Top 2016 Movie First Watches

10. Them! (1954)

Released the same year as Godzilla, Them! totally skips being subtextually about American anxieties regarding the atomic age and instead makes those anxieties explicit text. While having a movie about giant irradiated ants attacking an American city would be blatant enough, Them! isn’t satisfied that’s quite enough to bring the point home so it ends with a soliloquy from a scientist about how we have no idea what the affects of the atomic age will be. Giant ants might only be the beginning!

Lack of subtlety aside (and, really, nuclear weapons do invite a certain lack thereof), Them! is a super impressive example of early monster movies. It’s engaging throughout, and the effects hold up pretty well. Also, in a rarity for movies where animals are the antagonists (see: spiders, sharks, etc), the professor doesn’t have to exaggerate at all while he’s giving his speech about why ants are so terrifying even before you make them giant.

And hey, Joan Weldon actually gets to play a scientist! Not a scientist’s assistant, a full-fledged doctor! True, they made her the other scientist’s daughter and made her defer to him all the time, and they also introduced some awkward and unnecessary romantic tension between her and one of the cops. But we’re talking about the 1950s, a time when cultural anxiety over women in the workplace during World War II was high and a lot of men were desperately trying to shove women back into the domestic sphere. And there’s even a scene where the cops object to bringing her into one of the nests because it’s too dangerous, and her father totally shuts them down because they’ll need her expertise. I know it’s grading on a pretty big curve, but I’ll take it!

(A-Rank)

9. Practical Magic

I want Stockard Channing to be my foster mother and let me eat chocolate cake for breakfast.

Seriously, though, this cast! As a house full of witches! Who love and support each other! I don’t get why we can’t have movies like this more often, but I want to run to Hollywood™ right now and slam it down on someone’s desk and demand, “More like this! Now!

(A-Rank)

8. Day of the Dead (1985)

You don’t hear this one talked about nearly as often as the other two entries in the Dead Trilogy, but it’s just as good.

(A-Rank)

7. House on Haunted Hill (1959)

I feel like I just found out that Clue has a cute older brother who’s single but has slightly less enlightened views about women.

(A-Rank)

6. Seven Samurai

This was long overdue, and I’m really glad I finally got around to it. If I had to compare this to a modern film to give you an idea of what sort of entertainment experience you could expect, it would probably be The Lord of the Rings. (Which is interesting, because the books were actually coming out around the same time this came out. Creepy?) Obviously the setting here is a lot more grounded, but what’s similar is the way the narrative basically has two layers. On the one hand, you have a grand, sweeping epic full of romantic notions and towering warriors. But quieter moments reveal a surprisingly humanistic focus on these same people just trying to survive and feel like their life has some kind of meaning. I know George Lucas rather famously drew inspiration from Kurosawa’s work for Star Wars, but after seeing this I imagine Peter Jackson would confess to owing him a similar debt.

(A-Rank)

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Once you’ve overcome abuse and gaslighting, punching aliens is a walk in the park.

(A-Rank)

4. Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II is a dumber, more straightforward slasher, and I love that! I’m actually getting shades of Jaws vs Jaws 2 here, where the sequel isn’t trying to do anything nearly as ambitious, it’s just trying to be very broadly entertaining, and like… it totally works for me! I think it gets a lot out of the hospital setting and I think the kills are fantastic. And obviously the soundtrack rules. It all adds up to a pretty great slasher! One of my favorites, for sure.

(A-Rank)

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I don’t know why, but I was actually caught off guard by how good this is. Its successors have surpassed it in a number of tangible ways, but I still think this is the best one of the bunch, and one of the best horror movies of all time.

(A-Rank)

2. Shin Godzilla

There are some damn impressive shots in this, many of which you’ve already seen if you’ve seen the trailer. And I have to say that these are some of the best effects and visuals the series has ever had around Godzilla himself. The scene where his tail is sweeping over that residential area is just legendary, one of the best shots I’ve ever seen in one of these films.

(A-Rank)

1. Justice League vs. Teen Titans

This is one of the most unabashedly dorky movies DC animated has made in a while, and there are some super refreshing choices in it that bring a sense of fun back to an already-successful franchise. This movie features a public Dance Dance Revolution duel between Robin and Beast Boy that’s played completely straight, as well as a scene in which Beast Boy kicks a villain as a kangaroo and lands on him as an elephant. I didn’t make either of those things up, and both of them are more interesting than almost anything that happened in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yeah, this really couldn’t have been released at a better time.

(A-Rank)

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