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The 50 Best Movies Of The Last 50 Years (2012 Edition)

Written By : John Hawkins
January 11, 2013

(Descriptions courtesy of Netflix)

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50) The Blues Brothers (1980): John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd lay waste to Chicago as the title characters, a pair of two-bit crooks on a quest to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised by reuniting their former band for a charity gig.

49) The Beastmaster (1982): Possessing an extraordinary ability to communicate with animals, a warrior named Dar (Marc Singer) embarks on a perilous journey to seek his revenge on a villainous priest (Rip Torn) and the barbarians who slaughtered his family. Along the way, Dar befriends a cunning hunter (John Amos) and a beautiful slave girl (Tanya Roberts) who help him battle fierce creatures in this cult fantasy that spawned several sequels and a TV series.

48) My Best Friend’s Girl (2009): When Dustin’s girlfriend, Alexis, breaks up with him, he employs his best buddy, Tank, to take her out on the worst rebound date imaginable. But when he begins to really fall for Alexis, Tank finds himself in an impossible position.

47) Stripes (1981): Bill Murray stars as John Winger, an indolent sad sack who impulsively joins the U.S. Army after losing his job, his car, his girlfriend and his apartment and, for good measure, he cajoles his best friend into enlisting, too. After making it through boot camp, the duo appropriates a state-of-the-art military vehicle for a weekend furlough, landing behind the Iron Curtain — and in the midst of an international incident.

46) Spider-Man (2002): After being chomped by a genetically altered spider, shy high schooler Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is endowed with amazing superpowers. And while he first uses them to win wrestling matches, he’ll eventually need them to battle a villain known as the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Peter’s abilities allow him to win the girl of his dreams (Kirsten Dunst), but family tragedy and a suspicious best friend (James Fracno) leave him emotionally drained.

45) First Knight (1995): Agonizing choices confront King Arthur, Lady Guinevere and Sir Lancelot in this lyrical retelling of the legend of Camelot. With Guinevere torn between her husband and Lancelot, he must balance loyalty to the throne with the rewards of true love.

44) Kull the Conqueror (1987): Kull (Kevin Sorbo), a barbarian and warrior, becomes the king of Valusia when he kills the old king in battle. But to maintain his royal title, Kull must conquer many enemies, including Taligaro (Thomas Ian Griffith) — the head of Valusia’s royal guard who wants to take over the throne. In hopes of ousting the king, Taligaro summons Akivasha (Tia Carrere), a 3,000-year-old demon whose looks could be deadly if Kull can’t resist her.

43) The Dark Knight (2008): In this sequel to Batman Begins, the caped crusader teams with Lt. James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to continue dismantling Gotham City’s criminal organizations. But a new villain known as the Joker threatens to undo their good work.

42) Little Man, Big Man (1970): Dustin Hoffman stars as Jack, a 121-year-old man who recounts a long and colorful life in the Wild West, including being raised by Native Americans. His recollections form a Western epic that includes the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn.

41) ) The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976): In this gritty Oscar-nominated Western, ex-Confederate soldier Josey Wales is on the run from both his former unit and the U.S. Army regiment that killed his family when he comes to rest in a quiet community and falls for pretty settler Laura Lee.

40) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966): While the Civil War rages between the Union and the Confederacy, a quiet loner, a ruthless hit man and a Mexican bandit comb the American Southwest in search of a strongbox containing $200,000 in stolen gold.

39) The Matrix (1999): A computer hacker searches for the truth behind the mysterious force known as the Matrix. He discovers that what most people perceive as reality is actually a simulation created by machines and joins a rebellion to break free.

38) Big Trouble In Little China (1986): When a 2,000-year-old magician kidnaps his friend’s fiancée, two-fisted trucker Jack Burton and sexy attorney Gracie Law must navigate a shadowy world filled with supernatural creatures and spectacular action to capture the culprit.

37) The 5th Element (1997): In this imaginative sci-fi epic, a 23rd-century cabbie finds himself involved with a fetching alien who may hold the key to saving the world. But it’s curtains for planet Earth unless the duo can stay a step ahead of a demented villain named Zorg.

36) Die Hard (1988): NYPD cop John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) plan to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is thrown for a serious loop when minutes after he arrives at her office, the entire building is overtaken by a group of pitiless terrorists. With little help from the LAPD, wisecracking McClane sets out to single-handedly rescue the hostages and bring the bad guys down. This classic John McTiernan actioner launched Willis into superstardom.

35) The Killer (1989): Nobody can play a killer with a conscience with quite the complex shadings that Chow Yun Fat imbues in this character. In this Hong Kong action thriller, he’s stalked by a cynical cop (Danny Lee Sau-Yin), which gives the plot — focusing on director John Woo’s traditional themes of brotherhood and betrayal — many places to twist and turn and moments to ponder. Highlight: the final shootout in a church amidst many (symbolic) fluttering doves.

34) Aliens (1986): In this acclaimed sequel, the only survivor from the first film, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), finds her horrific account of her crew’s fate is met with skepticism — until the disappearance of colonists on LV-426 prompts a team of high-tech Marines to investigate. Ripley travels with the team as an advisor, only to find that her biggest fear has come true. Weaver was Oscar nominated for Best Actress, while James Horner’s chilling score also got a nod.

33) The Patriot (2000): Widower Benjamin Martin wants nothing more than to live in peace and farm his land, but when a cruel British officer brings the American Revolution to Martin’s door and threatens what he cherishes most, the former war hero is forced to take action.

32) Clerks (1994): Store clerks Dante and Randal are sharp-witted, potty-mouthed, and bored out of their minds. So in between needling customers, the counter jockeys play hockey, visit a funeral home and deal with their love lives in this classic indie comedy.

31) Signs (2002): Everything farmer and former priest Graham Hess believes about the world changes when he finds an intricate pattern of circles carved into his fields — mysterious markings that cause a media frenzy and test his faith in this sci-fi thriller.

30) Flash Gordon (1980): Flash gets a face-lift in this update of the 1930s comic strip. After being skyjacked (along with comely Dale Arden) to the planet Mongo, Flash (Sam Jones) learns that its merciless ruler, Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow), plans to destroy Earth and take Dale as his concubine. There’s only one thing to do: unite Mongo’s warring kingdoms, foil Ming’s plan and get the girl.

29) Spaceballs (1987): In this spoof of the Star Wars trilogy, nefarious Dark Helmet hatches a plan to snatch Princess Vespa and steal her planet’s air. Space bum Lone Starr and his clueless sidekick fly to the rescue, with help from Yogurt and the power of “The Schwartz.”

28) There’s Something About Mary (1998): The Farrelly brothers nail the laughs in this hugely popular comedy about a hugely popular girl. Mary is the ideal girlfriend of every guy she meets, especially frustrated high school suitor Ted … but he’s got plenty of competition.

27) Gladiator (2000): Tapped for the throne after the death of the emperor, Roman general Maximus instead finds himself condemned to death by the late ruler’s power-hungry son. Escaping execution, Maximus becomes a powerful gladiator, bent on exacting revenge in the ring.

26) Caddyshack (1980): This comedy classic follows the travails of young caddy Danny Noonan as he gets tangled in high jinks involving the eclectic and ridiculous members of Bushwood Country Club. Meanwhile, assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler battles a pesky gopher.

25) Unforgiven (1992): Retired gunslinger William Munny reluctantly takes one last job — and even more reluctantly accepts a boastful young man as a partner. Together, they learn how easily complicated truths are distorted into simplistic myths about the Old West.

24) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): The Monty Python comedy clan skewers King Arthur and his knights of the round table as they quest far and wide for the Holy Grail in this inspired piece of lunacy that’s utterly quotable — particularly the bit involving knights who say “Ni.” John Cleese stands out as the Black Knight, who suffers gory, slow dismemberment at the hands of the mighty king himself yet maintains that “It’s just a scratch” after every whack.

23) Patton (1970): Gen. George S. Patton (George C. Scott) earned the nickname “Blood and Guts” for his determination on the battlefield. This epic-scale production follows the commander as he guides his troops across Africa and Europe, illuminating a man whose life was defined by war. Director Franklin J. Schaffner’s multiple Oscar winner is a character study masquerading as a World War II film, with astonishing combat scenes and reflection on Patton’s inner life.

22) The One (2001): In director James Wong’s sci-fi actioner, Los Angeles police officer Gabriel Yulaw is pursued by a sinister doppelgänger — an escapee from an advanced parallel universe — who’s on a mission to kill the lawman.

21) Ghostbusters (1984): After losing their academic posts at a prestigious college, a team of parapsychologists creates a business exterminating ghouls, hobgoblins and supernatural pests — and are soon hired by a cellist to purge her digs of a demon.

20) Rambo: First Blood (1982): When former Green Beret John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is harassed by local law enforcement and arrested for vagrancy, the Vietnam vet snaps, runs for the hills and rat-a-tat-tats his way into the action-movie hall of fame. Hounded by a relentless sheriff (Brian Dennehy), Rambo employs heavy-handed guerilla tactics to shake the cops off his tail. This edition includes commentary by Stallone and deleted scenes — including an alternate ending.

19) Red Dawn (1984): When a group of teenagers witnesses Soviet and Cuban paratroopers descending on their small town and systematically setting off World War III, they take food and whatever weapons they can find and hightail it to the hills to wait things out.

18) Rocky (1976): When world heavyweight boxing champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) wants to give an unknown fighter a shot at the title as a publicity stunt, his handlers pick palooka Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), an uneducated collector for a Philadelphia loan shark. Gritty, grim and epic, this crowd-pleasing film won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar thanks to John G. Avildsen’s solid direction and Stallone’s root-for-the-underdog script.

17) Marked for Death (1990): Former DEA agent John Hatcher vows to bring down a Jamaican drug kingpin after learning his hometown has become overrun by Screwface’s thugs. When the brutal drug lord threatens to kill Hatcher’s family, however, the vendetta becomes personal.

16) Animal House (1978): Knowledge is good, but swilling kegs of beer is more fun! Just ask the guys at the Delta House fraternity. Often imitated, but seldom equaled, Animal House spawned a generation of gonzo comedies and launched John Belushi’s film career. Dean Wormer (John Vernon) puts the titular frat on double-secret probation, and it’s up to Bluto, Flounder, Pinto and the rest of the brothers to get even. This edition includes retrospective featurettes and more.

15) Cloverfield (2007): A going-away party is interrupted when a mysterious monster of epic proportions launches an attack on New York City. With camcorder in hand, a small group of friends makes their way out into the chaotic streets, scrambling to stay alive.

14) Conan the Barbarian (1982): Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in his breakout role as Conan, who — after his parents are killed by an evil sorcerer (James Earl Jones) — is sent to a slave camp, where he trains to be a gladiator. Once granted freedom, the bruiser seeks to avenge his parents’ deaths. This pure swords-and-sorcery epic is one of the best of its kind, sparking a wave of fantasy films (as well as a sequel) in the early 1980s.

13) Tombstone (1993): Legendary marshal Wyatt Earp joins his brothers to pursue their collective fortune in the thriving mining town of Tombstone. Earp and his notorious pal Doc Holliday are called into action when a gang of rustlers begins terrorizing the town.

12) Fist of Legend (1994): Before the outbreak of World War II, Japanese troops occupying Shanghai threaten the city’s most revered martial arts teacher. When the master is killed, star pupil Chen Zhen (Jet Li) returns to avenge his teacher’s death and set things right. With blistering action and old-fashioned fight scenes (with minimal use of wires), this remake of Bruce Lee’s classic Fist of Fury from director Gordon Chan highlights Li’s timing and acrobatic ability.

11) Battle Royale (2000): When even schoolchildren begin to abuse a system on the verge of social collapse, the Japanese government introduces a strict new punishment whereby randomly chosen students are taken to a deserted island and forced to fight each other to the death.

10) Equilibrium (2002): In a dystopian future, a totalitarian regime maintains peace by subduing the populace with an emotion-suppressing drug, and “sense offenses” are punishable by death. When an enforcer skips a dose of the medication, it stirs in him a desire to revolt.

9) Fist Of The North Star (1986 — Anime Version): When modern weapons become obsolete in the postapocalyptic future, martial arts become the main instrument of warfare. And it’s up to Ken, an expert of the renowned Fist of North Star style, to use his powers to save humanity. Fighting his way across a grim landscape in search of his beloved Julia, Ken faces off against old friends and enemies in this fist-flying anime feature based on the Japanese manga by Tetsuo Hara and Buronson.

8) Army of Darkness (1992): Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, the ancient Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead, transports department store clerk Ash and his 1973 Oldsmobile into the Dark Ages. There, he faces legions of undead beasts in a battle for his life.

7) The Princess Bride (1987): Blending comedy, adventure, romance and fantasy, this cult classic follows peasant farmhand Westley as he battles three bumbling outlaws and a nefarious prince to win the hand of his one true love, a young woman named Buttercup.

6) Braveheart (1995): Enraged at the slaughter of Murron (Catherine McCormack) — his new bride and childhood love — legendary Scottish warrior William Wallace (Mel Gibson, who also directed the film) slays a platoon of the local English lord’s soldiers. This leads the village to revolt and, eventually, the entire country to rise up against English rule. With vivid battle scenes and a heaping portion of legend, Gibson’s epic won five Oscars, including Best Picture.

5) Ninja Scroll (1995): When a monster made of rock attacks a band of ninjas, a masterless ninja named Jubei heroically saves the life of the beautiful female warrior Kagero. But Jubei succumbs to an elderly ninja’s treachery and finds himself facing certain death.

4) Invasion USA (1985): When terrorist mercenaries led by Soviet agent Rostov (Richard Lynch) invade America and turn the country into a war zone, it’s up to one-man army Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris) to stem the rising tide of violence, leading the U.S. Army into guerilla warfare on its own turf. And Hunter won’t stop until every last enemy of freedom has been eliminated. This rousing actioner features death-defying stunts and a heart-stopping climax.

3) The Crow (1994): Exactly one year after young rock guitarist Eric Draven and his fiancée are brutally killed by a ruthless gang of criminals, Draven — watched over by a hypnotic crow — returns from the grave to exact revenge.

2) Limitless (2011): With his writing career dragging and his girlfriend casting him off, Eddie Morra’s life turns around when he takes a drug that provides astonishing mental focus — but its deadly side effects threaten his future.

1) 300 (2007): Spartan King Leonidas leads his small band of 300 soldiers against an army of more than 1 million in the Battle of Thermopylae, a conflict that pitted the ancient Greeks against the Persians in 480 B.C.

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