This is a tough call. It would be impossible to say just how many movies I’ve see and how many of them I have enjoyed or which have influenced my likes, interests and passions. How to choose just three from hundreds? This isn’t going to be the three ‘best’ movies as I’m no movie critic or student/scholar of cinematography. There are better movies than these listed. Much better, but these reluctant three are the ones which stand out for me.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” — Maximus
Gladiator. Released in the year 2000 Gladiator was my first DVD purchase when DVD was the highest of high tech. Ridley Scott’s epic has it all. A classic tale of good vs evil. A revenge story with enough superbly captured action sequences to cover up the often-obvious plot issues. Brilliantly filmed from the initial Roman army ‘unleashing hell’ to the final showdown between Maximus, the hero of Rome, and a snivelling, whiney Emperor Commodus.
Gladiator tells the story of the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. It starts by offering a glimpse at the world’s first superpower at war. The roman army with its superior technology engages in battle with Germanic barbarians and we see Maximus at his best. As a man of the people, a general respected. Someone who cares about the fighting man. With Hans Zimmer’s triumphant soundtrack accompanying the cavalry charge giving way to soft strings and low horns as the dust from battle settles, the audience cannot resist buying into the charm and charisma of our hero. Enter Commodus who misses both battle and war and is seen as the whiney and weak soon-to-be Emperor he becomes. Commodus committing patricide is the final act dooming him to become the hated villain of the piece.
Gladiator does a cracking job of chronicling the fall and rise of Maximus. His time in the provinces under the tutelage of ex-gladiator Proximo sets the perfect counter to the grandiosity of the Roman Colosseum.
When Proximo and Maximus return to Rome to fight in Commodus’ games the CGI representation of the now partially ruined Colosseum is a beautiful sight to behold. The series of pitched battles and epic one-on-one fights which punctuate a classic tale of revenge are a joy. Throughout Maximus can do no wrong in the eyes of both the modern audience and that which is portrayed on screen. He is the hero of Rome:
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
Gladiator never claims to be anchored in realism and both story and set pieces are far fetched, but the CGI shots of ancient Rome are stunning, Hans Zimmer’s score stirring, Maximus’ quest for revenge appealing, and Commodus a villain we all love to hate.
“No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader
Of all the movies released from the Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back is the stand out title. It’s the first of the original trilogy not directed by George Lucas with Irvin Kershner taking the helm (thanks Scooter for the correction). Episode V retains all the magic and wonder of A New Hope but has darker undertones which are not repeated in Star Wars movies until Revenge of the Sith was released 20 years later.
The setting of the movie replicates the darkness found within the story; from the inhospitable ice world of Hoth and the dank swamps of Dagoba to the dark underside of Cloud City on Bespin. These settings frame a story where the evil empire is poised to crush the rebellion, where our hero’s destiny is revealed, where friend betrays friend and Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke’s father.
This revelation now ubiquitously known by both Star Wars fans and Star Wars virgins.
The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!
This movie hits my list because it was really the gateway to science fiction for me. Sci-Fi is my go-to genre for movies, TV, books, games. For anything entertainment I’ll take Sci-Fi over fantasy over drama over true life. From Star Trek to Warhammer 40k to Iain M. Banks’ the Culture series, I’ll always Veer (and not in the General sense) towards science fiction. As well as being my introduction to Star Wars and the Expanded Universe*, Empire Strikes Back opened up an entire genre to me. This might explain why the third spot on this list was a toss up between The Matrix and…
* the Expanded Universe (abbreviated EU), encompasses every one of the licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the original six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014.
“Game over man! Game over! What the fuck are we going to do now? What are we gonna do?” — Private Hudson
Aliens. Not Alien, the 1979 science-fiction horror movie, but rather its sequel, the 1986 science-fiction war movie directed by James Cameron.
Here we have the perfect storm. A relentless adversary, a rag-tag band of marines sent in to deal with the xenomorph infestation and probably the strongest ever female character ever committed to celluloid.
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is superb. She is everything a movie hero should be. Strong yet gentle, brave in the face of fear and resourceful. Aliens drew inspiration from the Vietnam War where a technologically superior force becomes mired in a hostile foreign environment. All their training and high-tech equipment mean nothing in a fight against a determined and numerous enemy. It’s a clear allegory of the Vietnam quagmire. A war movie; a Vietnam War movie dressed up in a futuristic science fiction setting which is gritty and realistic unlike, for example, Star Trek’s clean and pure lines.
There is so much to love about Aliens. The utilitarian aesthetic of the USS Sulaco and the weaponry of the Colonial Marines, the implacable Xenomorph bogeyman (one was terrifying in Alien; hundreds are dreadful in Aliens), the sheer monstrous size of the Queen, the climatic battle between Queen Alien and Queen Ripley (“Get away from her, you bitch!) and the dialogue from the marines convinced of their victory even before there are boots on the ground:
“I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”
Aliens has it all. Now thirty-four years old it sets the standard for science fiction war movies. Sheer brilliance.
So there you have it. My top three. What are yours? Do you agree with my choices?