Few studios are as essential, consistent, and prestigious as Warner Bros. They’ve been around since damn near the beginning and have been pivotal in every major sea change. Bogie had an incredible film noir hot steak with four iconic titles in quick succession in the ’40s and Brando was redefining what acting was in A Streetcar Named Desire. The ’60s had game changers like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bonnie and Clyde and the ’70s ushered in the age of the auteur that lasted up until Nolan jumped ship for his latest project. The next four decades after that, they grabbed pop culture by the throat and never let go. Blade Runner, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, The Goonies, The Matrix, and Harry Potter are just a handful of seminal fandom favorites released within that period that helped change the landscape of cinema and pop culture as a whole and looking at what they have coming down the pike, it doesn’t seem like they’re slowing down any time soon.
These are the 100 Greatest Warner Bros. Movies of All Time.*
*This list does not include direct-to-video releases or films from New Line Cinema prior to its merger with Warner Bros. in 2008, nor does it include third-party films or films Warner gained the rights to as a result of mergers or acquisitions.
10. The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist, not unlike Halloween, was one of those movies I didn’t really appreciate the first time I saw it. My video diet at the time was mostly slasher films, monster movies, and anything with gore/nudity. Into that steady stream of stabbings, decapitations, boobs, and dismemberment The Exorcist dropped like a lead weight. I was bored out of my mind and spent a significant amount of time trying to freeze-frame the ‘face’ that appears during Father Karras’ dream.
Part of the problem was that the primary shock pieces in the film – the head turning around, the pea-soup vomit – had already become entrenched in popular culture. I’d seen those things copied and parodied a dozen times before I got to see the actual film. To me they were elements to be made fun of rather than be shocked by.
It wasn’t until the late 90’s that I got a chance to re-assess. The Exorcist remained the film that I remembered – but I had changed, and my enjoyment of the movie changed accordingly. I could now appreciate the anti-science/pro-religion message without feeling like I was being attacked. I enjoyed the pace and slow buildup of fear and tension now that I had developed (some) patience. And I could shake off the cultural baggage attached to the set pieces and enjoy them in the context of the film, rather than that of society in general. And I could see how different the film was than any other horror film being made at the time. How terrifying it must have been to see for people like my mother, who had been raised Catholic (and knew the rap of a nun’s ruler on her knuckles). How good it was.
The Exorcist is a horror classic and the defining horror movie of the 1970’s. Its success revealed and whetted an un-tapped appetite for horror among the general public and paved the way for a horror renaissance. It is, pardon the pun, a damn good film.
9. Goodfellas (1990)
If you ask anyone to name a film about gangsters, more likely than not the first movie that will come to mind is Goodfellas. It’s the quintessential flick of the genre. From the memorable opening line of ‘As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster’, to the ‘funny how’ scene, it’s etched in the memory of anyone who’s seen it. At the beginning it does its best to sweep you up in the alluring mob lifestyle. By the end, it does nothing but, as paranoia and violence seem to have enveloped everyone involved. It manages to keep a distinctly real feel to it, no doubt helped by the fact it’s based on the nonfiction book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. All in all, it’s an iconic piece of movie history.
8. The Wild Bunch (1969)
It’s 1913, and the Old West is rapidly disappearing, leaving no place for Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his aging gang of outlaws. As they look for one final big score, the outlaws find themselves double crossed by a former member Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). They flee to Mexico with Thornton in hot pursuit, doing whatever it takes to stay alive. The Wild Bunch is an excellent movie, largely regarded as director Sam Peckinpah’s best. It’s not for the faint of heart though. The film gives a brutal, graphically violent account of the Old West, leaving a trail of bloody bodies everywhere it goes. Amidst the violence though, it also does a good job of humanizing the outlaws without romanticizing or glamorizing the lifestyle.
7. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
I have always loved the story of Robin Hood. Like most children of the ’80s, my first experience was the Disney animated version, which is one of my favorites even today. Still, there’s no denying that Errol Flynn is the one who best embodies the spirit of this honorable outlaw. He’s got charisma in spades — the impish smile, the twinkling eyes, the infectious laugh are all spot on. He is dashing and heroic, exuding Robin’s kindness, loyalty, humor, courage and profound sense of justice. And Flynn is not alone! His band of merry men are delightful all on their own, while Prince John, Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham are suitably sinister (and amusingly incompetent). For a film of its time, the fight choreography is in my opinion pretty damn great. The action scenes are thrilling, the musical score is jaunty and fun, and the sets and costumes are vibrant and colorful. If you’ve never seen The Adventures of Robin Hood, then you’re truly missing out on something special.
6. Casablanca (1942)
When people talk about epic romance in movies, Casablanca is almost always at the top of the list. I don’t think there is any romance more entrenched in cinema history than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Their chemistry is electric, and their performances are stellar. It’s more than just romance though. Casablanca is a compelling story, full of intrigue and excitement. There are so many moving parts to the story and they all weave together seamlessly. And I’m sure it goes without saying, but the film’s iconic dialogue and memorable scenes make it one of the most quotable films ever made.
5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde is a film almost as notorious as the titular bank-robbing couple — the depiction of violence onscreen ushered in a whole new era of Hollywood film, introducing squibs to the masses in a finale far more graphic than had been previously seen. That significance is not all that there is to recommend the movie, though. Beatty and Dunaway light up the screen in the timeless classic, occasionally accompanied by Genes Hackman & Wilder. An absolute must-see.
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick was a madman (I truly mean this in the best way possible). I could just leave it at that and it would be all you need to know about what makes A Clockwork Orange so special. This movie might be the birth of the so called “film bro”. It’s iconography is often misconstrued by folks appropriating it with a fundamental misunderstanding of the point of the movie. But, let’s put the silly Halloween costumes and endless quotability of the movie aside. What makes A Clockwork Orange so brilliant is that contains so many of the constant through-lines of Kubrick’s career. And in perhaps the most accessible of ways. Kubrick is so fascinated with the failings and shortcomings of the people in power of our major institutions and systems. While Alex and his droogs are clearly in the wrong for their heinous actions of ultraviolence, the institution meant to rehabilitate Alex is full of as many fundamental shortcomings as he is (if not more). Additionally, Malcolm McDowell delivers what is probably the best acting performance of any Stanley Kubrick film. Anyway, I gotta run and go meet my buddies at the local milk bar.
3. Superman II (1981)
Whichever version of Superman II you prefer, the film is a great superhero movie. It features the first all-out super power battle in a film and one of the greatest on-screen villains in General Zod (Terrence Stamp). This is also one of the first “director’s cuts” that significantly restored a version of a film that had been almost completely redone by another director. It was the “Snyder cut” of it’s day, and may even have helped that version of the Justice League movie happen, having shown there was an audience for such things.
If I have to choose, I admit to preferring the Richard Donner version. It significantly reduces the slapstick humor (making that fight in Metropolis a lot more menacing and impactful) and removes one of the stupidest Superman powers ever put on the screen – that amnesia-inducing kiss. Having that removed reduced the sting of seeing the “fly backwards to reverse time” schtick used again. (It was the original ending, repurposed for the first film. Donner has said he’s have shot a completely different ending if he’d been allowed to finish Superman II.) While it doesn’t quite hold together – there’s some audition footage used to plug gaps – it’s still a valid version of the film.
And you know, I enjoyed the hell out of Richard Lester’s version too, when it was the only version available. I was just glad to see Superman up on screen again, going up against real super villains and beating them. It would take a long time before another super-hero movie gave me something even close to that feeling. (I think it wasn’t until X-Men in 2000.)
2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
The movie that started it all. The Philosopher’s Stone (or The Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S.) was a critical and commercial hit, becoming an instant classic as it faithfully brought JK Rowling’s beloved children’s book to the big screen. It does a wonderful job introducing its audience to the characters and the Wizarding World, perfectly laying the groundwork for the next seven movies while still allowing plenty of interpretation and change. While I don’t believe The Philosopher’s Stone is as captivating as the rest of the films in the franchise, it’s hard to deny the impact that it had on pop culture and cinema in general.
1. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s Batman is the one I grew up on. It’s the one I watched with my parents and my big brother — always sitting in my preferred spot in the middle of the living room floor, with my mom griping at me for being too close to the TV and my dad quoting, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” whenever he could fit it in. And Michael Keaton’s Batman did have some pretty damn cool toys. He also had Jack Nicholson as the Joker, complete with creepy clown smile and the best maniacal laughter to grace a screen since the Wicked Witch of The West. Keaton’s Batman is subtly nuanced. He’s quiet and contemplative, a deep well of complex feelings. Nicholson’s Joker is obviously the opposite of subtle. He commands every moment of his screen time, handily ranging from bright and cheery to raging psychotic with equal amounts of passion. For me, these two are the faces I see when I think of Batman and Joker. There have been plenty of versions since, but for me, a darker hero, more explosions, fancier gadgets, and crazier villains aren’t enough to beat Keaton and Nicholson. Sure, some of it is nostalgia, but that doesn’t make me wrong.
20-11 | Rewatch?
What are some of your favorite Warner Bros. movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!