The 45 Best Movies on Starz (November 2021)

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The 45 Best Movies on Starz (November 2021)

Starz continues to fly under the radar among its bigger premium cable and streaming competitors, but the channel (that many add onto Amazon accounts for extra offerings) has amassed a slew of movies available to its subscribers. HBO may have the prestige, but Starz has the much-better-curated lineup of flicks. Half a dozen films left the list in November, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.

From recent hits like Little Women to underrated classics—not to mention a bundle of ‘80s comedies and a classic coterie of Westerns—Starz continues to build a cinematic library to easily rival services like Netflix and Hulu. Needless to say, we’re fans, so here at Paste we want to highlight the many wonderful movies Starz has to offer at the moment.

Here are the 45 best movies on Starz right now:


1. Elf

elf_poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Asner
Rating: PG
Runtime: 97 minutes

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In a sense, making Christmas “funny” can be as easy as responding to something meant to be sincere and joyful with cynicism and darkness. Is there any comedic Christmas character that embodies a genuine love of Christmas? Thankfully, we have Will Ferrell’s fearlessly committed performance as the titular elf to answer this question with a resounding yes. Nothing represents Christmas cheer better than Will Ferrell in yellow tights, a green parka and cone-shaped cap. He wrings a ton of comedy out of responding to everything with wide-eyed, childlike wonder. Arguably our generation’s classic Christmas movie, watching Buddy the Elf makes you laugh, makes you smile and, to paraphrase from the Grinch, makes your heart grow three sizes bigger. Even if the movie devolves into a formulaic, race-against-the-clock flick in the last 30 minutes, its myriad gifts outweigh its problems. From endlessly quotable nuggets like “cotton-headed ninnymuggins”; the hysterical fruit spray scene; Zooey Deschanel showcasing her pre-She & Him singing chops; Mr. Narhwal and the arctic puppets (a band name if I ever heard one); to, finally, Ferrell’s infectious enthusiasm, Elf is instant holiday merriment. —Greg Smith & Jeremy Medina


2. Night of the Living Dead


24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero

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It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, “how does it hold up today?”, and the answer is “okay.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead, Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being a faithful remake. —Jim Vorel


3. The Ox-Bow Incident

the-ox-bow-incident-poster.jpg Year: 1943
Director: William A. Wellman

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In discussing classic films that involve Henry Fonda as he struggles against a rash legal decision, 12 Angry Men is more than likely the film that instantly enters one’s mind. Fourteen years prior, however, Fonda starred in a significantly bleaker version of a similar story. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident serves as a dark voyage into the dangers of mob mentality and what happens when human emotion supplants the justice system. Fonda plays Gil Carter, an aimless traveler in the 1880s who—along with his companion Art Croft (Harry Morgan)—ends up riding into the wrong town at the wrong time. A local rancher has apparently just been murdered and the hunt is on to find those responsible—by whatever means necessary. Clocking in at a sparse 75 minutes, the film serves as a master class in dramatic escalation, with Gil and Art first joining the posse as a means of self-preservation only to watch as events mount beyond anyone’s control. Though now more than 70 years old, The Ox-Bow Incident’s portrait of a community driven to its worse self by fear and distrust is sadly more relevant than ever. —M.R.


4. Sleepy Hollow

sleepy-hollow-1999-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Tim Burton

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Visually, there’s no denying that Sleepy Hollow is among Tim Burton’s most sumptuous films. A modern retelling of the story of Ichabod Crane makes Johnny Depp’s character an eccentric police inspector rather than a nebbish school teacher, although he does retain plenty of the typical Depp mix of awkwardness, vulnerability and smoldering sensuality. The story almost plays like a Burton film crossed with something by say, Wes Craven if it’s Craven in one of his more populist, money-making moods—a Georgian-era supernatural slasher film with a touch of American giallo as Crane tries to work out not the identity of the killer (the headless horseman) but who is controlling the killer. It all builds to a big finale that feels a little out of place and overwrought, a seeming overture toward making a financially successful film that doesn’t feel entirely necessary. Sleepy Hollow is at its best in its quieter moments, living off the strength of Depp and its creepy art direction, rather than when resorting to fight and chase scenes. But the gothic visuals definitely do carry it quite a ways. —Jim Vorel


5. Get on the Bus

get-on-the-bus-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Spike Lee

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Reggie Rock Bythewood’s screenplay uses the premise of a group of men—more placeholders for the many differing experiences of the African-American male than fully fleshed out characters—from different generations and backgrounds traveling cross-country to participate in the Million Man March as a way to contextualize and question what it meant to be Black in the ’90s. Through both their rifts and commonalities, Get on the Bus tackles the many controversies that surrounded the march: the exclusion of Black women, homophobia in the Black community, even a harsh but necessary discussion of Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. Lee gives life to these characters via a docudrama approach, sitting the audience as a passenger on the bus (as clichéd as that may sound). A chilling final shot leaves no doubt that there’s still so much work to be done, still so many marches to be had.—Oktay Ege Kozak


6. Miller’s Crossing

millers-crossing.jpg Year: 1990
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

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Like O Brother Where Art Thou a decade later, Miller’s Crossing is a terrible choice for those who prefer their Coen films a little less Coen-ish. It’s highly stylized, confusing and often ridiculous. But the parts that do work are glorious: Gabriel Byrne’s casual indolence, Albert Finney’s blustering menace, and most of all, John Turturro’s masterful painting of the spectacularly weaselly Bernie Bernbaum. “Look in your heart!” —Michael Dunaway


7. Child’s Play

childs play poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: Tom Holland
Stars: Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Child’s Play is one of those late ’80s gimmick slashers where it’s all too easy to feel as if you’ve already seen the film, without actually having sat down to watch it. Killer doll, very cheesy, plenty of one-liners, right? Well yes, and no. The original (and pretty obviously best) entry in the Child’s Play series is the most serious-minded (at least slightly) and grounded of the movies, and it goes out of its way to humanize its iconic killer Chucky—or the spirit within him, that of serial killer Charles Lee Ray—more than one might expect. If you’ve never seen a film in the series, ask yourself this: Did you know that the plot of Child’s Play is technically all about voodoo? Because it is. In the end, though, its greatness and inherent watchability boils down to the charms of the wonderful Brad Dourif, who found in Chucky the vessel he needed to become a genre legend forevermore. Like Robert Englund did with Freddy Krueger, Chucky becomes the most beloved aspect of the series because Dourif’s voiceover just oozes charisma and character—he’s more alive than any of the flesh-and-blood characters in this series could ever be. It’s just one of those sublime moments of perfect casting—it’s easy to imagine that no one would remember the Child’s Play series today if that one aspect had been different. —Jim Vorel


8. Crooklyn

crooklyn.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Spike Lee

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Crooklyn won’t go down in Lee’s filmography as a thematically important achievement, but it still might be his most heartwarming work to date. This makes sense, since it’s pretty much an autobiographical film about growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, communicated through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. Sure, he takes on some serious issues, like the drug use that permeated his neighborhood, but it’s mostly a love letter to his youth, giving back to the borough that defined him as an artist and a person. Zelda Harris is downright adorable as Troy, a precocious nine-year-old firecracker in 1973 who’s beginning to truly discover her home and how it connects to her family, which is made up of her four siblings, her teacher mother (Alfre Woodard) and her jazz musician father (Delroy Lindo). The exuberant color scheme makes Brooklyn look like a child’s dream, full of hidden wonders, placing the audience squarely in Troy’s point-of-view. Crooklyn also holds the distinction of employing the most surreal application of Lee’s trademark “floating” tracking shot.—Oktay Ege Kozak


9. The Rider

rider-zhao-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Chloé Zhao

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A dream dissipating. The Rider begins with flashes of a horse, in close-up, so intimately observed we immediately abandon all assumptions of symbolism or pretention of deeper meaning. Chloé Zhao’s second film invites social commentary and political dissection—it’s about the obsolescence of a certain way of life; about the death of toxic masculinity as exigency of a frontiersman’s spirit of adventure; about the failure of rural America to embrace an obvious socioeconomic future—but there’s nothing clearer, or more devastating, in The Rider than the bond between cowboy and horse. Said cowboy, and aforementioned dreamer, is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young, lithe South Dakotan rodeo rider still recovering from a head injury, a blurry accident we re-watch with Brady via YouTube video on his phone. With a cast of non-professionals basically playing themselves, Zhao rarely pushes her actors to too riskily delve into melodrama, or anything, for that matter, that might make them uncomfortable. Instead, in Jandreau and his family, Zhao discovers a beautiful, intuitive sense of calm, which she reflects in long, mournful shots of Dakotan vistas, so unhurried and unhindered by the boundaries of the screen that each interstitial segment—often of Brady contemplating the world before him as he stands, his hip cocked, before a magnificent sunset—feels overwhelming. What cinematographer Joshua James Richards can do with a camera bears the weight of countless filmmakers in thrall to the pregnant possibility of this marvelous continent. Every frame of this film speaks of innumerable lives—passions and failures and tragedies and triumphs—unfolding unfathomably. —Dom Sinacola


10. Trading Places

trading-places-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: John Landis

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A biting take on the The Prince and the Pauper story as filtered through the prism of the Decade of Greed, Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as, respectively, high class broker Louis Winthorpe III and homeless street vagrant Billy Ray Valentine. As part of a “nurture vs. nature” experiment by the Duke Brothers, two wealthy, yet unscrupulous business magnates, Louis and Billy end up abruptly, per the title, trading places on the social ladder. The Dukes frame Louis for drug dealing, resulting in him losing both his job and his girlfriend, and then bail Billy out of jail and provide him with Louis’ old job and high-class apartment. Once Billy and Louis discover this deception, they launch a plan for vengeance. Featuring both Murphy and Aykroyd at the top of their game, Trading Places represents a prime example of the kind of smart, yet decidedly un-PC comedies that could only exist at a certain point in the ’80s (Aykroyd’s blackface-heavy disguise in one scene, for example, would never fly in today’s market). A stone-cold ’80s classic if there ever was one. —Mark Rozeman


11. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

lock-stock.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Guy Ritchie

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Guy Ritchie’s debut film, a super-stylistic take on the gangster formula, pays homage to the work of Quentin Tarantino—from the sardonic humor, to slapstick violence, to the twisty plot, you could call it the British Reservoir Dogs on crack. Vinnie Jones plays Big Chris as tough as he looked on the football field but also as a loving new dad. P.H. Moriarty is the out-of-control crime boss ‘Hatchet’ Harry Lonsdale. And its obtrusive soundtrack—a mix of classic rock, reggae and pop—brings it all together.


12. Groundhog Day

Thumbnail image for Groundhog1212.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Harold Ramis

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In the rich vein Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code, Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a rude, unhappy man who, after spending the day covering the news of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania’s groundhog celebration, wakes up to relive the day once more. There’s little explanation as to why this happens, but Groundhog Day strips back all the mysteriousness and pretention of time travel as a concept to celebrate the hilariously mundane. It also helps that this film is a single-serve capsule of Bill Murray, America’s Greatest-of-All-Time Comic Sweetheart, at his very best.


13. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

my-hero-academia-heroes-rising.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Kenji Nagasaki

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Since it first aired back in 2016, My Hero Academia has secured its place as one of the best, if not arguably the best, shounen action anime of its generation. Set in a world populated by humans born with unique abilities known as “quirks,” the series follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a young boy who dreams of one day becoming a hero despite being born without any powers. Taken under the wing of All Might, the world’s number one hero, as his secret apprentice and gifted with the elder’s awesome generation-spanning ability One for All, Midoriya is accepted to the U.A. Hero Academy, and soon embarks on his personal journey to one day succeed All Might as the world’s greatest hero. The second standalone spin-off feature since 2018’s Two Heroes, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising takes place some weeks following the conclusion of the first arc of the series’ fourth season. With All Might now retired, Midoriya and his classmates are charged with a work study assignment protecting the residents of the small island of Nabu. Things quickly turn sour when the island is attacked by a group of villains led by the mysterious Nine; cut off from the mainland and with no way to contact their mentors for help, it’s up to Midoriya and his friends to uncover Nine’s plot and rescue the island from disaster. Sure, the action is thrilling and the visual effects are stellar, but Heroes Rising feels like an hour-long filler episode capped by an exhilarating 20-minute spectacle that’s as impressive as it is ultimately inconsequential. Maybe that’s enough.—Toussaint Egan


14. Call Me by Your Name

call-me-by-your-name-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Luca Guadagnini

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In Kyle Turner’s Paste review of Call Me By Your Name, he muses that in the film’s opening credits “there’s enough of a hint to suggest that, as Michael Stuhlbarg’s professorial patriarch Mr. Perlman mentions, the statues are ‘daring you to desire.’ The film, while occasionally inching towards it, never takes that dare.” Much has been made about whether the film flinches at the physical love it champions, or embraces with grace and decorum the same love, finding eroticism in other (maybe juicier, stickier) images. Regardless, the allure of Call Me By Your Name, the story of a 17-year-old rich white kid (Timothee Chalamet) and his Italian summer tryst with a hunky grad student (Armie Hammer), is in all of that anticipation and lazy anxiety, of never being quite sure what’s right for you because you’re not yet quite sure what “you” means. Perhaps Guadagnino never “takes that dare” because the film is less about the consummation of the two characters’ desires, and more about the dissolution of that consummation, the need to let it go for all its fantasy and excitement and confusion, and then to live with the quiet, needling regret that more could have been done, that somehow the desire, the sumptuousness of the flesh, should have been better grasped. It’s in Michael Stuhlbarg’s final, bittersweet monologue, as well as in Chalamet’s credits-long fireplace cry: Call Me By Your Name is an exquisitely shot movie, alive with the privilege and luxury of what it means to spend one’s formative sexual years in the Italian countryside, but more importantly, it’s a movie that aches far harder for the lives and relationships that could have been. —Dom Sinacola


15. There’s Something About Mary

something-about-mary.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

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...and it’s not just hair gel. Cameron Diaz’s titular character is the object of affection for a wide range of guys, not all of whom are NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Not without reason: She combines a certain Audrey Hepburn winsomeness with a certain Ava Gardner crassness, plus a sensibility that is as ’90 as anything this side of Jennifer Aniston’s haircut in Friends Season 1. Throw in a splash of Ben Stiller cringe-theater, Chris Elliott creepypants-comedy and cameos by both Jonathan Richman and a certain football star, and you have a Farrelly Brothers classic—raunchy, ridiculous, and somehow guffaw-inducing even when you know better. It’s sort of like if Otto Preminger’s masterpiece Laura were set in 1990s Florida and made into a comedy by drunk frat boys. What’s not to love? —Amy Glynn


16. The Dark Crystal

the-dark-crystal.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Jim Henson, Frank Oz

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In 1982, audiences were mixed on Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, which was very much not in the same vein as The Muppets or Sesame Street. The strange, mystical film reveled in its fantasy setting, and in particular, its unique character design. One of the primary races in The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are massive, grotesque and wizened vulture-like creatures reminiscent of the inhabitants of Versailles—if those inhabitants were already dead. That was enough to spook parents looking for softer family-friendly fare in the ’80s, and perhaps rightfully so. And yet, revisiting the film in 2019 ahead of Netflix’s prequel series, it still feels bold. The Dark Crystal was ahead of its time in a number of ways, both in its “puppets, but dark!” aesthetic as well as its outstanding use of animatronic arts. There are sequences within The Dark Crystal that make time for the unnamed, fascinating, totally bizarre creatures that inhabit the world of Thra. These moments aren’t tied to plot, only world-building—which is a luxury few fantasy properties feel they can afford. A now rarely-used narrative device sets up the world of Thra and the origin of the central conflict: There is a life-giving crystal that was broken in two, giving rise to two opposing races. The aggressive Skeksis took over the throne while their counterparts, the gentle Mystics, retreated to the mountains. Caught up in the subsequent war was an elf-like race called Gelflings, all of whom have now been eradicated other than Jen (adopted by the Mystics) and—as we later come to find—Kira (adopted by the Podlings). Jen is also the one who has been chosen to find the shard to restore the crystal, bringing peace and balance to Thra. (That opening narration saves almost an entire act of exposition, and allows The Dark Crystal to have a hugely respectable 93-minute runtime.) Aside from a unique take on a familiar “chosen one” fantasy trope, where The Dark Crystal really shines is in its visual splendor. It’s clear how intricate and ornate these creatures are for casual Muppets fans as well as modern audiences. The design work—from the large-scale characters down to Fizzgig—creates an environment where there’s something intriguing to spot in every frame. Thra is a dying world that nevertheless feels fully alive because of the care that Henson, Gary Kurtz and Frank Oz put in to managing all of these extraordinary details. —Allison Keene


17. Big Fish

Thumbnail image for big-fish-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 125 minutes

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It is hard to take a dysfunctional father/son relationship and make it into a magical fantasy world, but that’s just what Burton did in Big Fish. The director takes viewers on a journey of the life of Edward Bloom, an ordinary man who through his own storytelling has lived an extraordinary life. In just two hours Burton addresses death, infidelity and the feelings of estrangement with ease, but he never loses his sense of fantasy. By the end of the movie, Burton has you seeing magic in even the most mundane events and believing in the impossible.—Laura Flood


18. Whiplash

whiplash.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Damien Chazelle

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It’s easy to celebrate musical genius after the fact, overlooking the endless early years of struggle, self-doubt and maniacal dedication that went into making artistry that seems effortless. Happily, that’s not the case with Whiplash, which thoughtfully considers talent’s emotional and physical toll, and for most of its running time this character drama remains ambivalent about the sacrifices needed for greatness. If a young hopeful ends up to be Charlie Parker, then the pain was worth it. But what happens if he doesn’t? The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew, a first-year drum student at an elite New York music conservatory. With few friends and a father (Paul Reiser) he loves but also fears of becoming—his dad longed to be an author but wound up a high-school teacher—Andrew has staked his entire future on becoming a drummer. His goal is to catch the eye of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the intimidating, ruthless conductor of the school’s competitive jazz band. Fletcher immediately notices Andrew’s dedication, but his invitation to the young man to sit in with the group turns out to be a double-edged sword. The instructor’s admiration only means that he’s going to push Andrew incredibly hard, reducing him to tears and spraying demeaning, emasculating taunts until Andrew performs to his satisfaction. Teller shows his ability to play an outsider who’s not a stereotypical rebel or misfit but someone with great sensitivity and surprising anger. Quietly, Teller starts to reveal the depth of Andrew’s desperation, not just to become a world-class drummer but also to escape his father’s career failure and to prove to Fletcher that he’s got what it takes to succeed. Simmons is a fine complement in a far showier role, a force of nature with an uncompromising steeliness.—Tim Grierson


19. The Grandmaster

grandmaster.jpg
Year: 2013
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Stars: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Cung Le, Hye-Kyo Song
Genre: Martial Arts, Drama
Rating: PG-13

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Wong Kar Wai will indefatigably make anything elegant, and so it’s a given that The Grandmaster is a gorgeously paced historical epic told in patient piecemeal. A loose chronicle of the nascent legend of Yip Man, the film skirts the line between noir-ish tragedy and chiaroscuro thriller, rarely leaving room to discern the difference. From an opening set-piece that will leave you wondering why any other director since would ever bother capturing rain droplets in slo-motion, to one masterfully orchestrated balsa-wood-tower of martial arts prowess after another, there is little left to say about Wong’s directing other than hyperbole: This is heartfelt and beautiful action filmmaking, but never so far removed from the savagery of the action at hand that it romanticizes the pummeling of so many hapless foes. There are penalties to these punches and consequences to these kicks—there should be little doubt that The Grandmaster is not just a masterpiece of its genre but one of Wong’s best. —Dom Sinacola


20. Take Shelter

take-shelter-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Take Shelter is the story of a man named Curtis, haunted by visions of the swiftly approaching apocalypse. In his dreams and hallucinations, a vast “storm” is en route, something totally outside of the natural order of the universe, where black, tar-like rain will fall from the sky and his entire family (wife and deaf daughter) will be wiped out. Everything he sees in his daily life seems to hint at the impending doom of The Storm—he looks at a flock of strangely behaving birds and is terrified by the holocaust they represent in his mind. And so, he seeks to protect his family in the only way he can think of, by constructing an elaborate backyard storm shelter, even as the audience learns of the history of schizophrenia and mental collapse that runs in his family. These revelations about the likely source of Curtis’s erratic behavior take the film in directions both frightening and tragic. Key to the film is Michael Shannon, who plays Curtis with some of the most simultaneously sympathetic and genuinely frightening screen intensity that has ever been seen in this genre. Shannon is an intense actor, and his focus and latent aura of anger has been used to great effect in a number of films, but in Take Shelter they make him truly mesmerizing. And somehow, through it all, Curtis’ wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) is still there for him, trying with heartbreaking earnestness to bring him back down to Earth, even as he loses his job and depletes the family’s nest egg in the construction of his storm shelter. Eventually he erupts in a public outburst, scorning his neighbors for their lack of preparation, but Samantha is still there as his rock. It becomes clear that if Curtis has a chance, it will be because of the love of his family. The film builds this tension slowly and gradually over the course of a two-hour runtime, and when an actual storm does arrive, followed by Curtis gathering his family into the shelter, the viewer’s unease becomes nigh-unbearable. —Jim Vorel


21. Airplane!

airplane_netflix_poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams

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The writing trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) defined a genre with their disaster-movie spoof in 1980. The jokes fly fast and furious, from the “Who’s on First” confusion of a crew that includes Roger and Captain Oveur (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”) to Oveur (Peter Graves) asking a kid in the cockpit, “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” to an old lady translating jive (“Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit!”) to “stop calling me Shirley!” Ridiculous and ridiculously quotable, it’s the funniest spoof film of all time. —Josh Jackson


22. Starship Troopers

starship-troopers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven

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Glistening agitprop after-school special and gross-ass bacchanalia, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers delights in the ultraviolence it doles out in heavy spurts—but then chastises itself for having so much fun with something so wrong. Telling the story of a cadre of extremely attractive upper-middle-class white teens (played by shiny adults Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Nina Meyers, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris) who get their cherries popped and then ground into hamburger inside the abattoir of interstellar war, Verhoeven cruises through the many tones of bellicose filmmaking: hawkish propaganda, gritty action setpieces and thrilling adventure sequences, all of it accompanied by plenty of gut-churning CGI, giant space bugs and human heads alike exploding without shame or recourse or respect for basic physics and human empathy. As much a bloodletting of Verhoeven’s childhood trauma, forged in the fascist mill of World War II Europe, as a critique of Hollywood’s cavalier attitude toward violence and uniformly heroic depictions of the military, the sci-fi spectacle can’t help but arrive at the same place no matter which angle one takes: geeked out on some hardcore cinematic mayhem. —Dom Sinacola


23. Millions

millions.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Danny Boyle

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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 naïve 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


24. In Bruges

in bruges poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
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


25. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

tales-from-the-crypt-presents-demon-knight-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Ernest Dickerson

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Also notable is Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, the superior entry in the HBO series’ transition to the big screen, the other film being the lesser vampire story Bordello of Blood. Demon Knight, on the other hand, is a kooky combination of Night of the Living Dead-style “trapped in a building under siege” tropes and horror-tinged Christian mysticism, with more than a little comedy as well. Frank Darabont regular William Sadler stars as the guardian of a mystical Christian object that has the power to ward off demons, but is pursued by a demonic Billy Zane (yep, it’s the ’90s), who will bring about the end of the world if he gets his hands on it. Featuring a performance by a young Jada Pinkett that has made the film a significant object in Black horror cinema of the 1990s, the cult of Demon Knight fans has grown pretty steadily in the 2000s and beyond.—Jim Vorel


26. Monster Hunter

monster-hunter-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ron Perlman, Tony Jaa
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

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From Mortal Kombat to the Resident Evil franchise, writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson has consistently proven himself to be the king of videogame adaptations. He is able to take beloved properties and mold them into entertaining narratives that encapsulate their ethos and are accessible to both franchise fans and novices alike. This is no different with Anderson’s latest film, Monster Hunter, adapted from the popular Capcom franchise. He continues to create larger-than-life narratives that are just plain old fun. Monster Hunter begins with Lieutenant Natalie Artemis (the always badass Milla Jovovich) leading a team of soldiers in the desert, searching for a missing squad that seemingly disappeared without a trace. The group is suddenly transported into another world via an intense lightning storm. This is a relentless place, full of massive monsters who are out for blood. No matter their firepower, nothing seems to stop Diablos, a giant triceratops-like creature, or the Nerscylla, a nasty group of poisonous spiders the size of elephants. The tools of violence of the US military are rendered useless in the face of these titans. Monsters aside, the film ventures into a buddy action-comedy as much of the story focuses on Artemis and the Hunter’s (Thai martial artist Tony Jaa) developing relationship—and how they depend on one another for survival. They laugh, they joke, they make sacrifices for one another. Jovovich and Jaa make a remarkable team: The chemistry between the two actors is an endearing light in the middle of a gritty and violent film where humans are impaled and eaten. Anderson does not just rely on the monsters, but creates strong human relationships to encourage a deeper engagement than expected with a videogame adaptation.—Mary Beth McAndrews


27. The Father

the-father-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Florian Zeller
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The best line reading Anthony Hopkins gives during his monumental performance in Florian Zeller’s The Father comes in the film’s final scene, which is both a blessing and a king bummer. All anyone should want to do is live in that reading, sit awestruck at how Hopkins puts a name to the one thing that can assuage his character’s anguish and stare grief-stricken in the knowledge that the one thing he needs is the one thing he can’t have. The entire movie is an exercise in heartache, but it’s this final piece of dialogue that punctuates the drama preceding it and finally releases the suffering roiling under its surface. Hopkins’ character, also named Anthony, spends most of The Father fighting for his independence like a wolf cornered by hunters, stubbornly refusing to accept his clear mental deterioration and the need for professional help. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) has, as the picture opens, tried and failed several times over to find him a caregiver he’ll take to—and given her announced intention to relocate to Paris, her search has gained in urgency. Anthony isn’t pleased at her news. In fact, as they sit in his well-appointed London flat together, he gives her the business, expressing his opinion of her life plans with his canines bared. He’s not happy. But deep down, in the parts of him that remain self-aware, he’s mostly just afraid. Zeller has adapted The Father from his own award-winning play Le Père, and though he’s left the material of the script untouched, he’s transitioned to his new medium with subtle enhancements: Cinematographer Ben Smithard uses his lens as a screw gun, putting up figurative walls around Zeller’s cast in addition to the literal walls of the set. Visual claustrophobia compliments spatial claustrophobia, trapping the viewer in the flat and, far more importantly, in Anthony’s crumbling psyche. A simple open-concept apartment becomes labyrinthine through his point of view, and that’s before supporting characters begin to wander about its halls and loiter in its doors, in and out of his perception, assuming they were even there to begin with. Similar to how the characters are there to serve Anthony, the supporting cast is there to serve Hopkins. The stage belongs to him. What he does with it is something special, an unmissable performance from an actor with a filmography loaded with them.—Andy Crump


28. Little Women

little-women-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Greta Gerwig

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Problems with plot lines and coinciding facts have been points of contention among scholars, critics and fans of the cherished book for the better part of 150 years. Little Women has been adapted for TV, film, radio and the stage dozens of times, the most notable version (until now, arguably) being Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film starring Winona Ryder as an especially hot-headed Jo. But even that down-to-earth rendition—one that introduced Little Women to a whole new generation of bookish girls who were raised on American Girl, I might add—doesn’t approach these inconsistencies and questionable romances with as much rhythm and vibrance as Greta Gerwig’s spunky, magical Little Women. Like Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, (which also starred Saoirse Ronan as its lead), it has an uninhibited appreciation for life. Jo (a wisecracking, wonderful Ronan), like any good Jo, is fiercely independent, except when it comes to her sisters: She dotes on sweet Beth (Eliza Scanlen, who puts a wise spin on the doomed girl), reveres the poised Meg (an accurately cast Emma Watson) and brawls with feisty Amy (played by Florence Pugh, who breathes new life into the oft-detested character). Marmee (the earnest Laura Dern) is the whole family’s moral compass, constantly encouraging her children to do the most good. I can’t say I’ve seen every single Little Women adaptation ever made, but Gerwig, who also wrote the script, weaves the women’s storylines together in a more clever and effective manner than that of any of those I have seen. She doesn’t just flip Little Women’s narrative arc on its head—she cracks it open and scrambles it. It’s such an engrossing experience that looking back at the film’s events in the rearview feels more like remembering a mood rather than recalling a sequence of scenes. Each actress brought such color to her role that all the moments have since swarmed together in my mind, leaving me with a content glow. Gerwig has a way of making her audiences feel something different at every beat. Maybe Little Women isn’t the radical feminist pamphlet we all want it to be; maybe it was never progressive and never will be. But its triumphs are the little ones: a gust of sandy wind covering Jo and Beth as they cling to each other on the beach, Marmee taking the scarf off her neck to give to a weary father who has lost his sons to the war, the poor John Brooke (James Norton) giving up a new suit so his wife Beth can have a fancy dress. These moments of compassion relay new meaning in Gerwig’s film, even if we’ve seen them 100 times before. —Ellen Johnson


29. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

crouching-tiger.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Ang Lee

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Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic is not only the highest-grossing foreign film ever in America (still), but it also happens to be a film that changed the cinematic landscape: an old-school wuxia flick, with pulpy soul and a romantic heart, that reinvigorated the genre for a whole new audience. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi play 19th-century warriors whose loyalty and vitality are tested by a series of events that lead each to contemplate their many decisions that brought them together. Beyond the entrancing and lyrical storytelling, Crouching Tiger stands as a rare, beautiful beacon of hope: a foreign film that was actually universally embraced by Western audiences. Here’s to hoping that happens more often, though it’s been almost two decades and nothing has had the same impact since. —Jeremy Medina


30. Red Rock West

red-rock-west-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: John Dahl

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A key figure in the neo-noir renaissance of the early ’90s, John Dahl followed his promising if not-quite-there directorial debut Kill Me Again with the one-two punch of Red Rock West and, a year later, The Last Seduction (No. 55). For its part, Red Rock West is a classic pulp throwback, scripted by Dahl and his brother Rick. Nicolas Cage, all denim-and-drawl in a tailor-made role if ever there were one, plays a Marine-turned-homeless drifter who stumbles into the eponymous Wyoming town, and into a murder plot. Mistaken for a hitman by the hiring party (J.T. Walsh), he passes himself off as the assassin until he makes the acquaintance of his lovely target (Lara Flynn Boyle), and the real killer (Dennis Hopper). The list of plot twists grows long as the late-afternoon shadows, each double-cross bathed in a gorgeous wash of sun and aided by a twangy soundtrack. (Dwight Yoakam, who wrote a song for the film, shows up as a truck driver.) Red Rock West is terrific fun. It’s a confident, authentic entry in the modern canon that feels neither ironic nor like it’s trying too hard. —A.S.


31. Saw

30. Saw (Custom).jpg Year: 2004
Director: James Wan

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Whether you love or hate entries in the so-called “torture porn” subgenre of horror, one at least has to admit how influential Saw was, not only in the films it so clearly inspired but in the fact that it gave us a first look at director James Wan. If not for Saw, we wouldn’t have everything from Insidious to The Conjuring to even Furious 7, which proved that Wan is now a major Hollywood director. The first of the Saw films isn’t even all that “torture”-heavy; rather, it’s more of a criminal mystery of figuring out how these poor characters ended up in such a terrible predicament and who’s thrusting these terrible choices on them. A little overwrought and twisty, perhaps, but still a grounded story compared to the increasingly crazy and gimmick-heavy nature of the many sequels.—J.V.


32. The Thing

the-thing-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: John Carpenter

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No disrespect to the classic Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks version of The Thing From Another World from 1951, but John Carpenter’s 1982 reimagining of that story into The Thing is one of cinema’s greatest acts of modernization. In a manner that was mimicked six years later by the remake of The Blob, Carpenter took a thinly veiled Cold War allegory and cloaked it in his taut, atmospheric style, ratcheting up both suspense and the lurid payoff delivered by groundbreaking FX work, while expanding the mythology and capabilities of the titular monster. Every frame is a visual puzzle, as Carpenter’s camera drifts over empty hallways, open door frames and cloaked figures in the arctic air. Who is The Thing, and more contentiously, when and how did they become The Thing? The theories spiral endlessly into dark corners of the internet, as Carpenter’s visual clues and Bill Lancaster’s script seem to provide the audience with most—but never quite all—of the information they need to be certain. Rob Bottin delivers what may be the literal zenith of practical effects in the history of horror cinema during The Thing’s several transformation scenes, and particularly in the mind-blowing sequence featuring the severed head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) sprouting legs to become a crab-like creature, which attempts to scuttle away. The Thing has become an artifact of big-budget ’80s horror purity: Next-level special effects, a mind-expanding mystery, masterful direction and the awesomeness that is Kurt Russell/R.J. MacReady as the cherry on top. —Jim Vorel


33. Big Trouble in Little China

big-trouble-little-china.jpg Year: 1986
Director: John Carpenter

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Next to The Thing or Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China feels like little more than a lark, one more toss-off showcase for John Carpenter’s genre-bending curatorial spirit. Part goopy menagerie of grotesque special effects, part super-cool fantasy adventure, Big Trouble follows an all-American truck driver as he falls ass-backwards into a plot involving an ancient Chinese sorcerer seeking to fulfill a prophecy that will restore him to human form. The flick eschews most building-blocks of horror or tension to focus on carefree action bro Jack Burton, the aforementioned trucker played to the hilt by Kurt Russell, who was pretty much at the height of his laid-back dude-ical powers back in the ’80s. In fact, Carpenter may be that decade’s best unheralded action director, and Russell his charming muse, way more fun to watch than a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone or a VanDamme—Adonises barely able to grimace out full sentences, let alone crack a smile—because there wasn’t much more to what he was doing, or what Carpenter was filming, than going mullet-first into whatever madcap caper struck his fancy. All one-liners, shameless machismo, shiny biceps and a gnarly pair of mom jeans, Jack Burton is comparable perhaps only to John McClane in his unflagging ability to take absolutely nothing seriously about the serious situations constantly surrounding him. —Dom Sinacola


34. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director Marielle Heller

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One of the best things about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is how stubbornly it resists what you think it is going to be. Sure, this isn’t an exposé of Fred Rogers: In this telling, he’s kindly and pure—but the film never lets that be the end of it. The easy piety of the public perception of Mr. Rogers, the idea that you can simply Be Kind and stick to that platitude and that will be enough, is one the movie roundly rejects. Rogers himself is elusive, mysterious, but he’s also palpable and tangible: He exists in our physical realm and runs into the same challenges the rest of us do, sees the same pain and strife as everyone else. In fact, Mr. Rogers is not the main character of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The protagonist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, playing a fictionalized version of writer Tom Junod), a highly successful magazine journalist and new father who is cynical about the world and crippled with rage at his alcoholic father (Chris Cooper) for leaving his mother when she was dying of cancer. His editor (a charming, much-missed Christine Lahti) assigns him a short 400-word profile for the magazine’s “Heroes” edition of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, of course), and the two men meet and talk. You think the film is going to go in a familiar direction from then on, with the cynic journalist having his heart warmed by the human kindness (that word again) of this American hero. And it does, a little. But the movie is more willing to get its hands dirty than that. It wants to put in the work. The film is anchored in Hanks’ inherent goodness and likability as Rogers: He might be too big and too urgent to truly capture Rogers, but he captures the calmness of Rogers, that sense of total presence in the moment. The movie argues not that we should all be like Mr. Rogers, but that when tragedy hits us, and anger envelopes us, we must strive for grace wherever we can find it. The movie is tougher, and more rigorous, and more interested in the hard work of healing than empty slogans. It is true to the spirit of Mr. Rogers without every deifying him. I bet he would have loved it. —Will Leitch


35. The Abyss

the-abyss-poster.jpg
Year: 1989
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Waaaayyyy back in 1989, before disappearing beneath the waves with Titanic and Ghosts of the Abyss, James Cameron was torturing his cast and crew with the infamously punishing shoot of this nail-biter sci-fi thriller involving the deep sea exploration of an unidentified sub. Though generally remembered as “lesser Cameron,”—mainly due to a deus ex machina ending—The Abyss nevertheless rivets viewers with genuine tension throughout. (Claustrophobics, in particular, might want to give this one a wide berth.) Ed Harris is phenomenal as the foreman of a deep sea drilling rig in way over his head (sorry), and Cameron regular Michael Biehn gets to play the heavy this time. Of course, this being a Cameron project, the SFX were well ahead of its time, and still impress to this day. —Scott Wold


36. An American Tail

an-american-tail.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Don Bluth

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This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson


37. Paranormal Activity

paranormal activity poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli

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Here’s a statement: Paranormal Activity is the most wrongly derided horror film of the last decade, especially by horror buffs. That’s what happens in the wake of massive overnight success, and immediately derivative, inferior sequels: The original gets dragged down by its progeny. The original Paranormal Activity is a masterful piece of budget filmmaking. For $15,000, Oren Peli made what is probably the most effective “for the price” horror movie ever released, surpassing The Blair Witch in terms of both tension and narrative while pulling off incredibly unnerving minimalist effects. Yes, there are some stupid, “I’m in a horror movie” choices by the characters, and yes, Micah Sloat’s “get out here so I can punch you, demon!” attitude is irritating, but it’s calculated to be that way. Sloat is a reflection of the toxic “man of the house” attitude, a guy who would rather be terrorized than accept outside help. Meanwhile, Katie Featherston’s realistic performance as a young woman slowly unraveling is a thing of beauty. But beyond performances, or effects, Paranormal Activity is a brilliant case study in slowly building tension, and in raising an audience’s blood pressure. I know: I saw this film in theaters when it was still in limited release, and I can honestly say I’ve never been in a movie theater audience that was more terrified. How could I tell? Because they were so loud in the moments of calm before each scare (the most dead giveaway of all: when a young man turns to his friends to assure them how not-nervous he is). This was just such an event—there were actually ushers standing at the entrance ramps throughout the entire film, just watching the audience watch the movie. I’ve yet to ever see that happen again. Deride all you want, but the arrival of Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of us. —Jim Vorel


38. The Adventures of Tintin

tintin-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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It’s actually amazing that The Adventures of Tintin marks the first big screen treatment of the immensely popular comic book character in nearly 40 years (and, really, the first one of note originating from Hollywood, ever). After all, the intrepid carrot-topped reporter/sleuth stands with fellow Franco-Belgian characters Asterix and Obelix as a titan of European comics. Created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (under the pen name Hergé), Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages and inspired a decently rabid following of “Tintinologists” who have discussed, debated, critiqued and theorized on virtually every imaginable aspect of Tintin and his friends. (For proof, check out www.tintinologist.org.) Part of that can be attributed to careful guardianship of the property, first by Hergé himself and then by his estate. How else can one explain how a series started in 1929 and involving a resourceful boy and his resourceful and cuddly dog has escaped the clutches of the Disney merchandising behemoth? But then there’s also the fact that the new film’s director, some guy named Steven Spielberg, has held the film rights for nearly 30 years, waiting for the right moment to give Tintin his cinematic due. The Adventures of Tintin does just that. Not since Rob Reiner’s pop culture quote font, The Princess Bride, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a film worked so hard—and so successfully—to capture the spirit of the source material. —Michael Burgin


39. Steel Magnolias

steel-magnolias-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Herbert Ross

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Based on a stage play by Robert Harling, this story chronicles the bonds among a group of women in Louisiana. Occasioned by the death of the playwright’s sister from diabetes complications, it touches on the quotidian (but life-altering) dramas of friendship and love, marriage and parenthood, illness and lives cut short. Steel Magnolias stars Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts and is generally acknowledged to have initiated Roberts into stardom, though Sally Field’s performance is probably the standout. Not an overwhelmingly clever film, it is certainly a compassionate one, and it presents a humble and kind-spirited testimony to the sustaining power of female friendship. —Amy Glynn


40. The Craft

the-craft-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming

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The Craft is one of those touchstones of ’90s, teen-friendly horror (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer) that has blossomed into the ranks of “cult films” in recent years, whether or not it really deserves the nostalgia. You can at least admire its deft evolution of John Hughes-era high school movie tropes, presenting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, although the inspiration might be more accurately attributed to the likes of Heathers. This film came along during that brief, odd period of the ’90s when “starring Fairuza Balk” was not an altogether weird thing to see on a movie poster, and it’s a better, quirkier film for it. We all know where the story is going, once these gals start dabbling in witchcraft for the causes of popularity and petty revenge—nobody gets away with being this bitchy in fiction. It’s hammy, and melodramatic, and protagonist Robin Tunney is easily the least interesting of her own clique, and yet The Craft is still oddly watchable today. It’s a well-preserved time capsule of a very specific moment in the twilight of the MTV Generation. —Jim Vorel


41. Heat

heat-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann

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Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


42. Good Will Hunting

good-will-hunting.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant

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The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will (Matt Damon) is both exasperating and lovable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Will’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and never overwrought. —Amy Libby


43. Something’s Gotta Give

somethings-gotta-give-poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Nancy Meyers

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When you’ve got two giants of cinema exploring love later in life, you can expect great chemistry. That’s what happens with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton when the former breaks his streak of dating women in their twenties and falls for the mother of one of his girlfriends (Amanda Peet). With a soundtrack that spans genres and generations (Badly Drawn Boy, Jimmy Cliff, Paul Simon and Django Reinhardt, to name just a few), it’s a worthwhile take on the opposites-attract rom-com. —Josh Jackson painstaking testament to the all-in Hollywood spectacle.—Amanda Schurr


44. Jerry Maguire

Thumbnail image for jerrymaguire.jpg
Year: 1996
Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renée Zellweger
Runtime: 138 minutes

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Besides acting as the megahit blockbuster of 1996, Jerry Maguire also quickly achieved the status of the modern day romantic-comedy done right. Certainly, between Say Anything and Almost Famous, writer/director Cameron Crowe has never been one to hide his inner softie. Jerry Maguire is no different, featuring career-best performances from Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as litany of memorable lines still quoted to this day. And, let’s face it, whoever doesn’t get at least a little bit teary-eyed when Renee Zellweger proclaims, “You had me at hello,” is probably a Cylon spy who should be blasted away at once. —Mark Rozeman


45. Legally Blonde

netflix legally blonde.png Year: 2001
Director: Robert Luketic
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Jennifer Coolidge, Victor Garber, Matthew Davis, Holland Taylor
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 96 minutes

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If you like the color pink and are currently between the ages of 25 and 45, there’s a good chance you’ve practiced the “Bend-and-Snap” at home at least once in your life. Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon as the lovable blonde-sorority-girl-turned-law-student who proves to her doubtful ex-boyfriend and all the other Harvard kids to be actually, like, really smart, is a perfect example of all of the girl power Rom-Coms released in the early 2000s. It’s smart, it’s quotable, and the outfits are downright iconic. There’s nothing high brow about it, it’s just pure, unadulterated fun. Just like the “Bend-and-Snap,” the film Legally Blonde works every time.—Annie Black

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