Funny Ha Ha, is considered the first mumblecore film that existed. It also set the trend for movies to follow its example. It is shot on 16mm and deals with the lives of people in their twenties as they try to come to terms with life after college.

What Are Mumblecore Movies?'Funny Ha Ha'Credit: Sundance

Mumblecore Movie Examples 

Mumblecore really burst onto the scene in 2005, when there were a number of mumblecore movies that debuted at the SXSW Film Festival. They were led by Bujalski's second film, Mutual Appreciation; along with The Puffy Chair by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass, and Kissing on the Mouth by Joe Swanberg. 

From there, we saw the birth of filmmakers like Lynn Shelton, Greta Gerwig, and Jeff Baena, who took this form and ran with it. 

What Are Mumblecore Movies?'Humpday'Credit: Magnolia Pictures

The 10 Best Mumblecore Movies 

I'm no film scholar, but I have watched a ton of mumblecore movies and picked my 10 favorites. These are movies that are readily available all over. They're great sources to learn about this genre and to imitate if you think you're going to try out this world. 

  1. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins –  2008)
  2. Your Sister's Sister (Lynn Shelton - 2011)
  3. The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass –  2005)
  4. All the Light in the Sky (Joe Swanberg – 2012)
  5. Joshy (Jeff Baena - 2016)
  6. The Pleasure of Being Robbed (Joshua Safdie – 2008)
  7. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin – 2011)
  8. The Colour Wheel (Alex Ross Perry – 2011)
  9. Frownland (Ronald Bronstein –  2007)
  10. Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski – 2005)

What Are Mumblecore Movies?'Your Sister's Sister'Credit: IFC Films

Summing Up "What are Mumblecore Movies?"

Now that you understand the definition of the subgenre, it might be time to try to make your own. The thing I love about mumblecore is that it promotes the democratization of cinema while keeping things personal and low-budget. The naturalistic quality gives a sense of realism and energy that is hard to replicate. 

What are some of your favorite mumblecore movies? Or mumblecore strategies you have that you want to impart to other people? Put them in the comments. I'd love to see our readers make these movies. 

Let me know if you do!