Since I’m celebrating my 40th birthday on the day this is being posted (October 11th), I wanted to post something special. I’m not particularly intimidated about turning forty, it turns out it feels pretty much the same as thirty-nine felt. I feel pretty happy and grateful about my current existence, and while there are things here and there I would change, overall, things are pretty great. My brother had the brilliant idea to list (everyone loves lists) my favorite movie from each of my 40 years on the earth; and that idea, while brilliant, didn’t really allow me to give credit to the movies I really love. Honestly, I’ve got 15 favorites between 1985 – 1988 and none in some other years (looking at you 1982, and 2006 through 2010). I decided to list just my top 40 favorite movies; certainly not speaking to actual quality here, just my favorite movies.
It’s very easy to get a good idea of the types of movies that I enjoy by looking at this list, but it does bring up the sticky issue of how to characterize movie genres; yes, a movie can be an action movie – but it can also have elements of comedy, or fantasy, or something else! In my list in particular, there are representations from multiple genres, but really only 6 main genres (science fiction, action, comedy, horror, rom-com, and fantasy). However, since you could definitely break those down into more detailed sub-genres (Star Wars is Science Fiction Fantasy; but Star Trek is Science Fiction Action; and you could call Blade an Martial Arts Action movie, a Horror movie, a comic book action movie – etc.), in my list I have used more detailed genre descriptions. For the record – there are 14 action films, 11 Science Fiction, 8 comedy, 7 Fantasy, 6 Comic Book Action, 2 westerns, and unbelievably, 2 rom-coms. They do both involve Bonnie Hunt, so they’re more com than rom. No prison movies or war movies, or what I would call independent-art-house-movies. Navy Seals was close, but I will still call that ‘action’ over ‘war’. I’ll list the more detailed genres below. And yes, I cheated, there are actually 47 movies on this list. There are some ties – it was surprisingly hard to narrow the list down to 40! Anyone who knows me is not surprised that my math works like that. The words in italics are the IMDB summaries, because it’s always interesting to see how they describe movies.
Hopefully you’ll find this interesting, and it will give you a couple of ideas to watch with some high quality popcorn this weekend (that’s white-kernel popcorn popped in coconut oil with real melted butter drizzled over it). I included the "Honest Trailers" from Screen Junkies and the "Everything Wrong With" from Cinema Sins here and there, do yourself a favor, and fall into a hole of their videos (later, not now - now read this post!)!
40. Return to Me (Rom-Com) 2000, Directed by Bonnie Hunt. A man who falls in love with the woman who received his wife's heart must decide which woman it is who holds his heart.
Starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, with a really strong supporting cast that included David Alan Grier, James Belushi, Robert Loggia, Carol O’Connor and director Bonnie Hunt, it’s so much more than it could have been. Duchovny plays a man who loses his wife in a car accident, her organs get donated, and Minnie Driver gets her heart. They then randomly encounter one another, and begin to fall in love. The movie is sweet, strong, touching, and really hilarious. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely need to. If you did – watch it again for Hunt’s reminder to never shave your legs before a first date…that way you won’t let it go too far.
39. Silverado (Action- Western) 1985; directed by Lawrence Kasdan: A misfit bunch of friends come together to right the injustices which exist in a small town.
Lawrence Kasdan came out of the Lucas-Spielberg-Howard camp, having written on several Star Wars movies. He then directed this random fantastic western. It has great action sequences, some strong comedy, and a great cast including the youngest Kevin Costner ever, a young Kevin Kline, a young Scott Glenn, Danny Glover (he’s still too old for this shit), Brian Dennehy, and Linda Hunt. Watch it again for Jeff Goldblum, stealing a whole bunch of scenes when he rides into town looking to find a card game in the largest old west fur coat you’ve ever seen. Then watch Earth Girls Are Easy again, which didn’t make the list – but was very close, so much Goldblum!
38. Young Guns (Action –western) 1988; directed by Chistopher Cain: A group of young gunmen, led by Billy the Kid, become deputies to avenge the murder of the rancher who became their benefactor. But when Billy takes their authority too far, they become the hunted.
Two westerns on the list, and they are right next to one another. Starring key members of the ‘brat pack’, Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Semizeko, and Dermot Mulroney. This movie is fun and loosely (and I mean loosely) based on the true story of Billy the Kid. Watch it again for LDP’s knife twirling skills, for Terrance Stamp in a western, and for that ridiculous peyote scene. “Regulators! Mount up.”
37. Batman Begins (Comic Book Action) 2005, directed by Christopher Nolan: After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from the corruption that Scarecrow and the League of Shadows have cast upon it.
There are a couple of Nolan movies I love, including Memento and the Prestige – but I’m putting this one on the list. It really made Batman feel more real than he had up to this point, and seemed the closest to the 90s Animated Series yet – which of course, is the definitive version of Batman. There are some issues with it, Katie Holmes being one, and the pronunciation and depiction of Ras’Al Ghul being two, but hey – it’s still pretty fantastic.
36. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (Action) 1998; directed by Guy Ritchie: A botched card game in London triggers four friends, thugs, weed-growers, hard gangsters, loan sharks and debt collectors to collide with each other in a series of unexpected events, all for the sake of weed, cash and two antique shotguns.
There are a lot of movies that try to be cool (looking at you, Wanted) – but this one literally was cool. Plus, the first time Vinnie Jones became a movie thing and not just a ‘quickest ejection of any footballer from a game’ thing. So fast paced – awesome soundtrack – plus, introduced the world to Jason Statham, “too late, too late will be the cry, when the man with the bargains has passed you by!” In a roundabout way - responsible for the Transporter, which should also be on this list and the reason that Paul Feig’s 2015 Spy is almost on this list. Melissa McCarthy is obviously hilarious, but Statham steals every scene he’s in, with multiple rants about how skilled he is, and his demands to use the ‘face off machine’.
35. Tie – Bad Boys and Independence Day
Bad Boys (action) 1995, directed by Michael Bay; Two hip detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin.
I unashamedly love most Michael Bay movies (while being extremely unfond of Michael bay as a person – he’s terrible), and this is the movie that started it. He makes absolutely the best-looking action movies, including Armageddon and Transformers, but this one – a simple cop action flick starring a stand-up comedian and a rapper/TV comedian, started everything off. The stars are likeable, the action is fantastic, the villain threatening, and John Salley is a computer hacker? Watch it again for that scene of Will Smith running down the street in slow motion – cementing him as an action hero, and leading directly to …
Independence Day (science fiction action) 1996, directed by Roland Emmerich; The aliens are coming, and their goal is to invade and destroy earth. Fighting superior technology, mankind’s best weapon is the will to survive.
I loved Universal Soldier (which should probably be on this list) and I loved Stargate, but this is the movie that pretty much defined the Emmerich/Devlin combo. A fantastic marketing campaign that began in January of that year with the short Superbowl commercial that only showed the White House exploding – this is a movie that did almost everything right. A perfect ensemble cast, a literal three act format, scary aliens with a believable motive, and a relatable set of heroes. Bill Pullman was perfect as the everyman president, Jeff Goldblum is outstanding as a guy proving that math and science can save the world, and Ladies and Gentlemen: action hero Will Smith, who steals every single scene he is in – which then leads to Men In Black, another fantastic movie.
34. The Fifth Element (science fiction) 1997; directed by Luc Besson; In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr. Zorg at bay.
Completely original and mind-bending, with the most unique Chris Tucker performance of all time (that was going to be Prince, but his touring schedule would not allow it). This movie is really fun, visually stimulating, and allowed Tiny Lister to be president - of everything. Luc Besson let Jean-Paul Gauthier design the costumes how he saw fit, and the action is just off the charts bananas. Plus, that opera singer! Luke Perry! The Multipass! Gary Oldman's hair! It's fantastic escapism.
33. American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (martial arts action) 1987, directed by Sam Firstenberg; On a remote Caribbean island, Army Ranger Joe Armstrong investigates the disappearance of several marines, which leads him to The Lion, a super-criminal who has kidnapped a local scientist and mass-produced an army of mutant Ninja warriors.
Listen, this movie is terrible, really and truly terrible, but I love it so much. Michael Dudikoff is the American Ninja, and Steve James is his best bud and they battle ninjas through this whole movie. Yes, there are three other movies in the series, but this one is the most fun. It has the best beach ninja fight of any movie ever, and a pretty good bar fight too. Be sure to watch for the scene where Dudikoff’s double walks out of the room for him, and they left it in, presumably because he was either taking a nap or getting a snack or doing ninja-studying.
32. Tie between the Matrix and the Mummy – yes, an odd combination, but they came out the same summer, and I saw them back to back in the theater together multiple times, so they are always a bit linked for me.
The Mummy (fantasy action) 1999, directed by Stephen Sommers; An American serving in the French Foreign Legion on an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Hamunaptra accidentally awakens a mummy.
Not knowing what to expect when I saw this – it completely surprised me. I was familiar with Sommers from Deep Rising, a really fun tentacles-on-a-cruise-ship movie (watch that if you haven’t seen it), but this was so epic and so beautiful – plus, ILM gave the Mummy an updated look that made him a legitimate threat, instead of a guy wrapped in bandages slowly limping after his victims. Arnold Vosloo was the perfect choice, plus the introduction to American audiences of the beautiful Oded Fehr. This movie was so much fun, so entertaining, and really fantastic. Watch it again for the mummy’s reaction to Brendan Fraser threatening him with a cat. Always have a cat – they protect you from mummies, the science is sound.
The Matrix (science fiction) 1999, directed by the Wachowskis; A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
Talk about blowing your mind – remember the first time you saw this movie? There was nothing like it, and even its misguided sequels couldn’t come near touching how astounding it was. Keanu Reeves in a kung-fu style action science fiction master piece? Sure – absolutely. Also – we’re just batteries. Watch it again for Lawrence Fishburne being all around awesome.
31. Ghostbusters (sci-fi comedy) 1984, directed by Ivan Reitman; Three former parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.
Insanely quotable, insanely funny, and just completely irreverent – all-around entertaining. In the same vein, I feel like Fletch could have fit in here as well, but that was more of a single showcase. I still find myself laughing out loud whenever I catch Ghostbusters on TV, and I believe it’s a true testament to the advantage of making a movie with all your friends in it. Similar to Reitman’s Evolution, which just missed out on being on the list, it’s slightly anti-establishment, and just a bit crass – but man, it’s funny. Also – it has some genuine scares in it – something I felt was missing from the reboot that came out this summer. I did enjoy the reboot, I thought it was very funny, but not as funny as the original.
30. Fast 5 (action) 2011, directed by Justin Lin; Dominic Toretto and his crew of street racers plan a massive heist to buy their freedom while in the sights of a powerful Brazilian drug lord and a dangerous federal agent.
Of the soon to be eight movies in this series, why pick this one? Of the three that Justin Lin directed, it’s the best, and the one that added the Rock. The crew heads to Brazil and steals money from a drug lord. Featuring incredible action, great stunts, passable acting, and the most diverse cast of any summer blockbuster franchise ever – it’s endlessly watchable. And sure, those two cars can drag that safe around Rio during the climax, the science is sound.
29. Only You (rom-com) 1994, directed by Norman Jewison; Faith (Marisa Tomei) believes that two soul-mates can be united if they find each other. Suddenly postponing her wedding, she and her sister-in-law Kate both board the next plane for Italy.
Like I said – two rom-coms, this one co-starring Bonnie Hunt instead of directed by Hunt. Charming and funny, Marisa Tomei is at her best and Robert Downey Jr. basically being very RDJish, the movie is sweet and funny, as Faith learns to stop looking for fantasy crystal-ball love when real love is right in front of her. Fisher Stevens is fantastic as her brother, plus – Billy Zane!
28. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (comedy) 2005, directed by Shane Black; A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor.
Robert Downey Jr., just a bit before he became Tony Stark, in the movie that is really the beginning of his resurgence, and is absolutely hilarious. Featuring a great performance by Val Kilmer, the movie keeps you on your toes as it buzzes around L.A. during Christmas – because it’s a Shane Black movie, so it must take place during Christmas…I can’t wait to see how Christmas plays into his new Predator reboot.
27. Drop Zone (action) 1994, directed by John Badham; A tough cop teams up with a professional skydiver to capture a renegade computer hacker on the run from the law.
There are a lot of Wesley Snipes action movies to choose from, but this one is the top for me – playing a cop who has to go after a gang of skydiving baddies and featuring Gary Busey and Yancey Butler (Hard Target should probably be on this list as well), this movie is simultaneously ridiculous and awesome.
26. The Terminator (sci-fi action) 1984, directed by James Cameron; A human-looking indestructible cyborg is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.
Well, a barely human-looking cyborg. Originally Cameron wanted Lance Henrikson to pay the Terminator, as he believed he was more of an ‘everyman’, but Schwarzeneggar talked himself into the role. Slick, streamlined, and with time-travel done better than most other time travel stories, the movie was groundbreaking. I do love the sequel, but this one is so much more intimate and intense – with the slow transition in Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from helpless victim to determined survivor, plus, Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, the man who crossed time for her, come on – you don’t get more romantic than that. Just don’t start thinking about how John Connor had to spend time waiting around to meet Kyle Reese, then make sure he stayed safe, then subliminally get him to fall in love with a photo of his mother, then get him to volunteer to go back….it’s a complicated plan.
25. Trading Places (comedy) 1983, directed by John Landis; A snobbish investor and a wily street con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.
Easily one of the best comedies created, in my opinion. Featuring Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy at their very best – switched by crotchety old white dudes who make a bet on their ‘nature vs. nurture’ situations. Then, once they realize the scam – they team up to get revenge. Featuring fun support from Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliott – watch this again this holiday season, smart and funny.
24. The Avengers (comic book action) 2012, directed by Joss Whedon; Earth's mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.
When we would go camping when I was younger, my brothers and I would sit around a campfire and discuss our dream casting for a Marvel Avengers movie. We were close on some, but didn’t come anywhere near as good as the real thing turned out to be. After careful crafting of each of the characters in their individual movies, plus an incredibly charismatic villain capable of being bad enough to handle piles of good guys, the movie is the perfect coming together of individual heroes to make a formidable team. Whedon was the perfect director, and the movie is almost flawless, with heart, humor, and great action. Plus - the culmination of Clark Gregg's awesome Coulson work over the previous three flicks.
23. Showdown in Little Tokyo (martial arts action) 1991, directed by Mark Lester; Two cops have to work together to bring down the yakuza, while trying to protect a beautiful woman.
Another terrible movie that taught me everything I know about the Yakuza, and makes me miss Brandon Lee every single day. It runs through every single action buddy-cop movie stereotype: mismatched partners, a villain with a personal connection to one of the heroes; a damsel in distress, a barfight, a rescue scene, the partners helping each other grow, and an epic showdown with the villain. Plus, Tia Carrera before anyone knew who she was. The interaction between Lee and Dolph Lundren when they first meet and fight each other before realizing they are each other’s new partner pretty much sums it up. Lee: “You know all that upper body strength really slows you down.” Lundgren: “I’m not slow.” Lee: “You didn’t hit me.” Lundgren: “If I did, you wouldn’t be here.” Lee: “Hey, I’m not arguing…but you didn’t.”
22. Desperado (action) 1995, directed by Robert Rodriguez; A gunslinger is embroiled in a war with a local drug runner.
Rodriguez’s more widespread follow up to El Mariachi. There’s not much to this movie but outstanding visuals, stunning action, and an amazing soundtrack. Ladies and Gentlemen of the world (that is not Spain), the introduction of Antonio Banderas. Plus the introduction of Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi being hilarious, Danny Trejo as Rodriguez’s muse, and Cheech Marin gleefully expecting that the bartender never gets killed! Watch it again for that opening musical number - outstanding.
21. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (comedy) 1989, directed by Stephen Herek; Two seemingly dumb teens struggle to prepare a historical presentation with the help of a time machine.
Here is a perfect example of something that I will still sit and watch when it comes on TV. Yes, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are dumb and charming, but the true genius of this movie is the cast of historical characters they pick up along the way – Napolean, Billy the Kid (who takes to time travel right away), Genghis Khan, Socrates (still want to say so-crates), Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife?), Sigmund Freud, and of course, Abraham Lincoln. Watch it again for the scene where they get turned loose in the mall – it’s fantastic.
20. Aliens (science fiction action) 1986, directed by James Cameron; The moon from Alien (1979) has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, the rescue team has impressive firepower, but will it be enough?
Where the first Alien by Ridley Scott was more of an intensely intimate science fiction horror movie, this one shifts into an intense science fiction action movie with a wider scope. Featuring Cameron regular players Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Jeannette Goldstein, and Cameron muse Bill Paxton (he’s also in Terminator – go back and check out those punks), Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley reluctantly heads back into space, and once again has to deal with the xenomorph alien, just way more of them this time around, a super-shady Paul Reiser, an artificial Henriksen, and a larger than life alien queen. “Get Away From Her You BITCH!” still resounds.
19. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (comedy) 1986, directed by John Hughes; A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the principal thinks of that.
John Hughes really was a genius in terms of high-school coming of age movies in the 80s, and I love the Breakfast Club, but this one is easily my favorite. Ferris is the coolest kid in school, and really shows everyone how to best enjoy a day off, a baseball game, the art museum, fine dining, a parade, and just generally enjoying Chicago in the spring. Another endlessly quotable movie – I have an Abe Frohman, Sausage King of Chicago, T-Shirt that I love. Watch it again to sing along with the parade, and look for Bueller…..Bueller….Bueller – then have Kristy Swanson explain where he is.
18. Top Secret (comedy) 1984, directed by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrams, and David Zucker; Parody of WWII spy movies in which an American rock and roll singer becomes involved in a Resistance plot to rescue a scientist imprisoned in East Germany.
The Milwaukee in me had to have a ZAZ movie on the list – and while Airplane, the Naked Gun, and Hot Shots are all hilarious, Top Secret is my favorite – featuring a very, very, young Val Kilmer with just the silliest situations, it’s non-stop comedy. Favorite bits? While looking at a German menu - “I know a little German…he’s sitting right over there!” While the horse pulling their cart is coughing, “Is he okay?” “Yes, he’s just a little hoarse.” After introducing the character Déjà vu, a fighter for the French resistance, he says, “Haven’t we met somewhere before?” Genius.
17. Predator (science fiction action) 1987, Directed by John McTeirnan; A team of commandos on a mission in a Central American jungle find themselves hunted by an extraterrestrial warrior.
A classic action flick. The ultra-masculine commando team meets up with a foe they cannot defeat and he takes them out one at a time as they try to get out of the jungle. I like just about all the movies in the Predator franchise, and again, can’t wait for Shane Black’s reboot – don’t forget he plays one of the commandos in this one. The Predator is such a clean, smart, technological character, and really elevated the idea of what an extra-terrestrial in sci-fi movies could be. Watch it again to see Arnold and Carl Weathers have the most testosterone-fueled handshake ever.
16. Serenity (science fiction action) 2005, Directed by Joss Whedon; The crew of the ship Serenity try to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their numbers who is telepathic.
A bit of a gimmie here, the show Firefly was brilliant, but short-lived (I loved Dollhouse even a little bit more than Firefly). This was the opportunity for Whedon to bring it to the big screen, and for me, was my introduction to Chiwetel Ejiofor as he hunted Mal and team. Again, bringing Whedon’s signature random-misfits-thrown-into-a-family-situation concept into an adventure across the ‘verse as they discover the shocking truth behind an evil we never saw on the show. Fantastic – epic – heartbreaking, for multiple reasons! Wash is still a leaf on the wind. Watch it again for that stunning opening single-shot sequence that tours the Serenity.
15. Mortal Kombat (science fiction martial-arts action fantasy) 1995, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson; Three unknowing martial artists are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament whose outcome will decide the fate of the world.
Before Anderson brought us the Resident Evil franchise, he started with Mortal Kombat. Having played every version of the game, from 1 through the new PS4 X version, I couldn’t wait to see the movie, and was not disappointed. It’s basically just different fights in awesome settings. That’s all you need. Plus, Robin Shou from my favorite Cynthia Rothrock movie – Honor and Glory. It’s also the reason Kano suddenly became Australian in subsequent MK games, thanks to Trevor Goddard’s scene-stealing performance. Watching Cary Tagawa face off against Christopher Lambert was awesome, and everyone loves a practical Goro. Flawless Victory!
14. Raiders of the Lost Ark (science fiction action fantasy) 1981, Steven Spielberg; Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.
I mean, easily one of the best movies of all time. Indiana Jones is a fantastic hero, and this is my favorite of the Indy movies. There are so many sequences that are just brilliant – the Himalayan bar fight and ensuing fire, the snake pit, anything Sallah does, the hanger bit (classic!), the airplane fistfight bit, the sword-wielding villain bit, and of course, the melty-faced Nazi bit. And let's be honest, it's the reason you want every travel sequence in every movie to have a moving red line on a map. Just outstanding. Harrison Ford at his absolute best. Also – the reason I will not eat dates to this day, that monkey may have been a jerk, but he didn’t deserve that.
13. Tie between Captain America Winter Soldier and Captain America Civil War.
Winter Soldier (comic book action) 2014, directed by the Russo Brothers; As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
Shot like a 70s political thriller, this movie saw the downfall of SHIELD, plus the emergence of Cap as a modern independent hero. Incredible practical effects and stunts with the right amount of comic-book-ness, this movie is just fantastic. It clarified Black Widow’s abilities, and introduces Falcon in the coolest way possible, instantly making him a wonderful friend for Cap and a capable sidekick. Plus – Robert Redford!
Civil War (comic book action) 2016, directed by the Russo Brothers; Political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
Honestly, this one is almost too new to have on the list, but I really loved it. The division between the sides of the Avengers is demonstrated just right, and the Russos are careful to not let either side seem too correct, or too easy to choose. A movie that starts with a huge epic storyline, featuring the airport fight sequence in the middle of the movie – which is easily the best comic book action sequence on film. The movie then boils down into a very intense, very intimate fight between two former friends. It’s tough to pull off, but the Russos did an amazing job, and I cannot wait to see what they do next. Plus – Black Panther, finally!
12. The Fugitive (Action) 1993, directed by Andrew Davis; Dr. Richard Kimble, unjustly accused of murdering his wife, must find the real killer while being the target of a nationwide manhunt.
Another example of Harrison Ford at his absolute best and Tommy Lee Jones at his very best as Jones chases Ford around Chicago, while Ford tries to solve his wife’s murder. Smart, interesting, and well-made; a great movie. Watch it again to “not let them give you any shit about your ponytail” and to contradict Joey Pants when he says Milwaukee has an ‘L’. We do not.
11. Blade 2 (comic book action) 2002, directed by Guillermo del Toro; Blade forms an uneasy alliance with the vampire council in order to combat the Reapers, who are feeding on vampires.
Why the second one? Because this is the del Toro one. Why this and not Hellboy, or Hellboy 2? Tough call there, I prefer Hellboy 2, but I have a soft spot for Blade, and watching him take off after Luke Goss’s amped up del Toro-style vampire is pure action fun. If you’ve been watching the Strain (you should be), go back and watch this again to see the strigoi-style vamps early on. I love the relationship between Blade and Kris Kristofferson’s Whistler. And for me, who never saw Boondock Saints, this was my introduction to Norman Reedus, and is probably why I still can’t stand him. Also – Matt Schultze, who had a bit part in Blade 1, shows up in this completely transformed into a new dude. Impressive. Watch it again for Ron Perlman’s introduction shot, where he rises slowly into frame - at his most creepy.
And now for the top ten…
10. Ladyhawke (fantasy) 1985, directed by Richard Donner; Philipe Gastone, a thief, escapes from the dungeon at Aquila, sparking a manhunt. He is nearly captured when Captain Navarre befriends him. Navarre has been hunted by the Bishop's men for two years, ever since he escaped with the Lady Isabeau who the Bishop has lusted after. Navarre and Isabeau have a curse that the Bishop has placed on them that causes Navarre to be a wolf during the night and Isabeau to be a hawk during the day. Navarre insists that Philipe help him re-enter the city to help him kill the heavily guarded Bishop.
Featuring Matthew Broderick two years before Ferris Bueller, this is a medieval set fantasy movie with early Rutger Hauer and early Michelle Pfeifer. It’s charming, action packed, a little scary from time to time, but it’s overall a beautiful story about how love can eventually conquer all. Also – be on the lookout for Alfred Molina as the hunter.
9. Jurassic Park (Science Fiction action) 1993, directed by Steven Spielberg; During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
Another movie that just blew my mind the first time I saw it. I had read the book before the movie came out, and this is one of the few times I would say the movie is better. The book is early Crichton, before he started writing his books like they would inevitably become movies, so it’s more science than fiction – filled with charts, graphs, chaos theory and details about velociraptor-building. The movie was astounding with a great cast, and Spielberg outdid himself in building the sense of tension, as well as treading the careful line between portraying the dinosaurs as villains and victims of corporate greed. And the combination of practical and computer effects – with the first time computer generated dinosaurs look real enough to terrify you. Watch it again for Jeff Goldblum, and to remember the feeling you had the first time you realized the T-Rex hand her tiny hand on the fence, which mean it was no longer electrified! Plus – her hero shot at the end, absolutely amazing!
8. Tie between Star Trek IV and VI – my two favorites of this series.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Science Fiction) 1986; directed by Leonard Nimoy; To save Earth from an alien probe, Admiral James T. Kirk and his fugitive crew go back in time to San Francisco in 1986 to retrieve the only beings who can communicate with it: humpback whales.
Surprising light and fun for the third film in a fairly depressing trilogy sandwiched in the center of this franchise. Nimoy was able to give his castmates a little more free reign but tell a really good story too. Having just gotten Spock back, heading to 1986 San Francisco gave everyone the ability to find some really humorous situations including trying to find transparent aluminum, getting ‘money’, and Spock swimming with whales. I particularly like the end, where the crew has to stand trial for the hijinks they pulled in Star Trek 3 while trying to save Spock.
Star Trek VI: Undiscovered Country (Science Fiction) 1991; directed by Nicholas Meyer; On the eve of retirement, Kirk and McCoy are charged with assassinating the Klingon High Chancellor and imprisoned. The Enterprise crew must help them escape to thwart a conspiracy aimed at sabotaging the last best hope for peace.
Maybe not as popular a choice, but I’ve always been partial to this one, not just because of Iman as a weird shape-shifting alien. It’s the perfect final film in the original series movie franchise as Kirk and co. save the galaxy from a huge conspiracy, as well as begin to build a peaceful relationship with the Klingon Empire. Kirk has to learn that his long-developed hatred of the Klingon race cannot continue to be applied to every member of the species. Watch it again for the lines, “Once again we’ve saved the universe as we know it.” “And the good news is this time they’re not going to press charges.” It’s the perfect send off for this crew and a smooth hand off to the new crew.
7. Willow (fantasy) 1988, directed by Ron Howard; A reluctant dwarf must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen.
Coming out of the Lucas/Spielberg camp, Ron Howard the director emerged from Ron Howard the actor in the mid-1980s. This movie is a wonderful example of great storytelling, great action, great effects, good comedy, and again, some genuinely scary moments. Another example of Val Kilmer at his most charming as Madmartigan, the greatest swordsman to ever live.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (comic book action) 2014, directed by James Gunn; A group of intergalactic criminals are forced to work together to stop a fanatical warrior from taking control of the universe.
This is one that snuck up on me. Honestly, by fall of 2014, Marvel had proven they were doing things right, so I was excited about this movie, despite only knowing the characters from that one appearance in the animated Avengers show. The absolute genius of the movie was not something I was ready for – amazing action, fantastic casting, and some really touching moments layered over a team-building origin story made for a near-perfect movie. Who knew a scene between a CGI raccoon and a CGI tree could make me cry?
5. Highlander (science fiction action fantasy) 1986, directed by Russel Mulcahy; An immortal Scottish swordsman must confront the last of his immortal opponents, a murderously brutal barbarian who lusts for the fabled "Prize".
One of my all-time favorites, a simple action story told over multiple centuries. And honestly, I did like the TV show even more, but this really is the one that kicked everything off. Christopher Lambert stars as Connor McLeod of the clan McLeod – born in the highlands of Scotland in 1518, and killed in battle with the Kurgan in 1536 – Connor learns he can’t die, and drifts through history, battling other immortals for the ‘prize’. No – I still don’t exactly know what the ‘prize’ is. But hey – the very Scottish Sean Connery playing an ancient Egyptian pretending to be the Spanish Juan Sanchez Villalobos Ramirez is always going to be entertaining. Watch it again to realize this is the movie that started your Clancy Brown appreciation, and honestly - cemented my love of Queen, thanks to their mastery of the soundtrack.
4. Die Hard (action) 1988, directed by John McTiernan; John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save his wife Holly Gennaro and several others that were taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
The perfect action movie, no question, and a Christmas regular in our house – we watch it every year. Bruce Willis stars as John McClane, a very every-man hero who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to oppose one of the very best villains ever to grace the screen in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. The movie is fantastic characters layered over a fairly simple story in a very strong setting. Watch that final embrace between Willis and Reginald VelJohnson again, and see if you don’t get a little misty.
3. Princess Bride (fantasy) 1987, directed by rob Reiner; While home sick in bed, a young boy's grandfather reads him a story called The Princess Bride.
This really ought to be on everyone’s list. Once of the most beautifully epic stories told, and told through the device of Peter Falk telling a story to Fred Savage, who starts out opposed to the story, but then really gets involved of the story of Princess Buttercup, and her love Wesley, and their adventures. Again – endlessly quotable, with fantastic sequences, and really amazing casting. Watch it again for Mandy Patinkin’s justice versus Christopher Guest’s villainous six-fingered man. “Hello…My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”
2. Labyrinth (fantasy) 1986, directed by Jim Henson; A 16-year old girl is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.
One of my all-time favorites. Jennifer Connolly plays Sarah, struggling to solve David Bowie’s maze in time to rescue her baby brother while various Muppet inhabitants of the labyrinth either help or hinder her as she goes through the process. In the end – was it real? Was it a dream? Either way, it was an amazing adventure!
1. Star Wars – original trilogy as one big movie. However, if I have to place them in order of my love:
1c. Star Wars Episode 3: The Return of the Jedi, 1983, directed by Richard Marquand; After rescuing Han Solo from the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the rebels attempt to destroy the second Death Star, while Luke struggles to make Vader return from the dark side of the Force.
1b. Star Wars Episode 1: A New Hope, 1977, directed by George Lucas; Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.
1a. Star Wars Episode 2: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980, directed by Irvin Kershner; After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.
Simply put, my favorite movie – because of George Lucas’s incredible story, and Mark Hamill’s dedication in portraying that story. Because really, only Luke has any kind of character shift throughout the course of the three movies, going from weak and wimpy farm boy to self-confident Jedi Master who is determined to face down the greatest evil in the galaxy despite the personal pain and connection to him – in an attempt to bring peace and balance to the force. It’s epic, it’s glorious, and it’s incredibly fun. It also spawned a huge expanded universe featuring multiple books, toys, TV shows, comics, and now finally more movies. I loved the Force Awakens, and as the perfect thought for my 40th birthday, I still get emotional thinking about what my 10 year old self would have said if I had told her, “You know that thing you love that everyone makes fun of you for liking now? In a few years, it’s going to be the biggest thing on the planet, you’re going to get more movies, and the leads of those new movies are going to be a black guy and a girl! Hang in there - it's going to be amazing!" (incidentally, the only thing better for me would be a biracial female lead - yes, I'm still bitter that Sydney Tamiia Poitier was not cast as Wonder Woman).
There are those who would say that the film industry is not what it used to be, that nothing is original anymore, that film companies are more concerned with churning out profits than making quality movies, but the truth is – it’s not about the quality of a film, it’s how much you personally enjoy the movie. Did you have a good time while eating your popcorn? You did? Awesome – mission accomplished.
Here’s to looking forward to another 40 years of entertaining movies!