10 Popcorn Movies to Binge This Weekend
But you know all of those films already! So I tried to make a list of fantastic fun action, romance, heist, comedies, thrillers, and more that you may not have already streamed dozens of times in the past. The list is in reverse chronological order, newest kernel to oldest (but still fresh!)
Image Credit: Sony.
1. Red Notice (2021)
Rawson Marshall Thurber’s twisty surprisingly smart confection is cleverly disguised as a big dumb action film. Most critics seem to have missed the joke, alas. The movie was roundly panned as lacking in-depth, even though it spends its whole runtime celebrating its own surface pleasures and deliberately getting distracted from great art by Ed Sheeran (in a wonderful cameo.)
The A-list actors seem to get it, though. Dwayne Johnson as FBI Agent John Hartley, Ryan Reynolds as the world’s second greatest art thief, and Gal Gadot as the world’s greatest art thief are all having the time of their lives as they play multiple shell games with identities, masks, and giant honking Egyptian treasure eggs. Hopefully, the telegraphed sequel will happen. If not, you can always, as with the best popcorn movies, just watch this one again.
Image Credit: Netflix
2. The Shallows (2016)
Jaws is the most successful popcorn devouring maw of the screen. But if you’re looking for more fishbait fun, The Shallows arguably has even more razor-sharp thrills per minute. Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) goes to a secluded beach in Mexico to commune with her recently deceased mother. Instead, she finds herself communing with a monster shark who is larger and more aggressive than monster sharks have any right to be.
Lively is surprisingly effective as the protagonist with hidden depths of grit, sewing up her own wounds with her jewelry and deliberately swimming through stinging jellyfish swarms. Director Jaume Collet-Serra does an expert job of escalating tension and desperation, as hopes of escape are extended and then withdrawn with the crunch of hinged teeth closing.
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.
3. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)
If you want entertaining feel-good spectacle, Hollywood doesn’t have anything on Bollywood. And there is no Bollywood more Bollywood than Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Some Happiness, Some Sorrow).
K3G is generational drama as a towering mountain of cheese. It whooshes from India to London and back while the soundtrack hops from hip hop to girl group to the Indian national anthem with shameless eclectic enthusiasm. “Follow your heart!” the film declares. “Dance and flirt, but not too hard!” Amitabh Bachchan as the patriarch brings the house down with the Punjab bhangra big band dance number “Say Shava Shava.” When he shouts “Everybody!” the whole world gets a dangerous sugar high.
Image Credit: Yash Raj Films.
4. Big Eden (2000)
Thomas Bezucha’s gentle tear-jerker is a gay rom-com classic. New York artist Henry Hart (Arye Gross) goes back to rural Montana to care for his ill grandfather Sam (George Coe). He thinks he’s still got a crush on his high school buddy, but slowly starts to fall for Pike (played with almost unbearable charm by Eric Schweig).
The “Eden” of the title refers to the Montana landscape, but also to the semi-fantasy world of the film, in which homophobia basically doesn’t exist, and small-town Americans everywhere root for love regardless of gender or race. This movie probably still wouldn’t be able to get a major studio release today, twenty years after it was released. But thanks to streaming, everyone can see it, and should. Be sure to have a box of tissues ready next to the popcorn.
Image Credit: Wolfe Video.
5. Face/off (1997)
There are action movie blockbusters. There are over-the-top action movie blockbusters. And then there is John Woo’s Face/Off.
Nicholas Cage at his most flamboyantly rabid plays international terrorist Castor Troy, who killed the son of FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). To find information about a bomb threat, Archer undergoes cutting-edge surgery to make him a double of Troy. Then Troy hijacks the surgery and gets himself turned into a double of Archer. So then Travolta is playing Troy as a Nicholas Cage-esque frothing giggling homicidal villain pretending to be a hero while Cage is playing Archer as a volcanically tormented angst-ridden hero pretending to be a swaggering villain.
Also, since it’s John Woo, there are dramatic scenes with doves and mirrors and uber violence. You’ll leave the theater not knowing if Cage is Travolta or Travolta is Cage or who you even are.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
6. Clue (1985)
Critics were largely befuddled by this board-game-based whodunnit comedy on release, complaining about the thin script and broad humor. In retrospect, though, with all the cards on the table, Jonathan Lynn’s gloriously campy breakneck screwball farce is one of the most perfectly loopy films ever created out of multiple murders, weaponized innuendo, and every cast member trying to eat larger chunks of scenery than the next. Tim Curry as voluble breakneck butler Wadsworth is magnificent, but even he is outdone by Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White delivering perhaps the most demented ad-lib ever screened: “It-it- the f – it -flam – flames. Flames, on the side of my face, breathing-breathl- heaving breaths. Heaving breaths… Heathing…”
The initial theater release of Clue came in three versions, each with a different ending, to encourage you to see it thrice. On streaming, you can see all the endings one after the other. But it’s still worth watching three times, and more.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
7. Star Wars: Episode IV-a New Hope (1978)
I did promise to choose less obvious popcorn films for this list. But try as I would, I couldn’t leave Star Wars off.
Even after generations of hype and lots of not necessarily spectacular sequels, it’s amazing how well the original Star Wars still holds up. The overwhelming charisma of a young Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher doesn’t hurt. But the visuals are really the thing—Lucas’ vision of a grungy, funky future/past filled with dirty robots and tactile muppet aliens has been much imitated, but never surpassed. And there’s true popcorn genius in figuring out how to get sword fights and space battles in a single film.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.
8. The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Before big-budget popcorn adventure blowouts were a thing, director J. Lee Thompson directed one of the all-time big-budget popcorn adventure blowouts in The Guns of Navarone.
During World War II, an elite team is assembled to take out giant Nazi gun emplacements on the island of Navarone and save 2000 Allied soldiers. A stellar cast is led by Gregory Peck as the suavely ruthless Captain Mallory, David Niven as insouciant explosives expert Corporal Miller, and the stunningly expressive speechless Gia Scala. They all race through a pulse-pounding plot packed with genuine surprises. Storms at sea! Mountain climbing! Blood feuds! Double-crosses! Gorgeous Mediterranean scenery! Plus, probably the most suspenseful elevator descent on film.
Given Hollywood’s obsession for recycling its hits, it’s hard to believe The Guns of Navarone has never been remade. But perhaps for once everyone realizes the original can’t be surpassed.
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.
9. Roman Holiday (1953)
William Wyler’s wonderful reverse Cinderella stars Audrey Hepburn as Ann, a crown princess who escapes her handlers to go slumming with underachieving anti-prince charming reporter Joe (Gregory Peck.) Hepburn is incandescent as the sheltered noble discovering the joys of motorbikes, street fights, and illicit canoodling. Peck’s world-weary gallantry has rarely been so world-weary or so gallant as he slowly abandons his own plans for fame, fortune, and love, and reconciles himself to being a bit player in someone else’s story.
The downbeat ending would never be allowed to stand in a modern rom-com. But it’s what makes the film unforgettable and rewatchable. You keep wanting to start over and see if there’s some way—any way—to make it come outright.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
10. Stormy Weather (1943)
With its all-Black cast, Stormy Weather was a landmark in African-American cinema. It barely has a plot, but there’s not much need for one when you’ve got so many of the major performers of the day cramming 20 musical numbers into 77 minutes.
Singer Lena Horne and dancer Bojangle Robinson are the leads, with numerous showpieces each. The film also features pianist Fats Waller, blues singer Ada Brown, jazz scat wailer Cab Calloway, and the Katherine Dunham dance troupe. The climax is a legendary tap-dance duet by the Nicholas Brothers in which they leap over each other down a staircase to perform crotch-defying splits, all with a preternatural elegance. If popcorn movies are about joy, few can rival this one.
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.
The last movie I took off the list was the 1969 The Italian Job, a slapstick heist movie with an amazing hip Quincy Jones soundtrack. And I should also give a shout out to Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur, but which is thoroughly, enjoyably preposterous from front to back, and which features (and I cannot emphasize this enough) a spectacular giant snake attack.
Image Credit: Warner Bros.
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Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.