Without a formal vote, we've settled on a pantheon of perfect movies. Your favorite is his favorite is mom's favorite is TNT's favorite movie to air on Sunday afternoon. There's no shame in loving the crowd-pleasing pillars of Hollywood. Stars aligned -- the everyman, the everywoman, the passionate director who can paint broad strokes, a timeless story -- and a classic emerged. There's no debate: the greats are great.
Because they're great, favorites are safe zones. We're creatures of habit -- which is why we're recommending an adventure: a few risks to rent the next time you want to turn to your well-worn go-to movie. And dare we say, these recommendations may be better.
If you love The Godfather, see Miller's Crossing
The favorite: Francis Ford Coppola's saga of family, power, and cannolis is every bit the classic your film textbook has been telling you it is. It's got young Pacino at the height of his sexy powers, Brando before he lapsed into self-parody, Duvall at his most understated, Keaton at her most grounded, Cazale in his haunting feature debut, and Caan at his most CAAN! It's smarter than you remember, funnier than it gets credit for, and purrs like the cat in Vito's deadly hands. What could be better?
The alternative: This autumnal gangster epic from the Coen Brothers will never compete with Coppola's horse-head-in-the-bed visual iconography. It doesn't need to. While the movie is filled with haunting images -- you'll never look at fedoras the same way again -- Miller's Crossing is above all else a writer's movie. The Coens' baroque dialogue has never sounded better coming out of the mouths of actors like Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, and Marcia Gay Harden, who all turn this into a tough-talking mob classic. It doesn't require the scope of Coppola's film; it's an opera in miniature.
If you love The Dark Knight, see Marathon Man
The favorite: Christopher Nolan delivered peak superhero cinema when he dressed post-9/11 hot topics up in comic book clothing. As the Joker, Heath Ledger transformed into an unstoppable force, demanding absolute heroism (and traces of villainy) from Christian Bale's Batman. With truck-flips, explosions, and shocking turns, The Dark Knight was and remains the definition of the sophisticated blockbuster.
The alternative: Whereas composer Hans Zimmer converts The Dark Knight's sense of paranoia into the Joker's screeching theme, John Schlesinger's spy thriller sustains the same note at a pitch that reverberates through the gut. The story of a Ph.D. candidate (Dustin Hoffman) caught in a plot to transport stolen diamonds to fugitive Nazis, Marathon Man stages fight scenes and glorious villain moments -- "Is it safe?" asks Laurence Olivier's Nazi doctor after torturing Hoffman with a dental pick -- while keeping the story on a human level. Yes, we could have picked the sprawling Heat to fill this spot, but c'mon, Heat's also your favorite movie.
If you love The Shawshank Redemption, see The Tree of Life
The favorite: After whiffing at the box office in 1994, Frank Darabont's prison drama became a lazy Sunday juggernaut, generating over $100 million from rentals and TV repeats. Today the movie sits comfortably atop IMDb's top 250 list, and the reason why is obvious: Shawshank is "guy's guy" cinema, a fantasy where tough criminals are also sentimental bros, a parable where atonement is as challenging as a load of laundry, a character study elegantly styled by Darabont, and enough weepy moments to bust open the waterworks. Even suicide is sweet in The Shawshank Redemption.
The alternative: Terrence Malick's poetic look at youth, fatherhood, and the creation of the universe -- complete with Big Bang montage! -- dives deeper into the male experience than Shawshank, and with fewer words. Through Brad Pitt's eyes and Sean Penn's wistful elevator-riding, Malick locks us up in a different kind of prison: memories. It all sounds like artsy mumbo-jumbo until Tree of Life turns life's tiniest moments into cataclysmic events the size of solar flares. It's "guy's guy" cinema that'll mesmerize anyone who flirted with philosophy in college.
If you love Anchorman, see Broadcast News
The favorite: Anchorman's quotability is only trumped by its rewatchability. Director Adam McKay unleashed the unchecked comic id of Will Ferrell in this dorm-room classic, and your social life was never the same. The lines from this movie were meant to be shouted at a friend in a car, screamed at an enemy in a bar, or mumbled to a container of milk after making a bad choice. Admit it: by now you're probably a little tired of it.
The alternative: As emotional as Baxter's death is, Anchorman lacks heart. It's too surreal to draw real tears. Luckily, Broadcast News has extra love to give. This comedy from James L. Brooks doesn't have the fire-breathing satiric ambitions of Network or the surreal gonzo spirit of McKay's film, but it has something better: characters you care about. Holly Hunter's ambitious Jane Craig, William Hurt's pompous Tom Grunick, and Albert Brooks' neurotic Aaron Altman are the type of flawed, troubled individuals you actually root for as they attempt to retain a little integrity in the cruel world of TV news. It may lack Ferrell's vulgar power, but Broadcast News has depth.
If you love Fight Club, see Kill List
The favorite: Adapted from Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name, Fight Club continued Se7en director David Fincher's '90s grunge-ification of movies by appealing to the imbalanced rebel in all of us. Instead of dealing in personality, Brad Pitt becomes one, a Jiminy Cricket to Ed Norton's Narrator, disgruntled America's proxy. If you saw this in your developmental stage, it took hold of your worldview (at least for a second).
The alternative: Like Fight Club, Kill List externalizes the mental strife of its main character, a British solider suffering from post-Iraq PTSD. Unlike Fight Club, Kill List strips away the hyper-style. The movie, from High-Rise director Ben Wheatley, starts as family drama, then explodes into psychological horror. True to Fight Club, saying more could ruin the shocking turns, but bursts of violence and dry wit have never been paired more effectively than in this occultish trip down the rabbit hole.
If you love The Lord of the Rings trilogy, see Princess Mononoke
The favorite: Peter Jackson's epic treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien's novels swept up the fantasy-averse and Silmarillion-memorizing nerds alike. Every detail -- the Elvish jargon, the breastplate metalwork, each clanging note in the score -- enamored audiences and carried the final installment, Return of the King, to a record-setting Oscar bounty. With hundreds of extras, large-scale storytelling, and digital special effects that should stand the test of time, Lord of the Rings became a Lawrence of Arabia for the modern age, easily beloved by millions.
The alternative: Hayao Miyazaki is the Walt Disney of Japanese animation, and an unknown to most mainstream moviegoers. Lord of the Rings fans owe it to themselves to explore his filmography, from the sky-bound Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; My Neighbor Totoro, a imaginative take on postwar youth; and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, an indescribable coming-of-age story. For a movie that shares DNA with Lord of the Rings, then one-ups it in design and ferocious action, check out Princess Mononoke, an environmental parable where demons, giant wolves, and gun-toting humans duke it out for control over the paradise of Earth.
If you love Goodfellas, see After Hours
The favorite: You can turn on Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas at any moment and get sucked in. It's the perfect movie to stumble on during a late-night channel-surfing session. Oh, is young Ray Liotta going to the club? I'll watch this part. Then, two hours later, you're still glued to the TV, watching the same character stir pasta sauce, yell expletives, and search the sky for helicopters in a coked-out haze. It's the closest thing Scorsese has to a best of album: all killer, no filler.
The alternative: Goodfellas works because it maintains the same manic energy for over two hours. With After Hours, Scorsese applies the same energy to a 97-minute punk comedy film. Paul (Griffin Dunne) meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), and from there has the most insane night of his life. No Scorsese film captures the spontaneity and fever-dream-like quality of New York nightlife with such humor and stylistic brio. Some movies feel like feasts; this one feels like an adrenaline shot to the heart.
If you love Ghostbusters, see Big Trouble in Little China
The favorite: In 1984, a quartet of scientific slackers shook down New York City's peskiest ghouls of New York City and burrowed into audiences' hearts. Ghostbusters made graduates of National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, the grandmasters of comedy at the time, family-friendly, and tapped cutting-edge special effects for something other than Steven Spielberg-patented wonder. As we've learned in the lead-up to this summer's reboot, love for the movie rests in a nostalgia cocoon, ready to be unleashed like fandom's answer to Gozer.
The alternative: The ghosts of Ghostbusters ride the line between goofy and terrifying -- I'll admit to still having nightmares about the librarian -- but John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China cannonballs into the extreme. Chinatown becomes the battleground for a mystical war between an ancient sorcerer and a couple of San Francisco delivery guys. Kurt Russell's Jack Barton parodies the '80s action hero as a bumbling muscle man, while martial artists provide actual fight spectacle. Big Trouble is one of the wackiest movies to come out of the '80s -- and that's a high bar.
If you love It's a Wonderful Life, see Sullivan's Travels
The favorite: You love George Bailey. It's OK. We all love George Bailey. But how many times can you watch that schmuck discover Zuzu's petals, bawl his eyes out, and get bailed out by his friends? Sure, even hardened cynics have to admit that Frank Capra's direction and Stewart's emotionally raw performance have a darkness to them that the film's reputation as a holiday weepie can't erase. But by now, the sound of bells ringing, choirs singing, and angels acquiring wings probably has you reaching for the remote.
The alternative: No, it's not a Christmas movie, but this 1942 comedy from writer and director Preston Sturges will fill you with good cheer during any time of the year. Toeing the line between subversive satire and moving self-portrait, Sullivan's Travels tells the story of a famous comedy director who wants to make a serious movie "like Capra" and sets out to experience life as a homeless man in America. As you can imagine, things don't go as planned. Lessons are learned along the way. Tears are shed. Laughs are had by all. And, you don't have to look at Mr. Potter's mean mug the whole time.
If you love The Matrix, see Brazil
The favorite: Before the wonky, occasionally brilliant excess of Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending, and Netflix's Sense8, the Wachowskis were famous for one reason: they taught Keanu Reeves kung fu. The story of a slacker Christ figure named Neo who fights an army of robots and one very pissed off Brooks Brothers mannequin, The Matrix was the epitome of pre-millennium hacker cool and a state-of-the-art, effects-driven bonanza. Like a TED Talk with gun fights, The Matrix had ideas and ultraviolence, man. In a word: whoa.
The alternative: Brazil was the original mind-fuck. Monty Python cartoonist turned renegade auteur Terry Gilliam dreamed up this dystopian tale that works as both a droll satire, a thrilling adventure, and a visionary head-trip. A low-level bureaucrat (Jonathan Pryce) gets mixed up with a air-conditioner-installing terrorist (Robert De Niro), and things only get more difficult to summarize from there. Without the benefit of wire-fu, leather jackets, or Laurence Fishburne, Gilliam builds a world that's both an imaginative playground and a dread-filled hellscape. Double whoa.
If you love The Big Lebowski, see Inherent Vice
The favorite: No fanbase can ruin a movie, but The Big Lebowski boosters have come perilously close. Luckily, no matter how many neckbeards strip-mine this tricky detective comedy for unfunny T-shirts, the Coen Brothers' magic remains. Watching the Dude recover his rug while doing battle with Los Angeles' oddest characters is always a treat. Bridges is obviously gold, but it's the supporting cast -- Goodman, Buscemi, Moore, Hoffman, Elliott, Turturro -- that make this a masterpiece. Damn, even Tara Reid is great.
The alternative: The best stoner movies aren't really stoner movies. Paul Thomas Anderson's hazy Southern California nostalgia piece starring Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello is the closest thing we'll ever get to a perfect 149-minute Neil Young song -- and it isn't even really about weed. It's about a feeling, a memory, an emotion, and the encroachment of powerful dark forces that arrive when enlightenment is attainable. Like Lebowski, it's a detective story -- until it's not. The Dude may abide, but Thomas Pynchon imbues.
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