I love watching movies. To me, the great escape provides time for my brain to just shut down, kick back and enjoy the entertainment. Movies aren't like a long-running television series. Their story isn't going to span 16 hours each year; it's all jammed into one 2-hour package (with a notable exception, below). I don't have to remember as much. I know, I've gotten lazy in my film watching. Gone are the days when independent films like Memento or Dancer in the Dark ruled my watch time. Blockbusters like Transformers seem to occupy my watch time lately. Well, not actually Transformers. That film series is a hot mess of some sort. But it's loud, there are explosions, and apparently that's all I need lately.
Transformers is an awful set of films, critically speaking. So, what do I enjoy from a film? Here I will list my top 5 favorite movie series and what it is I like about them.
* A quick note about this post. I love physical media and assume you do too. I've provided Amazon links to the box sets. If you don't have these movies and want any of them, clicking on the links will really help out my blog.
5. Back to the Future
Back to the Future was supposed to be a single movie. Its success prompted the Bobs (Gale and Zemeckis) to write two more films and film them back-to-back to complete a story. And time travel movies are my jam, man. For the longest time I wanted to film a YouTube series about some of my favorite time travel films. But I digress. The first film told a single story and had a gag at the end where Doc Brown comes back from the future to warn Marty about his kids. There was never supposed to be a Part II or a Part III, but audience demand brought the next two to fruition.
Parts II and III are more linked, as they were written and filmed simultaneously. Due to Marty's greed and short-sightedness about the future, he is forced to save both his future and present families by traveling both to the future year of 2015 as well as the year of the first BTTF, 1955. A freak accident has him traveling back to the old west to save his friend and mentor, Doc, who ultimately finds love, destroys the time machine (though not really), and offers a beautiful outlook on destiny. In the end, he leaves Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer with some sound advice, essentially saying that the future's not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. And, you know what? That's something we all could stand to remember. It's our destiny, and we should strive our best to give us a great future.
The special effects were a marvel for the 1980's, and the score was one of my first loves. I actually owned and wore out a cassette tape of the Back to the Future Part II score — it was one of a few mistakes I'd made as a youngster with money, before I learned that the motion picture soundtrack could either be all the pop music in the film or the symphonic ear-tingles of Alan Silvestri, but thanks to that mistake I'd learned to love some of our best contemporary classical music composers.
Anyway, this trilogy is great, and really stands the test of time both in story and visuals.
4. Mission: Impossible
The Mission: Impossible series has only gotten better with time. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a big Tom Cruise stunt spectacle, with each film having a more outlandish set of stunts than the last.
The series follows Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, originally just a regular IMF agent under the command of the original series' Jim Phelps. In classic 1990's fashion, Phelps turns on his own IMF agents, killing all but Hunt—until Hunt kills back. The second series, the Black Sheep of the family, was directed by John Woo and has a completely off-the-wall style to it not present in any of the other films. But also, it's a John Woo film. Unfortunately, after that critical and financial failure of an M:I film, they went back to tradition and churned out standard action-spy movie after standard action-spy movie. A loose arc begins to form around the third film, bringing a now retired and married Hunt out of retirement to solve just one last case. It's not one last case, but the friends he makes in this movie will be present throughout practically the rest of the series. Even his ex-wife shows up in the very next film, and a few films after that.
The cast are all well-respected actors, and it's always a treat to see Ving Rhames in these films. The main cast has grown over the years, including Simon Pegg as a computer hacker, and Rebecca Ferguson as well. Jeremy Renner also appeared, in M:I — Rogue Nation, but sadly for us didn't stick it out. All four will reprise their roles in the final two Mission: Impossible films as well, with veteran director Chris McQuarrie once again directing. The last two were his and they were amazing and chock full of action. Tom Cruise does all of his own stunts. He broke his ankle performing a parkour stunt, for chrissake! It's worth watching the films for his stunt work alone. I mean, Tom Cruise hung off an airplane in one, and then crashed a helicopter in the next! I actually cannot wait for the seventh, if only to see what Tom Cruise will do next.
3. The Terminator
Yes, the Terminator film series has steadily gone down in quality starting with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But also yes, Terminator: Salvation was a pretty cool future dystopia film. And also, yes, Terminator: Genisys had a badass soundtrack. But the series kept playing with the rules of time so much, it's hard to watch the series as a whole. It's best to stick with the first two masterpieces. You can toss in the third if you want a laugh, but I would recommend against it.
The Terminator sees Sarah Connor hunted by a literal killing machine. The T-800 series cyborg was sent by the evil AI Skynet back in time to destroy Sarah, the mother of future resistance leader John Connor. Connor's trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese is also sent back in time, both to protect Sarah from death and also to inseminate with some DNA for the future resistance leader. Spoiler alert: Reese dies, Sarah lives, and in the end, we don't really know what's going to happen. Indeed, Kyle Reese relays to Sarah a message about destiny from her son. Look. I've left a lot out but know that the future dystopia was caused because Skynet became sentient and bombed the hell out of the humans in an event henceforth known as Judgement Day.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day picks up nearly a decade later. John Connor is a rebellious boy and foster child, with his mother Sarah locked away in a psychiatric hospital because she believes the end of the world is nigh. John thinks she's a looney too, until the very machine his mother had warned him about appears with a shotgun. Plot twist: the Terminator's there to save John and not kill him. This time, an advanced model T-1000 cyborg is out to kill John. It turns out that in the first film, Sarah did not destroy the Terminator completely, and a computer systems company was able to utilize the surviving parts to recreate the technology which leads to the creation of Skynet. Full circle storytelling. It's like the Star Wars ring composition theory, but with more robots and less spaceships. OK less robots, too. But whatever.
In the end, the Terminator sacrifices himself in order to destroy any traces of the future, ridding the world of the threat of Skynet. But in the end, we still don't know. A message of hope is offered by Sarah Connor in the end, reminding us that their future hasn't been written yet. No one's has.
Your future is what you make of it, so make it a good one.
Every movie after Terminator 2: Judgement Day has to retcon some portion of the base story in order to exist, with diminishing returns. In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the government had backups of all of Cyberdyne Systems' work and continued to create Skynet as a government program. The machines rise up—as promised by the title—and Judgement Day still happens, obliterating the theme of an unknowable future from the prior two films.
In Terminator: Salvation, well there's not much 1980's and 1990's lore to rewrite which is why the film can stand on its own. But Terminator: Genisys literally reboots the franchise so it can take place contemporaneously in 2015. The final movie in the franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate tries to retcon and reboot the series with a flashback from the 1990's showing John Connor actually killed by a Terminator, and the future that occurs without a Skynet. (hint: it's still not good.)
While each film increased the stakes, budget, and innovation in special effects; with the exception of 1 and 2 the lack of an engaging story was more and more prevalent. And Marcus Wright. Oof. I love the guy but not as an actor.
If we rate the franchise based on the complete series, it's something like a 2/5. But if we rate the franchise only based on the first two, it's more like:
2. Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (and a Limited Edition complete box set) is the term given to the nine-film enneaology that spanned 40 years of filmmaking, only surpassed by what is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I need to clarify, similar to the Terminator series, that the middle three, Episodes IV - VI, are the best of the bunch. Each trilogy we've gotten tell their own story to varying degrees of success, though.
There is the first chronological trilogy: a technical wonder of its time. A young boy is taken away from a desert planet to train as a space wizard and, with the help of his mentor, destroys the very institution that raised him.
There is the second chronological trilogy: a technical wonder of its time. A young boy is taken away from a desert planet to train as a space wizard and, with the help of his friends, saves the galaxy from an authoritarian regime.
Then there's the third chronological trilogy: a feat in its own right. A young girl leaves her desert planet to train as a space wizard and, with the help of her friends, destroys the galaxy's greatest threat in a hundred years.
Each film innovated and pushed special effects technology forward. the original trilogy utilized existing optical technology with computer-programmed cameras to achieve a realism in space dogfights never seen before that time. The second pushed the use of on-set filming and computer-enhanced blue screen technology so much that it is nearly ubiquitous in modern blockbusters. The third,
it showed us how a multi-billion-dollar company can crush a franchise in the blink of an eye.
But they're still Star Wars films, and even when they're not wonderful they're still a joy to watch. Transform into a six-year-old and watch with fresh eyes. You'll probably end up giving it a
1. Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Infinity Saga
So, most films only get to tell their story in two hours each year. But not the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Once Iron Man was released in 2008, Marvel Studios knew they had a powerhouse in their hands. They rushed the Incredible Hulk (possibly to its detriment, as long as you avoid putting any onus on star Edward Norton) and since then it's been one hell of a ride through 2019. A global pandemic slowed its momentum somewhat, but it looks like that slowdown was just breathing space because Disney's got series after series planned for their online streaming service, and film after film planned well into this decade.
This franchise is the only one that comes close to telling stories like a proper TV series. While it's still told in two-and-a-half-hour chunks, you still get an interwoven story that took 11 years to tell one season.
The first phase, culminating with the Avengers Assemble movie (just Avengers here in the States, cos we didn't have a cool spy team like the UK has) brings together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans), mostly in origin stories. Alongside SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and agents Hawkeye (blog post veteran Jeremy Renner, MI; Rogue Nation) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), they fight Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an invasion of aliens. New York City is nearly destroyed, but in the end all is well.
The second phase expands on their stories and introduces Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Guardians of the Galaxy to the universe—thought not in time for Avengers: Age of Ultron, a not-so-spectacular spectacle where Iron Man's creation Ultron threatens to destroy the world, and the Avengers fight Ultron and an invasion of robots. Sokovia is pretty much destroyed, but in the end all is well. Also, there's the Scarlett Wit—sorry. Also, there's Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Additionally, the story of Thanos is expanded upon, briefly.
The third phase introduces a near ton of characters, who each get their own movies (most are origin stories), like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wongers (Benedict Wong), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer), and more. While the Infinity Stones were introduced in phase two, the story really becomes much more focused on those stones, and Thanos' reason for seeking the stones. All of this comes to ahead in Avengers: Infinity War which shows protagonist Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally collecting all six, and
(decimating × 5) the universe. Oh, and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is introduced in a 1990's side story, and then Thanos' head is cut off in the final Avengers film of this saga, Avengers: Endgame, and another Thanos is destroyed by all of the Marvel characters introduced thus far.
Alas, not even this franchise is immune to diminishing returns, but it's more due to the homogenization of the film series and the clockwork structure of the creative processes. And now, over three years after the saga is complete, the franchise has had its moments of ups and downs. Disney+ started their TV series with a bang in WandaVision and quickly brought it down to boring level with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But at least, creatively, the output from this franchise is on par with everything before and after it (at least as of this writing). And for starting this renaissance of superhero-inspired action blockbusters, the entire Infinity Saga deserves a
So, here are a bunch of movies I love to watch. For better or for worse, blockbusters seem to dominate film releases lately. Do you have a favorite blockbuster? Do you prefer films that tell a single story and then leave it at that? Leave a comment in the comments below. And until next time, I'm Jason Vertucio, and you've been reading Blog.