We’ve all done it. Flipping channels, passing the time waiting for the thing you’re supposed to do to happen and you stumble on a movie. More often than not, it’s a movie you already own, that’s sitting on your shelf or already in your Netflix queue. Before you know it, you’re strapped in.
These are the unignorable movies. The balms for what ails you. The go-tos. The Old Standbys. The Dude Classics. This weeks the 25th anniversary of The Hunt For Red October, in many ways the Oxford definition of the kind of movie we’re talking about. And they are very much movies, not films — and we all know the difference when we see it.
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990)
Not the last time Sean Connery would be good — see 1996’s The Rock — but this was the best he’d be in the winter of his years. Director John McTiernan, fresh off of redefining the action movie with Die Hard, uncorks a thriller which has a bounty of pleasures: Alec Baldwin at his most movie-star, James Earl Jones having a fucking blast, Scott Glenn at peak-craggly, Sam Neill and Tim Curry not even pretending to sound Russian. Plus a wonderfully elegant Tom Clancy plot, free of the jingoism that would color some of his later work. Really, the first Jack Ryan movie is the best Jack Ryan movie.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Doesn’t matter when you check into this masterpiece, it’s all one big chase anyway. Steven Spielberg wanted to make a globe-trotting Bond film and George Lucas wanted to make an old-fashioned serial — they met in the middle, roped in Han Solo and got Lawrence Kasdan to write it like a screwball comedy with shootouts — and were off to the races.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
Maybe it’s because it’s on TV every weekend, somewhere, like it’s a federal law. Maybe it’s because fellas can appreciate a guy who will literally crawl through shit to get out of a bad situation. Maybe it’s because we just want Morgan Freeman to tell us a story.
ROAD HOUSE (1989)
Sometimes, you just want to watch a dancer who learned movie kung-fu pretend to be a bouncer. Because, impossibly, all of those things add up to awesome.
THE MATRIX (1999)
And other times, you want your kung-fu wrapped in a brain-twisting, philosophical fable. No matter how many times you see it, the way the Wachowskis reveal their world is still wondrous, even if the “bullet time” of it all has lost its luster.
Really, it’s just for the scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing with Alyssa Milano. Look, they’re feeding a deer! Aww, how they boop each other’s noses with ice cream! Okay, fine. It’s the other stuff, too.
Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for inventing the summer blockbuster and the head-in-the-hole-of-the-sunken-boat shot and the comet in the sky and the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech and “Why don’t you chum some of this shit?” and Roy Scheider’s face and Richard Dreyfuss’ nasal whine and Robert Shaw.
THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
While not the best sequel ever made — pretty sure The Godfather Part II takes that particular trophy — it is definitely one of the most fun. While Mad Max was an exercise in low-budget thrills, about a world on the verge of nuclear chaos and the one cop (Mel Gibson) who’ll take to the highway as an angel of vengeance, the follow-up is a straight-up masterclass in myth-making. Max becomes a neo-Western Batman who reeks of petrol and pain.
DIE HARD (1988)
Few films ever become their own genre, but in the wake of Bruce Willis’ star-making potboiler, everything was described as “Die Hard on a plane” or “Die Hard on a bus” or “Die Hard in an amusement park.” And all of them forgot to include the same whip-crack plot twists, character embroidery, catharsis, and sense of humor.
The manliest movie ever made. The testosterone oozing off the screen during this Arnold Schwarzenegger alien hunt could power a moderately sized suburb.
THE GODFATHER (1972)
The source code for the modern mob film. Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo invented so much of what we take for granted about the mafia, that it feels like it always existed.
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” ::mic drop::
The best horror comedy ever made. Period.
PULP FICTION (1994)
Of the many genius things about Quentin Tarantino’s second flick, its modularity makes for the perfect drop-in. Each of its three stories — Vic and Mia, Jules and Vic and The Wolf, Butch and Marcellus — are amazing and you’re bound to get to any number of good parts in short order.
ROCKY III (1982)
The Goldfinger of Rocky movies – i.e., the one that perfected the formula. Three fights, two training montages, a big death and zero body fat. “Eye of the Tiger,” baby. Eye of the motherfucking, slow-motion-dudes-in-short-shorts tiger.
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
An Asian actor had never been the lead in a Hollywood studio picture before Bruce Lee conquered America with a grace, power and authenticity we’ve never seen before, or since. You never, for a second, think that Lee couldn’t kick the ass of you, me, and everyone you’ve ever met. At the same time. Name me another actor with that kind of cred.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Fucking dinosaurs, man.
So many mustaches, so many trenchcoats, so many amazing lines from Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday. All those mustaches…
We chose this Robert De Niro-Al Pacino crime masterpiece as Michael Mann’s best film and with good reason: As we said then, it’s a thrilling meditation on the price of vocation — what it costs a cop to be a great cop (his family) and what a master thief must sacrifice to stay free (his chance at happiness).
MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003)
There are no female characters in this movie, but that’s not why its here. Peter Weir so expertly imagines a world that consists entirely of a ship of Britain’s royal navy during the Napoleonic Wars — ruled with a firm hand by Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey — and the French frigate she’s chasing that you don’t want for anything else. This is a story about soldiers, they way they cleave together, they way they turn boys to men, they way they accept fate at the end of a cannon ball.
BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
Always funnier than you remember. Mel Brooks’ greatest gift was knowing how to offend everyone in equal measure, which gave him license to make a film that, today, no one else (save maybe Tarantino) could get away with. (Pryor was supposed to play the lead, but he was such a hot-button stand-up at the time that the studio wouldn’t finance it.)
Every decade or so Hollywood will make a big shiny Western because there’s a director or star who grew up loving them. This Lawrence Kasdan, hot off The Big Chill, joint was the ‘80s version. And the cast — Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Roseanna Arquette and the great Brian Dennehy — seemed to be having a blast.
COMING TO AMERICA (1988)
Eddie Murphy has never been as charming as he was as a fish-out-of-water African prince looking for true love in Queens. Because, of course that’s where you find a queen. So sweet it almost hurts.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
For this line, which somehow snuck into a kids’ movie would open a 13-year-old’s eyes:
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
Because everyone would like to be Bill Murray for a day, even if that day went on forever.
MAJOR LEAGUE (1989)
Sometimes, everything just comes together. Before Charlie Sheen was a TV star warlock, before Wesley Snipes hunted vampires, before Dennis Haysbert was our first black President, they were in this grown-up version of the Bad News Bears. Echoes of it can be heard on every company softball team in the country.
THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998)
Honestly, looking at Catherine Zeta Jones for two hours would be enough to qualify this film — but it also happens to be a crackerjack adventure flick that’s built like a Swiss watch. With Anthony Hopkins as Yoda and Antonio Banderas as Luke Solo (or Han Skywalker). Also: There is something simply wonderful about old-school Hollywood swordfighting.
OCEAN’S 11 (2001)
It’s possible that no one has had more fun making a film, ever, than George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and the other seven thieves — with the exception of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack in the original. Thing is, the original Ocean’s 11 is a somewhat enjoyable piece of shit, while Steven Soderbergh’s remake is a Vegas-heist confection from beginning to end.
Poker will never be as popular as it was in the late ‘90s, but that’s not what makes this Matt Damon-Edward Norton movie cook. It’s the desperation. It’s what a man does when he’s hitched to a friend who’s also the worst person in the world; when death is knocking, looking for restitution; when the only way out is through. Plus, John Malkovich gnawing on the scenery like it’s made of Nutella.
OFFICE SPACE (1999)
Occasionally, one finds true wisdom in the unlikeliest of places.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. He double-dares AMC to program a festival of these flicks. Fuck it: Let’s go straight to the triple-dog dare.