Movies featuring exceptional plots and an ensemble cast of beautiful, famous stars are commonplace, but some directors have the courage to feature a single actor on screen for the majority of a movie. These films attempt to create high suspense and strong emotions using little dialog. Some succeed in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and others fall horribly flat. You be the judge. (Warning: synopses contain plot spoilers.)
Cast Away (2000)
A classic feature that forever will be one of Tom Hanks’s best movies. Chuck Noland (Hanks) is introduced as a super-busy executive living a rather normal life with his girlfriend, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt).
Then his life takes a solo turn as a business trip goes bad. On a journey to Malaysia, his plane crashes into the Pacific and he finds himself having to survive on an uninhabited island with whatever is left from the plane’s wreckage and what he scavenges on the island.
In an attempt to stave off loneliness, he even creates a companion for himself from a volleyball, whom he names Wilson. The solitary survival jaunt lasts for years. For the part, Hanks followed a strict diet that transformed him into a dramatically thinner — and bearded — character.
In an interview with Larry King, he said: “They put me on a program that was very specific as far as diet and the amount of exercise that I did. We shot the movie in sequence because it had to, you had to see some changes. And I was either in a car, in a trailer or on a treadmill or a StairMaster for the better part of four months.”
I Am Legend (2007)
In “I Am Legend,” Will Smith plays military virologist Lt. Col. Robert Neville, who is one of the few survivors of a lethal virus that kills much of the world’s population. Millions of others, called Darkseekers, mutate into aggressive cannibals. Neville learns how to protect himself at home and around New York City, especially at night, when the flesh-eating beings are out hunting for prey.
The story has an emotional element in it too: the companionship between Neville and his German shepherd, Sam. They both die in the end, but Neville becomes “the legend” because he finds the antidote to the virus.
127 Hours (2010)
A true story about mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco), “127 Hours” illustrates Ralston’s saga after he was trapped by a boulder on a hiking trip in Utah. Left with limited water and snacks, ropes and climbing equipment, a dull pocket-knife and a video camera, Ralston makes a video blog of his day-to-day struggles and records what he thinks will be his last words to his family. The scenes show how Ralston’s desperation grows hour by hour. As he gets thinner and weaker, he dreams of his close friends and family. After five days, he decides to amputate his right arm with a dull pocketknife in order to survive.
Iraq-based US truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) breathes heavily as he finds himself buried alive in a wooden coffin after an attack. With him are a lighter, flashlight, knife, glow sticks, pencil and a cellphone. In the coffin, where the entire movie plays out, Conroy manages to call the FBI but the connection is cut off before he can explain his situation. His kidnapper contacts him frequently by cellphone, demanding millions of dollars to release him alive. A hostage rescue officer convinces Conroy on the phone that the rescue team will do everything it takes to save him. But time passes quickly and Conroy steadily runs out of oxygen and water as sand slowly fills the coffin. The rescue team fails to save Conroy, and the movie ends with him being buried in the sand.
A man (Adrien Brody) wakes up in a wrecked car and finds a gun, bags of money and a dead body next to him, but he remembers nothing about the situation. With blood everywhere and a broken leg, the man struggles to get out of the car and finds another dead body. The man — who is unnamed throughout the movie — hallucinates frequently about a woman and attempts to find his way out of the woods. As he continues his struggle, his memory comes back. Over a span of days, he remembers that two robbers ― the two dead bodies ― had taken him hostage and forced him to drive a getaway car before they got into an accident. The woman he remembers is his wife, who witnessed the robbery. Eventually, a forest ranger finds the man and the movie ends as they drive away.