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.
50. The Lost Boys (1987)
The Lost Boys is my favorite Joel Schumacher film (though I have a fondness for both DC Cab and Flatliners). The teen horror/comedy vampire flick is nothing but fun from the jump, with a photogenic and capable cast, great visuals and an enjoyably 80’s soundtrack. (I kinda miss the presence of random, muscled saxaphone players in my pop music.) The cast is generally great, with a weird mix of 80’s Tiger Beat stalwarts like the Coreys (Haim andFeldman) and Oscar winners like Dianne Wiest. Jason Patric is fine as the male lead, but Kiefer Sutherland stands out as leader of the vampire clan (“Maggots, Michael. You’re eating maggots.”) and dominates every scene he’s in. Yes, I had a crush on Jami Gertz’s Star.
The Lost Boys was a decent hit, and is credited with changing the classic perception of vampires to a more sexy, perpetually youthful type of character – leading inevitably to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and eventually the sparkling vampires of Twilight (though I like to think David would have had none of that sparkly shit – his character had more… bite) (I’m sorry). It’s just a blast to watch, and quote – “One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach… all the damn vampires.” Do I have Echo and the Bunnymen cover of “People are Strange” blasting in my office as I write this? You’re damn right I do.
49. Gremlins (1984)
Everybody knows the three rules about caring for mogwai, right? They don’t like bright light, don’t get them wet, and don’t ever – and I mean EVER – feed them after midnight. Also, slightly less known, include juuuust enough violence in a film about them and you can team up with Indiana Jones to create a whole new MPAA rating (Temple of Doom and Gremlins led directly to the PG-13 rating).
I’m not sure why Joe Dante never became a big director – his films had all the heart of Stephen Spielberg with a dark, humorous twist and a unique vision that included of references to his beloved genre films. Small Soldiers, The ‘Burbs and Gremlins were probably his biggest films (though I, of course, love his earlier genre work like Piranha and The Howling). Stephen Spielberg produced Gremlins and it hit that same sort of sweet spot that Poltergeist did, as far as presenting a film that had the heart and production value of a Spielberg picture while still allowing the director’s vision to be expressed.
I always think of Gremlins as being something like a satire of E.T., with a cute and loveable monster-like character brought in to a family home, only for shenanigans to ensue. Of course Gremlins satirizes a lot of things (consumer culture, for instance), and instead of heart-warming “phone home” action (although that line DOES make an appearance) we get a violent Three-Stooges-like explosion of mayhem in the final third. I love Gremlins. I love all the weird references (like Robby the Robot and the Time Machine and the Gremlin car), I love the characters, I love Stripe and his minions and I love Phoebe Cates and her terrifyingly hilarious monologue about her father, Santa Claus and a too-tight chimney. Did I have a toy Gizmo as a kid? Yes I did. Did I want a toy Gremlin instead, and so try feeding that toy Gizmo after midnight? No comment.
48. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
In 1983, if Chevy Chase was the star of a film, it was going to be funny. The inaugural Vacation film might not be as funny as its sequel, but it’s close. What makes this film a classic is that everyone can relate to its “family vacation from Hell” storyline and accompanying scenes. Ok, maybe not dragging Aunt Edna’s dog down a highway, but relatable, nonetheless. Plenty of cameos, so keep your eyes open for some comedy greats. Yeah, that damn “Holiday Road” song will no doubt get into your head.
47. The Color Purple (1985)
When Spielberg announced that Alice Walker’s seminal novel would be this next project, he received a bit of pushback. Some critics and fans of the novel really believed a director of color should tell that story and as respectful as the film ultimately is to the novel, they weren’t entirely wrong. Spielberg made a beautiful love letter to the novel. It’s clear from what he chose to remove or change from his adaptation, what story he wanted to tell. He was less interested in the horrors inflicted by Celie’s father or her husband Mister, and straight up dropped the ball on the Shug Avery subplot and instead streamlined the narrative to focus solely on Celie. Another director may have made a more faithful adaptation but to discredit what Spielberg did here is utterly ridiculous and flat out wrong headed. His reverence for the source material is evident in every frame of this film. He took the world Walker created on the page and brought it to life. His version of rural Georgia in the early 1900s is one of his best cinematic worlds. The man is a master at creating tactile, living breathing worlds and this is up there with some of his best. It feels like a time machine to the past but like Hook definitively proved, a great set is only half the battle. You need great performances or it’s empty eye candy and this has one of the greatest casts he ever assembled. Whoopi Goldberg (in her breakthrough role), Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey (in her film debut), Margaret Avery, Rae Dawn Chong, Willard Pugh, and Adolph Caesar all give stand out performances. He got the right cast and have them highlight what was already brilliant on the page. And in doing so, made one of the best and most underrated films of his career.
46. Dunkirk (2017)
When Dunkirk came out, I assumed it would be Christopher Nolan’s Saving Private Ryan. Hell, I went into the theater expecting to see Nolan’s Saving Private Ryan. But it wasn’t that. And as I walked out of the theater into the humid Texas night, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, about having my expectations subverted.
Dunkirk wasn’t your typical WWII movie. It wasn’t your typical war movie. It wasn’t your typical movie.
The people I saw it with (my dad and son) seemed disappointed. They were quiet as we stood around the truck tailgate before heading our separate ways. Ultimately, they just didn’t find it all that satisfying.
But the movie stuck with me. I thought about it a good deal afterwards. And when it was released to BluRay I did something I rarely do anymore: I went right out and bought it the first day it was available. I rewatched it. And I liked it even more. I found it unsettling. And I found myself thinking about it afterward all over again. I like a movie that sticks with you.
45. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The third installment of the successful Harry Potter series came with many changes. Chris Columbus, the director of the first two films, stepped down. Beloved Dumbledore actor, Richard Harris, had passed away, replaced by actor Michael Gambon. Gone were the brightly colored palettes of the first two films, replaced with desaturated images and dark greys and blues. The wizard robes that the cast wore around the castle and beyond was replaced by more modern and contemporary clothing to give the maturing characters more of an identity. With a new director, Alfonso Cuarón, and a new vision, The Prisoner of Azkaban pushed the franchise to become much more about the characters themselves and how they were dealing with the hardships of growing up as well as the external threats around them, giving the Wizarding World much-needed depth and purpose. Without Cuarón’s inspired vision for the film, it’s hard to see how the franchise matures and progresses. He set a new course for the franchise with his darker, more adult take on Harry’s journey, and it’s no surprise why most fans cite The Prisoner of Azkaban as their favorite movie in the entire series. It paved the way for David Yates and Mike Newell to bring their own vision to the rest of the films while staying true to the novels, and they were able to do it in a way that would appeal to not only the younger fans but to the adults as well. I think it’s also safe to say that Prisoner of Azkaban was a turning point for the Harry Potter series and for the direction and filming of contemporary young adult movies to come.
44. The Fugitive (1993)
One of the great action films of all time, The Fugitive succeeds not because it has the best action sequences – though that early train crash is still impressive – but because we identify equally with the protagonist and the antagonist. Although maybe it’s more appropriate to call both Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford) and Deputy U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) protagonists. Just ones that happen to be on opposing sides for most of the film. If you can only pick one, then Tommy Lee Jones runs away with it as Gerard. He’s smart, principled, dedicated and surrounded by a crew of professionals that treat him as friend, mentor and surrogate father figure. Even if he doesn’t want them using words around him that have no meaning.
It wouldn’t have worked without another great protagonist to work off of, though (see U.S. Marshalls, the followup film starring Jones, as an example of how NOT to do it) and Harrison Ford brings an edge to his patented flustered everyman, making the good Doctor believable as a regular (if accomplished) guy managing to keep one step ahead of law enforcement while engaging in action-star heroics. It’s his dedication and focus in finding his wife’s killer that keeps us invested, though, and what turns Gerard’s professional antagonism into something like respect and, maybe, even friendship.
Still, I always come back to Gerard as the keystone of the film. His dedication and professionalism in the hands of another actor could have turned the character into a didactic opponent to Harrison Ford’s sympathetic and resolute Kimble. Luckily we had Jones, who even made the line “I don’t care!” in response to Kimble’s “I didn’t kill my wife” into something to laugh at and even admire, rather than a knee-jerk, dead-end “my way or the highway” response of a procedure-bound bureaucrat. As satisfying as it is to see Kimble finally take down the man who killed his wife it’s almost just as good to see Gerard finally come around. “I know it, Richard.”
43. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
A revisionist Western that has it all. Between the beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins, dreamy atmosphere created by director Andrew Dominic, and a number of phenomenal performances, it’s hard to single out why I regard it so highly. Brad Pitt’s steely cold turn as Jesse James is supported superbly by Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford, and the two are great together. It’s not a short film at 2 hours 40 minutes, and it’s sluggishly paced throughout. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as you can completely lose yourself in it. A flop at the box office, it’s a drastically underrated film that’s never received the acclaim it deserves.
42. The Green Mile (1999)
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is an officer on a prison’s death row. There, he meets John Coffey, a physically intimidating African American who is sentenced to death for the murders of two young girls. Coffey is sweet and mild-mannered and begins to exhibit a supernatural ability to heal. Hanks gives an incredible performance, as does the late Michael Clarke Duncan, who received an Oscar nomination for his role as John Coffey. Darabont proved he was not a “one-hit wonder” with Shawshank, and honestly, I thought the cinematography of The Green Mile was superior between the two films. Don’t kill me, please. The Green Mile is a heartbreaking, solid drama and one of the few adaptations that take King’s work and elevates it.
41. Malcolm X (1992)
Few directors have the bonafides to be able to make something as big and sweeping as Malcolm X. Luckily for us, Spike Lee is not like most directors. And because of that, we do have a film as bold and as beautiful as this one. Malcolm X remains one of the best biopics of all time due not only to Lee’s incredible direction but also because the always-great Denzel Washington delivers one of the best performances of his career. The 3-hour plus runtime might scare some folks away, but Malcolm X is more than worth it. An epic biopic that just about matches the larger-than-life stature of the man that it’s about.
60-51 | 40-31
What are some of your favorite Warner Bros. movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!