Here’s the torturous hypothetical that has made grown men and women weep in frustration over the years: Imagine that you were going to be stranded on a desert island for the remainder of your life. On the island, somehow you’d have a video player and just 10 movies on it. Don’t question the logic of this, just roll with it. Ten movies that would make up the rest of your life’s cinematic viewing experiences. No cheating (“I pick an entire series/box set!”). What would they be?
Now before you rattle off your current top 10 favorite movies, really consider the question here, because I certainly did. Your favorite movies may not be the most endlessly rewatchable flicks. You may want a wider variety — this is the rest of your life, after all. You need to consider all the genres, all the angles, and your own personal viewing preferences.
For fun (at first) and agony (thereafter), I worked hard to pare down a list of about 30 strong candidates into just 10. I had to drop SO MANY amazing candidates to make up my list of desert island movies, but in the end, here is what I ended up with. I think I’d be satisfied if this was all I had on that tropic isle. Ready? Let’s do this.
1. Back to the Future
To make it onto this list, a movie had to be almost perfect and incredibly well-rounded. Back to the Future fits that bill to a T. It’s got everything: A masterfully crafted plot, cool gadgets, time travel, amazing characters, funny lines, romance, music, quotable lines, some good action, and one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. I was seriously tempted to put the two sequels here as well, but that would make up almost 1/3 of my desert island picks, and I couldn’t in good conscience do that. I think I’d be content with the first (and best) of the series.
2. Die Hard
Speaking of near-perfection, is there an action movie that’s better than Die Hard? Some have come very close, but I have always seen this as the king. I deserve a king on that island. It’s a mesmerizing movie from start to end that rises above ’80s action cheese to be a true masterpiece. Again, a stellar plot and terrific characters (including its chief villain, Hans Gruber) elevates this to mythic status.
The first is a bonafide classic, but the second is my all-time favorite film. It’s not just a horror movie, it’s also scifi, action, and even a touching found-family story. It’s a big and beefy movie (especially the extended edition), so it’ll deliver some extra runtime for those long island hours. And I knew I had to have at least one James Cameron flick here.
4. Return of the Jedi
I know everyone puts Empire on their list, but this is MY island and MY list, and I’m going with Jedi. This is the Star Wars film that means the most to me and delivers a great tale from start to end. The space battles! The awesome Death Star II! The pithy one-liners! Jabba! Yoda! Wicket! The Emperor! Yeah, serve me up a happy ending any day of the week.
5. Jurassic Park
What’s weird about this pick is that I wouldn’t normally say that Jurassic Park is my favorite film or even my favorite Spielberg. But it’s an undeniably great blockbuster movie, and upon further consideration, has a whole lot of what I’m looking for in a well-rounded flick. There is an impressive cast of memorable characters, another crazy good John Williams score, and a desire to please the audience at every turn (even if we’re screaming).
6. Christmas Vacation
Die Hard aside, I knew I had to have a Christmas movie on this list (because how sad would Christmas on the island be without one?). There’s no contest for me: Christmas Vacation is a wacky journey through the season with so much hilarity and variety that it holds up year after year. As a plus, it’s got John Hughes’ fingerprints all over it, and I had to include some John Hughes. Don’t ask me to tell you how painful it was to exclude Ferris Bueller and Breakfast Club here.
7. The Shawshank Redemption
I always kept my eye on this list being as well-rounded as possible. I had scifi, horror, action, comedy… but I needed at least one drama. A very watchable drama, even. And it was a toss-up between this and A Few Good Men. I went with Shawshank because I like the characters more and would rather “do time” with this crew than Cruise, Moore, and Nicholson. It’d also be inspiring for a person who was no longer part of society.
8. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
I also needed to include a super-quotable zany comedy, and Bill and Ted fit that profile. I’ve watched this more times than I can count — and will again. And I think that the scifi bits, the different time travel periods, and the overall ’80s-ness of it makes it a solid pick for me.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
What major genres are left? Well, there’s fantasy. And while I would assume most people would go with Princess Bride or Fellowship of the Rings, I’m going to juke to the left and grab Prisoner of Azkaban instead. It’s simply the best Harry Potter movie (I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise), offering so much fantasy world-building that it sucks me into the screen. Bonus points for stellar cinematography and musical composition. And it works well as a standalone entry, which helps.
In the “western” category, I mulled over Tremors but decided that Tombstone would be a far superior choice. It’s flashy and fun, with scene after scene of hilarious and impressionable goodness. Sure, there’s some good action here, but I’ll show up for the cast (both good and bad guys) and that legendary dialogue.
That’s my list, and I’ll stick to it — unless I think of a better pick for any of these! Let me know your Top 10 desert island picks in the comments below!