Many of us out there in the world truly enjoy the power of cinema. Whether it’s curled up on the sofa on a rainy Saturday afternoon or catching the latest blockbuster at the local theater chain, movies have fascinated us since Eadweard Muybridge first put his Horse in Motion for audiences to gaze in wonder back in 1878. Over time, we have our own collection of favorites that are remembered most fondly, it could be the films we can watch on a repeated basis or those that are only viewed once or on special occasions just because of that special feeling that we don’t want to be taken away.
Each of us has a few we can come up with off the top of our head but when we sit down and think about it what exactly are our all-time favorites? That was the question that was pondered as the numbers became smaller, the changing of positions varied and the drive to make a final cut came down to letting some great films being left on the cutting room floor. So after an agonizing and painstaking few days (and some movie watching to refresh the memory) here are the top 25 favorites of mine (not necessarily the best) emanating from the cinematic world:
Honorable Mentions goes to :
Heat (1995, Warner Bros. Running Time: 2 hours 50 minutes, directed by Michael Mann)- Even with a trove of projects that carries his stylistic touch (Miami Vice TV series, Manhunter, Collateral), Mann’s Heat combines his unique visionary look with an all-star cast still very much in their acting prime (Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer among others) with DeNiro and Pacino treating the audience with their unusual part-adversary part-admirer relationship. This Los Angeles-based crime drama encompassing a bank robbing crew and the police unit assigned to stop them carefully weaves its way through their lives and how both sides, their families and loves are adversely affected by their (cops and robbers) chosen profession. At nearly three hours the movie has been criticized for running a bit too long but for those who may be put off by the abundance of imagery and softer pace Mann is well known for mixing in there are some blood pumping, high-octane scenes including a bank robbery segment (see below) that very few action movies have ever matched. Heat is a film based on being a thief but one thing it will not rob you of is a good time.
Starship Troopers (1997, Tri-Star Pictures, Running Time: 2 hours 9 Minutes, Directed by Paul Verhoeven) Part high school flick, part sci-fi extravaganza one thing Troopers never fails to do is be fascinating while never taking itself too seriously. Considered by many to be one of Verhoeven’s best works in his shall I say very different directorial career, the story about teenagers who go from the classroom to the battlefield on a planet far away can best be described as the quintessential popcorn flick. Filled with over the top acting, gore, laughs, and hidden themes, this film (and Verhoeven) takes great pleasure in poking fun at science fiction and teen dramas and comes out the other side evolving itself into a much-beloved cult classic. Will Johnny Rico and the Roughnecks save the human race? While that isn’t made 100% clear Starship Troopers is an experience that won’t “bug” viewers but will greatly entertain them instead.
The Road Warrior (1981, Warner Bros., Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes, directed by George Miller)- Set in an apocalyptic world where souped-up cars and the fuel that drives them are the desired way of life for those willing to challenge the most dangerous of roads that are traveled. Miller ups the ante even more in this sequel to the 1979 breakout hit Mad Max, with Mel Gibson in the titular role as the traveler with many out to get him and others who desperately need his help. This film feels right at home with the classics of the late 70’s and early 80’s of cinema which seems to have defined much of our film making for the next forty plus years. Gibson’s Max is still a man of few words but his actions, and the mayhem that ensues makes up for any dialogue that could have been used in its place. The Mad Max series as a whole (which would include Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and the most recent Mad Max: Fury Road) is definitely worth viewing as Miller’s image into a possible future definitely is a trip worth taking but with The Road Warrior it is the stop a movie buff should always take.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, Disney/Marvel, Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes, directed by James Gunn)- Going into the fall of 2014 Marvel had been on a roll, with one hit after another for six years but many predicted that would come to an end of that year when a not so well-known sci-fi comic book series was brought to life. When five galactic misfits come together to save the universe, the film provided the audience with a reason to believe that Marvel and Disney together could really do no wrong. With a fierce combination of action, story, laughs, retro music and a dash of attitude to match, Galaxy blended all these elements together seamlessly to create a memorable movie experience that enhances the Marvel Cinematic Universe in ways no one could have expected. Yes, the film has a host of memorable characters (played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper among others) but it is through Gunn’s artful direction the realization hits for the characters that the team is a more effective sum together than all of its separate parts. Guardians of the Galaxy stands not only as one of the finest iterations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but on its own terms matches up favorably against what any of its fellow superhero brethren can try to do to surpass them.
OK so let’s get on with the list…
25. Avengers Infinity War (2018, Marvel/Disney, Running Time: 2 hours 36 minutes, Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo)- Part one of the culmination of a ten-year investment into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War serves as an excellent catalyst for what has taken place and what will be ahead for the next ten years of this vaunted film franchise. Just narrowly defeated as my #1 choice by Crazy Rich Asians for 2018, this movie’s brilliance while standing out on its own as a triumph of superhero movie-making, for me it stays here on the list until we see what happens with Avengers: Endgame. The Russo’s do a tremendous job of trying to tie everything (and virtually everyone) in the MCU together in this event film and ensure that even with the surprise (and possibly temporary) death of many beloved characters that the future looks bright for Marvel as they looking forward to expanding their universe even more. Look for this film to rise up on my list even more over the next few years with repeated viewing (which is a must for Marvel fans).
24. Crazy Rich Asians (2018, Warner Bros., Running time: 2 hours, directed by Jon M. Chu)- As I crammed my way through a series of movies in the last two weeks of 2018, the frantic desperation of trying to complete a top 10 list at first seemingly became enormous heading into the barrage of film that awaited me. While there were some definite high notes (Spider-Man Into The Spiderverse, Roma, Aquaman) that were a pleasure to watch, there was a no better (and also most surprising) experience for me watching a film than when I got the chance to finally sit down and watch Crazy Rich Asians. Sure, there was a lot of good word of mouth that I had heard or seen on social media after the movie’s release but just how good the film actually comes totally out of left field for me. Maybe it was because of the already-existing ideas of how romantic comedies are portrayed as by both the movie industry and its viewers.
After watching the 40-Year Old Virgin, years of dull, lifeless and truly awful romantic comedy offerings I thought had left me numb to anything ever released again on that type of platform. But this book adaptation of a couple fighting against all obstacles put in front of them by a discerning family (headed up by a brilliant performance by Michelle Yeoh) that would do anything to break up the couple’s future utilizes many of the same tropes that a lot of similarly structured films of the past have done but does so better than any movie before it. It shows a side of the Asian culture that many were not aware of but so many of the things in this movie are fascinating and it truly brought a smile to my face from beginning to end. After watching Crazy Rich Asians, it not only became my choice for the #1 movie of 2018, but one of the best romantic comedies ever made.
23. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Columbia Pictures, Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes, directed by Frank Darabont)- In one of the most telling instances of a film getting a second life, Shawshank’s popularity has only grown by leaps and bounds from its disappointing box office run after finding a home with audiences on cable television and home video. Based off the Stephen King short story, the movie tells the narrative of Andy Dufrain (played by Tim Robbins), wrongly sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover and forced to participate in the financial schemes of the warden who oversees the prison. Dufrain’s life while in the prison is expertly chronicled by Darabont with its all too brief highs and demoralizing lows and the special bond he shares with a fellow convict Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) over the many years while imprisoned together at Shawshank State Penitentiary.
While many name stars passed on the role of Dufrain and many others the opportunity to see the film on the big screen (going up against the hit Pulp Fiction at the time) the elections of Robbins and Freeman as well as the supporting cast seem well-suited for their roles as the movie flows seamlessly through one memorable scene after another. When the character of Dufrain see his opportunity for revenge after 19 years of torment, the direction the movie takes not only lifts the hearts of those watching it but brings to life the embodiment of the human spirit and how if determined no one can fully take it away. All these years later the film has finally gotten the just due for the classic it truly is and after watching it one will scratch their heads on why it ever became forgotten in the first place.
22. The Matrix (1999, Warner Bros., Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes, directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski)- Taking in the first viewings of the film in 1999, audiences were amazed with the “bullet time” effects that at the time set the standard for films who would regularly try to borrow from on many occasions. The visual style the Wachowski’s set out to achieve blended the imagery that mirrored the matrix code itself to taking in heavy influences from outlaw westerns and martial films to help set the tone. The story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his transformation from artificial intelligence-controlled prisoner to a potential savior of the human race in a world that on the surface differs from the reality of the actual universe is both bold in its message and sharp and hard hitting in the way that it entertains. Supporting performances by Lawrence Fishburne (as Morpheus), Hugo Weaving (Mr. Smith) and Carrie Ann Moss (Trinity) serve to greatly enhance the movie as memorable characters audiences have stayed familiar with for almost twenty years. It’s easy to see why this movie has grown in stature as one of the last great films of the twentieth century for it has all the characteristics of what we looked for in a movie at that time and still very strong viewing experience to this day. How far down the “rabbit hole” are you willing to go? For the sake of watching The Matrix, we’re willing to go as far as it takes.
21. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966, United Artists/PEA, Running time: 2 hours 41 minutes, directed by Sergio Leone)- The epitome of the “spaghetti western” (cowboy-outlaw films shot in the 1960’s in Italy) director Sergio Leone’s greatest contribution to the genre combines unique visuals with a layer of subplots that drive the main story forward instead of holding it back. Clint Eastwood returned to what many believe was his first breakout role as the “man with no name” who through his wit and sharp shooting always seems to gain the upper hand. As the third movie in a “Dollar Trilogy” (with A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More coming in the years prior), The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’s strength is giving its three main stars (Eastwood, the plotting Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach who’s outstanding turn as Tuco practically steals the film) a platform to show off their talents and a overarching story of the horrors of the Civil War that provides a clear context and narrative to the film the previous entries don’t quite have (nor really any other western for that matter). Leone’s grasp on storytelling in this film keeps the audience focused on the big picture of greed and varying shades of grey that usually defines good and evil while still provide a deep, rich narrative that many will enjoy for years to come, even as their humming that all too familiar tune.
20. Enter The Dragon (1973, Warner Bros./Golden Harvest, Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes, directed by Robert Clouse)- Bruce Lee’s legend in the years gone by have surpassed what many at the time of this film could have possibly imagined. A figure transcendent through time as the unquestioned icon of martial arts cinema, Lee’s trademark charisma and confidence shines its brightest in Enter the Dragon that while acknowledged for its greatness is also just as known as the final complete performance of his career (he died six days before the film opened in July of 1973 and before he got to finish Game of Death which bowed five years later). Yes, the movie has more than its fair share of creative martial arts but its the brilliance of Lee and the addition of co-stars Shih Kien, John Saxon and Jim Kelly that provide a unique support system that carries this film (one of the first martial arts films to be partially backed by a major Hollywood studio) to its lofty status.It’s no wonder the Mortal Kombat series has been a benchmark for the fighting game industry for such a long time because if one traces back to its roots, one can clearly see Enter The Dragon‘s influence shine right through.
19. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003, New Line Cinema, Running time: 3 hrs 20 min-theater version, 4 hrs 11 min extended, directed by Peter Jackson)- The culmination of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this was the movie to receive the most accolades when it came down to awards time (garnering 11 Academy Awards among all of its other victories) and upon re-watching the film it never ceases to amaze with its dramatic presentation and spot-on performances by those already so experienced with their roles. Sure the movie is set for almost an astounding length that may test the limits of a movie goer’s attention spans but that should not detract from the spectacle that is King and all the emotionally driven storylines that are weaved into a satisfying conclusion. Jackson’s accomplishment with all three Rings movies will be remembered fondly for years to come so its no wonder this film gets lauded as a career achievement for bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece so brilliantly to life.
18. Star Wars (1977, 20th Century Fox, Running time: 2 hours 1 minute, directed by George Lucas)- The movie that many consider the birth of the pop culture genre, Star Wars even as its special effects appear more and more dated still holds firmly upon its greatness due to its human elements of good and evil. This “Space Western” as envisioned by Lucas created a straight forward narrative yet still provides us the foundation with the Rebellion, Empire and the Force for a universe with seemingly endless possibilities for books, television shows, comic books, video games, collectables (and as this is being written coincidentally a Star Wars t-shirt is being worn) and most importantly future iterations in the series due to its overwhelming success. This film is the gold standard in surpassing all expectations and creating a worldwide phenomenon that looks set to be part of our lives for the next century and beyond.
17. The Wrestler (2008, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes, directed by Darren Aronofsky)- Mickey Rourke’s career had become a shell of what it once was. Gone were the days of top roles being offered to him as from all appearances it looked like to the audience at large that his time in the spotlight was clearly done. But lo and behold, in a scenario only Hollywood can create where art imitates life, Rourke got the opportunity to play the character of a has-been wrestler (Randy “The Ram” Robinson”) who gets that one last chance to reignite the fame and success he so desperately wants back in his life. It’s clear when watching The Wrestler that Rourke took the role to heart and provided a performance that not only drives the movie but should be remembered as one of the best from the first decade of movies this century. Whatever feelings one has about the world of pro wrestling, this film does take a somewhat accurate look at the roads taken on the independent scene and how the struggle is real for many for those trying to obtain or in Mickey Rourke’s case recapture the dream.
16. Deadpool (2016, 20th Century Fox, Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, directed by Tim Miller)- When Deadpool recently got kicked around as a potential Oscar hopeful it seemed like a culmination of everything being brought together in one clean tidy order. Brilliant marketing campaign: check, 20th Century realizing the mistake of shutting up and killing off Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine: check, finding a role perfectly suited for Ryan Reynolds comedy style: check, not shying away but embracing the “R” rated superhero concept and sparking a whole new cavalcade of films willing to go the same restricted audience route: check. All these parts neatly interwoven within each other made not only for a thoroughly entertaining movie but a film that makes for a laugh out loud experience that vaulted Deadpool quickly into one of the coolest and most beloved superheroes in pop culture. To even fathom that such a movie would have thrived at this level might not have seen possible given our new found politically correct era. But it’s nice to see a film that so brazenly bucks the trend get such mutual admiration from audiences worldwide.
15. Skyfall (2012, MGM Pictures, Running time: 2 hours 23 minutes, directed by Sam Mendes)- Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. A lot of debate has gone into which actor is considered the best version (take our friends at the Great Debate for example) of the English super spy but one thing most fans agree is this: Skyfall is the best 007 movie ever made. The tale of a former MI6 agent gone rogue (Javier Bardem) who’s plot to infuse havoc upon the world also includes gaining revenge against Bond’s boss M is both well drawn out and expertly played especially the waning moments in the film when the action becomes extremely tense. Mendes’ skillful direction and own imprint into the James Bond historical narrative flesh out the character in a way never approached before in the other films before or since. If this is the pinnacle in the 007 films ( 24 and counting so far) then what a high point it truly is.
14. Star Wars: Return of The Jedi (1983, 20th Century Fox, Running time: 2 hours 11 minutes, directed by Richard Marquand)- Yes, this movie does contain the Ewoks which provide a polarizing opinion among Star Wars fans on the effectiveness of Jedi attaining the same level of greatness as the series’ two previous iterations. Marketing ploy or not one has to look beyond the inclusion of the furry creatures to find a movie that closes the (then) initial saga of one of the greatest trilogies ever brought to the screen. From the elaborate rescue of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), to the building of the final battle between the Empire and the Rebellion to the maturation of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he continues his quest to save his father Jedi has many exhilarating moments that keep this film, despite the devoted screen time to Ewoks and some curious lines, firmly entrenched as a strong point in this famous series. The values reinforced in the film in regards to loyalty to family and friends is a theme that grew over the period of the first two films and firmly takes hold a key center point for the movie that is still able to resonate with audiences today. Is this the ultimate battle between good and evil? Perhaps, but it’s also a closure to a trilogy those familiar with the Star Wars universe will forget anytime soon.
13.Gladiator (2000, Universal/Dreamworks, Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes directed by Ridley Scott)- Recently, director Ridley Scott spoke to Entertainment Weekly and made comments on a possible narrative for a sequel to this Academy Award Best Picture of 2001. In a way this seems strange for it must be one “doozy” of an idea for a next iteration in the story of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe) because the one he told back then was pretty darn great. With the backdrop of Ancient Rome, this sorted tale of revenge orchestrates itself beautifully on screen with its simplistic dialogue and camaraderie embodying interplay.
Crowe does a marvelous job sharing his thoughts on screen but is Joaquin Phoenix in the role of the jealous, ever-scheming Roman emperor Commodus that gives the audience a true reason to get behind our protagonist as the game of mental chess between the two continues throughout the film. While it is at times a bloodbath worthy of the violence that was Ancient Rome as they sought out to conquer all those who oppose it and bring to power one of the greatest forces this world has ever known. But sometimes it is the will of one individual who can overcome the odds to deliver what it is needed in a time of fear, uncertainty and totalitarian rule. Strength and honor Maximus, strength and honor indeed.
12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount Pictures, Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes, directed by Steven Spielberg)- Setting the tone for the continuous harrowing adventures for one Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.(played by Harrison Ford), Raiders provides audiences with one exhilarating scene after another with a hero that can be related to and a host of evil Nazis to fend off as he seeks his next great treasure, the elusive Ark of the Covenant. The film derives its greatest pleasure from putting Jones into one seemingly impossible situation after another only for him to escape certain death on one memorable occasion after another. Spielberg’s vision of this globe-trotting adventure is fast-paced and fun at all times while handling much of the heavyweight onto Ford’s shoulders and for the first time, the public got to see truly what a box office star he could be. Sure there have been highs and lows in this film series in the years to come but Raiders of the Lost Ark set the standard for adventure movies and proved what a thrilling ride could be for the those fortunate enough to watch it.
11.The Raid: Redemption (2011, Celluloid Nightmares/Sony Pictures Classics/Stage 6 Films, Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes, directed by Gareth Evans)- If anyone out there is a fan of the martial arts movie genre and has not taken an opportunity to see this film then all that can be said is that they are truly missing out on something special. The movie itself centers around a police squad sent to capture an elusive crime lord pent up in a building that is guarded and watched over by his team of ruthless thugs. Floor by floor the team ascends the building and with each floor comes new dangers and suspense as Evans skillfully creates almost a hopeless narrative for the police squad as their plan goes awry and a host of melee fighting ensues. The martial arts in this film are so hard-hitting and original that the description of what a great Kung Fu movie can be gets re-written right before our very eyes. backed by a synthetic score that matches the intensity of the film itself so of the moves have to be seen to be believed. If one is wondering why JJ Abrams wanted two of the stars from the film (Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian) to be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens so badly one only need to see the Raid: Redemption to understand why. Yes, it is THAT good.
10. Blade Runner: 2049 (2017, Warner Bros., Running Time: 2 hours, 44 minutes, directed by Denis Villeneuve)- When a long-awaited sequel was announced for the original Blade Runner, many ardent fans (like myself) were hoping that it would not be just a cash grab and another way for star Harrison Ford to kill off another one of his iconic characters. What we got instead is a loving tribute by director Villeneuve to the ideals of what the movie and the original story by Phillip K. Dick “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” represent and the themes from which the world that has been created derives from. Much in the same way the first movie raised the standards on visual look and style, Blade Runner 2049 continues it with top-notch special effects and second to none cinematography (which garnered an Academy Award for both categories) that gets supplemented by a well fleshed out story detailing the conflict between humans and androids in a dystopian world.
The mood, style and beautifully understated performances by Ford, Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, and a scene-stealing Sylvia Hoeks create a unique and fascinating science fiction film that stands out on its own as a marvel in cinematic achievement while still paying homage to the original forms of art that lay its foundation. While the movie does overstay its welcome by about 20 minutes due to its pacing much of what’s left is well over two hours of the best cinematic experience of 2017 according to both Josh Pederson and myself and a must buy for anyone who has an opportunity to watch this movie in the highest resolution possible.
9. Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks, Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, directed by Steven Spielberg)- Forget the television series that crashed and burned in the recent past, Minority Report stands as one of Spielberg’s finest yet more overlooked masterpieces when it comes to the career of one of the greatest directors ever in cinema. Having Tom Cruise at the helm guiding this futuristic thriller about a “Pre-crime” police officer who ends up on the other side of the law, Report has a dark vision of the future and a subplot that only serves to enhance the overall themes Spielberg is trying to convey in the film. Whether it’s evading the authorities in a futuristic vehicle traffic flow or the bits and pieces of past memories shown to keep the story moving along, Cruise puts on a performance that shows strength and vulnerability when needed to propel this movie into one of science fiction’s better tales and a film that should not be missed by any fan of the genre.
8. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005, Universal Pictures, Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes-2 hours, 13 minutes unrated version, directed by Judd Apatow)- When looking back on it now Virgin should be considered as one of the most influential movies of this century. To many that’s going to be a difficult one to sink in but Steve Carell’s debut as a leading man in the movies (he had achieved success as a co-star on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Anchorman and had just started his run on US version of The Office TV show a few months prior) also featured a plethora of big stars of today in what was for many of them their first great opportunity to showcase their skills in the cinematic spotlight. With memorable turns from Paul Rudd, Catherine Keener, Seth Rogan, Romany Malco, Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch, Jonah Hill, Mindy Kaling, Kat Dennings and Kevin Hart, the film reinforces that claim as a springboard to success for all those actors. The hilarity provided by all those in the film creates one of the funniest movies watched in quite a long time but it’s Apatow’s fine work with a story of a man who manages to break out of his shell in the midst of advancing age and peer pressure to find true love makes for an enjoyable movie experience every time it’s viewed. With all the prominent work the group has done since the movie debuted it should be a testament of how much of a gaze into the future Virgin truly was. But it’s how the film came together with its surprisingly poignant story and its clever use of comedy and characters that allows it to stand up on its own merits.
7. Star Trek (2009, Paramount Pictures, Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes, directed by J.J. Abrams)- By 2009 it looked like Star Trek had completely lost its edge. After six films logged in from the original crew and four more tacked on from the next generation, it appeared that there would be very little more that Paramount could squeeze out of the once storied franchise and pop culture cornerstone. In Hollywood, reboots both wanted and unwanted by the audience are a way of life and if any series needed a kick start back to life it was this one. With Abrams at the helm, instead of a slow-moving thought-provoking, sometimes meandering process of some of the previous films, this re-energizing of the series was more of a thrill ride with a rapid pace and a dash of old and new mixed together as the new crew of the Enterprise set out on an all-new adventure. With the entire galaxy threatened by a Romulan from the future (Eric Bana) bent on extracting his revenge, it’s up to the familiar names of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to the rescue. Star Trek proved to everyone that the franchise still has plenty of energy left in their Dilithium Crystals.
6.Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014, Marvel/Disney, Running time: 2 hours 16 minutes, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo)- Marvel’s crown jewel in its cinematic universe, Winter Soldier does a tremendous job of combining the superhero genre with a distinct blend of a novel spy thriller to create its stirring narrative. As Captain America (Chris Evans) uncovers a plot to undermine the very foundation of the S.H.I.E.L.D agency, he finds out that some of the best adversaries ever created in the series both unexpected and all too familiar have devised a plan that will eliminate millions unless he, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) can stop it from happening. The writing is particularly clever as it leans the audience into one direction before finding out it’s headed into another. Add to this some strong performances by Sebastian Shaw, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford and one has a formula for the best comic book superhero movie ever made. Get that popcorn ready because Captain America: Winter Soldier provides a winning combination no other movie in the genre has been able to match.
5.Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (2002, New Line Cinema, Running time: 2 hours, 59 minutes-theatrical, 3 hours, 55 minutes-extended, directed by Peter Jackson)- While The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring started it all and Return of the King has received all the glory, it is The Two Towers that proves itself more than worthy as the brilliant bridge that connects the dots between these two other marvelous films in the series. It is within The Two Towers that we really dig deep into the heart of the characters themselves and focus more on them and their motivations while still sensing the impending doom and conflict the Evil Sauron, the creature Gollum and Wizard Saruman are all attempting to conjure up. Director Peter Jackson really finds his groove with the Tolkien realm in this movie from the beautiful cinematography meant to portray Middle-Earth to ensuring that many parts of the background and lore is prominently included for all to see and understand. That gives this film the edge over its other iterations as the best in The Lord of the Rings series. Like most second films in the trilogy, The Two Towers is given the most important tasks by having to point the audience from point “A” to point “C” all while having to create its own enchanting story. After watching this film one will realize the truth that what this movie is asked to do it does very well.
4.North by Northwest (1959, Metro-Goldwin-Mayer, Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)- The excitement of the chase, the innocent on the run, navigating through a web of espionage, North by Northwest introduced audiences to a slew of action thriller staples that have been used countless times over since. The engrossing tale of mistaken identity has advertising executive Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) fleeing from both authorities and an evil spy organization run by Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) as he uncovers a plot to transfer valuable secrets to America’s Russian adversaries. It’s up to him to find out the true nature of what’s going on and if the mysterious woman at the side of Vandamm (Eva Marie Saint) is to be spurned or trusted. Hitchcock’s direction provides numerous moments of humor, intrigue, and action but still finds time to sprinkle in doses of his trademark suspense that makes this such a great film to watch. Mix in some iconic scenes in the Midwest and at Mount Rushmore and it turns out not only is North by Northwest Alfred Hitchcock’s best film ever (Apologies to Psycho, Vertigo and Rear Window) but it many ways exemplifies the birth of the action thriller and the foundation for others to follow in its footsteps for years to come.
3. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Paramount, Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes, directed by Nicholas Meyer)- “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNN”. That infamous line yelled out by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) encapsulates one of the main reasons why this movie holds up as the best in the Star Trek series and one of the best science fiction films ever made. As his arch nemesis fueled by a blood thirsty revenge, Khan Noonien Singh (played by Ricardo Montalban) sets out to destroy Kirk and pick apart everything he holds dear including family, friends, the crew and his ship the Enterprise and the GENESIS project that could revolutionize the galaxy or destroy it by falling into the wrong hands.
In one of the greatest villainous turns ever, Montalban not only steals every scene that he is in but his performance is so grand the audience is wondering about his whereabouts even when he is not on screen. Buoyed by the presence of Khan in this film, Shatner’s own involvement as Kirk gets raised up a notch and we the audience benefits greatly from it. Meyer’s balancing of both the ongoing battle between Kirk and Khan and the usage of the GENESIS project as a key plot piece that reinforces the film’s themes of friendship, loss, revenge and sacrifice. From the wide array of emotions that are felt when watching the film to the clever use of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan is a testament to what can happen for a film when one thing is done correctly: make the bad guy someone they won’t soon forget.
2.Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980, 20th Century Fox. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, directed by Irvin Kershner)- The movie that reaffirmed the fans love for the Star Wars franchise, Empire as many of the sequels outlined on my list provide an excellent gap between the first and third story arcs while providing a great story contained within itself. Empire does it better than the other sequel before or after it and does it so well that it’s considered not only the best of the Star Wars films but one of the greatest films of all time from any genre. Characters that we have come to know and love get expanded backstories (with a major surprise) that have resonated with us for generations all the while creating a narrative that greatly strengthens an adversary (the Empire) that was in dire of need of rebuilding after their demise in the previous film.
The locations were even more diverse than before such as adding exotic locations like the ice world Hoth, the beautiful Cloud City, and the swamp planet Dagobah. The movie itself, whether one has watched any other iteration in the series or not stands firmly on its own as it true embodiment of fantasy storytelling that conveys real-life drama and emotion. As a young 11-year old boy the memories are still fresh at rising early in the morning to be among the first to see the film but not understanding truly what all the fuss was about. After two-plus hours of hearing the crowd cheer at one moment and gasp and shout out “no” in another the education of how truly special this part of Pop Culture lore truly clearly comes into focus and it was then that this reviewer became hooked forever into the Star Wars juggernaut. And to that only one thing need be said each time the movie is watched, “Thank you Empire Strikes Back, thank you for bringing a wonderful part of my childhood to life.”
1.Blade Runner (1982, Warner Bros., Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes, directed by Ridley Scott)- A pure masterpiece of futuristic noir, Blade Runner exemplifies everything one could want in a movie experience, science fiction related or otherwise. A brilliant imagining from the work of Phillip K. Dick’s story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep“, Blade Runner is a story set in an alternative near-future Los Angeles with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) being tasked with hunting down four dangerous androids who have come back to Earth. From the intricacies of the languages that are spoken to the mesmerizing visuals to the unparalleled use of lighting and stellar performances provided by both Ford and Rutger Hauer who’s brilliant take as Roy Batty shows layers of depth seldom represented when portraying humans on film much fewer androids.
This is as much a character driven film as much as it is a feast for the eyes and ears and it’s through the top-notch direction by Ridley Scott that even with his storied resume finds a way to surpass any of his other cinematic achievements, before or since. The same goes for Ford who was smack dab in the middle of some of the most famous films of his career (Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) yet this is continually pointed out as one of his best as well. When watching Blade Runner, t makes perfect sense why the movie has gained such a cult status over the years with a numerous fan base that grew long after the movie had left the theaters. The brilliance of the film and it’s iconic status as a cinematic landmark achievement (no matter which version is viewed although some are a tiny bit better than others) makes it a very reputable choice for anyone’s top slot, much less my own. When people inquire why a long-awaited sequel is in production for a film that never got a fair shake on the silver screen, just have them watch Blade Runner and witness first hand why there is so much to look forward to when delving into this world once again.
Others that just missed the cut include (in random order): Terminator 2 Judgment Day, Patriot Games, Blade, Collateral, Heat, Fletch, Black Panther, Edge of Tomorrow, Galaxy Quest, Firefly, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, A Few Good Men, The Dark Knight, The Avengers and The Untouchables.
So those are one person’s picks for the favorites samples from the world of cinema. If you would like to share your thoughts with a different opinion or submit a list of your own below in the comments or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, @popculturecosmo on Twitter or Pop Culture Cosmos on Facebook. We may even read your thoughts on the air on one of our shows, The Pop Culture Cosmos Show and the PCC Multiverse playing every week on the Podcast Radio Network and always available to download on iTunes and eight other Pop Culture Cosmos streaming audio channels.