The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (September 2021)

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The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (September 2021)

Paramount+, the streaming service that is to ViacomCBS what HBO Max is to WarnerMedia, is finally here. The company (and the studio that streamer takes its name from) is stuffing its library online. CBS All Access, which it is replacing, is dead. Yes, it’s another streamer and yes, it’s another streamer with a at the end of its name. But hear us out: Paramount might be the new kid on the block, but it’s a heck of a deal. Either $9.99 a month for the ad-free tier or $4.99 for ads gets you “2,500 movie titles,” and that’s not even mentioning the slew of TV shows that’re coming along for the ride.

Between the Comedy Central Roasts, stand-up specials and seemingly endless documentaries, it can be hard to sift through. Never fear, though, because we’re here to sort through it all and find the cream of the crop—updating every month. The plethora of dramatic classics, martial arts movies, Star Trek entries and forgotten favorites make Paramount+ worth checking out—especially considering its relatively low price point.

Now a few months into its existence, Paramount+ lost a good half dozen movies from this list in September, but it’s been adding tons and tons of films as it’s begun solidifying and reclaiming the studio’s library.

Here are the 30 best movies available to stream on Paramount+ right now:

1. The Big Boss

big-boss.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Nora Miao
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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This is where it all started for a young man named Bruce Lee, his first starring vehicle in a Hong Kong action movie. Set in contemporary time, this isn’t some Shaolin temple period piece but a pretty grimy, modern crime movie that just happens to feature some martial arts. James Tien was ostensibly supposed to be the film’s star power, but it was clear that Bruce Lee had a magnetism that made him lightning in a bottle—you can’t look away when he’s on screen. The action isn’t quite fully developed, but you can just see the raw, seething potential in him, both as an actor and the most famous martial artist who’s ever lived. The film is more than a little goofy and its low-budgetness can make it a little bit tougher to watch today, but it’s worthwhile to see the birth of the legend. —J.V.


2. The Phantom

the-phantom-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Simon Wincer
Stars: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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One of the better “comic strip/pulp era” heroes brought to the big screen, The Phantom holds up pretty well as a realization of its source material (even if it will never be considered among the best superhero films). The plot—the leader of a nefarious brotherhood seeks to control a mystical item that will bring him absolute POWER!—is pure pulp goodness. Billy Zane is beefy and believable as the 21st Phantom out to avenge the death of his dad (the 20th), and I sort of wish Catherine Zeta-Jones had spent more of her career playing rogue-ish femme fatales who lead a squadron of female mercs. —M.B.


3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

butch-cassidy-sundance-kid-poster.jpg Year: 1969
Directors: George Roy Hill
Stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Katharine Ross
Rating: PG
Runtime: 111 minutes

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The top-grossing film of 1969 and four-time Oscar winner was an anachronistic wonder that poked at the stoic bravura of the traditional Western: Consider the broad buddy humor between its pitch-perfect leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford; the poppy, Burt Bacharach-Hal David-penned score and that theme song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”; and William Goldman’s wry, self-aware script. From the first sepia-saturated moments of George Roy Hill’s take on the Old West, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rewrote history, literally: Author Goldman famously wanted to tell the story of the titular outlaws’ flight to South America but didn’t want to do sufficient research for a novel-length treatment. And thus, “Most of what follows is true,” the film winks at its start. Gorgeously shot by Conrad Hall, the film is a deftly balanced mix of reverential genre elegy and sometimes deadpan, sometimes slapstick comedy. At its heart is then box office superstar Newman and comparatively small-potatoes actor Redford, the latter taking over after Steve McQueen backed out, balking over whose name would be billed first in the credits. As the Kid’s girlfriend, Katharine Ross complicates the duo’s relationship and lends nuance to what is essentially a love story. Curiously, Butch and Sundance’s posse, the Hole in the Wall Gang, was known as the Wild Bunch in real life but was changed for the screen to avoid confusion with another Western set for release a few months prior to its own premiere. —Amanda Schurr


4. Raising Arizona

raising-arizona-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Understated dramatic performances are all well and good, but it takes pinpoint control on behalf of both directors and cast to deliver the sustained overstated performances found throughout Raising Arizona. From its opening courtship sequence to the struggles of H.I. (Nicholas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) to form a family by borrowing an “extra” from a family with a surplus to the final battle with the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, the Coen brothers’ film remains an immensely beguiling and quotable farcical fable. —Michael Burgin


5. The Omen

14-starz-the-omen-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Leo McKern
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


6. Interstellar

Thumbnail image for interstellar2.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan

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Whether he’s making superhero movies or blockbuster puzzle boxes, Christopher Nolan doesn’t usually bandy with emotion. But Interstellar is a nearly three-hour ode to the interconnecting power of love. It’s also his personal attempt at doing in 2014 what Stanley Kubrick did in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey, less of an ode or homage than a challenge to Kubrick’s highly polarizing contribution to cinematic canon. Interstellar wants to uplift us with its visceral strengths, weaving a myth about the great American spirit of invention gone dormant. It’s an ambitious paean to ambition itself. The film begins in a not-too-distant future, where drought, blight and dust storms have battered the world down into a regressively agrarian society. Textbooks cite the Apollo missions as hoaxes, and children are groomed to be farmers rather than engineers. This is a world where hope is dead, where spaceships sit on shelves collecting dust, and which former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bristles against. He’s long resigned to his fate but still despondent over mankind’s failure to think beyond its galactic borders. But then Cooper falls in with a troop of underground NASA scientists, led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who plan on sending a small team through a wormhole to explore three potentially habitable planets and ostensibly secure the human race’s continued survival. But the film succeeds more as a visual tour of the cosmos than as an actual story. The rah-rah optimism of the film’s pro-NASA stance is stirring, and on some level that tribute to human endeavor keeps the entire yarn afloat. But no amount of scientific positivism can offset the weight of poetic repetition and platitudes about love. —Andy Crump


7. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Genre: Thriller, Action
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 133 minutes

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After the thrilling opening sequence of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, we cut to a Moscow prison where Ethan is mysteriously being held. Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are plying their tech and explosives skills to break him out. The scene is jaunty and light-hearted, and scored, in the film’s reality, to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” Light fuse. Cue famous theme. What follows is still the best entry in the Mission Impossible franchise, and one of the best action movies of the last decade. Not bad for first-time live-action director Brad Bird, though with his widely acclaimed previous work on animated features The Iron Giant, and Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, it’s not a huge surprise. Ethan and his thrown-together team (including late-to-the-game IMF analyst William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner) find themselves on their own with limited resources when their infiltration of the Kremlin goes horribly wrong and the IMF is blamed. This causes the U.S. government to invoke the titular spectral protocol, in which the entire agency is disavowed in order to avoid a war much worse than a Cold one with Russia. From there, it’s a global cat-and-mouse game with a megalomaniacal arms dealer who’s attempting nothing less than to wipe the Earth clean to start the cycle of life anew. Cruise is as electric as ever, and Ghost Protocol is wholly satisfying, and a breathtaking blast from start to finish. —Dan Kaufman


8. Children of Heaven

children-of-heaven.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Majid Majidi
Stars: Mohammad Amir Naji, Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG
Runtime: 89 minutes

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There are few better ways to introduce your child to a film with subtitles than this Iranian nominee for Best Foreign Film Oscar. The film follows a pair of impoverished siblings after the brother Ali loses his sister’s pink shoes in the market. He and his sister Zahra decide to share Ali’s shoes so his parents, already under the weight of financial struggles, won’t have one more thing to worry about. Roger Ebert summed it best, saying that Children of Heaven “lacks the cynicism and smart-mouth attitudes of so much American entertainment for kids and glows with a kind of good-hearted purity.” The perfect antidote for the bratty kids populating our TV and movie landscape.—Josh Jackson


9. Trainspotting

41.Trainspotting.NetflixList.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget. —Josh Jackson


10. Wheels on Meals

wheels on meals poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1984
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Biao Yuen
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Wheels on Meals is a silly, silly movie, but damn is the action amazing. As far as trios go, it’s harder to get better than Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, although Hung’s role in this one is minimal. Rather, it all comes down to some incredible fight scenes featuring Chan and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a real-life American kickboxing champion who makes the perfect dance partner for Chan in several high-octane brawls. Their final confrontation isn’t just a thrilling scene, it might be the best one-on-one fight scene of Chan’s career—and Benny the Jet is just as good as Chan. In fact, it’s the Jet who pulls off one of the coolest fight scene feats I’ve ever seen, the supposedly unintentional (and unfaked) “candle kick,” where a missed spin kick generates such force that it blows out all of the lit candles on a candelabra several feet away. You really have to see it to believe it. Oh, and Wheels on Meals also features a story about a kidnapped girl. —Jim Vorel


11. Election

Election285x400.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Tom Perrotta writes novels that strip the veneer from polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the Starbucks-ian jungle that it is: The most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike at any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. In fact, two great films based on his work outline this thematic connection—in Todd Field’s Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of small town characters are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary, and in Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted, preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president. Underneath this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to on the road to success to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs. Witherspoon’s now-iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (or ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. —Oktay Ege Kozak


12. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

the-spongebob-movie-sponge-on-the-run-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Tim Hill
Stars: Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Snoop Dogg, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Keanu Reeves, Danny Trejo, Reggie Watts
Runtime: 91 minutes

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There are many reasons why SpongeBob SquarePants has endured more than two decades of steadfast love and pop culture relevance. Part of it is the enduring positivity and ridiculousness of SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the entire populace of their world. The characters are self-referential, consistent to their defining traits and the writers have always created a duality of experience: Silliness for kids and a sly ascendance of wit that appeals directly to the older viewers. The mode in which the funny is served needs to have all of that present to work. Director/writer Tim Hill (who also wrote 2004’s original The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) understands that in this first, all-3D presentation. Hill and his team of artists—including Mikros Image, which is responsible for the CGI animation—play it smart by introducing a subtle transition for the view in the opening of Sponge on the Run. Gorgeous, photorealistic CGI of the underwater world transitions to the familiar color palette and stylized look of Hillenburg’s corner of the ocean, just with more presence and tactile flourishes. From Gary’s snail slime coming across as tangible goop to scratches in Sandy Cheeks’ breathing dome, the movie doesn’t aim to overwhelm audiences with overt tech bells and whistles. Instead, it presents the characters and world as an opportunity to experience the familiar in a new light, like appreciating the miniscule scale of a 3D-generated Plankton in comparison to his explosive rage—which makes him all the more hilarious. As another evolution in the ongoing SpongeBob universe, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is a graceful and well-executed dip of the yellow toe into 3D waters. There’s overall respect for the characters and tone, and artistic merit to how they integrate the medium into the show’s standards for presenting the surreal and strange. Does it push the sponge forward? Probably not, and that’s ok. There’s something timeless about Bikini Bottom remaining as it is, with spin-offs and new series serving as the appropriate playgrounds for new outlets of storytelling. Sponge on the Run lovingly splits the difference, but doesn’t take anything away from what many know and love.—Tara Bennett


13. Bumblebee

bumblebee-210.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight

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Paramount actually made a Transformers movie that’s a lovely, exciting and wholly engaging gem of a sci-fi adventure for teenagers. I guess it’s time for me to finally go into my dream business of exporting the newly formed ice from hell using my army of flying pigs. Bumblebee is an ’80s set spin-off/prequel to Michael Bay’s migraine-inducing, often infuriating, and always head-slappingly stupid five Transformers flicks. It wisely scales down Bay’s love of random mayhem in favor of a fairly respectful and inventive throwback to those Spielbergian family sci-fi/adventure movies about the friendship between a nerdy, lonely teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and a friendly and protective alien/robot/magical being. Their bond teaches the teenager to come out of her shell and face her fears. Of course since we also need an action-heavy third act, the big bad military that’s unfairly threatened by the creature goes after it, forcing the teenager and the creature to defend each other against all odds, learning lessons about the importance of love in the process. Sure, Bumblebee doesn’t really bring much that’s especially new or daring to that formula, but at least all the ingredients really work. It’s hard enough to have a fully CG character as your co-star, and it’s even tougher when an actor is tasked with creating a deep emotional connection with something she can’t even see during production. Steinfeld is up to the challenge, making us believe in Bumblebee’s existence almost as much as the animators who worked on bringing him to life. Just like death and taxes, it’s a certainty of life that we will get a new Transformers in theaters once every few years. If they’re more like Bumblebee going forward, the thought of that doesn’t depress me nowhere near as it used to. —Oktay Ege Kozak


14. The Elephant Man

the-elephant-man-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Stars: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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David Lynch melds history and art in the true story of severely disfigured John Merrick, known as “The Elephant Man,” and his physician Frederick Treves. Abandoned by his parents and exhibited as a side-show freak, Treves rescues Merrick from squalor, educates him, and allows him to become the toast of London. Filmed in black and white, the film is a triumph of cinematography as well as prosthetic makeup design. By film’s end, we feel Merrick’s exhaustion and depression as he gently slips away, reminding us that there are many kinds of exploitation. —Joan Radell


15. Roman Holiday

roman-holiday-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: William Wyler
Stars: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn
Genre: Romance
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Roman Holiday is the gold standard for the American romantic comedy, and quite possibly one of the most charming films ever made. Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor both turned down the lead roles, and thank God they did, because it’s hard to imagine William Wyler could have gotten this jewel without the absolutely exquisite Audrey Hepburn (in her debut American role), playing opposite Gregory Peck, whose performance prompted my little sister to write to Peck begging him to take her to Prom. Hepburn plays Ann, a young princess fed up with the strictures of her diplomatic tour escaping her unspecified country’s embassy in Rome to explore the world. Peck is Joe Bradley, ex-pat reporter, who finds her asleep on a bench and takes her home without realizing who she is. Once he does, it’s safe to say that Hijinks Ensue. The third principal character in this film is of course the city of Rome, whose imagistic power could have easily overwhelmed a less charismatic star-crossed odd couple than the princess and the newspaper man. End-to-end gorgeous and lovably funny, Roman Holiday is an exemplar of the difference between sweet and hokey. I’m sure there are critics who would pick at this film for being lightweight (it’s supposed to be), or for Hepburn “over-acting” (it got her the only Oscar of her career), or predictable (it’s a love story?)—however, the pacing, the interlocking moments of poignancy and comedy, and the sheer adorable-bomb factor of Peck and Hepburn would make it tough for even the most hardened cynic to turn it off. —Amy Glynn


16. Dragon Lord

dragon-lord-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Jackie Chan
Stars: Jackie Chan, Mars, Hwang In-Shik, Tien Feng
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

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By 1982, Jackie Chan was fairly well known to Hong Kong audiences as an ascendant performer who, along with the likes of Sammo Hung, was introducing a new dimension of comedic martial arts films. An absolutely superior athlete and stunt coordinator, he had already starred in more traditional kung fu comedies such as the original Drunken Master, and was now experimenting with expanding his stunt action sequences in a period setting. The fanatical director brought an insane work ethic to projects such as Dragon Lord, which quite honestly features one of the more silly, childlike premises in the genre’s history: Chan’s character gets mixed up with a bunch of thugs after the kite he’s flying accidentally gets away from him and lands in their headquarters. It’s absolutely absurd, but the stunt work is Chan at his hyperkinetic best. —J.V.


17. The Little Hours

the little hours movie poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Jeff Baena
Stars: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Raunchy comedies rarely cop to such well-regarded sources: The Little Hours claims its basis lies within Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century novella collection The Decameron, which makes its structure, bawdiness and characterizations all feel appropriately pithy. A series of incidents involving three horny nuns—Alessandra, Genevra, and Fernanda (Alison Brie, Kate Micucci and Aubrey Plaza, respectively)—and sexy farmhand-on-the-run Massetto (played by Dave Franco in full romance novel cover mode), The Little Hours finds writer/director Jeff Baena (who minored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at NYU) delighting in updating The Decameron’s light and witty stories, helped by the fact that Boccaccio’s language was opposed to the flowery erudition of most of the period’s texts. That translates to a very vulgar (and funny) movie both indebted to and different than a wide spectrum of vulgar nun and nunsploitation movies that have spanned porn, hauntings and thrillers promising both nude nuns and big guns.—Jacob Oller


18. Big Night

big-night-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Stars: Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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“Sapienza” is Italian for “knowledge” and this spirited and completely adorable ensemble piece is all about the gap between what you know and what you know. Primo and Secondo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci) lead a sparkling ensemble cast in this tale about a floundering Italian restaurant that’s on the brink of collapse because Primo (Shalhoub) is a high-octane chef who refuses to “give the people what they want” and insists on his integrity to the point of collapsing his business, while across the street, the hideous Pascal’s Italian Grotto, helmed by Ian Holm (who really shines in evil restauranteur roles) and Isabella Rossellini, packs ’em in with pure cheese (and I don’t mean cave-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano). Holm’s Pascal helps to kill Primo’s restaurant by persuading the brothers to spend their last dollars on a meal they’re told will be attended by jazz great Louis Prima. Of course Prima never shows, and of course in the meantime, dinner at the Paradiso that night is a life-changing experience for several people. Under its lighthearted, slightly neurotic exterior, this film has subtle and wonderful depths, speaking about foodways and the American immigrant experience, about the conflict between artistry and hustle, about sibling rivalry and family support, about food as a shorthand language for art and love and approval and moxie. It’s about know-how, and how it both is, and is not, enough. —Amy Glynn


19. Seconds

seconds-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1966
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Setting the tale from coast to coast in prosperous ’60s America, John Frankenheimer casts an eye through a thin veil of science fiction to what he sees as a failingly lonely way of life. Approached by a mysterious outfit known as “the Company,” middle-aged family man Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is given the opportunity to fake his death and start over as bohemian California-based painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Tapping away to the existential core, however, “Tony” only finds his new life as hollow as his old one, a construct populated by Company actors and other “reborns” who just want to sustain the illusion. James Wong Howe’s shadow-infused cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s anxious horror score apply the paranoid sheen to what is really a bleak examination of the contemporary domesticated worker—bleak because, minus the presence of the elusive, amoral Company, Seconds’ dystopian Earth is really our own. —Brogan Morris


20. To Catch a Thief

to-catch-a-thief-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, John Williams
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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But really—he didn’t do it. Cary Grant plays John Robie, a retired jewel thief who’s enjoying his golden years tending vines on the French Riviera. Just when the Grenache is hitting the perfect Brix level, a series of copycat heists put Robie back in the thiefly limelight. Seeking to clear things up, he compiles a list of locals who are known to have heistable jewels, and being a smart and wily guy, he starts tailing a very, very pretty one (Francie, played by Grace Kelly). Budding romance can be an accidental side-effect of these things, but when Francie’s ice does go missing, she suspects John and it sours their relationship, as one might expect. John goes on the proverbial lam to get to the bottom of it. Talk about jewels! Nothing ever sparkled quite like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly onscreen together, especially with the legendary Edith Head on costume design—and their peerless charisma is in amazing hands here. The film itself is a bauble, unapologetically so: light and frothy and absolutely not Rear Window (none of which is an indictment). Sometimes it’s enough for something to simply be charming and beautiful. This film proves it. —Amy Glynn


21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-1956-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Don Siegel’s film is the first of several adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, and although it lacks some of the more stomach-churningly weird sights of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake (like that man-faced dog!), it makes up for it with solid performances and its uniquely bright, complacent portrayal of human society being destroyed from within. As so many others have observed since the film’s first release, it’s the ultimate Red Scare-era parable for the coming conflict of East vs. West, emotionless collectivist vs. passionate individualist cultures, tapping into the simmering fear that the nation’s very identity was being secretly undermined by outsiders. The fact that the assimilations and “pod people” creations happen while we sleep only deepens the metaphor, implying the need for constant, ceaseless vigilance. Of course, these themes have kept Invasion of the Body Snatchers painfully relevant at any time in American history when xenophobia is running rampant, today being no exception. Embroiled as we are in another culture war revolving around oft-racist accusations of “un-American” behavior, there’s never been a better time to revisit the film than right now.—Jim Vorel


22. Nacho Libre

nacho_libre_poster.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Jared Hess
Stars: Jack Black, Héctor Jiménez, Ana de la Reguera
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Jared and Jerusha Hess’s follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite wasn’t the pop culture phenomenon that their first movie was, which is both a good and bad thing. It means Nacho Libre’s rep might be a little bit worse than it should be, but it also means it doesn’t feel as ancient and utterly played out as the extravagantly memed Dynamite. Nacho Libre isn’t a great comedy—the Hesses’ fixation on weirdness for weirdness’s sake remains a crutch, Jack Black can be a little too unhinged, and there’s a queasiness surrounding its depiction of Mexican culture—but there is some genuine hilarity to be found here. It’s one of the best showcases for Black’s peculiar talents. It’s a must-watch for wrestling fans, too.—Garrett Martin


23. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

19-best-movies-stream-a-i-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


24. Mission: Impossible

mission-impossible.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Yup—stop for a minute and contemplate that the first M:I film was directed by Brian De Palma. A guy known more for art house thrillers and anti-heroes helms the first in a possible franchise starring an A-list actor (before Hollywood was only interested in franchises), not to mention the first film Cruise ever produced, a risk in and of itself. And yet, it all worked: Mission: Impossible is a plot-heavy, intelligent, patient action film, establishing a cypher of an action star who would go on to perfectly serve every single director to come. By now, it’s expected that with every new film in the franchise, Tom Cruise will step up his stuntman game, and every new director will be given the chance to interpret Ethan Hunt as he (or she, we can only hope) sees fit. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise asserts himself as perhaps the world’s most prominent asexual action hero, but 20 years ago no one had any idea what kind of conceptual framework he was putting into place. Mission: Impossible was a new breed of blockbuster action film, and the franchise’s longevity is clear evidence that, no matter what’s happened since, Tom Cruise is a guy whose risks seem to always pay off.—Dom Sinacola


25. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

planes-trains.jpg Year: 1987
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, William Windom
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Anyone who’s ever endured holiday traffic on their way home for Thanksgiving can relate to this John Hughes tale—although hopefully you’ve never had to endure the sheer number of transportation mishaps (not to mention some accidental spooning) Steve Martin and John Candy go through. Wonderful performances from two of the finest comedic actors to grace the big screen. —Staff


26. An Inconvenient Truth

an-inconvenient-truth.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Al Gore proved himself a better narrator than a campaigner, with an Oscar for a consolation prize after losing the Presidency in 2004. Director Davis Guggenheim laid out a convincing point-by-point case for the reality of climate change and the need to ensure that responsible development throughout the world. And despite having its scientific conclusions questioned, the film gave the issue of global warming a voice much louder than an audible sigh.—Josh Jackson


27. The Ruins

the-ruins-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Carter Smith
Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The Ruins is a swift and vibrant tale that’s been impressively concocted from recycled material. It’s a collage of pasted pieces, but it proves once again that the flow of a dance is not always in its originality but in its grace. The plot follows four beautiful Americans—two guys and two girls—vacationing in Mexico when they decide to take a trip off the map to see a rumored archaeological dig. Blah, blah, blah. The film doesn’t waste much time explaining the unnecessary lore, but it carefully lays out the important details—the maps, the jeep, the personalities, the locations. After some efficient setup, things quickly get creepy, then gross, then both creepy and gross. Director Carter Smith alternately reconfigures his elements—torches, pulleys, out-of-control plants and backwoods emergency surgery—for a series of increasingly gruesome, weirdly creative set pieces. It’s the kind of film that Sam Raimi might have directed 20 years ago, except that Carter plays it straight, even though he seems to assume the audience won’t, offering them ample opportunities to shriek and hoot at the wounded heroes. (Screenwriter Scott B. Smith wrote Raimi’s film A Simple Plan, and cinematographer Darius Khondji has shot films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Haneke and Wong Kar-Wai. This helps.) Just when The Ruins begins to feel too inert, too tied to its little mound, too hemmed in by an intractable problem, it leaps free of its bounds. —Robert Davis


28. Sunset Boulevard

sunset-boulevard.jpg Year: 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
Rating: G
Runtime:111 minutes

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Billy Wilder’s meta noir is a doozy, an unfailingly cynical critique of showbiz and a portrait of postwar alienation projected on the microcosm of Hollywood. It’s also wickedly funny in Sahara dry fashion, from the opening words of our dead narrator—floating facedown in his killer’s swimming pool—to Norma Desmond’s concluding descent down her staircase, and the rabbit hole. Gloria Swanson is magnificent and sad as Ms. Desmond, a fading beauty of the silent screen who manipulates broke, hackish screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) into becoming her boy toy. Theirs is a fated relationship from the get-go, she of the wordless era, he dependent on them for his very livelihood. They’re on the outs with their industry, and each other, yet coexist out of desperation. Wilder, who co-wrote with Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr., layered the script with in-joke upon self-referential wink, perhaps the least of which is Desmond’s passion project, about that OG of femme fatales, Salome. There’s a parade of Hollywood cameos, namechecks, and behind-the-scenes instances of “art imitating life” (and vice versa); for example, Erich von Stroheim, who portrays Desmond’s former director/first husband-turned-still lovestruck butler Max, directed Swanson in 1929’s Queen Kelly (excerpted here) before she as the film’s producer fired him, much like her Sunset Blvd. character discards his. Many of these nods were in less-than-good fun, so it’s no shock that Sunset Boulevard met with local disdain, yet Wilder doesn’t flinch. Norma, Joe, Max … they’re all unwanted souls who, try as they might to live in the past, have succumbed to the present—in Joe’s case, most finally. The smoke and mirrors of Tinseltown, of life, don’t do the job anymore (though cinematographer John Seitz, who also lensed Double Indemnity, most certainly did, sprinkling dust into the air for the lights to catch). Desmond may be a seductress past her sell-by date, but Hollywood is the ultimate femme fatale, who chews suckers up and spits them out. Sunset Boulevard gives L.A. its close-up, alright. —Amanda Schurr


29. Shane

shane-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: George Stevens
Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Rating: TV-G
Runtime: 135 minutes

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Shane is another of the great Hollywood westerns and probably the most archetypal and mythical in its execution. The heroes are truly good, the villains badder than bad. It explores one of the classic Western expansion themes, cattle ranching—or the freedom and lawlessness of the open range—versus farming, which eventually leads to civilization and settling down in one place, bringing families and the laws of the city into play. Visually a character straight out of the Old Testament, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is a shaggy bearded cattle baron hell-bent on driving farming families from the land he considers his. A mysterious rider named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives in the nick of time to bolster the courage of a group of homesteaders led by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane and Ryker, along with their cohorts, are relics of the past, ultimately doomed to extinction once the wives and children move in. Unlike Ryker, Shane knows this, and spells it out in their final showdown. The future of the West is in cities and communities. There is no place for lawless men like them in these new frontiers. All these years later, we know that Shane was wrong. Killing and lawlessness still abound in the cities, and big business still tramples the rights of the common man. The film is a reminder, though, that if communities band together, holding strong in faith and trusting one another, they can take back what is rightfully theirs and shape a collective destiny.—Joe Pettit Jr.


30. Face/Off

face-off-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: John Woo
Stars: Nicolas Cage, John Travolta
Runtime: 139 minutes

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One of the best action bonanzas of the ’90s begins with the murder of a small boy, and the following 130 brilliant, dove-dunked, borderline lysergic minutes do nothing to denounce the glorious shamelessness of those very first moments. Contrary to contemporary narratives, Nicolas Cage has always been a bit much, but as swaggering sociopath Castor Troy (and then as traumatized lawman Sean Archer), the Oscar-winning actor seems to realize that everything has been building to this Face/Off, that perhaps he had been put on this earth for the sake of this film, and that director John Woo—already an action maestro by this point with The Killer, Hardboiled and Hard Target—should be his Metatron, recording and overseeing this important time in the Realm of Humans. Similarly, John Travolta leans just as hard into his half of the two-hander, saddled with the added pressure of playing a bad guy who’s playing a dad who lasciviously stares at “his” own teenage daughter, encouraging her to smoke by basically flirting with her, and like most Travolta performances from the past 20 years, fails spectacularly to not make it weird. With a plot (FBI agent undergoes experimental face surgery to pretend to be super criminal in order to trick super criminal’s less-super criminal brother into revealing the location of a bomb) that makes way less sense as a Wikipedia synopsis than it does on-screen, Face/Off should be a disaster. And hoo boy is it ever—plus a landmark in action filmmaking.—Dom Sinacola