The Best Free Movies on Peacock (February 2021)

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The Best Free Movies on Peacock (February 2021)

Peacock might have an unassuming name compared to the beefy energy drink title that is HBO Max or the clear branding of Amazon, but the NBCUniversal streamer isn’t slouching with its offerings. The quality of films in its vast library are by and large quite good (that’s what happens when a studio starts its own streaming service), with the added bonus that it has a free, ad-supported tier—which is even better than the likes of Hulu, which still charges a monthly fee in addition to running commercials. And its free TV isn’t bad either.

Hiding behind the paywall (or the week-long trial subscription, if you want to binge some movies) are collections including animated classics—like The Prince of Egypt and Chicken Run—and Alfred Hitchcock favorites—Rope, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and more—but on the free side of things, the pickings certainly aren’t slim. Tons of well-loved filmmakers are represented, from Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg to Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg. February saw a handful of films leave the service—with favorites like You’re Next and American Psycho now being available on other streamers—only to be replaced by new offerings like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Big Lebowski.

Whether it’s horror, drama, documentary, or westerns, Peacock has enough to keep you satisfied—and we’ll be updating this list every month to keep you apprised of the latest and greatest.

Here are the best free movies on Peacock right now:


Dead Ringers

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Year: 1988
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruelly toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two characters, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to imagined mutation spreading. The later scenes of the film take on a haunting quality as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause. —Chad Betz


3:10 to Yuma

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Year: 2007
Director: James Mangold
Stars:
Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Peter Fonda
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Adapted from the Elmore Leonard short story of the same name and the original 1957 3:10 to Yuma follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a poor rancher who attempts to keep wanted criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crow) in his custody before the titular train arrives to take him to prison. Meanwhile, his ever-loyal gang waits for the opportunity to set their leader free. (Ben Foster is wonderfully evil and despicable as Wade’s unfailingly loyal lieutenant Charlie Prince.) While the townsfolk struggle against the outlaws, they also encounter attacks from Native Americans forced from their homeland and railroad workers intent to dispense their own form of justice. Director James Mangold turns the trip into a mini-epic on the historical changes of the old west. As the relationship between Wade and Evans transforms, the fine line between good and evil is well played, serving as a just tribute to earlier, classic westerns such as The Searchers and, more recently, Unforgiven. The film hurtles toward the inevitable climax at the train station where it comes close to imploding from the weight of its own cleverness. —Tim Basham


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Year: 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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In what might be Charlie Kaufman’s finest script, boy meets girl, unaware that they might be living out a doomed eternal recurrence. A brain-wipe firm allows its clients to erase choice people or events from their memory. Turns out, Joel (a repressed Jim Carrey) and Clementine (a vibrant Kate Winslet) have done this before. Technology is the Great Enabler and, perhaps, a secret destroyer—except that the science fiction aspect of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is just an auxiliary to the core relational dynamic. Stripped of fantasy, the film’s theme is no Luddite cautionary tale but rather just a melancholy observation of human relationships. This is how it’s always been. We’re quite accomplished at failing each other…and ourselves.

There’s nothing so condemnatory as that statement in Eternal Sunshine, a film that watches and weeps at a whimsical circus breaking down. It immerses us in Joel’s mind, Gondry’s in-camera effects and nearly experimental editing taking us tumbling through the increasingly tragic process of removing Clementine. When I first saw this film in the theater in 2004, I swore I would never do the thing that Joel does to try to heal himself, but I’ve lived some life since then and now I’m not sure I can say the same. I’ve deleted phone numbers and pictures on Facebook, had about a month where I was vigilantly untagging myself; I’m sometimes scared to even look at my feed. It doesn’t matter what the social environment is, humans will use whatever’s available to mitigate pain, especially emotional pain. But sometimes we need the thing we want to be rid of; there’s no actualization without vulnerability, risk, and, inevitably, hurt. The final shot of Eternal Sunshine lingers in my memory, always on loop: Joel and Clementine, stumbling in play away from the camera, on a snowy beach in Montauk. It seems like an extrapolation of the final shot of The 400 Blows: “Stuck in stasis” has become “stuck in repeat.” And, yet, in that shot is acceptance, possibly even hope. There are no spotless minds, but perhaps some still can shine. —Chad Betz


Fletch

fletch.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Michael Ritchie
Stars: Chevy Chase, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Tim Matheson, Joe Don Baker, M. Emmet Walsh
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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A comedy that borrows heavily from film noir, Michael Ritchie’s Fletch offered Chevy Chase a chance to show his comic range. Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher is an investigative reporter who assumed several wonderfully ridiculous disguises from John Coctotostan (“Can I borrow your towel? My car just hit a water buffalo.”) to Harry S. Truman (“My parents were big fans of the former president”). Relentlessly quotable and filled with memorable scenes (like his colonoscopy—”Mooooon River…You ever serve time, Doc?...Using the whole fist, Doc?”)—this is a comedy that only gets better with age. —Josh Jackson


In Bruges

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Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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You know you’ve tripped into the ambiguous realm of Postmodernism when medieval Europe, midget jokes and ultraviolence converge into a seamless whole. Theater auteur Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, In Bruges, thrives on these stylistic clashes with its narrative of two sympathetic hitmen who seek refuge in a European wonderland full of tourists and irony. The film’s visual appeal complements irreverent and hilarious dialogue—timed brilliantly with the Anglo-Saxon bravado of Fiennes, Farrell and Gleeson—to produce one of a most pleasant dark-horse dramedy.—Sean Edgar


James White

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Year: 2015
Director: Josh Mond
Stars: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Kid Cudi, Ron Livingston
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Eventually while watching James White, you’ll decide you simply cannot get a bead on its main character. The sooner you do, the better: Like no movie in recent memory, the feature debut of writer-director Josh Mond is a small marvel of even-handed empathy. Played by Christopher Abbott, James White has a restless energy, a self-destructive streak, a bratty sense of entitlement, and a fierce devotion to those he loves. So, what does that make him, exactly? A cautionary tale? Utterly insufferable? A misunderstood romantic? James White never quite decides, which isn’t the same as not having strong opinions about its central figure. Mond has nothing but feelings for White, and they’re compellingly complicated. Loosely based on Mond’s own life, James White spans about five months, but the jaggedness of the telling makes the movie feel like the scenes are simply ripped-out patches in a much larger quilt of a life. There’s a looseness to the film that’s attuned to White’s own twitchy psyche, but Mond constructs his story with care, keeping an eye on its emotional through line. White’s life is in tumult when we first meet him, but we soon get the impression that his life is always fraying—it’s just that, this time, his distant father has died and now that’s become the central focus of his personal whirlwind. White isn’t so much grieving the loss—he hardly knew the man—but, rather, is concerned about his divorced mother Gail (a terrific Cynthia Nixon), who has stage 4 cancer and doesn’t need the additional emotional blow. The second half of James White is given over to Gail’s unalterable condition, and Abbott and Nixon hunker down as their characters travel down a road that only has one final destination. Even then, though, Mond refuses to give in to sentimentality or easy takeaways. To call James White a coming-of-age tale is simplistic—plus, it creates an expectation that its protagonist actually grows in some sort of quantifiable, conventional way. Maybe White will turn over a new leaf later after the credits roll, but it will take more than an 85-minute film for such a change to occur. —Tim Grierson


Bernie

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Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham


Schindler’s List

schindlers-list.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 196 minutes

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It’d be hard to find a more inspiring, moving story to tell than that of Oskar Schindler, and in doing so, Spielberg produced one of the most ambitious, wise and moving motion pictures of our lifetime. The acting is superb—a career-making role for big lumbering Liam Neeson, so carefree and cocky at the beginning, so concerned and determined in the middle, and so noble and humble at the end of the film. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley are perfect in supporting roles. A host of unknowns give everything in their one moment on the screen. John Williams’s haunting score and Janusz Kaminski’s breathtaking black-and-white cinematography sparkle. But the script—oh, Steven Zaillian’s majestic script—is the biggest star. He manages to take a Holocaust tale and turn it into a story of triumph, the story of how much one man can do, and the regret we’ll each someday have that we didn’t do much, much more. Oskar’s “I could have gotten more out” speech is almost too much to bear. —Michael Dunaway


Body Bags

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Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Stars: Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Twiggy, Robert Carradine
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse. —Jim Vorel


Burn After Reading

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Year: 2008
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Coen Bros. fans are divided on this one, but as far as stories about dissatisfied, regular people who find themselves sucked into an episode of completely unnecessary intrigue, it’s one of the best. When a CIA analyst (John Malkovich) quits his job to write his memoirs, the misplaced recordings of his meaningless rants are mistaken by personal trainers Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand to be classified government information. Naturally, they decide to blackmail Malkovich, and things only complicate further from there. Burn After Reading may be a bit light as far as the Coens go, but Search Party fans will love the comedy it mines out of the sheer pointlessness of the whole adventure. As will fans of unexpected head trauma.


Born on the Fourth of July

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Year: 1989
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Tom Cruise, Willem Dafoe, Kyra Sedgwick
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 144 minutes

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Oliver Stone, essentially, found the perfect mouthpiece in Tom Cruise, as Vietnam veteran and anti-war protester Ron Kovic, to champion his own politics revolving around America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The scenes recalling Kovic’s experiences that result in his PTSD, paralyzing disability and alcohol abuse are as gut-wrenching as anything in Full Metal Jacket, and witnessing the development of those things after his return to his country is a tragedy unraveling onscreen all its own. Cruise is phenomenal as a man truly broken—physically and psychologically—by his traumas (as is the scene-stealing Willem Dafoe as a fellow wounded warrior). Despite ending on a hopeful thread, Fourth of July is a tough watch, but very worthwhile—perhaps even patriotically necessary. —Scott Wold


Buried

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Year: 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Stars: Ryan Reynolds
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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A film that spends its entire 95-minute runtime with a central protagonist who has been buried alive? Yeah, that’ll activate some triggers with the claustrophobics in the audience. Ryan Reynolds plays a man trapped in a fairly hopeless situation in this thriller, abducted and buried alive by terrorists seeking a ransom. Its cinematography gets creative in keeping an audience engaged for an hour and a half of a man trapped inside a small wooden box.—Jim Vorel


Nosferatu the Vampyre

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Year: 1979
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, Roland Topor, Walter Ladengast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Werner Herzog recreates the cornerstone of vampire cinema (and German expressionist filmmaking, for that matter) through an ever-mounting nightmare of unsettling, disjointed vignettes. Which isn’t anything new for the German director, but his methods and sensibility do lend themselves naturally to the language of phantasmagoria, as he tells a well-known story via one subconscious-upending image after another. As in any Herzog film, the story is never intended to hold together flawlessly—only barely logically—but to imprint indelibly upon the insides of the viewers’ eyelids the stark silhouette of evil borne absurdly from the primeval fear in all of us. That Klaus Kinski also plays Count Dracula means that madness bristles at the edge of every manicured line of chiaroscuro: Nosferatu revels in the beauty of horror. In fact, Roger Ebert said, “Here is a film that does honor to the seriousness of vampires. No, I don’t believe in them. But if they were real, here is how they must look.” —Dom Sinacola


Cape Fear

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Year: 1991
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Robert Mitchum
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Rating: R
Runtime: 128 minutes

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Robert DeNiro has proven he can go to some dark places with his characters, and few are darker, or creepier, than Cape Fear’s Max Cady. Cady is out of prison for most of the film, but the scenes of his tattooed torso and disturbing collection of books and pictures inside prison are where we truly get a sense of just how demented he’s become. Once released he relentlessly, and for the most part, legally, torments the family of Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who went out of his way to make sure Cady served as long of a sentence as possible. —RB


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

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Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship which resonates with children and adults alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time and the moment Spielberg’s career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains today perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin


Frost/Nixon

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Year: 2008
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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A small-scale film with a large purview, Frost/Nixon strategically captures the interview as journalistic art, as we watch David Frost (Michael Sheen) attempt to destabilize the most difficult of subjects, Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon (Frank Langella, in a captivating performance). The film doesn’t much dig into David Frost personally, other than to indicate that he’s an entertainer above all, used to coasting on his natural charisma and not quite prepared for the potentially career-ruining interview he’s signed himself up for. There are some fun, awkward scenes with Frost and his research team (featuring the always-enjoyable Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt), meeting and greeting the former president, too. But most of Frost/Nixon’s running time is dedicated to what Nixon dubs a “duel,” and it is exhilarating to watch Frost, initially pummeled by the pro opposite him, come back to life in the final round.


Secretary

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Year: 2002
Director: Steven Shainberg
Stars: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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With a Sundance release in 2002, Secretary quickly became notable for its somewhat unconventional take on the romantic comedy. With a wispy Maggie Gyllenhaal in the lead role, her transformation from self-abusing masochist to active participant in a sadomasochistic love affair is entrancing. Enough fantasy to dispel any criticism of the apparent lack of safe words, the film does appropriately transition from having Mr. Grey (a role tailor made for James Spader, that similarly makes you wonder if the only two works of fiction the author of 50 Shades of Grey had been exposed to was this and Twilight) hold the power in the relationship to having Lee take control later in the film. This point hits the nail on the head in understanding that it is the submissive that ultimately holds the most power in sadomasochistic relations. While suffering from some vagueness and perhaps naivety in terms of what a healthy sadomasochistic relationship really looks like, Secretary nonetheless is perhaps the most important mainstream informer into sadomaso relations before 50 Shades of Grey entered the popular consciousness.—Justine Smith


Short Term 12

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Year: 2013
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Lakeith Stanfield
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith. —Curtis Woloschuk


Highlander

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Year: 1986
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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The premise is delightfully bananas: In this world, a small group of people who are immortal wander the Earth in competition for a vague “Prize.” Unable to have children, they regenerate all bodily harm unless decapitated—whereupon some weird electromagnetic life force is transferred to the victor of the duel in an explosive phenomenon known as “The Quickening.” With each Quickening, an immortal gains the knowledge and power of his defeated foe. The last non-headless man left standing at the end of “The Game” claims “The Prize.” Immortals have a weird ability to sense one another when they get closer—probably because there would be no other way to easily identify one another otherwise. The only specific prohibition on their bloody bouts seems to be that fighting on holy ground of any kind is forbidden. (Why? Who enforces it if somebody violates the rule, the Immortal Police?) This seems pretty promising: Fighters who grow in strength and power, exponentially, with each successive victory, until only the two absolute baddest remain. They’d probably be throwing Kamehameha waves and kicking over buildings after thousands of years of accumulated power, right? Nope, it just comes down to two dudes with swords clanging away at one another in a poorly lit, abandoned, vaguely industrial setting. Despite this, the film has endured with a gritty story, Sean Connery goofing around, an unforgettably crass and vile villain and Queen on the soundtrack. Australian director Russell Mulcahy’s background was in music videos—Highlander has that same kind of stylized, operatic, overblown nature. —Kenneth Lowe


Inside Man

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Year: 2006
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Many may forget how masterful Lee can be when it comes to constructing prime entertainment with a solid structure and intense build-up. Aside from some commentary on post-9/11 New York, Inside Man endeavors to be little more than an ultimately engaging heist movie. Clive Owen and Denzel Washington share some nice chemistry as the sleek bank robber with an ingenious secret plan (Owen) and the world-weary cop (Washington) tasked to stop him, while the film’s non-linear structure methodically leads us to its clever climactic twist. Produced by Brian Grazer, this big budget genre exploit feels like a gun-for-hire job for Lee, but it’s nonetheless a fun cinematic lark with signs of serious underpinnings.


Knocked Up

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Year: 2007
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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For its many schlubby white-man sins—and its wolf-in-dog’s-clothing conservatism—Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up performs the essential romantic-comedy service of focusing on, in drawn-out detail, the consequences of not taking responsibility for oneself in any relationship. Though Alison (Katherine Heigl), television “journalist” and career-minded modern woman, is mostly just an impetus for a typical 20-something dude (Seth Rogen) to learn that it’s important to read a book sometimes instead of going out and getting drunk—Heigl’s character satisfied, despite all of her ambition, with someone whose only demonstrable sense of action is to read said book instead of going out and getting drunk—the two still have a very surprisingly ample amount of chemistry together. Which may just be that particularly Apatowan aspect of romantic comedies at its epitome—namely, that we’re willing to overlook a lot of bad storytelling if we like the characters despite ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


Pride & Prejudice

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Year: 2005
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew McFadyen, Judi Dench
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 128 minutes

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There have been many adaptations of the popular Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, but this one stands out in particular because of the exceptional chemistry between actors Matthew Macfayden and Keira Knightley, which plays out in the romance between their characters. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett don’t kiss until the very end of the film, which is rife with sexual tension until the last few minutes. However, when they do kiss, it’s worth the nearly two-hour wait. The kiss, which left Jane Austen purists upset (the characters never kiss in the novel), is sweet and chaste and comes right after Mr. Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth Bennett — leaving teen girls everywhere squealing in their seats. However, the characters never actually press their lips together. We can only assume that is what comes next after Mr. Darcy grabs Elizabeth by the cheeks and presses his forehead to hers.


The Deer Hunter


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Year: 1979
Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 183 minutes

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Ah, The Deer Hunter, a movie of grand ambition and messy politics, one that critics exalt for its thoughtful depiction of working class Pennsylvanians while in the same breath condemning it for its racist one-sidedness and ponderous ambiguity. But despite Michael Cimino’s shortcomings, with The Deer Hunter he created a film truly unlike any other, an episodic saga that captures what Pauline Kael eloquently called “poetry of the commonplace” while also boiling over with anti-war sentiment and palpable rage regarding American troops’ experiences in Vietnam. The film’s first hour alone is a work of art, a fly-on-the-wall documentation of life in a Pennsylvania steel town (with eastern Ohio mostly standing in), as a group of friends including Nick (Christopher Walken), Michael (Robert De Niro) and Julie (Meryl Streep) prepare for two key events: a large, raucous Russian Orthodox wedding and the imminent departure of the men for Vietnam, where they realize their lives will forever be changed. The film’s shocking second act, with its POW Russian Roulette games and Nick’s torturous break with reality, is of course its most memorable. But the scenes that bookend that horror ground its most ghoulish and surreal sequences in the real sense of despondency that threatened to drown many communities in the wake of the war. —Maura McAndrew


They Live

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Year: 1988
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Like most of John Carpenter’s movies, They Live can be read however one pleases—they are, after all, mostly about pleasing you. A sharp commentary on consumerism carved gleefully with a dull knife, or maybe something closer to a concerned embrace of the bourgeois joys inherent in dumb violence, or maybe just a weird-ass sci-fi action movie with a weird-ass leading man: They Live is, almost inherently, a joy to watch. It’s as if Carpenter’s tapped into some sort of primordially aligned pleasure axis along your spine, giving you the tingles as he balances insight and idiocy throughout his tale about a drifter (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who, with the help of magic sunglasses, discovers that the rich and powerful are just as grotesque as he’d always assumed. Every one of Carpenter’s odd plot choices click into place as if preordained, so that when Piper’s in a completely pointless, six-minute fight scene with Keith David, one can’t help but love that Carpenter’s in on the punchline with all of us, which just happens to be that there is no punchline. The fight scene exists for its own sake—as maybe much of They Live does. Carpenter’s a goddamn genius. —Dom Sinacola


The Place Beyond the Pines

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Year: 2012
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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In a bold follow-up to Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance continues his exploration of family ties with The Place Beyond the Pines. In his previous film, Cianfrance tugged on a frayed marriage, cutting back and forth between its idyllic, if not ideal, beginnings and its nasty, brutish end. Following up, the writer-director turned his lens on the relationships between fathers and sons in a stubbornly linear narrative that examines the concept of legacy in three distinct acts. With no one to play off of during much of the film, Gosling as the outlaw (and new father) Luke is called upon to convey a lot with little. Opposite him, Avery (Bradley Cooper), is an ambitious rookie cop with a law degree and a wife and baby at home. The son of a powerful local judge, he’s attempting to forge his own path but is stymied by corruption and guilt. Cooper’s role is slicker than Gosling’s but no less deep, as his character also experiences complicated reactions to fatherhood. It’s an emotionally intense, 140-minute viewing experience made all the more intimate with close-up camerawork that positions the audience in the characters’ points-of-view. Cianfrance mines male identity and emotion to stunning effect, due in no small part to Gosling’s layered, electric turn. —Annlee Ellingson


Apollo 13

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Year: 1995
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Text books tend to focus on the .1 percent of the time when everything goes according to plan and the missions are accomplished without a hitch, ignoring the 99.9 percent of instances where they fail miserably. An insanely high level of malfunction and breakage is the name of the game when it comes to space travel, though, where even the slightest miscalculation can result in disaster. A seemingly endless series of failures, inspiring more and more tenacity in those involved with the program, is how we got to the stars in the first place. Ron Howard’s classic procedural/thriller centered on the Apollo 13 moon mission that ended in a race for time to save the astronauts onboard after a malfunction with their pod showcases these brave scientists’ go-for-broke inventive spirits while presenting a captivating thriller in the process. The attention to detail as far as the scientific solutions for the problem are concerned create a realistic setting, while the heartfelt performances led by Tom Hanks’ astronaut hero Jim Lovell provided the irresistible Oscar-bait.—Oktay Ege Kozak


Nightbreed


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Year: 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charlie Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. —Jim Vorel


Dallas Buyers Club

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Year: 2013
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Despite some feel-good conventionality, Dallas Buyers Club succeeds thanks to its pragmatic view of its rather pragmatic hero. Inspired by true events, the film stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, who in the mid-1980s was living in Dallas and happily screwing every woman in town when a trip to the doctor uncovered that he was HIV-positive. A man’s man—in other words, a small-minded homophobe—Woodroof initially refuses to believe the diagnosis since he’s not gay, but after being told he has about 30 days to live, he focuses his energy on seeking out drugs that can help him survive. You walk away from Dallas Buyers Club not so much moved by the larger issues as you are by the simple, odd friendship forged by Woodroof and Rayon. These two accidental crusaders are heroes precisely because they never set out to be—they just wanted to stay alive. —Tim Grierson


The Big Lebowski

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Year: 1998
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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If you truly loved your kidnapped trophy wife, would you really ask a guy like Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski to deliver ransom money to her captors? Sure, he’s got plenty of time on his hands—enough to while away the days chasing down a stolen rug, at least—but he can hardly get himself dressed in the morning, chugs White Russians like it’s his job (incidentally, he doesn’t have a real one) and hangs around with a bunch of emotionally unstable bowling enthusiasts. Any mission you set him off on seems bound to fail. And yet that’s the great joy, and the great triumph, of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and its consummate slacker-hero. The Dude is a knight in rumpled PJ pants, a bathrobe his chainmail, a Ford Torino his white horse. Through strikes and gutters, ups and downs, he takes life in ambling, unshaven stride—and all without dashing good looks and unparalleled strengths. Isn’t that something to which we should all aspire? —Josh Jackson


Black Christmas

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Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
Stars: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin, John Saxon
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Fun fact—nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher legend of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


Prom Night

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Year: 1980
Director: Paul Lynch
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens, Anne-Marie Martin, Antoinette Bower
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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It is perhaps odd to think, in the post-Jason Voorhees era of slasher villains, that slasher killers of the early ’80s were often weirdly justified in their slayings. Sure, there are some “escaped maniacs on the loose,” but many are basically avenging angels, punishing groups of young people for a terrible crime they tried to sweep under the rug, with Prom Night standing as one of the classic examples. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her first slasher role after Halloween, Prom Night knows it’s trying to cash in on that earlier film’s success, but it also manages to stand on its own, inspiring imitations all the way to I Know What You Did Last Summer. Portions of the film are kind of rote, and even the best-looking versions you can find today have a soft, gauzy quality that makes the picture look a little strange, but when Prom Night is good, it’s great. Oddly, it’s not really Curtis who gets the best sequences, but actress Eddie Benton as Wendy, who participates in one half of what is maybe the best (and certainly most formative) chase sequence in the history of the horror genre. Stalked by an axe-wielding killer in a ski mask, the frenzied, eight-minute scene spools out for an eternity as Wendy is chased through the locked, echoing halls of the high school, illuminated in impressionistic, Argento-esque shafts of red light. Not all of Prom Night can live up to it (the disco dance sequences are dreadful), but the chase alone makes it a classic. —Jim Vorel


Sleepaway Camp

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Year: 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy, as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. —Jim Vorel


Children of Men

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Year: 2006
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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We remember the dread most—the sense of relentless, inevitable doom, from its literally explosive opening moments to its breathlessly ambiguous final seconds, the whole of Children of Men shot through with dismal grayscale, as if the human race were still coming to terms with its combustion though everyone waded through the ashes. In 2027, beleaguered former activist and current bureaucrat, Theo (Clive Owen), wanders amongst the increasing civil unrest fueled by British armed forces clamping down on refugees fleeing the rest of the world’s civilizational decline. Cynical and cornered by death at every turn, Theo can’t help but assist his estranged ex wife (Julianne Moore), taking on the protection of Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey), a Virgin Mary figure and the last known pregnant woman on Earth. Theo’s odyssey takes him through the last vestiges of a broken world, director Alfonso Cuarón staging terrible spectacles—an assault on a car, a nightmarish refugee camp, a wartorn urban battlefield—often in long takes (or digitally edited to appear as long takes) and weighted with unbelievably visceral stakes. Yet, despite all of Cuarón’s technical bravura, what remains long after Children of Men’s ended is its refusal to resolve Theo’s journey, to ascribe to what he’s accomplished any hope, hopeful that there is still time, but hopeless that there’s anything left we can do. The apocalypse has never felt so immersive. —Dom Sinacola


The Kids Are All Right

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Year: 2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Stars: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Everything is seemingly perfect in the lives of Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening). They both have successful careers, a 20-year-long marriage and two happy—but totally typical—teens, Joni and Laser. But when the kids, conceived through artificial insemination, decide to seek out their biological father and sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), unbeknownst to their parents, that pristine family life gets complicated… fast.

Somehow this film, from director Lisa Cholodenko, manages to address nearly every modern family trope in its hour and 45 minutes of run time. Such a grand tackling of the larger “family” narrative could have easily led to overgeneralizations and a superficial development of the film’s universally resonant themes, particularly with its lesbian leads. Luckily, the endearing, arresting performances from Moore, Bening and Ruffalo turn this drama into a candid look at how deeply we embed biology and blood into our notions of family and identity, and ultimately how little either matters as long as you’re loved. By pulling apart the concept of “family values” from nearly every angle, the film considers how we find and define our families. Lauded as a realistic and touching take on the changing face of the nuclear unit, The Kids Are All Right is a timeless deconstruction of family discourse. —A.W.


Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times

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Year: 1987
Directors: Prince, Albert Magnoli
Stars: Prince
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Prince’s 1987 concert documentary is one hour and 24 minutes of a generation’s greatest musical performer at the peak of his career (sorry, Boss). With his touring band that included Sheila E. on drums, Miko Weaver on guitar, Levi Seacer Jr. on bass, Eric Leeds on sax, Boni Boyer and Dr. Fink on keyboards, and Cat Glover dancing, the film pulls mostly from his 1987 double-album Sign O’ the Times, with hits like the title track, a piano interlude of “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look.” It was filmed at two European shows, but much of the music was re-recorded later at Paisley Park. Still, it has an urgency that only Prince can deliver, in multiple outfits, of course. Released theatrically in the States, the film received more love after it left theaters. Now it’s one of the best ways to see what the big deal is about a Prince concert. —Josh Jackson

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