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The 8 Ball 04.30.13: The Top 16 Blockbusters (#16 -9)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.30.2013

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 16 Blockbusters (#16 - 9)

Over the last couple of weeks, we've looked at the worst blockbusters Hollywood has had to offer. This week we flip it around and begin our look at the best. Being a huge Hollywood success doesn't guarantee a great film, but neither does it necessarily mean that the film in question is a poor one. While many great movies have failed to break box office records, there is no shortage of great films that found its audience in theaters and brought home big-time rewards to their respective studios. This week we begin our look at the best blockbusters in cinematic history.

Caveat: We're using the same criteria as the Worst Blockbusters list. More specifically, for the purposes of this list we are defining "blockbuster" as any film that made at least $200 million domestically (not internationally) at the box office, not accounting for inflation. For your reference, there are 129 films which meet that criteria and you can check them out here.

Just Missing The Cut

The Incredibles (2004)
Skyfall (2012)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Iron Man (2008)
Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

#16: Ghostbusters (1984)

This probably isn't too much of a surprise for people who have read my stuff before; I've never been shy about giving Ghostbusters praise. Ivan Reitman's 1984 horror comedy became a blockbuster by our list's definition in an era where bringing in $200 million was no small task and it did so by being one of the most engaging and beloved comedies of the 1980s. It is a testament to Reitman and the talented cast and crew that, in an age of remakes and sequels being reviled by many, people still get excited about the impending Ghostbusters 3, even if Bill Murray isn't signed on. Reitman's cast here is pitch perfect; Harold Ramis has never been funnier than he was here as the brilliant and socially-inept Egon, Murray's Venkman is a great charming asshole of a character, Aykroyd was hilarious as the overenthusiastic scientist and Ernie Hudson fits in like a glove by playing the regular guy who knows that what's he's seeing is utterly nuts but has no choice but to accept it. Sigourney Weaver was never hotter than she was in this film and the rest of the supporting cast is great. This is one of those rare films that, despite being very special effects-heavy, don't seem dated even when you watch it today. Certainly the effects look a bit hokier but they don't look cheap by any definition and the writing, Reitman's direction...quite simply, everything just works in amazing ways here. Say what you want about the sequel (and I have), but even if you don't somehow love Ghostbusters you have to respect it and its legacy.

#15: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Star Wars films are cinematic giants. Even when people complain en masse about the prequels, you rarely hear anything bad about the original trilogy and for good reason; they are among the best films not only in fantasy and science fiction but in all of cinema. After the runaway success of Star Wars, Lucas was able to move forward with his trilogy. He presented the story for the second to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan as writers and brought in Irvin Kershner to direct, both to great effect. The Empire Strikes Back takes the epic story presented in Star Wars and deepens both the mythology and the scope of the story. Empire is responsible for some of the most important, famous and iconic elements of the franchise's elements, from Yoda and Degobah to Lando Calrissian and the revelation that Vader is, in fact, Luke's father Anakin Skywalker. Even Boba Fett, who is a relatively minor character in the overall scope of the franchise, became one of the most famous and well-known characters in cinema thanks to his brief appearance here and in Return of the Jedi. Even people I know who don't like Star Wars as a whole don't have anything bad to say about Empire, because frankly there are very few flaws to be found. And if there is a better exchange in the color era of films than "I love you"/"I know," I don't know what it is.

#14: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Lucasfilm scores another epic film and franchise on this list with that of Indiana Jones. While the old-school serial aspect of Raiders of the Lost Ark made it a bit of a safer bet than the idea of an A-list high science-fiction film in Star Wars, it was still considered to be a non-mover in Hollywood and every studio rejected it at first out of the belief that it would be too over-the-top and cost too much. Eventually Paramount came on board though and every other studio has regretted it ever since. With Harrison Ford delivering what is perhaps an even more iconic performance than he did as Han Solo, Steven Spielberg crafted one of the most thrilling action-adventure experiences of the modern era. Raiders accomplished the rare and difficult feat of taking an old concept and bringing it forth into the modern era, not sacrificing any of the 1930's pulp era feel or throwing intentional kitsch in and still managing to make it exciting for every generation of filmgoer from the 1980s onward. Ford is matched perfectly with Karen Allen as Marian Ravenwood, Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey are great villains and the supporting cast is fantastic. Raiders and the rest of the Indiana Jones series helped establish Lucasfilm as one of the true greats in Hollywood, particularly in genre filmmaking and that reputation remains to this day.

#13: The Lion King (1994)

Spoiler alert: you're going to see no shortage of animated films on this list. We are well past the days where animation was considered to be just for children and as far as the Walt Disney Company is concerned, I'm not certain that such an intention was ever the case. Certainly animated films tend toward the family-friendly aspects in North America, but with certain exceptions (or certain unfortunate periods of time) Disney has never seemed to feel like they had to dumb down their non-live action films to appeal to children. A great example of that, and my personal favorite traditional 2D animated film, is 1994's The Lion King. I know that many people have other favorites--and for the record, Beauty & The Beast was a strong contender for my top sixteen as was Aladdin--but for my money nothing beats the expansive coming-of-age tale of Simba. I've heard people argue that the film's music is too sappy before and I can sort of understand that on a certain level; I certainly wouldn't doubt that it is broad and fairly unsubtle. But it fits perfectly within the film and the story is impressively plotted out, filled with great characterizations and emotional resonance. The animation by Disney's team under the direction of Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff is still breath-taking to this day. To me, The Lion King represented the pinnacle of Disney's hand-drawn animated works and it is perhaps not surprising that the format began to take a downward film immediately following this one at the home of Mickey; there really was no topping it.

#12: Up (2009)

We move immediately from Disney's best traditional animation effort to one of their top 3D films via Pixar. Pixar's reputation as a producer of great animated films is almost beyond reproach; at the very least it was up until Cars 2. That being said, I actually did not expect to like Up as much as I did when it was initially released in theaters. Obviously this had nothing to do with Pixar's skill, but I will admit that while I have always appreciated the skill behind WALL-E I just didn't emotionally connect with it the way many others have. Additionally, the trailers for Up left me somewhat underwhelmed. When I ended up seeing it I was stunned with how much I enjoyed it. The voice cast is perfect, with Ed Asner making the elderly Carl cranky and yet not too unlikeable and Jordan Nagai is great as the young Russell. The opening sequences detailing Carl's youth through his marriage, widowing and eventual hermit nature is, without equivocation, one of the greatest animated sequences ever committed to film. There is a meme image floating around the internet that Up told a more complete and emotionally resonant love story in ten minutes than Twilight did in five films...and let's face it folks, that's funny because it's true. Furthermore, once the film gets in the air the film really kicks in. The dogs with the talking collars represent one of the things Pixar does best in being funny and kid-friendly but not so cutesy as to detract from the film for adults. The only flaw for this one is the villain, who is somewhat underwritten, though Christopher Plummer does great voice work. Even that flaw is very minor; overall this is one of my absolute favorite Pixar films and a top achievement in animation.

#11: Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park is currently back in theaters, tearing things up in 3D this time around and as of this writing it has added another $42.1 million to its total to approach the $400 million mark domestically. For people who are younger and don't remember its 1993 release, I think it is difficult to understand just how much impact Jurassic Park had at the time. CGI is such a common-place thing in films these days that you can barely find a film that doesn't have at least some small form of it. Even romantic comedies, lower-budget indy flicks and the like are known to use CGI, if only to remove wires or change the face of a sign. The prevalence of CGI effects owes a huge debt to this film, which proved that not only was it possible to create realistic-looking images but also that it could be inexpensive. Jurassic Park cost a mere $63 million. While you could argue that it was the 1990s then, keep in mind that this was the era of Waterworld. Even Batman Returns cost more at $80 million. Spielberg proved that you didn't need to break the bank to make a film look amazing.

But what's great about Jurassic Park is that it isn't just about the visuals. It is in many ways the ultimate popcorn film, a term that is sometimes used in a derogatory manner but simply means a film that is meant primarily for entertainment value. The script does a great job of distilling Michael Crichton's novel without being unnecessarily cerebral and the performances across the board are great. Spielberg creates some incredibly thrilling action sequences and even some legitimately frightening moments involving the velociraptors. The sequels don't hold up but they are unable to tarnish the legacy of the original, which stands up as one of the greats twenty years after its initial release.

#10: Toy Story 3 (2010)

Yep, more Disney (or rather, Pixar) animation. While all of Pixar's efforts have been admirable--even the one or two that failed--few can argue that the Toy Story franchise doesn't their crowning achievement. There have been rumors (each shot down) that the film will get another sequel down the line, but for now Toy Story 3 stands as the final and fitting entry in this franchise. All three of the films work in their own way and as the presumed finale, this hits all of the right notes for what may just be the most consistently great film series of all time. The story for part three has some frightening moments in it to be sure, but anyone thinking it is too scary must remember that they had Sid's maniacal tortured toys in the first film and that blew anything here out of the water. The voice acting is as great as ever from the returning cast and the new cast, from Ned Beatty to Michael Keaton, is just as good. This has many touching, poignant and funny moments and the prison escape story is just as good at appealing to adults as the fun visuals are to kids. The only critique I have toward this film is that the climax seems to go a little too over-the-top with the action, but that's the faintest of critiques for an otherwise amazing movie.

#9: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

I think it is very difficult to overstate how significant the Lord of the Rings films were to cinema as it stands in 2013. Fanboy franchises were starting to become big money at the box office, but few of them were taken seriously as legitimate film fare. For as good as X-Men was, it was viewed with all the cinematic value of the latest big-budget, lowbrow kid's animated film. Peter Jackson's ambitious take on J.R.R. Tolkien's franchise changed that immediately. It wasn't the sole film in 2001 was flip the script on geek films--Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone also released that year--but it was easily the best and the one taken seriously by film scholars, audiences and critics alike. The film garnered a deserved thirteen nominations at the Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Ian McKellan and others. While it only won the expected technical awards, the fact remains that it changed the landscape of what genre films could be and it deserves to stand tall as one of the greatest films of the 21st century to date.

Current Doctor

Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).

Current Series/Season: Season Eleven (1974)
Episodes Watched: 605
Last Serial Completed: Invasion of the Dinosaurs - The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in 1970s London to find it has been evacuated because dinosaurs have appeared mysteriously and are rampaging through the streets. While the Doctor teams up with UNIT to determine the origins of the prehistoric creatures, Sarah Jane investigates on her own. But can either of them prevent a plot to revert London to a pre-technological level?
Surviving Episodes Remaining: 24

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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