At some point in time, everyone makes a list like this. That being said, I doubt this list will ever be set in stone. Tastes in film change over time. Some films that were your favorite at one point may drop down several levels at another point. And since I doubt I’d repeatedly make another list like this again, at least as far as films are concerned, this list is subject to edits.
When it comes to films I enjoy, I’m really a man of simple tastes. I prefer action, and sci-fi or fantasy, sometimes with a tinge of horror tacked on for good measure. The action sequences need to be shot well-enough by my standards, and there can’t be too much stupid shit in the movie. It’s that latter aspect I’m very picky on. Characters making nonsensical decisions, piss-poor acting, terrible pacing, those are deal-breakers for me. The only thing worse than all that is a shitty ending. Not a sad ending per-se, or one where the villains win (though I do prefer happy endings). A shitty ending could involve the protagonists winning through some bullshit deus ex machina, or the villains winning just as a middle finger to the audience.
At the very least, it should give others a good idea as to what kinds of films I like. And indicate just how sporadic my tastes can be. So, here’s my list of my favorite films of all time, and why I enjoy them so much. On that note, whenever I refer to a film as being superior to another, or stating something as the greatest of all time, I am strictly referring to my own personal tastes in films. Unless I indicate otherwise.
#50: Red Dawn (1984)
Yeah yeah, this is pure Cold War anti-Soviet propaganda. But the pacing and action sequences are so well-done, I don’t care. I also don’t care how absurd the premise is, the opening is one of the best ever done in film. Hooks you right from the start and doesn’t let go. Wolverines!
#49: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
In my opinion, Michael Mann’s best film. Yes, even more-so than Heat. Read my review for more.
#48: Tiger on the Beat (1988)
Main reason this is on the list is because of the crazy action finale with shootouts, martial arts, and chainsaws. It doesn’t get any better than that.
#47: Rolling Thunder (1977)
So there’s a category of action/thriller films that many would refer to as the “revenge” genre. The kind where something bad happens either to the protagonist, or to friends/family of the protagonist, or all of the above; and then the protagonist recovers and seeks to get revenge on all those who wronged him/her by killing the shit out of them. I rank this as the best of that genre. For starters, it has that guy who stars in all those “invest in silver” commercials get his hand garbage-disposaled off, his family killed, and his silver dollars stolen from him. Considering how much emotional attachment he seemed to have for his family, and how much he would go on to care about silver later on in life, I’m pretty sure it was the latter that drove him to go after those thugs. Hindsight made this film more entertaining for me. The hook hand made him more of a badass, plus he teams up with Tommy Lee Jones to take out these guys at a whorehouse in one of the best shootouts done in film history. There’s also some Vietnam War allegories to be had here, something that was overused in the 70s (probably the 80s too), but it works well in this film’s context.
#46: The Dark Knight (2008)
Who’d ever thought a superhero film could be this fucking good? Well, probably because Batman isn’t technically a superhero so much as a glorified version of James Bond, minus the part where he has sex with all the hot chicks. Incredibly paced up until the last act where it got just a tad bit tedious. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker blew away everyone’s expectations and has gone on to be considered either the best or second best portrayal of the villain ever done next to Mark Hamill. And there’s a great amount of practical effects used when they could’ve taken the easy way out a few times. However, the director isn’t quite talented enough to pull of action set-pieces involving hand-to-hand combat; the camerawork came off as jarring. But any faults the film has are shadowed by its strengths. Plus its message of “Die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” while preachy, holds relevance. Though I will say that those who die, but are remembered later on, have a habit of becoming portrayed as villains later on. The sequel, for all its faults, had that message in a small dose. And America has a habit of demonizing historical figures of the past, allowing some misdeeds becomes more pronounced than the accomplishments they would otherwise be better known for.
#45: Bloodsport (1988)
Gotta be careful watching this film on commercial-free TV. It has a bad habit of sucking me into it until the credits start rolling. It’s so 80s with its acting and characters, but I like that about it. The film doesn’t really get going until the flashback training act, at which point I find it difficult to pull away. It also has that hypnotic semi-meditation music that I never get tired of hearing. But let’s face it, we all love it for the fight scenes, which are among the best that not only Van Damme has ever done, but the best that any decent martial arts film has ever done. Now that doesn’t mean the fight scenes are on-par with some of the best people like Jackie Chan, Iko Uwais, Donnie Yen, etc. have ever done. Those films stand out on their own because they’re all about how well they can make each individual fight sequence be. This film prefers to handle them more as a glorified montage than anything. They’re not overlong, and they don’t shy away from how damaging some of these hits can be. This tends to be the case for tournament fighting films. And let’s face it, when it comes to those other martial arts films with those other big-time martial arts movie stars, we all prefer fast-forwarding to the fight scenes and couldn’t care less about the filler in-between, with some exception. This film I prefer to take in as a whole, which is why it’s good that the fights don’t set the bar so high as to overwhelm everything else. That’s probably going to come off as hypocritical considering what I’ve said about Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. But for one thing, I do enjoy some of the in-between moments of that film. Some of the character moments in that film are solid, albeit cliched. And for another thing, all film critics, without exception, are hypocrites. So deal with it.
#44: First Blood (1982)
Still the best Rambo movie ever made.
#43: Tremors (1990)
One of the best films of 1990, and the swan song for life-sized practical effect monster movies (dudes in costumes do not count).
#42: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Two different movies in one, with a common theme across them both (and a character arc that begins at one, ends in another). Some say the first half is better than the second. I say both halves are great, though I see their point. R. Lee Ermey could carry this entire film by himself with this role.
#41: King Kong (1933)
#40: The 13th Warrior (1999)
Very good fun. Vikings are actually protagonists in this, main character is Arabian, and they ally against these fearsome Neanderthals from the caves/forests. There is respect given to both cultures. Also great that the Arabian protagonist doesn’t just become the best fighter ever out of the entire group of battle-hardened warriors. He’s just good and adaptable enough to hold his own alongside them, but he’s definitely not the best fighter. Not often a film avoids that trope.
#39: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Most terrifying horror film I’ve ever seen. Review here.
#38: Ben-Hur (1959)
The 1920s version isn’t half-bad either. In fact, the original version has a better naval battle sequence, and arguably a better finale taking place after the chariot race. That being said, this version is superior in every other aspect, especially with that relationship arc between Ben-Hur and the Romans (how his hatred is destroying his relationship with those who consider him family). Plus it’s got that famous chariot race scene, which is enough of a reason to make this one of the greatest films of all time.
#37: A Bridge Too Far (1977)
My favorite WWII film.
#36: Battle Royale (2000)
Nothing beats a Japanese film about Japanese children giving random weapons to kill each other, and doing it.
#35: Babe (1995)
I know what you’re thinking. After all that other shit I’ve put on the list up until this point, I decide to put up a children’s movie? And I ranked it higher than the film that’s literally about children killing each other? Yes I did.
#34: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)
Guilty pleasure of a Chuck Norris action film. Review here.
#33: The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
All these films were made at the same time, and released chronologically. As far as I’m concerned, that qualifies them as being the same movie (even if I thing Fellowship > King > Towers). A game changer for modern epic films, which ended up being detrimental in the long run. Ever since this fucking trilogy, Hollywood has been begging for something as ambitious and successful, so they make a bunch of films with open-ended endings begging for a sequel, except most of those films suck (and the only other one that held any success was the Harry Potter franchise, and I felt that ran out of steam after a few films in). Haven’t seen disasters like that since Super Mario Bros. But in any case, a very solid series of films that’s about as good of an adaptation as one could hope for from this legendary book trilogy. Could it have been better in some regards, yes. There are annoyances that built upon repeated viewings. But there are enough good things to outweigh the bad. Hoping that doesn’t change as I get older.
#32: Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece. A film I first saw on the IFC channel back in the early 2000s, back when they had Samurai Saturdays (early morning). Back when the IFC channel was actually good. But anyway, I saw The Magnificent Seven before seeing this one, and I consider this to be superior.
#31: Sicario (2015)
This film surprised the hell out of me at how great and tense it is. Probably the last great film we’re going to get for a long while, unless it’s named Joker.
#30: Angel Heart (1987)
The plot twist at the end is something you will see coming from a mile away if you pay attention during just the first 20 minutes. But knowing the obvious twist is only the beginning of getting enjoyment out of this film, as I point out in my review.
#29: The Lion King (1994)
Favorite Disney animated movie.
#28: The Princes Bride (1987)
Come on, everyone loves this movie.
#27: The Black Stallion (1979)
Aspects of childhood innocence, bond with nature, being free. Nostalgia hits me hard with this movie, but I also think its one of the best kid films out there. Atmosphere and ambience rules over plot and dialogue with this one (not that the dialogue is bad, just that everything else about the movie takes a backseat to atmosphere).
#26: Interstellar (2014)
Yeah, I know. This has some plot issues, and the black hole time travel love thing at the end is far-fetched at best. But this hits me in the feels enough with the music and emotional moments that I’m willing to overlook its lesser parts. Plus, if nothing else, Nolan knows how to pace a movie.
#25: Bullitt (1968)
Known for having one of the greatest car chases of all time. The rest of the film is solid too. While the plot is very simple when you think about it, the way the film goes about telling it demands your attention. Plus I love the gritty atmosphere. And Steve McQueen is his usual cool self (arguably at his coolest in this).
#24: Zulu (1964)
A mini-epic war movie, if that’s a word that can be used to describe it. 100 British soldiers vs. 4,000 Zulu warriors. Pretty good battle scenes.
#23: Snatch (2000)
My favorite comedy. Not to mention every major character (of which there are many) is distinct and memorable. That is not an easy feat to pull off.
#22: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Most fun I’ve ever had with a vampire flick. Especially because this film isn’t a vampire flick until it decides to become one just for the fuck of it during the second half.
#21: Miller’s Crossing (1990)
One of the best gangster flicks ever made alongside The Godfather and Goodfellas. That is all.
#20: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
My favorite Tarantino film. His talent with dialogue has never been better than in this film. This movie would fail if the dialogue wasn’t as good as it was here.
#19: The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg’s most mainstream and accessible film to date. Drama/horror, and a tragedy. Also flows at a very tight pace, probably the tightest pace Cronenberg has ever done. One of the best remakes ever done (80s had a few great remakes, including of the other horror classic The Blob).
#18: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)
Reviewed this film, analyzing some of the many many layers this classic horror film (which is superior to Stephen King’s version) possesses. If you think this film is shallow and basic and overlong, you haven’t learned how to appreciate it yet.
#17: Rollerball (1975)
Review here as to why this film is great. Though I did fail to mention that the rollerball sequences were very well done.
#16: Jaws (1975)
Do I need to say anything about this one? One of the most iconic theme songs ever made, and the first half of the film exists as build-up for the fantastic second half on the ocean. You can feel the blood sweat and tears exerted to bring this film to creation.
#15: The Godfather (1972)
To be honest, this is probably the most well-made all around solid film on this entire list. It might very well be the greatest film of all time on an objective level (Citizen Kane is overrated; sure it’s solid, but it primarily exists to set the foundation for how films can be a true work of art with many layers that can be peeled off and analyzed individually with each viewing, which it did a lot better than most films can manage to this day; that doesn’t make it the end-all be-all of films).
#14: Potop (aka The Deluge; 1974)
Up until I saw this movie, I thought Ben-Hur (1954) was the greatest epic film of all time. Well, this one tops it. Polish film divided into two parts that add up to a 4 hour 40 minute film about a man with severe faults who goes through a rough path of redemption, where all that follows at the ending feels well earned. Even if he manages to survive a couple too many near-death experiences. At least the film has the decency to show him suffering from those experiences, as opposed to having some character just shrug it off and continue on.
#13: Lifeforce (1985)
Good dumb pervy fun. A space vampire chick who is naked for most of the movie. Great spaceship effects (while they’re there during the first act). Practical effects that are quite good. Patrick Steward gets a gay kiss. An an absolutely insane apocalyptic finale with vampire/zombies rampaging throughout the U.K. (which I guess makes this an eerie prediction of the near future of the U.K.). It’s cheesy, sure, but that only adds to the charm for me.
#12: The Thing (1982)
Alien horror done right. Just the special effects and various alien/monster designs in this, and the unexpected moments when the creature makes an appearance. If nothing else, it showcases the longevity of practical effects over CG.
#11: Predator (1987)
This was the film that made me realize what a 5 star film means to me. A film that is so good, so awesome, so damn entertaining, that I can watch it twice in a row and enjoy it as much the second time as I did the first time. The cast and their comradery (see what can be done in the hands of a talented director and a decent screenwriter with actors who have average acting talent at best?). The alien itself, its costume, weapons, design, implied lore. This is the perfect action/thriller/sci-fi film.
#10: Dune (1984)
You can say what you want about this not being entirely faithful to the novel. You can say what you want about much of it being too confusing (go watch one of those artsy French films and shut the fuck up). You can say what you want about the clusterfuck behind-the-scenes issues and David Lynch disowning the movie. I love the hell out of this movie. The music is as epic as it gets, from a band that no one expected to be capable of producing music like this, of this quality. The visuals may be dated at times, but they are unforgettable. While the Baron Harkonen may not be an accurate portrayal of how he is in the novel, he is a fantastic memorable for-all-the-right-reasons villain in this which many would hate to admit simply because of the former issue. Plus the one-liners are quoted all the time. “Fear is the mind killer.” “The sleeper has awakened.” “Long live the fighters!” It’s primarily the music and the visuals that won me over. And yes, for all it’s faults, it is superior to the sci-fi miniseries. While many pride that series for being far more faithful to the novel, and use that as an excuse to say it’s the superior adaptation, that’s the only excuse they’ve got going for them. This film beats it out on practically everything else, from special effects, to acting, to costume design, set design, the action sequences. Hell, in some cases, this film does some character portrayals and scene playouts more accurately than the miniseries does. The best example of this is the gom jabbar scene, where the film does EVERYTHING better and more faithful to the novel than the series did in that one sequence.
#9: The Fifth Element (1997)
This has everything I would ever want in a sci-fi film set in the distant future. Everything that doesn’t involve fantasy or horror elements anyway. This probably has the greatest concentration of energetic fun in an on-beat and off-beat manner that no other sci-fi flick has ever achieved, making it the perfect popcorn film for sci-fi lovers. Great moments of action and comedy, with just the right amount of seriousness injected at various points to keep it grounded and investing. Some say the inclusion of Chris Rock, and the strange timing issues of various moments, take the film down a few notches. Well, I wasn’t annoyed by Chris Rock’s character, and the peculiar tonal changes just add to the film’s charm for me. Plus I’m in love with it’s portrayal of a world with flying cars. And I think the police in this film are great, with their clothing styles, and their attitudes which help make them relatable and human. Having a futuristic cop say something along the lines of, “How do they expect us to find anything in this shit?” goes a long way towards making them feel more human and less authoritarian. This is also one of the last great Bruce Willis films (he’d only have roughly 5 more of those in him after this). Milla Jovovich was great in this too. It’s unfortunate she got too tied up in Paul W.S. Anderson flicks after this, because she had the potential to be above that.
#8: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
I made a review summing up the reasons why I think this film is so great.
#7: The Terminator (1984)
What? No mention of Terminator 2: Judgement Day? I liked the dark gritty neo-noir feel of this film over the more clean feel of the sequel. The atmosphere adds to the tension as much as the unstoppable nature of the cold emotionless villain, in what is arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (damnit, I was just 2 letters away from spelling that right) most iconic role ever done. Great moments include the car chases, the shootout at the police station, the music (of course), and the take on the future war. This is a dark film where the only shining moments of hope are left strictly in the background, because the threat is here and now, and isn’t going away anytime soon because any victory achieved in the present is only a warmup for the struggle in the future. Any failure would damn mankind’s fate, a fate they brought on themselves.
#6: Robocop (1987)
It tore me apart to give this film the edge over The Terminator. But I do believe this to be the better film for a number of reasons. For starters, this movie probably has the best villains in the history of cinema. That’s villains, plural. Not because they have motivations that are particularly deep or anything. Hell, they’re fairly one-dimensional. But they are such fun demented fuckers to watch. They are shamelessly and relentlessly evil, torturing and killing not only with no remorse, but enjoy the hell out of doing so. They also provide some of the best moments and one-liners in the film itself, more-so than the titular character. And yet you don’t feel any sympathy for them when they get their comeuppance. Combine that with the action setpieces, the fantastic method of violence portrayed (assuming you watch the unrated cut), the one-liners, the special effects which hold up today, the great music, and an excellent pace; the film is unforgettable. One I was glad to sneak a watch of multiple times behind my mother’s back when I was young. Also helps to have satirical elements of corporatism, advertisements, and the news media. The remake can bite this film’s shiny metal ass.
#5: The Beastmaster (1982)
I’m a man of simple tastes. Sometimes I just want a movie that isn’t trying to be all that deep or meaningful. Just something having fun with itself and trying to be the best adventure film possible. Made purely for surface level entertainment, and nothing else. This fantasy film achieves practically all of that. My favorite adult fantasy film (yes, I’ll take this over Conan the Barbarian anyday). Those adorable ferrets, the badass black lion (though it is unfortunate he died as a result of being spray-painted black, a lesson the film-makers never forgot), the simple yet effective swordplay, the atmosphere, the music, those psychotic gimps, the bat people, the finale. There’s so many moments in this film that I think are fantastic, even if they are cheesy, that accumulates into a fantasy film made for my tastes.
#4: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The car chase in the middle of this film is one of the greatest stunt-works ever done by an American film. That, and the film is filled to the brim with iconic moments that have cemented themselves permanently in film culture. From the opening act of raiding a tomb (undoubtedly inspiring Tomb Raider and every video game franchise that built upon those foundations), to the John Williams music, to the ark of the covenant itself, to the insane finale, the bittersweet ending… even the stylistic choice on how the title of the film is displayed in the poster is iconic. The only other films I know of that had more of a cultural impact on cinema than this one is The Godfather I and II, and Star Wars.
#3: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Nope, not reviewing the Star Wars trilogy as a single film. Unlike Lord of the Rings, these were made separately, years apart, with different directors. That being said, this is still the best Star Wars film to this day. Better than what came before, better than what came after, and sure as shit better than what came recently. This is the movie that defined Star Wars, that gave it a lore and a religion. Without this film, there wouldn’t have been a large strong loyal (to an extent) fan base that has existed since, well, at least up until 1999 at the earliest, 2017 at the latest. This movie has everything that the Star Wars franchise is based upon. The film only served to wet our appetites for this one. Reviewed it, and the original trilogy, here.
#2: Aliens (1986)
Many consider this a betrayal of the first film, sacrificing the horror elements and the Cthulu-like dread for action. I see their point, but I also see this as something that would happen within the context of this universe. Space marines, shooting up aliens, and getting killed by them too. It has its own sense of tension, and a fantastic Queen alien. I love everything about this movie. The tense atmosphere, the action, the great use of budget and camerawork, the director’s cut, how the marines work together, Ripley having an arc that makes her more of a badass, more of a mother, and how her nature contrasts with that of the Queen alien. Facing fears and whatnot. Plus some great one-liners from Bill Paxton. James Cameron’s best film in my opinion.
#1: The Dark Crystal (1982)
Yep, my favorite of all time. I explain more in my review.
Edit (1-24-2020): Replaced Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete (2005) with Last of the Mohicans (1992). Replaced Leon (1994) with The 13th Warrior (1999).