Our list of the 50 greatest blockbusters ever made, as voted for by the ORWAV writers and editors, approaches the halfway mark…
30. The Incredibles (2004)
A superhero film without the limits of giving live action actors super powers, The Incredibles is a childhood favourite that has aged remarkably well for an animated film that was made in 2004. It’s got everything you could possible want in a blockbuster; adventure, action, a twisted villain that everyone loves to hate, a cracking cast, and a central group of characters that keep the tone light with comedy and uplifting character arcs. This isa blockbuster for all the family, and will probably continue to be a favourite of many for years to come.
29. Speed (1994)
Speed is proof that the simplest concepts are often the most effective. As Homer Simpson once described it, Speed is about a bus that couldn’t slow down; nothing less, but so much more. The solid cast elevate it higher – Dennis Hopper as the gleefully unhinged villain, Sandra Bullock as the plucky passenger who steps up to the plate in a crisis, and Keanu giving it some of his best staring, alongside a literal busload of memorable supporting characters – and once it gets going, the deadly game of cat and mouse doesn’t slow down for a second. Much like the bus.
28. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
While the franchise has rather spectacularly deteriorated, the glorious swashbuckling fun of its inaugural instalment makes The Curse of the Black Pearl a definitive, top-notch 2000s blockbuster. Johnny Depp’s roguish madman Captain Jack Sparrow is most lovable here; and while Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom have yet to grow into their acting chops, they are endearing eye candy. Add in Geoffrey Rush’s villainous Barbosa and some raucous pirate comedy, and the winning formula is complete. The complex plot is surprisingly coherent, making for compelling viewing. One of its best features is its entirely satisfactory ending; while the beginnings of a cinematic universe, it stands alone with its neat conclusion.
28. Ghostbusters (1984)
What film can claim to have exploded a giant marshmallow behemoth all over New York? What film turned the nightmares of children into their daytime play-sets? Ghostbusters. An icon of cinema with defining roles for an elite list of actors, and one of the pillars of Hollywood film, Ghostbusters spawned a franchise of merchandise and remakes – and is home to one of the catchiest theme songs of all time, from Ray Parker Jr. Proton Packs. Ecto-1. The Keymaster. Zuul. Slimer. The Firehouse. Murray. Aykroyd. Ramis. Hudson. You want icons of cinema? Don’t look further than Ghostbusters.
26. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
Dooo doo-doo doooooo dooo doo-doooooooo… Bringing character development to the high-octane adventure of its predecessors, Last Crusade makes Indiana Jones into something more than a rugged hero with a whip. Gifting us with a young River Phoenix and a Ford-Connery double-act, the quest for the Holy Grail becomes secondary to the quest for father-son commonality. Even the film’s final quips are reserved for familial griping (“We named the dog Indiana”).
Where The Godfather Part II proved that a sequel really can better its elders, Last Crusade goes one step further to prove that the third time really can be the charm.
25. Gladiator (2000)
You can know all you need to about a person based on who they think of after the words “My name is”. Inigo Montoya is a good answer, but Maximus Decimus Meridius is the right one.
So much is so good about Gladiator. The true modern historical epic, director Ridley Scott’s striking story takes viewers from breathless battles against barbarians to close-quarters carnage in the Colosseum. It is, however, Hans Zimmer’s superlative score which secures Gladiator’s blockbuster greatness. From the intensely powerful rolling waltz of ‘The Battle’ to the ethereal beauty of ‘Now We Are Free’, this work is musical perfection.
24. Titanic (1997)
What saves James Cameron’s notorious crack at romance-writing from movie-snob hell is a real sincerity – in acting, music, direction. But what makes Titanic great is the second half – the iceberg hits, the action vet’s big-budget instincts kick in, and we’re given perhaps the all-time spectacle, set to a well-earned emotional strain.
And actually, for all the maligned “Jack!” “Rose!” gubbins, the scripting is excellent: a knowing melodrama, rubbing together stock characters and genres and, more impressively, the sheer number of incidents Cameron invents that never even feel shoehorned. If not for the 3D surplus on Avatar’s ticket sales, this would still be the biggest film in the world – with good reason.
23. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
If there’s one director that deserves to have his films included in a list of the best blockbusters, it’s Steven Spielberg. Having invented the summer Hollywood blockbuster with 1975’s Jaws, the director has only continued to add to his blockbuster lineup. It’s in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that Spielberg’s expertise is most clear.
Focused on the wonder of being a child and the importance of empathy, E.T. reigns as Spielberg’s most sentimental film. Yet, with the film’s thrilling end sequence that puts the life of our two beloved protagonists into question, Spielberg manages to capture a heartfelt story of childhood bonding in the framework of an exciting, dramatic film.
22. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day heralded a cinematic watershed, cementing the superstar status of both leading cyborg Schwarzenegger and writer-director Cameron. It helps that it’s one of very few sequels to better its predecessor. The leap between $6.4m almost-indie The Terminator and bonafide blockbuster T2 saw the expanded budget spent on special effects that still impress.
Classic blockbusters nevertheless require clever writing (hello Terminator reprogramming twist!) and exemplary characters: enter Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor – a seminal, damaged but arse-kicking heroine – and Robert Patrick as iconic villain the T-1000 – a thrilling, non-stop, blade-handed cop. ¡Hasta la vista!
21. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
After the bucolic fantasy of Fellowship of the Ring shatters with the death of Boromir and the breaking of the Fellowship, Lord of the Rings really gets to find its feet in The Two Towers – delving further into the complexity of its world and the minds of its heroes before the nuances of this legendary fantasy series are overrun by CGI armies and the battle-porn insanity of Return of the King. Two Towers introduces the Ents, the Nazgul’s fell beasts and the mighty Oliphaunts, as well as some of the series’ best damn characters in Eowyn and Faramir – enough said.