The 60 Best Movies on Disney+

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The 60 Best Movies on Disney+

When Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the entertainment giant’s upcoming streaming service last year, fans imagined finally having all of Disney’s animated and live-action properties, Marvel movies, Star Wars films and 21st Century Fox catalog in one streaming service—and for just $7/month. Reality hasn’t quite matched our dreams—so many weird Disney Channel original movies and straight-to-DVD sequels and so many gaps remaining. But there’s still plenty to be excited about now that Disney+ has launched: movies from Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, Disney animated classics, and even a few from 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight. We dug through the hundreds of live-action and animated movies streaming on the service to bring you the 50 best.

Here are the 50 Best Movies on Disney+:

60. The Great Mouse Detective

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Year: 1986
Directors: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, John Musker
The Little Mermaid gets the credit for kicking off the Disney Renaissance, but its directors John Musker and Ron Clements had already co-directed (with David Michener and Disney legend Burny Mattinson) a modern Disney classic three years earlier. The Great Mouse Detective came during a down stretch for Disney’s animated features—the studio fared so poorly in the late ’70s and early ?80s that the entire animation department was almost scrapped when Michael Eisner took over the company in 1984. The movie was only a modest success at the box office, but critics took note of its quality at the time; this animated twist on Sherlock Holmes combines beautiful animation and memorable characters in a story that has real stakes and emotion. It has not one but two unforgettable villains, Vincent Price’s theatrical Professor Ratigan and his crippled bat minion, Fidget. If you’ve never seen this one—or haven’t seen it since you were a kid—it’s worth watching again. —Garrett Martin


59. Tron: Legacy

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Year: 2010
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Not quite 30 years past its predecessor, the sequel to Steven Lisberger’s religious cyber-allegory doubles down on all of Tron’s big ideas, balking at nothing, embracing everything, re-introducing Computer Jesus/famous engineer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) in full saintly beard and robe, messiah and Jedi and godhead all at once. And all this time he’s been hiding inside the cyberworld he once helped liberate from an evil AI, when his son, sexy hacker Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), accidentally follows in his father’s footsteps and materializes within the much-updated cyberworld, discovering both what the elder Flynn’s been up to and just how fascistic cyberlife has gotten. The spiritual demagogue this time around is Clu (de-aged, digital Jeff Bridges), now far corrupted beyond the benevolent force Flynn once programmed him to represent, and the political subtext this time around is just all text. But with a lifetime’s worth of digital effects advancements behind him, director Joseph Kosinski leans hard into building an overwhelming sense of awe—which makes him something of the perfect choice to helm the sequel. Like the first Tron, in which feeling gobsmacked by technology is kind of the point, Legacy compensates for any weaknesses in world building or shoddy storytelling with sheer scale. Daft Punk scores such astounding melodrama as deftly as they were obviously born to do. Accordingly, Kosinski holds back on the digital Jeff Bridges, couching the unreality within the excuse of an unreality—he’s supposed to look a bit off, a bit concocted—and gauging the distance between what he wants to do and what he knows he’s capable of doing with care and grace far beyond what’s demanded of him in what could have amounted to little more than a long-overdue Disney cash-in. —Dom Sinacola


58. Halloweentown

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Year: 1998
Directors: Duwayne Dunham
At the end of the ’90s, still a few years before Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone adaptation would hit theaters (but well into the Harry Potter craze that was casting spells upon children all over the world), Disney tried their luck at the witches and wizards game. But this was no wide release, where children would drag their parents to the theaters and beg for snacks and soda. This was Halloweentown, one of three DCOMs (Disney Channel Original Movies) to be released on the network in 1998. There’s absolutely no competing with J.K. Rolling when it comes to the magic genre in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but Disney’s low-budget stab at the idea is actually positively delightful. If you grew up watching Disney Channel in the 2000s and 2010s, you eagerly awaited October every year so you could catch back up with teenage witch Marnie Piper and her dysfunctional, at times displaced, family. The first movie in the trilogy (we don’t speak of the so-called fourth movie in the series, Return to Halloweentown—a true DCOM tragedy), Halloweentown introduces us to Marnie, her mom and siblings and her grandmother, adorably portrayed by the dearly departed Debbie Reynolds. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to hop on that flying bus to Halloweentown and go broom-shopping with my grandma. Halloweentown is absolutely a Halloween classic, one that does a fine job teaching children about acceptance and inclusion, that can easily still be enjoyed today. —Ellen Johnson


57. The Jungle Book

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Year: 2016
Directors: Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau’s new real-world re-imagining of the classic Disney animated film melds two cornerstones of the diretor’s career: venturing into the digital frontier, and having the courage to be warm. The curtain rises on the computer-generated animal kingdom as the camera pans across one of The Jungle Book’s many breathtaking virtual sets, which were built after recording the raw footage in an empty Los Angeles warehouse. Essentially, on set, actors in motion-capture suits ran around with Neel Sethi, who makes his movie debut as Mowgli, in front of blue and green screens. Where the level of technology in The Jungle Book has historically been used for maximizing the wow factor in Michael Bay explosion-packed action flicks, Favreau makes the case for special effects that actually affect. The Jungle Book hits the ground running as Mowgli darts through the grass and up trees, sharpening his survival skills through various flight techniques (fighting obviously not available to him). Sethi, 12, is the only truly live-action element of the movie, and carries the physically demanding role with both childlike charisma and the saucy attitude of an adolescent.—Melissa Weller


56. Zootopia

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Year: 2016
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
It says a lot about the state of America’s cultural dialogues on acceptance and discrimination that a Disney movie feels this urgent, but maybe a movie about animals living under the impression of harmony is a long-term solution for our short-term failures. Then again, we’re talking about a cartoon where TV’s Snow White teams up with Michael Bluth in a sort-of riff on 48 Hours that expands to include references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad. Zootopia is smart in the way it approaches race relations, if unsophisticated and childish. But there are worse things a children’s movie can be than childish, and in Zootopia that word sheds its pejorative implications and instead feels befitting in its innocence. The story takes place in the sprawling zoological metropolis of the title, a place where beasts of all makes and models—large and small, meek and ferocious—somehow manage to coexist in an approximation of civilized society. This is a movie that’s all about big, heartfelt honesty between its principals and its audience. Simple though its politics may be, the film is effective—and coming from a mainstream studio, it is even just daring enough to make a difference. —Andy Crump


55. Captain Marvel

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Year: 2019
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
It remains, when you think about it, absolutely insane that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has featured two new movies, one of which introduces an entirely new character, in between two halves of a nearly six-hour epic where half the cast dies in Part One. Talk about your flex moves! One thing Captain Marvel has going for it that Ant Man and the Wasp didn’t is that it gives us a lead character we can care about and (even more importantly) an actor who rises to the occasion. In many of these Marvel origin stories—and by my count, this is the eighth one since the original Iron Man—the movie goes through great pains to explain to us why we should care about this new character, why, with everything else we have to keep track of, we should readily agree to adding one more to the mix. Captain Marvel, like many MCU movies, sometimes labors under the weight of having to tell its own story while still connecting to the larger, ongoing saga, but it has no issues with justifying its main character: We see in her eyes, from the first second, what’s different about her. The movie has us on her side before she ever says a word. The key is Brie Larson, an instantly, almost subconsciously empathetic actress who finds a new, fascinating gear here as Vers who, when we first meet her, is a Kree warrior fighting in outer space with an elite force led by her trainer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Vers has no memory of her past, but it returns to her when, in the midst of a battle, she’s dumped onto a distant planet that turns out not only to be Earth, but also her home planet and in the year 1995. She ends up, rather conveniently, running into future S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged, and convincingly so, Samuel L. Jackson) and a series of Air Force pilots who provide clues to her past through a supersecret initiative called “Pegasus.” The film is otherwise entertaining and exhausting in the equal measures we have come to expect from modern Marvel movies—if you’ve seen one bad guy bent on galaxy domination, you’ve seen them all. But this movie isn’t about the supporting characters, or the setting, or even how well its big action set pieces play out. It’s all about whether or not they can sell this Captain Marvel as someone who even the mighty Avengers can call to someday help them save the world. —Will Leitch


54. Frozen

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Year: 2013
Directors: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Frozen was a game changer in the Disney princess canon. Not only does it belie the idea that a woman is a damsel in distress needing to be rescued by a man but it openly mocks that anyone would marry someone they just met—something that has happened in nearly every Disney princess movie since the dawn of time. If you think this is something trivial, it isn’t. This kind of pop culture seeps into the psyche of young children and helps to shape the way they view the world. Walk away from Frozen and you know that Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are perfectly capable of saving themselves, thank you very much. But Frozen is more than an empowering movie for all ages. It features a standout performance from Josh Gad as the loveable snowman Olaf, a powerhouse ballad that doesn’t grow old no matter how many times you hear it and terrific songs throughout. Whether you’re seeing it for the first time in forever or for the one thousandth time, Frozen will warm your heart. —Amy Amatangelo


53. The Emperor’s New Groove

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Year: 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
The lasting appeal of this 2000 animated buddy comedy from Disney can likely be attributed to some truly genius voice casting: there’s David Spade as a vain emperor-turned-llama, John Goodman as a lovable peasant, Patrick Warburton as a dim-witted and deep-voiced palace guard and, of course, the perfect Eartha Kitt as the deliciously evil usurper of the throne. The story is fairly predictable, but the fun Peruvian setting is visually appealing and the fast-paced story allows for moments of lighthearted comedy that welcome repeat viewings. Also, the fact that it’s a Disney movie with no hokey musical numbers is a plus. —John Riti


52. Tron

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Year: 1982
Director: Steven Lisberger
In a movie in which computer programmers—so-called “users”—are revered as gods, no one really programs much of anything. It’s understandable: The early ’80s presented mind-boggling technology, once reserved for academics and elites, to the masses, and it all seemed like magic. Steven Lisberger’s Tron writes that awe into its code, building a world within a computer as a theocracy (populated by “programs” who carry out their existences serving a single function) ruled on religious oppression. The godhead is power-hungry AI MCP (Master Control Program) who, presaging James Cameron’s Terminator films, intends to surpass its human progenitors, the deified users, to take over the “real” world, making sinister moves like hacking into the Pentagon and the Kremlin and then being a cocky asshole about it. Suave engineer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) just wants credit for the videogame he created, which turned ENCOM—the company he helped found as a forefather of the MCP—into an international juggernaut before his partner (David Warner) plagiarised him and kicked him from the top of the corporate ladder. Infiltrating the ENCOM building to try to dig up evidence of the betrayal, Flynn, just as annoying as the MCP, is digitalized, sucked into the company’s computer network via a laser (housed in “Laser Bay 1,” according to the buttons on the elevator), wherein, disguised as a program, he discovers just how fascist coding can get. And, like Neo in The Matrix, Flynn learns he can manipulate the fabric of this reality, taking up his new quasi-mystical role with relish, later going full be-robed Jedi bathed in beatific neon light for 2010’s Tron: Legacy. “All that is visible must grow beyond itself and extend into the realm of the invisible,” says Dumont (Barnard Hughes), an oracular figure and the closest the film gets to a digital priest. Tron, and so much of sci-fi, is a sign of just how spiritually charged that growth can be. —Dom Sinacola


51. Finding Dory

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Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of the 2003 Disney-Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo. The adorably bumbling blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is still best friends and the third wheel to clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), testing their patience on a daily basis. But this is fully Dory’s tale, as she searches for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and finds herself in the process. Finding Dory is the rare sequel that repurposes the original as a character foundation rather than as a cheap form of fan service. What could have been an easy cash-in becomes something surprising—a follow-up that reaches new emotional depths. —Michael Snydel


50. Wreck-It Ralph

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Year: 2012
Director: Rich Moore
After Disney’s purchase of Pixar, Wreck-It Ralph was the parent company’s closest attempt at finding real heart within its many plot points, delightfully realized setting, and handful of thrilling set pieces. Wreck-It Ralph introduces audiences to a video arcade that houses a fictitious game, Fix-It Felix, Jr., in which the titular character (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the Donkey Kong-esque villain. Decades of playing the same role while being spurned by the “good guy” inhabitants of both his game and those of the others in the arcade, have finally compelled Ralph to “Go Turbo.” Despite the warnings, he game-hops to earn a medal and, thus, the respect of the good guys. His single-mindedness in pursuit of his goal leads to chaos that threatens certain doom to any sprite unlucky enough to be stuck in their cabinet when it’s shut off. The plot reaches dizzying momentum fairly early, introducing myriad world-building rules, character threads, and a slew of in-jokes for the parents whose children are too young to remember the many classic games referenced. The casting of Silverman proves a particular stroke of genius; the character synchronizes perfectly with the comedienne’s brand of childish humor. More impressively, she (and Reilly) really hit their marks in character building, instilling their toons with the deep-seated sorrow wrought by their respective isolation. The world of Sugar Rush itself merits some mention, too. Deliriously inventive and pulsing with life, it almost seems a shame a real videogame wasn’t developed from its blueprints; it’s a world in which one wants to linger. —Scott Wold


49. Mulan

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Year: 1998
Director: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
It seems like all of Eddie Murphy’s best comedic performances since Coming to America are animated. His little dragon Mushu is a sharp source of humor in this otherwise touching retelling of a Chinese folktale—a wonderful move by Disney to give its target market a strong heroine, whose bravery and sense of duty is admirable. Gorgeously animated with rich, saturated colors, the 2-D film is populated by three-dimensional characters, and in a story about honor, the studio brings just the right Eastern touches to pay due respect to China’s history. —Josh Jackson


48. Alice in Wonderland

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Year: 1951
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Walt Disney brought Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s tale to full technicolor life, and while the purest form of the story will always be in his vivid writing, this 1951 animated film has sent millions of viewers down the rabbit hole, keeping Carroll’s legacy alive. The Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter and the tyrannical Queen of Hearts have all become icons in the Disney canon of characters. Along with Dumbo, it’s one of the most surreal and psychedelic animated features—and one of the most unforgettable. —Josh Jackson


47. Millions

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Year: 2004
Director: Danny Boyle
Maybe more than any other modern-day director, Danny Boyle has turned his attention to nearly every genre, from black comedy to horror to sci-fi to biopic to psychological thriller. Tucked in among that filmography is the delightful family dramedy Millions, his only non-R-rated film. The story follows Damien, a quiet, kind and naive Catholic school boy who finds a bag of money while hiding out in his makeshift cardboard fort. While his brother uses the money for his own gain, Damien looks for ways to help the poor. The money—British pounds slated to be destroyed after the U.K.’s conversion to Euros—was stolen from a train going through town, and the robbers want it back. In the place of Hallmark platitudes and sentimentality, you have real characters and gripping storytelling. It’s a story about family, generosity and doing the right thing—a rarity for films that are this well made. —Josh Jackson


46. Avatar

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Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
It makes sense that Avatar is still the highest grossing movie ever made: Irony and insincerity have no place in its extended universe. Whether or not James Cameron intended to crib the world of Pandora and its futuristic inhabitants from practically every fantastical ur-text ever conceived, it hardly matters, because Avatar is modern mythmaking at its most foundational. Cameron still seems to believe that “the movies” can give audiences a transformative experience, so every sinew of his film bears the Herculean effort of truly genius worldbuilding, telling the simple story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his Dances with Wolves-like saving of the Na’vi, natives to the planet of Pandora, from the destructive forces of colonialism. Cameron wants us to care about this world as much as Jake Sully, and by extension James Cameron, does, crafting flora and fauna with borderline sociopathic obsessiveness, at the time pushing 3-D technology to its brink to bring his inhuman imagination alive. It worked; “unobtanium” is actually a real thing. Four sequels feels like a disgusting gambit for a man whose ambition may have long ago outpaced his sense of storytelling, or sense of reason, or sense of what our oversaturated, over-franchised culture can even stomach anymore. But Cameron’s proven us wrong countless times before. —Dom Sinacola


45. Sleeping Beauty

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Year: 1959
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Disney’s animated feature draws heavily from the Tchaikovsky ballet for a film that has the loveliness of a medieval tapestry, but not a lot of narrative punch. This changes at the end when Prince Philip comes to Sleeping Beauty’s rescue and the evil sorceress Maleficent transforms into a splendidly-designed dragon with a nifty black, purple and yellow color scheme and horns that match the witch’s headdress. Maleficent the dragon proved to be Disney’s scariest big-screen creation since the devil Chernabog in the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of 1940’s Fantasia. —Curt Holman


44. Big Hero 6

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Year: 2014
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Some superheroes fight evil in the name of justice. Some fight for revenge. Baymax, the incomparably huggy automaton in Disney’s Big Hero 6, fights to help his young ward, teen genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), as he mourns a devastating personal tragedy. This makes Baymax an outlier of sorts in today’s crop of big screen good guys, who tend to answer the call to action for the sake of something bigger than themselves; there are no armored space worms with whom he must tangle, no volcanic sleeper agents working for a megalomaniacal terrorist that he must thwart. Instead, there’s just a sad, lonely kid who needs someone to lean on. Big Hero 6 features characters from the pages of a Marvel comic book, and there’s a lot here that feels familiar, particularly the origin story trappings and the assembly of the super team. But every single step that Big Hero 6 takes is carried on a genuine undercurrent of emotion. The film alternates between profound joy and the deepest heartbreak. Like the Tony Starks and Peter Parkers of the world, Hiro uses his gifts as a means of dealing with his trauma. But few among those films feel quite so refreshingly alive as Big Hero 6. There’s a beat here, a rhythm that the film follows from start to finish as it juggles adult themes through the lens of children’s fare. This is an immensely entertaining picture—bright, vivid and smartly constructed on tropes that show themselves a bit too much in its peers. Thrilling, well-crafted set pieces are only one aspect of what makes blockbusters like this tick. The bond between a boy and his android makes up the rest.—Andy Crump


43. The Muppets

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Year: 2011
Director: James Bobin
It had been a strained twelve years since everyone’s favorite felt misfits played the music, lit the lights or set foot on the big screen. Purchased by Disney in 2004, the Muppets spent most of the aughties laying low, popping up in the occasional web series or comic book. So it was with a sigh of relief that a gaggle of bawdy comedians have resurrected Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang in a candid love letter to an American comedy institution. The plot follows Muppet super fans Gary (Jason Segel) and his brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) as they embark on a trip to visit their childhood heroes in Hollywood. Along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (a glowing Amy Adams, who looks as if she has just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting), the trio tours the dilapidated remains of the Muppet Theater. Wandering the cobwebbed halls, Walter overhears smarmy businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) explain his plans to demolish the hall for untapped oil if the venue’s previous owners can’t raise $10 million. This kitschy exposition allows Gary, Mary and Walter to reestablish the histrionic Muppet personas one by one until the gang bands together to perform a telethon special to save its old haunts. The filmmakers’ approach overflows with the same adoration as their characters on screen. A wistfully placed camera pan on a wall adorned with vintage banjos and memorabilia carries with it as much emotion as the kinetic dance numbers in the gratifying finale. Even modern touches like a hilarious barbershop cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” embody the original show’s subversive zaniness. —Sean Edgar


42. Muppets Most Wanted

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Year: 2014
Director: James Bobin
This time around, they’re paying specific tribute to Kermit, the beloved amphibian behind the Muppets’ longevity; the film shows us what the crew might look like without his guiding influence, and it’s a pretty anarchic picture. But unlike The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t overtly pay homage to its subjects, and instead quite contently filters its bounty of heist caper tropes through a felt-tinted lens. By doing so, the film ends up being just as much of an ode to the Muppets’ brand of unbridled delight without having to wax sentimental; in the end, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller cleverly get to have their cake and eat it, too. And so do we. —Andy Crump


41. The Muppet Movie

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Year: 1979
Director: James Frawley
Muppet movies are a bonafide franchise now, but none of them—not even The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppets from Space or Muppet Treasure Island—can compete with the original. The Muppet Movie set the standard for all subsequent releases starring Kermit, Miss Piggy and company with countless celebrity cameos (including Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, Elliott Gould and Sesame Street’s Big Bird—on his way to New York to “try to make it in public television”) and plenty of memorable musical numbers like Movin’ Right Along and of course, the classic The Rainbow Connection. —Bonnie Stiernberg


40. Mary Poppins

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Year: 1964
Directors: Robert Stevenson
As portrayed by the iconic and formidable Julie Andrew, Mary Poppins has never met a problem a song can’t solve. She whips the Banks children into shape while helping their father understand that what children need most from their parents is their time and attention. There are so many delightful musical numbers but I have a soft spot for Dick Van Dyke’s Bert and his fellow chimney sweepers tap dancing on the roof tops of London in “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Released over 55 years ago, songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Super-cali-fragil-istic” still feel fresh and new. There’s a joy to this movie that is infectious. I would say they don’t make movies like this anymore but 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns came very close to capturing the spirit of the original. Would that we all had a nanny like Mary Poppins. —Amy Amatangelo


39. Pinocchio

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Year: 1940
Directors: Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen, Wilfred Jackson, Norm Ferguson, Jack Kinney, T. Hee, Bill Roberts
In 2014 a panel of animators, filmmakers, critics and historians voted on the greatest animated film of all time. Pinocchio won. That shouldn’t be a surprise: Disney’s second feature set a bar for artistry and storytelling that animators have been chasing ever since. It’s not just a gorgeous film with some of the best songs in movie history, but one with legitimate depth and emotion and a lesson that every person should learn. Disney still had its best roster of animators, before some of the best left or were fired after the 1941 strike, and the studio was still spending lavishly on production, before the war and the underperformance of Bambi and, uh, Pinocchio led to tighter budgets. Animated movies haven’t gotten better than this. —Garrett Martin


38. Incredibles 2

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Year: 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film ended, with the costumed Family Parr reacting to the arrival of the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their scuffle with the villain gains the attention of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk)—or more precisely, allows Deavor and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), to gain the attention of the Parrs. The siblings want to bring supers back into the light, using Winston’s salesmanship and Evelyn’s tech to sway public opinion back to the pro-super side. To do so, they want to enlist Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the tip of the spear in their charm offensive, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on the sidelines for now. (She tends to fight crime in a manner that results in less property damage than her husband, after all.) This sets up a second act that’s firmly by the numbers in terms of story development—watch the husband try to succeed as a stay-at-home dad!—yet no less enjoyable. Bob’s attempts to handle teen romance, Jack-Jack’s manifestation of powers and, horror of horrors, “new” math will strike a chord with any mom or dad who has ever felt overwhelmed by the simple, devastating challenges of parenthood. (The family interactions, one strength among many with the first film, remain a delight in the sequel.) Meanwhile, we get to watch Elastigirl in action, as she encounters, foils and matches wits with the film’s mysterious villain, Screenslaver. As in the first film, watching Helen Parr do the hero thing is also quite the delight—she’s resourceful, tough and, above all, a professional. Watching Elastigirl operate almost makes one feel sorry for the criminals. Delving more into the plot would do the film a disservice—suffice to say both villainous and family challenges are faced, and it takes a village, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Bird) to emerge victorious. Whether you enjoy Incredibles 2 as much as the original will likely depend on your opinion of the latter, but regardless, you’ll be happy both exist. And in today’s sequel-saturated environment, that is practically a superheroic achievement in itself. —Michael Burgin


37. Aladdin

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Year: 1992
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Aladdin, along with The Lion King following it in immediate succession, certainly feels like the zenith of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, pushing the company’s animated features to daring new heights of artistic achievement and box office dominance. It was, in many ways, a genesis point for the structure of modern animated features, beginning a period of increased reliance on recognizable voice actors (in this case, a heavily promoted Robin Williams) as an audience selling point, rather than the casts of unknowns that had previously been the norm. Genie, on the other hand, became a character almost bigger and more valuable than Aladdin itself; a pop-cultural watershed moment that also served to make Williams beloved to an entire generation of 1990s kids who hadn’t exactly been the target audience for the likes of Mork & Mindy or Good Morning, Vietnam. More than anything, though, Aladdin thrives on a witty, rapid-fire screenplay, earworm musical numbers and lush animation that expertly mined the deep well of captivating mythology already present in One Thousand and One Nights, so rarely brought to life in the western world. —Jim Vorel


36. Moana

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Year: 2016
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
During the initial meeting between the title character of Disney’s latest animated effort and the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) protests that she is not a princess. His response? “If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” By the time the closing credits roll, the audience has the answer to this particular dispute—they are both right. Moana both embraces and transcends the traditional—and by that, I mean, Disney-fied—“princess film.” After all, dress and sidekick aside, as the daughter and heir of a tribal chief, Moana is, inescapably, a princess. But that does not mean she’s a “Disney princess.” Moana may not be the first film from the House of Mouse to celebrate the grit, will and perseverance of a female lead, but it is the first to fully shed the less inspiring baggage of the traditional princess crew. This particular Hero’s Journey comes refreshingly free of male love interest, and Moana’s success or failure rests squarely on her shoulders. The visual rendering is as lush and rich as its subtext, and the music is everything one hopes from Lin-Manuel Miranda. But ultimately, it’s the blend of character and quest—infused throughout with an overriding warmth—that makes Moana impossible to resist. —Andy Crump


35. Monsters, Inc.

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Year: 2001
Director: Pete Docter
Monsters, Inc. may very well be the most lovable film in the illustrious Pixar canon. And, based on everything from the exhilarating door-chase sequence to the brilliant decision of naming its colorful monsters run-of-the-mill things like Mike Wazowski, it might be its most inventive, encapsulating the spirit of childhood unlike any other of the company’s singular creations. Billy Crystal and John Goodman make an endearing and iconic odd couple. And that ending? Perfection. —Jeremy Medina


34. Toy Story 3

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Year: 2010
Director: Lee Unkrich
Towards the conclusion of 1999’s Toy Story 2, villain Stinky Pete asks Woody the Cowboy what he’ll do when Andy, their owner, grows up and no longer wants his toys. At the time, Woody did not have a definite answer for the duplicitous prospector. And the Pixar team could have left it there—ending on a an optimistic image of the toys mutually agreeing that they can’t stop Andy from growing, but they can enjoy the time they have left. Instead, 11 years later, John Lasseter and Co. actually made an entire movie exploring that exact question. Boasting both gut-busting laughs (Mr. Potato Head as a flour tortilla) and questionably intense drama (the toys being lowered into a fiery pit of death), this third Toy Story adventure was treated as an unequivocal success. Story-wise, the film is not horribly original, taking its escape plotline almost beat for beat from the second film. Yet, for any audience member who had grown up with Woody, Buzz and the gang, it was all about those last five minutes—when a college-bound Andy plays with his childhood toys for the last time. It’s the film that would make you believe a jaded teenager could cry. —Mark Rozeman


33. Captain America: Civil War

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Year: 2016
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
In my review of the first Avengers movie, I said Joss Whedon’s blockbuster represented “the most complete manifestation of the superhero team aesthetic yet seen on film.” Four years later, we have a new champion in the category of “best team film.” The way in which Captain America: Civil War brings together a dozen or so heroes, sorts them into not one but two teams and then flings them at each other is its own special delight for comic book fans long accustomed to such things on the printed or digital page. Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief, mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes, provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity.—Michael Burgin


32. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards’ venture into a galaxy far, far away is the Star Wars film we never knew we needed. It’s a triumphantly thrilling, serious-minded war movie that is incalculably stronger for the fact that it’s NOT the first chapter in a new franchise. Rogue One is a complete film in a way that no other Star Wars movie other than A New Hope is capable of being. It doesn’t “set the stage” for an inevitable next installment, and its characters are all the realer for the fact that they’re not perpetually sheathed in blasterproof Franchise Armor. It is, so help me, a satisfyingly complete story, and I had no idea until I watched the film how refreshing that concept would be. Our protagonist is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a plucky young woman whose brilliant scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) has been controlled throughout her life by the Empire and coerced into designing superweapons of the moon-sized, planet-killing variety. Forced into a young adulthood on the fringes of the Rebel Alliance, she’s assembled a Jack Sparrow-esque rap sheet and, as the film begins, finds herself in Imperial prison on various petty charges. What Rogue One is, most accurately, is what it was sold as all along: a legitimate war movie/commando story, albeit with some familial entanglements. —Jim Vorel


31. Avengers: Infinity War

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Year: 2018
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Avengers: Infinity War is epic in a way that has been often aspired to but never fully grasped when it comes to the translation from comic book panel to the Big Screen. It’s what happens when moviemakers take their source material seriously, eschewing unnecessary melodrama even as they fully embrace the grandeur, the sheer spectacle, of it all. (And if there’s one lesson Disney has learned, it’s that if you focus on the viewer experience, the product lines will take care of themselves.) For every frenetic fight scene in Avengers: Infinity War—and there are plenty of them—there are myriad character interactions and emotional beats the audience has been prepped for by the previous films (okay, maybe not 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). As a result, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have ample room to riff and play as characters meet for the first time or see each other again. Some of the interactions are easy to anticipate (if no less enjoyable)—the immediate ego clash between Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, for example—but our familiarity with these characters adds resonance to nearly every scene and every line, as the vestiges and ripples of emotional arcs laid down in the last decade’s worth of movies bolster even the smallest moment. —Michael Burgin


30. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

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Year: 1983
Director: Richard Marquand
Look, I’m not here to defend Ewoks. Really, I’m not. But there’s a certain subset of Star Wars fans who go really profoundly overboard on their Ewok hang-up. Yes, the little fuzzballs probably could have been phased out of Episode VI altogether, but outside of them, the film offers the most incredible action sequences and epic conclusion of the entire series. So please, forget about the Ewoks for one moment and appraise the film on the rest of its merits. It’s all here: Incredibly varied settings, from the grime of Jabba’s palace to the overgrowth of Endor and the cold, steely sparseness of Imperial command ships. A fully matured Luke (Mark Hamill) proves that his powers have grown considerably, that he’s not simply chasing “delusions of grandeur” in the rescue of Han (Harrison Ford). And then there’s the true introduction of Palpatine as the face of ultimate evil—is there any more badass way to introduce a character for the first time than for Darth Vader, who we’ve personally witnessed choke numerous officers to death for trivial offenses, to say, “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am”? The space battle above Endor is the greatest that the series has ever produced, and probably ever will produce (the only thing that comes close is the conclusion of Rogue One); the sheer scale and dizzying choreography that ILM managed to pull off with practical effects in 1983 is still one of the most amazing VFX feats in cinema history. And the ultimate confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor is the tipping point of the entire trilogy’s arc: Luke’s final test—both of his Jedi resolve and his deep-seated belief in the spark of Anakin Skywalker left burning deep within Vader. The moment when Luke casts his lightsaber down and declares himself to be “a Jedi, like my father before me,” bringing a bitter scowl to the Emperor’s crestfallen face, is an emotional triumph. —Jim Vorel


29. Cinderella

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Year: 1950
Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Disney Studios was $4M in debt when they made this adaptation of the well-known fairy tale “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault. I know, hard to believe, but they’d had a string of costly flops, including Fantasia and had lost their European market to the war. The film opened in 1950 to thunderous critical applause and put the studio well on its way back to being in the pink—by which I mean health, though it’s worth noting that this film is a direct ancestor of the Pink Sparkly Princess Syndrome that has become pandemic in three-to-seven-year-olds. While there might be no excuse for the merch-floods for which Disney is famous, this film is the real deal, one of the best animated features ever made. Disney pioneered the use of overdubbed vocals for the song “Sing, Sweet Nightingale,” creating the effect of the character singing harmony with herself. Salvador Dali and Christian Dior are said to have been direct influences on the clothes worn by the characters. The plot’s been with us for centuries, so I’ll forego the recap and say that the film takes full advantage of Disney’s fathomless imagination, mixing fantasy and humor and music in a way that captivates children more than sixty years later. And even though adults know “happily ever after” is a mixed bag at best, this film will probably still make you believe in it too. At least for a couple of hours. —Amy Glynn


28. Iron Man

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Year: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
There are plenty of important moments in the development of the superhero film, but the first Iron Man film boasts a few: It’s the first entry in Phase 1 of the MCU, and thus the easy-to-define dawn of the Marvel Age. But more interestingly, it showed that an actor could so overshadow the hero he portrays that he supplants that character, and it be a good. Before Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Iron Man was a great suit of armor with a pretty boring alter ego. Stark’s personal story arcs involved heart trouble, alcohol abuse and intellectual property disputes. Downey Jr. brought the quips and the irreverence, and made Tony Stark on film much more fascinating than he had ever been in the comics. And comic book fan and neophyte alike loved the result. Iron Man had what all the initial MCU brand launches have had thus far: a first-time-on-film freshness as an invigorating expression of the core character that had 40+ years under its belt yet not one good film to show for it. Add the increasing ability of CGI to handle the “super” of it all, and it’s pretty easy to overlook some of the film’s weaker plot points (e.g., the rushed “Wait, how does Jeff Bridges know how to operate that armor?” ending). As a result, the debut of the Downey Jr. show still ranks among the MCU’s best efforts. —Michael Burgin


27. Fantasia

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Year: 1940
Directors: James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley
The first commercial film—animated or live-action—ever to be shown in stereophonic sound and a collection of eight short pieces intercut with live-action intros by Deems Taylor, Fantasia is set to classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, mostly with the Philadelphia Orchestra. While the origin of the film’s concept was fairly mundane (Walt Disney wanted a star vehicle for Mickey Mouse, whose ratings were flagging), what ended up happening, though, was a really interesting investigation into how music could be represented visually in the animated medium. Rather than writing storyboards and creating a soundtrack, the production team sat in meetings listening to Paganini and Stravinsky and Mussorgsky until Disney connected the sounds with images and built on it from there. Disney, who wasn’t much of a classical music buff, found his famously boundless curiosity piqued by the concept of using animation to support music rather than the other way around, and plunged into the project with enthusiasm, believing it would open people’s ears (like his own) to classical music they had previously ignored. An amazing collection of experts and performers were assembled to consult on science, animal movement and different types of dance. (Disney scrapped a portion of the Rite of Spring sequence that showed the discovery of fire out of concern that it would provoke angry Creationists; but biologists, paleontologists and astronomers, for example, were consulted.) Similarly, animators were given tickets to the Ballet Russe, and reptiles were brought into the studio to be studied. Fantasia ran at New York’s Broadway Theatre for 49 consecutive weeks, the longest film run ever at the time. Shows sold out across the country, yet Fantasia initially ran at a loss due to the expense of the state-of-the-art Fantasound systems along with theater lease and other production costs. RKO cut the film from two hours, five minutes to one hour, twenty minutes and showed it in mono to trim costs. It was restored partially in 1946 and to its original condition in 1990. Weird, beautiful, orgiastic, abstracted, wildly colored and meticulously recorded, the film was a critical darling and considered to be an incredibly bold move on Disney’s part, though many in the classical music community nitpicked Stokowski’s arrangements. (Everyone’s a critic.) Overall, the film is more a distance runner than a sprinter and a brilliant example of Disney’s strange, maverick, expansive imagination. —Amy Glynn


26. Thor: Ragnarok

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Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Sixteen films and nearly a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—and in the midst of renaissance/deluge of superhero movies in general—it’s not unusual to encounter some grumbling about both the genre and the MCU. You’ll find plenty of folks who bemoan its formulaic approach to plotlines, the overall weakness of its villains and lack of female heroes getting their due. Starting with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, there was also the rapidly accepted conventional wisdom that Marvel Studios was not the place for any director wishing to put his or her stamp on a franchise. Then along comes Thor: Ragnarok. The third film in the arguably least-loved franchise of Kevin Feige and company’s box office-melting enterprise, it’s also the liveliest, funniest and “loosest” film of the bunch (and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Much, if not all of this can be credited to director Taika Waititi, who seems determined to mine every ounce of comedy—be it physical, situational or conversational—from a tale that’s both rollicking buddy movie and retelling of the least uplifting tale in all of Norse mythos. Given the source material and the director’s track record, I’m not surprised there was plenty of ammo for Waititi or how well he used it—I’m just shocked and delighted he was allowed to use it in the first place. —Michael Burgin


25. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Year: 1993
Director: Henry Selick
On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better. —Curt Holman


24. Beauty and the Beast

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Year: 1991
Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
The first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, Beauty and the Beast, along with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and The Lion King in 1994, composed the last push of classic hand-drawn cartoons before Toy Story tipped the form definitively toward computer animation. As with so many Disney princesses, the role of Beauty (voiced by Paige O’Hara) is to find her prince, but she’s got a little feminist kick to her, constantly burying her nose in a book, dreaming of escaping her provincial life and rejecting the advances of the handsome oaf Gaston (Richard White). When her father, an idiosyncratic inventor whose character design smacks of Albert Einstein, gets lost in the woods and stumbles upon an enchanted castle, its inhabitant—a horrible Beast (Robby Benson)—takes him prisoner. Belle discovers her father’s captivity and offers to take his place. Her arrival is fortuitous, as time is running out to reverse the curse that has rendered Beast so, well, beastly and his staff a raft of household items, including a candelabra named Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a mantel clock named Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and a teapot named Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). These charmed servants conspire to tame the Beast so that he’ll fall in love with Belle, and she with him, thus breaking the spell that has trapped them in bric-a-brac. The film’s major set pieces are thrilling, especially the Broadway-infused “Be Our Guest” number by Howard Ashman, whose jaunty lyrics seem as familiar today as they did in 1991, and Alan Menken, whose score won an Academy Award. If you like your rom-coms animated and musically inclined, the House of Mouse provides. —Annlee Ellingson


23. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Year: 2015
Director: J.J. Abrams
The Force Awakens provided a remedy for the near-terminal Prequel-itis of fans. J.J. Abrams and company accomplished this act of restorative cinema primarily through a return to the “dirty future” aesthetic that made the Original Trilogy feel so real (no matter how absurd the dialogue being delivered by the characters). That’s not to say CGI is lacking, but whereas budget and technology constraints helped the first three films and an overabundance hurt the next three, the balance between practical and special effects in The Force Awakens feels near perfect. I say “primarily” not to take away from other factors, such as casting. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver are all solid, and Oscar Isaac brings a palpable vigor to his role. Ultimately, The Force Awakens just feels right in ways the Prequels never did. —Michael Burgin


22. Inside Out

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Year: 2015
Director: Pete Docter
When Pixar is at its best, the studio’s films aren’t just massively entertaining and wonderfully funny—they’re almost piercingly emotional, touching on universal sentiments with such clarity, such honesty you feel they’re speaking directly to you, and you alone. (This may be why people’s favorite Pixar films are so fiercely defended: We take these movies personally.) Inside Out may be the best Pixar has released in a while, especially after a string of disappointing and underwhelming efforts, but what’s most cheering about the film—and most like Pixar’s celebrated classics—is that it’s so emotionally astute. You cry because it makes you happy, and you cry because it makes you sad, and you cry because it’s all true. —Tim Grierson


21. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn
Director (and co-writer) James Gunn took the somewhat obscure team (to non-comic-book fans, at least) and kept the source material’s tone, attitude and bombastic settings intact. As the self-named Star-Lord, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) presents viewers with a pretty irresistible amalgam of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and Captain Kirk. (Pratt owns this role.) The scene-stealing duo of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) also provides the latest reminder of how convincing mo-cap-aided CGI has become. (Within moments after being introduced to them, I was yearning for a Rocket and Groot buddy picture.) Frankly, it’s hard to compete with Quill, Rocket and Groot, but Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) don’t need to shine as brightly—unlike The Avengers, one doesn’t get the sense each team member’s time center stage is being meticulously measured. (One other important thing to note about Groot—he is Groot.) Marvel’s rambunctious entry into the space-opera genre—and the cornerstone of its “Cosmic Marvel” roster of characters and storylines—so perfectly embodies what the preceding months of hype and hope foretold that even its weak points feel almost like unavoidable imperfections—broken eggs for a pretty satisfying omelet. —Michael Burgin


20. Finding Nemo

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Year: 2003
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton
Pixar delivered a gem in Finding Nemo. The film follows the clown fish Marlin’s trek across the ocean to find Nemo, his son who was captured by a diver and deposited in a dentist’s aquarium. The journey takes us from the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef through alternatingly perilous and humorous encounters with deep-sea life. Meanwhile, Nemo and his new cohorts scheme to escape the aquarium, throw themselves out the dentist’s window, cross a highway, and jump into the ocean. Visually, Finding Nemo is spectacular. The animators render theses scenes with exquisite detail and vibrant color, reaching beyond mere CGI-wizardry to artistry. The voices of the film, anchored by Albert Brooks as the neurotic Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres as the frantic and forgetful Dory, help bring these characters to life. The script is witty, and the pacing serves to keep the audience engaged. Thematically, the film examines friendship and family, especially the complicated dance of dependence and independence between father and son. Finding Nemo is a thoroughly entertaining classic. —Tim Regan-Porter


19. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Year: 2014
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; Joss Whedon (post-credits scene)
For the non-comic book fan curious as to how exactly, after decades of missteps and, at best, hit-or-miss efforts, Marvel is on such a roll, let Captain America: The Winter Soldier serve as your primer. The film boasts an array of well-cast leads and supporting characters; a crisply paced, sensible plot; and above-average dialogue. Even more importantly, every scene and every character interaction prove that the movie’s creative team truly understands the core appeal of Cap himself—the tone of not just the character, but the comic book series from which he springs. Directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, The Winter Soldier picks up post Avengers with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in the modern day trying to be that quaint relic from his earlier life during World War Two—the good soldier. But the black-and-white ethical landscape of that time has been displaced by countless shades of gray. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself are all embodiments of a more complex present than that to which Cap is accustomed. Lest you worry Captain America: The Winter Soldier consists solely of moral quandaries and Steve Rogers sending discerning or suspicious looks in the direction of those around him, the brothers Russo have made, first and foremost, a thrilling action film. It’s an immensely enjoyable spy-thriller-flavored film with Bond-worthy flair (and orchestral flourishes). But first and foremost, it’s also a great Captain America film.—Michael Burgin


18. Toy Story

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Year: 1995
Director: John Lasseter
The one that started it all. Still to this day, Toy Story is a remarkable technical achievement (the first computer-animated film) and a flawless blueprint for all of the Pixar films that followed: start with a litany of standout characters (Woody, Buzz, Potato Head, Slinkie, Rex, and more); add a decidedly-sinister villain (in this case, the skull-shirted bully Syd); and top it off with a well-rounded, awe-inspiring adventure, and you’ve got the makings of an enduring classic. Few films can capture the true essence of childhood without featuring a kid as the main character, but that’s just what Pixar did in 1995 with Toy Story. The film’s hilarious (and heartwarming) competition between longtime toy-favorite Woody and flashy newcomer Buzz Lightyear wasn’t only entertaining—it explored themes of friendship, family and ultimately growing up. The film gave us our first peek into the legacy that Pixar solidified with classics like Up and Wall-E, not to mention three fantastic sequels. —Jeremy Medina and Tyler Kane


17. The Sound of Music

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Year: 1965
Director: Robert Wise
I don’t have to tell you that The Sound of Music is a classic. In fact, I have no reservations saying it is one of the best, most moving films in the entire canon of musicals. The 1965 film, starring the young starlet Julie Andrews and a dreamy Christopher Plummer, was adapted from the Broadway music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, respectively, and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It has everything you could want in a drama: love, loss, betrayal, humor and curtains that double as playclothes. It’s one of those rare stories (a true one, at that, based on the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers) that brings an intensely personal narrative to the forefront of international conflict. With World War II raging on in their native Austria and across Europe, the Von Trapp family must decide what’s important to them and, ultimately, how to survive. And having one of the best soundtracks of all time doesn’t hurt, either: From the goofy “Maria” to the cutesy “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to the heartbreaking “Something Good” and prettiest goodbye “So Long, Farewell,” these are songs we’ve been passing down and sharing with our families for decades now, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. —Ellen Johnson


16. Coco

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Year: 2017
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco may count as one of Pixar’s clearest successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams could prove the studio’s most meaningful yet. The implicit contract between films like Coco and the audience is a simple one: Sit back and let us immerse you in a world you haven’t seen before, or one you’ve only imagined. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do just that. Coco’s underworld is richly textured and imagined, but so is the “real world” where we start and end up. Sure, by now it’s what we expect from Pixar, but it’s notable nonetheless. And the lasting accomplishment of Coco lies in the reverence and joy with which it depicts another culture’s celebration. Dia de los Muertos isn’t used as some convenient, exotic setting or explored through the eyes of someone from the United States (though early iterations of the script did just that, apparently). Instead, the film represents a full embrace of a culture and its people, as well as a celebration of family, both present and past. As such, it’s difficult to imagine healthier holiday fare. —Michael Burgin


15. The Little Mermaid

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Year: 1989
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Crucially, The Little Mermaid serves as the exact inflection point in which Disney Princesses’ goals changed from wanting a cute guy to wanting to be her own person—even though a woman who wants that has historically been viewed as somehow deficient. It’s all right there in Mermaid, in a way it absolutely was not in Sleeping Beauty, whose Princess Aurora didn’t have much agency in her own narrative. Besides the story of the mermaid princess Ariel actually being about Ariel and what she wants, it doesn’t hurt that The Little Mermaid is uplifted by some of the best musical numbers the studio had produced in at least a decade. Disney hired composer Alan Menken and playwright Howard Ashman off the back of the success of the Little Shop of Horrors film in 1986, based on their 1982 musical. How on Earth they thought guys who wrote a black comedy about a man-eating plant would be the perfect duo to revive the most kid-friendly of studios is puzzling, but it worked. Those memorable melodies were backed up by Ashman’s lyrics, which chiseled themselves directly into the brain stems of every child who heard them. In the The Little Mermaid, Ariel is indeed mooning over a cute boy. But she made the first move and she had to defy a controlling father and literally win back her voice and her damn legs too. Lots of heroines have followed in those footsteps. —Kenneth Lowe


14. Bambi

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Year: 1942
Directors: David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Graham Heid, Norman Wright
Yeah, Bambi is sad. It’s also funny, and scary, and uplifting, and joyous and mundane. Bambi isn’t about a young deer whose mother is killed by a hunter; it’s about the first year of that deer’s life, and about all our lives in general. Everybody can see a bit of their own experience in Bambi’s growth to young adulthood. There’s so much depth and beauty in this movie, both before and after that fateful scene, and despite starring cute talking animals it’s still the most naturalistic and realistic of all Disney animated features. Its gorgeous, tender art style was driven by lead artist Tyrus Wong, a Chinese immigrant who was fired from Disney shortly after Bambi was completed due to the 1941 artists strike, and who was 106 when he passed away in 2016. Like the movie itself, Wong’s art is heartfelt and sublime. —Garrett Martin


13. Up

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Year: 2009
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
The public hadn’t balked at a Wall-E, a film whose first two acts were essentially dialogue-free. How would it react to a film whose protagonist is an elderly widower with a hearing aid, dentures and back pain—who looks like and is voiced by Ed Asner? Thank God for Pixar and good storytelling. Asner’s character, Carl Fredericksen, isn’t just the grumpy, old man we expect, but a kind-hearted and devoted husband adrift after the loss of his wife. His first 78 years are condensed into the film’s beautiful first ten minutes, as we see a young boy with dreams of adventure fall in love with a fellow dreamer. Though childless, the couple live full lives until Carl is left alone. After his wife’s death, he clings on to every memory of her, including a house that stands stubbornly in the way of a high-rise development. He has a single regret (an unfulfilled promise of a trip to Paradise Falls), but even less purpose, and when cornered, he does what any wistful balloon-maker would do: Fly his house to South America. The resulting Andean adventures snap him from his self-pitying funk by providing him with a goal to pursue, but it’s not his childhood dream that provides ultimate fulfillment. In a culture that devalues its elders, tucking them away in nursing homes and occupying their time with leisure pursuits, it’s refreshing to be reminded that, regardless of age, meaning can always be found in both relationships and story—that glorious struggle to overcome adversity in the pursuit of justice. That the reminder comes in the form of a cartoon would be more surprising if not for the depth of Pixar’s track record. Sure, the film has its adorable characters for the kids—the dogs with innovative collars that allow their thoughts to be communicated through speech, the wilderness scout who tags along for the ride, some cute baby birds. But it also offers kids (and grown-ups) hilarious sight gags and dialogue, which my children were quoting all the way home. But what makes Up such a satisfying film is the story of an old man deciding that he still has life left to be lived. And that life is an adventure. —Josh Jackson


12. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Year: 1937
Director: David Hand
From the very beginning of the era of Disney animated feature films, witches have proven to be handy antagonists. Sleeping Beauty is one of the prime examples, but 22 years earlier, Snow White’s simplistic “Evil Queen” (whose actual name is apparently “Grimhilde”) laid the foundation for so many tropes to come. One gets the sense, watching this film today, that the animators wanted to depict the Queen as a classical, wart-nosed witch all along, but the film’s major plot device—that the queen is a desperate contender for “fairest of them all”—dictates that she can’t take on what might be considered her true form until she comes to Snow in disguise as a hunchbacked old crone. Her scheme to trick Snow into eating a poisoned apple seems appropriately biblical in nature, which only makes sense—given that witches were historically depicted as the consorts of Satan, the metaphor likely still resounded with those 1937 audiences. And indeed, the queen is eventually struck down by nothing short of a bolt of lightning, signifying the hand of God himself. This early in cinema history, you couldn’t exactly separate a witch from her scriptural damnation. —Jim Vorel


11. Avengers: Endgame

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Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Where does one begin? When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the past 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises, there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced. Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too. —Michael Burgin


10. WALL-E

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Year: 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Opening with 45 sublime minutes of almost no dialogue, WALL-E was a significant gamble for Pixar, whose remarkable string of successes to that point fell within a pretty narrow range. WALL-E rests firmly in the realm of children’s fantasy, but writer-director Andrew Stanton shooed the celebrity voices away from the center of the film and was clearly reaching toward something new. In a post-post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone into space and left behind an army of machines to clean up the place, 700 years have passed without much progress, and even the machines have fallen into ruin, except for one, a dilapidated ottoman-sized trash compactor named WALL-E who’s still honoring his directive and pining for a lost world. When WALL-E meets a gleaming white probe named Eve, their tentative relationship, like the rest of the film, evolves with few words. Even as the setting shifts to the ship containing the aforementioned humans and the rhythm shifts to action sequences with hazy goals, he film’s promise reduced to a well-executed but ordinary need for adrenaline, WALL-E is a noble experiment, lingering in the mind long after movies like Cars have faded. —Robert Davis


9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

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Year: 1988
Directors: Robert Zemeckis
Robert Zemeckis sparked a massive animation revival with this part-animated, part-live-action meta-noir, the first such hybrid to win multiple Oscars since 1964’s Mary Poppins. The superbly crafted Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is set in a fantasy 1940s Hollywood where humans coexist with “Toons,” many of whom work in “pictures” (the back lot of Maroon Cartoons is a hilarious collage of references to every classic Disney feature and Saturday morning cartoon). Mostly it’s a peaceful coexistence, but not for morose private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who’s been in alcoholic down-and-out-ville and an avowed Toon hater since an animated character killed his brother Teddy. Of course, he finds himself tied (sometimes literally) to impulse-control-challenged cartoon star Roger Rabbit, who’s been framed for the murder of gadget magnate Marvin Acme. Roger’s sultry pinup-girl wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner) and Valiant’s long-suffering ex Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) team up with the reluctant odd couple to solve the murder, in which a shady, erasure-happy Toon Town magistrate named Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd in perhaps the single best cinematic use of his signature eye-bugging) seems to be implicated. The mosaic of references to both classic film noir and classic animation is the stuff of drinking games, the story is hilarious and, sometimes when you least expect it, genuinely affecting, and the antics of live-action characters in the “Forget it, Jake—it’s Toon Town” universe are a joy to watch. —Amy Glynn


8. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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Year: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across. —Steve LaBate


7. Ratatouille

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Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird
On paper, the story of a French rat who dreams of being a five-star chef sounds ridiculous. On screen, it’s still a little ridiculous. But, that’s part of Ratatouille’s delectable charm. There are some startlingly profound themes within Brad Bird’s Parisian romp—namely, that dreams are tenable no matter who you are or where you come from (and this even applies to rodents, too). Joyful and preternaturally wise, the film remains one of Pixar’s smartest and best-written films. —Jeremy Medina


6. The Avengers

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Year: 2012
Directors: Joss Whedon
Nestled amongst the gaudy box office numbers ($1.55 billion) of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is a much simpler achievement. Yes, The Avengers should evoke a deserved appreciation of Whedon’s directorial skills. And yes, the film’s release and reception make for a natural “And that’s when it was official” moment that the MCU took over Hollywood. But for comic book fans especially, The Avengers represents the first instance of the superhero team dynamic truly captured and sustained on film. Even though the X-Men (four times) and the Fantastic Four (twice) had received big screen treatment, those films were all still pretty static. The interaction between both heroes and villains were slow, separate vignettes rather than two-way, three-way or more-way battles. If Raimi’s Spider-Man showed why comic book superheroes are fun, The Avengers showed why superhero teams are. (The X-Men franchise fared much better at this with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot, not so much.) (See full review.) —Michael Burgin


5. The Lion King

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Year: 1994
Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Animated films often overreach for gravitas and fail miserably. The Lion King takes a mishmash of the stories of Hamlet, Henry IV, and some African folktales—and pulls it off. Simba&#8217 hearing his father’s ghost tell him “You are more than what you have become” resonates as deeply as anything in Shakespeare’s account of Young Hal. Somehow, even Elton John’s drippy soundtrack sounds majestic. This is a film that ennobles and the only version of it you ever need (except maybe the Broadway production). ——Michael Dunaway


4. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

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Year: 1977
Directors: George Lucas
Before Star Wars, science fiction inhabited a vastly different cinematic landscape. Outside of a few films like John Carpenter’s Darkstar, these imagined realities tended to be pristine, shiny and generally fantastical. The Star Wars universe, on the other hand, dropped audiences into an already ongoing story, in a setting that felt incredibly thought out, organic and lived-in. Things get dirty. The Millennium Falcon is full of dents and dings, as worn as a real-world vehicle would be. It’s may be strange to use the word “realistic,” to describe the visual side of George Lucas’s space opera, but the setting for Star Wars simply felt more authentic than those that came before, and this is an often overlooked element of what made it a cultural phenomenon—along with, of course, its groundbreaking FX work. The people who really had their work cut out for them were filmmakers who wanted to do sci-fi in a post-Star Wars world. The bar of expectations had been raised to exponential heights. —Jim Vorel


3. Toy Story 2

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Toy Story was a revelation of technology. Its sequel was simply a revelation. When Woody is stolen by Seinfeld’s Newman, it’s Buzz Lightyear’s turn to save the day. The toy store scene with Tour Guide Barbie (“I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud”) and legions of Buzz toys is priceless. Improving on the original in almost every way, Toy Story 2 took the characters we grew to love in the first film and separated them—usually a recipe for disaster. But in this case, with Woody discovering the rest of the round-up gang, the new characters are integrated impeccably, and the larger scale of the story allows the sequel to have more gravity. —Josh Jackson & Jeremy Medina


2. The Incredibles

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Year: 2004
Director: Brad Bird
With all the leaps and bounds taken in the genre in the last ten years alone, it should not be possible that the best superhero film ever is an animated film that came about separately from Marvel, DC or any of the companies in the business of making comics. Yet, here we are. Twelve years after Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox) dealt with some rather serious Buddy (Jason Lee) issues, The Incredibles remains the gold standard—a deft balance of heart, humor and superheroics. The Pixar film is suffused with wit and wonder, with the oh-so-familiar family dynamic of the Family Parr being just as crucial to the final product as Syndrome’s Bond-worthy supervillain hideout and dastardly plan. In hindsight, The Incredibles deserves an additional accolade—Brad Bird’s film shows just how one can include dark themes in a superhero film yet not jettison all the other things that make the genre fun and awe-inspiring. The Incredibles takes place in a world where superheroes have been banned by the government. Syndrome’s plan has already claimed the lives of at least 15 supers by the time Mr. Incredible becomes involved. (And there’s that little aside from Edna Mode regarding capes and the crusaders undone by them.) And yet, this is still a world where the danger and darkness, as well as the all-too-human traits of our protagonists, can exist side by side with the wonder inherent in a reality where people have super frickin’ powers. Take note, Warner Bros., and anyone else driven by the need to inject a comic book property with “grit” and “realism.” (Please.) —Michael Burgin


1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

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Year: 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
The Empire Strikes Back is Exhibit A in the category of sequels that surpass the original, taking the wondrous world we were granted in A New Hope and deepening, expanding its purview in every direction. It gives flesh to the idea of the “Rebel Alliance,” showing us how this ragtag band of freedom fighters operates while slowly winning the ideological battle and drawing more support to their cause. Every character undergoes positive growth: Leia (Carrie Fisher) moves from “princess” figurehead to military commander and tireless organizer of a resistance; Han (Harrison Ford) has become a leader of men, completing the transition he began when returning to help destroy the Death Star in A lion New Hope; and Luke (Mark Hamill) finally starts down the path to becoming a Jedi in earnest. His Dagobah scenes with Yoda are heavy with omens and portent; never in the series do the arcane mysteries of the Force feel as compelling as they do while Luke levitates rocks and digests philosophy. The mysticism and wonder of Star Wars are at their zenith in Empire. Elsewhere, the series’ space-piloting scenes have their most goosebump-raising moment when the Falcon dodges asteroids and T.I.E. Fighters. The petty squabbles of the Imperial Navy and its never-ending parade of dead officers give us a glimpse into the structure of the enemy. A colorful array of bounty hunters is assembled. A classic romance blossoms. All builds to what is perhaps the biggest “oh my god!” reveal in cinema history, completely redefining the audience’s perception of all the events that led up to it. It’s hard to imagine that Empire will ever be toppled as the greatest Star Wars film of all time, but if it somehow is, that will indeed be a momentous disturbance in the Force. —Jim Vorel

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