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.
100. Argo (2012)
Not many historical movies sound as good on paper as this tale of how the U.S. government smuggled hostages out of Iran under the guise that they were actors in a. low-budget sci-fi film. But watching the movie, it’s clear that this still could have become tedious as plenty of the story is dialogue-driven. But Affleck gives a great effort, particularly behind the camera, in bringing this story to life with both the tension of the situation at large and the inherent comedy in the mission’s execution.
99. 300 (2007)
I just recently rewatched this movie a few months ago and was really blown away by just how iconic it is. This has to be my favorite film ever directed by Zack Snyder (that I’ve seen) and really captures a comic-book feel. It is way over-stylized, and it really works for this kind of epic macho retelling of one of history’s great underdog stories. Gerard Butler is terrific as Leonidas, and the character is just a badass leader. Xerxes, and really all of the Persians, are deliciously over the top. But Dominic West as Theron is the real villain in this Greek tragedy, raping Queen Gorgo in exchange for sending reinforcements before turning around and claiming to the counsel that she voluntarily had the affair. And Gorgo herself is as much a badass as her husband, getting her revenge on Theron and holding her own to hold down the fort while Leonidas tries to stave off the Persian army.
The action choreography and slo-mo don’t always work for me in Snyder’s other films, but here it really shines. The splashy red of the Spartan uniforms, and the bloodshed, pops against the stark yellow filter of Ancient Greece and the pale palate of the Persian army.
98. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Is there a more iconic trio in modern Hollywood than Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter? The three have collaborated on some stellar films together, but none as good as Sweeney Todd (at least in my humble opinion). Based on the stage musical of the same name, Sweeney Todd stars Depp as the title character, a barber who murders his customers and bakes them into meat pies with the help of Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett. This musical slasher film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with stunning set design and costumes. And can we talk about that supporting cast? Timothy Spall. Alan Rickman. Sacha Baron Cohen! The songs are catchy, the murders are gruesome, and Depp is devilishly delightful as the barber-turned-serial killer. If you ever need a reminder of what Depp and Burton can achieve together, look no further than Sweeney Todd.
97. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
As far as traditional non-Disney animated films go, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has no peers. The 1993 film followed on the heels of the successful Batman: The Animated Series which ran from 1992 to 1995. The amazing part of this movie was that it wasn’t an “event” story, but rather a simple Batman tale. There were no massive mega-superstar actors hired to provide voices unless you consider Stacy Keach, Dana Delany, and Abe Vigoda to be mega-superstars. There is careful continuity in the voice actors with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill back as Batman and the Joker, respectively. The same people who gave you the animated series are the same people that gave you the movie. That formula works from the sweeping opening credits scene to the very end. I should also mention that the score of the film is a masterpiece composed by Shirley Walker. If you can, give it a listen… just don’t crank up the bass on the “Main Titles,” your speakers will thank me.
96. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
For many of my parent’s generation, Robin Hood was Errol Flynn. But my generation had Kevin Costner. The 1991 film solidified Costner as a leading man and sported a stellar supporting cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Brian Blessed, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Wincott. However, it will be most remembered for the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham, played perfectly by the late Alan Rickman. Yeah, there’s not much of a deviation from the story we all know, but the acting in this film is what sets it apart. Let’s not forget about the Sean Connery cameo at the end.
95. The Goodbye Girl (1977)
There may not be a more prolific writer than Neil Simon. If his name was on it, regardless of its quality, it would get greenlit. And I can’t stress this enough, regardless of its quality. Not everything that came out of his typewriter was gold. For every great script, there would be five forgettable ones. If his batting average was that bad, why did he never stop working? The answer is simple: every studio wanted their The Goodbye Girl and would keep bankrolling him until they got it but few ever did. The success of this film must’ve driven Simon insane. He knew he could never make another film as good again because he knew the alchemy could never be duplicated. It was the perfect storm of the right director, the right cast, and a script that gave both a lot to work with. Crafting a believable love story devoid of cliches that will stick with you forever is a rare gift few directors have and Herbert Ross makes it seem effortless. But the true MVPs are the two leads. Simon knew he would never have another Goodbye Girl because he couldn’t get Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason back every time. They turn his words into poetry. Watching them play off each other is a delight and witnessing the chemistry between them feels electric. The film should come with hazard goggles to protect your eyes from the sparks. It’s about as good as rom-coms get.
94. The Conjuring (2013)
When the Perron family moves into a Rhode Island farmhouse, they find their new home harbors a very dark history. With their safety at risk, they turn to a team of paranormal investigators to rid the house of its demons… quite literally. Based on the real-life cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring delivers a thrilling haunted house film complete with perfectly executed jump scares, frightening imagery, and earnest performances from a highly talented cast. The movie’s success triggered a handful of spinoffs, essentially creating its own movie universe. But for me, very few of them have even come close to re-creating The Conjuring’s atmospheric tension.
93. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes somewhere around 6th or 7th grade after picking up The Hound of the Baskervilles at the library. As one of the nerdy smart kids, I was enamored with the idea of this savant detective whose brain so adeptly processed the tiniest of details to solve crimes. Coincidentally, it was just about that same time that I watched Only You and fell in love with Robert Downey Jr. Combining those two youthful interests into a manic Guy Ritchie-fueled action flick was the stuff of dreams, and it didn’t disappoint in 2009 or any of the million times I’ve rewatched since then.
The movie kicks off with the famous detective and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) capturing Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) as he is about to sacrifice a woman in the midst of a black magic ritual. After Blackwood’s hanging and apparent resurrection, the game is afoot as Holmes and Watson try to bring him down before he can throw the entire country into chaos. Meanwhile, Professor Moriarty is making moves to further his secret schemes and set up a showdown in the sequel.
RDJ’s interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character was certainly not a traditional one. Law’s Dr. Watson is less of a deviation from the source material, but Law is nowhere close to what I pictured for Sherlock’s sidekick. However, both characters are a delight to watch, and their interactions are so utterly entertaining that it’s easy to forget what you know about who Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be and appreciate the adventure on its own merit.
92. Giant (1956)
If Rebel With a Cause was the only film of James Dean’s you had seen, I could understand why you’d think his loss was an overblown tragedy. It’s an over-the-top, albeit true-to-life portrayal of a teen dealing with emotional problems. It’s angst personified. I doubt newer audiences will get much more from it than they would a time capsule. It’s of the moment, a relic of its era. But I think if you showed them, Giant, they’d get it. Giant is a sprawling epic that follows the lives of two Texas families, the Benedicts and the Rileys, over several decades. The film is set against the famous Texas oil boom and explores issues of race, class, and family dynamics. At its core, the film is a character-driven drama that boasts a cast of, pardon the pun, cinematic giants including Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and the aforementioned Dean. Hudson and Taylor give incredible performances as a wealthy rancher and his headstrong beau but Dean steals the film as an ambitious ranch hand that eventually becomes an oil tycoon. It’s the best arc of the film and really showcases what Dean could do and how much we lost when he died. Since he only made three films before he died, they immediately became canonized which kind of taints their legacy in a way because it could be viewed as them getting into the pantheon through tragedy and not through their merits but anyone who thinks that is a fool. Giant more than deserves its status as an all-timer.
91. Joker (2019)
Does Joker take a lot of influence from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and King of Comedy? Of course, it does. But it does so to great effect, and for my money, might surpass both of those films. Joaquin Phoenix won the Best Actor Oscar for this role for a reason. His Joker is much different than the Heath Ledger version, but arguably as good, fulfilling a much different depiction of the iconic character. This is a character study that really hinges on that performance, and Phoenix is to the next level. The movie is also gorgeous in its visualization of Gotham which also feels akin to Taxi Driver but with an extra pop thanks to the Clown Prince of Crime’s iconic facepaint and style. Some critics have said the movie is irresponsible for glorifying the violent actions of a mentally ill man. But I don’t take that from the movie at all. The viewer should be sympathetic to Arthur Fleck’s plight, and angry at the system that allows his issues to boil over into the violence that ensues, but at no point do I feel like the movie presents Joker’s actions as acceptable, much less desirable.
What are some of your favorite Warner Bros. movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!