25. Akira (1988)
Akira is a mindfuck. I could end the review on that, really, but it would be doing a disservice to how great a film it is. As a dark animated tale that’s set in a post-apocalyptic future, Akira blew people away when it came to American theaters in the late 80’s. Americans were used to Loony Tunes and maybe a couple of ninja turtles, certainly not an animated setting where people die, and die violently. Akira is a landmark in Japanese filmmaking. The first animated work to have lip synched dialogue, and with a whopping 160,000 animation cels, Akira was a blockbuster. The plot focuses on an ordinary bike gang in the post-apocalyptic Neo Tokyo. Best friends Kaneda and Tetsuo soon experience the strangeness of psychic powers and secret military experiments and learn just what happened to make their home into a hellhole. Akira is one of a kind, don’t discriminate against it just because it’s animated.
24. Aliens (1986)
Thought one alien was scary? Yeah, how about a thousand of them? Luckily for you, Ellen Ripley is back, and she’s still the most hardcore chick in space. After the attack of the first alien on the star ship The Nostromo, Ellen Ripley is the only survivor. After killing the beast, she sits in stasis waiting to be picked up for 57 years. When she’s finally revived, the Weyland Corporation, her employer, doesn’t believe her story. It’s not until a mysterious attack occurs on a colony where the Nostromo’s crew found the first alien egg that Ripley is called back into duty. This time, Ripley is accompanied by a rough and tumble assortment of space marines, and they mean to kick some alien ass. Unfortunately for them, the aliens are more than they can handle, and decimate the platoon. Those left, led by Ripley and Corporal Hicks must find a way to survive and get off the planet. Sounds pretty intense huh? Yup, it is. Aliens is a movie that outdoes its predecessor in every way, there’s just more going on in every scene. That, and the movie’s finale is just awesome, and you’ll be wetting your seat when you see the big mama, the alien queen.
23. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
He said he would be back, and he meant it. Like Aliens, Terminator 2 is better than the original in every conceivable way. The explosions are bigger and the story this time around is actually heartfelt. After failing to go back in the past and destroy the human resistance leader’s mother, Sarah Connor, the machines try to return one more time, this time targeting the rebel general himself, John Connor, only as he’s a boy. The machines send their best Terminator, the T-1000 to do the job. This machine is composed of liquid metal, and can reform itself even after being heavily damaged. All seems lost, until the humans from the future send their own captured Terminator back to help John. This is where the story gets really good, because the Terminator they send, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger as in the first Terminator film, actually develops feelings for John. The ending is so good because Arnold’s Terminator actually commits a noble sacrifice that shows that all beings can love, if given the chance. It may sound a bit mushy for an action film, but it works.
22. Children of Men (2006)
What would you do if the sound of children’s laughter faded away forever? You’d probably lose hope. This is the story of Children of Men, a film about just such a tragic idea. In this movie’s world, women are infertile, they cannot bear children. This means that the populace is aging, and they have no children to pass on their dreams to. In this dark world comes salvation. There’s one woman who, miraculously, is pregnant! The story focuses on one man, Theo, and his role in safeguarding this woman and her baby. Theo is a man who just doesn’t give a shit anymore, his son died in infancy, his wife left him, and he, like everyone else, is growing older and even more jaded. Yet despite such circumstances, Theo begins to believe in a better future again. This is a movie about hope, and if you have a soul, you will treasure it.
21. Rocky (1976)
Rocky puts other sports movies to shame. The story focuses on a young man, Rocky Balboa who tries to make it in Philadelphia as a boxer. Although Rocky is a tough guy, he has a heart of gold and adores his girlfriend Adrian. Eventually, Rocky makes it big and fights the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. In this fight, they go all out, and Apollo, nearly exhausted, says to Rocky, “we’re not doing this again.” In the end though, Rocky loses, albeit barely… but it doesn’t matter to him. He proved himself in the ring with Apollo Creed, and the crowd erupts in raucous applause for Rocky. In the aftermath, Rocky calls out to Adrian, and they embrace for all their love is worth. Rocky is triumphant in the face of defeat.
20. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Revenge of the Sith is so underrated it should be criminal. It tells the tragic story of Anakin’s downfall into the Sith lord Darth Vader. The film is the darkest of the Star Wars series, even beating The Empire Strikes Back. It probably also has the award for most number of crazy action scenes in any Star Wars movie as there are literally like five great lightsaber fights. From the fight with the coughing cyborg, General Grievous, to the epic final showdown on the hot magma planet Mustafar between master and pupil, Anakin and Obi-Wan, Revenge of the Sith has it all. I will admit the acting can be slightly wooden at times, but when Obi-Wan tries one last desperate time to convince Anakin to turn away from the Dark Side, I have to think reviewers are overly critical, as I thought that scene, and others like it were very poignant. Revenge of the Sith is the best out of the Star Wars prequels, and it’s a legitimately damn good film to boot.
19. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones is the best adventure you’ll ever have sitting down watching a movie. From the incredible first sequence of Indy going into a booby-trapped ruined temple and running away from a giant boulder, Raiders of the Lost Ark put moviegoers on the edge of their seat. The story centers around Indy trying to find the legendary Lost Ark, the chest built for the Ten Commandments. The Ark is said to have incredible power, and could lead a nation to victory in war. This, of course, is what brings the Nazis in search of it, and they make a good detestable villain. Raiders is a great time, just don’t look directly at the screen, or your face might get burned off… actually, it’s worth it, so watch it anyway.
18. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Lord of the Rings is basically the Star Wars of fantasy films. It’s the magnum opus of Peter Jackson and it’s easy to see the love and care he put into the film projects. The story takes place in the fictional realm of Middle-Earth, and it’s a swords and shields fantasy setting with plenty of mythical creatures strewn about. The plot centers around an evil entity named Sauron, and the quest to defeat him by destroying the One Ring. Destroying a little ring sounds easy, but trust me, it’s not. To do it, the Fellowship, a noble but rag-tag motley crew of warriors, must throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom in the depths of the sinister and orc infested Mordor. This is a tall task, and it’s evidenced by the fact that this is only the first out of three movies telling the deed. The movie starts out a little too slow, honestly, as it centers around some hobbit festivities for too long. However, once it picks up pace you’ll see Frodo (the ring bearer and main hero) running from all sorts of danger while his stronger companions save his hide with the help of their trusty swords, bows, and axes. The Fellowship is a great start to the film trilogy, but I thought it took a little too long to get things going. Still, with Gandalf’s epic confrontation with the fiery Balrog, it was more than worth it.
17. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
As Gandalf falls down a pit fighting the incredible power of the Balrog, the Fellowship manages to escape the mines of Moria. No one knows what became of Gandalf, and the fellowship becomes divided as the hobbits Frodo and Sam leave to go to Mordor alone as they fear the power of the ring may corrupt the other members. The Two Towers is when the story really heats up, as the Battle of Helms Deep and the battle Isengard both occur in this film. It goes without saying that the fight scenes are just stupendous and is the definition of movie magic. You really feel the clang of swords and the whooshing by of incoming arrows. There has to be tens of thousands of actors in each of the battles and how Peter Jackson managed all of it still baffles me. Either way, while this is the middle of the story, and is bound to leave you on a cliffhanger, it doesn’t even matter because you’re enjoying the ride the whole way through. I mean, how can you not love a giant tree army destroying a bunch of orcs?
16. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
With the return of Gandalf, or rather, Gandalf the White, and the addition of powerful new allies like the Ents, the King of Rohan and his forces, and even a freaking ghost army, things are looking up in Return of the King. Until, the final battle actually begins and the men of Middle-Earth and their allies realize they cannot win against Sauron’s army. It finally comes down on the small shoulders of the hobbits Frodo and Sam to climb Mount Doom and throw the godforsaken ring into its fires. The scene of where Sam is carrying Frodo up Mount Doom is just the epitome of an unconditional friendship. The Return of the King is expertly crafted and I still don’t know how Peter Jackson managed to film those outrageously astonishing battle scenes… maybe he had a little help with Gandalf and one of his spells?
15. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Space: the final frontier… yeah, you know the rest. The original cast stayed in their respective roles from 1966 to 1991. That’s 25 years of Star Trek. In all that time, they weren’t able to top this theatrical triumph. Director Nicholas Meyer wisely chose to bring back Star Trek’s best villain, Khan. In the tv show, Khan was a genetically engineered tyrant who was defeated by Kirk and marooned on the planet Ceti Alpha V. Now, Khan has escaped, and plots his revenge on Kirk and the Enterprise. The film succeeds due to exhilarating scenes of space combat and moments where Kirk truly looks beaten. Star Trek II will also make a trekkie cry. “I have been and always shall be your friend.”
14. Apocalypse Now (1979)
War sucks, and no film has ever done as good a job showing that as Apocalypse Now. In Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz has lost his mind in the middle of the Vietnam War. He’s commanding troops with the will of a dictator, ordering them to do crazy things, all the while being completely separated from his chain of command. It has to stop, and Captain Willard is the assassin for the job. Willard, in the course of the war, has become somewhat insane as well, and the only thing he can think to do with his time is fight. He knows nothing else, and the war is always with him. The insanity of war is exemplified in the exchange Willard has with a random soldier in the midst of a nighttime assault by the Vietcong. Willard asks the soldier who’s in charge, and the man’s only response is “Ain’t you?” Vietnam was a senseless war, and Apocalypse Now shows this in its entirety, what happens when a man loses himself in blood. Also, stay away from Apocalypse Now Redux… it’s genuinely awful. All I can remember is that Willard was in some random colonial house talking with a bunch of French people about politics for an hour. It was painful, stick with the original.
13. Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver is a meditation on Nihilism. Nothing Travis does seems to matter. He desperately tries to make a difference, but, like the ancient myth of Sisyphus, who had to push a boulder all the way up a hill only to watch it roll back down everyday, Travis isn’t making any progress in life. He’s a mere taxi driver, and he needs something to do. Finally, he works out, shaves his head and purchases a gun to kill a presidential candidate. He’s not even political, he just wants to kill someone important so that he’ll be important. Luckily, fate intervenes, and a 14 year old girl who’s being used as a prostitute needs his help. For once, Travis can be important, without any artificiality. Taxi Driver is a poetic but disturbed vision.
12. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey is mostly boring. That’s the truth. However, notice I used the word “mostly.” That’s because when 2001 isn’t full of drawn out scenes of a space station turning in orbit, it has scenes that tickle your brain and do what only art can do, make you think. The film is about an ancient and mysterious artifact, The Monolith. Before The Monolith came, our ape-like ancestors could not use tools, after it came, they could. The main character of the movie, an astronaut named David Bowman, meets The Monolith again out in space at the end of the movie, and the scene that plays out is just stunning. You see Bowman meeting progressively older versions of himself, culminating in him seeing the earth as a giant infant, suggesting The Monolith has guided humans through evolution and that mankind has only just begun to fulfill its potential. 2001 will bore you mostly, but the moments where it doesn’t will inspire you and make you wonder about our origins.
11. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
The NeverEnding Story is the only explicit children’s film on my list. This says two things. Firstly, I usually don’t consider children’s films genuine works of art. Secondly, The NeverEnding Story is one of the few exceptions to that rule. This film is so magical and delightful that it will warm the heart of even the most jaded adult. The story’s main premise is that if you don’t read, the history of written worlds will be forgotten, consumed by “The Nothing.” There are two heroes in the movie, Bastian, the boy reading the book, The NeverEnding Story, and Atreyu, the boy inside its pages. They both encounter incredible characters from a racing snail, to the imposing but gentle Rockbiter who’s literally made out of rocks, to the most majestic dweller of Fantasia, the “luckdragon” known as Falkor. The whole experience is a children’s story worth hearing, and if you don’t imagine riding on the back of Falkor as he’s soaring above the clouds then you have no soul.
10. The Dark Knight (2008)
It might be a little early to call this one, and to put it so high… but I have a feeling that history is going to look kindly on The Dark Knight. This is simply the pinnacle of comic book movies, and it reaches beyond the mere typical summer popcorn muncher, to the heights of a soaring phoenix. The Dark Knight is about Batman, the man of the night, the defender of Gotham City. This is not a comic book though, so don’t expect easy fights and easy moral choices. No, this is a mature Batman for a mature audience. Basically, the Joker is in town, and he aims to not only destroy the city, but to show everyone in it that the basic of idea of goodness is a lie. He’s a maniacal villain, and only Batman can stop him. The scene where the two groups of passengers on separate ships must decide whether they’re going to kill the other group to survive Joker’s sinister game is one of the most taut and suspenseful scenes I’ve ever watched. The film also brings Gotham City to life with gorgeous architecture that, while modern, still gives off a gothic vibe. The Dark Knight is Batman come to life.
9. Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko is the same type of philosophical movie as 2001: A Space Odyssey… only it’s entertaining. Seriously, even if you don’t get the film, and I don’t think anyone does including myself, you’re still going to enjoy watching it. There’s even humor in it as well (the conversation about the Smurfs had me almost laughing to death). Donnie Darko is an eclectic blend of different film styles, all served up to a modern audience who usually don’t care about the hard questions in life. The plot focuses on a troubled teenager who wakes up one night to a, um, well, to a guy in a giant bunny rabbit suit who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days. The plot just gets weirder from there, but like I said, you’re entertained the whole way through. The film focuses on themes of depression and loneliness, which is perfect for its intended audience, young adults. I’m still not 100 percent certain on all the details of the plot, like why did Donnie have to burn down the pedophile’s house if the action would be reversed anyway and wouldn’t matter? These questions don’t detract from the film, they actually provide good philosophical discussions with fellow movie-lovers.
8. Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is the original cyberpunk movie. It’s also one of the most inspired science fiction films to ever make it out of Hollywood. Of course, it’s hard to talk about any single version of Blade Runner, as its director, Ridley Scott, is a perfectionist and has released numerous different editions from the theatrical cut, to the laserdisc cut, to the so called Final Cut. Whatever version you see though, you can’t really go wrong. The plot follows Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” whose job consists of tracking down and “retiring” (killing) bioengineered beings called Replicants. Blade Runner is a neo-noir film, and is basically a futuristic detective tale. It’s also a tale about what can be considered human, in an era where high technology reigns. Blade Runner’s visuals are just phenomenal, and the lighting in particular sparkles in this new world. Blade Runner will make you wonder what’s real and when life begins. It also has the greatest soliloquy in movie history, Tears in Rain, spoken by Roy, the Replicant leader.
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Randle McMurphy is a free spirit in a world of rules and confinements. It comes to bite him in the ass though, as he ends up going to prison for it. McMurphy is a cunning devil however, and he fakes mental illness to avoid hard labor, so he can go to the psychiatric hospital for a cushier environment. What he doesn’t know though, is life is actually going to get a lot worse, and he’ll wish he stayed in prison. Once McMurphy enters the hospital, he meets the steely eyed, heartless Nurse Ratched, who’s out to make everyone in her ward’s life a living hell. She subtly embarrasses the other patients, and maintains ridiculous rules designed to keep everyone in their place. McMurphy challenges Ratched’s authority, and becomes the de facto leader of the other mental patients. He tries to teach them to grab life by the balls, and not to let Ratched push them around. Eventually, things come to head, and things will never be the same. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a story about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a true American film, and its ending scene of the Indian running off into the break of dawn to find his own way is poetry on film.
6. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters is about a team of paranormal investigators who capture troublesome spooks with their “proton packs.” The movie is funny, but more than that, it’s heartfelt. You really care about these characters, and you want them to succeed. Ghostbusters was a blockbuster, and it inspired cartoons, video games, action figures, and a sequel that, in my opinion, is superior. Despite that though, Ghostbusters was the original, and it paved the way for the better Ghostbusters 2. Again, don't get me wrong, the first Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies, and I'll never forget how the boys in gray had to cross streams to defeat the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but I just like the sequel more. Anyway, it's got to be said, so I'll just say it... Who Ya Gonna Call?
5. Ghostbusters II (1989)
I know most people must think I’m crazy for putting Ghostbusters so high, and having the sequel beat the original. Well, I don’t care. I love Ghostbusters, and especially Ghostbusters 2. How Ghostbusters 2 gets lumped in with bad sequels still boggles my mind. Everything is just better. As crazy as Stay Puft and Gozer were, the new villain, Vigo the Carpathian, is much more imposing. Ghostbusters 2 is more than a comedy, it’s about a group of normal guys who rise up in incredible circumstances to become heroes. As David Bowie once said “turn and face the strange.” Basically, a river of slime flows under New York City, and Vigo, an evil entity trapped in a painting, is responsible for it. The city is falling apart, and soon enough, the mayor comes to the Ghostbusters to save the city, as they’re the only ones who can do it. Ghostbusters 2 is just epic, and when the crew gets the Statue of Liberty to break into Vigo’s lair, I still flip out. Don’t listen to the critics, Ghostbusters 2 is a winner.
4. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars is the most iconic movie series of all time. From the goofy droid C-3PO, to the brash and arrogant smuggler Han Solo, to the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the stuck up Princess Leia, to the huge but lovable wookiee Chewbacca, to the lead hero himself, Luke Skywalker, Star Wars has the most memorable original cast you’ll ever meet. A New Hope introduces these characters, and how they must fight the evil Galactic Empire, led by Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice, who is also Luke’s father, Darth Vader. It’s a high-spirited adventure, and our heroes must learn to deal with one another and somehow stop the Empire’s new weapon, the planet destroying Death Star. The sequence of where Luke fires his proton torpedoes into the Death Star’s exhaust port is just classic, hell, this whole movie is classic. Just remember, Han shot Greedo first.
3. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
After the Rebel Alliance blow up the Death Star, things seem bright, but it’s very fleeting. The Empire is cracking down, and soon they even find the secret rebel base on the ice planet Hoth. The good guys are on the run, and they can’t find any relief. In a single moment of luck, Luke goes to planet Dagobah and finds the Jedi master Yoda, who trains him in the force. Before Luke can get any respite however, he senses danger to Leia and Han, and he, against the wishes of Yoda, goes to Cloud City to save them. The Empire Strikes back is notable for being the first in the series to have a true lightsaber fight (Obi-Wan and Vader’s fight was pretty weak) and for having such a dark tone in comparison to the original. Most consider this the best Star Wars film of all time, but I respectfully disagree. The trip to Dagobah was quite frankly boring, the film ends on a cliffhanger, and quite frankly, I prefer my films to be uplifting, not dark and somber. Still, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best films ever made, and it’s on the number three spot for a reason.
2. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Luke has become a Jedi. He effortlessly infiltrates Jabba the Hutt’s palace and sail barge and saves Han from his carbonite prison. Still, the galaxy is a long way off from being at peace, and Luke and his friends must launch one last assault on the Empire to end the war once and for all. I will make a concession, despite me believing that this is the best out of the Star Wars trilogy, I don’t like the Ewoks… in fact, I detest them. The strength of this movie is how epic it is in spite of those furry little muppets. The final battle in space against dozens of star destroyers and the second Death Star is just absurdly awesome. The rebels, despite being outmanned and outgunned, give the Empire a hell of a fight. One of my favorite scenes in all movie history is in this film. When Luke refuses to become Palpatine’s dark apprentice and Palpatine mercilessly shoots him with bolts of lightning, Darth Vader silently looks at his suffering son, then at the Emperor, then at his son again, until he makes up his mind. He becomes Anakin Skywalker once more, as he, with just one arm, picks up Palpatine, all the while being shocked with electricity, and throws him into a pit. As Anakin lays dying from his wounds, Luke says “Father I’ve got to save you” but Anakin, knows his fate and thanks his son saying “You already have.” The Return of the Jedi could get to the number two spot just for this one scene of redemption from past mistakes.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Oskar Schindler is one of my personal heroes. Here is a man who was vain, greedy, but still did the right thing when it counted. Schindler’s List shows the best and worst of humanity in a single film. Every human needs to see this movie as it will teach them the meaning of a simple act of kindness towards another. The film is about the Holocaust, but it’s really about the nature of man. Oskar Schindler is no Jew, he has nothing to gain from helping them, but when they come to work at his enamelware factory, he feels obligated to help them survive and escape the concentration camps. The ending of this film made me cry, and I am not ashamed of that fact. When Schindler is thanked by his Jewish workers for saving all 1000 of them, and given a crude ring by his secretary with the Talmudic words “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” Schindler breaks down and weeps, knowing he could have saved even more if he sold some of his luxuries. He keeps saying “I could’ve got more” and each time he says it, you feel your heart break for such a flawed but noble man. This film could change a hate-filled heart to one of love, and for that, Schindler’s List is not only the most powerful movie ever made, it’s the greatest movie ever made.