King of the Swingers: The Pre-Code Tarzan Films

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
"I do not understand what you mean exactly by fear," said Tarzan. - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (1912) 

May 1st, 1989. The Disney-MGM Studios, a theme park inspired by show business and itself an actual operating production studio, opened its doors to the public at the Walt Disney World Resort for the very first time. Transported to the Golden Age of Hollywood, you could stroll down the Sunset Boulevard of a bygone era, star in an episode of I Love Lucy in front of a live studio audience, and dine at the Hollywood Brown Derby. My favorite restaurant in the world is located next to a cinema bookshop, Sci-Fi Dine-In, which is modeled after a 1950s drive-in theater where you are served food by carhops on roller skates while parked in a convertible under the stars watching old science fiction and horror movie trailers and vintage cartoons on the big screen. A dark ride located inside the park's replica of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood's most famous movie palace, delivered on its promise to me as a kid to be "A Spectacular Journey Into the Movies". The Great Movie Ride transported you to the Old West, the rooftops of London, the far reaches of space, and along the yellow brick road. John Travolta's character from Pulp Fiction might have described this attraction as "a wax museum with a pulse," as it featured Audio-Animatronic figures recreating iconic scenes from classic films throughout motion picture history. You'll see dancers from Busby Berkeley's musical spectacular Footlight Parade (1933) to your right, and Gene Kelly literally Singin' in the Rain (1952) to your left. The ride journeys to the seedy underbelly of Chicago to showcase the birthplace of gritty and violent gangster films of the Great Depression with James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931), then to the legendary American wild frontier with Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" on your right, and John Wayne (or Duke) on your left. From there you would find yourself aboard the Nostromo from Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) alongside Ripley with some terrifying Xenomorphs bursting from the walls and dropping from the ceiling, eventually arriving at a scary scene inspired by the very first horror film, Georges Méliès' The House of the Devil (1896). It was incredible to find all of this in a Disney ride and I credit the park with sparking my love for film. In the 90s I was actually able to see movies made here, including watching animators working on Disney's 37th animated feature film version of Tarzan. Too bad that the park has since been gutted of all its charm. Anyways, from a mummy's tomb aglow with the red eyes of creepy skeletons, we move into Africa... 
"This is the jungle home of the most famous movie character of them all, Tarzan. The movies' most popular Tarzan is undoubtedly Johnny Weissmuller, who starred in twelve films as the King of the Jungle." In this gorgeous room we see the beautiful Jane (based on Maureen O'Sullivan) sitting atop an elephant to our left and the mysterious Tarzan swinging on a vine through the trees to our right, belting out his iconic jungle call (one of the most recognizable sounds of the 20th century). And of course the couple's ape friend, Cheeta, is present as well. This ride was remarkable and inspired me to seek out dozens of classic films upon the return home from my Orlando vacation. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for movies featuring men in monkey suits, which I've admired in everything from Dizzy Detectives (1943) to Trading Places (1983), so Tarzan landed on the top of my list, but I had no idea just how much I would end up loving these films. Starting with W.S. Van Dyke's Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the MGM pictures had wonderful production value and elaborate sets, and most importantly endlessly entertaining performances by its lead actors Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, and (of course) Jiggs the chimpanzee as Cheeta! 

"The best known... the most loved character ever conceived in the mind of man." - Ridiculous text from the trailer of Tarzan and His Mate (1934). 

Before the Hays Code was strictly enforced in 1934, which regulated rigid moral guidelines in motion pictures, movies were allowed to be sexy - and boy, were these ape-man movies ever sexy! Jane and Tarzan spend the entirety of these pictures practically naked, there's even a nude swimming scene in the first sequel, Tarzan and His Mate (1934), which was originally banned from the final cut but restored once a print resurfaced around 1987. But it wasn't just the flashes of skin that made these pictures burst at the seams with its steaming fervidity, it was the performances of the actors who with just a glance could set the celluloid on fire. Beyond the extravagant sets and erotic romance, these movies were both wildly fun and funny. Found in O'Sullivan's timing and delivery of dialogue is some highly underrated comedy, and it's refreshing that her character is not a girl who is in constant need of being saved - instead, the charm of Jane's relationship with Tarzan is that he needs her just as much as she needs him. I loved that she translated his language for those intruding in their jungle home. O'Sullivan showcased intelligence, femininity, tenacity, and a great sense of humor - and she almost wasn't cast in the part.
Maureen O'Sullivan sailed to New York in October of 1929 from her home in Ireland on her way to Hollywood aboard the British steamer, R.M.S. Baltic. Her film career began when she met director Frank Borzage, who suggested she take a screen test. She did and won a part in a movie, which led to appearing in six films for 20th Century Fox. "Fox fired me, saying that I was poison at the box office," said O'Sullivan, "and I pointed out the window at some oleanders saying that they were poison and they're beautiful." In 1932 she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where, after several roles, she was chosen by head of production Irving Thalberg to play Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). In the books Jane was American, but in the films (six in total) she was to be portrayed as British. "My dad always loved Maureen," says Johhny Weissmuller, Jr., "she was a good buddy and consummate professional." When O'Sullivan was asked about a real life romance with her co-star, she replied, "I went out with Johnny once, and that was only because the studio made us." She spoke fondly of her time working with him, saying, "He was a big kid who enjoyed having fun with people. I got sick of it for a while being known as Jane, but as the years go by, I'm happy."

Johnny Weissmuller wasn't MGM's first choice, either, with Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks already in talks to play Tarzan. However, director Van Dyke wanted "someone who looked natural undressed." Weissmuller spent his formative years in a pair of trunks as, pre-Tarzan, he was an Olympic swimmer who won five gold medals and one bronze in the 1920s. Weissmuller also won 52 United States championships and set 67 world records, he never lost a race and retired with an unbeaten amateur record! In regards to looking natural undressed, he truly fit the bill, having been a model for BVD and appearing in nothing but a fig leaf for Paramount's wonderful musical comedy, Glorifying the American Girl (1929). Still, he'd never had acting lessons, and producer Bernie Hyman said that he didn't like his name, determining that it was "too long." Weissmuller's name came up after screenwriter Cyril Hume recognized him at the Hollywood Athletic Club and asked him to test for the part. Ultimately, Hyman's entourage convinced him that Weissmuller came with built-in publicity, having already achieving fame as the world's fastest swimmer. There was also something very "cat-like" about him. 
Swedish poster art for Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs, though pleased with Weissmuller's performance, hated the studio's depiction of a Tarzan who barely spoke English. Some phrases, like "ungowa", were created for the films. A fun drinking game will be taking a shot every time you hear this phrase used, seemingly meaning something different each time it is uttered. Weissmuller, though not cinema's first Tarzan (that credit goes to Elmo Lincoln), was the first to yodel the Tarzan yell, and it remains the greatest of all the jungle calls. The yell was created by the sound department as a mix of three vocalists spliced together - a soprano, an alto, and a hog caller. In addition to Jane's origins, another deviation from the book involves comic relief in the form of a chimpanzee by the name of Cheeta. This animal actor, named Jiggs, had been raised and trained by Tony and Jacqueline Gentry, brought up alongside a collie named Spanky. Jiggs refused to do any film work without the dog present, who was used to control him on the set. 

The first film was shot on Lot One of the MGM Studios in Culver City, and would co-star lions and elephants from their Movieland Zoo. The elephants were from Indonesia (it used to be thought that you couldn't train an African elephant) where these are domestic animals who in the movies have giant rubber ears glued on (along with fake tusks) to make them look African, which stand out terribly but, hey, at least they tried. Woody Van Dyke, the director of the first film (and a ghost director on the second), was known as "One-take Van Dyke" - as recounted by O'Sullivan, "I'd ask if I could do a scene again and he'd say, 'No, you should have thought of it the first time." Van Dyke also used a wealth of stock footage from his successful 1931 film, Trader Horn, to create Africa for scenes that were shot in Toluca Lake. For all its influences, one thing that you don't ever hear is the line of dialogue, "Me Tarzan, you Jane." This is a line invented by the public that caught on but does not officially appear anywhere in the original films or books, it is interestingly the most famous quote in connection with Tarzan.  
Tarzan and His Mate screening in Shanghai's Concert Hall in 1934.
Tarzan the Ape Man was MGM's biggest film of the season, a tremendous box office success which made a great deal of money, with an average of seven screenings per theater each day. 1933 saw the release of King Kong, which inspired a big sequel to Tarzan - it would be the most expensive and longest in the series, along with a showcase of the richest production value and most action. Tarzan and His Mate (1934), in my opinion, is the greatest Tarzan movie ever made. It is a direct sequel which picks up right where the first one ends. It is without a doubt the sexiest, something that would be watered down in the remaining sequels - Moving forward, our characters would be modestly clothed and Jane's costume (the most revealing onscreen costume of that time) would never be worn again. "The second costume, the risqué one, was the good one," said O'Sullivan. Jane sleeps in the nude, swims nude, is constantly touched by Tarzan... they even sleep together, which was considered "startling" by Hollywood standards at the time. This picture has acquired cult status but was not a success like its predecessor, yet it is the only Tarzan movie to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registration by the United States Library of Congress. What made this second film so great? Was it the return of our wonderful actors reviving the characters we fell in love with in Tarzan the Ape Man? Was it the complex and gorgeous matte paintings and miniatures? Was it the film's spirit of naughty sexual freedom? Was it the lavish practical sets? (Just look at that elephant's graveyard!) Was it the insane stunt work? Was it seeing a man riding a rhinoceros for the first time on film? Was it the nude swim scene? Was it the outrageous violence and gruesome killings of the bloodthirsty onscreen massacres? Was it the screenplay by James Kevin McGuinness, who would go on to write A Night at the Opera (1935) and Rio Grande (1950)? Was it the men in ape suits? To all of this, I'd say: Yes. 

"When Tarzan killed he more often smiled than scowled, and smiles are the foundation of beauty." - Edgar Rice Burroughs 

It should not go unmentioned that these movies are racially insensitive, including the use of blackface for the natives who seem to be in the picture only to be used for massacres and torture scenes. Filmmaker John Landis says, "It's a racist idea, this white man being lord of the jungle." This is typical of American cinema in the earlier part of the twentieth century, sadly. See The Birth of a Nation (1915) for one of the more extreme examples of a highly regarded American film that is inherently racist. King Kong (1933) is sometimes credited with tackling racist issues, but I feel it was unintentional and that the original film is meant to be as racially insensitive as others produced at the time. Racist stereotypes were wrong then and they are wrong now, but as Whoopi Goldberg points out in regards to animation, "It reflects some of the prejudices that were commonplace in American society, especially when it came to the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities. Removing these inexcusable images would be the same as saying they never existed. They reflect a part of our history that cannot, and should not, be ignored." Films are more than just entertainment; they are a window through which we view American culture. Thankfully, we have come a long way as a country, but we still have a very long way to go.
Sharon Tate & Margot Robbie filling the shoes of Jane - Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)/ The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
The Johnny Weissmuller/Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan films were not the first, and certainly not the last, to be made about the ape man. They began in the silent era, with 1927's Tarzan and the Golden Lion featuring a then unknown Boris Karloff as the villain! Weissmuller continued making Tarzan films long after O'Sullivan left the series in 1942 (other studios were already making Tarzan films simultaneously, including Buster Crabbe as Tarzan in a 12-part serial), hanging up his loincloth for good after 1948's Tarzan and the Mermaids. Moving forward, Tarzan became unpredictable in his many incarnations, including a gritty (and Jane-less) adaptation in 1959 with Gordon Scott in the lead role of Paramount's Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (co-starring Sean Connery), an MGM remake of the original film that same year with Denny Miller in Tarzan, the Ape Man, and Tarzan-turned-James Bond (Mike Henry) in 1966's Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (which almost starred Sharon Tate in the "Jane" role, who pulled out at the last second). In 1981, Bo Derek would play Jane in a soft-core porn that is commonly referred to as one of the worst films of all time (though Ebert found it to have a certain charm), Tarzan, the Ape Man. In 1984, Andie McDowell would play Jane (alongside Christopher Lambert) in the well received Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes - what a lengthy title! Harry Potter director David Yates brought Tarzan back to the screen with Margot Robbie playing Jane (alongside Alexander Skarsgård) in 2016's The Legend of Tarzan with an impressive all-star cast, including Samuel L. Jackson. However, the only Tarzan to win an Oscar has been Disney's 1999 animated adaptation, Tarzan. This list doesn't even begin to touch on the character's representation in books, comics, television, theater, radio, and video games. 

Over 30 actors have portrayed Tarzan for film alone, but none match the chemistry and magic of the Weissmuller/O'Sullivan era. Johnny Weissmuller would go on to open a chain of California health food stores in 1969, and in 1970's oversee a Florida theme park called Tropical Wonderland. Maureen O'Sullivan, mother of actress Mia Farrow, would continue to act - even appearing in such later films as Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). But the Tarzan films would be their greatest creative achievement. A testament to this fact is that they both have stars facing each other on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
The pre-Code Tarzan films are movies whose importance were ingrained in me from the age of seven thanks to The Great Movie Ride, and were unconsciously a part of me even before having ridden it. I imagine that's true of everyone, whether or not you've seen any of the Tarzan films, you probably feel like you have. I'm fascinated by iconic properties that transcend their medium and become a part of our culture. I'd like to see Tarzan used in creative ways we've never imagined before... if I ever make a film, perhaps it will be Tarzan Goes to Space, or maybe even a horror picture starring the ape man. Imagine the monkey suits! Don't steal these ideas, even though they are golden. Until then, do yourself a favor and check out the wonderfully sexy and classic adventure films, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934). 

"Men were indeed more foolish and more cruel than the beasts of the jungle. How fortunate was he who lived in the peace and security of the great forest." - Tarzan of the Apes

Top 50 Favorite Films

There has been nothing more precious to me in life than movies. They saved me from childhood depression and social anxiety, and gave me a common ground for conversation with my friends and family - in fact, my favorite childhood memories are of movies I watched with my parents and sister. I'll never forget the day Batman Returns was released on VHS and I proceeded to literally ruin my eyesight from countless repeat viewings while planted directly in front of the TV, my sister and I eventually putting on a stage play version (the stage being our den's fireplace) with makeup and masks purchased during Halloween. I have been an obsessive student of films since I was five years old after seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit in a theater in 1988 (left kicking and screaming during the final scene from my utter fear of Judge Doom). The magic of making movies has always captured my imagination, and I moved to Hollywood in pursuit of being a part of them. 

I tortured myself for weeks deciding what my 50 favorite movies of all time were, so I decided to set some rules. 1.) No repeating of directors, they get only one film each. 2.) These are not only my favorites, but also what I consider the greatest movies from my list of favorites. No film is listed purely for nostalgic reasons. 3.) Each film comes with a suggested pairing for a double-feature. 4.) The order in which they are listed is purely in the form of a playlist. Think of it as my mixtape of films for you. However, my #1 spot is truly my number one. 5.) I do not consider this a "Greatest" list, I don't believe in those. These are simply the films I love most. I hope you enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed making it. 

"Every time I go to a movie, it's magic, no matter what the movie's about." - Steven Spielberg 

50. THEY ALL LAUGHED (1981, Dir. Peter Bogdanovich)
"A New York Romance" proclaims the movie's poster for this under-discussed whimsical screwball detective comedy. This film is fueled by pure joy. It features the final starring roles of Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Stratten. Pair this for a double-feature with Bogdanovich's equally silly What's Up, Doc? (1972).

49. L'AVVENTURA (1960, Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)
"Words are becoming less and less necessary; they create misunderstandings." One of the most beautiful movies ever filmed. The title in English is "The Adventure", essentially about rich yet spiritually bankrupt people trying to escape boredom. There was nothing like it before its release, and nothing has really matched it since. Pair it with Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). 

48. MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (1971, Dir. Robert Altman)
"All you've cost me so far is money and pain." The most perfect film of Altman's career, and the most gorgeous, is an anti-western about flawed characters who want to build the ultimate whorehouse for miners. This film revitalized the genre while simultaneously deglamorizing it. Pair it with Altman's final film, A Prairie Home Companion (2006).

47. PIERROT LE FOU (1965, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
"It's easy for a girl to kill a lot of people." This film is one of the most puzzling I've ever seen. An experimental French crime comedy about silly characters who have seen too many Hollywood movies. One of the least conventional pictures ever made. Pair this with Godard's new wave masterpiece, Breathless (1960).

"Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders." Roger Ebert wrote that Charlie Kauffman was "the most gifted writer of the 2000s", and nowhere is that more evident than here with his story about the process of thought and memory and how they interact with love... and the obscure company in Boston willing to erase it all for you. Pair this with Gondry's other film about erasure, Be Kind Rewind (2008).

45. BADLANDS (1973, Dir. Terrence Malick)
"He was handsomer than anybody I'd ever met. He looked just like James Dean." A dreamlike film about murders with no meaning. This mystical odyssey doesn't always feel like the nightmare it is, but the disassociation of our main characters with their actions is truly terrifying. Critic Kim Morgan appropriately sums up Malick's debut as "one of the most extraordinary first films in all of cinema." Pair it with William Witney's The Bonnie Parker Story (1958).

44. PANDORA'S BOX (1929, Dir. G.W. Pabst)
"You'll have to kill me to get rid of me." A silent film so modern it feels like it could have been made today. A controversial psycho-sexual melodrama about a showgirl named Lulu made an icon out of American actress Louise Brooks, who got herself banned from Hollywood before starring in what would later become the defining role of her career. In 1982 Brooks published a book of essays called Lulu in Hollywood which would become known as one of the greatest autobiographies on the industry from this era. Pair it with another Brooks film, Howard Hawks' A Girl in Every Port (1928).

43. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974, Dir. Tobe Hooper)
"... one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history." This is the most horrifically raw and vile film ever made; so disgustingly grimy that it will make you sweat... you will literally smell the splatter on the other side of the screen. If there is a more effective horror movie out there I have yet to see it. It is a pure, unrelenting nightmare. It's also quite funny. Pair it with Hooper's other haunted house, Poltergeist (1982). 

42. BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991, Dir. John Singleton)
"Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood." In 1992 John Singleton, at 24, was the youngest filmmaker and first African American to ever be up for Best Director. This is one of the most important American movies ever made, and one of the most brilliant directorial debuts in Hollywood history. Pair it with Singleton's road picture starring Janet Jackson, Poetic Justice (1993). 

41. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001, Dir. David Lynch)
"It'll be just like in the movies, pretending to be somebody else." A dark vision of Los Angeles and a study of the subconscious' way of dealing with jealousy and revenge. The less said about this Hollywood film noir the better, not that I can actually explain this movie or even ruin it for you, watching it feels like getting lost in a weird dream that keeps growing scarier and more confusing. Pair it with Lynch's Lost Highway (1997).

40. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968, Dir. Roman Polanski)
"You're not religious, my dear, are you?" This is a horrifying film set in a gothic New York City with some dark comedy twisted in. Not the only film on my list to be condemned by the Legion of Decency, but this film actually condemned the Legion! When the movie became a major hit, the Legion was disbanded. Several disturbing stories haunt the production of this film, including the direction Polanski's life headed after its release - Vanity Fair has labeled it "The Most Cursed Hit Movie Ever Made". Pair this with Polanski's Repulsion (1965). 

39. THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961, Dir. Ingmar Bergman)
"Give me a proof of his existence. You can't." Ingmar Bergman was the son of a Lutheran minister and in the late 1950s religion became the main focus of his work. This Academy Award winner is the first in a trilogy of films about Europe's collective crisis of faith in the modern era, or "exhausted Christianity." Every frame of this film is beautiful, and the outstanding performance by Harriet Andersson is unlike any I have ever seen. Bergman said in his 1987 autobiography, "I have struggled all my life with a tormented and joyless relationship with God." Pair this raw and powerful film with its trilogy, Winter Light (1963) and The Silence (1963). 

38. AMERICAN HOT WAX (1978, Dir. Floyd Mutrux) 
"You can stop me, but you can never stop rock and roll. Don't you know that?This semi-fictionalized account of a week in the life of disc jockey Alan Freed is crafted with pure passion. This movie just might be rock-and-roll's biggest fan (Freed actually coined the term), showcasing pure soul and joy in paying tribute to the man who introduced and popularized the music of the 1950s. Pair it with George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973).

37. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984, Dir. Ivan Reitman)
"Back off, man. I'm a scientist." The rare multimillion dollar production in which the biggest and most expensive special effects in the movie actually get the biggest laughs, inspired by films like Blithe Spirit (1945) and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) that successfully mix supernatural and horror elements with comedy. Pair this with Aykroyd's epic and iconic musical comedy, The Blues Brothers (1980).

36. MYSTERY TRAIN (1989, Dir. Jim Jarmusch)
"You know, Memphis does look like Yokohama. Just more space." Not many films set out to explore the myth of Memphis, but this beautifully nostalgic comedy about two Japanese kids traveling to Tennessee on a rock-and-roll odyssey does a wonderful job of capturing the magic, including a haunting by the ghost of Elvis. Pair this with Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (1984). 

35. MONA LISA (1986, Dir. Neil Jordan)
"From the first time he met her, she was trapped. Like a bird in a cage." Inspired by a true story of a British ex-convict who was charged with violently "protecting ladies of the night against their Maltese pimps." Bob Hoskins may be my favorite actor and I highly recommend pairing this heartbreaking and sleazy gangster flick with The Long Good Friday (1980).

34. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933, Dir. Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkely)
"It's all about the Depression. We won't have to rehearse that." Warner Bros. made the definitive picture of The Great Depression filled with wonderful songs and amazingly outrageous dance numbers. This pre-Code political comedy struck some major dramatic chords in one of the greatest American films ever made. Pair it with another Berkeley feature, Footlight Parade (1933).

33. THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972, Dir. Elaine May)
"There's no insecurity in those potatoes. There's no deceit in the cauliflower. This is a totally honest meal." Charles Grodin is on his honeymoon and completely in love... just not with his wife. One of the funniest yet tragic romantic comedies I've seen. Have yourself an Elaine May film festival with A New Leaf (1971) and Mikey and Nicky (1976). 

32. DARLING (1965, Dir. John Schlesinger)
"It should be so easy to be happy, shouldn't it? It should be the easiest thing in the world. I wonder why it isn't. Maybe it is?" A satirical study of the professional rise and personal fall of a young (and bored) British fashion model. Julie Christie won Best Actress for her performance in this heartbreaking and funny film. Pair it with Schlesinger's Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971).

31. BLOW OUT (1981, Dir. Brian De Palma)
"You can be crazy or dead." A hallucinatory political thriller starring John Travolta as a sound effects man. This is the greatest American conspiracy movie ever made. Pair it with De Palma's horror masterpiece, Carrie (1976).  

30. ALMOST FAMOUS (2000, Dir. Cameron Crowe)
"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." As a kid I spent several summers as a roadie where I conducted my first interviews with musicians on a bus while en route to the next gig. This film feels like a document of my childhood. I thought it was impossible to convey the magic of those summers, but this movie captures it perfectly. It also won Cameron Crowe a much deserved Academy Award for his screenplay. Pair this with his romantic sci-fi thriller, Vanilla Sky (2001).

29. HALLOWEEN (1978, Dir. John Carpenter)
"It was the Boogeyman." Roger Ebert compared it to Psycho (1960) calling it a "frightening, merciless thriller." In 1979 the Village Voice called it "an instant schlock horror classic" and "the trickiest thriller of the year." Endless sequels continue to resurrect The Shape, but none come close to capturing the black magic of the original. Ebert says "the movie's a slice of life that is carefully painted (in drab daylights and impenetrable nighttimes) before its human monster enters the scene." Enter it he did, and Michael Myers is here to stay. Pair this with Carpenter's The Thing (1982). 

28. THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948, Dir. Nicholas Ray)
"They're thieves, just like us." A hardboiled lovers-on-the-run story that pre-dates the term of its own genre, film noir. One of the most beautiful crook stories ever committed to celluloid, the biggest crime of all being that the studio shelved it for two years because they didn't understand it. Pair this with Ray's In a Lonely Place (1950). 

27. PRETTY POISON (1968, Dir. Noel Black)
"These fantasies of yours can be dangerous." An erotic psychological thriller with romance and true horror starring my favorite psycho, Anthony Perkins. Pair this with another picture in which he stars alongside the amazing Tuesday Weld, Frank Perry's dark L.A. masterpiece Play It as It Lays (1972). 

26. ALIEN (1979, Dir. Ridley Scott)
"In space, no one can hear you scream." Sometimes described as a haunted house movie in space, sometimes described as a deep-thinking science fiction film about religion and politics. Call it what you want, it remains scary as hell and the the most terrifying ride through the cosmos that the movies have ever taken us on. Pair it with Scott's other sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). 

25. MODERN ROMANCE (1981, Dir. Albert Brooks)
"This is the last time. It's for real." It was said by Brooks that Stanley Kubrick responded to the picture, "How did you make this movie? I've always wanted to make a movie about jealousy." Modern Romance is very funny and very bleak as, it turns out, all of my favorite movies about relationships are. Also one of the greatest movies about making movies. Pair this with Brooks' Lost in America (1985.)

24. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966, Dir. Sergio Leone)
"If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working?" Here is a bold example of visual storytelling, starring a Hollywood outcast by the name of Clint Eastwood. Because he worked in television on shows like Rawhide, he had to go to Italy to be a star in what were known as Spaghetti Westerns, a genre which Leone invented. Pair this with another Leone masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). 

23. KISS ME DEADLY (1955, Dir. Robert Aldrich)
"Blood red kisses! White hot thrills! Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb!" An apocalyptic sci-fi film noir best described by Criterion as a "brazen and bleak piece of Cold War paranoia, and it features as nervy an ending as has ever been seen in American cinema." Pair this with Aldrich's war epic, The Dirty Dozen (1967). 

22. RIO BRAVO (1959, Dir. Howard Hawks)
"You want that gun, pick it up. I wish you would." To quote Ebert, "the film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water." The Blu-ray includes a fantastic commentary by John Carpenter. Pair it with Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). 

21. RUMBLE FISH (1983, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
"Time is a very peculiar item." A deeply personal art film for teenagers about estrangement. Coppola's second adaptation of a novel by S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders was released the same year. Pair it for a triple feature to include his masterpiece, Apocalypse Now (1979). 

20. ANYTHING ELSE (2003, Dir. Woody Allen)
"The Pentagon should use her hormones for chemical warfare." Christina Ricci gives the funniest performance in romantic comedy history. Pair this neurotic love story in a triple feature with Allen's Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and Deconstructing Harry (1997). 

19. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982, Dir. Amy Heckerling)
"I shall serve no fries before their time." This movie had the balls to portray high school sex as it really is... embarrassing and disappointing. The director was nearly fired for her raw and honest portrayal of teenage life on topics like abortion in what was advertised as a stoner comedy. Pair it with Heckerling's masterpiece, Clueless (1995).

18. DUCK SOUP (1933, Dir. Leo McCarey)
"Go, and never darken my towels again." This comedy is total anarchy. In Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Duck Soup is the movie that leads the main character to find the meaning of life after a suicide attempt. Pair this with a film by the criminally under-discussed master of comedy, Buster Keaton, in The Goat (1921). 

17. ALL THAT JAZZ (1979, Dir. Bob Fosse)
"Do you suppose Stanley Kubrick ever gets depressed?" Fosse's most personal and mind-bending musical about one's "final appearance on the great stage of life." Pair it with his film about the murder of Dorothy Stratten, Star 80 (1983).

16. JAWS (1975, Dir. Steven Spielberg)
"You're gonna need a bigger boat." A defining achievement on every level and as perfect a film that has ever been made. This scary and brilliantly told thriller also created the "summer blockbuster." Pair this with Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

15. FORTY GUNS (1957, Dir. Samuel Fuller)
"I was born upset." Barbara Stanwyck saddles up for her last great film role in a fiercely feminist spin on the genre. Criterion calls it "the pulp maestro's most audacious western with astonishing black & white Cinemascope photography, hard-boiled dialogue laced with double entendres, and a fiery performance by Stanwyck at her most imperious. A virtuoso display of Fuller's sharpshooting talents." Pair this in a triple-feature with a pre-Code Stanwyck classic, Baby Face (1933), and Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's film noir, Double Indemnity (1944).  

14. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999, Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
"Don't you want to go where the rainbow ends?" A dreamlike journey into the sexual underworld is perhaps the greatest study of jealousy ever committed to celluloid. Kubrick's final masterpiece ends his perfect body of work on an erotic chilling note. Pair it with Luis Buñuel's similarly-themed Belle de Jour (1967). 

13. SONS OF THE DESERT (1933, William A. Seiter)
"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." It doesn't matter what I'm going through, put Laurel and Hardy on and I am laughing. My spirits are lifted. I haven't a care in the world. There's magic in the comedy of these two that transcends space and time. Pair this with their bittersweet and very well made biopic, Stan & Ollie (2018). 

12. ELECTION (1999, Dir. Alexander Payne)
"Some people say I'm an overachiever, but I think they're just jealous." Reese Witherspoon's greatest comedic role as high schooler Tracy Flick in what Criterion describes as a "closely observed take on deeply flawed humanity to its bitter but stealthily sympathetic essence." Pair this with Payne's poignant comedy, Nebraska (2013).

11. ED WOOD (1994, Dir. Tim Burton)
"Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!" Tim Burton's biopic about the man voted Worst Director of All Time captures the love and passion Ed Wood had for film, and his undying optimism in the face of disaster. The zany spirit of this movie (and of the man himself) is an inspiration. It demands to be paired with Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).

10. THE EXORCIST (1973, Dir. William Friedkin)
"Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house."  The director calls it a "story about the mystery of faith." The writer calls it a "supernatural detective story." Linda Blair calls it a "theological thriller, anyone who thinks it is a horror film is wrong." I call it the greatest horror film of all time. Pair it with Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977).

9. LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003, Dir. Sofia Coppola)
"The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you." This movie is pure magic. It gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and explore different places, different people, and different questions about what makes me truly happy. This beautiful and bittersweet film establishes Sofia Coppola as one of our greatest living filmmakers. Pair this with her first picture, The Virgin Suicides (1999). 

8. DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993, Dir. Richard Linklater)
"If I ever start referring to these years as the best of my life, remind me to kill myself." My favorite movie about high school. No nostalgia here, this movie about the last day of school captures the boredom and angst of the most agonizing years of our lives. Pair this with Linklater's spellbinding first film, Slacker (1991). 

7. TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971, Dir. Monte Hellman)
"You can never go fast enough." The greatest car movie ever made, this existential road picture about male obsession is one of the best American-made wonders out there. Pair it with Hellman's existential western, The Shooting (1966).

6. TO CATCH A THIEF (1955, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
"From where I sat it looked as though you were conjugating some irregular verbs." Grace Kelly enjoyed the filming location so much on this picture that she decided to marry the Prince and become the Princess of Monaco. John Landis calls the movie "elegant, stylish, and wonderfully silly", and I enjoy Hitchcock most when he's being silly. Pair it with another of Hitch's silly capers, Family Plot (1976).

5. TAXI DRIVER (1976, Dir. Martin Scorsese) 
"On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody." Pauline Kael called this lonely movie a "feverish, horrifyingly funny movie" using descriptors like "ferociously powerful" and "raw". Ebert called it "one of the best and most powerful of all films." Pair it with another Scorsese masterpiece, Raging Bull (1980). 

4. THE GRADUATE (1967, Dir. Mike Nichols)
"Mrs. Robinson, if you don't mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange." You probably already know this as one of the most beloved (and endlessly quotable) American films of all time. It was rejected by all the major studios, but would receive several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (Nichols won for Best Director). Pair it with another groundbreaking romantic comedy by Nichols, The Birdcage (1996). 

3. INHERENT VICE (2014, Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
"Change your hair, change your life." A hardboiled and drug-fueled look at the American soul which is both goofy and heartbreaking, sometimes simultaneously. A conspiracy-driven love story sporting what is probably my favorite cast of any film. Pair this with Anderson's other 70s-based masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997).

2. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988, Dir. Robert Zemeckis)
"I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way." Spielberg's resurrection of the Golden Age of Animation was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Richard Williams' incredible animation paired with Bob Hoskins' brilliant performance of a drunk detective dealing with a cartoon rabbit accused of murder is the most fun Disney has ever produced in one picture. Never again will you see Mickey Mouse alongside Bugs Bunny in a film noir with sex, booze, cursing, and violence. Pair this with the animated shorts Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946).  

1. ONCE UPON A TIME IN... HOLLYWOOD (2019, Dir. Quentin Tarantino)
"That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life." I have never loved a film so completely. This is the sweetest love letter ever written to the movies. For me, this blend of fact and fairy tale is as pure as cinema gets. My true #1 on this list. Pair it with Sharon Tate in The Wrecking Crew (1969).

"The motion picture has become one of the marvels of all time; a true Wonder of the World in its magical powers. But what it brought on the screen for everyone to see and ponder has been even more wonderful." - Walt Disney