The Best Free Movies on Peacock (July 2021)

Peacock might have an unassuming name compared to the beefy energy drink title that is HBO Max or the clear branding of Amazon, but the NBCUniversal streamer isn’t slouching with its offerings. The quality of films in its vast library are by and large quite good (that’s what happens when a studio starts its own streaming service), with the added bonus that it has a free, ad-supported tier—which is even better than the likes of Hulu, which still charges a monthly fee in addition to running commercials. And its free TV isn’t bad either.

Hiding behind the paywall (or the week-long trial subscription, if you want to binge some movies) are collections including animated classics—like Chicken Run—and Alfred Hitchcock favorites—Rope, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and more—but on the free side of things, the pickings certainly aren’t slim. Tons of well-loved filmmakers are represented, from Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg to Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg. July saw a bit of a shuffle, but all the Harry Potter movies and Jaw have joined the service.

Whether it’s horror, drama, documentary, or westerns, Peacock has enough to keep you satisfied—and we’ll be updating this list every month to keep you apprised of the latest and greatest.

Here are the best free movies on Peacock right now:

1. Dead Ringers


Year: 1988

Director: David Cronenberg

Stars: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas

Rating: R

Runtime: 115 minutes

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In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruelly toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two characters, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to imagined mutation spreading. The later scenes of the film take on a haunting quality as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause. —Chad Betz

2. 3:10 to Yuma


Year: 2007

Director: James Mangold


Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Peter Fonda

Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes

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Adapted from the Elmore Leonard short story of the same name and the original 1957 3:10 to Yuma follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a poor rancher who attempts to keep wanted criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crow) in his custody before the titular train arrives to take him to prison. Meanwhile, his ever-loyal gang waits for the opportunity to set their leader free. (Ben Foster is wonderfully evil and despicable as Wade’s unfailingly loyal lieutenant Charlie Prince.) While the townsfolk struggle against the outlaws, they also encounter attacks from Native Americans forced from their homeland and railroad workers intent to dispense their own form of justice. Director James Mangold turns the trip into a mini-epic on the historical changes of the old west. As the relationship between Wade and Evans transforms, the fine line between good and evil is well played, serving as a just tribute to earlier, classic westerns such as The Searchers and, more recently, Unforgiven. The film hurtles toward the inevitable climax at the train station where it comes close to imploding from the weight of its own cleverness. —Tim Basham

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Year: 2004

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman

Rating: PG

Runtime: 141 minutes

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Unlike predecessor Chamber of Secrets, third Potter entry Prisoner of Azkaban straddles a sublime balance between childhood revelry and encroaching doom as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) age into an ambivalent future—the same tonal tug-of-war which also defined Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s earlier efforts, including A Little Princess and Y Tu Mamá También. Cuaron insists on a brisker pace and, in many instances, a sheer goofiness that can’t be found anywhere else in the books or movies. The Potterverse reaches peak Dahl homage in the film’s opening scenes, when Harry warps his aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) into bloated balloon, mirroring the actions of another alliteration-named magician who happened to run a chocolate factory. Shrunken voodoo head bus navigators, a monster book of monsters and Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in heels round out a feverish, lighthearted romp through the Wizarding World. And yet, this film’s greatness is in its demarcation: Azkaban firmly yanks the rug back as it progresses, painting a severe contrast between Harry’s past years and his future peril. The titular prisoner, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), introduces a new moral ambiguity which exposes the HP epic as a metaphor for totalitarianism and racism. The books and movies’ magic never became more meta than when it asked its young wizards to funnel their happiness into the Patronus spell—a weapon against wraith-like spiritual parasites that miraculously passed a PG rating. Those scenes alone confirm Potter as an eternal pop culture emblem for hope in the face of seemingly hopeless futures. —Sean Edgar

4. Wet Hot American Summer


Year: 2001

Director: David Wain

Stars: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd

Runtime: 96 minutes

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A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 18 years later and with two Netflix seasons in the can, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola

5. Do The Right Thing

Year: 1989

Director: Spike Lee

Stars: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro

Rating: R

Runtime: 119 minutes

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Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee’s brutally direct masterpiece about America’s fraught race relations, compacted within a block of Bed-Stuy during the hottest day of a 1989 summer, might be hypnotically entrenched in late ’80s aesthetic and style, but its tragic breakdown of racial conflict is timeless. Like a master manipulator of tone and tension, Lee meticulously turns up the heat until the inevitable explosion tears apart the society with which Lee’s spent the course of the movie making us fall in love. Tragedy expands tenfold. Powered by amazing performances from a great ensemble cast—from established heavy hitters like Ossie Davis, Danny Aeillo and Ruby Dee, to then-newcomers Martin Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson and John Turturro—and Ernest Dickerson’s scorching cinematography, Do The Right Thing is one of those rare achievements that manages to be equal parts hilarious and devastating. It’s certainly one of a handful of quintessential American films. —Oktay Ege Kozak

6. James White

Year: 2015

Director: Josh Mond

Stars: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Kid Cudi, Ron Livingston

Rating: R

Runtime: 86 minutes

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Eventually while watching James White, you’ll decide you simply cannot get a bead on its main character. The sooner you do, the better: Like no movie in recent memory, the feature debut of writer-director Josh Mond is a small marvel of even-handed empathy. Played by Christopher Abbott, James White has a restless energy, a self-destructive streak, a bratty sense of entitlement, and a fierce devotion to those he loves. So, what does that make him, exactly? A cautionary tale? Utterly insufferable? A misunderstood romantic? James White never quite decides, which isn’t the same as not having strong opinions about its central figure. Mond has nothing but feelings for White, and they’re compellingly complicated. Loosely based on Mond’s own life, James White spans about five months, but the jaggedness of the telling makes the movie feel like the scenes are simply ripped-out patches in a much larger quilt of a life. There’s a looseness to the film that’s attuned to White’s own twitchy psyche, but Mond constructs his story with care, keeping an eye on its emotional through line. White’s life is in tumult when we first meet him, but we soon get the impression that his life is always fraying—it’s just that, this time, his distant father has died and now that’s become the central focus of his personal whirlwind. White isn’t so much grieving the loss—he hardly knew the man—but, rather, is concerned about his divorced mother Gail (a terrific Cynthia Nixon), who has stage 4 cancer and doesn’t need the additional emotional blow. The second half of James White is given over to Gail’s unalterable condition, and Abbott and Nixon hunker down as their characters travel down a road that only has one final destination. Even then, though, Mond refuses to give in to sentimentality or easy takeaways. To call James White a coming-of-age tale is simplistic—plus, it creates an expectation that its protagonist actually grows in some sort of quantifiable, conventional way. Maybe White will turn over a new leaf later after the credits roll, but it will take more than an 85-minute film for such a change to occur. —Tim Grierson

7. Bernie

Year: 2011

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine

Runtime: 104 minutes

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Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Year: 1998

Director: Terry Gilliam

Stars: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Craig Bierko

Runtime: 118 minutes

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Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was harshly criticized upon its release: It was dubbed too incoherent, without enough character development, too indulgent in its sickening display of excess—though critics had to concede that it was surprisingly faithful adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name. So for those fans of Thompson’s writing, Fear and Loathing feels right—how else to capture the hallucinatory nightmare of the original work? Gilliam and his collaborators create a staggeringly baroque vision of Las Vegas able to easily induce in any viewer the feeling that he or she has been huffing some of the same detrimental vapors inhaled onscreen. Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro are appropriately unhinged as Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, respectively, and other recognizable faces (Cameron Diaz, Flea, Gary Busey) flit in and out of the film as if in a dream. It may be an incoherent mess, but it’s a one-of-a-kind mess, capturing the seductive incoherency at the heart of its source material. —Maura McAndrew

9. Body Bags

Year: 1993

Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis

Stars: Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Rating: R

Runtime: 91 minutes

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Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse.—Jim Vorel

10. Being John Malkovich

Year: 1999

Director: Spike Jonze

Stars: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich

Runtime: 112 minutes

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The feature film debut from director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman is a long, absurd joke whose punchline is its final shot: the view of a man who whimpers as he’s forced to watch his loved ones forget he’s ever existed. Being John Malkovich admits, with sad clarity, that our lives are totally out of our control. In the film, we follow street puppeteer Craig (John Cusack, looking like a small, humming pile of hair) as he confronts the economic viability of his chosen occupation by getting an admin job on the 7 ½ floor of building that also happens to hide a tiny door which leads, if one crawls through cobwebs and puddles, to the inside of John Malkovich’s head, wherein for 15 minutes the brain tourist can vicariously live through famous actor John Malkovich’s eyes before getting spit up into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. Having had his way with marionettes for years, Craig slowly understands how to control Malkovich while inside his head, crouching in the man’s sewer of an unconscious to hide away from the requisite 15-minute limit, but not before falling in love with a coworker (Catherine Keener) who seems to be falling in love with Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), but only via various liaisons through John Malkovich’s manipulable corpus. Throughout, Jonze and Kaufman only afford as much logic as is needed to movie the story from one weird scenario to another, but never letting the bleak heart of the film’s happenings overtake how goofily the plot unfolds. Visual detritus litters Jonze’s shots: A chucked can from a speeding car bounces off Malkovich’s head, the culprit recognizing Malkovich in time enough to call him out by name, though why John Malkovich poorly disguised in a ball cap and covered in ectoplasm would be on the side of the road in Jersey is anyone’s guess; a documentary features Brad Pitt briefly only to ignore him; an alternate universe Charlie Sheen embraces his receding hairline. Ideas pile atop more ideas, until the whole thing collapses in on itself, the film’s centerpiece basically John Malkovich singing his own name to himself over and over, attempting to seduce John Malkovich into accepting what we don’t really understand. —Dom Sinacola

11. An American Tail

Year: 1986

Director: Don Bluth

Stars: Phillip Glasser, Erica Yohn, Nehemiah Persoff

Runtime: 80 minutes

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This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson

12. Inception

Year: 2010

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 148 minutes

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In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream. Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife. —Michael Saba and Chad Betz

13. Nosferatu the Vampyre

Year: 1979

Director: Werner Herzog

Stars: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, Roland Topor, Walter Ladengast

Rating: PG

Runtime: 107 minutes

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Werner Herzog recreates the cornerstone of vampire cinema (and German expressionist filmmaking, for that matter) through an ever-mounting nightmare of unsettling, disjointed vignettes. Which isn’t anything new for the German director, but his methods and sensibility do lend themselves naturally to the language of phantasmagoria, as he tells a well-known story via one subconscious-upending image after another. As in any Herzog film, the story is never intended to hold together flawlessly—only barely logically—but to imprint indelibly upon the insides of the viewers’ eyelids the stark silhouette of evil borne absurdly from the primeval fear in all of us. That Klaus Kinski also plays Count Dracula means that madness bristles at the edge of every manicured line of chiaroscuro: Nosferatu revels in the beauty of horror. In fact, Roger Ebert said, “Here is a film that does honor to the seriousness of vampires. No, I don’t believe in them. But if they were real, here is how they must look.” —Dom Sinacola

14. Mystery Men

Year: 1999

Director: Kinka Usher

Stars: Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 121 minutes

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Mystery Men, commercial filmmaker Kinka Usher’s first and only foray into feature directing, is a production ahead of its time in the most literal sense possible. The movie opened in 1999, just a few years before the start of the 2000s superhero boom, back when comic book films weren’t an industry unto themselves. These were the days when no one took superheroes seriously and most representatives of the classification were straight-up garbage, so intrinsically bad that they well near spoofed themselves. A dedicated send-up didn’t make a lot of sense then, but it makes more sense now, and if Mystery Men is outdated compared to the modern crop of superhero flicks, and if it is in fact the same kind of trash as the period-specific movies it was made to mock, it still does the job of showing off just how goofy the superhero concept is by its very nature. (You also can’t refuse a movie where Wes Studi speaks in chiasmus.) —A.C.

15. The Bourne Identity

Year: 2002

Director: Doug Liman

Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper

Genre: Action/Thriller

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 118 minutes

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The years immediately following 9/11 shifted American action movies away from fireworks shows like Independence Day, and toward muddy uncertainty. The Bourne Identity kicked that movement off in earnest, telling a tightly paced story of a single amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as he comes to the realization that he’s the result of some shadowy government program built to eliminate politically inconvenient targets. At its core the story is one of woeful incompetence and hubris, as the g-men immediately assume losing contact with Bourne must ipso facto mean he has defected or snapped. Rather than talking to him, they hurl every resource available at trying to just kill him, and the fun is in watching them be undone by their own wayward pawn’s absurd hyper-competence. The Bourne Identity can be blamed in part for the put-the-camera-in-a-blender school of action movie filming that would define the years immediately following, but it also put Damon’s star power and Chris Cooper’s exacting character acting opposite one another in a straightforwardly exciting action drama that delivered again and again in the years to come. As the first installment of the Bourne trilogy of the ‘00s, it’s also the foundation of a remarkably consistent story. The sharp-eyed will note that even something as fleeting as a glimpse at the name on one of Bourne’s alias passports comes up again in subsequent sequels, and every time a character reprises his or her role in the films years later, the original actor returns. It’s great craft in service of solid films. —Kenneth Lowe

16. Frost/Nixon

Year: 2008

Director: Ron Howard

Stars: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall

Rating: R

Runtime: 122 minutes

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A small-scale film with a large purview, Frost/Nixon strategically captures the interview as journalistic art, as we watch David Frost (Michael Sheen) attempt to destabilize the most difficult of subjects, Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon (Frank Langella, in a captivating performance). The film doesn’t much dig into David Frost personally, other than to indicate that he’s an entertainer above all, used to coasting on his natural charisma and not quite prepared for the potentially career-ruining interview he’s signed himself up for. There are some fun, awkward scenes with Frost and his research team (featuring the always-enjoyable Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt), meeting and greeting the former president, too. But most of Frost/Nixon’s running time is dedicated to what Nixon dubs a “duel,” and it is exhilarating to watch Frost, initially pummeled by the pro opposite him, come back to life in the final round.

17. Fast Five

Year: 2011

Director: Justin Lin

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 130 minutes

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Early in Fast Five, director Justin Lin’s third film in the Fast & Furious—which just so happens to be the title of his previous film—franchise, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (The Rock) reminds his team of elite operatives, “And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.” Of course referring to a cadre of international outlaw thieves (?) led by Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and ex-supercop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Hobbs is the first character in the storied series to just come in and state all of the previous films’ subtext out loud: These people’s symbiotic connection to automobiles makes them superheroes. What Dominic Torretto would then insist: Their symbiotic relationship to each other makes them gods. Because the magic of the Fast & Furious movies, crystallized in Fast Five, is that it finally realizes that the logical next step from a powerful relationship between man and machine is a powerful relationship between man and machine and man, everything operating in ultra-rare synergy down to the laws of physics, which bend to the will of our titular crew. Stealing $100 million but causing so much more in public property damage—it’s OK as long as a drug lord suffers most. Which he does, after Dom and Brian drag a multi-ton safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, reality at their mercy, justice (existential and cosmic) on their side. Fast Five isn’t stupid—it’s the savviest movie in the bunch, the cornerstone of the series’ mega-success—just extremely comparable to Vin Diesel’s body: Over-big, over-blunt and wielded with the overwhelming belief that the world revolves around it. When something’s got this much mass, it grows its own gravity. —Dom Sinacola

18. Short Term 12

Year: 2013

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Lakeith Stanfield

Rating: R

Runtime: 97 minutes

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As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith. —Curtis Woloschuk

19. Highlander

Year: 1986

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown

Rating: R

Runtime: 111 minutes

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The premise is delightfully bananas: In this world, a small group of people who are immortal wander the Earth in competition for a vague “Prize.” Unable to have children, they regenerate all bodily harm unless decapitated—whereupon some weird electromagnetic life force is transferred to the victor of the duel in an explosive phenomenon known as “The Quickening.” With each Quickening, an immortal gains the knowledge and power of his defeated foe. The last non-headless man left standing at the end of “The Game” claims “The Prize.” Immortals have a weird ability to sense one another when they get closer—probably because there would be no other way to easily identify one another otherwise. The only specific prohibition on their bloody bouts seems to be that fighting on holy ground of any kind is forbidden. (Why? Who enforces it if somebody violates the rule, the Immortal Police?) This seems pretty promising: Fighters who grow in strength and power, exponentially, with each successive victory, until only the two absolute baddest remain. They’d probably be throwing Kamehameha waves and kicking over buildings after thousands of years of accumulated power, right? Nope, it just comes down to two dudes with swords clanging away at one another in a poorly lit, abandoned, vaguely industrial setting. Despite this, the film has endured with a gritty story, Sean Connery goofing around, an unforgettably crass and vile villain and Queen on the soundtrack. Australian director Russell Mulcahy’s background was in music videos—Highlander has that same kind of stylized, operatic, overblown nature. —Kenneth Lowe

20. Inside Man

Year: 2006

Director: Spike Lee

Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rating: R

Runtime: 129 minutes

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Many may forget how masterful Lee can be when it comes to constructing prime entertainment with a solid structure and intense build-up. Aside from some commentary on post-9/11 New York, Inside Man endeavors to be little more than an ultimately engaging heist movie. Clive Owen and Denzel Washington share some nice chemistry as the sleek bank robber with an ingenious secret plan (Owen) and the world-weary cop (Washington) tasked to stop him, while the film’s non-linear structure methodically leads us to its clever climactic twist. Produced by Brian Grazer, this big budget genre exploit feels like a gun-for-hire job for Lee, but it’s nonetheless a fun cinematic lark with signs of serious underpinnings.

21. Crank 2: High Voltage

Year: 2009

Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Stars: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam

Genre: Action

Rating: R

Runtime: 95 minutes

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Beginning with cinema’s most obvious dick joke and ending on the its two directors burning everything, including its anti-hero, to the ground, the sequel to Crank is as much of a mindfuck as its predecessor, but beholden to absolutely nothing but the unfiltered expunging of their most loathsome impulses on behalf of directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, two unrepentant dude-bros who, considering the movies they made together, seem to have parted ways, perhaps on bad terms or perhaps because the two grown men who made Gamer and Ghost Rider 2 just had nowhere left to go together. Like any good follow-up, Crank 2 is everything that Crank was, but launched irretrievably down a hellish K-hole, amping up all the public sex, murder, violence, gratuitous nudity, nihilism and genre-bending fuck-all spirit that made the first such a potential point of cult fascination. Here, Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios has transformed into full-on superhero—minus the “hero” connotation—an invulnerable, inhuman cyborg who must regularly pump enough electricity into his body to kill a herd of elephants just to keep his battery-powered heart beating as he chases after the Chinese mobsters who stole his original God-given ticker and (almost) the big ole monster between his legs. There is nothing subtle about Crank 2; there is only submission. —Dom Sinacola

22. Jaws

Year: 1975

Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Rating: PG

Runtime: 123 minutes

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Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished than either,. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making; the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has rarely been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via memorable characters, but a scary film care of novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel

23. They Live

Year: 1988

Director: John Carpenter

Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David

Rating: R

Runtime: 93 minutes

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Like most of John Carpenter’s movies, They Live can be read however one pleases—they are, after all, mostly about pleasing you. A sharp commentary on consumerism carved gleefully with a dull knife, or maybe something closer to a concerned embrace of the bourgeois joys inherent in dumb violence, or maybe just a weird-ass sci-fi action movie with a weird-ass leading man: They Live is, almost inherently, a joy to watch. It’s as if Carpenter’s tapped into some sort of primordially aligned pleasure axis along your spine, giving you the tingles as he balances insight and idiocy throughout his tale about a drifter (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who, with the help of magic sunglasses, discovers that the rich and powerful are just as grotesque as he’d always assumed. Every one of Carpenter’s odd plot choices click into place as if preordained, so that when Piper’s in a completely pointless, six-minute fight scene with Keith David, one can’t help but love that Carpenter’s in on the punchline with all of us, which just happens to be that there is no punchline. The fight scene exists for its own sake—as maybe much of They Live does. Carpenter’s a goddamn genius. —Dom Sinacola

24. Public Enemies

Year: 2009

Director: Michael Mann

Stars: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

Rating: R

Runtime: 139 minutes

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Public Enemies is shot and edited in a stable, classical style so that in those instances when the picture zips up a woman’s bare leg, or seeks purchase on the floor of a crowded club, or whips and zooms at a moment of discovery, it tells us that something important has happened: the modern world has seeped into an old story, or vice-versa. There’s more to the film than its technical details. It stars two of Hollywood’s strong leading men, actors of diametrically opposed styles, and they both take the job seriously. Johnny Depp isn’t impersonating any skunks or rock stars, and Christian Bale isn’t shouting needlessly or speaking in an unusually low register. They’re acting, they’re doing it well, and I only wish they’d been able to share the screen instead of stewing and smirking in two counter-posed worlds. Depp is bank robber John Dillinger, on the lam, and Bale is FBI agent Melvin Purvis, on the hunt. Rarely, but inevitably, the twain shall meet. The story in Public Enemies has already been told, sometimes in films more exciting but rarely more thoughtful than this one. Purvis says he’s going to transform the FBI with new scientific methods and new technology, but technology can’t suppress human nature, and when he’s pressured Purvis resorts to beating confessions out of people like they did in the old days. With its application of visibly new technology, Public Enemies could nestle comfortably alongside Peter Watkins’ La Commune, a faux video report about a 19th century event, but this time it’s the style of an unperfected, 21st century medium that reveals the pancake make-up of its actors but also conveys a star-crossed romance that endures, in part because we associate it with a colorful era. Like the sexiness of a swagger and the unfortunate allure of torture, it’s timeless.—Robert Davis

25. An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

Year: 1991

Director: Don Bluth

Stars: Phillip Glasser, James Stewart, Erica Yohn

Rating: G

Runtime: 75 minutes

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Legendary animator Don Bluth was replaced by a Disney veteran Phil Nibbelink and newcomer Simon Wells for the follow up from Steven Spielberg’s animation studio Amblimation. Our young Jewish-Ukranian immigrant Fievel Mousekewitz keeps getting farther from home, once again separated from his family, this time in the old American West. Featuring Jimmy Stewart as dog-sheriff Wylie Burp in his final film, along with Dom DeLuise, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz, this is a fine-if-uninspired sequel to an animated classic, vastly superior to the direct-to-video spin-offs that followed. —Josh Jackson

26. Nightbreed

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Year: 1990

Director: Clive Barker

Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charlie Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross

Rating: R

Runtime: 99 minutes

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Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. —Jim Vorel

27. The Wiz

Year: 1978

Director: Sidney Lumet

Stars: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor

Runtime: 133 minutes

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With all respect to Judy Garland and the technicolor dreamworld of Oz, Diana Ross will always and forever be my Dorothy. The Wiz, the 1978 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that makes the beloved L. Frank Baum tale Blackity-Black as it were, is the first film I can ever remember watching. How lucky am I? The story’s central meditations on finding a place/home of one’s own and finding the courage/wit necessary to traverse life’s obstacles take on new resonance when they are considered by Black characters. Additionally, the film’s dance sequences and iridescent colors—which pop off of the brown skin of extras and main characters alike—is visually stunning. It invites you to luxuriate in it. There is not a performance in this film that flops or falters. Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell’s Tin Man and Ted Ross’ Cowardly Lion? Chef’s kiss to all. There is not a curl out of coil or a choice which doesn’t flutter down and land with ease in this film. Eveline, The Wiz’s Wicked Witch, has her villainous ways grounded in exploitative labor practices rather than an exaggeration of her features or the ogre-tinge of her skin. The disappointment when the wonderful Wiz (Richard Pryor), the omnipotent savior of the damned and discarded, is outed as fake takes on a newer and more startling dramatic weight. And there are few moments in cinema guaranteed to bring me to tears as easily as Diana Ross’ rendition of “Home.” If you love yourself, watch this movie.—Adesola Thomas

28. The Blues Brothers

Year: 1980

Director: John Landis

Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown

Rating: R

Runtime: 132 minutes

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For an intensely absurd, farcical comedy, The Blues Brothers is so much more sincere than one would ever expect it to be, both in its adoration of classic blues and R&B and the way it captured a moment in the life of the city of Chicago. Indeed, this John Landis classic lovingly shows off a Chicago that no longer exists in several instances, most notably the Maxwell Street Market, Chicago’s great open-air flea market where one could buy just about anything, legal or illegal, and also gave birth to both Chicago blues and the famed Maxwell Street Polish sausage before the city forcibly moved the market to make room for university housing among other things. It doesn’t try to put a shine on the city, showing both the high-rent (the Richard J. Daley Center) and the low (Elwood’s flophouse, numerous low-income neighborhoods) right alongside one another. This is just one of those films that completely changes the popular conception of a cityscape—if you go to Chicago, you will start picking out things from The Blues Brothers. Trying driving on Lower Wacker Drive without thinking about the Bluesmobile rocketing along and police cars smashing into one another in absurdly spectacular pile-ups. It can’t be done. It might be Chicago’s single most beloved cinematic representation.—Jim Vorel

29. Black Christmas

Year: 1974

Director: Bob Clark

Stars: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin, John Saxon

Rating: R

Runtime: 98 minutes

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Fun fact—nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher legend of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel

30. Prom Night

Year: 1980

Director: Paul Lynch

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens, Anne-Marie Martin, Antoinette Bower

Rating: R

Runtime: 91 minutes

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It is perhaps odd to think, in the post-Jason Voorhees era of slasher villains, that slasher killers of the early ’80s were often weirdly justified in their slayings. Sure, there are some “escaped maniacs on the loose,” but many are basically avenging angels, punishing groups of young people for a terrible crime they tried to sweep under the rug, with Prom Night standing as one of the classic examples. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her first slasher role after Halloween, Prom Night knows it’s trying to cash in on that earlier film’s success, but it also manages to stand on its own, inspiring imitations all the way to I Know What You Did Last Summer. Portions of the film are kind of rote, and even the best-looking versions you can find today have a soft, gauzy quality that makes the picture look a little strange, but when Prom Night is good, it’s great. Oddly, it’s not really Curtis who gets the best sequences, but actress Eddie Benton as Wendy, who participates in one half of what is maybe the best (and certainly most formative) chase sequence in the history of the horror genre. Stalked by an axe-wielding killer in a ski mask, the frenzied, eight-minute scene spools out for an eternity as Wendy is chased through the locked, echoing halls of the high school, illuminated in impressionistic, Argento-esque shafts of red light. Not all of Prom Night can live up to it (the disco dance sequences are dreadful), but the chase alone makes it a classic. —Jim Vorel

31. Sleepaway Camp

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Year: 1983

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin

Rating: R

Runtime: 84 minutes

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Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy, as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. —Jim Vorel

32. Children of Men

Year: 2006

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Stars: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam

Rating: R

Runtime: 109 minutes

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We remember the dread most—the sense of relentless, inevitable doom, from its literally explosive opening moments to its breathlessly ambiguous final seconds, the whole of Children of Men shot through with dismal grayscale, as if the human race were still coming to terms with its combustion though everyone waded through the ashes. In 2027, beleaguered former activist and current bureaucrat, Theo (Clive Owen), wanders amongst the increasing civil unrest fueled by British armed forces clamping down on refugees fleeing the rest of the world’s civilizational decline. Cynical and cornered by death at every turn, Theo can’t help but assist his estranged ex wife (Julianne Moore), taking on the protection of Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey), a Virgin Mary figure and the last known pregnant woman on Earth. Theo’s odyssey takes him through the last vestiges of a broken world, director Alfonso Cuarón staging terrible spectacles—an assault on a car, a nightmarish refugee camp, a wartorn urban battlefield—often in long takes (or digitally edited to appear as long takes) and weighted with unbelievably visceral stakes. Yet, despite all of Cuarón’s technical bravura, what remains long after Children of Men’s ended is its refusal to resolve Theo’s journey, to ascribe to what he’s accomplished any hope, hopeful that there is still time, but hopeless that there’s anything left we can do. The apocalypse has never felt so immersive. —Dom Sinacola

33. The Kids Are All Right

Year: 2010

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Stars: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

Rating: R

Runtime: 104 minutes

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Everything is seemingly perfect in the lives of Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening). They both have successful careers, a 20-year-long marriage and two happy—but totally typical—teens, Joni and Laser. But when the kids, conceived through artificial insemination, decide to seek out their biological father and sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), unbeknownst to their parents, that pristine family life gets complicated… fast. Somehow this film, from director Lisa Cholodenko, manages to address nearly every modern family trope in its hour and 45 minutes of run time. Such a grand tackling of the larger “family” narrative could have easily led to overgeneralizations and a superficial development of the film’s universally resonant themes, particularly with its lesbian leads. Luckily, the endearing, arresting performances from Moore, Bening and Ruffalo turn this drama into a candid look at how deeply we embed biology and blood into our notions of family and identity, and ultimately how little either matters as long as you’re loved. By pulling apart the concept of “family values” from nearly every angle, the film considers how we find and define our families. Lauded as a realistic and touching take on the changing face of the nuclear unit, The Kids Are All Right is a timeless deconstruction of family discourse. —A.W.

34. Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times

Year: 1987

Directors: Prince, Albert Magnoli

Stars: Prince

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 85 minutes

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Prince’s 1987 concert documentary is one hour and 24 minutes of a generation’s greatest musical performer at the peak of his career (sorry, Boss). With his touring band that included Sheila E. on drums, Miko Weaver on guitar, Levi Seacer Jr. on bass, Eric Leeds on sax, Boni Boyer and Dr. Fink on keyboards, and Cat Glover dancing, the film pulls mostly from his 1987 double-album Sign O’ the Times, with hits like the title track, a piano interlude of “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look.” It was filmed at two European shows, but much of the music was re-recorded later at Paisley Park. Still, it has an urgency that only Prince can deliver, in multiple outfits, of course. Released theatrically in the States, the film received more love after it left theaters. Now it’s one of the best ways to see what the big deal is about a Prince concert. —Josh Jackson

35. Psycho

Year: 1960

Directors: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles

Rating: R

Runtime: 108 minutes

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The big one. The biggest one, perhaps, though if not, it’s still pretty goddamn big. 57 years after Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho on an unsuspecting moviegoing culture, finding new things to say about it feels like a fool’s errand, but hey: We’re fools. Five decades and change is a long time for a movie’s influence to continue reverberating throughout popular culture, but here we are, watching main characters lose their heads in Game of Thrones, their innards in The Walking Dead, or their lives, in less flowery language, in films like Alien, the Alien rip-off Life, and maybe most importantly Scream, the movie that is to contemporary horror what Psycho was to genre movies (and to the movies in total) in its day. That’s pretty much the dictionary definition of impact right there (and all without even a single mention of A&E’s Bates Motel). But now we’re talking about Psycho as a curio rather than as a film, and the truth is that Psycho’s impact is the direct consequence of Hitchcock’s mastery as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. Put another way, it’s a great film, one that’s as effective today as it is authoritative: You’ve never met a slasher (proto-slasher, really) like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and no matter how many times the movies try to replicate his persona on screen, they’ll never get it quite right. He is, like Psycho itself, one of a kind. —Andy Crump

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