7. The Road Warrior
The second installment in the Mad Max series stands alone by casting a shadow over the other films in the franchise because it is the most morally ominous of them all. With Fury Road taking the franchise in a new direction, The Road Warrior is still the stick all Mad Max movies shall be measured against.
The brilliance of The Road Warrior comes not only from its brilliantly executed introduction that allows the film to thrive on its own as a self-contained story. It also allows the character of Max to begin his journey as a desert marauder on a quest for survival rather than a wounded warrior morning the loss of the world that he used to be a part of.
Max begins his journey in the film as Mad Max rather than the man the world called Max Rockatansky that lost his wife and child to the chaos of the new world being formed. The beauty of The Road Warrior lies in its simplicity. It revolves around very primal motivations for every character, adapting to the post-apocalyptic world by fighting to survive. Gasoline, water, food and learning to fight are basic instincts in this cruel world where humanity is stripped back down to its animalistic basic instincts.
Although some people criticize the film for being too basic or not having enough dialogue but it ironically defines the genre through every characters primary role in the film which is ACTION. Each character is defined purely through their actions otherwise they’ll be eaten alive by the renegade gangs that rule the desert.
The film led the pack of 80’s action films that all predicted a grim future for humanity right next to Escape From New York, The Terminator and RoboCop. The movie has all the charm of a low budget drive-in muscle car flick, but what segregates from so many imitators is that it has an original concept matched with great characters.
What more could you ask for when you’re looking for a great time at the movies? Buckle up and enjoy the ride through the apocalypse with one of the coolest gunslingers since Snake Plissken, Indiana Jones and The Man With No Name.
The science fiction genre was typically an aesthetically hyper-stylized alpha male fashion show of Westerns in outer space until Ellen Ripley came along and there was a new sheriff in town. Although Alien is mainly regarded as a horror film that essentially uses the fundamental elements of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe in space, Aliens transforms itself into a psychological thrill ride masked in gunfire.
James Cameron managed to transform Aliens into an action movie without losing the dark tone or psychological edge of its predecessor while mixing in a new supporting cast of characters along with the way. Although many sequels attempt to carry the torch sparked by the original film that came before it, Aliens expands the world the characters live in while raising the stakes.
The story is fundamentally a fight for survival for Ripley, the Extra Terrestrial species that are her arch nemesis and the military-industrial complex that desires to study the aliens. Not only do we get to see Ripley take on her maternal instincts when we meet Newt, we also see the typical gender tropes inverted when Dwayne Hicks becomes in danger and Ripley saves the day.
We also see the philosophical questions asked by the role of the android Bishop which is further explored in the film Ridley Scott made instead of this sequel when he directed the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner. Cameron remains the crowned king of sci-fi action blockbusters because he manages to push the envelope with special effects technology every time he makes a new film while being able to tell an exciting story.
Not to mention the film contains one of the best Mama Bear showdowns film has ever seen when Ripley takes on the Alien Queen to save Newt after she torches the nest of Alien eggs. Ripley continues to be one of the most dynamic, intelligent and ass-kicking heroine’s film has seen to this day in any genre.
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Arguably one of the greatest action films ever made, it could even be said that this movie is a sequel that is seen as equal or better than the original movie that came before it. The Terminator does contain a wildly original concept and great characters, but does feel much more dated than T2.
Judgment Day certainly lives up to its name with the opening scene of T-800 crushing a skull beneath its steel skeletal foot as it stand on a mountain of human remains in a grim portrayal of the future for human kind.
T2 also asks a lot of bold questions about war, technology, evolution and the self-destructive nature of humanity for a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The man with the thickest accent in Hollywood delivers the performance that made him a superstar by taking on a role tailored to his strengths: a robot that looks human designed to kill that barely talks.
Not too mention Linda Hamilton turns Sarah Connor into a whining damsel in distress into an ass-kicking matriarch that is believable as the mother of the man leading the human resistance after the end of the world. In this film we also see the psychology behind John Connor sending a T-800 back in time for protection against the icy T-1000 to educate himself about the future as a child.
The T-1000 is the ideal foil as a villain to the T-800 because of it is a soulless killing machine bent on doing anything it takes to destroy John Connor that is completely defined by its actions. James Cameron brilliantly educates filmmakers on how to expand the world within a sequel while creating the characters in a new light by showing different shades of their abilities and personality.
The film also serves as a master class in how to write a bulletproof script for an action movie almost more than any other film out there with its incredible eye for imagery while constantly developing the characters and the story simultaneously.
4. The Dark Knight
This film set the golden standard of how Hollywood adaptations of comic book characters are embodied onscreen for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons being its believability. Regardless of its PG rating, children could enjoy the film despite the truly terrifying moments throughout the story. More importantly, no other comic book characters have ever been brought to life onscreen as intensely original as this before.
Christopher Nolan creates every character within the film to have a level of empathy within their philosophy on life and death no matter how evil they are. Even the Joker logically explains his perspective on why he sees society as a cruel charade to humanity to give Batman a chance to understand him in the interrogation room.
The plot is like an elaborate maze with deadly new challenges at every turn as the Joker plays a chaotic game of cat and mouse while Batman tries to remain true to his own moral code. While murder runs rampant during the Joker’s reign of terror, Batman begins to question his internal instincts and true role in the world while the survival of Gotham hangs in the balance.
This film also reveals many overlooked sides of Bruce Wayne as he attempts to rekindle his love for Rachael, but the movie reveals that Bruce Wayne is really the mask that Batman wears to exist. The movie also includes emotionally dynamic performances from the ensemble cast including Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal that help define the moral and emotional landscape of the story.
The real fireworks come from watching the incredibly magnetic performance of Heath Ledger as he truly embodies the Joker on a cinematic level reserved for characters like Hannibal Lecter. Christian Bale brilliantly creates the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman but watching him face off against Ledger is where the real drama unfolds.
With an airtight script, dynamite performances across the board and a wildly original take on these legendary characters, The Dark Knight allows movies based on comics to finally be taken seriously. The film demands to be evaluated as a great movie, not just a great comic book movie that is endlessly imitated, but so far has never been equaled by other films adapted from the world of comics.
3. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Anyone who has ever slung a six shooter without a regret or remorse should tip their hat to this masterpiece that continues inspire filmmakers around the globe. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly continues to stand the test of time because it still explodes on the silver screen over four decades later thanks to some of the most iconic characters film has ever seen.
Typically sequels become more lackluster as the franchise attempts to soldier on, but in this case, legendary director Sergio Leone ended his monumental trilogy with bang heard around the world.
The film essentially contains three lethal adversaries squaring off against each other on the hunt for lost gold during the American Civil War. One could even make the argument that each character is psychologically three different versions of the same person according to the structural model of the psyche from Sigmund Freud.
This theory would have Lee Von Cleef as the id, Eli Wallach as the ego and Clint Eastwood as the super ego. As Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes race against time while they duel to the death, they tread across the vast American frontier dealing with bandits, Mexican missionaries and soldiers from both sides. Each of the leads gives a career defining performances that not only solidified the sub-genre of Spaghetti Westerns but forged tropes for action films that can still be seen today.
Thanks to the dynamite dialogue chalked full of golden post-mortem one-liners (“When it’s time to shoot, don’t talk, shoot.”), cunning action sequences that strike like a bolt of lightning and one of the most jaw-dropping soundtracks audiences have ever heard. Film is essentially the marriage of sound with motion, and thanks to Ennio Morricone expertly crafting one of the most epic original soundtracks ever heard, the film blazes across the screen like a hail of gunfire. The score itself allows the characters internal struggle to explode like dynamite to allow the characters to become larger than life.
This film surged its influence through generations of filmmakers around the globe thanks to its uncanny ability to spike audiences with adrenaline and an emotional range rarely seen in the action genre. Who knows if directors like John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez would even exist without being inspired by this soaring cinematic achievement?
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly continues to define both the Western and Action genres by elevating them to soaring heights no one dared to dream of thanks to maverick director Sergio Leone. Audiences have never looked at the Wild West or rogue anti-heroes on screen quite the same way before or since. Prepare to witness the birth of cool.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
Audiences and artists around the world don’t call it the Star Wars saga for no reason. Although the prequel trilogy are some of the most insulted films ever made, it is partially because nearly no other film series has ever been so beloved by fans worldwide as the original Star Wars series.
The Empire Strikes Back proves that sequels can truly embody a novelistic approach to storytelling that allows them to turn the story itself into mythology by creating a universe of its own. Star Wars did exactly that by giving birth to the term “blockbuster”, but also by creating some of the most legendary characters and dialogue the history of film has ever seen.
The movie also follows historical story arcs that include allowing the second installment of any trilogy to be the darkest of the bunch for the simple reason that the bad guys win on many fronts. The Empire Strikes Back sees almost every character that is perceived as a hero or one of the “good guys” to fail in some major regard.
With the Rebel Alliance on the run, Han Solo is being hunted down by intergalactic bounty hunters while Luke is learns he might not have any of the skills it takes to become a true Jedi. We get an opportunity to see each character pushed beyond their limits and reveal their true self by seeing how they react to tragedy whether they misplace their trust or fail to rise to the occasion.
The film is bursting with exciting new characters that define the face of the franchise and provide pivotal turning points in the story including Yoda, the Emperor, Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian. The film also contains two of the biggest plot twists in the story including Darth Vader revealing himself as Luke’s father and Princess Leia revealing her true love for Han Solo before he is frozen.
Empire throws every major character through an emotional wood-chipper to test their strength and ability to survive when they are forced to put themselves back together after being figuratively (in some cases literally) torn apart. The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest of all the Star Wars films for its tragic love story and test of wills that illustrate the purpose of each character and the magical power storytelling on film.
1. The Godfather Pt. II
This film combines Vito’s origin story from the original novel with the tale of Michael transforming into pure evil during his tyrannical reign as the family patriarch created by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola. Although Martin Scorsese was originally slated to direct the film after Coppola turned down the project considering his horrific experience filming the first installment, Paramount made him an offer Coppola couldn’t refuse.
Coppola often speaks of his desire to continue telling an epic story of fathers and sons but how he wanted to do it when they were the same age. This allows the operatic narrative within the film to highlight the fall of the Corleone family infrastructure while their family business soars to unimaginable heights as we simultaneously see Vito rise in America as an orphan.
The film masterfully weaves Michael into real life mafia events including the Italian mob gaining a chokehold on legalized gambling in Nevada as they begin investing in casinos in Cuba right before the Fidel Castro’s revolution. Audiences can see examples of this in the first film with Johnny Fontaine acting as the fictional version of Frank Sinatra and Moe Greene shadowing the trail of real life gangster Bugsy Siegel.
Part II of the series introduces audiences to the aging mob legend Hyman Roth, which is the fictionally veiled version of real life Jewish Mob mogul Meyer Lansky. As Michael goes head to head with Roth, who proves to be his most vicious adversary yet, while dealing with turmoil within his own family from Frank Pentangali. Michael sets his gaze on his inner circle to see where everyone he trusts lets their allegiances lie.
The film reveals Vito to be the hero of the story, rising within the world of crime as a means to protect and strengthen his family from the greed of his rivals and the government. Michael proves himself to be the villain by destroying the family his father built while a taking cold but iron grip on the Corleone name strictly as a business.
The parallels allow the film to continue the operatic and mythical tone of the story but the moments of warmth, love and even humor we see the in the first film are replaced by betrayal, tragedy and heartbreak. Frank Pentangeli even makes allusions to the Corleone family as the Roman Empire while in FBI custody, elevating the story itself as modern mythology within film.
Featuring spellbinding performances by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, Vito’s warmth is shrouded by Michael’s dark heart, which tears the family apart despite escaping government persecution and consolidating their power as a Mafia empire. Pt. II ultimately allows the story to reveal itself as an epic tragedy of how the American dream becomes a nightmare when absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The scene Vito and Michael only have one together as they wave ‘goodbye’ on the train in Italy that fades to Michael’s macabre façade shows how far the family has fallen and how times have changed.
The film expertly expands the legend of the Corleone family to masterfully illustrate the powerfully prodigious use of the reversal of fortune, transformation of character and the passage of time throughout the story. In the end, The Godfather Pt. II villainously illuminates the universal truth that no empire can last forever.