This is obviously going to be a pretty subjective article – like all of my articles – but GFOS was never intended to be anything but a subjective, slightly atypical take on fantasy and science fiction. The title obviously refers to my personal favourites in certain big movie series, and I’ll explain why I have a soft spot for those. So I can’t objectively claim they’re the best, but honestly, “best” just sounds so much better than “my favourite”.
I’ll grant that it’s not always possible to pick one best movie. Often I notice that I really like certain scenes or moments rather than an entire movie. This list is about those movies that worked the best as a whole, for me. My favourite moment in a given franchise might even come from an instalment I didn’t pick.
And, of course, I can only pick a favourite when I’ve seen all of them so far. Alright, with that out of the way, here we go, in completely random order:
Batman Begins (2005)
Everyone has their own reason why they love Batman. To me, the reason why he is my favourite super hero is because he is a character who descends into darkness, who lives in it, who exudes it, and yet he comes to bring light there. Something about that kind of character really appeals to me. My favourite Batman movie will therefore be the one that expresses that aspect of the persona the most effectively. On the whole, I prefer Tim Burton’s more imaginative gothic interpretation of the Batman universe far above Christopher Nolan’s increasingly bland and realistic Gotham. This trait seems to get worse in Nolan’s films as the trilogy progresses. Luckily, in Batman Begins, one can still feel the mysterious, gloomy atmosphere that Gotham should have. Why Nolan decided to ditch the unique sense of place that comes with the territory in its sequels, I’ll never know. If Nolan’s first foray into the Batman universe had committed this sin as blatantly as The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, it would never have been my favourite. As it stands, it is my favourite Batman movie, and here’s why. I love it because it’s the origin story. As I mentioned before, I like the psychology behind Batman. He’s a noble-hearted hero who is simultaneously more mysterious, dark, threatening and intriguing than any of the villains, which is a rare treat. This movie makes that work brilliantly. It’s the one reason why I would place it above Tim Burton’s 1989 version Batman. Burton’s movie starts OUT as strong as Batman Begins, but then it becomes all about the Joker and that makes it a bit less powerful in my opinion. In Nolan’s sequel, the massively overrated The Dark Knight, the mystique surrounding Batman is completely lost as it becomes a movie about the villains, just like Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Too bad, because the real strength of the Batman franchise is… Batman. Batman Begins is the only movie that throughout its entirety keeps the caped crusader himself the monster you’re looking forward to catching a glimpse of. It’s like watching Alien while rooting for the alien. I love it.
The Terminator (1984)
The most beloved movie in the Terminator franchise seems to be Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I can see why. It was big, it was exciting, it was unexpected and it moved the story in a new direction. It also did things with special effects that hadn’t been seen before. You won’t hear me bad-mouthing that movie. In fact, I even enjoyed the third one, which had a really gutsy ending that kind of made up for the nonsensical conclusion to Terminator 2. Still, it’s very easy for me to pick a favourite, and it’s the original The Terminator from 1984. That movie was a lot cheaper and smaller in scale, and that’s exactly why I think it worked better. The Terminator had such an impending sense of doom and apocalypse precisely because of the claustrophobic vibe it maintained throughout. The cheap eighties music had a strangely threatening quality to it that a big orchestral score wouldn’t be able to achieve for this particular kind of story. Linda Hamilton’s character worked much better for me when she was an ordinary woman on the run, rather than the guerrilla warrior she turns into in the sequel. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a genuinely menacing presence, a trait that he lost when he said “Hasta La Vista, Baby”. From that point on, the heavy cloud of fear gave way for a series that was becoming more about action and adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Who doesn’t love Indiana Jones? According to M. Night Shyamalan, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the most entertaining movie ever made. I guess that also means it’s his favourite Indy movie. For me, that title would have to go to the third one, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I really like three out of four Indiana Jones movies (Temple of Doom tonally doesn’t fit in the series, in my opinion) but picking the best one is very easy. While Raiders is the one that started it all, I think it suffers a bit from some overly long action sequences and an ending where Indy doesn’t really do anything. The Last Crusade has a great theme that speaks to the imagination: the grail knights. It’s also full of varied locations and it has the best character dynamics in any of the movies, thanks to Sean Connery’s presence as Indy’s father. The music is the most moving of the entire series, and I just think that Crusade finds the perfect mix of adventure, comedy, action and drama. It’s an almost immaculately balanced script, in my opinion.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
This is my favourite movie of all time, period. Granted, on some level it’s very hard to pick a number one out of this trilogy, since the entire series is so dear to me. When push comes to shove, though, my gut immediately says part three. So why is that? Here’s the thing: I can usually explain what I love about a movie in a rational way, but in this case that’s a lot harder. When someone asks me why I love this film so much, I’m inclined to just gasp and say: “haven’t you seen it?”
Alright, here goes: The Return of the King gave me a feeling I didn’t know existed before. It was so grandiose, so epic, so uncompromisingly ambitious and yet so intimately beautiful and so expertly crafted, it’s almost painful how good it is. The music alone reaches every possible emotional level.
The movie’s grand spectacle, its excellent acting, its wonderful attention to detail, all of those things are unprecedented, but they are not the reason why it’s my favourite movie of all time. The real reason is this: this film does what all art should aspire to do. It lifts me up. It inspires me to go on. It teaches me hope, friendship, compassion and faith. It actually does that. Hundreds of movies talk about these things, but this is one of the few that actually have that effect. When I’m faced with a hard challenge, I think of Frodo on Mount Doom. When I have a friend who is in trouble, I think of Sam and I’m inspired to support them. That’s unique.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
I’ve written a lot about the Star Wars prequels on GFOS and why I feel they are criminally underrated. Let me try to explain very briefly why I feel that Revenge of the Sith is the best movie in the entire Star Wars saga.
When I saw the original trilogy, I loved it, but I always felt it showed just a glimpse of what the Star Wars universe was supposed to be. I sensed that George Lucas wanted to do so much more and that there was still a great promise hidden in this grand universe, lying just beyond the reach of the original trilogy. I think Lucas’ last endeavour in the series, Revenge of the Sith, truly manages to fulfil that promise.
Whereas all the other movies in the Star Wars series are enjoyable space epics, this is the one where it really feels like space opera. Revenge of the Sith is grand, passionate and dark without ever becoming self-important or overbearing. It’s a visual tone poem, copiously rich and thoughtful in texture and colour, perfectly paced, brilliantly edited as well as a masterful conjoining of over 30 years of storytelling. The music score alone rises to lone heights. And then there is the sombre wisdom of the film: “so this is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause”.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Yes, I know, the obvious choice would be The Curse of the Black Pearl. And I do love that first movie, but I have to say I have some problems with it as well. The first Pirates movie introduced the immortal captain Jack Sparrow to us, who is obviously the whole reason why this franchise took off. But it also had Will Turner and Elisabeth Swann, two characters who started out great but became annoying before the end of the movie. The second and third films have a whole list of serious storytelling and characterisation problems, but I personally felt that with On Stranger Tides, Disney pulled a soft reboot that actually worked. This is the first movie to put Jack right in the center, where he belongs. It doesn’t rely on a headache-inducing plot full of betrayals and counter-betrayals, but instead it puts us on a straight road to the climactic finale. And that road is one of crazy adventures and ridiculous oneliners. On top of that, Ian McShane’s Blackbeard was the first villain to actually make an impression in this series. And then there were the mermaids, of course. Who couldn’t like those?
Like The Terminator, the first Alien movie is my favourite precisely because it is smaller in scope and scale than the others. The sense of atmosphere and mystery is quite unique in the genre. Alien also builds towards its climax at a perfect pace. Many modern horror and sci-fi films can still learn a lot from Ridley Scott’s original. I enjoyed James Cameron’s sequel Aliens as well, but it was a completely different genre. That was a great decision, because you simply cannot reproduce the original Alien. Any attempt at that would have been a disaster (*cough*Alien³*cough*), but while Aliens is a brilliant example of a sequel done well, my ultimate preference is still for the original. And I have to agree with the consensus that the third film was an absolute abomination and the less said about the fourth one, the better, if you ask me.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
If you follow my blog, you will know that I’m a huge Tolkien fan. There are many among my peers who are less than enthusiastic about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy for its over-the-top action and out-of-place comedy. While I will agree that the films do increasingly deviate from the tone and style of Tolkien’s writing, I do think that this is an absolutely fantastic trilogy – especially when you look at it purely on its own merits rather than as an adaptation. In my view, good fantasy films are like diamonds: extremely rare and extremely precious (hey, maybe I should write an article about that). If you ask me, all three of the Hobbit instalments are brilliant fantasy films. They all have great characters, great acting, gorgeous locations, impressive music, great storytelling and a rich mixture of humour, adventure and emotion. Still, the first one is the only one that really gets the Tolkien vibe right. The atmosphere of this film is pretty much perfect in my opinion. It’s almost impossible to describe exactly what I mean. Perhaps the best I can do is simply pointing to that one scene where all the dwarves are gathered in Bilbo’s living room, standing around the fire and singing in low voices ‘far over the Misty Mountains cold…’ And then there’s that close-up of the fire and that beautiful shot of the embers and smoke rising up from Bilbo’s little chimney into the starry night. That’s what I mean.