The 20 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (January 2023)

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The 20 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (January 2023)

Paramount+, the streaming service that is to ViacomCBS what HBO Max is to WarnerMedia, is finally here. The company (and the studio that streamer takes its name from) is stuffing its library online. CBS All Access, which it is replacing, is dead. Yes, it’s another streamer and yes, it’s another streamer with a at the end of its name. But hear us out: Paramount might be the new kid on the block, but it’s a heck of a deal. Either $9.99 a month for the ad-free tier or $4.99 for ads gets you “2,500 movie titles,” and that’s not even mentioning the slew of TV shows that’re coming along for the ride.

Between the Comedy Central Roasts, stand-up specials and seemingly endless documentaries, it can be hard to sift through. Never fear, though, because we’re here to sort through it all and find the cream of the crop—updating every month. The plethora of dramatic classics, martial arts movies, Star Trek entries and forgotten favorites make Paramount+ worth checking out—especially considering its relatively low price point.

Here are the 20 best movies available to stream on Paramount+ right now:


1. Jackass Forever

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Year: 2022
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Danger Ehren, Wee Man, Preston Lacy, Zach Holmes, Jasper Dolphin, Rachel Wolfson, Sean McInerney
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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On paper, Jackass Forever operates in perfect sync with every other long-gap nostalgia sequel/revival being used to prop up various streaming services or the tenuous theatrical experience. It arrives 11 years and change after a second sequel to a movie based on (and very similar to) a TV series, brings back as much of its core cast as possible for more of the same and, in some cases, even circles back to revisit certain sequences from previous installments. Just like past versions, Jackass Forever opens with a more staged action sequence that seems designed to blow remaining budget money on a larger-scale expression of the project’s grody whimsy. It’s Jackass, again, again. Two factors help Jackass Forever mitigate this on-trend sameness, and then transcend it. One is the durability of Jackass itself, which—in case it has somehow escaped you—consists of ringleader Johnny Knoxville and assorted skater-adjacent goofballs performing a variety of stunts and pranks that blur the line between primitive sketch comedy and sophisticated geek show. The second factor also has to do with that longevity. Let any movie or TV series run long enough, and it will become at least in part about its own age, and while Jackass doesn’t get too cutely sentimental about how long these guys have been in each other’s lives and ours, it is unavoidably aware of that fact. In some sequences, Knoxville’s hair is a distinguished mussed gray; more than once, Steve-O brandishes and/or retrieves his false front tooth (“They’re dropping like flies,” he grins semi-ruefully). In an early sequence, Knoxville jokes about the camera needing to avoid capturing his bald spot. Spike Jonze, a longtime cohort who only occasionally makes on-camera appearances, rushes on with some spray paint to cover it up. These guys are well into their forties, and they’re still surprising each other with taser zaps, engaging in everyone-loses slapstick competitions and using each other to prop up bike ramps. This is, as the saying goes, a feature, not a bug. That affability goes a long way: More casual viewers’ mileage may vary on which stunts are laugh-out-loud funny and which are abjectly horrifying, and the rickety carnival rollercoaster ride works better when the other passengers—whether fellow audience members or the on-camera talent—are screaming and laughing along in equal measure. Knoxville himself feels more like a host than ever, jumping into the fray for select bits, including a hell of a curtain call for his closer. He’s been good in fiction films, but he never feels as comfortable onscreen as when he’s presiding over this particular brand of mayhem. He emcees every Jackass movie like he may never get the chance to do it again—an unspoken threat that looms larger than ever over this one. After all, it may not be physically feasible to keep this series going as a Richard Linklater or 7 Up-style chronicle of slapstick performance art. Then again, Forever is right there in the title.—Jesse Hassenger


2. Minority Report

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Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 140 minutes

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The more we become connected, the more any sense of personal privacy completely evaporates. So goes Steven Spielberg’s vision for our near future, couched in the signifiers of a neo-noir, mostly because the veil of safety and security has been—today, in 2002 and for decades to come—irrevocably ripped from our eyes. What we see (and everything we don’t) becomes the stuff of life and death in this shadowed thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story, about a pre-crime cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) whose loyalty and dedication to his job can’t save him from meaner bureaucratic forces. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s plot clicks faultlessly into place, buoyed by breathtaking action setpieces—metallic tracking spiders ticking and swarming across a decrepit apartment floor to find Anderton, the man submerged in an ice-cold bathtub with his eyes recently switched out via black market surgery, immediately lurches to mind—but most impressive is Spielberg’s sophistication, unafraid of the bleak tidings his film prophecies even as it feigns a storybook ending. —Dom Sinacola


3. Candyman

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Release Date: August 27, 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Vanessa Estelle Williams
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The problem with writing about Candyman is that you will inevitably have to write “Candyman” five times. What if my monitor suddenly craps out, leaving me to see a paranormal entity rocking a full-length shearling behind my dark reflection? Unlike many of the white Chicagoans in writer/director Nia DaCosta’s slasher sequel, I’m not foolish enough to tempt the Bloody Mary of the Near North Side. I am, however, still drawn to her update of the legend, which manages to pick up the original film’s pieces and put them back together in a compelling, reclamatory collage. Ignoring the rest of the Candyman series in favor of a direct follow-up to Bernard Rose’s allegory-rich 1992 slasher, DaCosta introduces fancy-pants artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to the same urban legend that consumed lookie-loo grad student Helen Lyle. The original story adapted Clive Barker to U.S. racism and wealth inequality—particularly in Chicago, and even more particularly in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects. Now its homes and high-rises have been demolished or abandoned. A massive Target overlooks its northwest border, where you can buy athleisure and grab an in-house Starbucks before heading to Panera Bread. Gentrification may have neatly plastered over history, but that history cannot be so easily erased. “A story like that—a pain like that—lasts forever,” says Colman Domingo’s long-timer laundryman Burke. “That’s Candyman.” DaCosta makes it clear that Anthony’s pulled by the legend, by history, more intimately than Helen ever was, and updates her scares in turn. The nightmarish apartments and putrid bathrooms Helen crawled through and photographed neatly reflected the entity haunting them; but the projects have been paved over, and Candyman persists. DaCosta shoots the city accordingly, either in dividing straight lines, or fully warped: You never notice how Marina City’s towers look like beehives until they’re flipped upside-down. Spurred on by Anthony’s interest, Candyman’s now an inevitability in every reflective surface. You can’t look away from DaCosta’s inspired compositions and layouts, your eyes led from one dark corner to the next with an Invisible Man-like mastery of negative space. One of these days, you think, she’s going to run out of ideas about how to shoot a mirror kill. Not so, especially in her world of omnipresent, physically and psychically painful self-reflection. While the kills, perpetrated by a being mostly just seen in mirrors, are sometimes a bit too obfuscated by their gimmick to be viscerally satisfying, they slot in perfectly with the film’s themes and aesthetic even when they’re not dumping cascades of blood. The power of martyrdom, the cycles of economic exploitation, the blood price expected for progress—even if these ideas are imperfectly engaged with, they’re so compellingly introduced as to solidify Candyman as a must-see horror and a must-discuss tragedy.—Jacob Oller


4. Serpico

Year: 1973
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Tony Roberts
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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You could have a great debate about who had the best acting decade between Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and while my vote goes to Nicholson (with Hoffman a close second), Pacino has a terrific argument. In Serpico, he plays the complicated figure of a detective who went undercover to rat out corrupt cops. His decision to turn against his own is as fraught as you might imagine, and he faces death at every turn from cops who’d love to shut him up. It’s an exciting street drama with the decrepit-yet-energetic look of urban ‘70s films. —Shane Ryan


5. Silence

Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano
Rating: R
Runtime: 161 minutes

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Silence conveys with utter focus of its gestalt one of the greatest narratives that literature’s given us in the past 100 years. Like Endo’s book, the film is both text and subtext of our most difficult and challenging discussions as human beings: on the substance of our beliefs; the substance of our fears; the substance of our aggression and violence and of our seeking to control and/or protect ourselves and our people; the substance of the silence that surrounds all of this and on which we dare to impart meaning. Silence is a film about the plurality of belief, perspective and experience—-and about how, in the culmination of this plurality, these pieces cancel each other out. When that cancellation happens, one hears what really lies beneath all the barrage of noise: silence. This is not an atheist’s or nihilist’s creed, however; here silence sounds like peace and absolution. A voice speaks in the silence and it could be Jesus or it could be one’s own mind responding to the silence, transformed into the voice of Christ—when Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) finally hears Christ speak it sounds like a merging of his own voice with that of his mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson)—because Christ carried the purity of that same silence within. All divisions are melted down to nothing. Selfishness ceases because the self is no longer a thing, or is extant to the self recognized in all others. Perfection is the sound of the black between the stars, absolute and whole. Orthodox Christian thought typically associates God with light, life, being, paradise, the Word. But it would seem that any concept of God—-the supposed source of everything—-that hopes to be cogent has to include in that concept the opposites that compose our reality: darkness, death, negation, oblivion, the non-Word. At the root of the language of the universe and existence is this binary. Perhaps God really is Alpha and Omega. In an interview with Scorsese, Film Comment noted that Silence is like an “apostate apotheosis.” In his foreword to a recent edition of the book, Scorsese himself mused that Silence was a gospel of Judas, on the surface referring to the weak Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a guide for the priests who ends up repeatedly betraying them, but in truth referring to nearly every character in the story, especially Rodrigues. Especially Scorsese himself. It couldn’t be more clear why Scorsese connects with this material the way he does: It describes him and everything his art represents. It is the core of who he is, a believer who believes to the point that he must doubt. Scorsese has stated that his entire life’s work has been about religion and film. This is obvious: If his oeuvre has been a perpetual cycle of profession and denial, sin and confession, damnation and redemption, Silence is the point where the needle drifts off the vinyl. One stands transfixed, watching the record spin, no sound in the air other than incidental noise and the murmur of one’s own breath. —Chad Betz


6. Interstellar

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Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan

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Whether he’s making superhero movies or blockbuster puzzle boxes, Christopher Nolan doesn’t usually bandy with emotion. But Interstellar is a nearly three-hour ode to the interconnecting power of love. It’s also his personal attempt at doing in 2014 what Stanley Kubrick did in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey, less of an ode or homage than a challenge to Kubrick’s highly polarizing contribution to cinematic canon. Interstellar wants to uplift us with its visceral strengths, weaving a myth about the great American spirit of invention gone dormant. It’s an ambitious paean to ambition itself. The film begins in a not-too-distant future, where drought, blight and dust storms have battered the world down into a regressively agrarian society. Textbooks cite the Apollo missions as hoaxes, and children are groomed to be farmers rather than engineers. This is a world where hope is dead, where spaceships sit on shelves collecting dust, and which former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bristles against. He’s long resigned to his fate but still despondent over mankind’s failure to think beyond its galactic borders. But then Cooper falls in with a troop of underground NASA scientists, led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who plan on sending a small team through a wormhole to explore three potentially habitable planets and ostensibly secure the human race’s continued survival. But the film succeeds more as a visual tour of the cosmos than as an actual story. The rah-rah optimism of the film’s pro-NASA stance is stirring, and on some level that tribute to human endeavor keeps the entire yarn afloat. But no amount of scientific positivism can offset the weight of poetic repetition and platitudes about love. —Andy Crump


7. The Wolf of Wall Street

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Year: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese

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The decade’s been both kind and not so kind to good ol’ Marty, ten years of bad takes questioning his credentials for directing Silence, for denying Marvel movies the honorific of “cinema,” for forcing audiences to showers en masse following screenings of The Wolf of Wall Street. And yet it’s impossible to keep him down; he’s immune to controversy and he thrives on lively debate, which is why, at 70 years old, his chronicle of the life, times and crimes of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)—a stock broker and inveterate fraudster who bilked over 1,000 schlemiels, suckers and saps out of billions (and got off easy)—feels like something an artist half his age directed. The Wolf of Wall Street is a pissed off film. It’s also a horny, pervy, brutal, an impeccably made and fundamentally hideous film. At every passing image, Scorsese’s white-hot rage burns around the edges of the frame. The director has his own beefs and conflicts with his Christian faith, but here his presence is felt as a furious deity sitting in judgment on the fun Belfort has screwing over his clients, two-timing his first wife, jerking around his second wife and doing more blow in three hours than Scorsese himself did in the 1970s and ’80s. The easy knock to make against this movie is that it endorses the finance bro culture it navigates over the course of its running time, because at no point does Scorsese impose manufactured morality on what happens in front of us; instead he plays the hits as Belfort wrote them, showing the audience exactly what Belfort did while running his company, Stratton Oakmont, and while running around on his spouses. That the film ultimately ends with Belfort out on the prowl again is the ultimate indictment: Being rich allowed this man to get away with financial murder, because being rich, in the end, makes everything better. “Being rich makes everything better,” for some, is the movie’s embraced philosophy, but The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t appreciate displays of wealth unhinged. It reviles them. Scorsese puts energy into the film, a spring in its every greedy step; one could call such debauchery without consequences a “good time.” But The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t care about that kind of time as much as it cares about hanging Belfort out to dry. —Andy Crump


8. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

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Year: 2021
Director: Tim Hill
Stars: Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Snoop Dogg, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Keanu Reeves, Danny Trejo, Reggie Watts
Runtime: 91 minutes

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There are many reasons why SpongeBob SquarePants has endured more than two decades of steadfast love and pop culture relevance. Part of it is the enduring positivity and ridiculousness of SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the entire populace of their world. The characters are self-referential, consistent to their defining traits and the writers have always created a duality of experience: Silliness for kids and a sly ascendance of wit that appeals directly to the older viewers. The mode in which the funny is served needs to have all of that present to work. Director/writer Tim Hill (who also wrote 2004’s original The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) understands that in this first, all-3D presentation. Hill and his team of artists—including Mikros Image, which is responsible for the CGI animation—play it smart by introducing a subtle transition for the view in the opening of Sponge on the Run. Gorgeous, photorealistic CGI of the underwater world transitions to the familiar color palette and stylized look of Hillenburg’s corner of the ocean, just with more presence and tactile flourishes. From Gary’s snail slime coming across as tangible goop to scratches in Sandy Cheeks’ breathing dome, the movie doesn’t aim to overwhelm audiences with overt tech bells and whistles. Instead, it presents the characters and world as an opportunity to experience the familiar in a new light, like appreciating the miniscule scale of a 3D-generated Plankton in comparison to his explosive rage—which makes him all the more hilarious. As another evolution in the ongoing SpongeBob universe, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is a graceful and well-executed dip of the yellow toe into 3D waters. There’s overall respect for the characters and tone, and artistic merit to how they integrate the medium into the show’s standards for presenting the surreal and strange. Does it push the sponge forward? Probably not, and that’s ok. There’s something timeless about Bikini Bottom remaining as it is, with spin-offs and new series serving as the appropriate playgrounds for new outlets of storytelling. Sponge on the Run lovingly splits the difference, but doesn’t take anything away from what many know and love.—Tara Bennett


9. Bumblebee

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Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight

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Paramount actually made a Transformers movie that’s a lovely, exciting and wholly engaging gem of a sci-fi adventure for teenagers. I guess it’s time for me to finally go into my dream business of exporting the newly formed ice from hell using my army of flying pigs. Bumblebee is an ’80s set spin-off/prequel to Michael Bay’s migraine-inducing, often infuriating, and always head-slappingly stupid five Transformers flicks. It wisely scales down Bay’s love of random mayhem in favor of a fairly respectful and inventive throwback to those Spielbergian family sci-fi/adventure movies about the friendship between a nerdy, lonely teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and a friendly and protective alien/robot/magical being. Their bond teaches the teenager to come out of her shell and face her fears. Of course since we also need an action-heavy third act, the big bad military that’s unfairly threatened by the creature goes after it, forcing the teenager and the creature to defend each other against all odds, learning lessons about the importance of love in the process. Sure, Bumblebee doesn’t really bring much that’s especially new or daring to that formula, but at least all the ingredients really work. It’s hard enough to have a fully CG character as your co-star, and it’s even tougher when an actor is tasked with creating a deep emotional connection with something she can’t even see during production. Steinfeld is up to the challenge, making us believe in Bumblebee’s existence almost as much as the animators who worked on bringing him to life. Just like death and taxes, it’s a certainty of life that we will get a new Transformers in theaters once every few years. If they’re more like Bumblebee going forward, the thought of that doesn’t depress me nowhere near as it used to. —Oktay Ege Kozak


10. Star Trek Into Darkness

Year: 2013
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Alice Eve
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 132 minutes

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After a well-received re-whatever the Kelvin universe is, Star Trek Into Darkness might seem a ready-made blockbuster and classic, but though it did count as the former, it’s tough to ascribe to it the latter. Too often, director J. J. Abrams relies on awkward dialogue that doubles as director subtitles for character arcs and plot developments. (A second insertion/reminder of what will be the deus ex machina for one of those developments is particularly ill-executed.) And, though laden with enough plot points to serve as a potent meditation on the dangers of losing one’s way in the name of countering the threat posed by an Other, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t so much wrestle with such issues as give them a swat on the butt in passing. Granted, that’s not necessarily inconsistent with Roddenberry’s universe, where humanity’s better angels rule in the end (alternate timeline or no). For all the photon torpedoes, warp drives and matter transmitters, that optimism regarding human nature may be the most fantastical element of all. —Michael Burgin


11. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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Release Date: April 8, 2022
Director: Jeff Fowler
Stars: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Shemar Moore, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Lee Majdoub, Idris Elba, Jim Carrey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Director Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 dashes forward as a sequel that pleases as any continuation should. Momentum carries over, fan-favorite characters enter the fray and the filmic universe’s presence embiggens. The first Sonic the Hedgehog is an adorable buddy comedy about an alien blur and his Donut Lord protector. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 feels more akin to Sonic’s videogame adventures by teaming with Tails, facing Knuckles and hunting the Master Emerald. It’s a comforting videogame adaptation: Heartwarming childhood lessons will delight all ages as Sonic leaves his origin blueprints behind to become the next-stage hero once projected from black plastic Sega cartridges. Eat your heart out, Mario. Jim Carrey continues his domination as the mustache-twirling villain Dr. Robotnik who flosses, giving another masterclass in physical comedy and conveying more range through his facial acting than entire comedy troupes. Carrey is an unstoppable force drawing from his glorious ‘90s catalog, especially when the action kicks into gear and his gesticulating goofiness translates to a Pacific Rim situation. There’s no shock on my face as I type these words: It’s so fulfilling to see Carrey play this kind of off-the-wall lunatic again. All this would be nothing without clean animation, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 picturesquely impresses. Kudos to the collaborative efforts of Marza Animation Planet, Moving Picture Company and DNEG—the blending of live-action and computerized creatures is essentially immaculate. The quills and furs in blazing reds, the deepest blues and warm yellows are vividly detailed, and destruction that spans Green Hills to Hawaii could rival most blockbuster disaster flicks. Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog are in good hands with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Fowler quietly sets the most recent bar for videogame adaptations by building a cinematic universe that speaks eloquently of childhood experiences through Sonic’s adrenaline-junkie antics. The addition of Tails and Knuckles is a dynamic level-up that will have fans craving more, not to mention the pop in my theater during the film’s mid-credits scene. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 might momentarily lose itself to for-the-kids wackiness, which certainly leaves some plotlines frayed, but the reasons we’re here—Knuckles, Tails, Sonic, more Eggman—are all enthusiastically respected. I’m a happy Sonic fan after Fowler’s high-speed sequel.—Matt Donato


12. The Lost City

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Release Date: April 1, 2022
Director: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez, Patti Harrison, Bowen Yang
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes

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After the death of her husband, the last thing smartypants archaeologist-turned-paperback-romance-author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) wants to do is leave her house, let alone go on a book tour at the behest of her caring but pushy publisher/publicist Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and painfully millennial social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison, a star). Being a trouper, Loretta suits up into her uncomfortable glittery purple jumpsuit (it’s on loan) and begrudgingly puts on a fake smile onstage next to Alan (Channing Tatum), the well-meaning but dimwitted (and yes, hot) himbo cover model who portrays the hunky leading man of Loretta’s books, Dash McMahon. While the explosive, action-packed sequences are a lot of fun, and an essential element of the adventure genre, what sets The Lost City apart from recent, more tired blockbuster adventure/comedy fare (looking at you, Uncharted) is the humorously human moments that lead to a genuine connection between Loretta, Alan and the audience. Instead of falling back on the kind of semi-ironic “so, that happened” style of fourth-wall-breaking writing, directors and co-writers Adam and Aaron Nee take familiar adventure/rom-com cornerstones and repurpose them to find previously undiscovered gems through these personal moments. They are certainly aware of the tropes being toyed with here—dumb guy/smart lady romance, the frame story of Loretta’s novels, the treasure-hunting villian—but they approach these tropes with a freshness that gets the audience invested in its characters. The Lost City might follow conventional genre beats, but an expert cast with a stellar sense of humor and fresh writing leads to lots of laughs and a romantic adventure that turns out to be a diamond in the rough.—Katarina Docalovich


13. The Foot Fist Way

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Year: 2006
Director: Jody Hill
Stars: Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Collette Wolfe
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Before The Righteous Gemstones, before Kenny Powers, even before his role in Hot Rod, Danny McBride made his mark with The Foot Fist Way. Together with his long-time collaborator Jody Hill and co-writer Ben Best, McBride introduced us to Fred Simmons, a Taekwondo instructor in a small Southern town with a huge ego and an anger problem. Consider Fred the proto-Kenny Powers, with McBride diving into the same reservoir of toxic masculinity and extreme arrogance undercut by insecurity and a barely understood depression. Rough around the edges, and visibly low budget, The Foot Fist Way isn’t as refined or powerful as McBride and Hill’s later HBO shows, but it’s still a hilarious character study with a keen eye for place and an understanding of the modern South rarely seen in movies or TV.—Garrett Martin


14. Mission: Impossible

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Year: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Yup—stop for a minute and contemplate that the first M:I film was directed by Brian De Palma. A guy known more for art house thrillers and anti-heroes helms the first in a possible franchise starring an A-list actor (before Hollywood was only interested in franchises), not to mention the first film Cruise ever produced, a risk in and of itself. And yet, it all worked: Mission: Impossible is a plot-heavy, intelligent, patient action film, establishing a cypher of an action star who would go on to perfectly serve every single director to come. By now, it’s expected that with every new film in the franchise, Tom Cruise will step up his stuntman game, and every new director will be given the chance to interpret Ethan Hunt as he (or she, we can only hope) sees fit. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise asserts himself as perhaps the world’s most prominent asexual action hero, but 20 years ago no one had any idea what kind of conceptual framework he was putting into place. Mission: Impossible was a new breed of blockbuster action film, and the franchise’s longevity is clear evidence that, no matter what’s happened since, Tom Cruise is a guy whose risks seem to always pay off.—Dom Sinacola


15. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Year: 1966
Director: Sergio Leone

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Arguably the greatest of the Italian Westerns, but also one of the finest Westerns ever made. Leone’s penchant for turning the genre’s sacred themes and obsessions inside out goes full tilt here. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are back for this third Dollars movie, but the addition of Eli Wallach adds a significant amount of caustic humor and even more cynicism to the mix. Set during the Civil War, though in a dry, barren landscape resembling the surreal panels of a Krazy Kat cartoon more than historical reality, Leone’s epic is the sublime, gloriously cinematic creation that he was always gunning for. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score ties it all together, particularly in the orgasmic “Ecstasy of Gold” finale. The director may have gone even more baroque with his subsequent Once Upon a Time in the West, but this is still his greatest achievement. Pop culture and the genre were never the same. —Derek Hill


16. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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Year: 1962
Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 122 minutes

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In the hands of any director other than John Ford, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would probably read as Western navel-gazing. This is a film that directly interrogates the themes and tropes that give the genre its identity while celebrating both at the same time. On paper that sounds self-indulgent to the point of abhorrence. In practice, at least under the mastered hand of Ford, it plays. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the last great Westerns to come out of Hollywood in the genre’s classic mode, one with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys who resolve their frontier beef in the designated courtroom of their time and place: their town’s main drag. But Ford isn’t interested in boilerplate cowboys and varmints having a good old-fashioned shootout as bystanders look on like a crowd watching a tennis match. He wants to do more than pit revolver against revolver. With The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he instead presents a clash of ideologies at the center of a changing world, all while dissecting the mythmaking that is so central to what makes Westerns so satisfying. It’s a contest between the rule of law vs. rule of arms, discourse against brute force. You can savor the performances of James Stewart and John Wayne, co-starring alongside each other in a Western for the first time, or Lee Marvin, a man seemingly born to play ruthless and brutal heavy types; you can relish the supporting efforts by the film’s excellent secondary cast, which includes the likes of Woody Strode, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef and Edmond O’Brien. But the names, big and small alike, all fall under the umbrella of Ford, who asserts himself as the film’s true principal with the authority of his peerless craft. —A.C.


17. Annihilation

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Year: 2018
Director: Alex Garland

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Alex Garland’s meditative adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation is perhaps not the first film you’d immediately associate with “Lovecraftian” horror, but it actually fits the descriptor quite well. The “Shimmer” itself seems deeply indebted to Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space,” itself adapted as another entry on this list. As in Lovecraft’s story, Annihilation sees a mysterious force of extraterrestrial origin fall to Earth, where it leeches into the countryside and begins to transform and warp reality around it, with one of the leading indicators being the otherworldly colors and visual distortion that spreads from the epicenter of what is essentially an alien infection. Annihilation takes a studious, philosophical perspective on the ramifications of entering such a zone, as biology grapples with the inherent spark of identity and humanity within all of us—it’s perhaps a bit more cerebral than many of Lovecraft’s works, but the influence is unmistakable. In particular, the film’s ultimate depiction of the extraterrestrials strikes a very appropriate tone for Lovecraft, in the sense that the alien intelligence is portrayed as truly alien, rather than as human in some other guise. The consciousness encountered by the characters here is genuinely unknowable, totally outside of our capacity to grasp, which reinforces the Lovecraftian tenet of humanity’s extremely meager understanding of our reality, and relative insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things.—Jim Vorel


18. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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Year: 1989
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones. —Mark Rozeman


19. Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Wolf Kahler, Ronald Lacey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg and Lucas did from 1977-1982? —Michael Burgin


20. Downhill Racer

Year: 1969
Director: Michael Ritchie
Stars: Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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With Downhill Racer Michael Ritchie did for sports films what Two-Lane Blacktop did for road films. He created an existentialist sports film that is as tense as it is harrowing, and brought the genre into the realm of the bleak. Unlike many other films of its ilk, Downhill Racer subverts many of the tropes we’re so used to seeing in most commercial entertainment. The romance is empty, there are no heroes to root for, and the protagonist we do have certainly has the drive for greatness, but at no point does he inspire us. Instead, Robert Redford’s David Chappellet has much subdued anger, jealousy and fear. When he succeeds it feels hollow, for both the audience and the character. At times the film is quite nihilistic, despite the poetic and transcendental beauty of the setting and cinematography. Redford gives one of his most understated performances here; his range of emotions is much more subtle, yet in his subtlety we notice all the rage, fear and ambition that make up Redford’s brilliant turn. The supporting cast is equally nuanced. It’s the little things that create this film’s powerful atmosphere, and as a result the action sequences are all the more gripping. —Nelson Maddaloni

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