Do you remember going to the movies as a kid? You would laugh, jump, cheer from your scene in excitement and even immerse yourself in the deeper themes of adventure and wonder as the stories unfolded on the big screen. These stories had heroes fighting the bad guys, nerve-racking mysteries waiting to be solved, epic journeys to far away lands, and some of the most imaginative creatures. Back then, something was notably absent from movies.
Movies that are marketed to children and families are usually centered around exciting quests and shocking thrillers rather than sickly sweet closeups and romantic gestures or two people gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. In these movies, stories take center stage without being overshadowed by violins swelling in the background. Characters focus all their energies into achieving things rather than making undying declarations. So when the credits roll, you feel uplifted, inspired, or exhilarated. All without anything inappropriate sneaking into the content or a kiss and embrace to distract you from the true magic of the story.
20 Selma (2014)
Chronicling the events that led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Selma is a historical drama that reminds us how change begins with one confident, solitary step. The movie centers around a pivotal time during America’s civil rights movement when racial discrimination was still prominent in certain areas and it was very difficult for Blacks to register to vote. The most affected by this was Alabama City. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow companions started a march from Selma to Montgomery despite facing violence and opposition. Director Ava DuVernay instills every inch of the frame with faith and perseverance as ordinary men and women find the courage to stand up and walk hundreds of miles for their right to vote.
19 Stand By Me (1986)
A meditation on childhood friendships and the looming wonder of growing up, Stand By Me revolves around four friends, Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. After the news of a local teenager being hit by the train spreads across town, the company is curious about him. So they go on an epic adventure through the treacherous woods on the tail end of a long, hot summer in search of his dead body. The boys are not armed with anything but courage and curiosity. In this story of boyhood, Rob Reiner places little lessons for a lifetime of remembrance in the form of laughs and scares and staying together no matter what. In a way, the movie also teaches you about overcoming your fears through the love and support of true friends.
18 Interstellar (2014)
Directed by Christopher Nolan, this incredible science fiction film paints a heartbreaking portrait of one father’s love and longing for his children as he is caught in between the vast capacity of space and time. The story goes as follows: the Earth has become inhabitable after massive dust storms have taken up the atmosphere and the civilization is being threatened for extinction.
In such crazy times, a group of astronauts led by an ex-NASA pilot, Joseph Cooper, is tasked to fly a spaceship through a wormhole in search of a new planet that could sustain human life. But outer space is boundless and the concept of time out there is different. Matthew McConaughey delivers a beautiful performance in Interstellaras he finds himself discovering the truth about human connection.
17 Whiplash (2014)
Intense and aggressive jazz takes center stage in this pulsating drama directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The movie is about a young drummer named Andrew who enrolls in a music conservatory to pursue his dreams of greatness. His mentor, Terence Fletcher is a ruthless man who implements brutal measures and pushes all his students to the brink of their patience in the name of seeking musical perfection. Fletcher is disturbingly strict with Andrew and he almost drives him crazy while training. Whiplash closely examines the pain that goes into achieving a person’s artistic vision at the cost of their humanity. Apparently, genius is not born but honed from pushing past the limits of what we think is possible.
16 No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Coen brothers put their signature brilliance in this neo-western thriller. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, No Country For Old Men follows the events that conspire after Llewelyn Moss, a harmless hunter, discovers $2 million is the desert in the wake of a drug deal gone wrong. Skeptic of all that occurs in the wild west, he decides to lay low. But soon, he finds himself being hunted by a relentless, psychopathic killer named Anton Chirugh. Chirugh is only after the money but in the process, he brings a long line of brutality and violence. The movie has all the elements of a horror classic – there is disturbing violence and an air of suspense – and yet, it remains a film that shows how fate and luck may take chances to rule the day.
15 Prisoners (2013)
After his daughter and her friend go missing on Thanksgiving Day, a desperate father named Keller Dover seeks the help of the police. But they hit a dead end in their investigation so Dover decides to take the law into his own hands. He takes the main suspect as prisoner but after a mysterious turn of events, he realizes that there may be more to this disappearance that he could fathom. Also on the hunt is Detective Loki, who will not stop until he uncovers the truth. The Denis Villeneuve film gets quite intense in places as Hugh Jackman’s character portrays the rage and blind determination of a parent willing to go to shocking extremes to protect his daughter. Overall, Prisoners is a compelling thriller that keeps you hooked to the screen until the very end.
14 12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men is an immersive legal drama about the trial of a young Puerto Rican boy who was accused of murdering his father. In the beginning, the scenario resembles that of an open-and-shut case but as the movie enters a jury deliberation room filled with 12 men willing to debate the boy’s fate, we see a subtle transformation of events. Their debates center around truth, injustice, and our ability to truly understand a person’s motive behind their actions. Director Sidney Lemut takes the pulsating screenplay written by Reginald Rose and churns it into a claustrophobic premise. Things take an entirely wrong turn when one juror (Henry Fonda) points out an issue about the case. This raises personal conflict, which may derail the boy’s case.
13 Argo (2012)
Part political thriller, part historical drama, Argo is a Best Picture winner that is worth a revisit. In the film, the Iranian revolution has reached a boiling point, with the rebels storming the U.S. embassy. Amidst the chaos, six Americans manage to escape and take refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador.
To bring these refugees home safely, the CIA appoints an ‘exfiltration’ specialist who cooks up a presumptuous scheme. He poses as a Hollywood producer and hires a crew to scout locations in Iran to eventually get the six Americans out of the country. At its core, Argo is all about how the intelligence force works. Their courage and cool under immense pressure is what anchors the nation’s security and the movie never misses a beat in singing their praise.
12 Inception (2010)
Another masterpiece by Christoper Nolan that features an all-star cast, Inception requires you to leave everything aside and drown yourself in a dreamscape. The lead protagonist, Dom Cobb is a professional thief who steals information from the dreams of his victims. His work is so precise that an immensely powerful business magnate Saito tells him to perform an impossible task. To implant another person’s idea into a target’s subconscious. In exchange for the job, Saito offers to clear Cobb’s entire criminal history and give him a chance to redeem himself. The movie daggers through the human mind and explores the limitless potential it holds. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy deliver riveting performances in what is considered the director’s best film so far.
11 V for Vendetta (2005)
James McTeigue stuns the audience with his feature directorial debut. Set in a dystopian future where Britain is struggling under the claws of totalitarianism, one man who calls himself V wages a war against it all. His methods include acts of terrorism and symbolic antics where he rebels. Through his campaign, he aims to start the fire of revolution and overthrow the fascist government. The citizens, ridden by fear and oppression, are living a life where all hope is lost. But perhaps. V’s idea of vengeance could bring them freedom. After all, revolution always starts with an idea, which is passed on from one person to another, and before you know it, there is a wildfire. That’s the philosophy that V for Vendetta uses. And it is anchored by powerful performances from Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, and Stephen Fry.
10 Home Alone (1990)
A family comedy without the family, Home Alone is one of those Christmas flicks that makes you smile all year round. Eight-year-old Kevin is accidentally left behind by his family while the parents and siblings head merrily to Paris for the holidays. When Kevin realizes that he is alone at home, he decides to take complete advantage of the situation. But his freedom is cut short by two bumbling burglars who have their eyes on looting Kevin’s house. What follows is a series of hilarious pranks, physical gags, and slapstick fun as the two thieves are beaten to dust by the smarts and grit of a boy determined to defend his home. The movie uses the innocent imagination of childhood and how it sees wonder and capacity in everyday objects to create an unforgettable adventure.
9 The Martian (2015)
Starring Matt Damon in one of the greatest performances of his career, this science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott celebrates life and the unwavering spirit to survive. Mark Watney is an astronaut left for dead after his crew flies back in the event of a storm. Alone and stranded, Watney finds ingenious ways to sustain life on the planet long enough for NASA to design a rescue mission. Watney is stuck millions of miles away from Earth, on a land where there’s practically nothing. Plus, his resources are dwindling. But he showcases the very determination of the human spirit and uses his scientific knowledge to invent a way that would keep him alive. The Martian is a very creative film that tests the limits of its protagonist.
8 The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game is an important historical drama that centers around the true story of British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing. During World War II, he helped crack the Nazi enigma code and paved the way for a new digital age. However, with genius and great responsibility come unwarranted allegations. Turing was persecuted for being gay in a time when homosexuality was intolerant. And the movie portrays his struggles between wanting to be acknowledged for his brains while also battling the demons that haunted him.
Benedict Cumberbatch imbues his character with sincerity and the brilliance of a man with truly visionary ideas capable of changing the world. Overall, the movie also provides important insights on power and society’s resistance and the fear of the unfamiliar.
7 Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Robin Williams had a diverse filmography, but perhaps his most cherished role was as an out-of-work actor in Mrs. Doubtfire. The comedy drama follows Daniel (Williams) who isn’t able to recover from a bitter divorce and he disguises himself as an aging female Scottish housekeeper and begins working at his ex-wife’s home so he can spend time with his children. His desire for being close to the family drives him to wear an old lady’s disguise, put on a wig and walk in high heels, all while juggling hectic household schedules, neighbors who simply cannot mind their own business, as well as an overly attractive brother-in-law. Through the sincere and loving eyes of Williams’ character, the movie captures the joy and chaos that ensues.
6 101 Dalmatians (1995)
Disney’s darling animated wonder is loved across the world because of its charm and heart. The story, as told many times after, centers around a couple – Anita and Roger – who take in a litter of dalmatian puppies. But they are dognapped by the villainous Cruella De Vil who wants to make a fur coat out of them. Now, Anita and Rogers must do anything to rescue their stolen spotted kin. 101 Dalmatians is a beautiful film about the unbreakable bond between animal parents and their fur babies. The animation is also perfect as it drags us around with a crew of canine characters, all charged with traits like courage, teamwork, and unexpected talents as they navigate the human world in pursuit of their family.
5 Arrival (2016)
When an alien spacecraft makes a mysterious entrance into Earth’s orbit, the officials are wondering to get to the bottom of it. Louise Banks, a linguistics expert is brought in to decode the language of these otherworldly visitors. What starts as a harmless examination of another world’s language soon reveals greater intentions. Arrival is a science fiction masterpiece from the brilliant mind of Denis Villeneuve and it stars Amy Adams as the female protagonist. The movie documents humanity’s first contact with an alien life form. And with time, it also clarifies the many negative preconceptions related to these space invaders. At the center of this film are themes of communication, which reminds us that a deep understanding can only be achieved by opening your heart and mind to the unfamiliar.
4 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
An honest and emotionally resonant comedy, Little Miss Sunshine follows a dysfunctional family, The Hoovers, who embark on a road trip so that their youngest member, Olive, can compete in a beauty pageant. Their 700-mile journey to California happens in a junky VW van, which acts as the perfect backdrop for every member to reveal their petty resentments and conflict. Every character in the family has their own set of quirks – Sheryl is obsessed with making sure everything is perfect and Dwayne is committed to not talking – but their drive across the country reveals the humor in flows and the grace in the absurdity. Moreover, the movie is made even better by gorgeous performances from Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, and Alan Arkin, who also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
3 Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino’s very popular feature-length debut is a neo-noir crime thriller that cemented his name in the industry as a legendary writer-director-actor. Reservoir Dogs revolves around an intricately planned diamond heist and the six criminals chosen to bring it to fruition. These criminals do not know one another and are assigned names like Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White. Even though everything initially goes according to plan, it isn’t long before suspicion creeps among the group after the police ambushes them.
From double-crosses to brutal violence, what erupts is a chaotic turn of events. The movie may feature people connected by mutual interests. But even that leads to bloodshed and paranoia because one cannot really figure out another’s secret motives and need for betrayal.
2 The Banshees Of Inisherin (2022)
Set on a small island off the west coast of Ireland in the year 1923, The Banshees of Inisherin documents the events that occur when lifelong friends Colm and Pádraic find themselves at an impasse when Pádraic suddenly decides to end their friendship. Given no explanation or reason whatsoever, Colm is grappling with being cut adrift. And despite the efforts of their small community and people who know and care for them, Pádraic remains resolute in his decision. Growing up comes with its own complexities and when it comes to friendships, sometimes, certain bonds are simply too fragile and require constant attention. The movie takes that feeling and puts it to screen with honesty. It portrays the pain of being abandoned by someone you thought would stay by you for eternity.
1 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
The fifth installment in the blockbuster action franchise sees Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Missions Force face their most impossible mission yet – to save the IMF and avoid being shut down by the CIA. The movie is also a sequel to Ghost Protocol and it follows our favorite M:I agent and his team trying to pursue a rogue enemy, the Syndicate. They have the mission planned down to the T. However, what they are unprepared for are the looming shadowy figures from Ethan’s past. Like every movie in the series, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation creates a spectacular premise where the heroes fight against all odds and track down the bad guys using brainy schemes and expert planning. A delight for action fans, the film is filled with adrenaline-inducing stunts and fast-paced action.