(Photo by Universal Pictures/ courtesy Everett Collection)

20 Movies To Watch If You Can’t Wait For Dune

Director Denis Villeneuve has called Dune the “longstanding dream.” He’s not alone. Since 1965, the Frank Herbert epic has been a bewitching vision shared between the minds of adventurous readers, worming deep into the psyche of grand science-fiction devotees. Of course, Villeneuve stands out among Dune fans – he’s the first one in decades who gets to turn the novel into a movie. Like the book, it will follow the path of royal Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his training in psychokinetic arts, and his family’s arrival to rule desert planet Arrakis, the galaxy’s sole source of a powerful mineral mixture called spice.

Dune will release December 2020, but if you need those inhospitable desert fumes in your life now, you can watch Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Get to the Las Vegas sequence and pretend that’s Arrakis wind and sand whipping your face. (The surrounding movie’s pretty good, too.) Or just go straight to the well and watch the previous movie version of Dune, directed in 1984 by David Lynch. He’s essentially disowned the film, but it’s a well-meaning attempt, rendered mostly incomprehensible by the end if you’re not familiar with the book – exactly why Villeneuve’s Dune will be split into two movies. Dune has long stymied filmmakers (it was actually done decently on TV with the 2000 miniseries), and you’ll get the behind-the-scenes treatment of a noble but failed adaptation inside the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Dune towers within the space opera: A genre of sci-fi adventure where pulpy action and plot twists rule the stars, with frequent space and military battles, and streaks of sweeping romance. More space operas from movie history include The Chronicles of Riddick, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element (there’s a literal opera in this), Serenity, and Battle Beyond the Stars, featuring special effects by James Cameron.

We all know about the impact of Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress on George Lucas when thinking up his own space opera, Star Wars. Dune‘s influence fills out the rest. The Force is akin to Dune‘s own all-encompassing mystic system, and Tatooine is essentially a stand-in for Arrakis. So we’re including A New Hope here, even though you’ve already seen it. We hope.

John Carter and Stargate are more in the realm of space fantasies, but the action and arid settings match. Ditto the Earthly, apocalyptic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. While there are obviously better movies in the series, it’s inside Thunderdome where Max is sculpted as a messianic figure, the type of imagery central to the Dune arc.

If space military operations are more your thing, engage with the sleek Ender’s Gameor violent propaganda satire Starship Troopers. And if you like what Dune dishes on ecological and environmental notions (with a potential side of giant sand critters), eat up the hippie-dippie Silent Running along with Hayao Miyazaki’s early masterpiece Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

On animation: The medium has long opened eyes to whole new worlds, like Disney’s underseen Treasure Planet. Or the trippy French classic Fantastic Planet. And even the full-length Daft Punk cosmic fantasy Interstella 5555, produced by Leiji Matsumoto, godfather of the animated space opera. His epic movies like Arcadia of My Youth and the two Galaxy Express films don’t have Tomatometers so we didn’t include them, but they’re currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Adjusted Score: 34904%
Critics Consensus: As an action movie, Riddick offers some thrills, but as a sequel to Pitch Black, it's a disappointment.
Synopsis: Galactic criminal Riddick (Vin Diesel) is on the run, with bounty hunters on his tail. He receives guidance from Aereon... [More]
Directed By: David Twohy

Adjusted Score: 50284%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Shad of Akir (Richard Thomas) recruits a space cowboy (George Peppard) and other warriors to defend his planet from a... [More]
Directed By: Jimmy T. Murakami


Stargate (1994)

Adjusted Score: 55722%
Critics Consensus: Stargate has splashy visuals and James Spader to recommend it, but corny characterization and a clunky script makes this a portal to ho-hum.
Synopsis: In modern-day Egypt, professor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) teams up with retired Army Col. Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) to unlock... [More]
Directed By: Roland Emmerich


John Carter (2012)

Adjusted Score: 61244%
Critics Consensus: While John Carter looks terrific and delivers its share of pulpy thrills, it also suffers from uneven pacing and occasionally incomprehensible plotting and characterization.
Synopsis: When Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) mysteriously awakes on the surface of Mars -- also called Barsoom --... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Stanton


Dune (1984)

Adjusted Score: 48181%
Critics Consensus: This truncated adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterwork is too dry to work as grand entertainment, but David Lynch's flair for the surreal gives it some spice.
Synopsis: In the year 10191, a spice called melange is the most valuable substance known in the universe, and its only... [More]
Directed By: David Lynch


Ender's Game (2013)

Adjusted Score: 71075%
Critics Consensus: If it isn't quite as thought-provoking as the book, Ender's Game still manages to offer a commendable number of well-acted, solidly written sci-fi thrills.
Synopsis: When hostile aliens called the Formics attack Earth, only the legendary heroics of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) manage to attain... [More]
Directed By: Gavin Hood

Adjusted Score: 70084%
Critics Consensus: A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting.
Synopsis: In the distant future, the Earth is at war with a race of giant alien insects. Little is known about... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven


Silent Running (1972)

Adjusted Score: 72849%
Critics Consensus: It doesn't fulfill the potential of its ambitious themes, butSilent Running stands as a decidedly unique type of sci-fi journey marked by intimate character work and a melancholic mood.
Synopsis: After the end of all botanical life on Earth, ecologist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) maintains a greenhouse on a space... [More]
Directed By: Douglas Trumbull


Treasure Planet (2002)

Adjusted Score: 73658%
Critics Consensus: Though its characterizations are weaker than usual, Treasure Planet offers a fast-paced, beautifully rendered vision of outer space.
Synopsis: The legendary "loot of a thousand worlds" inspires an intergalactic treasure hunt when 15-year-old Jim Hawkins stumbles upon a map... [More]
Directed By: John Musker, Ron Clements

Adjusted Score: 74086%
Critics Consensus: Visually inventive and gleefully over the top, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element is a fantastic piece of pop sci-fi that never takes itself too seriously.
Synopsis: In the 23rd century, a New York City cabbie, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), finds the fate of the world in... [More]
Directed By: Luc Besson

Adjusted Score: 77138%
Critics Consensus: The plot is as barebones a space movie will allow, but The Last Starfighter captures an era and eager style of filmmaking well.
Synopsis: After finally achieving the high score on Starfighter, his favorite arcade game, everyday teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) meets the... [More]
Directed By: Nick Castle


Flash Gordon (1980)

Adjusted Score: 87138%
Critics Consensus: Campy charm and a knowing sense of humor help to overcome a silly plot involving a spacefaring ex-football player, his adoring bevy of groupies, and a supervillain named Ming the Merciless.
Synopsis: Although NASA scientists are claiming the unexpected eclipse and strange "hot hail" are nothing to worry about, Dr. Hans Zarkov... [More]
Directed By: Mike Hodges

Adjusted Score: 83973%
Critics Consensus: Beyond Thunderdome deepens the Mad Max character without sacrificing the amazing vehicle choreography and stunts that made the originals memorable.
Synopsis: In the third of the "Mad Max" movies, Max (Mel Gibson) drifts into an evil town ruled by Turner. There... [More]


Serenity (2005)

Adjusted Score: 88354%
Critics Consensus: Snappy dialogue and goofy characters make this Wild Wild West soap opera in space fun and adventurous.
Synopsis: In this continuation of the television series "Firefly," a group of rebels travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship,... [More]
Directed By: Joss Whedon

Adjusted Score: 23364%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Leiji Matsumoto

Adjusted Score: 120782%
Critics Consensus: Visually stunning and narratively satisfying, Blade Runner 2049 deepens and expands its predecessor's story while standing as an impressive filmmaking achievement in its own right.
Synopsis: Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has... [More]
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Adjusted Score: 89248%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world's ecosystem, the few surviving humans live... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki


Fantastic Planet (1973)

Adjusted Score: 90532%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful.
Synopsis: This animated tale follows the relationship between the small human-like Oms and their much larger blue-skinned oppressors, the Draags, who... [More]
Directed By: René Laloux

Adjusted Score: 105728%
Critics Consensus: A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same.
Synopsis: The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in... [More]
Directed By: George Lucas

Adjusted Score: 101686%
Critics Consensus: Part thoughtful tribute, part bittersweet reminder of a missed opportunity, Jodorowsky's Dune offers a fascinating look at a lost sci-fi legend.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky discusses how he would have adapted Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel "Dune" for the big screen.... [More]
Directed By: Frank Pavich

As Thanksgiving approaches, stuff yourself on this platter of the 24 biggest, most famous movie turkeys — movies audiences had anticipated, expected, and even hoped to be Fresh on the Tomatometer, only to come out Rotten as branded by the critics. (Only movies made after Rotten Tomatoes came into existence, though! Because, Ishtar, we’re nice people.)

Luc Besson’s return to the big space opera scene with Valerian and the Thousand Planets comes at a hefty price: a reported $180 million, easily making it the most expensive French production ever. And such fiscal modesty inspires this week’s gallery of the 24 most expensive movies ever made! (Budgets and box office are adjusted for inflation, with the base numbers from Box Office Mojo, natch.)

Life on Mars? Why, yes there is…and it wants to kill us. That’s the premise of this Friday’s Life and about a hundred more Hollywood movies about the Martian planet, inspiring this week’s gallery  of the 24 best & worst movies and TV shows set on Mars. Get your ass to it!

This week on home video, we’ve got some middle-of-the-road stuff, some flops, and some classics. Now, there are Blu-ray reissues of Smokey and the Bandit, Hondo, and The Color of Money, as well as a giant Ultimate Collection of The Three Stooges, but we won’t be talking about those here. Our choices this week are comprised of a few action flicks, a couple of epic adventures, a classic caper, and some Beatlemania. See below for the full list!

John Carter


In the years to come, Hollywood marketing execs may point to John Carter as the poster boy for underperforming big budget film properties with little prior mainstream exposure. Despite being based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ serialized novels, John Carter failed to hit it big with the sci-fi tale of an American Civil War captain who is magically transported to Mars, only to be caught in the middle of the red planet’s own native conflicts. This one split the critical community at 52%; though the film, directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), sports appropriately stunning visuals and pulpy thrills, most critics felt it suffered from uneven pacing, some incomprehensible plot points, and poor characterization.

Act of Valor


Essentially a recruiting tool for the elite military unit known as the US Navy SEALs, Act of Valor hoped to attract audiences mainly by playing up its use of real, active-duty soldiers and live ammunition in its filming. The SEALs were also enjoying a higher profile, thanks to their much-publicized involvement in the elimination of Osama bin Laden last year. Unfortunately, while the action scenes in Act of Valor were appropriately visceral, critics largely found a lot lacking in most other aspects of the film, including the clichéd anti-terrorism story, the amateurish acting, and the jingoistic tone. Though it sports a 25% Tomatometer, the upside is that a good portion of the viewers who saw it liked it (78% Audience score).

Safe House


Denzel Washington isn’t as big a star as he once was, but he’s still more than capable of delivering a fine performance, and Ryan Reynolds hasn’t quite reached his peak yet, but he’s proven in the past that he can ratchet up his game. As far as those two leads of Safe House are concerned, the film benefited from their committed performances; what split critics (yet again) were a thin script and some poorly edited action sequences. While the acting and breakneck pace of the film were enough to tide over 53% of the critics, the rest were hard pressed to offer it the same allowances.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island


Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) just can’t catch a break; first, he’s swept into an adventure below the surface of the earth with his uncle, and now, he’s summoned to a mysterious island with his new stepdad, Hank (Dwayne Johnson). This sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, loosely based on the works of Jules Verne, finds Sean and Hank accompanied by a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens); together, the foursome navigate treacherous terrain and battle unique wildlife to locate the source of a coded distress signal. While the first Journey was Fresh at 61%, critics weren’t as impressed this time around, calling the film a bit too intense for younger viewers and a bit too cartoonish for adults. At 42%, Journey 2 might be a diversion for a tween audience, but even for them, it probably won’t be much more than that.

Machine Gun Preacher


Gerard Butler hasn’t starred in many critical successes (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, which came out on home video last week, was one of the rare gems), so Machine Gun Preacher probably seemed like a safe bet for him. It’s a biopic centered on a fascinating man (Sam Childers, the gang biker-turned-African humanitarian), about a compelling topic (opposition to the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan), and directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace). Here was another case of good intentions with bad results; despite featuring a character as complex as Childers, Machine Gun Preacher simply failed to elevate the story beyond righteous machismo. It gets points for shedding light on the atrocities committed by now-famous Joseph Kony, but at 29%, don’t expect an in-depth examination of Sam Childers.

The Sting – Universal 100th Anniversary Blu-Ray


Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and director George Roy Hill had such success with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, they decided to try and duplicate the feat four years later. Long story short, the world got 1973’s The Sting, and we’re all probably better off for it. This classic stars Newman and Redford as a pair of Depression-era grifters who team up on an elaborate con to cheat a murderous racketeer (Robert Shaw). Certified Fresh at 91%, The Sting is available on Blu-Ray for the first time this week as part of Universal’s 100th Anniversary push, and while the HD extras are focused more on the anniversary itself, the disc does come with three standard definition featurettes that cover the making of the film. Nice little hi-def pickup for fans.

Yellow Submarine – Blu-Ray


With one more movie left on their contract with United Artists, the Beatles thought an animated film might round out their oeuvre rather nicely. Based on music from their iconic eighth album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Yellow Submarine is the third feature film starring the Fab Four, though they only provide the singing voices and a quick cameo here. Superficially, the story follows the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as they are summoned to help take back the underwater utopia Pepperland from the cruel Blue Meanies; in actuality, Yellow Submarine is a joyful, psychedelic montage of colorful scenes built around classic songs like All You Need Is Love and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. This week, it’s available on Blu-ray for the first time, with extras like multiple storyboard sequences, behind-the-scene photos, and interviews with the cast.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a swashbuckler on Mars (John Carter, starring Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins), a sinister dwelling (Silent House, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Adam Trese), and a man left speechless (A Thousand Words, starring Eddie Murphy and Kerry Washington). What do the critics have to say?

John Carter


After earning near-universal acclaim for Finding Nemo and WALL-E, Pixar wiz Andrew Stanton takes a big leap into live action filmmaking with the much-ballyhooed John Carter. The result, critics say, is something of a mixed bag: while John Carter looks terrific and delivers its share of pulpy thrills, it also suffers from uneven pacing and occasionally incomprehensible plotting and characterization. Taylor Kitsch plays the title character, a Civil War vet who finds himself teleported to Mars and in the midst of a conflict between warring tribes. Can he save the Red Planet and get back to Earth? The pundits say John Carter‘s retro-futurist look is cool, and several action set-pieces deliver the goods, but those unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ source novels may have trouble keeping track of everything that’s happening.(Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down co-star Willem Dafoe’s best-reviewed movies.)

Silent House


Right off the bat, Silent House has two intriguing points in its favor: the whole film is one long unbroken shot, and it stars the excellent Elizabeth Olsen. But while critics say the movie is atmospheric and often quite chilling, its climax is a big letdown. During a weekend stay at her family’s lake house, Sarah (Olsen) becomes trapped by menacing intruders and ominous noises. For the next hour and a half, Sarah tries to uncover the true nature of this malevolent force — and escape with her life. The pundits say Silent House is more technically proficient and ambitious than most fright-fests, but it also suffers from a disappointing payoff. (Check out Olsen’s Five Favorite Films here.)

A Thousand Words


In last year’s Tower Heist, Eddie Murphy reminded critics that his rapid-fire comedic talent is still very much intact. Unfortunately, critics say those attributes are in short supply in A Thousand Words, an oddly sour, desperate comedy that robs its star of his most valuable asset: his way with words. Murphy plays Jack, a slick, occasionally unscrupulous literary agent who finds a magic tree in his backyard. The tree sheds a leaf every time Jack speaks, and he soon realizes that both he and the tree will die unless he learns to express himself differently. The pundits say A Thousand Words is hyperactive and obvious, with Murphy flailing about in order to wring laughs out of subpar material.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the octogenarian that’s considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef, is at 100 percent.
  • The Oscar-nominated Israeli drama Footnote, about a professional conflict between father-and-son Talmudic scholars, is at 88 percent.
  • Shakespeare High, a doc about California high schoolers performing some of the Bard’s greatest works in a prestigious regional competition, is at 88 percent.
  • Sound of Noise, a comedy/thriller about a music-averse cop who must thwart a gang of criminal musicians, is at 88 percent.
  • Attenberg, a coming-of-age dramedy about a young Greek woman dealing with both her father’s impending death and her own romantic awakening, is at 76 percent.
  • The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a doc about the literally transformative love affair between the Psychic TV frontman and his bandmate, is at 73 percent.
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt in a dramedy about a fisheries expert tasked with bringing fly fishing to a desert nation, is at 66 percent (check out Blunt’s Five Favorite Films here).
  • Friends With Kids, starring Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm in a comedy about a group of close friends dealing with the effects of familial responsibility on their love lives, is at 57 percent (check out co-star Megan Fox’s Five Favorite Films here).
  • Good for Nothing, a parody of macho old-school Westerns, is at 40 percent.
  • The Decoy Bride, starring Kelly Macdonald and Alice Eve in a romantic comedy about a movie star who hastily assembles a fake wedding to ward off paparazzi interest in her nuptials, is at 25 percent.

Willem Dafoe

It’s Taylor Kitsch’s handsome mug that’s plastered all over the John Carter trailers and posters, but he isn’t going to Mars all by his lonesome this weekend — he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast that includes Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, and… drum roll, please… two-time Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe, whose appearance as the brave Barsoomian warrior Tars Tarkas was just the excuse we needed to devote this week’s list to the critical highlights from one of the more admirably eclectic filmographies among today’s working actors. Action blockbusters, dramas, even animation — as we’re about to demonstrate. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Inside Man

On paper, Inside Man didn’t look like it’d end up being a critical comeback for director Spike Lee — a cops ‘n’ robbers action thriller? Please, those are a dime a dozen — but thanks to a sharp Russell Gewirtz script and an impressive cast that included Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, and (of course) Willem Dafoe, it ended up walking away with $88 million at the box office and a healthy 86 percent on the Tomatometer. “As unexpected as some of its plot twists is the fact that this unapologetic genre movie was directed by Spike Lee, who has never sold himself as Mr. Entertainment,” admired an appreciative David Ansen of Newsweek. “But here it is, a Spike Lee joint that’s downright fun.”


9. Affliction

Dafoe reunited with his Light Sleeper director Paul Schrader for this searing 1997 drama, which earned James Coburn an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Nick Nolte a Best Actor nomination, and gave Dafoe the rare opportunity to play a sane, stable, rather noble character — the brother of a small-town policeman (Nolte) whose investigation of a potential murder parallels his mother’s death and his re-involvement with his violent, alcoholic father (Coburn). “Schrader seems to understand these characters implicitly,” observed the San Francisco Chronicle’s Edward Guthmann, “and the result is probably the best film he has directed.”


8. The Loveless

After having his part cut from Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate the previous year, Dafoe had to wait until 1982 to make his big-screen debut — in The Loveless, an indie biker movie written and directed by first-time filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. A somewhat campy homage to the biker flicks of the 1950s, it didn’t achieve much in the way of commercial impact, but Dafoe’s role as the ringleader of a group of small-town hoods presaged some of his later work as a charismatic villain, and the movie impressed a number of critics, including Time Out, which admitted, “At times the perversely slow beat of each scene can irritate, but that’s a reasonable price for the film’s super-saturated atmosphere.”


7. Mississippi Burning

Loosely based on the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning highlighted ongoing American racial tensions with an engrossing drama that, while it angered some viewers with the way it played fast and loose with certain facts of the incident, still proved a modest box office hit and a seven-time Oscar nominee. Dafoe starred alongside Gene Hackman, the duo portraying a mismatched pair of FBI agents leading the investigation in the backwater Mississippi town where the murders took place — and although their differing approach to solving a racial hate crime probably raised more questions than it answered, that was more than enough for critics like Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, who wrote, “Mississippi Burning surveys the geography of racism, sheds light on the dark night of the soul.”


6. Born on the Fourth of July

Three years after he plunged filmgoers into the hell of the Vietnam War with Platoon, Oliver Stone took a look at the war’s legacy from another perspective with Born on the Fourth of July. An adaptation of Ron Kovic’s book about his experiences as a soldier and a veteran, Fourth provided a showcase for Tom Cruise, who earned a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Kovic, and it reunited Stone with one of his Platoon stars in the bargain: Dafoe appears here as Charlie, a fellow vet who shares a strange, somewhat violent interlude with Kovic in a small Mexican town. “Whether or not you agree with its politics, and it’s sure to spark some debate, there’s no denying the film’s power,” argued Chris Hicks of the Deseret News.



5. Spider-Man

He was considered for the role of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, but Dafoe didn’t get to play a supervillain until he won the part of Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, in Spider-Man. It was worth the wait: Even though he spent much of the film acting behind a cumbersome 580-piece suit, Dafoe effortlessly oozed menace as Osborn as well as the Goblin, lending the film a suitably heavy antagonist and helping raise the dramatic stakes for a movie that ended up taking FX-fueled superhero drama to the next level. It was, as Michael Dequina argued for Film Threat, “Just about the truest and most satisfying screen adaptation most anyone could have ever hoped for.”


4. Light Sleeper

A pained elegy for the survivors of the drug culture of the 1980s — albeit one told with writer/director Paul Schrader’s customary emotional distance — Light Sleeper sent Dafoe prowling through the New York City nightscape as John LeTour, a courier for an upscale dealer (Susan Sarandon) whose plans to leave the business, coupled with what he views as the growing bleakness of his clients’ lives, leave him searching for a way out. Dark and deliberate, the film alienated impatient viewers — as well as critics who felt Schrader was tilling old creative ground — but for most, it represented a high point for the filmmaker as well as his stars. Argued Roger Ebert, “In film after film, for year after year, Paul Schrader has been telling this story in one way or another, but never with more humanity than this time.”


3. To Live and Die in L.A.

After making a name for himself with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin suffered through some uneven outings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, enduring mixed reviews and lackluster box office for films like Cruising and Deal of the Century before rebounding with To Live and Die in L.A.. Cool and atmospheric, Die starred Dafoe as a ruthless counterfeiter being pursued by a pair of unscrupulous cops (William Petersen and John Pankow); while it wasn’t a smash hit, it easily earned back its $6 million budget, along with raves from critics like Wesley Morris of the San Francisco Examiner, who wrote, “The only problem is that Friedkin would never get any better than this.”


2. Fantastic Mr. Fox

These days, it’s a rare animated film that doesn’t boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don’t attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, his stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Dafoe, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it “A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children.”


1. Finding Nemo

Before he worked for him in John Carter, Dafoe teamed up with director Andrew Stanton for Finding Nemo, Pixar’s 2003 hit about a neurotic clownfish (Albert Brooks) and his panicked efforts to find his son, who has been tossed into a dentist’s office fish tank with a motley school of aquatic creatures — including Dafoe’s character, a grizzled aquarium vet named Gill who helps Nemo bust out of the joint. Though it was strictly a voice acting gig, it gave Dafoe a rare opportunity to play a hero — and it ended up becoming one of the year’s biggest critical and commercial successes. Calling it a “seamless blending of technical brilliance and storytelling verve,” Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, “the Pixar team has made something as marvelously soulful and innately, fluidly American as jazz.”

In case you were wondering, here are Dafoe’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Boondock Saints — 93%
2. Platoon — 91%
3. Mississippi Burning — 87%
4. American Psycho — 83%
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — 82%
6. The Last Temptation of Christ — 82%
7. Inside Man — 81%
8. The English Patient — 81%
9. Finding Nemo — 80%
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox — 80%

Take a look through Dafoe’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for John Carter.


This week’s Ketchup covers a seven day period that had plenty of newsworthy announcements, but what was really missing was much that this writer could call a Fresh Development (except maybe the headline and one other story, and even then… both are borderline). Also included in the mix are another Hitchcock remake, a prequel/sequel for I Am Legend, a Twisted Metal video game adaptation movie, a Zorro reboot, and new roles for Jennifer Aniston and Will Ferrell.

This Week’s Top Story


The 100 year wait for a movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter will finally end on March 9, 2012. Although there’s no way of knowing yet whether John Carter will be successful enough to warrant another film, the film’s director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) is already working with his cowriter Michael Chabon on adapting the second book The Gods of Mars in the series anyway. Michael Chabon is best known as the novelist responsible for Wonder Boys and the Pulitzer Prize winning superhero novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s also very important to note that Walt Disney Pictures hasn’t yet actually given John Carter: The Gods of Mars a greenlight yet (for obvious reasons). If they do, however, The Gods of Mars is the novel in which Burroughs really expanded the scope of John Carter’s adventures, setting the stage for following novels (especially since The Gods of Mars ends on a cliffhanger). If John Carter is indeed a hit, and Disney moves ahead with plans for an ongoing series of adaptations, there are still seven more novels to adapt after The Gods of Mars.

Fresh Developments This Week


With two Snow White movies coming out in 2012 alone, that creates a bit of a conundrum for the other studios with Snow White projects in development, as they stand the chances of being the third and/or fourth Snow White movies in recent memory. Walt Disney Pictures in particular has to tread that subject carefully, since their ABC network already airs the Snow White TV series Once Upon a Time, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is after all the original “Disney” movie. And so, what Disney has done is take the “Snow White” out of the movie formerly known as Snow and the Seven, and retitled it as The Order of the Seven. We also now know that Irish actress Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, The Lovely Bones, Atonement) will star in The Order of the Seven, as an Englishwoman in 19th century China who is protected by a band of seven martial arts enthusiasts. With these new changes, however, all of the little in joke things about the story being a reimagination of Snow White are now out the window, with the story still being basically the same. The Order of the Seven will also be the directorial debut of visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey, whose most famous movie to date was Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger as the infamous Australian outlaw. The question now is whether taking the Snow White out of this movie will end up being a good thing or not (or, should the movie just stay unmade, period?). Let’s call this news a borderline “Fresh Development”… barely.

Rotten Ideas of the Week


Will Ferrell has signed with Ben Stiller’s Red Hour production company to star in the crime drama Flamingo Thief, based upon the novel by Susan Trott. Flamingo Thief is about a multimillionaire whose son recently died and whose private life and business is starting to fall apart, and so he starts stealing flamingo ornaments from people’s lawns. Flamingo Thief was adapted by screenwriter Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree, The Maiden Heist), who will also be making his directorial debut with this film. You, Me and Dupree was critically reviled (with just 21% on the RT Tomatometer), but besides that… this movie is also a dramedy about Will Ferrell stealing flamingo lawn ornaments.


This week, Jennifer Aniston joined two new movies, one of which is a dramedy called Miss You Already about two female friends whose relationship falls apart when one becomes pregnant, and the other becomes ill. So far, everything about that movie seems pretty predictable, right? Here’s the weird part: Miss You Already will be directed by Paul Andrew Williams, an English director whose most “popular” movies to date were the direct-to-video (in the USA) horror titles The Cottage and Cherry Tree Lane (check out the poster art here and here to get an idea of what sort of movies those were). It’s not impossible for “genre” directors to make other types of movies… but it’s still unexpected for a Jennifer Aniston movie. To be fair, that same director recently made Song for Marion, a cancer drama starring Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. Jennifer Aniston’s other new movie this week is the Elmore Leonard adaptation Switch, which will also costar Dennis Quaid, Ty Burrell (from TV’s Modern Family), John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey. Hawkes and Bey are playing the younger versions of the Jackie Brown characters that were played in that movie by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson. Switch is a kidnapping crime story, and Jennifer Aniston will be playing the wife of a real estate developer (Quaid) whose relationship with her husband creates complications for the first time kidnappers. Both of these movies are Rotten Ideas this week based mostly on Jennifer Aniston’s RT Tomatometer track record, which really merits attention. Of the dozens of movies Jennifer Aniston has now made, only six of her roles have “Fresh” scores on the Tomatometer, effectively giving Aniston herself a Rotten score of something like 25%. There’s also the little, confusing fact that Jennifer Aniston already starred in a movie called The Switch.


You know a movie genre or trend has really become over saturated when it comes time for it to be spoofed. For the “found footage” movies like Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside Me, that spoof will be called Smart Ass, though what exactly it will be about is not yet known. Marlon Wayans has some experience with spoof movies, having played Shorty in the first two Scary Movie… movies, and so he will be making his directorial debut with Smart Ass, as well as costarring. Marlon Wayans’ first announced costar in Smart Ass is Essence Atkins, who also costars in the TBS comedy series Are We There Yet?, and who also costarred in the spoof movie Dance Flick, which was directed by Marlon’s nephew Damien Dante Wayans. As much as this writer appreciates the sentiment behind spoofing found footage movies, spoofs themselves don’t really have a great critical past themselves, and so that’s why Smart Ass is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas. And then there’s Marlon Wayans himself, who only ever has gotten a Fresh rating himself because he was in Requiem for a Dream.


Normally, movies that get released by the big studios take some time to get made, and there are also “movie stars” that help draw attention to the projects. The “found footage” trend bypasses a lot of that, however: they’re cheap and quick to make, and usually don’t have any recognizable cast members. And so, they can slide under the radar of features like the Weekly Ketchup a lot of the time. This week, Warner Bros and Alcon Entertainment announced that they had acquired the rights to a horror movie called Chernobyl Diaries, which will be released just in time for Memorial Day weekend this May. Very, very little is known about Chernobyl Diaries, except that it’s about “a group of friends who, while vacationing in Europe, find themselves stranded in the abandoned city only to discover that they are not alone.” In fact, we don’t even know for sure that Chernobyl Diaries even is a “found footage” movie, except that it was produced by Oren Peli, the director of the first Paranormal Activity and producer of the sequels, as well as other found footage projects like the upcoming Area 51, The Bay, and Lords of Salem, and the ABC TV series The River. So, yeah, that gives us a little hint that it might be a found footage horror movie. Whatever else it is, Chernobyl Diaries appears to definitely be a cheaply made horror movie, and although there are some success stories, generally, they tend to be Rotten Ideas.


This week, in the days leading up to the release of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, that movie’s studio, Sony Pictures, made a deal with one of the film’s codirectors to write and direct an adaptation of the video game series Twisted Metal. Brian Taylor normally works with Mark Neveldine, with whom he has directed the two Crank movies, and cowritten Jonah Hex. The Twisted Metal games are about violent demolition derby competitions that are basically like “Mortal Kombat with guns and cars,” or even more specifically, like “Death Race but with clown masks.” Stylistically, Brian Taylor seems like a good match for Twisted Metal, if it has to be a movie. Critically, however, Brian Taylor has traditionally not done well outside the two Crank movies.


Pulp writer Johnston McCulley created Zorro in 1919 as a swashbuckling protector of the people of colonial era 19th century California, and that is basically the way he’s been portrayed in movies and TV series ever since. 20th Century Fox, however, has plans to revive the Zorro character in a completely different way: by moving him to the future. This week, that reboot project, now called Zorro Reborn, crossed an important milestone in the casting of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries) as the title character. This new Zorro won’t be set in Mexico or California at all, but will instead just be “a masked vigilante looking for revenge…” in the future. Fox hasn’t yet found a director for Zorro Reborn, which was adapted by screenwriter Glenn Gers (cowriter of Mad Money, Fracture) and newcomers Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy. Although Gael Garcia Bernal is a talented actor whose films are generally well received critically, his joining this project still doesn’t quite overcome the handicap of it being a Zorro story… in the future.


It was just last week that DreamWorks announced plans to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. And now, this week, Paramount followed suit with their own plans to remake Hitchcock’s 1941 thriller Suspicion. Joan Fontaine won a Best Actress Oscar as a young bride who suspects that her new husband (Cary Grant) plans to kill her for her money. Rebecca and Suspicion do share some other things in common: they were released only a year apart, and both films are based upon novels from which they were not entirely adapted faithfully, especially in the third act. Paramount Pictures has hired TV producer/writer Veena Sud (AMC’s The Killing) to adapt the original 1932 Frances Iles novel Before the Fact, upon which Suspicion was based. It’s not yet known if the intent of this remake is to more faithfully adapt the original novel, or to directly remake the story as it was originally made. Regardless, Suspicion, like Rebecca or nearly any other Hitchcock film, doesn’t really seem like it needs to be remade, and so, it’s yet another Rotten Idea this week.


The 2007 apocalyptic/undead thriller I Am Legend received a “Fresh” rating on the RT Tomatometer, so how exactly does one explain why this story is Rotten, without spoiling crucial details? Let’s start with the headline: Warner Bros is moving forward with plans for a follow up to I Am Legend. “Follow up” is probably a safer way of putting it, because it’s currently unclear what this movie will be: a prequel, a sequel, or something in between. Screenwriter Arash Amiel, who wrote the upcoming biopic Grace of Monaco has been hired to write it, so maybe the answer is that it’s not yet known exactly what form this will take until Amiel is finished writing it. Will Smith had made comments about this concept a few years back, but it’s also possible things have changed since then. Regardless, another way to look at this perhaps is that Richard Matheson never wrote any sort of prequel/sequel to I Am Legend, so maybe… that’s the way the story should stay.

For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook or a RT forum message.

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