Before getting into the actual list, let’s talk about why this list is happening. I like to rank all of the theatrical movies in a given year. I’ve done it the last couple years and it’s been a great way to organize my thoughts on things I’ve seen. There’s no way I’ll be seeing anywhere close to the usual movie output, so I thought why not go back and review over some of my favorite movies of all-time. That’s what I’ll be doing the next six months or so. I am distinguishing between favorite and best. Those are two distinct categories. Trying to objectively state the 100 best movies can be really tricky. Many of my favorite movies would not be considered the “best” movies, but I still enjoy them.
I want to point out that I’ll be organizing these movies and releasing about four movies a week, maybe three in some cases. This is not the official order. I will create a ranked list and release it the last week of 2020.
Also, when it comes to art from the past, certain things do not age well. That’s why I will point out some problematic elements of the various movies. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the movies, but it’s a way of acknowledging how standards in art change.
The Movie: Back to the Future (1985)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Marty McFly time travels and makes his life better thanks to the help of a possibly mentally unstable old man scientist who associates with terrorists and somehow also maintains a relationship a gorgeous girlfriend despite having a leering eye.
Why It’s on the List: I remember watching this movie for the first time on VHS when I was in my early teens. it has an airtight script. Every single important part of the story is introduced in the first half hour and is eventually paid off, rom George McFly and Biff’s never changing relationship despite going from high school into adulthood to Marty McFly wanting to perform in front of people. This is about as perfect of a screenplay as one can write.
Robert Zemeckis was on the brink of stardom, and this movie, coming so shortly after Romancing the Stone, served as a perfect follow-up. It was nostalgic enough for older audiences and the action adventure portions could appeal to younger audiences. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd were comedic gold together despite their age and height difference. Lea Thompson is able to go from an alcoholic, tired mother to a naïve (but clearly very horny) teenager in a matter of moments. Thomas Wilson peaked as Biff and would go onto become an all-time villain in the second film.
*Our protagonists’s plan for getting his parents together at one point involved him sexually assaulting his mom and having his father defend her honor.
*Biff does come close to assaulting Lorraine while drunk in the third act. Awkward to think of him as just a mere comedic foil after that.
*Speaking of creepiness, George McFly is a peeping tom himself.
*Marty McFly invents rock ‘n’ roll and influences several musicians of color.
*Libyan terrorists. In a small California town? And Dr. Brown makes deals with them? This is almost darker than anyone Rick Sanchez has done business with on Rick and Morty.
MVP: Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis are the credited screenwriters and deserve the credit for making this into a rousing success on a story level. Even the sequels were never quite able to capture the magic of this first film. The time travel is much more quaint and simplified. Ultimately, the story is about Marty going back and seeing how his parents got together. There’s a solid mix of romance and adventure along with some adult humor and a surprising amount of swearing. If this were made today, it would be a ten-hour streaming series, and it would likely skew much younger in its humor.
Best Performance: Michael J. Fox is in nearly every scene and has strike an incredible balance. There are times when he comes off a bit nerdy while at other times he has to come off like a cool cat. Finally, he has to nail the comedy with an actor decades his senior and have a believable relationship with one of the hottest girls in school. This was filmed at a time when he was also on one of the top sitcoms in the country as well. This was his peak and will likely be the first line of his obituary because this is an iconic performance.
Best Quote: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need…roads.” – Dr. Emmitt Brown: An all-time great last line of a movie.
Is there a sequel? Yes, two of them.
If so, how are they? The second and third movies are very good. Most of the actors retains, so the chemistry alone carries them through the weaker moments. Things definitely get convoluted as Dr. Brown literally has to take out a chalkboard and explain what’s happening at one point.
Follow Jerome on Twitter, and check out Reel Bad, The Superhero Pantheon and his new podcast Pantheon Plus.