Although it’s easy to think of YouTube as just for tutorials and vlogs, there’s a huge creative outlet in the form of short films. While they obviously range in quality, here I’ve cultivated some of the best, all available to legally watch at the links below and all under fifteen minutes long. Think of all of them as a quick dose of culture and perspective you can watch on your phone in a quiet moment, from the intriguing to the disturbing to the heartwarming.
Starting off the list, we have the viral hit In a Heartbeat that silently tells the story of a scared gay schoolkid and his adorable crush on another boy, represented by his lovesick personified heart. While the animation in this short is stunning, it’s truly the concept and how cleverly it’s told that has made this film beloved in the eyes of many. Although less complex, fans of Love, Simon should definitely check this one out for its LGBT+ positivity.
Winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2005, Ryan is a complex look at mental health and its relationship to artistic merit. The strange, unsettling style of animation allows each character’s psychological trauma to manifest visually as a vibrant physical scar, with the character of Ryan himself being the most distorted in the short. Hard to explain and perhaps even harder to understand, Ryan will challenge you to view the trauma of life from a cynical but relatable perspective.
Another viral hit here, He Took His Skin Off For Me is a provocative study of a relationship in which one person has sacrificed their own flesh for the other. The prosthetics and effects in this short are unbelievable, with every detail of the man’s lack of skin being accounted for and adding to the vicarious pain you feel for the couple. Some think it represents an abusive relationship, others say that it’s about being able to show the “real” you, but whatever the answer may be, its the ambiguity that keeps this film fascinating.
Created in stunning, Tim Burton-esque stop motion, The Maker presents a bizarre rabbit-like creature and his care in creating another of his kind. Whilst it may seem easy to write off as somewhat derivative because of the visual style, the way it explores themes of mortality, pro-creation and the meaning of life in a subtle and moving way definitely elevates it to a film you’ll be thinking about days later.
Over eighty years old and still incredibly influential, the Fleischer Brother’s Minnie the Moocher is a classic Betty Boop cartoon that captures the cynicism of the Depression and simultaneously brings in surrealist elements that give it a timeless feel. Featuring the legendary Cab Calloway as a dancing walrus, this short has inspired films like The Nightmare Before Christmas amongst others and brought Jazz and African American music to a wider audience in the 1930s. Helps that the song it’s set to is catchy as hell too.
So these are just a few of my favorites, and if you follow the suggestion bar and delve further into YouTube short films I can promise you’ll find a few of your own.