Dunebat’s Top 10 Favorite Movies

It’s no great secret that I’m a film junkie with a bent toward science fiction. Growing up as a poor, lonely kid in the ghost town that was 1990s West Texas, movies were sometimes the only friends I had on the weekends. They were the storytellers who spun two-hour yarns that snatched me out of the real world like faerie kidnappers come to transport me to some faraway fantasy realm of danger and adventure, and they always brought be back home in time for dinner.

Presented in this article by no one’s suggestion are my personal “Top Ten” favorite motion pictures to date.1 These films inspired me in some way, either by their storytelling, their visuals, or by the emotional connections they formed within me during my formative years.

Author’s Note: Though I consider myself a rabid longtime fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, no films from either of these multimedia franchises appear on this list. In my estimation, the films in these beloved long-running franchises transcend any arbitrary “Top Ten” list and deserve their own rankings. I may write a separate “Top Ten” list for my favorite Star Trek and Star Wars films later.

 


10. Glory (1989)
This award-winning Civil War drama about the all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment boasts an all-star cast including Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by history nerd Edward Zwick and written by the late Kevin Jarre (screenwriter of Tombstone and The Mummy), the screenplay is based on the personal letters of the regiment’s commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, an upper-class Boston abolitionist turned Union Army officer.

I first saw this film in junior high as part of the Civil War unit, and the movie forever affected the way I view period works and war films. The movie chronicles its events in a far more realistic manner than most period films, which tend to prefer stylized depictions or highly fictionalized accounts over the gritty honesty of history. Contrary to the film’s title, the glory of warfare — even in a war waged for a just cause — is absent. Even the Union Army, the heroes of the Civil War, are still guilty of wartime atrocities. The members of the 54th Regiment were no legendary war heroes; they were ordinary men fighting for the right to exist free from slavery, but their sacrifices ensured freedom for their people. Glory neither magnified nor denigrated the Civil War. It depicted events as true to life as the moviemakers could. For me, Glory set the standard by which all historical fiction films should be judged.


09. The Blues Brothers (1980)
I’ve never been a die-hard fan of musicals. Disney movies, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera are as musical as I get when it comes to cinema. If I had a favorite musical, however, it would have to be the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd vehicle The Blues Brothers. Aside from being a magnificent musical spectacle that serves as an exceptional introduction to the Rhythm & Blues genre, the movie is also one of my favorite action/comedy films.

Belushi’s and Aykroyd’s Jake and Elwood Blues were the epitome of cool in my youth, from their stoic demeanors and their grimy-yet-stylish black suits and black hats to their beat-up old former cop car with seemingly magical speed and durability. The deadpan comedy is spot-on thanks to the presences of veteran comedy actors like John Candy, Henry Gibson, and Muppet Meister Frank Oz, and the story is fun and action-packed! If you love the modern Blues genre, the film is packed with celebrated musicians like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, and the legendary Jazz man Cab Calloway. The movie also features some pretty bad-ass appearances from the late, great Carrie Fisher! If you love comedic musicals with a heavy dash of action, I cannot recommend The Blues Brothers enough!


08. The Matrix (1999)
Written and directed by Lilly and Lana Wachowski and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, The Matrix was hailed as the Star Wars of its era and was poised to launch what could have been a comparable multimedia empire. Steeped in existential philosophy and religious symbolism drenched in science fiction trappings, The Matrix — which starred Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburn, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano — dominated the box office upon release and made audiences take the cyberpunk genre seriously.

Unfortunately, the three sequels were not as well received, and The Matrix as a franchise has fallen by the wayside as other science fiction franchises were successfully revived for the modern era. Even so, viewing The Matrix for the first time was a mind-blowing, transformative experience for me back in high school. For a brief time, I would rewatch this film — which greatly influenced every aspect of my life, from what I read to what I wore — again every year and discover new little treasures hidden within the film’s meticulously plotted background details.


07. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Still one of the best time travel action movies ever made, James Cameron’s science fiction magnum opus — a far better film than its intriguing predecessor — arguably depicted the conditional nature of time in a much more straightforward (and frightening) manner than any film in the much-beloved Back To the Future Trilogy.

Starring Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, and the always awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger as the iconic Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator, Terminator 2 was my first introduction to the work of one of my personal heroes, writer/director/historian/undersea explorer James Cameron, who would impress me much more with the film Titanic six years later.2

The Terminator itself is a nightmare rendered in chrome and blood, but its successor machine, Robert Patrick’s morphenomenal T-1000, is mind-ravaging paranoia incarnate born of a war-ravaged post-Apocalyptic hellscape pulled from the nocturnal torments of the deeply religious. I would suffer delicious Terminator 2-based nightmares for years after seeing the film, and I loved every moment of them.


06. The Dark Knight (2008)
Widely considered to be the best of celebrated auteur director Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight film trilogy, The Dark Knight was largely propelled into uber-popularity by the late, great Heath Ledger‘s tour de force performance as the enigmatic anarchistic terrorist known only as “the Joker”.

I’ve been a Batman fan since my mother first subjected me to reruns of the old Adam West series in my early childhood. Ever since I read my first issue of Detective Comics (Issue #647 by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle) in 1992, though, I longed to see a live-action version of Batman that matched the intense storytelling of Post-Crisis Batman comics. While Batman Begins was a fantastic movie that immediately sold me on Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman mythos (and on Christian Bale‘s take on the character), it was the film The Dark Knight that pleased me the most and showed me how close live-action cinema could come to the Post-Crisis Batman I fell in love with from the comics.

Though we had superhero films prior to the release of The Dark Knight — which also stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, and the chameleon-like Gary Oldman — superhero films weren’t as believable and grounded in gritty realism until Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy began in 2005. Even Marvel’s Iron Man (2008) owes much to Nolan’s take on Batman, as Nolan’s Dark Knight films truly showed how profitable and popular a comics-accurate superhero film could be. (It won Oscar awards, for goodness’ sake!)


05. Blade Runner (1982)
Director Ridley Scott likely wasn’t setting out to create an immensely influential cinematic classic when he joined production of the film in 1980. The best laid plans of electric mice and men, however, can sometimes yield miracles. Though Scott’s Blade Runner wasn’t a big box office draw when it was released in 1982, it has since garnered a cult following, inspired a 2017 sequel, and was even inducted into the National Film Registry for preservation as a cultural artifact by the United States Library of Congress.

While Blade Runner‘s story is superbly acted by Harrison Ford and co-stars Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos, the plot is fairly simplistic, boiler plate film noir stuff with a science fiction bent based loosely on a novel by sci-fi luminary Phillip K. Dick. The real fun is in the film’s worldbuilding! Every mise en scene element in the film adds depth and reality to each scene, making the world feel more real and lived-in than many science fiction films before it. This aspect of the movie alone made it one of my favorite films.


04. Jurassic Park (1993)
This film has been among my favorites since I first read the novel it was based on mere days before seeing the movie for the first time. I still watch this movie at least once every year; it’s a fun, smart, scary romp through a man-made “lost world” gone horribly, horribly wrong that modern films — including the sequels — just can’t beat.

Directed by living legend Steven Spielberg and starring Sam Neil, Laura Dern, the charismatic Jeff Goldblum, and the late Richard Attenborough, our stars scream their way through a dinosaur theme park where the featured attractions have escaped their enclosures and have run amok. This movie — based on the brainy book by science buff and former medical doctor Michael Crichton (one of my literary heroes) — not only reignited my childhood love for dinosaurs,3 the character Ian Malcolm influenced both my adoration for chaos theory (as a guiding philosophy) and my preference for all-black clothing (an affectation I engage in to this day).


03. The Crow (1994)
If Jurassic Park influenced me to start wearing all black as a child, The Crow kept me wearing it well into my adult years. One of the most gritty, realistic, yet stylistic and gloriously Gothic movies produced in modern times, The Crow — based on the darkness-drenched comic by James O’Barr and starring Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, and the late martial artist/movie star Brandon Lee — is essentially an introductory text to late 1980s/early 1990s Goth/Alternative subculture.

The comic the film is based on was written by a man still emotionally metabolizing the tragic death of his girlfriend in a drunk driving accident. In the film, a dead man is guided back to life by a mystical crow to take vengeance on the criminals who brutally murdered him and his fiancée on Devil’s Night in Detroit. While the film appears to be a straightforward action/revenge flick, the movie boasts surprising moments of heart and hope amidst the darkness of American urban life. Come for the action, stay for the iconic characters and soundtrack.


02. Ghostbusters (1984)
When traditional ghostly horror elements, funky early 1900s Spiritualist concepts, and 1980s New York urban comedy combine, the classic comedy movie Ghostbusters is the result.

Written by comedian/ghost nerd Dan Aykroyd, director Ivan Reitman, and the late Harold Ramis and starring Aykroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson (him again!), Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, and the immortal Bill MurrayGhostbusters is the story of a team of “paranormal exterminators” who trap and remove ghosts for a living.4 Instantly popular upon release, the film spawned a sequel, several cartoon spin-offs, more sequels, and one not-so-well-received reboot attempt.

I have extremely positive memories of watching this film and the initial sequel with my mother, and I practically consumed the spin-off cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters, like candy as a child. As an adult, I appreciate the well-paced scripting that works like a hilarious primer for 1980s Spiritualism, the stellar acting and characterization, the special effects that still hold up well today, and the spot-on comedy (much of it improvised!). Though I still adore this film and watch it multiple times annually (especially around Halloween), I’m truly grateful to this film for introducing me to the infinitely fascinating creature that is Dan Aykroyd and his paranormal/conspiratorial beliefs.


01. The Ten Commandments (1956)
A Hollywood classic, I watch this old Charlton Heston/Yul Brynner vehicle directed by legendary auteur Cecil B. DeMille every year around Passover. While not the most accurate Moses film (that would be the 1995 Sir Ben Kingsley-led TV miniseries), the most stylistic Moses film (that is Spielberg’s fantastic animated musical Prince of Egypt), or even the first cinematic adaptation of the story (DeMille actually made a silent film version back in 1923), it is still the most iconic version of the Exodus story.

In the film’s prologue, director/producer DeMille states, “Our intention was not to create a story, but to be worthy of a divinely inspired story, created 3,000 years ago, the five books of Moses.” Given the epic scope of the film and the magnificent melodramatic acting this film proudly boasts (in addition to the fantastic, riotously colorful, and expensive-for-its-era use of mise en scene), I would say that DeMille succeeded with flying colors. If you’ve never seen the film before, even if you aren’t a religious person (or if you don’t subscribe to one of the Abrahamic faiths), I highly recommend it!

  1. I specify “to date” because a new movie could be released at any moment that skyrockets itself onto my Top Ten list.[]
  2. Well, he kind of impressed me with Titanic. I hated the love story, but I grew obsessively fascinated with studying Cameron’s historic research. Critique his writing all you like, Cameron is a fastidious researcher, and he greatly impressed me with the detail work he put in on his Titanic sets. The fact that he dived to the wreck of the Titanic himself to obtain footage of the wreck only impresses me more.[]
  3. Jurassic Park introduced me to my all-time favorite family of dinosaurs, the Dromaeosauridae.[]
  4. Sadly, the Ghostbusters do not release the ghosts back into the wild after trapping them, even though that would be guaranteed job security.[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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