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.
90. The Town (2010)
Many people will argue that Ben Affleck is better behind the camera than he is in front of it. I personally wouldn’t go that far. I still think Affleck is capable of bringing some unique and enjoyable qualities to his acting performances. That being said, he has proven to be a true maestro as a director every time he steps into the role. The Town is a prime example of his keen eye for what makes a quality movie. Nothing about this film’s heist scenes or detective and robbers’ game of cat and mouse is revolutionary. But it does hit all of the narrative beats accordingly and scores on the tension of the action sequences. Most will walk away in awe of Jeremy Renner’s performance, but Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and the rest of the crew hold their own in this story of the woes of the forgotten Boston working class.
89. The Towering Inferno (1974)
The Towering Inferno is proof positive that the old Hollywood saying “if it was easy to make, it’s hard to watch and vice versa” is true. If you thought the Fast and the Furious boys were nothing but a bunch of bitchy prima donnas making ridiculous demands just to seem cooler than whoever is standing beside them, you haven’t heard the legendary behind the scenes stories from the making of this film. Thinking he was the biggest star in the film, William Holden demanded first billing, when he was refused, he then demanded a better percentage of the box office thus making him the highest paid actor in the film, pissing off his co-stars. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway left strict instructions they should not be approached by visitors to the set and McQueen also refused to give interviews. This was one of the first films to use the “first place – above and below” name titling strategy on the poster so that both leads were “technically” top billed because Newman really liked being top billed. McQueen requested the same salary as Newman and the same amount of lines, effectively hamstringing him because most of his lines were used up by the time McQueen shows up. It was a colossal shit show nearly torpedoed by the egos of the stars involved. And yet, none of that bleeds on to the screen. The movie is so entertaining, you see nothing but the spectacle on screen, not the blood, sweat, tears, fights and more fights that happened ten feet behind the camera. Irwin Allen perfected the disaster movie genre and while the Poseidon Adventure might be his crowning achievement, this is at least the shiniest gem on said crown.
88. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
How do you summarize Monty Python’s Life of Brian in just a few lines? Sure, I could just say that it follows Brian, the baby born in the manger next door to Jesus, whose life misadventures lead to him being mistaken for the Messiah. While that is the gist of the plot, it simply doesn’t do it justice. So I will simply say this: Life of Brian is a masterpiece of comedy and an absurd yet insightful commentary on society, politics, religion and history that is possibly even more meaningful today than it was the day it was released. The Monty Python crew takes absolute joy in injecting the ridiculousness of humanity into the context of religious and historical scenes in ways that fill my cynical heart with delight.
87. A Star Is Born (1954)
It feels like every generation gets their version of A Star is Born and somehow, each is just as good as the one before it. Your favorite will depend on which one you see first, which set of leads has your favorite chemistry and/or which songs do you enjoy the most. The general consensus seems to be the 1976 is the worst (Kristofferson’s character is patently unlikable with zero redeeming qualities who still has remarkable chemistry with Streisand) and that the 1954 one is one of the worst examples of the Oscars fucking up ever. Garland controversially lost to Grace Kelly and legend states that following the ceremony, iconic comedian Groucho Marx sent Garland a telegram and called her loss “the biggest robbery since Brinks.” I think everyone who had that strong a reaction were still caught in the spell of “The Man that Got Away”, her hauntingly beautiful love ballad. Lesser songs have earned their performers Oscars. Garland rips her soul open in front of the camera and bleeds her heart dry. No other performer, whether it be an actress, actor, singer or dancer could’ve added any more emotional depth to that role. This story might be told and retold ad infinitum but this will remain the gold standard when it comes to performances.
86. Jezebel (1938)
Of the many feathers Warner Bros should be proud to have in their cap, Jezebel is amongst the finest. Nominated for five Oscars, winner of two and picked for the National Film Registry in 2009, Jezebel is a critically acclaimed masterwork that’s an essential title for everyone involved, which is saying a lot considering the pedigree of those who made it. The film is set in New Orleans in the mid 1880s and follows a headstrong and impulsive woman who loses a man because of her convention breaking ways (she wears a red dress to a ball. Scandalous) and is bound and determined to get him back once he reenters her life. Standard melodrama set up but when the cast is made up of Bette Davis, Henry Fonda and George Brent, you know it’s going to be anything but standard. The main trio are all on fire but the real scene stealer is Fay Bainter as Aunt Belle Massey, the voice of reason who tells it like it is and has no interest in sugar coating the truth but is still warm despite her directness. She won a well deserved Oscar for her performance and should be mentioned more when this film comes up. Davis had a reputation for eating lesser actors alive in their scenes together and Bainter more than holds her own against one of cinema’s great eyeball magnets. When she’s on screen, you look at nothing else, which makes every other department work three times as hard to keep up. Most films stick her in frame and let her do her thing because they knew you just rolled the camera and got out of her way because she always delivered the goods. This film is a masterpiece because it gives her the best platform to be the star she is but also somehow fills the stage with things equal to her abilities. You still can’t take your eyes off her regardless of who she’s acting against or what is happening but due to the excellent set design and costumes and cinematography and all the other actors, this is one of the few projects she’s ever been a part of where she’s not the only thing you’ll be looking at most of the time.
85. THX 1138 (1971)
Before George Lucas created the Star Wars universe, he created another world of a dystopian future where sexual intercourse and reproducing are strictly prohibited. But yet at the same time the use of mind-altering drugs are used to enforce compliance among citizens. This film is an fantastic outing for a first time filmmaker. It’s got a great cast, super cool visuals and a crazy score from Lalo Schifrin. I also think this film, along with The Empire Strikes Back are actually helped out by the Director’s cut. It helps expand some shots and show a little bit more of the world that he wasn’t able to get back in the early 70s. If you haven’t seen this film you really should. It’s not like anything else he ever made if you ask me.
84. Sergeant York (1941)
Sergeant York tells the real life story of Alvin York, a Tennessee farmer turned reluctant hero and one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I. He’s a poor man, trying to support his widowed mother and siblings on unforgiving land, often turning to drinking and fighting to vent his frustrations. A fateful lightning strike turns York into a peaceful man of faith — shortly before he is drafted into the war. His requests for religious exemption are denied, and the rest of the movie follows York as he explores his beliefs and reconciles them with what he must do as a soldier to protect his men. York (the real man) insisted on Gary Cooper in the lead role, and Cooper excelled, winning an Academy Award for an endearing, authentic-feeling performance. The film took 11 in all.
Often when watching old movies, the cynic in me wants to nitpick at things that don’t stand the test of time well, but with Sergeant York, I don’t find that to be as much of a problem as one might expect for an 80-year-old movie. There are moments that feel a little too close to overt propaganda at a time when America was on the brink of involvement in World War II, but in my opinion it stops short of hammering the viewer over the head with it. Despite being regarded as a classic war movie, I enjoy that it’s much less about guns, tanks and explosions and more about a man finding redemption and doing his best to keep it under circumstances far beyond his control.
83. Three Kings (1999)
“Hit him with the blinding power of American sunshine.” David O. Russell’s Three Kings is a pro-war movie, an anti-war movie, a drama, a comedy, a satire, an action flick a… well, it’s lots of things, is what I’m saying. I wasn’t expecting much from a movie starring Ice Cube, Mark Wahlburg and that guy from ER. And Spike Jonze. (My exact thought by the time I saw it: “the guy who directed Being John Malkovitch?”) I enjoyed the hell out of it, though – the combination of dark humor (a treasure map up a dead guy’s ass?), action, gross-out (see aforementioned dead guy’s ass), music and character chemistry hit all the right buttons for me, even if some of those elements were juxtaposed in weird ways. The cinematography also stood out – shot on Ektachrome, it provided an enhanced contrast and subtle color palette that somehow made everything seem more intense. I remember thinking that parts of the way Pitch Black was shot had to be inspired by the look of Three Kings. Those “inside the body” effects were amazing as well, though we’d end up with a surfeit of them from CSI starting the following year.
Made in 1999 about the first Gulf War in 1991, Three Kings remains a relevant watch even today. You’d have thought we’d have learned something. That this would be more of an artifact of its time, but no. I was just thinking this past fall how this movie could have been made last year, set in the pullout from Afghanistan. Or set in Ukraine. Definitely worth a watch. Or another watch.
82. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
You could be forgiven for thinking the name of this film was Live. Die. Repeat. as that’s the big freakin’ text on the poster and physical media covers. And while Edge of Tomorrow is a much better title, it’s nowhere near as dead-on descriptive as that tagline. Based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow features a future war between humans and aliens call “Mimics.” Things are not going well for the human race. Tom Cruz plays Bill Cage, a public relations officer forced into combat, who discovers the alien’s secret on the day he gets killed.
Yeah, he gets killed. Like, less than a third of the way into the film. But did I mention the time travel? That’s the secret, and over the course of the movie Cage and war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) will try to use that secret to win the war.
Nobody expected much out of Edge of Tomorrow, especially after Cruz films like Oblivion had bombed at the box office, but it’s a smart, entertaining and thrilling action flick. Cage is one of Cruz’s best action roles, Blunt is a fantastic action hero and Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (Top Gun: Maverick) work great together, delivering one of the best sci-fi flicks of the twenty-teens.
81. Game Night (2018)
One of my absolute favorite movies to come out in the last five years, Game Night is the type of original content that Hollywood desperately needs to do make more of in today’s cinematic landscape. Directed by the insanely talented filmmaking duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein — who recently helmed the equally fun Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves — Game Night follows a group of friends whose game night turns into a real-life mystery after one of them is kidnapped (spoiler: it’s Kyle Chandler).
That’s right, this cast is stacked and that’s another reason why Game Night is a fun watch. Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and Kylie Bunbury all star in the film as does a scene-stealing Jesse Plemons. It’s a simple premise elevated by the actors involved and one that I enjoy revisiting every year or so. I really hope Warner Bros. brings the directors and cast back for another comedy mystery film. I don’t need a sequel, just another original movie that features characters starting off doing something seemingly innocent like a game night that quickly escalates into pure mayhem that is non-stop laughs and action for roughly 90 minutes.
100-91 | 80-71
What are some of your favorite Warner Bros. movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!