The adventure is one of the hardest kinds of movie to define, but like certain other genres: “You know it when you see it.” Adventures are grand, exciting, and often epic tales, usually focused on people on a mission, whose purposes include fame, fortune, and glory. The best adventure movies can run on the thrill of exploration and discovery, treading deep into jungles, stalking across arid deserts, or sailing across open oceans. The casts of characters feature rambunctious pirates, lordly counts, mercenaries and bounty hunters, big whales, and even bigger apes. And adventure movies can invite their other genre buddies along for the ride, too, including fantasy and science-fiction.
Now we’re embarking on our own journey, plundering gem after gem for a guide to what we’re calling the essential adventure movies if you love the genre. Listing these best adventure movies in chronological order, we begin a century in the past, when the adventure genre was defined by the swashbucklers of Captain Blood and The Three Musketeers. At the same time, the fantastical elements introduced in King Kong and Wizard of Oz marked adventure movies as the spot to introduce the latest in dazzling special effects.
After World War II, the adventure genre entered its prestige era, with historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King, and tales of derring-do in The African Queen and The Great Escape. Here it should be said there is a certain Western-centric viewpoint that cannot be denied as inherent to many adventure movies, one that ‘others’ different countries and cultures. And hopefully what elevates these movies above that are their swaggering sense of playful optimism and lighthearted fun.
That’s certainly evident in Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose retro serial action and intrigue established the adventure formula for a new generation, which marched on through Indiana Jones’ sequels, Romancing the Stone, National Treasure, and The Mummy. During the same ’80s Indy decade, the adventure genre opened itself back up to sci-fi and fantasy, along with spotlighting younger protagonists, leading to The Goonies, The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, and more.
Around the turn of the century, the adventure movie successfully aided the resurrection of other genres that common Hollywood wisdom had deemed box office poison: swashbucklers (The Mask of Zorro), high fantasy (The Lord of the Rings), and even the pirate movie (Pirates of the Caribbean), which had been sent to Davy Jones’ Locker after Cutthroat Island sank Carolco Pictures.
And since 2012’s Life of Pi, there’s been another adventure resurgence with The Jungle Book and more Kong and Jumanji movies.
Now, continue on and discover the 60 best adventure movies to watch now!
(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)
Unless you had tremedous recall of all the bit roles in American Grafitti or The Conversation, the first time the world at large set their eyes on Harrison Ford was in the little indie that could: Star Wars. With no previous acting reference points for most audiences, Ford WAS Han Solo, the glumly debonair and seductive space rogue who gave a dash of modern cynicism to Star Wars’ populist mysticism, singing aliens, and laser swords.
Ford returned for The Empire Strikes Back, jumpstarting the best run of movies anybody had in the ’80s. None of his films this decade were Rotten, and nine of them are Certified Fresh — utter classics and masterpieces like Blade Runner, Return of the Jedi, and all three Indiana Jones movies. 1985’s Witness, in which Ford plays a steely detective protecting an Amish boy who’s seen a murder, garnered him his only Best Actor Academy Award nomination.
Ford’s ’90s highlights include The Fugitive (another box office smash and a Best Picture nominee), taking on the CIA analyst Jack Ryan role created by Tom Clancy in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and kicking off unruly passengers as the freaking President of the United States of America in Air Force One.
After a 19-year absence from the big screen, he, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas brought Indy back for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The movie would go on to be designated Certified Fresh by critics, though it’s no secret critical and audience appreciation for the movie remains weak. A fifth Indiana Jones is currently in early pre-production.
Since them, Ford has gamely returned to the roles that made him famous: Han in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Deckard in Blade Runner 2049. Both movies would also be Certified Fresh, the first time Ford would have two consecutive CF films since the ’80s. And now we’re taking a look back we rank all Harrison Ford movies by Tomatometer!
With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum unleashed into theaters last week– and currently sitting pretty, and bloody, at 88% on the Tomatometer, with John Wick: Chapter 4 just announced – we wanted to know which action movie franchises have the highest Tomatometer averages ever. So, we did a deep Tomatometer dive into over 80 action franchises and found 12 Fresh series that punched, kicked, and sprinted their way ahead of the pack.
Since John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the third film in the Wick saga, we decided to focus on action franchises with at least three Tomatometer-rated films that told a continuous story. We split up the Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes, James Bond, and Batman franchises into chunks, as they had multiple directors, reboots, and often happened in different universes. For example, we looked at the Sean Connery Bond films as a separate entity from the Daniel Craig Bond films, and the Christopher Nolan Batman films as separate from the 1980s and ’90s movies; we did however include Fury Road with the original Mad Max trilogy, as it centers on the same Max – albeit played by a different actor – and is directed by George Miller. Also: sci-fi, fantasy, and animated films were out; superhero flicks were in.
Basically, we were hoping for an eclectic list and we got one!
Will Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy be ranked higher than Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise? Can any action franchise defeat Miller’s Mad Max quartet? How in the hell is Mission Impossible not on this list?! (Sorry, blame the just Fresh first Mission Impossible, and the Rotten Mission Impossible 2.) Check out the list below and let us know which action franchises you love in the comments.
(Photo by @ Paramount)
Tomatometer Average: 81.7%
Highest Rated Film: Iron Man (2008) 94%
Lowest Rated Film: Iron Man 2 (2010) 72%
In 2008, the Jon Favreau-directed Iron Man became a smash hit that was beloved by critics and audiences alike. The 93% Tomatometer-rated film featured Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” who becomes the superhero Iron Man, and it kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, it’s significant. Less significant, though still very well regarded, are the movie’s two Certified Fresh follow-ups: Iron Man 2, also directed by Favreau, and Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. The sequels couldn’t recapture the Tomatometer heights of the first film, but they were box office blockbusters – Iron Man 3 is the seventh highest-grossing MCU movie, just behind Captain Marvel – with high enough Tomatometer scores to land the franchise at the 12th spot on our list.
Tomatometer Average: 82%
Highest Rated Film: Spider-Man 2 (2004) 93%
Lowest Rated film: Spider-Man 3 (2007) 63%
With all the superhero films that have been released since 2002, it’s easy to forget how popular Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was in the 2000s. In 2002, the 90% Tomatometer-rated Spider-Man was a massive success that cleared $100 million in its opening weekend (which was huge at the time) and introduced us to Tobey Maguire’s amazingly earnest take on the popular web-slinger. It was followed up by the 93% Tomatometer-rated Spider-Man 2, which is one of the most critically beloved sequels of all time. The franchise took a bit of dip in 2007, with Spider-Man 3 – OK, a “bit” might be understating it. However, its Fresh score of 63% was just enough to ensure its placement in this list. Cue dancing Emo Spidey!
(Photo by Courtesy the Everett Collection)
Tomatometer Average: 84.5%
Highest Rated Film: Supercop (1992) 96%
Lowest Rated Film:Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996) 57%
An action movie list without a Jackie Chan film wouldn’t feel right. Kicking off in 1985, Chan directed Police Story, which introduced the world to Sergeant Chan Ka-Kui (Chan), an incredibly likable and athletic cop who engages in the greatest shopping mall fight ever. The acclaimed Police Story 2 (92% on the Tomatometer) was also a huge success and featured the greatest playground fight ever (are you sensing a trend?). Basically, the four core Police Story movies starring Jackie Chan feature all-time great action scenes – made great because of the brilliance of Chan and his commitment to hurting himself to entertain audiences. (Note, while Supercop was released in 1992, it didn’t get a theatrical release in the U.S. until 1996.)
Tomatometer Average: 85.3%
Highest Rated Film: Goldfinger (1964) 99%
Lowest Rated Film: Diamonds Are Forever (1971) 64%
Bond. Sean Connery’s James Bond. The action world was changed forever when Dr. No was released in 1962. The movie, Certified Fresh at 96%, was an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s spy novel and the first to feature Sean Connery as the smooth-talking badass who traveled the world, killed with ease, and wooed way too many women. Peaking with the classic 97% Tomatometer-rated Goldfinger, Connery’s six Bond films set a new standard for action in the 1960s, shooting on location around the world and featuring a “hero” who had a literal license to kill.
(Photo by © Well Go USA / courtesy Everett Collection)
Tomatometer Average: 86.3%
Highest Rated: Yip Man 2 (2010) 97%
Lowest Rated: Ip Man 3 (2015) 76%
Many non-action film fans may only know Ip Man star Donnie Yen from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, or Blade 2. However, Yen is an action icon who has been hurting onscreen henchmen since the early 1990s. That’s why it’s awesome to include on this list the Wilson Yip-directed Ip Man franchise, which tells the story of Ip Man, the famous martial artist who mentored Bruce Lee and is considered the grandfather of the Kung Fu hybrid Wing Chun. The trilogy of films have allowed Yen to engage in some truly wicked brawls that showcase his martial arts prowess and ability to learn an insane amount of fight choreography. (Note, we are not including this year’s, Master Z: Ip Man legacy, as it does not feature Yen and is a spin-off set in the same universe rather than directly part of the series.)
Tomatometer Average: 86.5%
Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 95%, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) 84%, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) 88%, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 78%
Highest Rated: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 95%
Lowest Rated: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 78%
We know many people think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise, nuked the goodwill of the original trilogy. However, its Certified Fresh 78% Tomatometer score got the franchise to swing into the top 10 where it deserves to be — so it’s not all bad. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the archaeologist who spends his days teaching college students and weekends globetrotting to deadly locations in hunt of ancient artifacts, still feels fresh and full of charm. It also helps that Steven Spielberg directed all four movies and loaded them with action-packed set pieces, memorable characters, and some very twisted moments – yes, this is a family flick featuring hearts being pulled from people’s chests.
Tomatometer Average: 86.5%
Highest Rated: Avengers: Endgame (2019) 94%
Lowest Rated: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 76%
The Avengers franchise made the pointy end of the list because of the two critically beloved blockbusters that bookend the franchise. Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers, 92% on the Tomatometer, was a massive blockbuster that proved a movie featuring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s mightiest heroes could be funny, surprising, and most importantly, capable of giving every superhero a moment to shine (except for the zombie Hawkeye thing). Most recently, the Russos-directed Avengers: Endgame pulled off an equally impressive feat by giving what feels like 7,000 characters something to do in a narrative that makes logical sense. And it’s the highest-rated movie in the franchise, Certified Fresh at 95%.
(Photo by @ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, @ Marvel Studios)
Tomatometer Average: 87%
Highest Rated: Captain America: Civil War (2016) 90%
Lowest Rated: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 80%
The Captain America franchise kicked off in 2012 with the Certified Fresh Captain America: The First Avenger, 80% on the Tomatometer. The Joe Johnston-directed superhero origin story struck a chord with audiences who loved its nostalgic vibe – Johnston directed The Rocketeer and it showed – and lead performance by Chris Evans. But, it wasn’t until 2014 that the Russo brothers’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier (90% on the Tomatometer) propelled the franchise into the critical elite. The Russos struck gold again in 2016 with the Captain America: Civil War; its Tomatometer score of 91% makes Captain America the only superhero franchise to have its Tomatometer score improve with each installment.
Tomatometer Average: 88%
Highest Rated: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) 89%
Lowest Rated: John Wick (2014) 86%
Much like the immortal Keanu Reeves, the John Wick franchise keeps getting better with age. Kicking off in 2014, the 86% Tomatometer-rated John Wick introduced the world to an unstoppable assassin who wiped out hundreds of well-groomed henchman in his quest to get revenge on the people who killed his adorable puppy. His quest for revenge lead him to the 89% and 88%-Tomatometer rated John Wick: Chapter 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which also feature him killing hundreds of well-groomed henchman and assassins who want him dead. Guided by director Chad Stahelski (and co-director David Leitch for the first film), the trilogy has remained incredibly consistent, and we’re hoping the duo of Stahelski and Reeves keeps up the high-scoring work when Chapter 4 is released in 2021.
(Photo by © 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
Tomatometer Average: 88.3%
Highest Rated: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) 94%
Lowest Rated: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 82%
OK, so we’re bending the “no sci-fi” rule here a touch, given the technology to enhance apes’ intelligence doesn’t yet exist. But, aside from that, this series is kept relatively grounded (or, at least, tree-bound). Director Rupert Wyatt kicked off the Apes reboot trilogy with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which set up the heroic journey of Caesar (another incredible performance-capture performance from Andy Serkis). The successful prequel/reboot was followed up by the even more successful Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (90%) and War for the Planet of the Apes (93%), which continued Caesar’s story, and gave thousands of visual effects artists plenty of work. Matt Reeves directed the two later films, and his insistence of shooting at actual locations, instead of sound stages, made the films look authentic, real, and dangerous. Between the large battles, incredible CGI and committed performances, this trilogy was an inventive, action-packed surprise.
Tomatometer Average: 88.3%
Highest Rated: The Dark Knight (2008) 94%
Lowest Rated: Batman Begins (2005) 84%
*The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Rise of the Planet of the Apes Trilogy both have 88.3% Tomatometer averages. The Dark Knight Trilogy has a higher ranking because it has more reviews (967 > 897).
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is the highest Tomatometer-rated superhero franchise ever – impressive, considering expectations were low for 2005’s Batman Begins after Batman & Robin put a freeze on the franchise in 1997. However, DC fans and audiences soon learned that Nolan was the right person to guide Batman through three films that took on a grittier tone, featured beautiful cinematography, and gave the world an all-time-great performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s portrayal won him a posthumous Academy Award in 2009 and helped people realize that superhero movies could also be taken ‘so serious.’
Tomatometer Average: 91.25%
Highest Rated: Mad Max 2 (1981) 94%
Lowest Rated: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) 80%
George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy featuring Mel Gibson as the titular Max, is a perfect example of a handmade action franchise. The mayhem in the Mad Max world felt primal (and feral), which is a testament to Miller’s direction and a fearless crew who didn’t mind blowing up dozens of vehicles. If you haven’t seen Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Certified Fresh at 98%, we totally recommend it. Why? Not only is it the highest Tomatometer-rated movie featured in this entire list, it also features one of the greatest vehicular chase scenes ever made.
Let us know about you favorite action movie franchises in the comments! Also, how in the heck is the Blade trilogy Rotten?
Ah, the 1980s. While most of the entertainment world is presently content to bask in the nostalgia of the era, it’s worth remembering not everything children saw back then left them with warm, fuzzy memories. It was a decade full of beloved blockbusters and cult oddities that haunted the dreams of pint-sized audiences and/or ignited their libidos, and many of them were executive produced by Steven Spielberg, who, as this list illustrates, may be responsible for nearly as many bad dreams and formative fears as fellow king of pop entertainment Stephen King. With that in mind, here are a handful of classic 1980s movies aimed at young audiences that disturbed, unsettled, or outright terrified us with surprisingly dark and adult content.
(Photo by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group courtesy Everett Collection)
1986’s The Transformers: the Movie boasts a few distinctions. It’s known for a totally ’80s soundtrack that includes such beloved Reagan-era staples as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s brilliant Devo pastiche “Dare to be Stupid” and Stan Bush’s “The Touch,” which Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) famously covered in Boogie Nights. It’s also known as the final film of Orson Welles, who voiced a planet-sized robot that devours other planets, which may or may not have been a comment on his late-in-life girth.
But Transformers: The Movie is perhaps most famous for traumatizing an entire generation of kids by killing off a slew of popular heroes from the television show and toy line, including heroic, iconic leader Optimus Prime. Young fans of the series would stare in horror as fan favorites like Ratchet, Prowl, and Ironhide were gunned down in rapid succession early in the film, while Ultra Magnus met an especially untimely end, still others were consumed by Welles’ Unicron, and prominent love-to-hate-him villain Starscream was turned to ash by a newly minted Galvatron. Think Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding,” but for kids. Unsurprisingly, it was the executives at toy company Hasbro, rather than the filmmakers, who determined which characters would die and which would live, as a cynical means to persuade kids to spend their allowances on all the new heroes introduced in the film.
(Photo by Warner Bros.)
The PG-13 rating came about partially as a response to two Steven Spielberg blockbusters that were deemed too intense and frightening for children, but were also absolutely irresistible to the 10-and-under set. If you were a pre-pubescent boy in 1984, like I was, Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were almost assuredly too dark and violent to be appropriate viewing, but everyone saw them anyway.
There’s a distinct element of meta-commentary at work in Gremlins in particular. Joe Dante’s instant classic was a ghoulish, darkly comic, and often violent satire of the creature feature genre, pitting the painfully adorable, teddy bear-like Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) against a horde of monsters as hideous and repellent as Gizmo is cute. If their revolting looks weren’t enough, let’s not forget that the gremlins rampaged through the city and killed people (we never looked at motorized stair lifts the same again) before they ultimately met an explosive end in a movie theater. Throw in Phoebe Cates’ famously morbid monologue — you know, the one about learning Santa Claus wasn’t real when her father broke his neck and died shimmying down her chimney dressed as the holly, jolly man in red — and you have a 1980s kids’ film that was probably more disturbing than parents expected, but oddly unique enough to become a celebrated holiday classic.
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)
In the most notorious scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indy, his love interest “Willie” Scott (Kate Capshaw), and 11-year-old rapscallion and miniature con man Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) look on in horror as evil cult leader Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) tears the still-beating heart out of the chest of a human sacrifice and presents it to his enraptured followers as a trophy. This sequence alone would render Temple of Doom deeply unfit for its target demographic of adventure-loving, Harrison Ford-idolizing children even if it wasn’t immediately followed by the poor victim, who somehow managed to survive the ordeal, being plunged into a fiery pit to be burned alive.
That’s far from the only kid-unfriendly content in this waking fever dream of a colonialist nightmare, though: Child slave labor? Check. Killer crocs? Check. Eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains for dessert? Check. Temple of Doom depicts India as an exotic but also brutal and bloodthirsty realm filled with casual cruelty and blood-crazed cultists. Its depiction of torture and sacrifice helped make it the black sheep of the Indiana Jones saga until The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came along, but it was still a huge box office hit, and it certainly thrilled younger audiences as much as it terrified them.
Walter Murch enjoys an impeccable reputation as one of our greatest and most important film editors and sound designers, thanks to his groundbreaking work on masterpieces like The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now, among others. Murch only directed one feature film himself, though: 1985’s Return to Oz, a sequel of sorts to the 1939 Judy Garland classic that amped up the gothic elements of the frequently nightmare-inducing family favorite (who can forget the flying monkeys?) to intense new levels.
The film begins with its plucky heroine (Fairuza Balk, playing a subtly punk-goth Dorothy) deeply depressed following the events of The Wizard of Oz. Her aunt and uncle take her to a doctor who specializes in primitive electro-shock therapy, but before he can work his sinister magic, she ends up back in the Land of Oz. Only, things aren’t quite as she left them: pals like the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man have been turned to stone, and the once verdant and vibrant kingdom has crumbled into a barren wasteland. She and her strange new friends are pursued by malevolent forces that include the Wheelers, frightening creatures with wheels instead of hands and feet who are as horrifying as anything in an R-rated fright flick, and an evil princess who keeps a collection of sentient, interchangeable, disembodied heads on permanent display.
Like many films of this ilk, Return to Oz was a box office flop, harshly criticized at the time of its release for being an eyeball-melting acid trip of a movie, and later heralded as a cult classic for possessing those very qualities.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
Robert Zemeckis’ masterpiece Back to the Future is so rightfully revered as a quintessential piece of Reagan-era pop Americana that it’s easy to overlook its darker themes. Robert Zemeckis was able to Trojan-horse an awful lot of raunchy, boundary-pushing sexuality and pitch-black, dirty comedy inside ostensibly family-friendly blockbusters that parents were happy to rent over and over and over again for their kids, in no small part because they had so much to offer adult audiences as well.
When it comes right down to it, Back to the Future is the story of a lovable young time-traveler’s heroic attempts to fend off his incredibly hot-to-trot future mother’s feverish sexual advances. Factor in an attempted sexual assault and a subplot involving terrorists out to slaughter the hero’s beloved, daffy mentor, and you have a perfect piece of commercial entertainment with a barely concealed heart of darkness.
Like Steven Spielberg, Jim Henson earned so much goodwill with families that he could get way with almost anything. The Muppets and Sesame Street made him an enduring international icon of child-like imagination and play, but he longed to tell stories bigger, darker, and more adult than the ones that made him one of the best-loved television creators of all time. With 1986’s Labyrinth, Henson ventured once again (after 1982’s The Dark Cyrstal) into the world of fantasy and allegory with a trippy, kaleidoscopic coming-of-age story.
A still relatively unknown young Jennifer Connelly stars as a teen who loses some of her doe-eyed innocence — but attains no small amount of worldly wisdom — when she ventures into a realm beyond the imagination, at once frightening and beguiling, to rescue her kidnapped baby brother. Labyrinth has all manner of dark elements — groping, disembodied hands, pyromaniac monsters with detachable body parts, a creepy seduction subplot complete with nonconsensual drugging — but its reputation as a corrupter of children is attributable largely to David Bowie’s portrayal of Jareth the Goblin King, whose sinister, very adult sensuality and famously ample codpiece helped kick-start the sexual curiosity of multiple generations of entranced young people.
(Photo by Buena Vista courtesy Everett Collection)
Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was also the man behind 1987’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a tough, Film Noir-leaning cartoon/live-action twist on Chinatown that casts Bob Hoskins as a tormented alcoholic trying to solve the murder of a kinky cartoon mogul and refrain from getting involved with an animated bombshell.
If Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s misunderstood femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (who, voiced by Kathleen Turner, isn’t bad, “just drawn that way”) is way too sexy, not just for a children’s film put out by a division of Disney, but for film as a medium, its villain is likewise too terrifying for a movie targeted at kids. Christopher Lloyd is utterly unnerving every moment he’s onscreen as Judge Doom, a sort of one-man cartoon apocalypse, but when he becomes his true self during the film’s harrowing climax, he’s pure nightmare fuel, a viscerally unnerving image of unhinged evil.
Despite its incredible success, Who Framed Roger Rabbit never spawned a sequel, only a couple of spin-off shorts. But, like others on this list, it has inspired something of a cult following because of its singular peculiarities and its willingness to test the bounds of children’s entertainment.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
Yup, another Zemeckis movie. We did mention his work in the 1980s was full of subversive humor and innuendo, and both audiences and critics were eating it up. So when it came time to satiate the angry demands of the market and make a sequel to his time-hopping 1985 smash Back to the Future, the prickly auteur evidently felt empowered to go even further with the black comedy and sweaty Oedipal tension. Instead of a darkly comic take on Eisenhower and Reagan’s America, we got a dystopian take on a future-distorted present, in which Thomas F. Wilson’s shady gambling kingpin Biff Tannen lords over a grim Hooverville that makes the brutal alternate reality of It’s a Wonderful Life look positively rosy by comparison. Doc Brown is in a mental hospital, Marty’s dad is dead, and Marty’s poor mom is married to Biff and outfitted in tight, low-cut cocktail garb.
Though it got mixed reviews at the time of its release, the darker, bleaker sequel has become a huge cult film in part because its cynicism feels more of a piece with our despairing current age than Back to the Future’s subversive take on the kinky goings-on behind the white-picket perfection of ’50s and ’80s faux-innocence.
Over the last 40 years or so, Harrison Ford has amassed a lifetime gross in the billions – and he’s done it while kicking bad-guy tail as some of the most memorable cinematic heroes in history, including Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan. He’s made a whole bunch of great movies along the way, too – and now that one of the best in the bunch is getting a long-awaited sequel with Blade Runner 2049, we thought this would be the perfect time to take a look back at some of the critical highlights from his illustrious filmography. It’s time for Total Recall!
(Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images)
Right after her breakout performance in 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and just ahead of the release of the horror film Silent House, Rotten Tomatoes spoke to then rising star Elizabeth Olsen about her Five Favorite Films. Five years have passed since then, and Olsen has made the most of her opportunities, appearing in smaller independent films as well as gigantic blockbusters like Godzilla and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
This week, she stars alongside fellow Avenger Jeremy Renner in acclaimed writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s new thriller Wind River, which follows a pair of law enforcement agents on the trail of a murderer in rural Wyoming. RT spoke to Olsen, who decided it would be fun to compare her current list of Five Favorite Films with the one she picked in 2012. She also talked about the new film and how her perspective has changed since she began her career.
I would watch that movie on VHS every night before bed for maybe two years. I’ve always felt a very close kinship with middle-aged women. [laughs] When I was in elementary school, I felt like I understood it. [laughs] I don’t know why. It’s three greats, three great female comedians, and the final song and dance at the end, “You Don’t Own Me,” was something Sarah Paulson and I recreated many a time, filming Martha Marcy May Marlene. It had a new meaning, all of a sudden.
Indiana Jones, that trilogy I just rewatched on a plane from a holiday I just took. I watched all three, and Temple of Doom just continues to win me over. I know; usually, people like The Last Crusade, and there’s a lot of love for Raiders, because it’s the original. But Temple of Doom is just, to me, so funny and entertaining and fun. And the kid from Goonies — Hot Shot? Short Round. He’s so funny, and I grew up with Goonies, but I prefer him in Indiana Jones.
What, you didn’t like Data in The Goonies?
No, I loved him. Obviously, he had all his fun little tricks, all the things that he would shoot out and cling on. I do, I just love Indiana Jones so much, and I believe Harrison Ford is one of the best big movie actors. While he is still engaged in something that’s really active and he keeps the intensity of the moment. Now I can appreciate it, because I don’t know how to be funny in the Avengers movies. He keeps the intensity, but then he still can be sly and charming and funny. Same thing in Star Wars. I just think he’s so good.
Between Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence, Cassavetes. I still dream, to this day, of having an experience. I thought the borderline guys are the modern version of this, of creating a really intimate, truly intimate environment, without any kind of producers with creative control, or any kind of desire of a specific distribution, but to just make stories that you want to make because they are close to you and personal and interesting and character-driven. Gena Rowlands, to me, is so amazing to watch. That’s something I discovered more in my early 20s, Cassavetes movies.
Return to Oz was just one of my favorite films as a kid. If you watch it any time recently, it’s one of the most disturbing films made for children.
Oh, definitely. And I love that movie myself. To be honest, I think I actually have a deeper connection to that movie than the original Wizard of Oz.
Oh yeah, me, too. Absolutely, by eons. That was the film that my friend Clay and I were just obsessed with for our whole childhood, with the wheelers and the woman with the hallway full of heads. That was a movie we loved.
Woody Allen — namely the Diane Keaton collaborative days — those movies were really important to me when I was like 15, 16 years old, because it was when I discovered watching them and went through the canon. I, for the first time, had seen a woman that I was like, “Oh, I can be that kind of a woman. I’m not really the nerd, I’m not really the charactery person. I’m not really the sexy one, but I am a neurotic, nervous, but semi-intelligent one, but I also say stupid things.” It felt comforting to know that that was an example of a kind of woman I could be when I grew up and when I was going through that transition in teenagehood.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: So there was only one duplicate between this list and the one you chose last time, and that’s Annie Hall. You mentioned at the time that you loved Woody Allen, so another one of your choices was Manhattan. Then you also picked Gone with the Wind, Roman Holiday, and Pal Joey.
Olsen: Oh, I said Pal Joey? That’s cute, that’s cute. I think, probably, Roman Holiday, I must have been going through a phase or just enjoying watching that movie. I don’t have very many movies. I think Roman Holiday is right next to Heavyweights on my iTunes movie list.
RT: That’s a weird double feature.
Olsen: Also, probably, Seven might be right above it. It’s a very strange group. [laughs]
RT: So let’s talk about the film. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed Wind River, and he’s been actor for a long time. Was it different working with someone as a director who had done all three things?
Elizabeth Olsen: I don’t know. I would actually be curious to ask Taylor, but I think he probably would have approached all three — whether it was being an actor, a writer, or a director — I think he approaches them very similarly, which is just trying to tell an authentic truth of an experience that he has had, or that he knows of, or that he had learned about. I think why people are drawn to his writing is because it’s poetic while showing active, driven stories where character becomes unfolded. It’s not just about the action. The action is how we understand characters better, because of how they approach whatever obstacles that come their way and then we learn about them.
He’s a very straightforward, no bulls— kind of guy. That’s why he writes the way he writes. That’s the way he directs, and I’m assuming that maybe that’s what he did as an actor. Sometimes, it’s hard to do that as an actor, because there are so many things that are fake that you’re dealing with. That’s why it’s not for everyone.
I do know that he’s a great bulls— detector, and he’s really great at telling you. He’s a great lie detector, and I think that’s what I want in a director. I want them to have a great vision and understanding of the tone and the world they’re trying to create, and I want them to be passionate about the story we’re making. I also want them to just say, “That wasn’t good,” or, “This is how you can do it better,” or, “How about you try this?” He’s very good at that, and so is Jeremy. The three of us together, I think it was a very trusting and comfortable set to be on, because no one was just trying to stroke each other’s egos.
(Photo by The Weinstein Company)
RT: Speaking of Jeremy Renner, it feels to me, at least based on a lot of the media coverage that comes from the set, that the Avengers cast is a fairly tight group, and I’m wondering if either you or Jeremy played a part in recruiting the other for this film?
Olsen: I was attached to the movie first. I was attached to it for a year, and there was another actor — I think that’s public knowledge at this point — that was attached as well. Scheduling didn’t work out, and Taylor wanted to make it the during the winter we made it. He said, “How about Jeremy?” I said, “I love Jeremy. It would be incredible to get to work with him.”
But I felt uncomfortable pushing it on him, because we weren’t that close. If it were Aaron Taylor Johnson, I’d be on him to do it because Aaron and I have that kind of friendship. Now Jeremy and I do, but at the time, it was more of just a work relationship and semi-social. I think I might have just sent him a text message once saying, “Did you read this script yet? I’m doing it. I just wanted to let you know that I’m definitely doing it, and it’s not someone just… Whispering that in your ear, or something.”
I told Taylor I didn’t want to be too pushy about it, because I don’t think Jeremy responds well to that. Taylor just sent him a note and said, “Dude, read 10 pages of this script, and if you hate it, you don’t have to finish reading it, and I’ll buy you a nice bottle of booze.” That’s the story that I’ve heard now a gazillion times, since we’ve been doing press. He loved the script and that was it. We started filming a month or two later. It was really fast. He finished the script. He devoured it and wanted to do it.
RT: When we first spoke with you, it was five years ago in 2012. You’d just done Martha Marcy May Marlene and Silent House, and you had stuff like Kill Your Darlings and Old Boy coming out. You expressed at that time a desire to challenge yourself with a lot of different roles. So, looking back on the past five years and the rapid rise of your career, do you feel like you’ve settled into a groove now? That you have a handle on the kids of projects you want to do and want to be involved with?
Olsen: Yeah. I think the first, I would say, four or five years of working, I was just so excited to be working. I was excited to do every kind of movie. I wasn’t thinking, really, about the producers or the directors, the DP. My mind didn’t work in that way. I wasn’t even thinking about, “What’s a creative arc that I want to create for myself?” That has altered and that has changed.
I really love working. I think that’s also part of the problem, because I don’t want to have free time. I like to go from one film to the next to the next with just maybe a week or two in between, because that’s all I really need to decompress. I think I just got a little excited at the beginning, and I wasn’t making the most discerning decisions.
Now, I do feel like I have made decisions, even though it’s almost impossible to compare and contrast Ingrid Goes West and Wind River. They were both projects I really wanted to be a part of, and I thought made sense for me, for what I want to put out there, that are completely different. They don’t have to be similar. It is interesting, and now I’m diving a little bit into the development side of things.
It hasn’t even been 10 years yet for me, but it’s still a much more knowledgeable perspective now, obviously, than I had in 2012 after working for like a year and a half or something. I seemingly get wiser. I think maybe in 10 years, I’ll tell myself that I was an idiot today, but we’ll see.
Wind River opens in limited release this Friday, August 4.
(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
It’s not every day you get to talk to Captain Hook on the phone, but thankfully the actor playing him on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Colin O’Donoghue, is a charming and delightful man. O’Donoghue also appears this week in a new film called Carrie Pilby — a comedic drama in which he plays a professor with decidedly questionable ethics (more on that later), and he was only too happy to share his Five Favorite Films with us. Read on for his list:
My first one is 12 Angry Men. I remember I watched it at school, I think I saw it at fourteen for the first time. And when you’re that age, you kind of want to watch big blockbuster movies and all that kind of stuff. And I just couldn’t get over the fact — basically it doesn’t leave the room for the whole movie. And it’s just these guys sitting around discussing this crime, and whether or not they’re going to find the guy guilty or not. I just found it so engaging and stuff. You know the cast and stuff was just incredible with Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, and all these incredible actors. I just thought it was mind blowing, you know?
I think it was based on a radio play — I don’t know. And then I figured it was a theatrical play, and then they made a movie. That’s the other thing, I was also just beginning to start to want to be an actor. Or join the theatre group in my hometown. It all sort of happened at the same time, and I was beginning to understand it a little bit more about how they’re engaging, and how you can hold people’s attention for that long just by the performance itself.
If it’s in one room — to adapt a play and to have it be riveting on screen — that’s really something.
Yeah. It’s a difficult thing. You know? But it’s just incredible of them.
That’s one thing about trying to figure out these five movies; I really want to go back and watch all of them again. Just sit in my house and watch them.
That’s another one for me that, basically it’s stunning how — it’s an incredible watch. And I think it’s the performances, again, I find riveting. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are just incredible. It’s just such a beautiful film, I think. The story is incredible, it’s so well made. I think Frank [Darabont] dialed in on the direction — I love all of his movies. They have a style that I really like. Anytime I think of this movie, it’s just a sweeping shot coming over the prison while Morgan Freeman is narrating his — it’s such an incredible sense of memories. I went to see it with my parents; I guess I was thirteen when it came out. I think I was — or fourteen — and I remember just being absolutely blown away by it. I mean I know it’s one that’s on nearly everybody’s list, but for me it was also — it was kind of like the first sort of grown-up movie that I went to see with my parents, and that we could have a proper conversation about.
The next one I’ve given is a given. It’s Star Wars. It’s definitely a part of my childhood. It’s hard for me to pick — I think Empire is probably my favorite of the three. But if I was to pick one, I think the first Star Wars would have to be the one, because that’s the one that I remember most. I was a Star Wars fanatic growing up. I guess I still am. Pretty much for everybody who grew up in the 1980s as well, it’s a symbol of their childhood. And most people — it reminds me back home in Ireland it used to be on every Christmas. It was sort of… You got all the action figures and all that kind of stuff. And it was just an incredible, incredible movie, and then when [the others] came out, they were sort of events when I was a teenager — that you wanted to go see them. Even if they weren’t as good.
Star Wars became a lifestyle.
Yeah, I think so. Because I remember I used to have a Super Nintendo, and I remember getting the Star Wars game on the Super Nintendo. And that was like — anything and everything Star Wars was such a huge deal. I don’t know what age you are, but I’m 36, and when they began to come out with more and more action figures or t-shirts and retro shirts and stuff, you kind of had to have everything. But now there is just a lot of Star Wars stuff around — kind of a lot of everything.
The next one is Temple of Doom. That’s the one that sticks with me most. I was born in ’81, so I know that was [when] the first Indiana Jones was. But I remember Temple of Doom most, and so I just have to pick that. I mean, it’s for pretty much the exact same reasons as Star Wars. It’s my childhood. Indiana Jones is the character that I just wished that I was, you know what I mean? [The one] I wanted to be as a little kid. And they’re also just really, really well made, fantastic movies. You know, all the Indiana Jones — well the first three anyways.
I also love that time period. I love that sort of 1930s and 1940s, I love that period — the thought of it. And I like war movies and all that kind of stuff as well.
Well the next one is less action oriented. This is where I began to struggle. Because I had my first four and was like, “Okay, that’s perfect,” and then I had to pick another one. This decision is a bit tough; there’s a three way tie for this, I should say. I’m going to pick The Conversation with Gene Hackman and John Cazale. And the reason I’m thinking this is, I did a movie with Anthony Hopkins called The Rite, and the director of photography — we talked a bit. And he really wanted to have that ’70s feel and stuff — it’s when they just started to use the zoom lens for the first time, and how innovative it was. And then in the 1980s, it became overused and used for the wrong reasons and all that kind of stuff. The Conversation is one that, if you watch The Conversation for the opening sequence where you hear a conversation taking place as the master — this zoom from way up is zooming in over a park. And I was just absolutely blown away by it because you can hear exactly what’s happening, but you don’t see. You’ve got no idea who’s talking. You don’t know where they are or what’s happening. I was blown away. And Gene Hackman is one of my favorite actors. I just think he’s incredible; I could watch him read the phone book. I could watch him pretty much not do anything [laughing]. You just wonder what’s going on in his mind. He’s one of those actors who is saying one thing, but you know there’s so many different things going on inside of his head. You just never know exactly what it is and stuff. I love that. I love being kept guessing.
Francis Ford Coppola is one of the greatest directors of all time, and what I thought was great was that it sort of embodies that period of time. Even though it was made in the ’70s and it’s a very specific ’70s movie, I think it’s very, very particular to today. You know, with surveillance and all that kind of stuff. And I just think the whole idea of it is incredible, and it’s just so well made.
Kerr Lordygan for Rotten Tomatoes: Did you have any moral conflicts with your character in Carrie Pilby?
Colin O’Donoghue: [Laughing] What impressed me with the character — because I signed on pretty early — was that I work on a TV show called Once Upon a Time — I play Captain Hook — and for me it was important to play a character that was very different from the character that I do 22 episodes [each] of for the last four years, you know what I mean? What I liked in the script was that the story that was told in the context of different men in her life then as well. So you had the professor I play, and you had the eventual boyfriend who she ends up with — all these different guys — her father and stuff. And I like the fact that he’s such a horrible piece of work, this professor. It was just nice for me to get to play that and see how I could put a little bit of myself into it.
RT: It’s a total 180 from Captain Hook, that’s for sure.
O’Donoghue: Yeah. It’s also nice just because the cast is incredible. Susan [Johnson]‘s a fantastic, amazing director. And it’s great material. I don’t get a chance to do that much because we shoot nine months of the year. So it’s nice to have that window and get to do something really, really, fun and with a great cast and great script. So, I was delighted.
Carrie Pilby opens on Friday, Mar. 31, 2017 in limited release and On Demand Tuesday, Apr, 4, 2017.
It’s the very first streaming column of 2017, which means it’s also the first streaming column of the month, which means the subscription services are releasing a ton of new titles, and we’re culling them down to the very best. Read on for all the Certified Fresh choices available on Netflix and Amazon Prime this week.
Steven Spielberg’s family classic — the tale of a young boy named Elliott who discovers an orphaned alien in his backyard — boasts one of the most beloved movie characters in history.
Available now on: Netflix
Robert Wise’s Certified Fresh sci-fi classic tells the story of an alien being who arrives on Earth with a warning for mankind: make peace or face annihilation.
Available now on: Netflix
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Brian Selznick novel stars Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz in the story of a young boy who befriends a reclusive toymaker in order to unlock the secret behind an automaton left to him by his late father.
Available now on: Netflix
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble opus about life in the porn industry made a movie star out of Mark Wahlberg and benefited immeasurably from great performances by Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and William H. Macy.
Available now on: Netflix
This independent drama follows a pair of graffiti artists over two days as they attempt to raise funds for a bold act of tagging.
Available now on: Netflix
This documentary catches up with several men exonerated by DNA evidence and freed from prison as they attempt to reintegrate into society.
Available now on: Netflix
This dark comedy centers on two friends and a wealthy married couple who meet at a bar and engage in a series of progressively more twisted dares.
Available now on: Netflix
Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of the Stephen King novel stars a creepy Jack Nicholson as a struggling writer who relocates his family to an empty hotel during a harsh winter season and slowly goes mad.
Available now on: Netflix
Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant star in this comedy about a brash thirtysomething London woman who decides to shape up and meets a couple of eligible bachelors.
Available now on: Netflix
Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, a young Natalie Portman, and a bunch of other noted indie thespians star in this mid-1990s comedy about a high school reunion in snowy New England.
Available now on: Netflix
Mel Gibson directs and stars in this multiple Oscar-winner as William Wallace, a Scottish folk hero from the 13th century who led his people against the English in the First War of Scottish Independence.
Available now on: Netflix
Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray star in Harold Ramis’s directorial debut, a beloved comedy about the unruly, unusual new members of an exclusive country club.
Available now on: Netflix
Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving star in this dystopian thriller about a lone freedom fighter plotting a series of revolutionary bombings against a tyrannical government who recruits a young woman to join his cause.
Available now on: Netflix
Harrison Ford stars as the iconic archaeologist/adventurer whose thrilling exploits take him all over the globe. Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream all of the Indiana Jones movies this week.
This action blockbuster, which kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in spectacular style, stars Robert Downey Jr. in a role he was born to play: an arrogant billionaire supergenius who creates a weaponized suit of armor to fight evil.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
This Certified Fresh documentary tells the chilling tale of a Long Island child killer that many assumed was an urban legend.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd star in John Landis’s classic comedy about a well-to-do businessman and a common street hustler whose lives become intertwined when the businessman’s bosses concoct an elaborate bet involving them.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Edwards Norton and Furlong star in this drama about an ex-white supremacist who returns from prison a changed man and attempts to prevent his younger brother from following the same path.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Tim Burton’s offbeat comedy stars Michael Keaton as the titular ghoul, a chaotic wildcard whose services are called upon by a newly deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) to help rid their home of its new occupants.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton star in this drama about an aimless junkie who meets an interesting collection of characters as he attempts to straighten out his life.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert De Niro star in Brian DePalma’s dramatization of the Prohibition Era war between Al Capone and lawman Eliot Ness.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Based upon Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and featuring an all-star cast, this fantasy follows a young man who embarks on a journey through a forbidden kingdom to prove his love to the girl of his dreams by presenting her with a fallen star.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis headline an all-star cast in Martin Scorsese’s stylized portrayal of the rise of criminal power in New York’s Five Points neighborhood during the mid-1800s.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Elijah Wood and Robin Williams lend their voices to this animated feature about an emperor penguin who overcomes his inability to sing by becoming a fantastic dancer instead.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
Alice Through The Looking Glass may not be getting critics supremely high off caterpillar smoke (neither did the Tim Burton-directed original), but don’t let that stop you from having a lauded fantasy movie weekend with your family: simply check out this gallery list of 24 Certified Fresh PG and below fantasy classics and modern hits!
It’s time for another comic book convention, and we at RT are hitting WonderCon in Los Angeles the whole weekend to take photos of the most creative and dedicated cosplayers at the convention. Scroll down for our selection.
His name may not be instantly familiar, but his work most certainly is: over a prolific career, Vic Armstrong has been a stunt man, stunt coordinator and second unit director on some of the biggest and best-loved action movies of the past four decades — a list of credits far too long to even consider including here. He’s stunt-doubled for successive James Bonds, from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan, worn the cape and tights on Richard Donner’s Superman, and famously done stunt work for Harrison Ford on, among many of the actor’s other roles, the original three Indiana Jones films.
Then there’s his work with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone and Angelina Jolie, to name a handful, or — our personal favorite — his listed credit as “Unicorn Master” on Ridley Scott’s Legend. How does one get to be a Unicorn Master, anyway?
Armstrong’s robust career as a second unit action director has also seen him shoot sequences for the likes of James Cameron, Paul Verhoeven, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, while he recently completed work on Marvel’s Thor and forthcoming The Amazing Spider-Man.
This week, he releases his autobiography entitled — and with a fair claim to the crown — The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman, which chronicles his career from riding horses for Gregory Peck through his role today as one of the industry’s most sought-after action coordinators.
Armstrong called in for a chat with RT, having just wrapped shooting on Spider-Man, to talk stunts on the new Marvel web-slinger, some career highlights and, as ever, five of his favorite movies. (And hey, if he wants to pick movies he’s worked on — who are we to say no?)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, 94% Tomatometer)
Raiders would have to be one of them. I just think the ride, the whole thing, is just fabulous entertainment and escapism — and it felt real, you know.
I gotta go for one of the Terminators as well — I don’t know which one. [laughs] Probably one, because the first time I saw it… one is always more difficult than the second one, I think. I saw that in Rome after Arnie brought it over when I was doing Red Sonja. We were gonna go out to Rome one night and I said, “I can’t, I’m working, I’ve got a five-o’clock-in-the-morning start,” and he said, “Well, take this — go up to your room and watch this video.” And I watched it — and it was a rough cut of it — and I went, “Oh my god, it’s the greatest film I’ve ever seen.”
Next, Armstrong talks about filming action on The Amazing Spider-Man and Thor, and takes us through some of the highlights of his impressive career — including his stunt work on the original Indiana Jones films.
RT: You’re filming the action stuff on The Amazing Spider-Man at the moment — how’s it all going?
Vic Armstrong: Great; we just wrapped some shooting in New York. Did you see him flying? There were some amazing pictures of him flying.
I did, yeah. Everyone seems to be impressed that you’re doing this old school, with wires and practical stunt work.
It’s amazing how it’s gone full circle. Whenever you get offered a film now it’s like, “We wanna try and do as much of it for real as we can.” And one of the things we always discussed on Spider-Man was that we wanna get away from the CGI Spidey flying through the air — we wanna see it for real, and try to do it as much as we can for real. [Marvel producer] Avi Arad said the other day, “Vic, that’s exactly what you guys did.” There’s a certain movement when you see it; subconsciously you realize it’s real, you know.
Did you look at the other Spider-Man movies for a sense of motion, or is this a whole new thing?
We didn’t look at the other movies, really, because when you think about it, they would have had to look at what we were doing, or the type of work that we were doing on other things, in the old days — probably trapezes and things like that. We based ours on, not a trapeze, but literally vine-swinging, if you like — going back to [Tarzan star] Johnny Weissmuller and that type of action. You work logically: how would you “web” yourself down the street? You’d go one direction and then you’d go another way and you’d use that momentum to come back in another direction. It’s a bit like skiing.
You also did second unit on Thor prior to that, which is doing rather well.
It’s done fantastically. I was really pleased, actually, because we put a lot of effort into it and, again, we did as much as we could for real — knowing that you’re going into a surreal environment, everything that we can put into that that’s real, we did. Do you remember a picture called Starship Troopers, with all the bugs? Huge bug movie, but we did everything we could to interact the terrain, the people, the location, the studio — everything to interact with those bugs, you know. It was the same with Thor: we wanted to put as much reality into it as we could. And we put as much realism as we can into the action by using the actor, as well. Chris [Hemsworth] was fantastic: he trained up and worked with us; it was just like having another stuntman.
Did Andrew Garfield do any of his own stunts on Spider-Man?
Yep, he trained as well, down at this big warehouse we had down in Culver City, where every piece of the action we shot was all mocked up. It was quite funny if you’d seen it: lots of cardboard boxes and platforms simulating buildings or fire escapes or a bridge. Andrew would be there and he’s one of this new breed of actors that wants to be involved in every aspect of their character’s being; so he’s down there with the stunt guys and they would train him up to whatever standard we could get him to. He was very closely involved, and we’d put him in wherever the chance was. He was putting his thumbprint on it, as it were.
Your film credits read like a list of the biggest action movies of the past 40 years; I don’t know where we’d begin talking. I understand you got into the business because your dad owned racehorses?
Yep. I think my earliest recollection was in the ’50s, of a very famous English actor called Richard Todd — he kept racehorses with my father. So when I was seven, eight, nine years old I’d watch this guy with a big open Bentley and women in furs, and I would talk to him, in awe, and he’d tell me what films he’d been doing and I’d go off and watch them. So that was my interest on movies. And then I’d come home and get on my pony and gallop off playing Cowboys and Indians on my own, and falling off my pony — so I guess that was my introduction into it.
Were you aware that there were stunt people that did this stuff?
No! [laughs] I was Richard Todd when I was doing it. They never even said they had other people to do it. [laughs]
So, your first paying stunt job doubling for Gregory Peck on Arabesque — how’d you get that?
I had a great horse that could jump anything, and a stuntman called Jimmy Lodge would come and exercise the horses with us. He was the stunt coordinator on Arabesque. One day he said to me, “Look, can I rent your horse off you, because the ones we have on the set are useless.” I rented him the horse and he called next day saying, “We need another good riding double to jump these jumps as well.” And off we went. I thought, “Wow — 20 pounds a day.” That was a week’s wages. I thought it would work very well with my horse racing career. Everyone said don’t rely on this for a living, it’s very spasmodic. If I was a jockey, I probably would have been retired now for 35 years. [laughs] I’d be shoveling sh** now.
And a year later you’re on You Only Live Twice — that must have been something for a young guy.
Oh, I was in awe. I went out to Pinewood Studios, this great cavernous place, and inside there was the inside of a volcano — with rockets standing up and a roof for a helicopter to fly in and a monorail going round and round. I’d never seen a set before like it. The guy who would become my father-in-law, [stunt coordinator] George Leech, said, “We need people to slide down a rope four or five hundred feet,” and I said “Yeah, I can do that” — thinking, “There’s no way anyone can do that.” Again, I was in the right place at the right time of my career.
What was your favorite 007 stunt, of all the many films you did?
I think on the Bonds, directorially was when I had more fun — when I was starting to do it with Pierce. The boat chase, and the car chase where the BMW was remote-controlled; they were cool chases and fairly original. How do you make a car chase original? How do you make a boat chase original? And they both came out pretty original. To me, the most important thing is to have exciting and original chases, thinking that you’re not ripping anybody off. And then on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, sliding and hanging off a cliff at the end of this big old ski chase; and then there was the fight with Yaphet Kotto in the shark pen, on Live and Let Die.
Then there’s Superman…
That was tremendous, Superman. We’d just finished A Bridge Too Far, another huge, huge movie. I ended up doubling Chris [Reeve], not knowing it was going to be such an iconic film. It was amazing, working with Dick Donner, a guy with such fantastic vision.
Did you get to keep the outfit?
I have, funny enough, Warner Brothers gave me a life-long loan on them: the cape, the tights, the costume. I’ve got a cinema in my house in England and I’ve got them hanging in there. I’m very proud of them.
Many fans are familiar with you from your work on the original Indiana Jones movies. How did you meet Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford and get involved with that crew?
When they started Raiders, Wendy, my wife, was on it — she was doubling Karen Allen — and I was in Mexico on Green Ice, with Ryan O’Neal. David Tomlin, the first assistant director, was a good friend of mine, and he said [to Spielberg], “You need to get Vic Armstrong out here, he’s a great double for Harrison.” He tried to get me and I was busy, so they shot in England and then went out to Tunisia, and had been there a week, I think, and I finished up on my film and flew out to meet them. I got there and I was just kind of standing around on the set watching. We said, “We’re not doing anything, let’s slope off and get a quick lunch before the mob get here.” So we started walking away and I heard this person calling, “Harrison! Harrison!” Then somebody grabbed me and spun me around, and it was Steven — and he went, “Oh, you’re not Harrison. What are you doing here?” I said I was a stuntman and he went, “David, come here, this guy says he’s a stuntman, he looks just like Harrison.” David said, “Yeah this is the guy I’ve been telling you about, Steven.” So that was it — straight into the deep end.
The cover of your book is a shot of you, as Harrison, on the rope bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. What was that like to perform?
That was fantastic. That was an amazing construction: we had a company put up that great big bridge with cables wrapped in rope, and then we blew it up for real. It was across this ravine which was two or three hundred feet deep and the water was only 18 inches deep, so you couldn’t have anyone come off it. And then we had the real rope bridge hanging on the side of the ravine, and I did the fight with Mola Ram and then we built another bridge back at Elstree and did some more stuff with people falling off that.
Of all the actors you’ve worked with, who would you say was the most game in the stunt work?
That’s gotta be Harrison, Arnie, Tom Cruise or Chris Hemsworth for Thor.
What was it about Harrison?
Just everything, yeah — there’s not a stunt he didn’t do on [the Indiana Jones movies] that he wasn’t in, in some way or form. I mean, I did the jump on to the tank [in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade], but that was silly — you wouldn’t want him to do that. But every little thing — even when he was off on Temple of Doom with a bad back, when he came back the first thing we did was go straight into the fight on the rock-crushing conveyor-belt. We’d shot it with me and then we just went straight into it with him and put him into it. There’s nothing he wouldn’t go for, if you say, “Yeah, this is good and this is okay, you’re not risking too much.” Obviously we don’t want to risk them, because it’s our livelihood, you know — we don’t want them to get hurt, because we wanna keep working. [laughs]
You’ve long been a busy second unit action director — was that a natural extension of being a stunt man?
It’s a pure progression from a stunt man, to a stunt coordinator who thinks up the stunts, to the action unit director who works out how you’re going to shoot it. The thing I like about it is the creativity of being the director. You bring everything together: you pick the people, you work out the stunts, you work out the safety, then you get the great thrill of actually shooting them.
I was surprised to discover you shot the opening sequence of Terminator 2.
Yeah. I was supposed to do the whole movie [as second unit director] at one time but I was busy. Anyway, I got off what I was doing and they’d finished [Terminator 2] and said, “We need this opening sequence.” I was thrilled I got to work on it at all, you know, because I love Arnie and I love Cameron’s work. I was very honored to get on to it, I must say.
Has CG changed the way you coordinate second unit action sequences?
I work very, very closely with them [CG artists], and I look at it as your “Get out of jail free” card. When you really need help, that’s what you use it for. It’s like morphine: morphine is a wonderful drug if you really need it, but abuse it and it’s deadly, it’s a killer — it’s the same with CG. CG can kill a sequence. We’ve seen as many films ruined by CG as we have made good by it. But I think it’s only through misuse, you know. It’s a fantastic thing; it’s all in the use. It’s dreadfully abused at times, but it’s all through lack of knowledge of how to do it properly.
Vic Armstrong’s book, The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman, is available now.
Spider-Man image via Splash Online. Other images courtesy Vic Armstrong/Titan Publishing.
Everyone has their favorite Indiana Jones movie — and their own thoughts on if Raiders of the Ark is better than Last Crusade. (Sorry, Temple of Doom — there’s no contest). So how does this week’s long-awaited third sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, measure up to its predecessors?
Popular opinion holds Indiana Jones’ first on-screen appearance in Raiders of the Lost Ark as the best in the series. (It does, in fact, have the highest Tomatometer rating.) Third installment Last Crusade follows closely in second place in the hearts of most fans, with the oft-maligned second film, Temple of Doom, bringing up the rear. And despite running considerably close to one another on the Tomatometer, that order also holds true when it comes to the opinions of critics.
But where in the series will Indy’s first outing in nineteen years fall? Below, we examine the critical response to Dr. Jones’ latest escapade, and compare and contrast the key differences of each spectacular Indiana Jones adventure. Check out more articles in our Indiana Jonesin’ countdown series here.
The Return of Dr. Jones…
|Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Plot: Nineteen years after he last graced screens, Indiana Jones is back. This time, he’s hunting for a mystical crystal skull in the Amazonian jungle — and reuniting with a lost love. Could the skull hold the key to extraterrestrial contact?
Villain: Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a sword-wielding Russian agent specializing in psychic warfare
Sidekicks: Wartime buddy George ‘Mac’ McHale (Ray Winstone); former colleague Harold Oxley (John Hurt), out of touch with Indy for years and now missing in Peru; switchblade-wielding greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf)
Love Interest: Mary Williams (Karen Allen) — nee Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s feisty love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark
“Indy IV may not entirely be the grand return that everyone had hoped for, but it’s still great to see a good old friend come around again.” — Peter Howell, Toronto Star
Indy’s First Three Adventures
|Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Plot: In this smashing series opener, the Nazis are on their way to uncovering the fabled Ark of the Covenant, which holds the power to make their armies indestructible. Enter Indiana Jones — globe-trotting treasure hunter, ladies man, professor of archaeology, rogue extraordinaire — who, along with an old flame, traverses the earth to stop the Ark from falling into the wrong hands.
Villains: Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), French archaeologist and professional nemesis of Indiana Jones; Major Toht (Ronald Lacey), Nazi interrogator who gets a medallion scorched into his hand and his face melted off; Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), cold Nazi commander of the Tanis outpost
Sidekicks: Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), museum curator; portly Egyptian excavator Sallah (John Rhys-Davies)
Love Interest: Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), feisty Nepalese barkeep and daughter of Indy’s former mentor, Abner Ravenwood
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is an out-of-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you back in reality two hours later — breathless, dizzy, wrung-out, and with a silly grin on your face.” — Roger Ebert
|Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Plot: In this prequel to Raiders, Indiana Jones finds himself fleeing Shanghai with a nightclub singer and an orphan, stumbling into an Indian palace where secret passages are lined with creepy crawlies, children are enslaved by an evil cult, and the menu features “chilled monkey brains.”
Villains: Chinese gangster Lao Che (Roy Chiao); Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), leader of the Thuggee cult, human sacrifice, brainwasher, and seeker of the Sankara Stones
Sidekicks: Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), eleven-year-old Shanghainese taxi driver
Love Interest: Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), spoiled American showgirl
“IF you’ve ever been a child or, barring that, if you’ve ever been around children, ages 7 to about 11, you may remember the sort of game in which each child attempts to come up with the vilest, most disgusting, most repulsive, most stomach-turning meal he can think of. It might consist of sheeps’ eyes in runny aspic, live cockroaches wrapped in spider webs, juicy worms a la king and bats’ brains with anchovies and chocolate sauce… This may well be the public’s reaction to Steven Spielberg’s exuberantly tasteless and entertaining Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom...” — Vincent Canby, New York Times
|Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Plot: Indy is sent to Venice to locate the Holy Grail — and his own missing father (Sean Connery), with whom he’s been estranged for years — where he must contend with an ancient brotherhood, a beautiful blonde double agent, and his old enemies, the Nazis.
Villains: Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), an American businessman and Nazi conspirator; Colonel Vogel (Michael Byrne), SS officer who gets caught with “no ticket”
Sidekicks: Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), Indy’s estranged father and lifelong Grail scholar
Love Interest: Elsa Schneider, Austrian art historian and femme fatale who seduces both Joneses
“To say that Paramount’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade may be the best film ever made for 12-year-olds is not a backhanded compliment….The Harrison Ford-Sean Connery father-and-son team gives Last Crusade unexpected emotional depth, reminding us that real film magic is not in special effects.” — Joseph McBride, Variety
While some critics peg Kingdom of the Crystal Skull somewhere above Temple of Doom, but below the mark of The Last Crusade, its adjusted Tomatometer score places Indiana Jones’ fourth onscreen outing after all three films in the original trilogy. Even so, Kingdom — like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade all — has earned Certified Fresh status. Not too shabby for Indy’s first adventure in nearly two decades!
For more articles in our Indiana Jonesin’ series, click here.