My family will likely chuckle when they see I’ve boiled my list down to just five movies I consider the best of all time. You see, my children are 20 and 18, and there are times when my wife and I realize they haven’t seen something—like Saving Private Ryan or The Shawshank Redemption or Alien—and I’ll say, “That’s like the greatest movie of all time!”
Essentially, I enjoy the film a great deal, but it is the experience of watching it with my friends and family that heightens the enjoyment of a great movie to that epic tier. Thus, as you read through my top 5, you’ll notice that important thread throughout of the shared experience.
5. The Godfather
It was on the way out of the theatre after watching The Untouchables that I commented to my wife, “That was pretty good.” To which she responded, “It was okay, but it wasn’t The Godfather.” I said, “I’ve never seen The Godfather.” And she stopped in the parking lot and stared at me as though she didn’t know me anymore.
Thus we rented the greatest mobster movie of all time. The only one that comes close is its own sequel, The Godfather: Part II. Whether it’s the iconic scenes, the way Francis Ford Coppola shot the movie, the performances—and clearly, Marlon Brando is in his prime here as Don Vito Corleone—the film is simply at the top of its class.
4. The Terminator
Back in the day, when The Terminator came out, it was possible to have no idea what movies were playing at the local cinema. No YouTube. No Fandango. Either find it in the newspaper or call and listen to the schedule on the recording. Trailers were not scattered all over the place the way they are today.
So a pair of my friends walked into the convenience store where I was working and asked whether I wanted to go see The Terminator. And being 17, I was like, “Sure. What’s The Terminator?”
Other than it being the greatest love story of all time—a claim made by the film’s female lead, Linda Hamilton—it’s also a relentless chase movie, packed full of action and enough twists to keep your first viewing of it riveting. And mine was riveting. It was likely the last time I was ever completely not spoiled about anything in a movie; the last time I went into a film absolutely blind about it. That heightened the enjoyment for me and my friends and remains a lasting memory.
3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
I’m cheating here a bit, obviously, but I take the trilogy as J.R.R. Tolkien intended for the book to be taken: as a whole. Going to re-watch Fellowship of the Ring with my brother and brother-in-law at 1am in the morning and re-living the magic of having the most beloved fantasy novel of all time brought to life is something I will always cherish.
The movies themselves are marvels, telling an intimate story of ultimate heroism against the backdrop of epic-scale war. Director Peter Jackson dares what many considered impossible in bringing the story to the screen, and his success in doing so is stitched into every moment of the film. That and the Ride of the Rohirrim is the most incredible battle scene I have ever watched.
2. The Lion King
When this movie released in 1994, Disney ran it for seven weeks out of Radio City Music Hall in New York City. My wife bought us tickets as a birthday present.
Stellar in every regard, from the animation to the soundtrack to the performances—I mean, seriously, the voice talents of James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons in the same film!—The Lion King is the pinnacle of the Disney Renaissance. Shakespearean in its overall story and yet filled with heart and charm, the movie is distinctly Disney in every frame of its being. As a long-time fan of pretty much all things Disney, there is no surprise that its greatest achievement makes my top 5.
1. The Princess Bride
My family moved the summer before my senior year of high school. Before then, my brother—two and a half years younger than me—and I shared an uneasy alliance, mostly intersecting at meal times. I had my friends; he had his friends. In our new location, however, he and I were on fresh ground. Thus we bonded.
And one of those bonding experiences occurred a couple years later, during the summer, as I was home from college and him just about to set forth to university himself. That bonding experience was The Princess Bride.
We watched it every day that summer. Every. Single. Day.
Endlessly quotable, charming in every single way, the movie is a love letter to action/adventure movies. My brother and I can rattle off the whole thing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not quoting it in one context or another.
It is a timeless film. You can enjoy it as a child, as a young adult, as an adult. It has something for everyone. I mean, Peter Falk, the grandfather who reads the story to his sick grandson, sums it up best: “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
Who could ask for anything more than a little bit of everything?