20. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Probably the best onscreen iteration of Marvel’s most popular superhero, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 still stands head and shoulders above most modern rivals. If not for its unique style, high-flying and memorable action and the inspirations from Raimi’s roots in B-movie horror – then the film is most notable for its heart. Between Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, a man completely torn between his personal life and his responsibility as a hero, and Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius, a man turned monster by his ambition and grief, Raimi treats these weird, larger-than-life characters with utter sincerity – and that’s what makes this blockbuster so great.
19. Pacific Rim (2013)
Guillermo del Toro is known for his elaborate special effects and set design, so it’s no surprise that Pacific Rim plunges you head-first into a world of spectacularly huge and dark CGI robots, monsters, cityscapes, and of course, said robots and monsters destroying everything in their path in a battle to save planet Earth. Idris Elba does a standout job in delivering his “Cancelling the Apocalypse” speech, and while the rest of the cast are overshadowed by their CGI co-stars (I’m looking at you, giant winged reptile monster), this film is pure ridiculous fun from start to finish.
18. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The franchise’s conclusion is at once moving, and wholly satisfying. Peter Jackson rewards his audience’s loyalty with the grandest film of the trilogy. Even as technology and budgets evolve and escalate, no trilogy film has matched the quality of Return of the King. This finale is visually breathtaking, emotionally captivating, and a perfect end to one of the most epic trilogies in cinematic history.
From the makeup, sound, costumes, score, cinematography, acting, sets and direction, Return of the King raised the bar for all future blockbusters. Plus, considering the mammoth accomplishment Peter Jackson had achieved, he earned every minute of his eight endings.
17. Alien (1979)
If we get technical, Alien isn’t a “blockbuster” at all. Small budget, small cast, small ambitions; these are not the traditions we think of. But the audience felt differently. Despite no big premiere, people put a collective finger up to Hollywood and queued around the block to see it. $200 million and 38 years later, Alien is the proof that blockbusters don’t have to be bombastic summer tentpoles with a 12A rating; they can be sinister, terrifying – and alternative. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and even if its sequels trod more familiar blockbuster territory, the original Alien, dark and frightening, will always stand alone.
16. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan has a name brand nearly as strong as the heaviest-hitting Hollywood franchises, from Marvel to DC to Harry Potter, and he never put his considerable clout within the studio system to as good a use as he did with Inception. Utterly, inspiringly original, its set-pieces are magnificent examples of how a commitment to practical effects can elevate an action film, rarely equalled in terms of inventiveness, awe, and sheer fun, and bolstered by an iconic Hans Zimmer score. Its terrific ensemble cast, led by quintessential Movie Star Leonardo DiCaprio, are the delicious icing on one of modern cinema’s richest cakes.
15. Aliens (1986)
Alien changed the game. It evolved and transformed the sci-fi genre, captivating a worldwide audience. It introduced us to the Ellen Ripley, through the tremendous Sigourney Weaver. How do you improve on that?
Somehow the young cocksure Canadian James Cameron did. Keeping true to the original, Cameron knew what made his predecessor tick, dialling up the drama, the characters and the intensity to 11. Weaver has never been better. Her ferocity, vulnerability and strength is forever watchable. The word “iconic” is used to describe every Tom, Dick and Harry, but when you’re talking about Ellen Ripley it really means something.
Game over, man. Game over.
14. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
If it’s spectacle you’re after, look no further than Singin’ in the Rain. After all, if a 10-minute encapsulated Broadway musical within a dream sequence and a man defying gravity to run up a vertical wall doesn’t impress you, what will?
This potted Hollywood history lesson features reams of intricate costumes and a catalogue of sterling showtunes. But despite the razzmatazz, make no mistake that blood, sweat and tears went into this meticulously crafted classic (mostly courtesy of poor Debbie Reynolds); so intent was Gene Kelly on perfection.
The end result is indeed flawless, with equal measures of heart, smarts and humour, and one of the most iconic, parodied dance sequences in film history.
13. Toy Story (1995)
Tapping in to the universal kids’ belief that toys could just come to life when you leave the room, Toy Story spawned an unbelievably successful franchise which is still going strong 22 years later. Buzz and Woody became the must-have toys that Christmas as kids and parents alike were swept up by the cute yet genuinely funny characters and their escapades. Featuring groundbreaking special effects that still stand up surprisingly well today and a fantastic cast headed up by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, Toy Story is the ultimate tale of friendship triumphing in the face of adversity.
12. The Godfather (1972)
Nowadays it feels part of the furniture, but when Paramount offered a pulpy gangster novel adaptation to their eighth-choice director, then watched him hire a cast of unknown Methods headed by an unrecognisable past-it star, and shot them in next-to-nothing light (all for one of the year’s highest budgets)… you can see why production was tense.
Now, of course, it’s simply part of the legend. A perfect cast, iconic dialogue, an unsettling score, and a kind of strange, contemplative tone both lavish and grimy make for the most unexpected, downbeat and experimental blockbuster Hollywood’s yet produced (aside from the film’s own sequel).
And everyone’s still copying it.
11. The Matrix (1999)
When the Wachowski siblings made The Matrix, they didn’t just change how people saw action movies, but blockbusters in general. Working with fight choreographers from Hong Kong and wuxia films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Wachowskis twisted an Alice in Wonderland story through a dystopian cyberpunk lens, by way of Eastern cinema.
The result is a blockbuster that punches the brain as well as the body, as Neo (Keanu Reeves, in his prime) awakens to and subsequently navigates the dream world of the Matrix. With innovative fights, visual effects, and a mind-bending story, The Matrix elevated the blockbuster just in time for the new millennium.