Turn Down the Lights and Tune Out Tensions with These 10 Movies

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Turn Down the Lights and Tune Out Tensions with These 10 Movies


I can feel the tension in the air in Happy Valley. 

One week from today we will go to the polls and vote. In a country where the standard is a government by the people, exercised by periodically-held free elections, faith in the election process is a must. The belief among some that it might not be correct, coupled with vocal disagreements on issues, are causing tension.

Then last week Penn State University found itself in the unenviable position of having to prohibit citizens from speaking on campus, after spending weeks prior defending those speakers’ rights to free speech. Granted, their reasoning – the safety of those in attendance – certainly speaks to the need for people to peaceably assemble if they wish to exercise their First Amendment rights. Nonetheless, the build-up, altercation and result made national news. It was a tense time in Happy Valley.

Lastly, and on a locally important but much less nation-altering level, the Penn State football team gave millions of Penn State fans hope of a win in this past weekend’s game against, well, I can’t even type their name. With a lead partway into the fourth quarter, and the possibility of erasing a five-year losing streak to the state to our west, everything unraveled in the span of minutes and defeat was grasped from the hands of victory. Tensions certainly ran high on Saturday. 

After the game we went home and sat around the fire pit in our back yard with friends who were staying the weekend with us. Awash in all that leftover tension and frustration from the game, we were, as John Prine sings in “Illegal Smile,” looking for “the key to escape reality.” 

And that’s when the conversation shifted to movies. Not just any movies, but sit-down-on-your-couch-and-enjoy-some-mindless-entertainment movies. Funny movies. Humorous movies. Action movies. Good guys winning movies. Movies with a healthy dose of fantasy and/or science-fiction. Movies with memorable and quotable lines. Movies for which the bounds of reality do not exist. Movies with all of those traits mixed into one.

So it was that my two college friends and I came up with this top 10 list of movies – or series of movies – that we like to watch when we want to park our brains at the door, let art flow over us and release the tensions of life to the universe. They are:

1) Pirates of the Caribbean – 1, 2 and 3

Having Johnny Depp portray Captain Jack Sparrow must certainly be one of the best casting decisions in the history of movies. This series of films based loosely on the Disney ride, provides many opportunities for humorous exchanges as the swashbuckling fantasy pirate tales unfold. The fourth and fifth films in the series leave out (mostly) the characters of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, which makes them feel a bit out-of-sync and less enjoyable. But anyone looking for a novel way to decline an appeal should use the line, “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means ‘no’.” 

2) Repo Man

This 1984 film starring a young Emilio Estevez as a failed punk rocker who becomes a repo man trainee is weird and hilarious. With three primary characters named Bud, Miller and Lite, two of whom are played by classic character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Tracey Walter, this bizarre picture requires you to completely forget reality when watching it. A worthwhile bit of trivia: the executive producer of the movie was Mike Nesmith from The Monkees.

3) The Avengers – sequels and the associated movies of the characters 

A WW II backstory that leads into a present day fight between good and evil – not just on earth but throughout the universes (plural). There is sarcasm, wit and biting humor in all the variations of the “group” Avenger movies as well as the individual character’s films – Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, etc. Must-see cinema. 

4) Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle

After watching Samuel L. Jackson play the leading good guy Nick Fury in the Marvel movies, it’s engaging to watch him play the horribly evil character in the first Kingsman film. Then Julianne Moore picks up the nasty villain baton in the second film in the series – all while holding Elton John hostage as her personal piano player. 

5) Transformers

For those who knew Shia LeBeouf as the awkward and inept teenager Louis Stevens in the TV series “Even Stevens,” it’s easy to grasp the move into the just-slightly-less awkward and inept Sam Witwicky character in the first Transformer movie. Good versus evil alien shape-shifting vehicles with deadly powers intent on destroying earth, while supported in the movie by great character actors such as Julie White as the mom and John Turturro as the government agent, makes this a fun movie that’s not just for kids. 

6) Men In Black; MIIB; and MIB3

Tommy Lee Jones plays Agent Kay of the Men in Black – an agency responsible for keeping track of all the aliens on earth – and recruits Will Smith to be his partner as Agent Jay. The series of three films follows their exploits to save earth from annihilation. Each of the movies hits all the right buttons for fictional fun, humor and action.

7) Star Wars: Episodes IV, V & VI

The original three movies in what became a nine-movie series are a little heavier on the drama and lighter on the humor than most of the other films on this list, but good space tales told ages in the future are great for escapism. That the wisest character was a little green alien who shows up in the second film – and was voiced by a Muppet-master – makes the whole series all the more endearing. 

8) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

This cult movie is so bad it’s the perfect medicine if you really want to let art flow over you. Cheesy special effects, Halloween-quality costumes and over-the-top acting, all contribute to the mélange of a story centered on a brain surgeon/rock musician who must stop alien invaders from the eighth dimension planning to conquer Earth. It’s a space alien film with Jeff Goldblum that gives you this memorable dialogue, “…cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” If that doesn’t say reality diversion, I don’t know what does.

9) Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The main characters from the TV show are all here – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov. The familiarity of the premise, the alien life-form, Kirk’s declarative conversational tone, the gadgets and  the costumes all make for a great opportunity to zone-out and let the crew of the USS Enterprise do what they do best: save the day. 

10) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Kids, a cute space alien, a dog, nasty adults and the unforgettable line still used in conversations 40 years after the film was made: “E.T. phone home.” Enough said. 

We’re well aware that there are hundreds of films you could watch that provide the opportunity for escaping reality (with the holiday season on the horizon the “Santa Clause” series would make great options). As we sat around the fire on chilly Saturday night this was the list we came up with. Whatever your favorites, remember, if you find tensions getting too great, plop yourself down, grab some munchies and your favorite beverage, and lose yourself in a movie!


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