My Desert Island List

Top Tten Movies, 2024 Edition

It’s been a while since I answered the question: “what is my favorite movie.” I’ve done two lists of my top movies for this site, and each time as soon as I was done writing them I had to admit there were flaws with my lists. There were movies I liked at the time that I regretted having on the list after. There were films that I thought were great that, since then, I just haven’t felt the need to rewatch. A list of my favorite movies should be a collection of titles that I feel compelled to go back to, time and again, because these are the films that I can’t help but enjoy any time they show up on TV, or on streaming, or just as I’m scrolling along online.

And, of course, it’s all so I can answer that one question. I have a lot of films in my collection, and I love movies in general. So when someone hears this, they automatically ask what my favorite movie is and… well… I don’t have an answer. “That’s just a really hard question to answer,” I’ll usually say, “what genre do you mean? Like, the best horror? Or my favorite comedy? It’s too hard to narrow it down to just one.” But let’s actually determine it here. This is my list, for 2024, of the movies I love more than any other. And, at the top, is the movie that (at least for right now) truly is my favorite. And so we start with…

Batman Begins

I’m a massive DC Comics fan and love their characters more than any other. Sadly, when it comes to films, DC has had more misses than hits as they’ve struggled to figure out just what makes their heroes work so they could translate that to the screen. Instead of finding the core of their characters, and building on stories that people love, DC has been chasing Marvel for the money, desperate to kick-start their own cinematic universe of heroes while flailing wildly to figure out what audiences want.

But, for a few brief years DC had it nailed down. Before the DCEU came around, and before Zack Snyder was tapped as “the guy” to try and launch the DC superhero universe, the comic empire had it just right. They tapped Christopher Nolan to do a refresh of Batman, to get away from the Shumaker era of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, and he made the perfect, gritty, well balanced Batman film.

We’ve discussed this film before, of course, and all my effusive praise for the film still holds now. This is a movie that managed to balance the needs of the character – his darkness, his incorruptibility, his drive – with a script that added just enough lightness to keep it fun and enjoyable. Yes, Batman is a dark and broody and gritty character, but a film (especially a superhero film) needs to be enjoyable. This is a film that understood that (unlike the later The Batman), presenting an adventure that not only helped to wipe away memories of the crappy Batman films that came before but also set the stage for a new era for the hero.

I was torn between putting this film and its sequel, The Dark Knight, on this list. I will watch both and enjoy both. But you don’t get to that sequel without this film and the solid and commendable work put into it. This is the film that relaunched Batman, and it was about as perfect as you could have hoped for upon its release.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

I am not, by and large, a huge fan of espionage films. Generally the films tackle some political topic, more often than not haphazardly, and then the film quickly ages as the politics in question (right or wrong) draft off into the past. How many films made during the Cold War are really watchable now, as an example? It’s the rare espionage film that actually does hold up, feels interesting and relevant, and manages to craft a story that keeps you hooked from start to finish. One of those few is (of course, for this list) The Bourne Identity.

When this film came out it was a breath of fresh air for the genre. Espionage films had, at that point, been dominated by the Bond series and, frankly, that franchise was gasping. Overly produced, silly, and hardly reflecting reality, Bond was a hero of a bygone era. And then in stepped Jason Bourne, played fantastically by Matt Damon, and the genre changed. This film was grounded, more realistic, and had solid, real stakes. It gave us a compelling character that didn’t rely on gadgets and tech. He was a hero who was simply trying to figure out who he was and what his place could be in the world. He was relatable.

This first film (of a now long running franchise) managed to tell a tight, interesting, and affecting story with, it should be noted, a kick ass amount of action. It balances the needs of the genre with the desires of the audience for a fresh take on spy thrillers and it really works so well, even on repeat viewings. More so than any of the sequels, this was the film that really helped to revitalize and refresh the espionage genre, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Iron Man

Look, any list of top films would have to at least acknowledge the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After 40-plus adventures and almost $30 Bil made at the Box Office, the MCU is the cultural force of an entire generation. Sure, the films have fallen off in recent months, and most of the TV projects are completely disposable, but for a time there it was all Marvel in cinemas and little else mattered (at least when it came to the theatrical balance sheets).

You don’t get any of that without Iron Man. Before 2008 Marvel had seen some success with their theatrical projects, such as Blade, Spider-man, and X-Men, but all of those were produced by other studios and, most importantly, none of them tied together. What Marvel did was bring what characters they could in house, making their own films in their own studio to then release them out into the world. And they did it (with one tag ending) with the promise of a larger cinematic world that would interconnect. To say that was a bold move is an understatement. Few had tried to build a cinematic universe before, and even fewer had found any success with the concept. But Marvel took it and ran, building a franchise that became bigger than anyone could have imagined at the time.

Why it worked out, though, was because Iron Man was a fantastic film. The 2000s were a time when Hollywood finally figured out that, yes, audiences actually wanted to see the superheroes they knew as they looked and felt on the comic book pages. Comics weren’t something to be ashamed of, they were real stories with characters people loved. To properly adapt them to the screen, studios had to embrace the characters and all their weird quirks, and no one did it better than the team behind Iron Man. They took his flaws and built them into a character performed perfectly by Robert Downey, Jr. And then they built a cool looking, thrilling, action and comedy filled movie that worked no matter how many times you saw it.

Just going into theaters and seeing Iron Man flying around in his suit, perfectly realized in a blend of CGI and practical effects, was a major experience. No one then at the time knew they were sitting in the first episode of a massive franchise; they just wanted to see a hero in a cool metal suit kicking butt. And we got it, just as we wanted it. Marvel promised and delivered, and then they’d go on to deliver again and again (barring The Incredible Hulk) for many movies, and many years, to come. Iron Man set the stage, and it was a treat then, just as it’s a treat to go back and revisit it again. Whatever your thoughts are about where Marvel is at now, Iron Man is still a perfect superhero film all on its own.

The Addams Family (1991)

This might seem like a weird inclusion for a list of the best movies but, let’s be clear, the best movies are the ones you want to watch again and again. While there are comedies that are considered “classics”, ones that have more cultural impact or more important messages, it’s hard to find one that’s more fun to revisit, time and again, than The Addams Family. That’s because this film knew exactly what it needed to be and it gave us all the weird, kooky, ooky delights that were needed.

Based on the comic, and then the TV series that followed, this 1991 movie is the perfect blend of all the elements a film needs. It has the perfect cast (including Raoul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christina Ricci, and Christopher Lloyd) coupled with a script that embraces everything that made these characters popular. It understands these characters in a way few other adaptations of The Addams Family truly have. But, even better, he delights in getting all the weirdness of these characters front and center. It does hide from their strangeness, it doesn’t try to soften them. It lets the Addams clan be the Addams clan, and it loves them for it.

The story in the film is kind of piecemeal, practically a collection of skits loosely tied together, but that’s why it works. Since it was based on a comic the comedic sketch nature of the film allows the family to show off all their weird little quirks and strange moments. We can go from a dinner, where Grandmama is hunting cats to serve, to the kids pulling pranks, to Gomez meeting with his lawyer to discuss old business, all in the span of a few quick scenes and while there’s little in the way of connective tissue it doesn’t feel weird or jarring. The light touch, and crazy tone, of the film lets the audience glide through it all with ease. And then we get to laugh and enjoy this family for who they are as the film puts every weird flight of fancy it can think of on screen.

It’s not grounded. It’s not even realistic. Hell, the film openly mocks the idea of being normal and realistic. This is a film for dreamers, made to delight and entertain. It, and its sequel, are infinitely watchable, but this film really manages to nail all the great things about this family without throwing in any superfluous gunk. It’s a tight, well made, enjoyable strange film that’s fun to watch time and again. And it’ll always be funny.

Fright Night (2011)

Horror is one of my favorite genres (and it’s going to appear a few more times on this list). I like to be thrilled, to be scared, to see the monsters of old appear to terrify once more. Vampires and werewolves and zombies are big draws for me and any time I see a cool film arrive with cool looking horrors I’m automatically ready to be there. You can’t keep me away from horror, especially if it has a monster or creeper I know and enjoy. So, needless to say, I was on board with a Fright Night remake the second it was announced, before I even knew anything else about it.

The original Fright Night is a silly, campy, but fun horror film from the 1980s. While I enjoy it, I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people out there that won’t watch it now because it’s “too old.” I’m not one of those people, of course, having a horror collection that spans back all the way to the 1920s (because I like to be well versed in all aspects of the genre). But it did make sense for a remake to come into being. Fright Night is a known name, and even if you don’t know it there’s something evocative about the title. That, coupled with a great cast – Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots – created a film that should have been an absolute winner. This should have been the smash hit horror flick of Summer 2011.

It wasn’t. On a budget of $30 Mil it only managed to pull in $41 Mil in theaters. It had a brief run, and then vanished off screens. For whatever reason audiences just didn’t connect with the film, which is a tragedy because this is a fantastic film. It’s fun, and funny, and has plenty of great horror. It takes the concept of the original film and updates it, crafting a modern version of the tale of a teen discovering his next door neighbor is a vampire. And it does it all with panache. Maybe it was poor advertising, or perhaps the film should have come out in October instead of August. Whatever the case, this film fell out of view and many missed it at the time despite its strengths.

However, the film has gained solid cult status in the years since its release. There are plenty of fans of the movie now all over the internet. It’s found its audience, and the love it deserves. And with people, like me, we have to admit the simple truth: this is honestly the better version of the movie, even over the 1980s original. It’s a solid vampire flick that’s watchable time and again. For a great time, and some fun thrills, it’s hard to do much better in the vampire genre than this remake.

Halloween (1978)

We’ve covered some of the best horror films on this site before, but there’s no doubt that the top of the list is dominated by the worlds of John Carpenter (we’ll see another of his films shortly). The director is a master of his craft and he gave us some of the greatest horror films of any period, any decade. The horror genre as a whole would look (and, frankly, sound) very different if John Carpenter hadn’t made his mark on the industry.

Halloween is the film that essentially launched the slasher genre. Sure, there had been other films flirting with the same concepts, such as 1976’s Black Christmas, but in Halloween Carpenter blended all the elements necessary to make the perfect slasher film. It had a small body count that helped to put the focus on the characters. It had tense sequences of building dread and the slasher menace slowly made his presence known. And it had more questions than answers, giving us a killer that killed simply because he wanted to. No motivation, no desire, no complex backstory that tried to explain who he was. Just the pure, horrible desire to kill.

What this film has, above all else, is ambiance. It takes its time getting to the killing but it never feels like padding. There are no wasted moments, no long stretches without anything going on. This film is tightly paced and very specifically made, with every scene designed to drive you into terror. It wants you tense, on edge, and it’s crafted to keep you there, waiting, worrying. The moments of release, of scares and of kills, are paced to keep that edge built. You get to see the teens in the film bumped off one by one but that doesn’t take the dread away. You know the next is coming and you aren’t sure when. The film keeps the tension built and it pulls its tight strings to keep you taut the whole time.

A whole franchise grew from this film, and then there were all the copycats and other slashers that tried to capitalize on the genre Carpenter perfected. But none of them have the power, or the sheer scares, of Halloween. This was the perfect slasher, start to finish, and Carpenter was wise to not direct any of the further films in the series. He made his mark and he let it stand on its own perfectly.

The Matrix

In 1999 there was no film cooler, or more awe inspiring, than The Matrix. Sold on a marketing campaign that kept much of the film shrouded in secret, viewers went into the film not sure exactly what they’d get beyond, “cool people looking cool, but with guns.” And yet, that is in the film because, damn, this film was really cool looking. But it was also just more than cool; it was a bleeding-edge (for the time) showcase of technology, action, and thrills, all presented around a story that had depth. It was a sci-fi adventure that kept you guessing and got you invested in the characters and their mission. It was the action thrill ride of that summer. And nothing was quite like it before, or since.

Plenty of films did try to capitalize on the success of The Matrix, mind you. But while the action of the film could be copied (and then mocked and parodied), not many other films could find the emotional depth of the characters nor the thought-provoking intrigue of the story. Sure, bits and pieces of the plot could be traced back to other works. The philosophy, the action, and questions about reality, those were blended into this film from a variety of sources. But it was that mixing, that bringing of these ideas and influences together, that made The Matrix work. And through it all we got really cool people doing really cool things, but with guns! It ruled.

What makes The Matrix work is part of the reason why the sequels never really could: this one film, on its own, was a perfectly self-contained film. Neo is told he’s the one, that he’ll be the one to save humanity in this dystopian future, and then he goes on to learn who he is and who he can be. He goes from a no-name office drone to, effectively, Superman. When he calls the machines at the end of the film and promises a world “without you” all before soaring off into the sky, you have no doubt he’ll do just that. You don’t need to see his further adventures, you don’t need to be told what comes next. You know what comes next because he just promised it. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Anything beyond that is just superfluous fluff that muddies the perfection of this story.

Going back and watching The Matrix again is to see the perfect superhero origin story. The film sets its rules, sets its world, and then drops its hero into it. Then it builds him up, gives him natural story progression, and lets him find his way through it. The choices are his, the enjoyment is ours, and each time we go back to watch Neo take his adventure again it’s just as thrilling as the first. We don’t need what comes next, we just want Neo flying off into the sky to show them a world with machines, and it’s brilliant. And then we can go back and watch it all over again. Forget the sequels, this is the perfect bit of action fun.

The Thing (1982)

Getting back to John Carpenter, the man was a master of building tension and dread. Halloween showcased his work, but for my money it’s The Thing that truly showed how skillful he could be as a director. Working from a screenplay by Bill Lancaster, and based on the novel Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., The Thing shows us a tale of monsters, of human desperation, and of the terror of not knowing who to trust. This is a film that provides all the creeps and scares we need all while pushing its characters, and its effects, beyond what people expected. It’s grotesque and amazing in all the right ways.

Starring Kurt Russel, the film focuses on a group of men stuck at an Antarctic science station. We never actually learn what they’re there to study, and that doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they’re the guys on the scene when another man shows up, attempting to kill a dog. Instead the dog is safe while the man dies, and though this would seem like a win for the dog, it’s a big loss for all the humans at the science station. As it turns out the dog isn’t a dog but, instead, is some kind of alien creature and, over the course of a couple of days it slowly spreads, like an infection, from host to host, turning them all into things. It’s a creature from outer space that can perfectly copy and duplicate living matter, and before too long no one knows who they can trust. Are they the Thing? Is everyone? Who do you trust when anyone could be your enemy?

Naturally there’s a lot at play in this film. It’s a solid Cold War story of trust and deception. The film never gets political, keeping the focus on the American characters without saying, “we’re the Americans, bruh!” Instead it lets your own fears play on their own, that Cold War distrust of the other. Call it the creeping worry of Communism, or the inability to know who’s an ally or an enemy, the film plays on natural human fears of the era while also building impressive technical horror. It keeps you on edge, distrustful, and then plays your terror like a violin.

But then, its practical effects are impressive. Made before the era of heavy CGI use, everything done in the film is done properly and tangibly. It gives the sick and disgusting effects a tangible feel. Audiences at the time hated it, thinking this was a theater of the grotesque, but that’s exactly why the film has gained popularity over the years. The film’s effects are so creepy and gross and delightfully sick that they work perfectly with the ratcheting horror. This movie knew exactly what it needed to do and it did it, creating some of the best horror ever committed to the big screen.

So what if audiences at the time didn’t get it (and, damn, did they ever hate it). The film has been embraced now and is often put near the top of any “best of horror list”. Hell, we even did just that on our podcast, letting Carpenter dominate our top spots. The Thing is a brilliant horror film and anyone that can’t get it doesn’t deserve to be a fan of the genre. This is for the horror fanatics, through and through.

Mad Max: Fury Road

When it comes to action, few directors are better in the genre than George Miller. Where John Carpenter has mastered horror, Miller has shown himself to be the auteur of car-based action. Across his four Mad Max films (with a fifth, spin-off film coming soon), Miller has given us a wonderfully crafted, detailed, post-apocalyptic world that is worth revisiting over and over again. And somehow, with his fourth film of the set, he managed to push the action genre so far forward that he left all his other films in the dust. It’s rare that I’ll say a sequel is worth watching before any other movie in a set, but when it comes to Mad Max: Fury Road, this is the movie to see.

The brilliance of Fury Road is its simplicity. At its core, the film is one, long car chase. We start at the beginning, watching all the players get in motion, from Tom Hardy’s Max to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, moving out to the open road (or, really, desert) with one goal in mind: reach “the green place”. And then, when they reach the end of the line, they double back and head home realizing what they need to do. It’s a linear film, a long line out and back, but that just means we get a film dedicated to giving us the best, most explosive, car experience ever committed to the screen. And it works.

The film does two things and it does them very well. First it gets us invested in the characters. We don’t get a lot of story for any of them (hell, we barely learn anything about Max at all) but what we get helps us understand their drive, their need to be out, fleeing a life they didn’t want for a greener life ahead. And then it presents so much action and adventure that we desperately want the heroes to survive and succeed. Of course, it helps that the action is absolutely incredible, with scene after scene of crunchy, bold, frenetic car action. Car wrecks, car explosions, and so many death-defying car stunts that your eyes are constantly delighting in every last frame. This is a film packed with action and it keeps you hooked, start to finish.

Miller spent years upon years trying to get Fury Road made, and that whole time he was working with care and determination of the eventual product. All of that care, all of that love, comes out in every last second of this film. This was a passion project that took a long time to make, but the wait was absolutely worth it. And, thankfully, now Miller is able to revisit that world again with his prequel, Furiosa. But whatever else we get, Fury Road stands as the perfect action film. And anyone that says otherwise simply doesn’t understand great cinema.

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

Look, superhero films are huge at this point. There’s no genre bigger (even now, while Marvel and DC both flail around) than the capes and cowls sector. And certain heroes are always going to dominate. Across the various decades there have been four heroes that have been constant, and consistent, sellers: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-man. We already saw Batman on this list and it should come as no wonder that we get another. Impressively, despite my love for all things DC, the hero that takes the top spot, and provided us with my favorite movie of the last couple of years, is Spider-man.

Marvel, of course, has their cinematic universe, but they only, in the last few years, regained access to Spidey. Sure, their Spider-man films have been some of the best around, not only beating many of Sony’s own attempts with the web-head, but also out-performing many of Marvels other cinematic endeavors. Spider-man is big business, and in the right hands he can be one of the best heroes around. And the right hands did come just… not from Marvel. Instead the team of Miller and Lord put together, for Sony, their own Spider-man animated film, and in the process they embraced all the fun, the weirdness, and the enjoyment that could be had from the comic book character. They didn’t shy away from it; they made an unabashed love letter to all things Spider-man, and it’s probably the best superhero movie ever.

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse does all the things Marvel wishes they could do, but this film did it first and did it better. It’s a multiversal movie before that became “the big thing” for films. It’s an animated movie, allowing the film to really let loose with its artistic inspirations, as well as do all the things you simply can’t do in live action. But, most importantly, it’s a Miles Morales movie. We’ve had three different versions of Peter Parker (and with this animated film, even more) but this is the first film to give us the story of the second Spider-man. It’s his origin story, done in a way to both poke at and enjoy the very tropes of an origin story. And it’s a personal story that really gets at the heart of the character, making us truly care about Miles.

That’s the thing, really: this film gets us to care about all the characters. From Miles to Peter Parker, Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacy, and more, the film finds a way to tap into each of them, every spider-person it brings on screen, and elevate their core so we can love them. Then it does all its cool action, and art, and fun, while presenting an emotional story that resonates with all the characters. The film would be stylish as hell and fun to watch regardless, but because it taps into the characters it also makes us care. We care about all the spider-people in this film that we do most of the heroes over in the MCU. Despite everyone saying for years and years that Sony couldn’t make a good Spider-man movie, and that they needed Marvel to do it right, all they really needed was to find the right team who really cares about Spider-man, and could put all their love and attention into this movie.

Sony has since expanded this one film into a sequel (with a third part coming eventually, and other films and shows to follow), and make no mistake, this corner of the superhero genre is great. Even with Marvel floundering in live action, this film’s sequel managed to pull in close to $700 Mil on only a $150 Mil budget. And hype is already building for what’s next. All of that thanks to this animated wonder and the fantastic work put into bringing it to life. This is a glorious, delightful, incredible fun, artistic wonder that just so happens to also be the best Spider-man film made. And it’s the one film I keep going back to, time and again, because I just want to watch it all and soak in all the little details one more time. This film is a masterpiece, not only of the superhero form but of animation in general. It’s just that good.

And that’s my top ten… at least for now. I may revisit my list again in a few years (like I have twice before), but these are the films I’m watching, and loving, right now. Old and new, scary and creepy, fun and action-packed. These are the films that feel essential. They’re the ones I’ll go back to time and again, and they simply never get old. Timeless awesomeness, through and through.