In any list of The Greatest Movies ever, the same films seem to crop up over and over again. Sometimes the people who compile the lists have even watched them.
And, sure, these are all pretty good films. The first time you watch them. And maybe even the second, or the third. But after that, you are probably ready for a change.
We have compiled a list of movies that we think are just as good, if not a tiny bit better, than the ones that everyone has heard of.
So here they are, 10 movies that are better than the best.
10 Prison Movies Better than The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption is consistently voted the best prison movie, and sometimes the best movie, of all time, and it deserves some of its praise. Tim Robbins is the wrongfully convicted wife-killer who is determined to get free, and Morgan Freeman is the jaded old-timer who learns to live again.
It is heart-warming.
Which is fine, if you like your prison flicks with added goopiness.
An edgier break-out movie is the 1960 movie Le Trou (The Hole), a French-language escape flick, in which 4 cellmates spend the entire movie digging a tunnel and wondering whether the other 3 can be trusted not to rat on them.
Spoiler alert: This is not a heart-warming movie.
If you prefer something more modern you might try Snowpiercer. Set in the near future after a climate change disaster, the last people on earth are on a huge train, The Snowpiercer. While the rich enjoy the comfort of First Class, the poor are imprisoned in the back of the train, which is manned by armed guards.
Cue break out.
But if you want a prison movie to really scare ‘em straight, Midnight Express is still horrifying, 40 years after its original release. Brad Davies stars as Billy Hayes, and the film is based on a true account of Billy’s arrest in Istanbul for trying to smuggle hash into America. His experience in a Turkish prison is distinctly uncomfortable, and the audience is as grateful as Billy is, when he finally escapes.
9 War Movies Better Than Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is a great war movie, no doubt. It evokes not only ‘the horror’ of war, but the absolute pointlessness of it.
War, What Is It Good For?
But everyone has seen it, and even if they haven’t, they know it. And familiar horror isn’t quite so horrifying.
A less well-known war movie is Letters From Iwo Jima. Made as a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, both movies, directed by Clint Eastwood, told the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War 2, from opposing sides.
Letters From Iwo Jima not only shows the horror of war, it shows that the men doing the actual fighting are pretty much the same on both sides of no man’s land. They witness barbarity, incompetence and pointless orders. Their commanders have little idea of what they are doing, and the men have only each other to rely on.
Honorable mention in the war film category should go to 1917, Sam Mendes’ account of a single day in World War I. Not the most important day, not the day that won the war, just one day out of the 1567 days that the war lasted. Only time will tell whether 1917 is a classic, but the film was certainly disturbingly realistic, and the cinematography was ground-breaking, in more ways than one.
8 Noir Movies Better Than The Maltese Falcon
Film Noir usually involves a hard-boiled detective, with misanthropic (if not misogynistic) tendencies. Casual violence is a must, as is moody lighting, and, if not filmed in black and white, a lot of the action will take place at night.
Noir films do not stop to smell the roses.
They are cynical, and dramatic, often melodramatic, but never sentimental.
The Maltese Falcon is often cited as the perfect example of Noir. It is certainly the best known. Humphrey Bogart plays Sam Spade, the PI who never cracks a smile, with Mary Astor as his femme fatale client.
Roman Polanski’s Chinatown was made 30 years after Sam Spade hung up his hat, though it was set around the same time. Chinatown is not just Noir; it is Neo Noir. Jack Nicholson is the hard-bitten detective and Faye Dunaway the client. It embodies all the elements of Noir, and was nominated for 11 Oscars.
A less well-known Neo Noir that is just as great is The Last Seduction. Linda Fiorentino stars as the extremely fatale femme, with Bill Pullman as her estranged, and very angry husband. Peter Berg plays the hapless chump who has no idea who he is getting into bed with. The plot is twisting, slick and clever and the ending is one up for Noir movie women, because Fiorentino is deadly.
7 Suspense Movies Better Than Vertigo
Vertigo is considered a masterful suspense movie, not just because it is a Hitchcock classic, or even because James Stewart is not the quiet, respectable, slightly boring American we expect him to be. He is deranged, by his vertigo and his grief and his obsession over a woman.
The defining characteristic of the film, however, is in the title. The unsettling, nerve-stretching feeling that Stewart’s character feels when confronted with heights is what really makes the movie memorable.
While Vertigo’s vertical camera shots that drop towards the ground and back up again like a yo-yo are certainly enough to make the audience uncomfortable, the camerawork of The Walk is positively two-curling.
Especially if they watch the 3-D version.
The film, telling the story of Phillipe Petit’s high wire walk between the Twin Towers may not have a Hitchcockian plot, but if you didn’t suffer from vertigo before you went into the cinema, you almost certainly will when you come out. Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred as Petit in a film that was barely noticed when it came out, but definitely deserves a watch.
Just not right after you have eaten.
If you are looking for suspense nearer the ground, A Quiet Place will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. Often billed as a horror, the film is a marvel for generating terror out of silence. No dramatic music required, and there is very little dialogue.
We just know that it is very very important to be quiet.
6 Action Adventure Movies Better Than Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark is consistently voted the top action-adventure movie of all time. It certainly seems to have a lot going for it. Not only was it nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, quite a feat for an action movie, it also made a ton of money for Steven Spielberg and Paramount Pictures, no doubt because of its explosive action scenes, exotic locations, and sharp comedy.
And, of course, it had a man with a whip. What could be better than that?
Well, Kung Fu Hustle, for a start. Set in Shanghai in the 1930’s, the film has a convoluted plot. But you don’t really need to follow it, or to read the sub-titles. You just need to sit back and enjoy the action sequences, and the slick comedy.
Nothing has ever done more to make harp playing look cool than Kung Fu Hustle.
5 Disaster Movies Better Than Titanic
A great disaster movie requires an established set of ordinary characters, faced with extraordinary, not to say terrifying circumstances. They are as much about human nature as they are about the natural or unnatural disasters occurring round them. The moral of the disaster movie seems to be, if you were an asshole before the disaster struck, nothing is gonna change.
Titanic is the most well-known, and commercial, disaster movie, but before King of the World James Cameron’s sea-going epic, there was 1974’s The Poseidon Adventure, which pretty much set the benchmark for disasters at sea (Towering Inferno did the same with land-based disasters 2 years later). The Poseidon Adventure is still worth watching today, though the special effects are rather less special than those of Titanic.
Still, The Poseidon Adventure has Gene Hackman to lead them to safety and Shelley Winters, who earns herself a merit badge for swimming.
If you are looking for something a little more realistic, you could go for Everest.
Released in 2015, it told the story of the 1996 disaster on Everest, which had been the worst on record, until, ironically, 2015, when an earthquake caused an avalanche on the mountain at the height of climbing season.
The movie told the true story of 2 commercial climbing expeditions who led teams of climbers to the summit, only to be overtaken by a sudden and extremely fierce blizzard – one of the worst on record, which for Nepal is saying something.
Unfortunately, unlike in The Poseidon Adventure, in the real-life disaster the good guys did not always make it through. However, the cinematography is stunning, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal were brilliant, and John Hawkes won the merit badge for Outstanding Effort.
4 Horror Movies Better Than The Exorcist
The Exorcist was given a limited release in cinemas in 1973, but it became an instant hit, despite a lukewarm reception from film critics. The film’s success was probably helped by newspaper reports of audience members fainting, having heart-attacks or even, allegedly, miscarriages as a result of seeing the film. It was also, somehow, given an R rating, which meant that thousands of kids went to see it, and gave themselves nightmares for years to come.
Five years before The Exorcist, however, Rosemary’s Baby was equally disturbing. Directed by Roman Polanski, it starred Mia Farrow as a pregnant woman who instinctively feels that there is something wrong with her neighbours.
There is also something wrong with her husband, not least that he seems to need a lesson on informed consent.
But it was kind of fun, in a necrophile kind of way, so that’s ok.
Rosemary’s Baby is about lots of things. Satanism, paranoia, and the fears of a woman about to give birth. It’s also about just how far people will go to be polite.
Yes, of course, I will eat this funny-tasting pudding. Wouldn’t want to offend.
The movie is made more disturbing because the Satanists look just like the people next door (which of course they are), and their Satanic rituals bear a strong resemblance to an afternoon tea party.
In the end, it is the ordinariness that is terrifying.
Who needs spinning heads?
3 Boxing Movies Better Than Rocky
There are lots of films about sports – football and baseball movies are perennial and even niche sports like bobsleighing have had their moment in the Hollywood spotlight. But, if there is one sport that exemplifies the spirit of the athlete, it is fighting.
One warrior against another in a ring.
Two men enter, one man leaves.
Well, perhaps, not quite. While Hollywood boxing matches are not usually fought to the death, there is certainly a gladiatorial element about them, that cinema audiences really love.
The most famous example is, of course, Rocky. This is partly because it spawned a million sequels, and counting, but also because Sylvester Stallone perfectly embodied the boxer with huge ambition and few other opportunities in life. And he already had the broken nose and the cauliflower ear, which must have saved time in make-up.
But there are other fighting movies. Take Warrior, for instance. Not boxing, exactly, but kickboxing, Warrior is the story of two brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton), and their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Hardy is a former marine, while Edgerton is a struggling high-school teacher. Both could really use the $5 million purse for the winner of a mixed-martial arts tournament. Both men decide to enter, and it is only a matter of time before they have to face each other in the ring.
If you prefer to stick with the Marquis of Queensbury Rules and traditional boxing, however, Million Dollar Baby has it all. Directed by Clint Eastwood, who also takes a turn as the irascible trainer, the movie stars Hilary Swank as the boxer.
Same grit, same determination, same sweat as Rocky, but, yes, Hilary Swank is, indeed, a woman. Million Dollar Baby may not have the triumphant ending of Rocky, but it’s a great film, nonetheless, about courage, grit and the fulfilment of dreams.
2 Western Movies Better Than The Searchers
The Searchers is said to be a triumph, both for its director, John Huston, and its star, John Wayne. The story of a civil war veteran who returns home from the war, and shortly after finds his wife and child dead, and his nieces abducted by Comanches.
It is a pretty brutal movie, and the body count is high, but the critical reception for the movie was good at the time, and its reputation has kept on growing.
One Eyed Jacks, on the other hand, has an undeservedly small reputation. The only movie ever directed by Marlon Brando, who also starred, it is the story of 3 bank robbers, 1 of whom makes off with all the loot, and another who runs away, leaving Brando to get caught.
After 5 years of jail, Brando does a little searching of his own. The film received mixed reviews at the time, but, like The Searchers, its reputation has grown.
If you like your westerns just a little less brutal, however, you could try, Dead Man. Directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring a young Johnny Depp in the title role and Gary Farmer as Nobody.
Dead Man is a slow walk-through of a western. It has a hypnotic, dream-like quality to it, and Gary Farmer very nearly steals the show.
1 Crime Movies Better Than The Godfather
The Godfather (or to be more precise, The Godfather 2), is considered to be the ultimate crime movie. The Godfather films have the sprawling feel of an epic, with the brutality you’d expect from a gangster flick.
But, let’s be honest, they are very, very long.
If you don’t have 2 hours and 55 minutes to spare, you might want to consider Gomorrah (or Gomorra). Still a mafia movie, Gomorra is the story of the Camorra in Naples. Based on a non-fiction book about a real mafia family, the film tells 5 interwoven stories of people whose lives are touched by the mafia. Rather than the story of the wise guys and the Dons, Gomorrah is the story of those on the periphery – a delivery boy who sees something he shouldn’t, a tailor who is trying to make a living outside of the mafia-controlled rackets, and the small-time soldiers who dream of being the boss.
Finally, you could try The Departed. With a cast of heavy-weight actors that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon, it is loosely based on the story of the Boston-Irish crime boss Whitey Bulger, a corrupt FBI agent and 2 undercover infiltrators who get in each other’s way.
The film was both a commercial and critical success, and won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture.
Jack Nicholson is at his chilling best as the crime boss with nothing to lose who knows we are all on our way out.
About The Author: Ward Hazell is a freelance writer and travel writer, currently also studying for a PhD in English Literature