Total Recall

Peter Jackson's 10 Best Movies

by | December 11, 2014 | Comments

No surprises here, folks — other movies are coming out this week, but it’s really all about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and when it came time to figure out who would be the focus of our list, there was only one choice. Yes, we’re talking about Peter Jackson, the director whose final(?) venture to Middle-earth is one of 2014’s most eagerly awaited sequels — and whose filmography is about so, so much more than hobbits and orcs. From gory comedies to vulgar puppets and beyond, Jackson has displayed one of the most artfully wandering spirits in Hollywood over the course of his career, and it’s high time we took a look at the critical highlights. Get ready for Total Recall!


10. Bad Taste (1987)   71%

Human fast food might be some of the grossest sustenance on Earth, but Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste dares to imagine something even more disgusting — alien fast food, derived from the human carcasses of unwilling victims. (Brings new meaning to “pink slime,” doesn’t it?) Gleefully embracing the promise of its title, Taste shows a side of Jackson that might surprise filmgoers only familiar with his work on the Lord of the Rings movies, but it’s actually of a piece with his eclectic artistic journey — and one that resonated with Dan Fienberg of Zap2It, who later lamented, “I miss Peter Jackson in his ultra low-budget horror mode. He always looked like he was having fun.”


9. Meet the Feebles (1989)   71%

Having explored the darker side of extraterrestrial life with Bad Taste, Jackson decided to warp another object of childhood fascination — puppets — for his follow-up, 1989’s Meet the Feebles. Dark and vulgar, Feebles was marketed with the tagline “From the creators of Bad Taste comes a film with no taste at all” — and as far as a sizable number of critics were concerned, it lived down to its proudly lowbrow advance billing (Janet Maslin of the New York Times predicted that it was “Destined to stand as an unfortunate footnote to Mr. Jackson’s career”). But for others, the ribald, felt-covered adventures of characters like Bletch the Walrus, Sid the Elephant, and Heidi the Hippo were undeniably entertaining; as Luke Y. Thompson admitted for the New Times, “Homicidal puppets with VD just get me every time.”


8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)   74%

With 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson found himself in a situation few filmmakers ever experience — namely, following up a movie that made more than a billion dollars worldwide but was still regarded as something of a disappointment. It couldn’t have come as a surprise to Jackson, given the marginally more contemplative pace of his first Lord of the Rings prequel, as well as the crushing weight of expectations generated by the epic blockbusting sweep of Jackson’s LotR trilogy. His Hobbit franchise rebounded with its second installment, 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug, which fell a hair short of its predecessor’s impressive box office take, yet enjoyed a far warmer critical reception — due in no small part to the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice and mo-cap spirit of the titular dragon, adding action and evil charisma to a series that needed both. As Betsy Sharkey put it in her review for the Los Angeles Times, “Peter Jackson’s newest installment of the Tolkien trilogy is set afire by the scorching roar of a dragon.”


7. King Kong (2005)   84%

Remaking King Kong had been tried before — and with less-than-stellar results — in 1976, when producer Dino De Laurentiis dragooned an all-star cast into a misguided attempt at updating the classic original. But Dino didn’t have Peter Jackson behind the camera, and that (along with nearly 30 years of advances in special effects technology) made all the difference for 2005’s King Kong, which matched an awesome-looking Kong against a well-chosen cast that included Adrien Brody, Jack Black, and Naomi Watts as the simian-bewitching Ann Darrow. Even with a running time that clocked in over three hours, Jackson’s Kong was king of the box office, drumming up more than $218 million in global receipts — and impressing critics like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who enthused, “Monstrous. Monumental. Magnificent. Use any term you want, there’s no denying the power, genius and spectacle of King Kong, which is certainly the biggest movie of the year and possibly the biggest movie ever made.”


6. Dead Alive (1992)   89%

Boasting one of the most memorably disturbing posters of the ’90s — as well as a storyline ripe with the sort of disgusting possibilities Jackson embraced so whole-heartedly early in his career — 1992’s Dead Alive tells the delightfully gonzo tale of a lovestruck teen (Timothy Balme) whose budding romance with his lady love (Diana Penalver) hits a snag due to the fact that his mother (Elizabeth Moody) has been turned into a flesh-eating zombie by a bite from a Sumatran rat monkey on exhibit at the local zoo. It gets enthusiastically foul from there — including the climactic appearance of a strategically wielded lawnmower — but as far as most critics were concerned, the gore was all in exceedingly good fun; as Rob Humanick put it for Projection Booth, “Rarely has the urge to expectorate one’s lunch been a feeling so sublime.”


5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)   91%

It took a few decades to get there, but once J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books finally, officially made their way to theaters, they did it in a big way — and they did it the right way, courtesy of Peter Jackson’s sure-handed direction (and a $93 million budget), not to mention a pitch-perfect cast that included Elijah Wood (as the pure-hearted hobbit Frodo), Sean Astin (as his stalwart friend Samwise), and Ian McKellen (as the mighty wizard Gandalf), united in their quest to save Middle-earth from the malignant advances of the dark lord Sauron. Full of eye-popping special effects (including those used to bring to life the warped Gollum, played by Andy Serkis) and bolstered by a screenplay that did justice to its hefty source material, it was an unqualified smash — both with audiences and with critics like the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who observed, “Watching it, one can’t help but get the impression that everyone involved was steeped in Tolkien’s work, loved the book, treasured it and took care not to break a cherished thing in it.”


4. Heavenly Creatures (1994)   93%

Jackson’s impressively violent early work might have made him a natural fit for a movie about the grisly true-life tale of two teenage girls (played by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet) whose obsessive relationship leads to a shocking act of bruality — but few of his fans could have been prepared for Heavenly Creatures, an absorbing, assured film that blended elements of drama, science fiction, and romance while drawing beautifully compelling performances from its leads. Ultimately nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the Academy Awards, Creatures vaulted Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to international acclaim, jump-started Winslet’s film career, and wowed critics like David Rooney of Variety, who wrote that it “Combines original vision, a drop-dead command of the medium and a successful marriage between a dazzling, kinetic techno-show and a complex, credible portrait of the out-of-control relationship between the crime’s two schoolgirl perpetrators.”


3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)   93%

After all that buildup, the final installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had a lot of epic expectations to live up to — and by most accounts, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King met or exceeded them, delivering the franchise’s passionate fanbase a suitably sweeping conclusion to the saga that many of them had loved since long before Jackson ever stepped behind a camera. Clearly, given all the anticipation that later greeted The Hobbit, Jackson was the right person to adapt the beloved books that served as his movies’ source material; as Bill Muller put it for the Arizona Republic, “Not only has Jackson boldly and faithfully brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s world to life, he’s created the most epic and sweeping fantasy adventure of all time.”


2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)   95%

He set a high bar for himself with the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring — and then Jackson surpassed it with the second installment, 2002’s The Two Towers, which took a plotline that largely amounted to a lot of walking and turned it into a legitimate three-hour epic, complete with elves, dwarves, hobbits, amazing large-scale battles, and sentient, ambulatory trees. A two-time Academy Award winner (and Best Picture nominee), The Two Towers racked up nearly a billion dollars worldwide during its theatrical run, and prompted suitably hefty praise from critics like Salon’s Charles Taylor, who opined, “Yes, there are some ‘middle-chapter’ problems, but Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptation hasn’t lost its devastating humanity, its heart-stopping cinematography or its epic sweep.”


1. Forgotten Silver (1996)   100%

From Preston Tucker to Joe Meek and beyond, we love biopics about overlooked, overshadowed, and/or forgotten pioneers — so when Peter Jackson premiered Forgotten Silver, an alleged documentary about the unjustly forgotten New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie, its claims that McKenzie was responsible for the first talkie and color film proved irresistible to many viewers. Only one problem: None of it was true, and Jackson — who co-wrote and co-directed with his friend Costa Botes — was actually perpetrating a skillful fraud, right down to the interview segments with Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein and film critic Leonard Maltin. Some were understandably annoyed when the truth came out, but that didn’t prevent critics from bestowing universal praise; as Wade Major wrote for Boxoffice Magazine, “Forgotten Silver succeeds best because it was birthed by the filmmakers’ own innate love for the art and history of movie making, a joy that bleeds through in every frame of the film.”


Finally, here’s a (slightly NSFW) compedium of Peter Jackson cameos:


Tag Cloud

natural history DC streaming service Heroines parents 93rd Oscars satire Sundance cancelled television American Society of Cinematographers screenings vs. Podcast finale Star Trek El Rey dark indie japanese Rock Awards Tour all-time Netflix Christmas movies San Diego Comic-Con Arrowverse movie medical drama halloween DC Comics Baby Yoda suspense ESPN Horror boxoffice Image Comics Superheroes Classic Film high school politics Biopics revenge Fall TV ID Pop TV renewed TV shows BAFTA cancelled TV shows Comedy Central Amazon Prime Video DGA thriller directors See It Skip It Opinion Women's History Month stop motion psychological thriller comic book movie Captain marvel sopranos christmas movies Countdown Fargo Watching Series Brie Larson Rom-Com 2016 rt labs AMC boxing Tumblr X-Men Extras Christmas South by Southwest Film Festival Peacock golden globe awards Universal cops transformers PaleyFest MCU The Witch OWN scary Kids & Family cancelled TV series HFPA 2020 zero dark thirty television Wes Anderson war comic scary movies IFC facebook Apple free movies posters comiccon Oscars nbcuniversal Certified Fresh LGBTQ Martial Arts spy thriller Holidays WGN hidden camera dc Character Guide documentaries Logo TCM pirates of the caribbean aliens historical drama 20th Century Fox RT21 a nightmare on elm street BBC America hispanic heritage month movies adenture Broadway slasher 73rd Emmy Awards Drama name the review Best Actress Disney Plus Country Native cancelled Awards comic book movies venice mob what to watch Disney+ Disney Plus crime thriller FOX jurassic park Holiday canceled TBS twilight football TCA Awards Musical Marvel Studios period drama Crackle 71st Emmy Awards The Academy Warner Bros. best Marvel Television mutant heist movie rom-coms Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Turner sag awards game show LGBT french HBO olympics Pride Month TV prank Television Academy Winter TV comedies Adult Swim CBS All Access ITV docuseries debate Geeked Week 24 frames zombie Lifetime 79th Golden Globes Awards supernatural strong female leads saw Superheroe hollywood rotten Nominations cars Acorn TV kids VH1 Set visit action-comedy Lucasfilm composers Spring TV Universal Pictures Showtime universal monsters superhero summer preview Black History Month dceu anime Family Music target scene in color asian-american Stephen King sequels gangster 72 Emmy Awards black Emmys harry potter Mary poppins festivals summer TV preview reboot Sundance Now Sony Pictures GIFs Elton John Fox Searchlight 21st Century Fox USA streaming Election popular spain kaiju Vudu golden globes Box Office MGM scene in color theme song TV movies romantic comedy based on movie Tomatazos Mindy Kaling green book Hulu Rocky disaster justice league 45 MSNBC cats laika History doctor who game of thrones marvel comics Best and Worst TV One south america President DirecTV festival YouTube Premium Thanksgiving stand-up comedy concert wonder woman monster movies Tokyo Olympics Amazon Prime casting Western RT History aapi films Food Network worst movies interviews Paramount Network new star wars movies Hollywood Foreign Press Association Columbia Pictures The Walt Disney Company science fiction live action Cannes fast and furious robots 007 genre canceled TV shows romance National Geographic book The Purge tv talk Reality SDCC art house razzies Valentine's Day Comic Book godzilla NBC ratings 1990s social media CBS slashers Musicals Quiz Masterpiece Pop jamie lee curtis Best Director Hallmark Christmas movies obituary Creative Arts Emmys quibi 90s spider-man singing competition mockumentary spanish language Discovery Channel Ovation Legendary latino Prime Video italian spinoff kong streamig Super Bowl Teen joker royal family Bravo franchise Academy Awards rt archives Toys adventure werewolf CNN Comedy feel good cinemax 2019 cooking E! Fox News Black Mirror crime TCA Winter 2020 Syfy Television Critics Association Emmy Nominations TV renewals Star Wars Disney Channel documentary USA Network AMC Plus dramedy leaderboard trailers SundanceTV king arthur Marvel Schedule Writers Guild of America SXSW Focus Features YouTube blockbuster Ellie Kemper Trailer Animation halloween tv obi wan cults spanish mission: impossible Hear Us Out Film Premiere Dates BET FXX TCA 2017 critics ABC Family political drama 2017 police drama Grammys New York Comic Con Polls and Games spider-verse Sneak Peek Pixar serial killer A&E Spectrum Originals 2021 hispanic book adaptation marvel cinematic universe remakes DC Universe VOD ABC Marathons Paramount Plus stoner Amazon Apple TV Plus comic books Sci-Fi OneApp japan YA FX ghosts Oscar Video Games black comedy ViacomCBS Tubi toronto Turner Classic Movies Paramount Pictures CMT IFC Films Film Festival criterion TLC 4/20 award winner batman First Look Amazon Studios video NYCC diversity TNT NBA vampires richard e. Grant Comic-Con@Home 2021 Red Carpet basketball young adult adaptation Hallmark Lifetime Christmas movies dogs australia critic resources Anna Paquin Nickelodeon Rocketman Indigenous E3 technology Sony deadpool news Spike Disney streaming service Esquire toy story docudrama crime drama animated miniseries Comics on TV scene in color film series trophy archives TCA Britbox Avengers child's play rotten movies we love Disney women target 94th Oscars Infographic lord of the rings dreamworks PBS Ghostbusters ABC Signature TIFF BBC classics streaming movies die hard The CW Chilling Adventures of Sabrina nature sitcom comics Fantasy Reality Competition binge Cartoon Network Travel Channel discovery Instagram Live First Reviews live event Crunchyroll YouTube Red children's TV superman international Alien Cosplay sports new zealand mcc rt labs critics edition Chernobyl CW Seed Netflix elevated horror MTV know your critic WarnerMedia video on demand Best Actor chucky crossover james bond indiana jones The Walking Dead TV Land breaking bad Apple TV+ Photos 99% BET Awards Dark Horse Comics 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards HBO Go BBC One scorecard broadcast GLAAD independent Epix talk show blaxploitation emmy awards anthology Winners Trophy Talk Mary Tyler Moore Song of Ice and Fire unscripted teaser Tarantino scene in color series Exclusive Video Mudbound SXSW 2022 GoT king kong psycho APB FX on Hulu blockbusters telelvision witnail Mary Poppins Returns Best Picture Year in Review Sundance TV HBO Max Tags: Comedy A24 new york Summer zombies Mystery biopic Walt Disney Pictures 2018 Shondaland Freeform Pet Sematary summer TV Star Wars Celebration versus Shudder nfl Paramount PlayStation dexter foreign dragons Nat Geo Pirates Interview Neflix Pacific Islander screen actors guild fresh 2015 space reviews TruTV Lionsgate worst true crime The Arrangement Funimation biography Binge Guide VICE Action Calendar cartoon Trivia IMDb TV Endgame hist legend series travel Starz sequel