The 20 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (February 2024)

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The 20 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (February 2024)

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 the best movies on Paramount+ are 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

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
Genre: 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. To Catch a Thief

Year: 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, John Williams
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Romance

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But really—he didn’t do it. Cary Grant plays John Robie, a retired jewel thief who’s enjoying his golden years tending vines on the French Riviera. Just when the Grenache is hitting the perfect Brix level, a series of copycat heists put Robie back in the thiefly limelight. Seeking to clear things up, he compiles a list of locals who are known to have heistable jewels, and being a smart and wily guy, he starts tailing a very, very pretty one (Francie, played by Grace Kelly). Budding romance can be an accidental side-effect of these things, but when Francie’s ice does go missing, she suspects John and it sours their relationship, as one might expect. John goes on the proverbial lam to get to the bottom of it. Talk about jewels! Nothing ever sparkled quite like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly onscreen together, especially with the legendary Edith Head on costume design—and their peerless charisma is in amazing hands here. The film itself is a bauble, unapologetically so: light and frothy and absolutely not Rear Window (none of which is an indictment). Sometimes it’s enough for something to simply be charming and beautiful. This film proves it. —Amy Glynn

 


3. Minority Report

Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi

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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

 


4. Clueless

Year: 1995
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy

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The Beverly Hills reboot of Jane Austen’s classic Emma was a sleeper-smash in 1995—and much more importantly, gave the phrase “As if!” to pop culture. Alicia Silverstone is Cher, a pretty, vain, superficial LA teen who goes on a mission to turn ugly-ducking classmate Tai (Brittany Murphy) into a Superswan, only to find herself eclipsed and adrift. A soft-edged satire of nouveau-riche Angeleno culture and simultaneously of the teen rom-com genre, Clueless is neither the most subtle nor the most hard-hitting film of its era, but it’s surprisingly seductive, in large part thanks to Amy Heckerling’s scrupulously researched script, which captured a dialogue style that both represented and influenced teen-speak of the time. —Amy Glynn

 


5. 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

 


6. Interstellar

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon, Michael Caine
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi

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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

Year: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

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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

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
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Comedy

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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

Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O’Brien, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Peter Cullen
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

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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
Genre: Sci-Fi

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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

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
Genre: Comedy, Action

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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

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
Genre: Comedy

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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. Serpico

Year: 1973
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Tony Roberts
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

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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

 


14. Mission: Impossible

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
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action

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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. Top Gun: Maverick

Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jenifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Jay Ellis, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Greg “Tarzan” Davis
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action

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Not quite four years since Mission: Impossible—Fallout and much of Tom Cruise’s purpose remains the same—if it hasn’t exactly grown in religious fervor. In Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 original, Cruise is Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a man trapped in the past, refusing to advance his career as resolutely as he refuses to do much of anything besides continue to prove he’s the greatest pilot in the world—a title the film never forgets to remind the audience that Maverick earned long ago—and mourn his best friend, Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died 35 years ago in an accident for which Maverick still feels responsible. Tom Cruise is also, simply, “Tom Cruise,” the only notable show business scion left to throw his body into mind-numbing danger to prove that it can be done, to show a younger generation that this is what movies can be, what superstars can do. Must do. The more modern action films teem with synthetic bodies bursting apart at the synthetic seams, the more Tom Cruise builds his films as alters upon which to splay his beautiful sacrificed flesh. To that end, Joseph Kosinski is the precisely correct director to steer Cruise’s legacy sequel. As was the case with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, Maverick seems to exist to justify its existence, to update an IP that seems to only work in the past. For Top Gun this means translating Scott’s vision of sweat-drenched beach volleyball and unmitigated military spectacle into a soberer IMAX adventure, moving from the halcyon days of Reagan’s America to a world with no more need of a man like Maverick. “The future’s coming, and you’re not in it,” he’s told; every one of his superior officers appears to have no patience for him left. One can’t help but imagine that every new Tom Cruise vehicle is a way for him to reckon with that. Kosinski’s dogfights are pristine, incredible feats of filmmaking, economical and orbiting around recognizable space, but given to occasional, inexplicable shocks of pure chaos. Then quickly cohering again. If Scott’s action was a melange of motion never meant to fully cohere, keeping the American dream just that, then Kosinski is dedicated to allowing the audience a way into the experience. With his regular cinematographer Claudio Miranda, he revels in symmetry to keep the audience tethered. A wide glimpse of a dogfight in total, resembling a beach scene earlier, so suddenly appeared silently in the vast theater and unlike anything I’d ever really seen before, I gasped.—Dom Sinacola

 


16. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Release Date: August 2, 2023
Director: Jeff Rowe, Kyler Spears (co-director)
Stars: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Brady Noon, Nicolas Cantu, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Action, Comedy, Fantasy

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A visual tour de force of hybrid 2D and 3D animation, Mutant Mayhem is not only the most authentically New York version of the Turtles yet, it’s arguably the most inventive. Rowe, Spears and production designer Yashar Kassai have rendered the brothers as if they’re hand-drawn, complete with messy sketch lines, doodle flairs and a graffiti aesthetic. This is the ultimate paint-outside-the-lines take on the Turtles and it works on every level. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is swinging for the fences with its story and voice performances to ambitiously, quantifiably shake up the artistic rut that theatrical computer animation has been stuck in for the last two decades. Another plus is that the brothers are voiced by non-adult voice actors Nicolas Cantu (Leo), Brady Noon (Raph), Shamon Brown Jr. (Mikey) and Micah Abbey (Donnie), who recorded together, and were encouraged to excitedly talk over one another like a gaggle of real, tight-knit brothers would do. It translates into rapid-fire, organic quips and seemingly effortless timing that conveys a rapport that is singular to this iteration. It also elevates the script so that it doesn’t sound like it was written by a bunch of 40-year-olds trying to be hip and young. Rowe and Spears have a firm hold on their pacing, especially in how they use comedy to enhance their action beats. They also chart a progression to the brother’s battle prowess that is satisfying and pays off in satisfying full-circle moments. There’s also much to be admired in their choice to frame a lot of sequences with hand-held camera blocking, which leans into the unpredictable youth of the heroes that works so well in the gritty New York environs they’re sparring in. The filmmakers are also delightfully experimental throughout the Mutant Mayhem, using inspired live-action inserts, segueing into different artistic styles (including a homage to Eastman and Laird’s comic art) and embracing the asymmetrical character design that gives the film a fresh and energetic looseness.  Rowe and company prove that there’s no strength to the myth of IP fatigue when you have the vision and passion to reinvent with such bold and fun intention.—Tara Bennett

 


17. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Year: 2007
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Whoever said murder couldn’t be wonderfully melodic? Although the Tony-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was right up Tim Burton’s alley, his 2007 film took his macabre look at a homicidal English barber and made it fun. Here’s another Burton flick that relies on the tested chemistry of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but we also see great performances from Alan Rickman as the corrupt Judge Turpin and Sasha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. The film sees Burton’s on-screen gruesomeness at an all-time high, but it’s all balanced out by some infectious musical numbers.—Tyler Kane

 


18. The Godfather Part II

Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill, Lee Strasberg
Rating: R
Runtime: 200 minutes

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With the success of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s second chapter—released just two years later—set a new precedent for sequels by proving just as triumphant. Anchored by prevailing performances from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the follow-up carries on the mafia saga and explores the parallels between father and son. It’s another tour de force with epic proportions.—David Roark

 


19. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak

 


20. The African Queen

Year: 1952
Director: John Huston
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: NR

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The madcap, screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s helped set the template for the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that would populate American cinemas for years to come (and still do, to some extent). Writer/director John Huston’s genius in making The African Queen was taking the feuding couple out of the metropolitan areas for which they’d often been associated with and instead placing them square in the middle of an inhospitable jungle. With the added element of survival driving their journey, the flirtatious banter between classy widow Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) and crass boatman Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) crackles all the more, making for a rom-com as vicious as it is sweet. —Mark Rozeman

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