In December 1995, Empire magazine published a list of the 100 Greatest Films Ever Made. As such lists tended to be, it was collated from votes sent in by the magazine’s readers – one hundred of whom walked away with a pair of UCI cinema tickets for their efforts – and at the time was considered both something of a big deal and verging on authoritative. Certainly it seemed that way to one particular student, who had stopped to purchase a copy while ill-advisedly trudging towards a train station in the snow in Adidas Gazelles as the end of the winter term loomed, and read it again and again over the Christmas break between listens to the CD single of Wonderwall by The Mike Flowers Pops. The b-sides were Son Of God and Theme From Memory Man, in case you were wondering. They were good.
At the time, it felt as though Empire‘s list of the 100 Greatest Films Ever Made was pretty much spot on. This, however, was a very different time. Once a movie had been through its cinematic release – which most of the ones featured on this list had done decades ago – then with very few exceptions you were limited to either catching them on television or if possible renting them or forking out a retrospectively ridiculous amount of money for a sell-through copy on VHS video. For a number of reasons ranging from public favour to rights complications to the very indistinct and confusing nature of certain sections of the Video Recordings Act (1984), this inevitably limited the number of easy accessible potential Greatest Films Ever Made and even then allowed some to inadvertently enjoy greater prominence than others. Critical tastes were at a very different stage of cultural evolution and certain now revered genres were still being either derided or handled at arm’s length with extremely thick sterilised rubber gloves, while others were being held aloft as the artiest examples of the artform purely because an idea that they were classic cinematic classics no arguments still persisted, well, without argument. Above all else, the entire universe was still insisting that Morons From Outer Space and Absolute Beginners are rubbish, not good like you thought. It’s a poll of popular opinion from a time when even popular opinion itself was very different to what we understand it as today – in fact, someone is probably already planning to selectively quote this sentence out of context on Twitter and conclude that it is somehow evidence of ‘punching down’ at food banks or something – so how if at all do the results hold up now?
Obviously, there is only one way to find out, and that’s by taking a full movie by movie look at at the list – but it isn’t just any old list. It comes from a magazine that was fairly revolutionary in its approach; welding mass market appeal to actual valid critical opinion, devoted to pushing you towards the latest and the greatest in the world of cinema in all of its many and varied incarnations – as well as warning you against Solitaire For 2 – at the same time as pushing the appropriate home entertainment formats to watch them on, snacks to eat while watching them, and books to get a third of the way through before you gave up in frustration that the writer wouldn’t stop going on about Hellzapoppin’. Empire played a huge part in shaping the movie business as we know it today, and for all that people might like to complain that their local Odeon is overrun by Marvel, Pixar, James Bond and Vin Diesel and that lot driving a car into space, it’s also where you can see Rare Beasts, Gunpowder Milkshake, Last Night In Soho, Dream Horse, Off The Rails, Our Ladies, The Broken Hearts Gallery, The Last Letter From Your Lover and even limited showings of acclaimed subtitled films if you scroll down the list a bit, and that’s even while the industry is still struggling to recover from a prolonged worldwide cinema closure. The insistence of Empire and other similar magazines dealing with music, restaurants and what have you that there was always a market for something good if you talked it up in the right way, with the right sense of proportion and to the right audience, was essentially what led to where we are today. To get there, though, it had to make a start in a very different world, and large parts of the rest of this issue – with plugs for long-forgotten movie releases, defunct technology and even cinema chains that no longer exist – may as well be written in an archaic historical language. So obviously it’s worth taking a look at the reviews, the interviews, the adverts and everything else as well as you can’t really get the full context of this list without them. Such as this extraordinary two-page splash in which JVC try to convince us that we need to invest in a Home Cinema system in order to get the full immersive cinematic experience from – yes, that’s right – Santa Claus: The Movie. It’s like you’re actually at the North Pole!!
Anyway, that’s more than enough overlong trailers. I’m guessing you’re here to lose yourself in the magic of the big screen – and not to be distracted by someone’s phone screen. Here’s the deal. Switch off your phones, finish your conversations – yes, that does mean you two in the middle row – sit back, clear your mind and relax…
100. HIGHLANDER (1986)
There can be only one hundred! Highlander was once the blokey bloke’s universal ‘I can do highbrow too’ movie of choice, but its cultural stock has dwindled dramatically since then. It is entirely possible that this is at least partly due to the repeated attempts to forge a franchise out of a surprise runaway hit that honestly did not warrant a franchise and gradually erode all of the status and mystique of the original in the process, but let’s not go overboard with the wild accusations here.
Highlander was in many regards the very last swing of the mystic axe for that early eighties back to basics sword and sorcery meets modernity boom – in a sense the spiritual cultural heir to ‘hauntology’ – that also gave the world the likes of Robin Of Sherwood, Black Angel, battledress-toting pop star Jessie Rae, Krull, Nik Kershaw’s The Riddle, Dark Side Of The Sun, A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris De Burgh (a song which I had plenty more to say about – and not much of it entirely complimentary – here) and, erm, the Electric Blue theme song. Apparently. The escapades of Robin Of Loxley and to a lesser extent Robin Of Huntingdon aside, this was not really something that I was ever really entirely on board with, so due to a combination of that and never really much liking Queen, I never really took to Highlander. Sorry. You are welcome to leave this list here and now.
99. THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
Back when votes to identify The 100 Greatest Films Ever Made were thundering through Empire‘s PO Box, The Breakfast Club was seen as the teen-iconic rite-of-passage coming-of-age movie to beat all other teen-iconic rite-of-passage coming-of-age movies, embarrassing dancing interlude nobody asked for and all. If the same poll was run today, however, there is every chance that it might not actually feature at all. Generations of adolescents – who traditionally have an ever so slight aversion to being told what they should like – have had their own successive movies that ‘spoke’ to them, while even those that fell for the charms of Bender and company the first time around have had to concede that certain particular aspects of the storyline have rendered it even more problematic than Bender from Futurama. That all said, the overwhelming majority of potential voters still heavily identified with The Breakfast Club back in 1995 – and didn’t they like to let you know that – so it’s something of a surprise to see it this low down the list.
Not everybody identified with The Breakfast Club to quite that extent, though. I am fairly sure that I first saw it on video at a birthday party thrown by one of the popular girls from school – so not entirely in tune with the central message of the movie, then – and while I recall enjoying it immensely I also remember hating some of the characters and never really feeling that any of them represented me that much. In all honesty I probably found more to identify with in the bits in Grange Hill with them going to and from school rather than actually at school. Or Pages From Ceefax.
98. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)
Conversely, it is actually something of a surprise to see a Western even this highly placed, as the genre was not exactly at cactus from the opening titles of The High Chaparral height popularity in the mid-nineties, and if anything examples of the Western genre were seen as very much being idly watched by adult male relatives on BBC2 in widescreen format on a Bank Holiday afternoon. In other words, it is safe to say they were not exactly being bigged up by Loaded.
Around the same time, however, the local independent arthouse cinema chain – although it very self-evidently wasn’t really an actual ‘chain’ in any sense of the word – was in the ascendant, with all manner of Empire-endorsed off-mainstream releases meeting the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Short Cuts somewhere in the middle and suddenly transforming venues on top of other venues from the sort of places that had to put on cheap and nasty British dirty mac efforts to stay afloat into the sort of places that attracted would-be aesthetes and could afford nice new seats and everything. Which, to be fair, they were probably in desperate need of for reasons we do not need to go into. There were still gaps in the weekly schedules where the grimness used to go, though, and most of them opted to put on slightly more respectable cult classics in their place, often giving punters their first ever chance to see them on the big screen. One particular local venue had designated Sunday Night as ‘Westerns Night’, and there was something about going and watching them and then getting the last bus home at the end of a long week that left you if not quite feeling like Clint Eastwood, then at least whistling the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly to yourself.
97. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1989)
As revered as Tim Burton may have gone on to become, Edward Scissorhands almost certainly would not find its way onto any sort of similar list now. Everyone involved with it went on to much bigger and better things, and even the name ‘Edward Scissorhands’ itself is really now more of a convenient shorthand for asking recalcitrant goths to move along a crowded train than it is in any way recognised as the title of a movie. Edward Scissorhands felt new and invigorating at the time, but the problem with anything with that effect is that it always inspires so many others to try something even newer and more invigorating and as a consequence just ends up getting left behind.
Edward Scissorhands was a little too much of a twee fairytale – albeit in a laudably dark and twisted sense – for a lot of non-goths to tolerate at the time, although every ‘sensitive’ woman at University had an Edward Scissorhands poster up in her room in halls for years afterwards, and at least it is fondly remembered, unlike a certain other surrealist effort that also came out over here over the summer of 1991. Johnny Suede, an absurdist satire on retro-commercialism starring an unknown Brad Pitt sporting a gigantic quiff, had been forgotten by the time that lists of films of the year came around.
96. THE APARTMENT (1960)
The first foray into the Golden Age Of Hollywood, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many movies that fall into this category also fall into this list. Like Westerns, their stock as a genre of sorts could not have been lower at the time, particularly any made in black and white which were generally shunted out unceremoniously to fill awkward gaps in the afternoon television schedules with the credits edited out in favour of a caption reading ‘A NOW DEFUNCT ITV REGION PRESENTATION’ and attracting very little in the way of contemporary critical attention. Certainly Empire was much more excited by early seventies gritty efforts at that point as a rule.
Nowadays, of course, all that has changed and The Apartment in particular is recognised as a masterpiece of comic invention and timing and would be much higher up this list; it was, after all, the last winner of the Oscar for Best Picture to be made routinely in black and white rather than as an aesthetic choice like Schindler’s List and The Artist later were. More to the point, while the entire world was incapable of meeting in person, let alone throwing raucous Christmas and New Year parties – unless you were a member of that bellowing mop’s useless government, of course – Amazon Prime recommended The Apartment as ideal viewing for online dates. You don’t get that with many ITV regional company ‘presentation’ slides.
95. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
As celebrated and revered as it may be now, it took some time for The Princess Bride to reach the status that it enjoys today, so all in all, it isn’t that much of a surprise to see it so far down the list here. Certainly over here it was very much a movie that other people had seen on video and you hadn’t, which is a situation that in this multiplatform streaming world seems almost, well, inconceivable. No, I will not apologise for that.
Memes related to The Princess Bride now fuel roughly eighty percent of Twitter – with the other twenty percent routinely confessing that they have never ‘got’ it – but something that has sadly got lost along the way is the joyful thrill of showing it for the first time to someone who has never seen it, and watching them slowly start to crease up with laughter. This isn’t enough of an imbalanced trade-off to use it as the flimsy basis for some sort of hackneyed observation that in our day, Netflix was called ‘a book’ or something, though. Onward, Buttercup!
In case you were wondering, the big new movies on general release when this issue of Empire came out were The American President, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Murder In The First, Babe, The Santa Clause, the bafflingly overhyped Four Rooms and The Indian In The Cupboard with TV’s Steve Coogan off of BBC1’s Harry. Empire, as ever, had other laudable ideas and devoted much of the issue to cyborg-skewed anime weird-out Ghost In The Shell and New York Irish-set romantic comedy The Brothers McMullen, a movie which as as a reporter on student radio I once somehow got to interview lead Maxine Bahns and writer, director and star Edward Burns about. To think it could almost have been the brother of the bloke out of The Mock Turtles.
94. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
Yet another movie that was also arguably finding its critical standing was rising at that point in time, starting to be taken a little more seriously and graduating from being the off-the-shelf choice as midweek television’s faintly nostalgic ‘big film’ known more for Audrey Hepburn’s dress than anything that actually happened in it towards greater acknowledgement of its deft blend of comedy, romance and style. Mickey Rooney aside. It would probably be placed way higher now.
That all said, the significance of the time when movies like Breakfast At Tiffany’s would simply be flung out on television with one eye on filling as much of the schedule as possible in the days leading up to Christmas should not be played down, as it was precisely this that led to their subsequent critical elevation. For anyone who got to see the first three minutes before being sent to bed, Breakfast At Tiffany’s and other movies like it – and there are plenty more of them on this list – felt like an impossibly thrilling glimpse of an enormous sensational world of cinematic excitement, and if they later turned out to be exactly that then it was hardly surprising that people would say so. Also it looks amazing and the kiss in the rain is, for certain individuals at least, the greatest movie love scene of all time. It’s difficult to think of higher praise than that.
93. CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1990)
The first real surprise inclusion on this list, and one that in all honesty probably would now not even make the list at all. The early nineties saw the very first stirrings of European cinema being taken seriously as a potential mainstream prospect rather than just an offbeat eccentric niche interest for people who likes watching BBC2 with subtitles late on a Thursday night, and as such there was a good deal of excitement surrounding this admittedly well-rendered classical adaptation starring up and coming name to watch Gerard Depardieu, and it possibly attracted slightly more attention than it otherwise might have done.
Now, however, you will struggle to find it being mentioned anywhere much at all. Maybe something is obscuring our view of it?
92. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)
Although Doctor Zhivago‘s inclusion on lists of the greatest films ever is pretty much a given, it’s also a movie that is difficult to evaluate outside of its hefty, lofty and rigorously propagated status as an undisputed classic of the cinema, although it would be a brave or attention-seeking individual that tried to mount any kind of a dispute. Sometimes, whether the subject is to your tastes or not, all of those plaudits are honestly just deserved.
There was a time, though, when Doctor Zhivago was just another brand new movie on general release, and the sort that a young couple might have gone to see and even decades later would still be idly humming Somewhere My Love to themselves without realising to the general bemusement of their children, although chances are that their trips around the same time to see And God Created Woman and Godzilla might be less frequently referenced. Mentioning anything with Julie Christie in, however, does highlight the fact that Billy Liar does not appear on this list which is frankly astonishing when you consider some of the absolute twaddle that’s coming up. If you want to find out exactly why I find the absence of Billy Liar so difficult to countenance, though, have read of this…
91. THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
There is probably room to quibble over earlier and less widely known examples of the ‘genre’, but to most people, The Untouchables represented the first real occasion on which this level of visceral violence had been combined so skilfully with drama, emotion, humour and meticulously recreated historical detail. It may have been superceded by many imitators both mighty and miserable, but it deserved better than to be so widely overlooked now. Not least because Brian De Palma hasn’t been a grumpy old blowhard about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Untouchables was made for adults and aimed for adults and wore its literally prohibitive certificate with pride – but, astonishingly, there was actually a computer game based on it that was aimed very much at children, which you can hear me and Phil Catterall having a chat about here. There was also one based on The Evil Dead, but that isn’t on the list, strangely enough.
Taking part in How Much Is A Pint Of Milk? this month is Charlton Heston, who ‘reveals’ himself to be pompous, arrogant, thuggish, faintly misogynistic and afraid of spiders. We can only hope our eight-legged friends were reading.
90. THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter’s Antarctic-bound alien infiltration horror was considered scarcely three millimetres above the line of acceptability when it was released at the height of ‘Video Nasties’ hysteria, and would be randomly edited with a blunt spoon on its first television showing, but would find itself slowly gaining acceptance across the rest of the decade, marking a sure sign that there was more worth and value to be found in the murkier corners of cinema than most critics had previously been prepared to accept. Needless to say, this perceptible shift in attitude was something that Empire very much capitalised on.
The Thing was more or less ignored by both critics and audiences on release, but the plot details were excitably shared – with an unusual degree of accuracy – as hot playground currency once it emerged on home video. It is fair to say that other similarly gabbled-about shockers have not exactly achieved such elevated critical standing.
89. GREASE (1978)
Grease is pretty much always guaranteed to show up somewhere at the lower end of lists of this variety, as it is a self-consciously trashy shout of teenage whimsy that has – and this is said with admiration rather than scorn – somehow evolved beyond its modish box office moment in the throes of the seventies’ baffling fixation with the fifties (which Mitch Benn had much more to say about on Looks Unfamiliar here) in spectacular fashion, and even anyone who hates Grease should honestly applaud this, critics included.
You might well be surprised at the idea that there is actually anyone out there who hates Grease, but in all honesty, if you grow up in a large and predominantly female household, there are really only so many repeat plays of Beauty School Dropout while you’re trying to read the latest issue of Spider-Woman that you can realistically tolerate.
88. A ROOM WITH A VIEW (1985)
Another movie that found its standing falling dramatically after this list was published. Like its contemporaries, A Room With A View is exceptionally well made and acted, but is also a large part of the reason why audiences were finger-wagged at to affect to like predominantly ropey Merchant Ivory efforts in a bit to ‘save’ the British Film Industry until everyone got thoroughly and utterly and understandably fed up.
The most profound comment that can be made about A Room With A View from this distance is that Helena Bonham Carter went on to be absolutely brilliant in an episode of Rik Mayall Presents that is now pretty much unrepeatable, and that – at least according to Empire – it wasn’t available on home video in 1995. Really??
87. MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979)
This would almost certainly be higher in the list now, and it is staggering to think that at the time that the list was published, Monty Python’s Life Of Brian was still only really just starting to emerge from the rumble and taint of controversy that had dogged it for well over a decade and which in fact had began before the movie was even made. It was almost as though even just mentioning the name was blasphemous. Nowadays of course you’re much more likely to be accused of blasphemy for suggesting that it isn’t as good as Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl.
In fact it’s entirely possible that more than a few more recent converts to the Monty Python cause owned both the script book and soundtrack album of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian for years before they got to see the actual movie, and even when they finally rented it on video in the early nineties probably still felt like they were breaking some form of serious taboo. Meanwhile, throughout all of this, the Choreographed Party Political Broadcast sketch was still missing.
86. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
It has to be said that there is something about the noir-era inclusions on this list that feels more than a little tokenistic, as though Empire felt that they needed to be represented but also felt that neither they nor their readers had any particular interest in them at that point in time; tellingly, if the handily issue-and-date-stamped review quotes appended to the foot of each entry are anything to go by, this was actually the first occasion on which the magazine had covered Double Indemnity in any form. That said, at least the right examples found their way into this list, and Double Indemnity is a movie with an influence and legacy that is still clearly detectable even now.
Back then, however, you were most liable to find any proper discussion and appreciation of the noir era in Women And Cinema and Women In Literature modules on media and cultural studies degrees – a sentence which is probably and indeed hopefully provoking Dominic Raab into a frenzy of slamming his own face against some bannisters – where it was not uncommon to find lecturers using the likes of Double Indemnity to underline their points. An interesting and useful perspective you would have been hard pushed to find anywhere else at the time, but if you wanted in-depth coverage of The Indian In The Cupboard, well, you knew where to look.
85. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
It is, it has to be said, something of a surprise to see such an iconic moment in cinema so far down this list, although in fairness pretty much everyone involved had spent basically the entire eighties attempting to push Close Encounters Of The Third Kind on entirely the wrong basis, firstly by trying to make it into the midweek television ‘big film’ that it wasn’t, then by attempting to punt it as the must-rent home video blockbuster that it wasn’t, and then by shoving it towards the completely the wrong audience in the wake of the combined success of Star Wars and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and that’s not even getting started on the water-muddying occasioned by the first of fifteen billion ‘Special Editions’. Eventually, of course, people just started enjoying it on its own terms.
In certain households, however, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind will always be known as the film where the man ate all the salt and the dog had a tear in its eye. It’s a long story.
84. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1995)
It’s a fair bet that this one is a little less widely celebrated now. Interview With The Vampire was actually a fairly decent effort and was fortunate enough to catch both the tailwind of grunge and the last gasp of traditional classic vampire lore before Buffy The Vampire Slayer entirely reinvented it, and in doing so inadvertently more or less created the modern ‘sexy vampire’ model that others ended up assuming the credit for. Timing is important, and it wasn’t on Louis de Pointe du Lac’s side.
At the time, however, if you went to pretty much any given fancy dress party in a student house, chances are there would be at least seven people – both male and female – dressed as Lestat. This is why it made sense to go as Harry Palmer.
83. BEN HUR (1959)
An immovable milestone of cinema which pretty much had to be on the list somewhere, although to generations who weren’t there at the time Ben Hur has probably never been very much more than that film that was somehow always two thirds of the way through on Boxing Day.
Unfortunately I’m unable to recall what subject this purportedly formed part of and what the reasons for its educational implementation were, but we were once shown Ben Hur at school, in forty minute chunks split across six lessons. Let us just say it did not make as much of an impression on me as another occasion on which we were similarly episodically shown West Side Story. Which, incredibly, is not on this list.
82. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
As tremendous a piece of work as it is, it’s still highly probable that – much like Ben Hur – a number of successive younger generations at the time would only really have known of The Maltese Falcon courtesy of relentless and relentlessly dreadful sketch show parodies written by people who very evidently hadn’t seen it either. Yet another movie that would almost certainly find itself much higher up the list now.
There is, however, one parody of The Maltese Falcon from around this time that is worth standing up for – The Case Of The Maltese Parrot, one of the serials that formed part of Gerry Anderson’s, well, criminally overlooked visual pun-strewn private eye spoof Dick Spanner, a series that is about as early Channel 4 as it gets and actually much more enjoyable than more than a couple of films on this list. If only you’d all voted for Bumpy Go-Kart and Inbred Birdman in Timbukthree instead.
81. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
Given that in all honesty This Is Spinal Tap was still little more than a word-of-mouth cult movie at this point – it’s a fair bet that a lot of the viewers who saw that cameo in The Simpsons (which you can hear me talking about on the brilliant podcast Retrospecticus – The Simpsons And Modern History Together At Last! here) probably thought they were a real band – it is a genuine thrill to see that it made this list. Cinema and comedy have both rarely reached a higher point than David St. Hubbins’ face when the Stonehenge proper is lowered onstage.
Only a relatively brief time before this list was collated, This Is Spinal Tap was a movie that you might well have read about but had no way of actually getting to see, and even when you tried to surreptitiously rent it from the local video shop would find out that although the case was prominently on display, the tape itself had mysteriously ‘gone missing’. This all changed when it was on BBC2 very late on Christmas Eve in 1990, causing feverishly excited teenagers to laugh so uncontrollably at “No one knows who they were or… what they were doing” that they got told off the following morning. Merry Christmas, Derek.
Movie News in this issue includes rumours of a film starring Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar – there wasn’t; the first Virgin Cinema opens in Dublin, a full four years before the never quite successful enough to actually be technically considered ailing chain was sold to UCG; TV’s James Whale is announced as the host for that year’s Cinema Advert Awards, Quentin Tarantino is reportedly making a vampire movie, which staggeringly came out barely four months later; Jurassic Park 2 is officially greenlit; Empire try and fail to score an interview with mystery Los Angeles billboard queen ‘Angelyne’; the important question of whether Demi Moore has worn wigs for some roles; and Empire ‘Goes On-Line’, with a just about halfway impressive for the time webpage that has sadly long since disappeared into HTML Table oblivion. Wonder what ‘Save Space’ was all about?
80. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969)
Like many Westerns of its era, this is really in all honesty more of a collection of outstanding moments than a particularly noteworthy straight-through narrative as such, but around this time Once Upon A Time In The West was being frequently cited as a major influence by an incoming new wave of ‘auteur’ directors – well, Quentin Tarantino and a couple of others where nobody really went to see any of their films – and this is almost certainly the most likely explanation for its placing here.
Nowadays, of course, the main point of observational interest is that Charles Bronson clearly isn’t playing that harmonica. Apparently it was actually Bob Holness.
79. THE GRADUATE (1967)
Time may not have been kind to certain of the character dynamics featured in it, but The Graduate remains a landmark and expertly-judged movie that somewhat atypically for the time really gives a vivid sense of how mid-sixties ‘polite’ America stood on a corner with the respectable rich in one direction and The Velvet Underground And Nico in the other.
There are probably more than a few sixties-skewed cineastes who nonetheless took quite some time to get around to watching The Graduate due to a deeply seated antipathy towards Simon And Garfunkel, who always felt a little too tweedle-eedle for the sensibilities of anyone who preferred Tim Buckley, Love or, well, The Velvet Underground And Nico. Invariably they would end up having their arm twisted by a woman at university.
78. DIRTY HARRY (1971)
A severely misrepresented movie that deserves far more to be recognised for its willingness to pose difficult questions in between outbursts of extremely dark humour rather than through people unfailingly misquoting the tiresome ‘feeling lucky, punk?’ exchange. It was also one of the earliest beneficiaries of a Special Edition VHS release with extras which may well at least partially account for its placing here.
That said, Dirty Harry was also well known at the time on account of Lalo Schifrin’s main title theme, which would be routinely played at ‘Lounge’ nights causing legions of indie kids with Justine Frischmann haircuts and Adidas Gazelles to go absolutely berserk. Still, Britpop invented Marc Francois or something, apparently.
77. MEAN STREETS (1973)
Once feted as an aspirational high artistic watermark of welding idiosyncratic auteur-like tendencies with the straightforward business of actually making a bloody good film, Mean Streets seems to have more recently fallen off the radar a bit, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why Martin Scorsese is quite so curmudgeonly now. Again, though, this is the risk you run when you arrive first and others build on your innovations, especially in the context of more modern and indeed postmodern efforts.
Mean Streets is definitely worth casting another critical glance over, however, as it is a superb example of a taut thriller decorated with dark and light humour, which responded obliquely to the global political atmosphere of the time that it was made in and managed to afford some traditionally one-dimensional characters a good deal of depth and nuance. Which in all honesty makes it little different to Iron Man. Although doubtless Martin Scorsese will not be lending an ear to an enthusiastic chat I had about Tony Stark’s adventures in a jet-propelled suit of flying armour here.
76. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
For a considerable number and a wide variety of reasons, so much about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and indeed Ferris Bueller himself does not feel entirely ‘right’ these days – and in fairness some of it did not feel entirely ‘right’ even at the time – but in equal fairness, how many movies can you think of where even utterly minor lines of dialogue have found their way into everyday casual conversation to quite this extent?
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enjoyed a conspicuous amount of late-night showings on BBC1 in the late eighties and early nineties, which no doubt did a great deal to cement its reputation and indeed secure its placing on this list. Which would have come as at least some consolation to anyone who was turned away from the Classic Cinema on Allerton Road in Liverpool for not being old enough to see it.
In honour of the release of Tarantino-affiliated lobby-centric anthology comedy Four Rooms – a movie that even the people who were in it don’t remember – this issue of Empire features a set of spoof reviews of noted cinematic hotels. This takes in everything from the inevitable Bates Motel to Hotel Earle from Barton Fink, and is much more amusing than it has any business being.
75. GHOST (1990)
Undeniably a good and fun movie and Patrick Swayze is particularly brilliant as the titular subway-botherer, but all the same Ghost was also one of those post-Levi’s ad movies that turned a ‘Classic Americana’ pop record that everyone had failed to remember anything about into a hit all over again and it was usually difficult to tell which was keeping the other afloat. It’s hardly exactly certain that Ghost would make the list now.
You might well think Ghost is hardly exactly an ideal date movie, but that’s entirely the circumstances under which someone again not a million miles away from here went to see it (with Beats International T-Shirt Girl, who you can hear more about in Looks Unfamiliar here), where both participants were slightly perturbed to see a priest in the queue behind them. Lord only knows what that was all about.
74. JFK (1991)
A movie about the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy that very nearly lasts longer than his actual actual presidency, yet it’s a relentlessly compelling spiral into one man’s obsessive and at times terrifying determination to work out what really happened. Sometimes searingly insightful, sometimes downright batshit, but never, ever boring.
It would be equally interesting however to see a movie about how JFK’s assassination affected the rest of the world. They say that everyone can remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. Just imagine if you had parents who were actually literally just listening to the radio when the regular news bulletin came on.
73. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)
A dazzlingly creepy effort that stands apart from anything of the more conventional and less inventive movies that it tends to get bracketed with, and the fact it deals with eternal concerns in a historical setting with nods back to cinema’s past should guarantee it a place on any such list.
That said, any high-falutin’ critical concerns should not be allowed to overshadow just how nightmarish it actually is, as evidenced by an incident in which an English teacher at school, trying to base a motivationally-inclined lesson around the idea that classic movies had narratives the same as the boring books we were being made to read, went as pale as a sheet when someone suggested The Night Of The Hunter. He’d been that frightened by it way back when.
72. JEAN DE FLORETTE (1986)
The first full-blown unashamedly aaaaaahhhhh! inclusion on the list, hailing from a rarefied corner of cinema where art is paramount over content and The Late Show presenters ask ‘do you not see?’ instead of explaining what they liked it. It’s good, but it’s hardly Big Trouble In Little China.
In fairness, even if Jean De Florette might not quite be your thing, it’s still important to assert here just how pivotal European cinema, in all its forms, was for a certain generation. It felt as though through watching a movie you suddenly being allowed access to a different way and a different pace of life, full of fine living, intelligent women and exceptionally good coffee. Yes I was Remain.
71. DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)
An undisputed masterpiece, but the underlying problem with movies this refined, sophisticated and highbrow is that there’s very little that you can actually find to say about them, which is how they come to end up being showered with awards and then plonked unceremoniously on lists like this in places that they probably couldn’t find anything else to put.
The really bizarre detail about Dangerous Liaisons from this perspective is that, at least in the UK, the original release publicity attempted to tacitly suggest it was some kind of nudity ahoy steamy romp. Who did they think they were going to draw in with that, and why??
Empire was always good for giveaways, and in this issue there’s a coupon to see a preview showing of Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming Desperado. Next month, meanwhile, there’s a free one-hour VHS tape of previews of movies due in 1996. Most famously, they once gave away a full VHS tape of The Grifters, which is doubtless still sitting around somewhere in several million box rooms.
70. MANHATTAN (1979)
For obvious reasons – and not entirely unconnected with certain elements of the actual plot – it’s unlikely that anyone would casually put Manhattan on a list of the Greatest Movies Ever Made now. It may look and sounds amazing and it may well crackle with wit, but can you honestly separate the art and the artist in this instance?
Manhattan however does always call to mind the fact that there were two entirely different side of New York that you saw on screen back then – the affluent and sophisticated one and the grimy, noisy, frightening one you saw in Taxi, early rap videos and Sesame Street inserts. That’s really quite damning when you look back at it.
69. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
It may be somewhat less of a universal favourite than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s still disturbingly active publicity machine would have us all believe, but even so, it really is a surprise to see The Wizard Of Oz quite this lot on this. As a movie it essentially has everything a certain type of moviegoer – well, let’s be honest about this, the overwhelming majority of moviegoers, no matter how consistently certain individuals may have failed to see the point of all that business with the song about the ‘Jitterbug’ that they ended up not using or whatever it was – are looking for, and even if you aren’t a particular admirer of The Tin Man and company, it is difficult to argue that it does not do all of them effectively.
That said, if there is one thing that The Wizard Of Oz does not do effectively, it is associated outlandish rumours, so let it be said here and now that first of all you should be intensely suspicious of anyone who goes on and on about playing it while listening to The Dark Side Of The Moon but has never tried syncing up A Saucerful Of Secrets with an episode of Big Breadwinner Hog, and secondly, no rumour about a depressed munchkin trying to end it all with the aid of a prop tree could ever be as exciting as the truth, which is that an exotic bird escaped and attempted to demolish the scenery with its beak.
68. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
A genuinely brilliant movie that is now unfortunately in desperate need of rescuing both from being a source of unoriginal Donald Trump memes and badly amended screenshots of the DeLorean’s dashboard, and from being inextricably bound up with its markedly less good sequels (“The Complete Collection is now yours to own!” “But I-” – “YOURS TO OWN!”).
As exciting and funny as Back To The Future still is, however, there are a handful of aspects that have not exactly worn well, primarily the racial epithets doled out by Biff’s gang when they encounter the band from the Fish Under The Sea Dance in the car park. Fortunately ITV have sensibly opted to simply excise any lines with any dubious terms of reference for television showings in their entirety, resulting a a new version where a car load of black men appear to set about some white youths for no reason. Far, far more acceptable.
67. UNFORGIVEN (1992)
A further example of the Academy Award Winner That Time Forgot, but once again, when a movie is this good on a purely straightforward level then it is actually quite difficult to find very much at all to say about it. Pretty much all you need to say is that it was perfect for the nineties in the same manner that the Man With No Name movies were for the sixties.
Although it was admittedly made after the nineties, one of the many character-perfect references in The Wire sees brutal enforcers Chris Partlow and Snoop Pearson consistently reference Unforgiven whilst going about their suitably bloodthirsty business. It makes absolute sense that they would have seen and connected with that rather than the ‘classic’ Westerns that the police inevitably reference. There’s even someone who falls out the damn window,
66. A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)
Another movie that delivers so effectively that it’s difficult to find a worthwhile angle on it that doesn’t just repeat what countless millions of others have already said countless millions of times over. The fact that even people who probably haven’t even seen it recognise the quote and context of “You can’t handle the truth” is remarkable, though.
That said, something you definitely can say about A Few Good Men is that it had the good fortune to come along at the moment when arthouse cinema and blockbuster movies started to nudge closer together, and while it almost certainly wasn’t supposed to have arthouse leanings, it slotted into that aesthetic comfortably. It was directly through the success of A Few Good Men that we ended up with The West Wing, and it deserves twenty seven million Oscars for that reason alone.
Some of the less well remembered movies reviewed in this issue of Empire include Kenneth Branagh’s frightfully well-mannered romcom In The Deep Midwinter, bizarre time-warping Patrick Swayze weird-out Three Wishes, Vanessa Paradis-led crime slash psychodrama hybrid Elisa – which it is worth mentioning had an extraordinarily good soundtrack – and woeful West End smash adaptation Sister My Sister. Possibly not high on Joely Richardson’s CV, that one.
65. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946)
Celebrating wartime movies as a default matter of course irrespective of how entertaining they actually are is as ideologically troubling as it is tedious, but it is nonetheless interesting that this abstract and fantastical example of the genre and the difficult questions that it poses without ever once professing to hold any of them never seems to be mention by the cement-heads shouting “OI OI SAVELOY” at some fireworks in the shape of Mark Francois’ crying face.
There are those, however, who would elect to reserve their Michael Powell enthusiasm for Peeping Tom. A movie that, for some strange and inexplicable reason, does not appear on this list.
64. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
A movie that it is difficult to see as anything other than the one that took up entire Bank Holiday afternoons when you were hoping that they might show Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo or something, but it is contrastingly similarly easy to forget just how astonishing it looks, the heat haze shots in particular.
Considering the placing of both Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, it has to be said that Omar Sharif really does make an impressive showing on this list. Almost as if there might have been more to him than playing Bridge. Although there’s no sign of The Parole Officer, sadly.
63. ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Cinema has rarely found itself more powerful and compelling than in On The Waterfront, a movie that appears to pack an entire HBO miniseries’ worth of drama, dialogue and atmospherics into barely ninety minutes. Not that any of them would admit this, but every modern television series that every columnist drones on and on and on at you to watch ultimately has their roots in this, although in most cases it’s actually better than any of them.
If you grew up in subsequent decades, however, it could sometimes be difficult to understand why the increasingly more bewildering than embarrassing Marlon Brando was so revered. You only ever saw him looking shambolic in frankly dreadful efforts and the likes of On The Waterfront and The Wild One were always on television too late to watch. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that lists like this helped to save his reputation.
62. SPEED (1994)
It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the extremely recent release date may have had some bearing here. In fairness, though, speed remains one of the most dynamic – and most widely and heavily referenced – movies ever and the bus jumping the gap will never not be amazing.
For some – and perhaps supporting that comment about the extremely recent release date –Speed and other similar blockbusters of a similar vintage are permanently associated with Student Unions putting on rowdy Movie Nights, with the main attraction cued in from a VHS and tied in with ridiculous alcohol – oh alright alcopop – promotions. A simpler pleasure now completely lost to time.
61. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
A simple story told in thrillingly complex terms, with its strength building almost entirely from the fact that you learn almost nothing about the jurors that doesn’t have a direct bearing on their position on the verdict. What happens in that room matters.
Meanwhile, it is easy to forget that the Hancock’s Half Hour episode Twelve Angry Men is actually a direct and contemporary parody of 12 Angry Men, so successful as it is in dragging the movie’s setting into Tony Hancock’s world and indeed into one of the funniest half hours of television comedy ever.
This issue’s Q&A page features an explanation of what in the name of slightly more expensive tickets IMAX is and how it works, the relative modern day expense of filming in black and white and colour, and some nitpicking about discrepancies between the various versions of Star Wars that were then currently available on VHS. If only they knew what was coming…
60. REAR WINDOW (1954)
The first Alfred Hitchcock film on this list – and, let’s face it, it is hardly exactly likely to be the last – and given that even the pastiche of Rear Window in The Simpsons was somehow genuinely nailbiting, it is fair to say that this is a movie that really does suggest that Hitchcock fully warrants his universally accepted designation as the ‘Master Of Suspense’.
If anyone is wondering why that would ever have been in any doubt, an entire generation who fell between the height of cinema and the dominance of home entertainment would only really have known about Hitchcock beyond the obvious reverence for Psycho and the bewilderingly popular observation that he made cameos in his own films through occasional television showings of Frenzy, and even then probably only got to see the first three minutes before being ordered up to bed, and would no doubt have formed a very wrong impression of his cinematic style. Once the likes of Rear Window found their way back into more easily accessible circulation again, it’s likely that more than a few of them suddenly ‘got’ it.
59. SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)
Visually stunning and a demonstrably enormous structural influence on pretty much every action film that has followed, although it is also quite sobering to realise that a couple of years later, Enter The Dragon would have been on this list. In 1995, it still just wasn’t ‘art’.
We’ve already mentioned how good the Tony Hancock parody of 12 Angry Men is, but have you ever seen the Steptoe And Son episode The Seven Steptoerai, in which Albert and some stuntmen dressed as old geezers learn Kung Fu from Bruce Lee movies and fight off a bunch of gangsters menacing the junkyard? It’s real, honest.
58. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
More cynical moviegoers might well denounce Spielberg’s puppet parable as all effects and heartstring-tugging and no substance, and point to the fact that it was subsequently made even more problematic still by Michael Jackson’s unfathomable fixation with the stranded alien, but in all fairness anything that ended up being that massive must have got something right.
For some, however, it is impossible to see or hear any mention of E.T. without thinking of him as a man who exploded and went inside out. It’s a long story.
57. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)
A movie that seems to divide people a lot more now than it did in the days when pretty much any party of any hue would see at least one reveller turning up as ‘a Blues Brother’, but its stock had steadily risen during the eighties and rightly so, and as such it’s no surprise to find it here. One of the most expertly paced comedy movies of all time and frankly we could have done with more Aykroyd and Belushi team-up vehicles.
It may be odd to look back on now but there genuinely was a time when Everybody Needs Somebody To Love was well known even to a large amount of people who hadn’t even seen The Blues Brothers. In fact sometimes they’d know it was ‘from’ it without entirely knowing or understanding what ‘it’ was.
56. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
It is interesting – if telling – to note that there have not really been any films on this list so far that are predicated on joy and high spirits and nothing else from start to finish, but – literally happily – that’s precisely what Singin’ In The Rain is. A movie that sets out to give you, well, a glorious feeling, and it more than succeeds.
Even more joyfully, like all big glorious razzle-dazzle musicals, Singin’ In The Rain will inevitably cause erstwhile readers of juvenile satire and outrage comic Oink! think of this astonishingly good Radio Times parody written and illustrated by a fourteen year old Charlie Brooker. Which you can hear more about in Looks Unfamiliar here, incidentally.
In a two-page special, this issue’s Where Are They Now? tracks down the Von Trapp children from The Sound Of Music – including TV’s Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond (whose web-slinging escapades you can hear much more about here) – and director Robert Wise, then in his eighties but full of admiration for modern blockbusters. What an example to us all.
55. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
Let’s be blunt about this – before you’ve actually seen Once Upon A Time In America it can appear impossibly daunting, and once you have seen it you can be forgiven for finding it more like extra homework than a movie. Yes, it’s brilliant, but putting it on this kind of a list is ‘I’ve SEEN IT!’ grandstanding in skywriting. Above the Grand Canyon. On Mars.
For a movie this unrelentingly serious, complicated and heavyweight, though, it is nonetheless infinitely entertaining to remember that it has been entirely undermined beyond highbrowness by Adam And Joe doing silly dances and making dreadful puns in the Bobby De Niro song.
54. WITNESS (1985)
Another that would probably not make it onto this list now, and it was probably only there in the first place on account of the plaudits landed on it by the kind of critics who wouldn’t dare be seen endorsing anything as artistic and outlandish as, well, Once Upon A Time In America. Harrison Ford is especially good and Witness won pretty much every award under the sun at the time, but when was the last time you heard anyone mention it? It’s difficult to even find a GIF of it.
Witness’s greatest cultural legacy, however, is that it inspired the 1982 Amish sketch in Fist Of Fun, allowing Richard Herring to expound on his theories of the strict scriptural rules regarding the theological validity of Galaxians.
53. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1995)
Barely six months after release this was already halfway up the list. Given how frequently it still gets referenced pretty much everywhere, it would probably be placed even higher now.
Nonetheless, there were some who were a little resentful of The Shawshank Redemption at the time as it seemed to be getting all of the attention that The Hudsucker Proxy – a contemporaneous Coen Brothers movie starring Tim Robbins – also deserved a certain amount of. It is of course possible to love both, but it would be nice if more people knew both.
52. SPARTACUS (1960)
One of those movies that you are more or less told that you like long before you ever actually get to see it – and it’s probable that most would have simply walked away baffled as to why their tacit approval was so vociferously demanded when they just wanted to watch Battle Beyond The Stars on a rainy Bank Holiday – although Kirk Douglas is so good that you think of him long before you would think of Spartacus as a Kubrick film, which is certainly no mean feat. Definitely not The Worst Job He Ever Had.
Unfortunately, no matter how incessantly anyone might insist that you ‘like’ it, it is almost impossible to take Spartacus seriously if you have ever seen certain set of spoof credits at the end of a certain Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch. ‘Irk Ouglas’ indeed.
51. THE THIRD MAN (1949)
Back when this list was put together, nobody had really quite worked out what to do with deliberately awkwardly offbeat and angular movies like this, which would normally be relegated boxouts called something like ‘It’s Good, But What Were They Thinking??’ alongside the likes of Skidoo, Head and Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpe And Find True Happiness? and invariably described as having ‘shades of’ The Prisoner and/or Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Nowadays of course everyone just accepts that The Third Man is pretty much night on perfect.
It is interesting to ponder how many of the readers voting in this poll would have first been aware of The Third Man through hearing The Harry Lime Theme on the excellent BBC Detective Themes compilation album – which you can find much more about here – where it was placed to represent the now entirely overlooked spinoff television series and sounded both sinister and poking fun at itself at the same time. A little like The Third Man itself.
50. BRAZIL (1984)
Terry Gilliam’s never-bettered – in several senses – vision of a paperwork-driven dystopia deserves to be much nearer the top of this list, not merely on account of it simply being a tremendously enjoyable movie in its own right, but also due to the genuinely extraordinary story behind its production and eventual release. The history of cinema is littered with examples of directors tinkering with films to match their artistic vision and somehow ending up making them worse, but – on this occasion at least – Terry Gilliam was right.
Gilliam’s proper original cut of Brazil should of course have come out in the more thematically apposite 1984 rather than 1985, hence this rare example of a brazen contradiction of Empire‘s original feature by amending the year in the brackets. In all honesty, there could not have been a more appropriate movie to have been postponed on a whim courtesy of a faceless studio executive behind a desk who was concerned that it did not spread a ‘positive’ enough message. Nor indeed to then have the date pettily changed by someone who disagreed with an ancient lightweight magazine feature.
49. ALIEN (1979)
It may well be the recipient of thoroughly deserved critical reverence now, but back in 1979, Alien was a film about space that was so scary that you weren’t allowed to see it but you were still all too aware of it. It’s that extraordinarily powerful, and that’s why it’s on this list.
In fact, so uncertain was anyone of what exactly to do with and about Alien at the time that there was actually a mass manufactured toy of the Xenomorph, complete with lever-activated gnashing teeth. As is invariably the way, these were uniformly distributed to youngsters who were too frightened to play with it and would not sleep with it in their bedrooms, while those that would have wanted one seethed with insane degrees of jealousy.
48. THE PIANO (1993)
Another massive and massively celebrated movie at the time that has largely fallen off the radar now. This list was was, after all, right in the thick of The Piano‘s commercial and critical success as a low-key independent movie that somehow rose to clean up at The Oscars, leading to that famous shot of an overwhelmed Anna Paquin crying when she got her award. Maybe it was honestly just a little overexposed?
Michael Nyman’s soundtrack from The Piano was pretty much ubiquitous at the time – particularly in student houses – and then went on to become a charity shop staple very shortly afterwards. This might seem like an alarmingly rapid and hasty mass discarding, but in retrospect it was hardly much of a surprise. This was, after all, an era when a vast swathe of bores were trying to prove they were ‘cleverer’ than anyone who liked Blur and Oasis by immersing themselves in something more highbrow, so when they’d exhausted the anti-social potential of their allegiance to Leftfield and Sneaker Pimps then a minimalist neo-classical soundtrack from a vaguely intellectual movie was an obvious sideways move. This Is A Low might want a word, though.
47. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
It’s sobering to think that only a couple of years earlier, Hannibal Lecter going ‘ffffffffffff’ like those two out of Absolutely would have more than likely been considered one star billing removed from being a ‘Video Nasty’, yet it somehow ended up making a global pop culture icon out of a particularly unpleasant serial killer. Was this down to how skilfully The Silence Of The Lambs was made or were times just changing?
At the time, however, there were those who loudly and voluntarily straddled a weird teenage intellectual high horse about The Silence Of The Lambs being too glossy and ‘Hollywood’ and trivialising its subject matter, and in retaliation made a big deal about going to see Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer instead. There were probably no winners in that situation.
Global Village, Empire‘s regular look at ‘Independent, Foreign, Arthouse…’, turns its attention this issue to Kevin Bacon-led legal drama Murder In The First, Patsy Kensit weird-out pants-off Angels And Insects and Long Island-set romantic comedy The Brothers McMullen. Empire in particular really went in to bat for the latter, which makes it all the more peculiar that it has since been so widely forgotten. As indeed it was by the host of a certain nostalgia podcast when they appeared as the guest on their own show and initially thought of doing The Brothers McMullen as one of the choices but then forgot and chose The Young Poisoner’s Handbook instead. More about that equally extraordinary if under-appreciated and little seen also-from-1995 movie here.
46. BLUE VELVET (1986)
Reportedly the cause of mass walkouts and punters demanding their money back on its original release, but Blue Velvet had recently been rediscovered by a more appreciative audience in the wake of the phenomenal success of Twin Peaks and it was no doubt still surfing that wave of belated interest here. Quite an unexpected entry to find on this list, but certainly a very welcome one.
The downside to Blue Velvet‘s rediscovery, however, was that it somehow by association* propelled Bobby Vinton’s never-interesting song of the same name back into the UK charts, where it only narrowly missed out on reaching Number One. Nobody wanted, needed or asked for that.
*Before you start Point Of Order-ing all over the shop – no, Goodfellas had not actually been released in the UK when Blue Velvet re-charted, and nobody bought it on the back of a Nivea advert.
45. PLATOON (1986)
It may be difficult for a certain generation to disassociate this and its close associate Full Metal Jacket from the nauseating wave of Vietnam fetishisation that took hold seemingly from nowhere in the mid-eighties, but it is always worth noting that the BBFC insisted on passing Platoon uncut at a time and under legal circumstances when it should theoretically have had huge whopping great chunks yanked out of it. It’s difficult to think of a loftier mark of cinematic quality.
Staggeringly, there was actually a tie-in Platoon game for the ZX Spectrum. It came with a second cassette containing Tracks Of My Tears by Smokey Robinson And The Miracles and literally nothing else, and it’s probable that most youngsters played that more than they ever actually played the game. Anyway, you can hear much more about this bizarre cash-in attempt in Looks Unfamiliar here.
44. STAND BY ME (1986)
For a very long time, it was almost impossible to view Stand By Me for what it actually is due to the off-putting loudness of Stephen King didacts, River Phoenix obsessives, and the overall tedious ‘you like vintage Americana best’ manner in which it was promoted. It was arguably only just starting to escape all of that around the time that this list made it to print.
Meanwhile, without any direct disrespect intended towards Stand By Me the song itself, its movie-adjacent chart resurgence regrettably ushered in the moment that the Now That’s That I Call Music! compilation series, well, jumped the shark. They were never designed or intended to have revived ‘Golden Oldies’ on them, and after this they did as a matter of course. Kon Kan were reportedly ‘unhappy’ at this turn of events.
43. JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Another movie that had scarcely been out for three minutes at the that time this list was compiled, but even despite the evolution of technology and running times it still delivers the exact same jolts that it did back then and the effects have barely dated at all. Jurassic Park became a universal reference point straight away and it remains one now.
Although obviously there is an urgent need need to try and convince cinema audiences not to use their phones as torches, natter loudly about how ‘she never’ done x and y or give bored children an iPad with the volume turned right to to watch something else entirely during films, there are still those who take all of this way too far and have a boring tendency to complain about audiences sitting there in anything other than reverent silence. If there are any extant recordings of the gasps and cheers that reverberated around cinemas during the first showings of Jurassic Park, then they could probably do with a listen to them.
Non-cinematic consumer must-haves advertised in this issue include Island Records’ latest big album releases from the likes of Pulp and PJ Harvey, Kahlua, Seiko Kinetic wristwatches, Canadian Club whisky, the hastily-renamed Nintendo Ultra 64 and the Olivetti Envision CD-Rom Player. Not exactly what you would call aiming towards the lower end of the affluence scale.
42. FORREST GUMP (1994)
Really not certain that this would make it onto any similar list now, nor indeed that it should have been on this one even at the time. You do need to have something more than a string of quotable lines in there somewhere.
You may well appreciate Forrest Gump for the very virtue of those quotable lines, and consider it ‘heartwarming’ and/or mild social satire of some form. Others, however, can only point towards when they went to see it on a Christmas Holidays partial family outing, and how on returning, another family member took one look at the collective expressions and remarked “OK, I won’t go to see it then”.
If you actually do like Forrest Gump, incidentally, there’s a full page advert in this issue for the Video CD release of it, spread across two discs and retailing at a thoroughly reasonable and sensible £19.99.
41. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
It’s something of a pleasant surprise to see this on the list; at that time, the movie world had moved on to belatedly celebrating some Butch and Sundance’s darker and more violent contemporaries, with the result that it had ended up feeling like a bit of a ‘safe’ choice that nobody got that excited over. Thankfully, it’s now back where it belongs.
There are those, however, whose first exposure to anything related to Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid was via the Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head-chiming Fisher Price Pocket Radio, which led to them cultivating an irrational hatred of The Guy Whose Feet Are Too Big For His Bed, and then ironically growing up to have feet that literally are too big for their bed.
40. WITHNAIL AND I (1987)
It really is difficult to credit this now, but on its original release Withnail And I was received with little more than a massed critical ‘what are Handmade Films playing at now???’ shoulder-shrug, and remained scarcely above the level of a niche-targeted cult favourite that someone would stick on in the late stages of a house party for many years afterwards. Staggeringly, Empire hadn’t even reviewed it until they had to make up a quote for this list.
If you want an emblematic measure of just how far off the public radar Withnail And I was at that point in time, Ride’s 1992 album Going Blank Again includes a dialogue clip from the soundtrack; not only were they granted permission to use it on the basis that ‘we might sell some videos’, many of their fans were actually surprised that their favourite band had even heard of their favourite movie.
39. CINEMA PARADISO (1988)
Widely hailed as a masterpiece but it’s a fair bet that even most Empire readers hadn’t actually seen Cinema Paradiso at that point in time; in fact it may not even have had a full cinema release until much later – the details are frustratingly about as clear as one of the projectionist’s knackered old prints – and it had probably been on Channel 4 first. This is very much the sound – ironically the ‘silents’ sound – of cineastes fighting their corner.
Cinema Paradiso‘s major achievement for some, however, will be that it always engenders happy memories of that suspiciously underbrowsed World Cinema section in HMV, full of mysterious arty and subtitled tapes on the BFI, Redemption and Second Sight labels with tantalising titles and artwork that were invariably just that bit too elaborately priced to take a chance on.
38. FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994)
Oddly for something that was once touted as the Best British Movie Of All Time Ever No Arguments, this has more recently found itself sidelined in favour of the relentless pathos-heavy mirth-deficient Richard Curtis efforts that have followed, which makes it all the more easy to forget just how massive an impact Four Weddings And A Funeral had at the time. It made Elizabeth Hurley into a star and she wasn’t even in it.
If anything, this has had a bizarre adverse retrospective effect, and Four Weddings And A Funeral is now treated with undue harshness on account of the deserved poor reputation of codswallop like The Boat That Rocked, when at the time pretty much everyone agreed that it was actually quite good. Well, everyone apart from Chris Morris, then in the middle of his contentious stint as a Radio 1 DJ, who indulged in plenty of entertaining swipes at its expense. That really was a real recording of Emma Freud learning Love Is All Around on guitar though. Honest. Anyway, if you want to hear some chat about Richard Curtis’ actual best movie – Bernard And The Genie – then you can find that here.
37. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)
The highest placed Western on the list, and deservedly so. Even anyone who doesn’t particularly like the genre can enjoy it. It’s pretty much got everything – good, bad and indeed ‘ugly’.
What’s more, there must be more than a few movie soundtrack devotees who can trace their obsession back to hearing that eerie and dramatically epic theme music being used in something like a school play or a local news report. Though not many of them will look back quite so favourably on Mark Knopfler’s interpolation of the main motif into his ‘Native American’ incidental music in Auf Weidersehen, Pet.
36. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Cultural impact aside, you are likely to find that the majority of people claim to prefer The Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars – which is of course coming up later – these days. Return Of The Jedi isn’t coming up later, though. Had the boring sneering at the Ewoks set in so deeply already?
This in itself is interesting, however, as for many of those who were voting in this poll, The Empire Strikes Back would have been the first Star Wars movie that they actually got to see. You may well have played with the toys, read the books, played the board game, listened to the radio serial, figuratively replayed the storyline in entirely the wrong order with the Chad Valley Give-A-Show Projector and even had one of those blokes at your birthday party with a 16mm strip of a bit of a scene from Tatooine, but if you weren’t old enough to get in to see Star Wars, you weren’t old enough to get in to see it and there was pretty much no other way of seeing it. No wonder everyone had the 4-LOM figure.
The ‘TV, Comedy And Music’ video review page this month takes a look at The Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge, Divine Madness, Bon Jovi Live In London, Jenny Eclair: Top Bitch, Wallace And Grommit In A Close Shave and The Compleat Beatles. Which they give three stars. If you want to hear a fairer assessment of this once-essential Fab Four documentary, you can find one in Looks Unfamiliar here.
35. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)
A ‘romantic comedy’ it may well be, but it is difficult to think of many movies that have had more immediate and instantaneous an impact without the automatic cultural weight behind blockbusters and historical dramas. It became almost universally recognised as shorthand for a certain type of relationship – or indeed an extremely loud climax – virtually straight away, and deservedly remains so.
What nobody ever wanted, needed or asked for, however, was a stage musical adaptation of When Harry Met Sally, but that’s exactly what they got – and you can hear more about that in Looks Unfamiliar here.
34. DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
Despite its undisputed excellence, it really doesn’t feel as though this is quite so highly – or at least widely – regarded now. It has essentially become a movie that is just there – that everyone knows is god but seldom if ever actually thinks about, and that is an enormous shame. Dead Poets Society is so much more than just a meme.
What is more, the timing of the UK release of Dead Poets Society had the unanticipated side-effect that on a seemingly ordinary autumn evening, thousands of cinemagoers emerged from the cinema to find that while they had been watching this positive, inspirational and uplifting movie about effecting personal change to influence a wider change, seismic regime changes and declarations of independence had begun to break out in some of the world’s most repressive nations. Now we would probably consider that a slow news day.
33. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)
It’s difficult to fully convey the sheer impact that this had on its initial release – not just as a movie and an instant library of cultural reference points but in inspiring everything from a top ten hit for Guns’n’Roses to a top ten hit for the cast of Steve Wright’s Radio 1 show – but the fact that it is considered the definitive movie in the Terminator franchise even despite the already brilliant first instalment should probably just about do it. It was like punk rock had smashed its way into a hi-tech mega-budget blockbuster.
Not, however, that this impact has been quite fully understood by a small legion of aspirant screenwriters with more ambition than sense who continually pitch ideas based on the highly original concept of a robot that is sent back in time to assassinate someone, which will obviously be an almighty box-office smash in a universe where Principal Skinner never thought up Billy And The Cloneasaurus.
32. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
It’s something of a surprise to find this here considering that John Wayne was widely regarded as a little, well, old hat at that point. Not in a similar manner to that bizarre attempt to retrospectively ‘cancel’ him a while back, more that his movies – like so many others of their era – had enjoyed their moment but were now effectively just… there.
The Searchers was, incidentally, shot in the short-lived VistaVision system, a high-definition widescreen format that essentially involved shooting on and projecting from two synchronised reels of film and was prone to alarming technical snarl-ups. It must have been worth it for all that higher quality footage of sand.
31. THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
An undisputed masterpiece, but one that it was extremely difficult to appreciate on its own terms if you were outside the original target audience, as you were essentially continually told ‘YER LIKE THIS’ again and again by cineastes on the one hand and ‘hard’ kids in school on the other. It also led directly to the existence of Heaven’s Gate, which is essentially two hundred and nineteen minutes of two hundred and nineteen minutes.
Those who grew up in a specific geographical region at a specific point in time, however, have an additional complication in the form of Cavatina‘s concurrent use as the music accompanying ‘The Gallery’ on BBC children’s art show Take Hart, leading them to continually expect Christopher Walken to wistfully refer off-camera to “our old friend pastel”.
30. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
In all honesty, it is little short of astonishing to find this so low down – at least relatively speaking – on the list. There is absolutely not a frame, line, character, design, sound or even silence wasted in 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet at its core it still remembers to be an exciting space movie that pretty anyone can enjoy. An example that few have heeded.
What makes 2001: A Space Odyssey more unusual still is that it is likely that a lot of people will been aware of its constituent elements through references and parodies long before they actually got to see the movie itself. Some of them, however, might have seen a notorious early eighties television showing when the BBC took it upon themselves to ‘add’ to the visual effects… but more about that here.
The newly launched Multimedia review section in this issue of Empire is dominated by a look at interactive CD-Rom movie guide Microsoft Cinemania ’96, which serves as a reminder both of how exciting it felt at the time and how rapidly it became obsolete. Much like its close evolutionary relative Microsoft Explorapedia, which you can find out much more about here. Also featured: Charlton Heston’s Voyage Through The Bible, an early Star Wars fan site, the promotional web pages – pages! – for The Indian In The Cupboard and Living In Oblivion, primitive online DVD extra ancestor The Miramax Cafe, and Tekken and Striker ’96 for the PlayStation. It’s staggering to think that there was so little movie content on the web back then.
29. THELMA AND LOUISE (1991)
If anything, this is one of the few movies that has actually seen its stock rise since this list was originally published. At the time it was still surfing the wave – or, if you prefer, jumping the canyon – of its initial wave of at least partially unexpected success. Now Thelma and Louise are widely and deservedly recognised as so much more than that.
There may have been teenage boys, however, who went to see Thelma And Louise not out of any excitement over its status as a jolting feminist statement but because Belinda Carlisle did the theme song. Not that I would know anything about that, obviously.
28. PSYCHO (1960)
A masterwork in blending critically acclaimed direction and the traditional suspense movie structure with the ugliest excesses of cheap and nasty cinema it may well be, but it has to be admitted that it was sometimes a little difficult to see Psycho feted at a time when other movies of arguably equal ferocity and quality from The Exorcist to Reservoir Dogs weren’t allowed to be released on home video in the UK. Hitchcock’s Get Out Of Jail Free card rankled at times and may even have put a younger generation of would-be cineastes off exploring his work any further.
What is fascinating about Psycho from this distance, however, is that on its original release it was received as less a ‘masterwork’ than a pop culture sensation, inspiring everything from suitably cheap and nasty UK-made knock-off with the same soundtrack composter Twisted Nerve to an alarmingly record player-rattling hit single by unhinged garage psych act The Sonics. Oh and lots of people who can’t actually imitate the ‘shower scene’ music with any degree of accuracy.
27. LEON (1995)
This definitely would not make the list now. Very much a case of shock of the new, Leon was a well-deserved sensation at the time, and has weathered better than many of its contemporaries, but when was the last time you even heard anyone mention it?
If you were a student in 1995, though, it was impossible to move for Leon posters, or indeed Leon adverts cut out of magazines to act as cut-price posters. Heaven knows where they all are now.
26. THE TERMINATOR (1984)
A little surprising to discover that this was technically still considered superior to Terminator 2: Judgment Day at the time – although admittedly this was a close thing – but it also serves of a reminder of just how significant the original was as mainstream entertainment. It was a movie that the ‘respectable’ tried to ignore and couldn’t.
It also underlines just how huge Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the eighties and nineties despite the express wishes of those who considered themselves possessed of ‘better’ ‘taste’ than everyone else. Jokes about bad accents, bad acting and bad movies abounded from all directions – not to mention the parodies written and performed by writers and performers who had evidently never actually seen anything that he was in and seemed peculiarly obsessed with the idea of him sitting in a chair for some reason – but did it stop anyone from liking him? BYE, BOOK!
25. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Updating the intentionally standardised format of old-fashioned adventure movies for modern youngsters instead of just pointing at the old-fashioned ones and tutting at them to like them was an ingenious move, and it’s no wonder that Indiana Jones connected with his intended audience effectively. It’s still tremendous and still widely and shamelessly copies even now. In fact, one of the main problems with every Indiana Jones movie that followed Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom is ironically that they began to trade on an imagined sense of nostalgia for the first two movies. A self-reflexive logic trap that works for precisely nobody.
What history has failed to record, however, is that a significant proportion of that original target audience first became aware of Raiders Of The Lost Ark when George Lucas appeared on Children’s ITV movie news show Clapperboard while it was in post-production and talked about how he’d put the concept ‘on the shelf’ when Star Wars took off. Rumours that certain of the viewing audience mistakenly thought he had an actual ‘Ideas Shelf’ will have to remain just that.
24. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Is it contentious to suggest that despite it being a movie of monumental quality and significance regardless of whether it’s to your personal tastes or not, the ‘Best Film Ever – No Arguments’ manner in which Gone With The Wind is aggressively and perpetually promoted only serves to put an equally monumental and significant number of potential viewers off watching it?
Not if you can recall how genuinely bewildering the news blitz that heralded the bafflingly delayed first ever television showing of Gone With The Wind in the mid-eighties was. It seemed like an incredible and disproportionate amount of fuss about a movie that didn’t appear to have nearly enough robots punching each other.
23. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
An unusual movie in that it has a permanent position high up on lists like this, without either critics or audiences ever getting that excited about it. It’s almost as if, well, they built it and they did come.
In fairness, though, there were some who did get excited at the time. At a neighbouring New Year’s Ever party shortly after Field Of Dreams came out, in the time-honoured ‘younger ones room’, a girl from down the street who didn’t mix that often kept going on about how much she loved it while everyone else present was trying to watch decade-closing BBC2 archive pop clips bonanza Eighties.
22. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
It’s wryly amusing to realising that even then, everyone was already treating the third part of the ‘trilogy’ in, well, much the manner as they would Back To The Future Part III. This was the movie series that started Box Set Culture, and that is not necessarily entirely a good thing.
Oddly, around the time that this list was published, you would scarcely ever hear the student population mention The Godfather Part II despite the huge influence the series and the first instalment in particular had on so many of the more recent movies that they worshipped. Maybe the box sets were just too expensive?
21. ANNIE HALL (1977)
One of the most heavily acclaimed movies ever made, and one that – with the majority of the storyline and the screentime dominated by the title character – seems to have weathered certain ‘issues’ more securely than the director’s other works. We shall say no more.
Changing direction entirely, many must have had their first exposure to Annie Hall courtesy of Polly’s attempt to distract guests with the “lah-di-dah!” impression in Fawlty Towers, with the unexpected side effect that her genuinely hilarious ‘recommendation’ actually put them off the idea of watching it for a while.
20. GOODFELLAS (1990)
Went almost overnight into the upper reaches of all self-respecting best ever movie lists – and if anything it would be positioned even higher now – and deservedly so. It’s got humour, horror, emotion, drama, the lot, and it doesn’t waste a second. A little like, erm, a one of those ‘Marvel’ movies they have now.
The worst thing about Goodfellas however was the week after it came out, every classroom was full of boys affecting bad Sicilian accents and attempting to essay a ‘swagger’. Days later, they were all saying “Now I do not BE-LIEVE you wanted to do that!!!”. Proper wiseguys.
The Soundtracks review page in this issue is entirely taken up with new orchestral readings of very old movie scores with a kicking for the Goldeneye soundtrack thrown in at the end for good measure… and that’s it. Seriously. It’s both difficult to read for entertainment and odd when you consider just how strongly the more accessible new movie soundtracks were selling at the time. There’s also a boxout with recommendations for the ‘pop picks’ of 1995, including albums by Radiohead, Passengers, The Chemical Brothers and – with tedious inevitability – Oasis, with a throwaway mention of 1. Outside by David Bowie. “It’s like Tin Machine never happened”, concludes someone who has evidently never listened to either.
If you want to read some words in defence of Tin Machine by someone who has listened to both, though, then you can find that over here.
19. DIE HARD (1988)
Inevitably we are about to take a sharp diversion away from popcorn-spilling fun and thrills as the top ten looms, but what a way to go out. At the height of a decade crammed with MPs and sundry other meddlesome ignoramuses railing against ‘violent’ action movies for attention whilst apparently failing to notice the actual problem movies right in front of them, along comes one that satisfies pretty much everyone on pretty much every level.
What is never really remarked on now is how much of a gamble casting Bruce Willis in Die Hard was. He may have been a potentially bankable name but at the time he was only really known for Moonlighting, a handful of light AOR hits, that episode of The Twilight Zone where he phoned his own number by accident and found himself on the other end, and not exactly as successful as Spinal Tap rock spoof The Return Of Bruno. He didn’t seem like an action hero, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Anyway, never mind the endlessly raging never-resolvable Is Die Hard A Christmas Movie? debate – we now also have to consider whether or not it’s a Time Travel Movie, thanks to a more recent hit movie that is arguably every inch Die Hard‘s equal… but more about that here.
18. TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
The one nobody really remembers out of the initial outbreak of Tarantino-mania – by accident rather design he ended up having four movies in the cinemas at the same time as a first-time director, actor and screenwriter, and regardless of what may have happened since that still seems staggering even now – and probably unlikely to find itself ranked this highly nowadays. In fairness, even at the time it felt highly enjoyable but not exactly as if it was prompting an immediate rewatch.
It barely credits belief now that True Romance was effectively banned on home video for almost two full years while they tried to work out how to edit that fight scene in accordance with new guidelines sponsored by a deeply and desperately concerned MP who very quickly turned his attention to something else the minute public uproar abated slightly. At the time there were student parties where bootleg screenings of True Romance were the main attraction. The ban by proxy isn’t even mentioned on Wikipedia now.
17. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Until around pretty much the time that this list was published, the big murky grimy decadent seventies movies were still widely viewed as ‘undesirable’ despite having wowed critics and whatever you call the people who count up box office takings alike. Taxi Driver had of course indirectly inspired real life violence, so in the eyes of the sniffy thumbs-up-and-down-in-sterile-gloves cinematic fraternity it had more or less been one step up from a Video Nasty. Quality usually wins out eventually, though.
There were of course, though, those who saw Taxi Driver on television long before quality started to win out but didn’t even realise that it was Taxi Driver, mistaking it for an episode of Cagney And Lacey and wondering why the bits between Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly’s scenes were going on so long. It would have made for quite the crossover in fairness.
16. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
It has to be said that the universal acceptance and permanent position of this in the upper reaches of lists of the best films ever made can sometimes seem a little baffling. It’s unarguably fascinating, but a good deal of that fascination stems from the fact that it is almost literally falling apart at the seams. In a compelling manner, but even so. You might as well have Absolute Beginners getting all the attention. Though more about that here.
None of which had any bearing on any mysterious teenager who once belted down the stairs on a Sunday afternoon on hearing The End by The Doors blaring out of the front room, believing that they were either missing The Wonder Years or that an archive clip of the band was on, only ton discover that it was neither. They should have used the correct Stanley Rogers theme song.
15. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Hardly exactly a surprise to find this in the upper reaches of the list, although it is yet another example of one of those sort of movies where people very loudly tell you that you like it long before you actually get to see it, which can tend to be a moderate degree on the off-putting side.
There must have been more than a few younger viewers, however, who were ultimately persuaded to give It’s A Wonderful Life a try when BBC2 showed it as part of A Perfect Christmas in 1991 on account of the manner in which the first Red Dwarf novel kept banging on about it as though it was the mind-blowingly Christmassy thing imaginable. Which was possibly not exactly what they saw.
14. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
In some ways it can seem a bit of a shame that Great Big Giant Of The Cinema Orson Welles’ legacy gets reduced to his admitted masterwork, as in so many other of his early ventures he was so far ahead of his time in attempting to take audacious artistic gambles to a mass mainstream audience, not least that radio adaptation of The War Of The Worlds that had alarmed citizens heading for the hills. What a movie to have your legacy reduced to, though.
Nothing that he ever wrote, directed, acted in or produced, however, was ever quite to match the artistic heights of that recording of him losing his temper during a voiceover recording session for a Findus advert. ‘Rosebud…’ does not quite have the universal profundity of ‘Here under protest is ‘Beefburgers'”.
13. BLADE RUNNER (1982)
It’s very difficult to find anything new or worthwhile or indeed anything very much at all to say about a movie that’s been analysed to the extent that this has – in all of its many different versions too – but to rely that heavily on the modish ‘futuristic’ trappings of the era it was made in and still look like it is taking place in the far future is really quite something.
The tremendous 1997 cult television and movie soundtrack compilation This Is… Cult Fiction Royale closes with Vangelis’ Blade Runner Blues in all of its full length spectacular glory. This would prove to be a touch inconvenient for lounge-leaning Britpop-headed would-be romeos when they put it on in the background as a romantic evening reached an advanced stage, having entirely forgotten that it was followed by fourteen minutes of silence before the ATV jingle kicked in. Incidentally you can find a look back at the full Cult Fiction compilation series in The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society here.
12. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Doesn’t put a foot wrong comedically, and on top of that the very primitive playing around with putative aspects of alternative sexualities has worn much better than it has any right to. More pertinently, it serves as proof positive there was more to Marilyn Monroe than scandal and tragedy.
Speaking of whom, there were many features attempting to ‘reclaim’ Marilyn Monroe in a very strange late eighties movie magazine called Idols, which uneasily mixed profiles of semi-forgotten Hollywood greats with the pieces on The Pythons, Elvira, Russ Meyer, James Bond and all the usual memorabilia-friendly suspects. Nobody could ever quite work out who it was actually for but it’s a fair bet that Mamie Van Doren poster hung around on a great many bedroom walls for many years afterwards.
In more straightforward movie magazine news, there’s a double-page spread on up-and-coming Brit-based names to watch in this issue, including profiles of Saffron Burrows, Kate Winslet, Ian Hart, Danny Boyle, Catherine McCormack and Georgina Cates. It’s unusual to find a feature with this premise where they were pretty much on the money in every single case.
11. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)
Streaming ‘reimaginings’ aside, it is not entirely clear whether this is still highly rated or has sort of been as forgotten about as an Oscar-winning movie possible can be. It was never in need of reviving or reappraising and critics eventually ran out of anything to say about it and ultimately even the need to say anything about it.
That said, there is one astonishing fact about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that never gets mentioned anywhere. On its original release, for one week in the middle of its box office record-breaking run, it was outgrossed in New York by the ridiculous faked ‘murder on camera’ movie Snuff. Hype beating quality in honestly quite spectacular fashion.
10. CASABLANCA (1942)
Another example of a movie that you are told emphatically that you like long before you ever actually get to see it, which makes it difficult to watch in any manner of objective sense. Nobody would argue that it wasn’t a major milestone in cinematic history, but is it really still outrageous to suggest that it isn’t in fact for everyone?
Indeed, there may well be those who hold similarly high regard for the episode of Terrahawks called Play It Again Sram, where Zelda formed a band with avalanche-provoking roar monster Sram on drums for no readily obvious reason, and believe that the fact that the title is a pun based on a purist-infuriating misquote of Humphrey Bogart’s iconic line only serves to make it even more brilliant still. Though it’s not like you’re liable to find any of them deliberately trying to wind up the aaaaaahhh brigade as they head towards the upper reaches of a very, very long list.
9. JAWS (1975)
It’s actually something of a pleasant surprise to see this sharktastic tuba-soundtracked tale of corrupt political chicanery with added disdain for no good hippies, maverick cops and damn disobedient kids here. Obviously Jaws was a massive hit, launched Steven Spielberg’s career and is still the subject of enormous and frequent critical praise, but you never really think of it in terms of something that should be sitting alongside Casablanca and company. It feels like something of a victory, albeit in a very, very minor sense.
What was really surprising about Jaws at the time – although in retrospect can be seen as as clear indicator of its capacity for powerful commercial appeal in tandem with enduring critical adulation – is just how quickly and effectively the Amity Island-botherer became a cultural icon to youngsters who would neither have been parentally nor legally permitted to witness his moment of cinematic glory. Tantalising extracts were shown by those blokes who used to ‘do’ clips from films on a miniature big screen at birthday parties, parents were sufficiently plagued with icthyological posers for The St. Michael Book Of Sharks to become an unlikely across the board Christmas present, and there was even a Jaws game aimed very squarely at very young children, necessitating the removal of maritime flotsam and jetsam from a plastic shark’s mouth before it slammed shut with alarming ferocity; in fact you can hear some still-spooked recollections of this conspicuously nerve-jangling example of fun for all the family in Looks Unfamiliar here.
8. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
Again, it’s actually something of a pleasant surprise to see anything so plain straight up exciting this high up in the list. There is nothing remotely ‘clever’ about it other than Hitchcock surpassing even his own high-set bar as the master of suspense. Everything about it fits together perfectly, from the casting to the camerawork to the music, without the slightest hint of pretension or a ‘message’. Which presumably means that Ken Loach hates it.
Bernard Hermann’s original title theme from North By Northwest – as performed by Elmer Bernstein And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – was another beneficiary of the gloriously eclectic This Is… Cult Fiction compilation series, to the extent that one of those unnamed theoretical individuals we keep hearing about might have decided at the height of Britpop that indie studenty clubland was crying out for a ‘Black And White’ night, championing the likes of Dave Brubeck and The Shadows and installing the North By Northwest theme as regular chucking-out-time music. It was not crying our for one.
7. ALIENS (1986)
Yet another James Cameron sequel that not only actively improves on the original but also does so by moving in an entirely different thematic direction, replacing the raw punky shock of the original Alien with a more studied sense of suspense and horror. It’s just a shame they kept on making them.
As already noted, Alien was conspicuously well known to an audience that simply had no way of seeing it and could only marvel over the descriptions and blurry overexposed photos in WH Smith ‘gift books’ about space in the movies, so by the time that Aliens rolled around, plans were already afoot to affect an elaborate arrangement of subterfuge in order to rent a copy from the local video shop under false pretences. A plan that had to be hastily abandoned at the first sign of potential rumblement resulting in the adoption of an improvised sleight of hand that essentially involved getting out Bigfoot And The Hendersons instead.
6. THE GODFATHER (1972)
Ironically, as we move nearer to the top of this list and these movies get better and better, it becomes harder and harder to find anything whatsoever to say about them. You can’t really have a take on something that’s pretty much flawless, so horse’s head, offer he can’t refuse, Bada Bing.
That said, it is always surprising to realise just how many people have seen The Godfather but have never read the original novel, which despite its moneyspinning bestselling status and housebrick-esque proportions has found itself slightly overshadowed by its big screen adaptation. Those in the know, however, will tell you that the most interesting Mario Puzo novel by far is unhinged What If…? Meets JFK alternate history slash psychological disintegration saga The Fourth K, which has quite understandably never been adapted for any visual medium. Unless you count Series One of Heroes, which you thought was based on Watchmen. No, not aaaahhhhhh.
Don’t start doing that thing where the curtains in front of the screen close a bit then open an even smaller bit wider than they were before just yet – before we get into the top five, here are a couple of further highlights from this issue of Empire…
The Letters page is mostly readers thanking Empire for alerting them to movies they would have missed otherwise. Except there’s also a very long letter from a man who wants all directors to consult him personally about frame rates in future, and a Doctor Who fan moaning because they got the punctuation wrong in Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.. Which he also got wrong in his correction.
Competition prizes this month include a Sega Saturn with MPEG Standard Video Card, The Brothers McMullen shirts and caps, a Dr. Jekyll And Mrs. Hyde bathrobe and click set – whatever one of those is exactly – Mixed Nuts and Before Sunrise on video, and a month’s free admission to your nearest Warner Multiplex. Nobody is entirely certain whether they were all still open a month later.
Other EMAP titles out this month and their respective cover stars – Q with went REM, Premiere opted for Marilyn Monroe, and FHM hoped to pull in the punters with Patsy Kensit. FHM also boasted a free calendar featuring month-appropriate shots of Elizabeth Hurley, Cameron Diaz, Cindy Crawford and company alongside Theresa Hill from Models Inc., who I literally just had to Google to find out who she was and what she was from.
Books reviewed include The Virgin Encyclopedia Of The Movies, On Location: The Film Fan’s Guide To Britain And Ireland and the brilliant Immoral Tales: Sex And Horror Cinema In Europe 1956-1984. Kim Newman’s review of the latter is unsurprisingly enthusiastic.
Video rental recommendations for this month – Ed Wood, Before Sunrise and The Brady Bunch Movie, with a somewhat less than subtle warning to avoid Judge Dredd, Tall Dark And Deadly, Ernest Goes To School and the truly abominable Mixed Nuts.
Dotted throughout the issue are transcripts – with photos – of iconic scenes from iconic movies including the ‘That’ll Do, Pig’ business from Babe, the foot massage argument from Pulp Fiction and Randall on the phone to the video distributors from Clerks. These transcripts were massively popular at the time and a key selling point for the magazine. Now you’d just look for the scene in question on YouTube. Truly a different age.
5. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
It’s probably fair to suggest that nobody would really have been expecting a film this heavyweight and hard-hitting to find its way this high up on the list, especially when it’s one that isn’t exactly easy to watch for pleasure, but Schindler’s List deserves every last word of praise. Sometimes, the message really is what’s important.
That is, except for what happened when another of those entirely hypothetical individuals got talking to someone at University who they were quite interested in until she became absolutely apoplectic that he hadn’t seen Schindler’s List twice. He’d seen it once and felt that was enough. “Because you’re scared of films that tell the truth?”. Romance off.
4. RAGING BULL (1980)
A film about violence that isn’t a violent film, mainly on account of the masterful direction and the towering central performances. This is why you can just about forgive Martin Scorsese for his haughty boring patronising nonsense about Marvel movies. Just.
Unfortunately for him, however, thanks to Adam and Joe it’s impossible to think of Raging Bull without singing “he ate/he ate/he ate/he ate till he was full”. The important lesson there being that you should always be able to laugh affectionately even at things that are good, but never try some comedy in a film with Seany Penn.
3. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
It probably looks suspiciously like you are being deliberately contrary if you claim that Quentin Tarantino never bettered his debut movie, but – inconveniently – it’s also absolutely true. Short and sharp – running to barely ninety minutes – and as much about what they don’t show as what they do, in terms of the backstory exposition as well as that more obvious and more notorious scene. If only more movies had taken that approach.
Reservoir Dogs feels a little overlooked now, and possibly that’s because it’s difficult in retrospect to convey just how much of an impact a retro-literate movie in a contemporary setting with a half-familiar soundtrack but played entirely straight had at the time. It was a genuine revolution and briefly opened a lot of doors in popular culture – such as directly inspiring the This Is… Cult Fiction compilation series – but one that everyone took the wrong cues from. A little like Brass Eye, in fact. What’s more, it also unceremoniously marked the end of the widespread supposition that anything ‘banned’ would actually remain banned; during the more than two years that the BBFC spent debating over whether Reservoir Dogs could be released on home video uncut in light of the vague and waffly 1993 amendments to the Video Recordings Act (1984), pretty much everyone had a VHS dubbed from an imported Laserdisc and could pretty much recite the entire movie word perfect.
2. STAR WARS (1977)
A genuine surprise and a thrill to see this here as in 1995, Star Wars was really only just starting to emerge from what are perhaps best termed its ‘wilderness years’ – about which more in a moment – yet on its original release it had profoundly changed not just approaches to cinema and mass entertainment but to merchandising, marketing, spin-off disco records and so much else besides. In its own way and within its own medium, it was as influential as The Beatles.
My own personal neither theoretical nor hypothetical relationship with Star Wars is a complicated one. Like anyone else who was there at the time – including girls – it is fair to say that original enthusiasm for the original trilogy verged on obsession. An entire generation knew everything about the first film before they had even seen it. Had the figures, the board game, the Give-A-Show projector slides, the comics, the novel, the records of the National Public Radio adaptations, ‘played’ it constantly in the playground and the street, mentioned Tuscan Raiders in casual conversation, knew the names of the soundtrack music pieces, the lot. Yet there was a time in the late eighties when Star Wars was literally yesterday’s thing. The films had been and gone, and even the excitement of them being on television had been and gone too. There were the Ewok films, the Droids cartoon (which you can hear more about here) and the Lando Calrissian novels and then that was it. Gone. We’d all moved on – and just for that brief moment it was possible to view Star Wars not as an unstoppable phenomenon but something that was already even a bit retro and, in some respects, a bit silly. C3P0 soap and all.
Then in the mid-nineties, that same generation started to become obsessed with it again, only this time in an unbearably nauseating ‘cool’ fashion, while still making sure to take time to sneer at Doctor Who and its cardboard monsters and rubber walls or whatever it is. Everything that anyone had liked about it way back when had been hammered out of shape to make even more money out of pretentious bores who could not bear the fact that they’d once been thrilled by a daft film about spaceships with special effects. Then I got my arm twisted into going to see The Force Awakens, and yes, I loved it all over again, but I only love it in a world where Droids, that green rabbit bloke out of the comics and, yes, The Holiday Special exist. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
Anyway, it’s time for the main event. So turn off your phones, finish your conversations and get ready – it’s about to begin…
1. PULP FICTION
It’s difficult to imagine this topping a list of the 100 Greatest Films Ever Made now. In December 1995, Pulp Fiction was barely a year old and regardless of the quality or otherwise of the actual film, its standing here is an absolute victory of style over substance. Not entirely unlike how Oasis were being treated by critics at the time in fact. It’s good, but is it honestly THAT good?
Pulp Fiction has some of the most memorable dialogue ever written, some genuinely jaw-dropping moments and five towering central performances, but the storyline that binds them all together, while undoubtedly ingenious, set the stage for the bloated two hour plus messes that clog up cinemas today and which we are told we are to like no arguments because they are important, not like Vin Diesel driving a car into space, Matt Smith and Jared Leto arguing over who is the best at being vampires or some animated thing with yellow sort of robot thingymajigs that has the temerity to be popular with children when they had not been given express permission to like it. You go to the cinema to be educated, not entertained. At least that’s what a seven eighths empty auditorium full of the sort of bores who preferred the bits in Look And Read with Wordy in them would have us believe.
On a less retrospective blame apportionment tangent, it is also fair to say that even at the time a lot of cinemagoers found Pulp Fiction a far cry from the economical, razor-sharp and quick-witted Reservoir Dogs, but few if any had seen arthouse leanings done on such a massive and mainstream scale so it is hardly surprising that it met with such a rapturous reception. It was, after all, something entirely new – but ‘new’ doesn’t always last. Though in case you were not unreasonably finding all of this a little posturing and suspect and getting the general impression that I might be ironically being every bit as objectionable as all of those cinematic snobs demanding that everyone is placed under a legal obligation to watch mother! while hooked up to some kind of neural monitor that measures how stern-faced and serious they are with the risk of a fine and up to three weeks imprisonment if they crack a fraction of a smile, I will freely and proudly own up to the fact that I still have the Pulp Fiction soundtrack album, script book and DVD, and possibly even the VHS complete with its exclusive Wayne Hemingway tie-in competition leaflet somewhere. Basically, if this list and indeed if the retroactively staggering placing of Pulp Fiction tells us anything, it’s that you should like what you want and keep looking for something new, whether it’s Ken Loach, the Marvel Cinematic Universe or that thing where Michael Gove was a waiter or something. That’s what it’s all about, and it has literally never been easier.
It possibly hasn’t been quite so easy to make it all the way through this list, though, and if you have done, you may be wondering if I have anything to say about any movies that I actually like. Apart from The Princess Bride, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and This Is Spinal Tap, and Thelma And Louise, and Brazil, and a good seventy five to eighty out of the one hundred to be honest but let’s not let such trifling details as accuracy get in the way of an entertainingly forced segue into gratuitous self-promotion, and in any case I was really rude about Forrest Gump. If you want to read more of my thoughts on visual accompaniments to King Cone-scoffage then you can find features looking at why I think Absolute Beginners is much better than it has ever been given credit for here, ITV inexplicably showing sleazy horror movie Bad Ronald in the middle of the afternoon here, the cultural impact of Bonnie And Clyde here, which movies I think have the best endings here, why I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe despite protestations that I am destroying cinema as an artform by doing so here, the story of how I didn’t get to see A Clockwork Orange here, what it’s like to watch Jailhouse Rock in a cinema full of elderly Elvis Presley fans who have lost none of their capacity for rowdiness here, what movie I would put on if I had control of television for an evening here and a rundown of some of the best worst Christmas Movies ever made here; alternately if you’d rather read something more paper-based and portable, you can find a feature on the making of the sixties Dalek movies in Not On Your Telly here and a huge big collection of movie-themed musings – some of them previously unpublished – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me here. You can also listen to me talking about The Wrong Box here, Yellow Submarine here, Morons From Outer Space here, Absolute Beginners here, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook here, Bad Ronald here, The Brain here, Karen Gillan’s horror short The Hoarding here, Guardians Of The Galaxy here, Ant-Man And The Wasp here and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings here, as well as playing a selection of my favourite movie soundtrack tunes on the radio here. If you’re feeling generous, you could even buy me a coffee – although I’d probably just spend it on an overpriced Picturehouse Dr. Pepper – here.
Anyway, there you go. That’s the 100 Best Films Ever Made, 1995 style. Although they do appear to have missed one out…
Buy A Book!
You can find much more about my love of the less critically lauded corners of cinema, from Michael Caine and Elvis Presley movies to creaky old sci-fi and ‘Video Nasties’, in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Well they don’t do Kia-Ora in the foyer any more, do they??
If you’re looking for more tales of moviegoing mayhem, you can find out what it was like to watch Jailhouse Rock in a cinema full of elderly Elvis Presley fans who had lost none of their capacity for dancing in the aisles in 62-39 Was His Number here, what it was like to not see A Clockwork Orange in a cinema in Do Not Viddy This, My Brothers! here, and why I love Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 so much in Some Unspoken Thing here.
It’s Good, Except It Sucks, a movie by movie and television series by television series hurtle through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, blasts off here. You can also listen to me arguing that Morons From Outer Space and Absolute Beginners are good, not bad like you thought, here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.