(Photo by Marvel Studios / Disney, 20th Century Fox, Miramax, TriStar)
For their bravery, wit, general badassery, and unbroken spirit in the face of enormous challenges (be they gender discrimination or acid-hissing aliens), we pay tribute to 87 Fearless Movie Women Who Inspire Us.
How did we arrive at our top 87? With the help of a fearless panel of women critics made up of some of the best writers in the industry, including a few on the Rotten Tomatoes staff. Starting with a long list of candidates, they whittled down the list to an initial set of 72 amazingly heroic characters and ordered them, crowning the most fearless woman movie hero in the process. Want to know more about the ladies who voted? We included their bios at the end! Then, in addition to their contributions, which make up the bulk of the list, we also added a handful of more recent entries chosen by the RT staff.
The final list (you can watch every movie in a special FandangoNOW collection) gives compelling insight into which heroes have resonated through the years, women whose big-screen impact remains even as the times change. We have the usual suspects along with plenty of surprises (Working Girl, your day has come!), and the only way to discover them all is reading on for the 87 fearless women movie heroes — and groups of heroes — who inspire us!
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
#1One of the appeals of science-fiction is the luxury to comment on modern issues and social mores, or even eschew them completely. Take a look at the diverse space crews in Star Trek, Sunshine, or Alien, where people are hired based on nothing but competence, and none have proven their competence under extreme pressure as well as Ellen Ripley. She’s tough, pragmatic, and cunning in Alien. Journey with Ripley into Aliens and we get to see her in a new light: mothering and nurturing with hints of deep empathy (Sigourney Weaver was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for this performance), which only makes the Xenomorph-stomping side of her even more badass.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
#2And on the other side of the Sigourney spectrum, Weaver here plays Katharine, a particular kind of woman who’s nasty to the competition: other women. The object of her scorn is her secretary, Tess McGill (played by Melanie Griffith), who has her great ideas stolen by Katharine. The plucky Tess in turn pretends to be her boss’s colleague, and proceeds to shake things up in this corporate Cinderella story. Who doesn’t dream of one day suddenly arriving in a higher echelon of society? Of course, it’s what you do once you get there that’s important, and the glowing and tenacious Tess makes the most of it.
(Photo by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Marvel)
#3Hard-drinking, ass-kicking Valkyrie makes no apologies for her choices and draws solid boundaries. Sure, she’s flawed, but that’s what makes her successes so sweet. That she’s played by Tessa Thompson doubles the fun.
(Photo by Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
#4Letitia Wright proved that a sister doesn’t have to sit in the shadow of her sibling simply because he’s king. Her Shuri has the smarts and the sass to cut her own path, making her technical genius essential not only to the Kingdom of Wakanda, but also the Avengers’ recent efforts to take down the tyrant Thanos.
(Photo by Fox 2000 Pictures)
#5Don’t ask us to choose a favorite among Hidden Figures’ Space Race heroines: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson. The Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of a real-life team of female African-American mathematicians crucial to NASA’s early space program.
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(Photo by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd)
#7Daisy Ridley gave girls everywhere – and full-grown women, in truth – a fresh new hero to adore when she debuted in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Of humble origins, scrappy Rey overcomes her circumstances living as an orphan in a harsh environment to become an essential component in the Resistance. It helps, of course, that The Force is with her.
(Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures)
#8Despite her superpowers and privileged background, Gal Gadot as Diana – princess of Themyscira and the Amazons, daughter of Queen Hippolyta and King of the Gods Zeus – retains her humility and a genuine care for humanity. She’s also the most rock solid member of DC’s boys club of Justice League superheroes.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)
#9Come on…she’s Princess Leia. She leads the Rebel Alliance. She saves the galaxy again and again (with a little help from Luke, and Han, and Chewy). She eventually becomes a revered general, but from the very start – when she first confronts Darth Vader at the beginning of Episode IV – A New Hope – she shows a defiant, fiery nature that never dims. In her defining film role, Carrie Fisher brings impeccable comic timing to this cosmic princess.
(Photo by Roadside Attractions)
#10Before she was Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence was Ree, the role that made her a star and earned her the first of four Oscar nominations. A no-nonsense teenager, Ree dares to brave the dangers lurking within the Ozark Mountains to track down her drug-dealing father and protect her siblings and their home. With each quietly treacherous encounter, she shows depth and instincts beyond her years, and a willingness to fight for what matters.
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#11You can’t have any fear when you’re going up against Hannibal Lecter – or at least you can’t show it. He’ll sniff it out from a mile away. But what’s exciting about Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the young FBI cadet is the way she works through her fear, harnessing that nervous energy alongside her powerful intellect and dogged determination. Clarice Starling is a hero for every little girl who thought she wasn’t good enough.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
#12Julia Roberts won a best-actress Oscar for her charismatic portrayal of this larger-than-life, real-life figure. Erin Brockovich is repeatedly underestimated because of the flashy way she dresses and the brash way she carries herself. But as a single mom who becomes an unlikely environmental advocate, she’s a steely fighter. What she lacks in book smarts, she more than makes up for with heart. Steven Soderbergh’s film is an inspiring underdog story.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)
#13Jane Craig is the toughest, sharpest, most prepared woman in the newsroom at all times, but she isn’t afraid to cry to let it all out when the pressure gets too great. Writer-director James L. Brooks created this feminist heroine, this workplace goddess, but Holly Hunter brilliantly brings her to life. She’s just so vibrant. Even when she’s sitting still (which isn’t often), you can feel her thinking. And while two men compete for her attention, no man could ever define her.
(Photo by MGM Studios)
#14It would be easy to underestimate Marge Gunderson. Sure, she’s in a position of power as the Brainerd, Minnesota, police chief. But with her folksy manner – and the fact that she’s so pregnant, she’s about to burst – she’s not exactly the most intimidating figure. But in the hands of the brilliant Frances McDormand, she’s consistently the smartest and most fearless person in the room, and she remains one of the Coen brothers’ most enduring characters. You betcha.
(Photo by Marvel/Walt Disney Studios)
#15Danai Gurira plays Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje who specializes in spear fighting and strategic wig flipping. Of late, Okoye has been seen keeping company with Avengers.
(Photo by Miramax Films)
#16Things Bridget Jones is prone to: accidents, fantasizing about sexy coworkers, worrying about her weight, and running mad into the snow wearing tiger-print underwear. All totally relatable things, so it’s no surprise she’s the highest-ranked romcom heroine on this list. It also doesn’t hurt that, at their best, Bridget’s movies are what romantic comedies aspire to: They’re fun, cute, and just when it feels like everything’s about to fall apart, there’s the exhilarating little twist at the end that leaves watchers feel like they’re floating on air.
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)
#17It’s true that Cher is a little oblivious to the world at large, but she’s just so earnest and she tries so hard. She discovers a passion for doing good after successfully matchmaking a pair of teachers, and after a series of difficult lessons learned, she makes an honest effort to escape her privileged bubble and become a better person. Like we all should.
(Photo by MGM Studios)
#18Thelma and Louise, best friends who stick by each other no matter what. And when their girls’ getaway weekend quickly turns from frivolous to frightening, they find even deeper levels of loyalty to each other. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon have an effortless chemistry with each other, and Ridley Scott’s intimate and thrilling film never judges these women for the decisions they make — or for the lengths to which they’ll go in the name of freedom.
(Photo by Warner Brothers)
#19Enduring racism, misogyny, and emotional, physical, and sexual violence, Celie (Whoopi Goldberg in her film debut) transcends her traumatic life in the rural South, finding friends, strength, and her own voice.
(Photo by Sony Pictures Classics)
#20As a transgender waitress, Marina constantly endures cruelty and confusion from the ignorant people around her. When the one man who loves her for who she truly is dies unexpectedly, she finds herself in the midst of an even more emotional, personal fight. Transgender actress Daniela Vega initially was hired as a consultant on Sebastian Lelio’s film; instead, she became its star, and A Fantastic Woman deservedly won this year’s foreign-language Oscar.
(Photo by TriStar Pictures)
#21Sarah Connor makes many want to be a better mother – or at least get to the gym and work on our triceps. The once-timid waitress crafts herself into a force of nature, a fearsome and visceral manifestation of pure maternal instinct. Played most memorably by Linda Hamilton in the first two Terminator movies, Sarah may seem unhinged, but she’s got laser-like focus when it comes to protecting her son, John, from the many threats coming his way.
(Photo by Miramax Films)
#22The return of blaxploitation queen, Pam Grier! What’s not to love? Especially in Quentin Tarantino’s killer love letter to South Bay Los Angeles. As Jackie Brown, Grier exudes classic cool with a tough exterior.
(Photo by Richard Olley/Columbia Pictures)
#23Jessica Chastain has made a career of playing quick-witted characters with nerves of steel. Nowhere is this truer than in her starring role in Kathryn Bigelow’s thrilling depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Maya is obsessively focused in her pursuit of the al Qaeda leader. She’s a confident woman who has to be extra prepared to survive in a man’s world. But when the mission is over and she finally allows some emotion to shine through, it’s cathartic for us all.
(Photo by Warner Brothers/ Everett Collection)
#24She’s the smartest kid in the class, regardless of the subject. The hardest worker, too. And she’s proud of those qualities, making her an excellent role model for girls out there with an interest in math and science. But Hermione isn’t all about the books. Over the eight Harry Potter films, in Emma Watson’s increasingly confident hands, Hermione reveals her resourcefulness, loyalty, and grace. She’s a great student but an even better friend.
(Photo by Columbia Pictures/ Everett Collection)
#25Howard Hawks’ celebrated screwball comedy benefited from a not-so-small change to the stage play it was based on: In the original The Front Page, Hildy Johnson was a male. But thanks to Rosalind Russell’s lively performance, as well as a few script changes she personally insisted upon, the character blossomed into an early icon of the independent working woman who’s not only just as effective at her job as her male counterparts, but also equally adept with a witty comeback.
(Photo by Walt Disney/ Everett Collection)
#26Elastigirl takes on all the trials of motherhood: She’s got hyper kids, a bored husband, and has to witness certain parts of her body unperkify. Elastigirl also just happens to be a superhero, with the fate of the world resting on her shoulders.
(Photo by Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)
#27Fans of the short-lived but beloved Fox sci-fi series Firefly were already familiar with Gina Torres‘ badassery as Zoe Washburne in Serenity. A veteran of the Unification War and second in command of the ship, Zoe is a strong and loyal ally who rarely pulls punches, whether she’s stating a controversial opinion or engaged in a literal fistfight. With her free spirit and deadly skills, it’s no wonder she became a fan favorite.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection)
#28Dolly Parton is a national treasure, and 9 to 5 allows her to light up the screen with her sparkling, charismatic personality. But while Doralee may seem like a sweet Southern gal, she’s got a stiff backbone and a sharp tongue, and she isn’t afraid to use them when she’s crossed. When she finally stands up to her sexist bully of a boss alongside co-workers Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, it’s nothing short of a revolution – one that remains sadly relevant today.
(Photo by Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)
#29The story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is one that deserves to be told, and it’s Geena Davis‘ Dottie Hinson who grounds this fictional account. She’s a talented local player who becomes the star of the Rockford Peaches, and it’s her quick thinking that brings publicity to the sport. When her decision to play in the World Series leads to a spectacular finish, she also demonstrates a very human vulnerability, making her a strong but relatable heroine.
(Photo by Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection)
#30Jane Austen’s classic heroine Elizabeth Bennet jumps off the page in the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley, who gives audiences an intelligent, down-to-Earth, sometimes literally dirty, but uncompromisingly steadfast leading lady.
(Photo by Everett Collection)
#31Never underestimate a sorority girl. They are organized and they know how to get what the want. In the case of Elle Woods, she goes after her law school goals with a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and an impeccably coordinated wardrobe. Reese Witherspoon is impossibly adorable in the role, with a potent combination of smarts and heart to shut down the naysayers who are foolish enough to judge her simply by her looks.
(Photo by Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection)
#32Talk brashly and carry a big sword. As Tom Cruise’s character unravels a complex time travel sci-fi story, a constant in his fluctuating world is Rita Vrataski aka the killer Angel of Verdun. But Emily Blunt gives life to Rita beyond burgeoning love interest. She takes the lead and makes the movie just as much her’s.
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
#33When Nick Fury sent that mysterious intergalactic text message right before disappearing into dust at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, eager fans knew what was in store. As played by Brie Larson, Captain Marvel is one of the most powerful superheroes in the MCU — if not THE most powerful — and she’s in such high demand that she spends most of her time battling evil on other planets. She shows up when it counts, though, and she can rock a mowhawk like nobody’s business.
(Photo by Paramount /Courtesy Everett Collection)
#34Though hit hard by tragedy and seemingly insurmountable odds of surviving an alien invasion, mother and daughter duo Evelin and Regan Abbott prove their mettle in A Quiet Place.
(Photo by Paramount Pictures / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection)
#36Who can stand up to Hugh Jackman’s fierce Wolverine without flinching? His cloned daughter X-23. Dafne Keen imbued the preteen mutant, a.k.a. “Laura,” with a volatile mix of anger, despondency, obstinance, and hope – that we would very much like to see more of.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection)
#37She’s Buffy. She slays vampires while juggling cheerleading and the SATs. But while Kristy Swanson gives the character a satricial bent, it’s the legendary TV adaptation that gives this character a lasting legacy. But the movie ain’t a bad place to start.
(Photo by CBS)
While the original series, which starred William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nemoy as Mr. Spock, saw only three seasons, it made an indelible impression on the sci-fi genre. Live-action TV follow-up Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard leading an ensemble cast, captivated viewers from 1987–1994 and inspired three more series that would air within the next decade: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Starting with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount Pictures has been regularly cranking out Trek films with the original series and Next Generation casts, as well as a rebooted version in 2009 with Chris Pine as Starfleet Academy cadet James Kirk and Zachary Quinto as young Spock. (See our Star Trek film “Total Recall” here.)
In 2017, Trek returned to small screens with season 1 of CBS All Access streaming title Star Trek: Discovery, set during a tumultuous wartime era about a decade before the original and starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones, and Jason Isaacs. The new series marked a TV franchise reboot by Alex Kurtzman, writer on the 2009 Star Trek film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.
The year 2020 gave fans a celebration of one of its most iconic characters with the January premiere of Star Trek: Picard, with Stewart reprising his role in the new CBS All Access streaming series that also stars franchise newcomers Isa Briones, Alison Pill, Evan Evagora, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, as well as returning veterans Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner.
Then in August, the TV franchise introduced animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks, about the misfit support crew on one of Starfleet’s least-important ships.
But which of the TV and streaming series is best? Have a look below to find out which TV title scored highest with critics in our Trek TV by Tomatometer list. (For completists, The Animated Series, which ran for two seasons in the early 1970s and has a 94% score on 16 reviews of its first season, isn’t included here because of the low number of eligible reviews.)
Disagree with the results? Tell us in the comments which series you think should have been ranked higher (or lower).
(Photo by Warner Bros. Thumbnail: Jasin Boland for ©Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection)
There’s only one place where you can get clones, time travel, simulated realities, irradiated and irritated giant lizards, and space fights and beyond. (Maybe not all at once, but we can dream.) Anything’s possible in this creative nebula known as science fiction, and with its long and historic association with cinema, we present our choices of the greatest science-fiction movies ever: The 150 Essential Sci-Fi Movies!
As they do with horror, filmmakers use science fiction to reflect our aspirations, terrors, and issues of the times. Through genre lens, we can consider our impact on the environment (Godzilla, WALL-E), technology gone berserk (The Terminator, Ex Machina), identity (Blade Runner, The Matrix), and societal breakdowns (Children of Men, A Clockwork Orange). We might even check-in on the current state of the human condition (Gattaca, Her).
Or, maybe we just want to see giant ants wreak havoc across the neighborhood. There may not be a lot of subtext in a big monster movie like Them!, or even crowd-pleasing masterpieces like Star Wars or Back to the Future, but they speak to the one thing that attracts us to movies in the first place: escapism. Science-fiction movies are our tickets to planets far-away (Star Trek, Avatar, Starship Troopers), or a quick hop to a local joint in the solar system (The Martian, Total Recall). They take us just above the atmosphere (Gravity), deep down to the bottom of the ocean (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Abyss), and into the human body (Fantastic Voyage). Limited only 2020by imagination, sci-fi inspires wonder, awe, terror, and hope for alternative mindsets and better futures.
Sci-fi spreads across subgenres, all represented here: the monster movie (Cloverfield), space opera (Serenity), cyberpunk (Ghost in the Shell), and post-apocalyptic (Mad Max: Fury Road) and more. Or it can fuse onto traditional genres like drama (Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), comedy (Repo Man, Idiocracy), and action (Predator, Demoliton Man). Wherever the destination, these movies — each with at least 20 reviews — were selected because of their unique, fun, and possibly even mind-blowing spins on reality.
It’s time to strap in and cue the Theremin for some of the best science-fiction films created: Time to launch the 150 Essential Sci-Fi Movies!
As we all settle in to stay at home and socially distance ourselves, the planet has been given a unique resource not often afforded in the modern world: time. With no place to go, what shall we do with this new abundance of free hours? Time to finish that book you have had on your bedside table? Maybe take an online French class or learn to play an instrument? Time to binge every series that ever was? Or perhaps, like us, you’re thinking of all the films you wished you’d seen but never had the time to before.
Maybe one of those epic movie franchises that seemed too daunting to jump into late in the game – don’t ever admit you’ve never seen an MCU movie, ever – or a series of which you’ve caught a few entries but want to fill in the gaps. Fear not – we have you covered with our Epic Franchise Movie Binge Guide. Read below as we break down some of the most beloved long-running movie franchises – like The Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible, or the granddaddy of them all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and tell you the best way to approach watching them, how long the binge will take, and which titles you can skip. Because hey, even all the time in the world may not be enough time to make you sit through A Good Day to Die Hard.
Disagree with our picks or have a suggestion for a franchise movie binge? Let us know in the comments.
What is it: The film adaptations of the fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, set in ”Middle-earth,” the fictitious medieval land where elves, men, dwarves, wizards, and hobbits co-exist, often not so peacefully. Over the course of several films, we follow hobbit Bilbo Baggins and later his young heir Frodo Baggins as they go on adventures and battle against the forces of evil.
How many hours: Extended editions: 20 hours 30 minutes; Theatrical cuts: 17 hours and 12 minutes.
Starts with: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Ends with: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Best way to watch: Some would argue the second trilogy – though the first by story chronology – from Peter Jackson was an unnecessary and bloated cash grab that should be avoided at all costs, but we have a better suggestion. We suggest you begin with the LOTR animated film from 1978, which will give you all the events of the films in a quicker and to-the-point format. Then, if you are compelled to see the best of The Hobbit live-action series, we would say check out the standard edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which is the best of the three. We would also suggest you try to watch the extended editions of the original live-action LOTR series – they are more than worth it for the extra content. This recommendation would make for a shorter, 16-hour watch, which could be broken up easily over two days.
What is it: The 23-film saga that chronicles the epic adventures of various superheroes, based on the comics first distributed by Marvel and its subsidiaries.
How many hours: 50 hours and 3 minutes.
Starts with: Iron Man (2008)
Ends with: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Best way to watch: Not surprising for a franchise that grossed over $22 billion at the global box office, but Marvel Studios’ 23-film, decade-long opus is quite watchable as is. Some folks would have argued in 2010 that Avengers: The Age of Ultron is a skippable mess, but as we detail here, it is essential viewing to truly appreciate the first four phases of the saga that culminated with Avengers: Endgame. Sorry for those looking for a shortcut, but watching it all is worth it. Viewing all 23 movies straight through, without breaks, however, is not the way to do it.
Instead, we suggest you go in release order and complete each day as follows: day one after Avengers; day two after Ant-man; day three after Black Panther; and finish on day four with Spider-Man: Far From Home. If you’ve previously watched the MCU and are looking to watch it in a new way, use our guide here to watch in chronological order based on the events of each film. If the thought of 50 hours of superheroes is still too intimidating for you, but you want to understand enough to get by, watch these character introduction films (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy) and these team-up films (Civil War, Winter Soldier, Avengers, Ultron, Infinity War, Endgame). Once you have finished that, check out our Oral Histories of the MCU, in which the directors, producer, and casting director who worked on the epic franchise break down all the behind-the-scene secrets.
Where to watch: FandangoNOW, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. All of the films save The Incredible Hulk and the Spider-Man films are streaming on Disney+. The Avengers: Infinity War and The Avengers: Endgame are streaming on Netflix; and Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, and Thor are streaming on Amazon Prime.
What is it: Follow John McClane, a police detective who seems to be a magnet for maniacal criminals no matter which city/structure he is in, and proves to be a tough man to kill.
How many hours: 10 hours and 14 minutes.
Starts with: Die Hard (1988)
Ends with: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Best way to watch: The original Die Hard is so beloved that many argue it’s the greatest action film ever made – or maybe the greatest Christmas movie, but that is a debate for another day. The film and its follow-ups have a loyal fanbase, and though the second and third entries pale in comparison to the first, we still say they’re worth a watch. The fourth film, Live Free or Die Hard, is a true return to form and, frankly, it’s where you should stop unless you are a true completist. The series’ most recent film, A Good Day to Die Hard, is the only PG-13 entry on the list, and without McClane’s iconic “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf–ker,” there’s really no point pushing play.
Where to watch: FandangoNOW (Discounted Bundle), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. Die Hard and Die Hard with a Vengeance are streaming now on CinemaxGo; Live Free or Die Hard is streaming on the Starz app.
What is it: Follow Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, which he calls his family, as they shift from illegal street-racing criminals to heist experts and then finally emerge as a new crime-fighting unit that tackles the world of espionage.
How many hours: 15 hours and 57 mins.
Starts with: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Ends with: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
Best way to watch: As Dom and everyone in the Fast franchise says – quite often – this is about family. So, if you’re looking for something to skip, it’s hard to imagine who you’d want to kick out one of the family – though, let’s be honest, 2 Fast 2 Furious is definitely not Dad’s favorite. Without Vin Diesel, that entry can barely call itself a Fast and Furious movie, and the 2009 series soft reboot, Fast & Furious, is not much better and an easy call to skip, as well. We would caution against skipping third entry Toyko Drift; its charms are significantly more than its 37% Tomatometer score would suggest (something we wax about in our book Rotten Movies We Love). Not to spoil anything, but when we finally get Fast 9 in 2021, you’ll need to have seen Tokyo Drift to understand everything fully – check out #JusticeForHan after you finish the series, and you will understand.
What is it: Follow Philly underdog boxer-turned-champion, Rocky Balboa, as he battles various fighters in the ring, as well as his own issues outside of it, and later trains the next generation of champions.
How many hours: 14 hours and 55 minutes.
Starts with: Rocky (1976)
Ends with: Creed II (2018)
Best way to watch: This one’s real simple: trust us and skip Rocky V. Just pretend it didn’t happen; we’re pretty sure Sylvester Stallone did.
What is it: The franchise based on JK Rowling’s phenomenally successful novels follows the adventures of Harry Potter, an orphan-turned-famed wizard, the evil He Who Must Not Be Named, and the Wizarding World they inhabit.
How many hours: 24 hours and 6 minutes.
Starts with: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Ends with: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Best way to watch: As this is a British series, allow us to put this as politely as possible: Fantastic Beasts is simply not quite on form. The first entry is saved by Eddie Redmayne and mesmerizing magical effects; the second entry is the first and only Rotten flick from the Wizarding World and very skippable at this stage. The original seven films are near perfect, but if you wanted to pass over The Chamber of Secrets you wouldn’t miss much – you won’t be too confused later in the series. (Though if watching as a family, this is one the kids tend to like.) If you follow that suggestion, you can finish the entire series in one day.
Starts with: X-Men: First Class (2011)
Ends with: Logan (2017)
How to watch: The critics will tell you that both X-Men: The Last Stand (the third of the original films) and X-Men: Apocalypse (the third of the rebooted, second-gen films) are shells of their brilliant predecessors. And with the last X-Men film to enter theaters, Dark Phoenix, disappointing on the Tomatometer and at the box office, you should essentially skip any film that has anything to do with Jean Gray’s Dark Phoenix. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is admittedly a hard watch to suffer through, but you kinda have to just to appreciate the brilliance of Deadpool and its sequel, if only for what they did differently with the character. Every film that character is in after Origins highlights why Ryan Reynolds was born to play the “Merc with a Mouth.”
Watching in the order of events is the best way to approach things if you don’t want to be confused by the time travel that happens later in the series. That order is: First Class, Days of Future Past, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix, X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine, Deadpool, Deadpool 2, Logan. If you leave off the aforementioned weakest entries (The Last Stand, Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix) you can complete the entire series in one day.
Where to watch: FandangoNOW (Discount Bundle), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. X-Men: Days of Future Past and Deadpool are streaming on FXNow; X-Men Origins: Wolverine is available to stream on the Starz app.
What is it: In these films, we welcome you to Jurassic Park, a theme park – and eventually various associated islands, mansions, West Coast cities – where dinosaurs have been genetically recreated to walk the Earth alongside humans. Over the course of series we watch as that combination invariably doesn’t work out well for the humans.
How many hours: 10 hours and 1 minute.
Starts with: Jurassic Park (1993)
Ends with: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Best way to watch: This was a subject of contentious debate among the RT staff: some thought the Jurassic World part of the franchise is unwatchable, while others had strong takes on Jurassic Park 3 and The Lost World. As this is only a five-film series so far, we compromised: Watch them all and make your own determinations. Either way, we all agreed that the original Jurassic Park is a bona fide classic, and if you haven’t seen it, please remedy this injustice as soon as possible. It only takes a day to watch them all.
What is it: Watch secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his crew of talented spies as they battle the world’s most dangerous criminals along with the bureaucracy of his own organization, the IMF. The films are based on the 1960s television show.
How many hours: 13 hours and 3 minutes.
Starts with: Mission: Impossible (1996)
Ends with: Mission: Impossible -- Fallout (2018)
Best way to watch: It’s apparent after six films (with a seventh on the way): Tom Cruise really likes playing Ethan Hunt. And with every film, Cruise looks to top the jaw-dropping stunts from the last. Still, there is a stark contrast between the first three films and the rest, in regards to quality and scope. Many will tell you the second film, directed by John Woo, and the third, directed by J.J. Abrams, are the weakest of the set, but they’re still thoroughly enjoyable and feature some truly astonishing stunts – so we suggest you watch them all. And thankfully this is not – yes, we’re gonna say it – impossible to do in one or two days.
Where to watch: FandangoNOW (Discount Bundle), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. Mission Impossible: Fallout is streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu; Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation are streaming on FXNow.
What is it: James Bond, MI6 intelligence officer and international playboy, charms women, thwarts terrorist plots, and sips a shaken martini in well-tailored suits. Based on Ian Fleming’s iconic novels.
How many hours: 55 hours and 11 minutes.
Starts with: Dr. No (1962)
Ends with: Spectre (2015)
Best way to watch: For completists, we recommend you start with the Connery films on day one, then do a day of Timothy Dalton, David Niven (the satire Casino Royale from 1967), and George Lazenby’s films, adding one or two of Roger Moore’s. Finish with Moore on day three, then do a full day of Pierce Brosnan for day four, and end the series on day five with Daniel Craig. If that’s a bit too daunting, you can break up the films we suggested for one day across two days instead. If you’re looking for a few to skip, we’d suggest A View to Kill and Octopussy. We’d also suggest you skip Never Say Never Again, as it is a shadow of Connery’s older work; Moonraker is only enjoyable for how laughable it is; and there’s not enough vodka on earth to make The World is Not Enough a good time. Quantum of Solace is another one you can miss, but at least watch the opening scene – it’s fantastic.
Where to watch: FandangoNOW (Discount Bundle), Amazon, Itunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day are streaming on Netflix; Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale (1967) are streaming on HBONow.
What is it: These are the stories of the USS Enterprise, crafted for the silver screen. Watch Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and later Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) as they lead their crews to the furthest reaches of the universe on a peacekeeping mission to discover new worlds. The films are based on the Star Trek television series and its subsequent spin-offs.
How many hours: 25 hours and 17 minutes.
Starts with: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Ends with: Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Best way to watch: At the risk of angering the original series Trekkies, the first film – Star Trek: The Motion Picture – is simply not very good (it’s 42% on the Tomatometer). The same can be said of The Final Frontier. When we shift into The Next Generation part of the franchise, the series starts off strong but fizzles with Star Trek: Nemesis. We suggest you should skip those four. When you start the reboot franchise, some would advise you to skip Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was much maligned by the fandom but which we say is worth seeing for Benedict Cumberbatch, if nothing else. As far as ordering your binge, watching the series as the films were released is the way to go. Begin with the first set of films featuring the original series characters, followed by the films centering on the cast of The Next Generation, and finish with the reboot films that started in 2009. If you are skipping films following our advice, the new order is original series (The Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country), followed by the Next Generation films (Generations, First Contact, Insurrection), and finishing with the 2009 reboot films (Star Trek, Into Darkness, Beyond).
Where to watch: FandangoNOW (Discount Bundle), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay. Star Treks 1-6, First Contact, Insurrection, and Generations are streaming Amazon; Star Trek: Into Darkness is streaming on FXnow; and Star Trek Nemesis, First Contact, Generations are streaming on Crackle.
Thumbnail image: yParamount, Paramount, courtesy of the Everett Collection
Writer-director Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds is one of the more acclaimed releases arriving in theaters this weekend — and it also contains the final onscreen appearance of Anton Yelchin, who passed away on June 19, 2016. We’re paying our respects by taking a fond look back at some of the brighter critical highlights from his too-brief career while asking you to rank your own favorites from his filmography, and you know what that means: it’s time for Total Recall!
Benedict Cumberbatch shoulders the weight of a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise with this weekend’s Doctor Strange — a critical winner whose box-office ascension seems all but certain to complete its leading man’s journey from arthouse dramas to full-fledged blockbusters. To celebrate Mr. Cumberbatch’s latest feat, we decided to dedicate this feature to a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights from a distinguished (and still growing) filmography. You know what that means: by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, it’s time for Total Recall!
Before he started taking roles in blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, and Doctor Strange, if you thought about Benedict Cumberbatch, you were probably thinking of a movie like 2007’s Amazing Grace. Directed by Michael Apted, this historical drama recounts the anti-slavery efforts of British parliament member William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), whose long campaign to introduce legislation outlawing human trafficking made him a political pariah — and an inspiration to friends and contemporaries like William Pitt the Younger (Cumberbatch). “As square as this movie is,” argued David Denby for the New Yorker, “it has been made with eloquence and jaunty high spirits, and it tells a good story that is virtually unknown here.”
Peter Jackson set a new standard for epic fantasies when he adapted The Lord of the Rings into a blockbuster trilogy, leaving himself some big shoes to fill when he set about turning The Hobbit into a three-film saga of its own. It stands to reason that critics and audiences weren’t quite as enchanted the second time around, but this saga — in which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) on a quest to help reclaim a mountain from a dragon named Smaug (a mo-capped Cumberbatch) — held up reasonably well in its own right, particularly the second installment that focused on Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug himself. “For many,” warned the Arizona Republic’s Kerry Lengel, “Jackson’s Hobbit will look like an overly long amusement-park attraction. But for fantasy fans who have dreamed all their lives of spending time inside Tolkien’s dazzling alternative reality, it’s a ride well worth taking.”
He was born in London, which wouldn’t seem to make him the most natural fit to play the brother of an infamous Boston gangster — but if you’ve watched Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Billy Bulger in Black Mass, you know he can pull it off. In fact, although there’s really no shortage of movies about or inspired by the criminal exploits of Whitey Bulger, this relatively late arrival managed to hold its own, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a starry ensemble cast led by Johnny Depp and rounded out by a roster that included Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, and Dakota Johnson. “The acting here is much stronger and more soulful than I would have expected,” admitted Grantland’s Wesley Morris, “and not only from Depp.”
He wasn’t exactly a neophyte by 2011, but that’s the year his Hollywood star really started to rise, with appearances in front of American audiences courtesy of his roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. As reflected by its name, the entire human cast essentially played second fiddle to its equine lead — but this adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel still lined up some pretty spectacular stars. Exactly the sort of beautifully filmed period drama you’d expect given its behind-the-scenes pedigree and Christmas Day release date, War Horse follows the astonishing WWI adventures of a Bay Thoroughbred named Joey (during which he serves under Cumberbatch’s command), as well as the equally stirring tale of his young trainer (Jeremy Irvine). While some critics dismissed the results as glossy awards bait, it proved sufficiently moving for the majority; as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “War Horse is sugary, to be sure — but it is sugar cut with cannon fire and barbed wire and the horrors of war.”
Few novelists have ever been able to match the cerebral layers that John le Carré applied to his take on the spy thriller, and adapting his work for the screen has always been a daunting task, particularly given that he operated in a genre that’s tended to prize action over intelligence. But director Tomas Alfredson (working from an adaptation written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan) proved himself more than up to the task with this 2011 version of the author’s 1974 classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman as a retired spy brought back into active duty to investigate some troubling claims made by a defected MI6 operative (Tom Hardy) with the aid of a trustworthy colleague (Cumberbatch). Cool-tempered and whip-smart, this Tailor brought the book satisfyingly to life for critics like NPR’s Ella Taylor, who wrote, “Alfredson offers no concessions to hindsight, no lessons for today. Instead, he’s kept faith with le Carré’s bleak, romantically elegiac vision of a moment in 20th century history at once glorious and doomed.”
It’d take an awful lot of rich Corinthian leather for any actor to try and one-up Ricardo Montalban’s definitive performance as Khan Noonien Singh in the original Star Trek franchise. To his credit, Cumberbatch offered a decidedly different take on the role in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted series timeline, bringing the character back to life in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in his own inimitably villainous way. Although not a few reviews openly lamented the loss of the O.G. Trek‘s cerebral sci-fi at the expense of a heavier focus on action, most critics were hard-pressed to argue against Abrams’ good old-fashioned popcorn fun — or the talented cast. “What this movie does with a not-unfamiliar-to-some story is pretty clever,” admitted MSN Movies’ Glenn Kenny, “and the incarnation of a classic villain by British cheekbone virtuoso Benedict Cumberbatch is vivid and engaging.”
Cumberbatch’s first significant big-screen appearance came courtesy of Starter for 10, a dramedy about a college freshman (James McAvoy) who joins his campus quiz team and becomes embroiled in the squad’s interpersonal dynamics — including dealing with their snobby captain (Cumberbatch), who looks down on the new arrival despite not offering much in the way of value to the team. With a cast rounded out by Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, and Alice Eve, Starter offered an early glimpse at a number of rising stars, as well as a fair bit of entertainment; as Claudia Puig wrote for USA Today, “The writing is nimble, the performances engaging and the story of a working-class boy who yearns to distinguish himself by acquiring knowledge is witty and intelligent.”
Ten years ago, the idea of a guy from London playing Marvel’s favorite Greenwich Village sorcerer seemed about as likely as the studio ever managing to make a big-screen Doctor Strange feature in the first place, but times have definitely changed. Cumberbatch donned the good Doctor’s Cloak of Levitation for what ended up becoming Marvel’s 14th consecutive No. 1 release, bringing his dramatic chops to bear on an effects-fueled adventure that repaid the audience’s patience for yet another origin story with mind-bending visuals and a storyline that brought the magical multiverse to the MCU. Hewing faithfully to the studio’s blockbuster formula while still finding refreshing ways to scribble outside the lines, the results earned overwhelmingly positive reviews — and were even intoxicating enough to win over critics who’d long since grown numb to the superhero genre’s appeal, like the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who described the spectacle as “so visually transfixing, so beautiful and nimble that you may even briefly forget the brand.”
Alan Turing was a brilliant man whose work laid the foundation for theoretical computer science — and helped shorten World War II, saving countless lives in the process. He was also prosecuted for homosexual behavior at a time when the U.K. criminal code classified it as gross indecency, sentenced to chemical castration, and died of cyanide poisoning just shy of his 42nd birthday. A fascinating, influential, and painful life, in other words, all brought brilliantly to life in the Oscar-winning The Imitation Game, starring Cumberbatch as Turing in a role that brought him fresh accolades during a busy year that also included The Penguins of Madagascar and the final Hobbit film. “Cumberbatch is moviedom’s man of the moment,” observed Joe Williams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “and with this painfully human performance, the actor who has specialized in difficult geniuses finally cracks the code of compassion.”
Before they shared the screen as Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor met under very different circumstances in 12 Years a Slave — Ejiofor as kidnapped free man-turned-slave Solomon Northup, and Cumberbatch as William Ford, the first plantation owner to purchase him. Northup’s journey to Ford was decidedly unpleasant, but it was unfortunately a mere prelude to more than a decade of brutal misery suffered at the hands of others after Ford felt forced to sell him — immortalized on the screen in a grueling yet searingly compelling Best Picture winner. “12 Years a Slave isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be,” wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “It’s one man’s tragedy, but it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically.”
This week at the movies, we’ll pay a visit to the final frontier (Star Trek Beyond, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto), prehistoric times (Ice Age: Collision Course, with voice performances by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah), and some dimly-lit rooms (Lights Out, starring Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello). What do the critics have to say?
The Star Trek faithful have weathered their fair share of ups and downs with the franchise over the years, and when reboot helmer J.J. Abrams departed the bridge after 2013’s Into Darkness, he left an air of uncertainty in his wake. Fortunately for fans, it appears that incoming director Justin Lin has done the series a solid with this weekend’s Star Trek Beyond: reviews describe an installment that continues the amped-up action Abrams introduced while still leaving room for the thoughtful sci-fi that’s always been a Trek hallmark. In fact, critics say the story — which finds our heroes shipwrecked on a distant planet while doing battle with the fearsome Krall (Idris Elba) — serves as a worthy celebration of the saga’s 50th anniversary that also works pretty well as a standalone adventure. Star Trek locked down the “live long” part of Spock’s oft-quoted credo years ago; with Beyond, it seems a safe bet to prosper.
For parents of young children, cinematic standards tend to be applied on a sliding scale — if a movie holds up reasonably well as a shared diversion, it doesn’t have to be a classic. But even by those relaxed standards, not all kid-friendly cartoons are created equal, and critics say Ice Age: Collision Course offers particularly painful proof. Five installments in, it can’t be getting any easier to dream up new adventures for Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and their pals; unfortunately, reviews point to a tired outing that shows every bit of that creative strain, with a rote story that falls back on a barrage of noisy action and stale jokes. For parents of little ones who love Ice Age, this weekend may represent a Collision Course with misery — but for everyone else, there are plenty of superior animated alternatives.
It wasn’t all that long ago that summer was a reliable dumping ground for cheapo horror flicks offering little more than 90 minutes of air conditioning and a few mildly effective jump scares, but in recent years, genre filmmakers have really started upping their game. According to most critics, Lights Out is the latest example of this welcome trend: a terrifically effective chiller about a shadowy horror preying on multiple generations of a family, and the panicked but determined efforts of a young woman (Teresa Palmer) to vanquish that evil. A feature-length version of director David F. Sandberg‘s acclaimed short film, Lights Out may not necessarily go anywhere new, but his confident work, talented cast, and scary premise add up to a summertime horror movie that should leave fans screaming for all the right reasons.
Difficult People picks up even more momentum in its sophomore season, upping the addictive yet somehow relatable nastiness of its leads with fast-paced — and possibly therapeutic — hilarity.
The A Word overcomes an uneven start to offer a thoughtful, warm-hearted look at the engagingly messy lives of its protagonists — and a glimpse of challenges too rarely seen or discussed on television.
Vice Principals is sporadically amusing and benefits from its talented stars, but its mean-spirited humor sometimes misses the mark.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release
This week, the Weekly Ketchup is departing from our regular Friday schedule because of San Diego Comic-Con, and all of the extra big news that it will bring throughout the weekend. So today, you get a “pre-SDCC” Weekly Ketchup! This edition brings you nine headlines from the world of film development news (those stories about what movies Hollywood is working on for you next). Included in the mix this time around are stories about such titles as Ghostbusters 2, Star Trek 4, a remake of Cooley High, and Edgar Wright’s Shadows.
When film historians tell the story of the first 15 or so years of the 21st century, at least one chapter is likely to be dedicated to the “YA” fad. The movie business is by nature cyclical, but this particular wave started and seemingly has ended all within the course of eight years. It was only in 2008 that the first Twilight movie was released (the last in 2012), and The Hunger Games spanned four movies, one a year from 2012 to 2015. Those two mega-successful franchises (both from Lionsgate or subsidiary Summit Entertainment) are the rare exceptions to a rule that was much more demonstrated by box office disappointments (The Host, Beautiful Creatures, I Am Number Four, The Giver, The Mortal Instruments, etc). Until this March, the Divergent series seemed like it would be another four-films-adapting-three-novels genre success for Lionsgate. The franchise starring Shailene Woodley kept dropping, both in box office and critical reception. Even so, it was presumed by most that Lionsgate would continue their sad march towards a Divergent series wrap up. The fourth movie, Divergent Series: Ascendant, even had a release date of June 9, 2017, up against both World War Z II and Universal’s next reboot of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. Well, according to Variety this week, Lionsgate is changing course at the last moment, negotiating for The Divergent Series: Ascendant to be made into a “TV movie” that would then lead to a Divergent spinoff TV series (probably using different characters). It sounds like there are still many unknown variables, such as which of the “movie stars” will also reprise their roles in the “TV movie.” Shailene Woodley, who got her start in TV (Secret Life of the American Teenager) might be likely to return, but Ansel Elgort and Theo James might not. As for what channel Divergent Series: Ascendant will be produced for, we still don’t know yet. However, Starz seems the most obvious candidate since that network was just acquired by Lionsgate three weeks ago for $4.4 billion (ie, Lionsgate might have known they were doing this at the time). So, what do the fans think? Is Divergent going direct-to-TV the final death knell in the “YA novel adaptation” fad?
When it comes to sequels, the math varies depending upon a few different factors, but the most obvious one is budget. The $46 million opening weekend of the Ghostbusters reboot, for example, would have been an obvious “franchise starter” for a movie on a $40 million budget. However, that movie was a special effects extravaganza, with a budget in the $144 million range. One of Sony Pictures’ executives confirmed soon after the box office numbers came out that, yes, they are still committed to making more Ghostbusters movies in the near future. Sony President of Worldwide Distribution Rory Brue specifically said, “I expect Ghostbusters to become an important brand and franchise… While nothing has been officially announced yet, there’s no doubt in my mind it will happen.” As for what the next Ghostbusters sequel might involve, the reboot has a scene after the credits that pretty much tells us. And we can almost certainly expect that the four female stars (Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig) are probably already signed (or in negotiations) for the sequel as well (and probably director Paul Feig, too). One actor who might be tougher to confirm is Chris Hemsworth — along with his Marvel committments, it’s sounding like he will continue to be quite busy because…
Earlier this year, it was confirmed that the “official” designation for the new timeline that started in the 2009 Star Trek reboot is “Kelvin.” That name comes from the ship that was destroyed by the time travelling baddies in the beginning of that film (if that’s a spoiler to you after seven years, well, you probably shouldn’t be reading any of this). One of the crewmen on the Kelvin was George Kirk, played by Chris Hemsworth, who of course was the father of the future Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine). Kirk’s father dying so young was one of the more character-oriented changes in the Kelvin timeline (along with, you know, the entire planet Vulcan being destroyed), and this week’s news indicates we haven’t seen the last of him. Paramount Pictures, Skydance, and Bad Robot have announced the fourth/fourteenth Star Trek movie, and one of the stars will be… Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad. The announcement doesn’t explain exactly how that happens, but calls him “a man he [James T. Kirk] never had a chance to meet, but whose legacy has haunted him since the day he was born.” Time travel probably is the most obvious explanation for how this will all go down (whole books could be written about time travel in Star Trek), but there are other possibilities. One other detail was revealed about Star Trek 4 this week, namely a confirmation from J.J. Abrams that Pavel Chekov, played by the recently late Anton Yelchin, will not be recast, saying, “There’s no recasting. I can’t possibly imagine that, and I think Anton deserves better.” There’s no release date for the 4th/14th Star Trek movie yet, but given the 3-4 years between the films recently, we can guess at a target window of either 2019 or 2020.
This week, we’re giving you two editions of The Weekly Ketchup, because of the anticipated deluge of news coming out of San Diego Comic-Con. If there’s going to be one story that sort of exemplifies the difference between this first column, and the second, it’s this one (in a few ways). In 2014, after taking 11 years off, author Donna Tartt came back with her third novel, The Goldfinch, and was rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Goldfinch is a sprawling, decades-long American epic with elements including terrorism, art theft, and alcholism (basically, it’s a lot like Great Expectations) — in other words, it’s a little different from the comic book movies we’ll hear about this week. Warner Bros has had the film rights to The Goldfinch since 2014, and this week, we learned that the studio is now in talks with director John Crowley for him to make The Goldfinch his next film after last year’s award-winning drama Brooklyn. If he signs on, Crowley will be working from a screenplay adaptation by screenwriter Peter Straughan (cowriter of Frank, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
The traditional “trades” are still out there covering the film business, but every once in a while they do something that reminds us they’re still not fully caught up with the era of “social media.” For example, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter still sometimes “bury the lede,” nestling the most interesting tidbits in much longer, seemingly less important articles or profiles. One example happened this week when The Hollywood Reporter ran a story about Jeffrey Katzenberg’s future, following the acquisition of DreamWorks Animation by Universal earlier this year. Sort of halfway through, you’ll find one sentence about the year 2019, during which DreamWorks Animation will release Shrek 5 and the movie now known as Shadows. We’ve covered both of those movies in the Weekly Ketchup in recent weeks and months, but the news that they are now “only” three years away is still big. There’s not much to say about Shrek 5 (except maybe that it now sounds more like a sequel, and less like a reboot, as once suggested). The movie called Shadows definitely does require a bit more explanation, though. The film, first announced last November, will mark the animation debut of fan-favorite director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). DreamWorks has long been wanting to do an animated movie involving the concept of “shadows,” dating back to their ambitious Me and My Shadow from several years ago, and Edgar Wright’s Shadows is an extension of that.
Kirsten Dunst is now preparing to make her feature film debut as director after directing two short films in 2007 and 2010, and she’s sort of swinging for the fences with an independent remake of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, previously adapted as a film in 1979 starring Marilyn Hassett and Jameson Parker. Originally published under a pseudonym, The Bell Jar was the only novel written by poet Sylvia Plath– she committed suicide a few months after The Bell Jar was published in 1963 — and is now interpreted as a roman à clef (a work of fiction based mostly on real events), as both the main character and Plath herself struggled with similar psychological issues. Dakota Fanning (who will turn 23 next year) will star as the novel’s central character, Esther Greenwood, a young woman whose potential future as a promising writer is rocked by her own struggles with mental health. Independent production of Dunst’s adaptation is expected to start in early 2017, possibly aiming for a debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2018.
Few decades were as rife with nostalgia as the 1970s (mostly for the 1950s and early 1960s). Full discussion of the “why” would require much, much more discussion, but it was probably partially due to how quickly American life had changed in 10 or so years from, say, 1962 to 1972. A few examples of this nostalgia in the 1970s were Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and at the movies, American Graffiti and Animal House. Another such film (which is arguably not as popular today as its competition) was 1975’s Cooley High, about a group of African American best friends living in Chicago in 1964. Produced for under a million dollars, Cooley High was both a box office success ($13 million) and a hit with critics (82 percent on the Tomatometer). MGM is the studio most known for remakes than any other these days (such as Poltergeist, Hercules, RoboCop, and the upcoming Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, and Going in Style), and now, it’s also planning a remake of Cooley High, working with rapper-turned-actor Common, who will produce the remake as well as costar (probably as one of the teachers). It’s also possible Common might contribute at least one song to the score. As for why Cooley High, and why now? Reportedly, the producers felt that a new Cooley High would be “a timely project in light of the racial unrest that has followed several high-profile shootings throughout the country.”
Although it was great that The LEGO Movie was over-the-top fun and creative in its adaptation of the titular toys, the bad news was that its success unsurprisingly inspired lots of other studios and producers to try to mine gold from traditionally non-narrative properties. One example is the “Emoji,” i.e. the little smiley faces and icons you can attach to texts and Facebook posts. To that end, Sony Pictures put an animated movie called EmojiMovie: Express Yourself into fast production, aiming for a release date next summer on August 11, 2017. And now, we know who will be providing that movie the voice for its lead character. T.J. Miller, who is probably best known for either costarring in Deadpool, or in HBO’s Silicon Valley, will provide the voice of a “meh” Emoji named Gene who finds himself conveying other emotions (because of a software glitch). EmojiMovie: Express Yourself will be directed by Anthony Leondis, whose previous films included Igor (Rotten at 36 percent) and the direct-to-video sequel Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (also Rotten at 40 percent).
Obviously, beloved celebrities and filmmakers die every year, but 2016 seems particularly rough so far. We lost another of Hollywood’s most popular filmmakers this week, with the news that Garry Marshall died at the age of 81 from complications from pneumonia following a recent stroke. Marshall was a triple threat, working as a film director/writer, one of the most successful TV producer/showrunners ever, and also as a frequent comedian and actor. This included the rare feat of becoming something of a center of a “Marshallverse,” an ever expanding circle of stars and creators who all had deep ties early in their careers to Marshall. We can arguably thank him for the careers of director Ron Howard (from Happy Days), Robin Williams (from Mork & Mindy), Penny Marshall (his sister, but also his Laverne & Shirley star), and even Julia Roberts (who had her first major hit movie with Pretty Woman). Critically, Marshall’s last 25 years have been a little rough, but many of his Rotten movies were, admittedly, “barely” Rotten, right in the 50-59 percent range. The “Garry Marshall problem” might simply have been that he made the sort of broad appeal, warm-and-fuzzy comedies that audiences tended to embrace more than critics did. In recent years, Marshall had turned most of his energy towards his own mini-genre of holiday comedies: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Mother’s Day. Sure, none of them earned above 18 percent on the Tomatometer, but we’re still going to miss reporting on what holiday he might have adapted next. R.I.P. Garry Marshall.
These days, cancellation isn’t necessarily the end for a television series; between DVD sales, the Web, and the ever-expanding cable dial, if a show has a fervent enough fanbase, odds are someone is going to come along to take advantage of it. Such was not the case 50 years ago, however – not that it mattered to diehard Star Trek fans, who so impressed Paramount with their passion for Gene Roddenberry’s characters that the studio brought the property to theaters a full decade after the show was unceremoniously dumped by NBC. Nearly four decades later, as we prepare to greet Star Trek Beyond, the franchise’s 13th feature, your pals at Rotten Tomatoes thought now would be the perfect time to take a fond look back at all the Enterprise voyages that got us here — from the beloved classics (The Wrath of Khan) to the ones that never should have made it off the holodeck (The Final Frontier). Where does your favorite rank? Read this week’s Total Recall to find out!
After churning out three consecutive installments that pleased fans as well as critics, the Star Trek franchise was due for a fall – and it got one in the form of 1989’s The Final Frontier. William Shatner directed the fourth sequel, and helped come up with the storyline (which puts the crew of the Enterprise at odds with a God-like being who has nefarious plans for the galaxy), so he’s taken much of the blame for what’s regarded by many as the weakest film in the series – blame that, to his credit, he’s publicly accepted. But to be fair, Frontier had bigger problems than Shatner; for starters, the 1988 writers’ strike left Paramount rushing to push out another Trek before the series lost its momentum – and with a budget almost $20 million lower than that assigned to the first film 10 years earlier. Whatever the causes, Frontier was a failure; although it easily recouped its budget, its grosses didn’t come anywhere near The Voyage Home’s, and neither fans nor critics were charmed by the film’s comedic elements (including the infamous Yosemite camping scenes) or its thinly veiled attacks on televangelists. “Of all the Star Trek movies, this is the worst,” wrote Roger Ebert – and for a time, it seemed likely that it would also be the last.
If 1998’s Insurrection found the Star Trek franchise suffering from what seemed like audience fatigue, 2002’s Nemesis — the final picture to feature The Next Generation’s crew – represented the onset of a full-on malaise. After over a decade of films that performed solidly at the box office and ran the critical gamut from great to respectable, Nemesis came as a profound letdown – not only with critics, who gave it the worst reviews the series had seen since The Final Frontier, but with the moviegoers who stayed away in droves; its $43 million domestic gross was almost as embarrassing as the fact that it made less than Maid in Manhattan its opening weekend. In the hands of new director Stuart Baird, Nemesis presented a more action-heavy Trek than audiences were accustomed to; unfortunately, this shift in direction alienated hardcore fans, and the script – partially inspired by an idea from Brent “Data” Spiner – failed to take advantage of its departing cast. In the words of USA Today’s Mike Clark, “As spent screen series go, Star Trek: Nemesis is… suggestive of a 65th class reunion mixer where only eight surviving members show up — and there’s nothing to drink.”
With a full decade between it and the end of the original series, you might think 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have plenty of time to work out all the kinks – but alas, as the movie’s dismal Tomatometer (and decades of fan gags about “The Motionless Picture“) can attest, all of Trek’s time off didn’t translate into an auspicious big-screen debut for the crew of the Starship Enterprise. The problem with the first Trek film – aside from a dialogue-heavy storyline whose biggest villain was a cloud – actually had nothing to do with the franchise itself; instead, it was a series of corporate shenanigans, including an aborted attempt at a second Trek television series, that left director Robert Wise with a patchwork script and neither the time nor the money to realize his vision. Although The Motion Picture didn’t meet commercial or critical expectations (the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr called it “blandness raised to an epic scale”), it performed well enough to justify a sequel – and, in the bargain, kicked off one of the longest-running series in movie history.
After seven years and 178 episodes, Paramount felt the time was right to give the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation its cinematic debut – and since some members of the Enterprise’s original crew were either unwilling to return (Leonard Nimoy) or not well enough (DeForest Kelley), the seventh Trek movie seemed like the perfect spot for a changing of the guard. With a behind-the-scenes crew that included a number of Next Generation vets – including producer Rick Berman, director David Carson, and screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga – 1994’s Star Trek Generations should have been a slam dunk, especially given a plot that put TNG’s Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) face-to-face with James T. Kirk for the first time, but alas, it was not to be. Though it did well enough at the box office, slightly improving upon The Undiscovered Country’s worldwide tally, Generations received a mixed reception from writers like the New York Times’ Peter M. Nichols, who simultaneously criticized it as “predictably flabby and impenetrable in places” and praised it for having “enough pomp, spectacle and high-tech small talk to keep the franchise afloat.”
After handling screenplay duties for Generations and First Contact, writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga disembarked from Star Trek’s film voyage – but at this point, the Trek creative universe had expanded to the point that producer Rick Berman had plenty of new collaborators to choose from. He settled on Michael Piller, with whom he’d created the Trek TV spinoff series Deep Space Nine, and together – along with Jonathan Frakes, who returned to direct and reprise his role as Commander William T. Riker – they put together Insurrection, a story that introduced new wrinkles for familiar characters (such as LeVar Burton’s Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge briefly acquiring the ability to see without optical implants) while still holding true to the core themes of the series. Unfortunately, at this point, audiences were so used to seeing one Trek TV series or another that they needed something truly extraordinary to hold their attention on the big screen – and Insurrection, as evidenced by a gross that fell short of First Contact’s, wasn’t it. Still, even if critics didn’t find it to be the most compelling entry in the series, they weren’t completely dismissive; as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “[It] lacks the adrenalized oomph of its predecessor, but no adventure of the Starship Enterprise is without its gee-whiz affability.”
Leonard Nimoy a.k.a. Captain Spock, only agreed to return for The Wrath of Khan because his character died in the last act; fortunately for the franchise, he later had such a change of heart that not only did he come back for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, he directed it – and did an admirable job of continuing the series’ resurgence, piloting the third chapter to a respectable $76 million domestic gross and generally favorable reviews from critics like Time’s Richard Shickel, who praised Nimoy for “beaming his film up onto a higher pictorial plane than either of its predecessors.” Though further odd-numbered entries in the series would famously come to represent Trek at its worst, Star Trek III cemented Gene Roddenberry’s creation as a viable ongoing concern for Paramount – and set the stage for the film series’ fourth chapter, thus clearing the path for Trek’s eventual return to television in 1987 with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It might have suffered a cinematic black eye with 1989’s The Final Frontier, but the Star Trek franchise still had at least one thing going for it at Paramount – namely, the 25th anniversary of the series, which the studio was eager to capitalize on, even if it wasn’t willing to commit more than the $27 million spent to film the previous installment. Fortunately, the sixth Trek ended up in the hands of a director who knew how to make the most of minimal budgets: Nicholas Meyer, whose work on The Wrath of Khan was still, at that point, the critical apex of the series. Working from a Cold War-inspired story suggested by Nimoy, Meyer assembled The Undiscovered Country, whose 83 percent Tomatometer and nearly $100 million worldwide gross were not only fitting for a quarter-century celebration, but what ultimately ended up being the final voyage for much of the original cast. With series creator Gene Roddenberry passing away just prior to Country’s release, and the future of the franchise in question, not a few critics were left feeling nostalgic – like Hal Hinson of the Washington Post, who wrote, “If, indeed, Star Trek VI turns out to be the last of the series, it couldn’t have made a more felicitous or more satisfying exit.”
After leading the franchise to fresh heights of blockbuster glory, Star Trek director J.J. Abrams was the natural choice to man the controls for the next installment in the series — and although the result, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, didn’t quite match the lofty standards set by its predecessor, it proved the Trek resurgence was no fluke. Continuing to explore the alternate timeline established by Abrams’ first chapter, Darkness carried the rebooted mythology forward while weaving in some fairly major callbacks to iconic events and characters from the original films — including the nefarious Khan Noonien Singh, whose quest for vengeance against the Federation sends the crew of the Enterprise on a race against (and across) time. “Star Trek Into Darkness banishes, at least for the moment, the lugubrious mood and sepulchral look that too many comic-book movies mistake for sophistication,” wrote the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday. “All hail an action film that isn’t ashamed to have fun and to be seen doing it.”
Having explored the outer limits of space, Star Trek spent much of its fourth cinematic installment in decidedly more familiar environs – namely, the America (specifically the San Francisco bay area) of 1986, thanks to a storyline, conceived by returning director Nimoy, that had the crew of the Enterprise traveling 600 years back in time to retrieve a humpback whale in order to… well, it isn’t important, really. What mattered – at least to the folks who helped Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to a $133 million worldwide gross – was that it lived up to Nimoy’s goal of showing audiences “a great time” with a feature that played up the lighter side of a franchise whose humor was often overshadowed by its big ideas. Weathering a number of pre-production storms – including William Shatner’s refusal to come back without a raise and the chance to direct the next sequel — Voyage triumphantly emerged as what Roger Ebert referred to as “easily the most absurd of the Star Trek stories – and yet, oddly enough… also the best, the funniest and the most enjoyable in simple human terms.”
The original Star Trek movie series was never really known for its blockbuster action, but director/producer J.J. Abrams took things in a far more fast-paced direction when he rebooted the franchise — and that continued after he handed the reins to Justin Lin for 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. Continuing to display the flair for thrilling set pieces he demonstrated during his tenure with the Fast & Furious saga, Lin sent the crew of the Enterprise hurtling to a distant planet where they found themselves pitted against the alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba) with an axe to grind against the Federation and a dark secret hidden in his past. It’s a setup with plenty of room for pulse-pounding space battles, and Lin didn’t disappoint — but he also left room for the thoughtful progressivism that had always been a hallmark of the earlier films, adding up to a fun Starfleet adventure critics hailed as a tasty bucket of popcorn sci-fi that doubled as a worthy celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. The end result, wrote Katie Walsh for the Tribune News Service, is “everything you want a post-modern Trek movie to be: funny, poppy, self-referential — and with Captain Kirk punching bad guys in rubber masks.”
Sequels that expand upon their predecessors are exceedingly rare – but then, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is no ordinary sequel. After ponying up the then-princely sum of $46 million for the first Trek, Paramount was looking for two things: One, a scapegoat for the first film’s $136 million global gross (which ended up being series creator Gene Roddenberry, who was exiled from the decision-making process for Khan), and two, someone who could head up a cheaper second installment. That someone was Harve Bennett, a Trek novice who quickly immersed himself in the original series in search of a compelling villain for the sequel – and found him in Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a superhuman with a thing for mind-controlling eels. Khan’s thrifty aesthetic may have inspired Bennett and director Nicholas Meyer to cut corners wherever possible – including reusing sets from The Motion Picture — but the movie didn’t skimp on storyline, much to the delight of fans and critics, both of whom rank the series’ second chapter at or near the top of the franchise. “Here comes a sequel that’s worth its salt,” wrote Janet Maslin of the New York Times, concluding “It’s everything the first one should have been and wasn’t.”
After three decades, seven films, and four television series, most franchises would have long since exhausted their options – but as 1996’s First Contact proved, the creative horizons of the Star Trek universe were capable of expanding longer and wider than perhaps even Gene Roddenberry could have suspected. Now firmly in control of the franchise, the Next Generation crew – both onscreen and off – was able to expand upon themes and characters touched on during its own series, specifically the nature of the endlessly assimilative cybernetic Borg collective. Having already proven a worthy adversary during TNG’s run – particularly during the classic episode in which they assimilated Picard himself – the Borg now propelled Trek to the best reviews (and some of the highest grosses) in its history. A sequel that both paid tribute to longstanding Trek traditions (TNG vet Jonathan Frakes directed, proving Leonard Nimoy wasn’t the only member of the Enterprise crew who could successfully pull double duty) and broke them (Paramount ended decades of parsimony by breaking out $47 million for the budget), First Contact earned the praise of critics like Time’s Richard Corliss, who wrote that “it stands proud and apart, accessible even to the Trek-deficient” before decreeing that “this old Star, it seems, has a lot of life in it.”
After bottoming out with 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, the series entered a state of suspended animation for over half a decade — and if it hadn’t been for the reboot mania that gripped Hollywood during the early 21st century, there’s no telling how long it might have stayed there. As it happened, fanboy-friendly director J.J. Abrams — then riding a hot streak as one of the creators/producers of the hit series Lost — was handed a set of jumper cables and the keys to the franchise; the result, 2009’s Star Trek, managed to hit the reset button on Trek (along with the requisite hot young cast) while incorporating enough familiar touches to keep longtime fans feeling at home. In the end, Abrams’ Trek earned some of the most positive reviews in the history of the franchise, and its $257 million gross firmed up the future of a film series that had seemed thoroughly uncertain just a few years before. “With Star Trek Abrams honors the show’s legacy without fossilizing its best qualities,” enthused Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek. “Instead, he’s whisked it off to a planet where numbing nostalgia can’t kill it, and where the future is still something to look forward to.”
See the Enterprise get destroyed (again!) in the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond. The Simon Pegg-scripted, Justin Lin-directed entry in the venerable sci-fi series sees the crew abandoning ship and embracing new frontiers and explosions in Beyond, due in theaters July 22, 2016.
In defense of the blockbuster, Rotten Tomatoes offers you Best Summer Movies, a countdown of the highest-rated wide releases to hit theaters during the hot season since the release of Jaws in 1975. We’re using a weighted formula that takes the Tomatometer, the number of reviews, and the year of release into account. In order to qualify, each movie needs at least 20 reviews, and to have been released wide in the months between May and August. Enough talk: grab an extra large soda and a bucket of popcorn and dive into RT’s Best Summer Movies!