5 Best Movies to Watch by Johnny Carson

Staff & contributors

There’s a scene early in the documentary when present-day Michael J. Fox, who famously suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, swaggers along a street and greets a fan, only to stumble at that very moment and have people surround him with concern. Instead of giving into their pity or pretending nothing happened, he cooly tells the fan, “It was so nice meeting you, you knocked me off of my feet!” 

This brief moment tells you all you need to know about the ‘80s icon—Fox refuses to be a victim. Still is his brilliant and admirable attempt at telling his well-known story on his own terms. It covers everything from his childhood and early work in Hollywood to his life-changing roles in Family Ties, Teen Wolf, and most memorably, Back to the Future. It also sheds light on Fox's life as a husband, father, and Parkinson's sufferer. Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) does a genius job of using faceless reenactments and cuts from films and TV shows to accompany Fox’s narration, which pumps the film with a dynamism that matches Fox’s resilient spirit. 

Urgent, clever, and exciting, Still is one of the rare celebrity biographies that serves a higher purpose than just recounting a famous person's life. Anyone who understands the importance of constantly moving and evolving will appreciate this film's existence. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Angela Galanopoulos, Annabelle Fox, Chad Sayn, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, David Letterman, Donna Lysell, Eric Stoltz, Gary David Goldberg, Gene Siskel, Hannah Galway, Jason Calder, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Justine Bateman, Larry David, Liam Raymond Dib, Meredith Baxter, Michael J. Fox, Michael McDonald, Muhammad Ali, Rick Pearce, Robert Zemeckis, Roger Ebert, Shayn Walker, Siobhan Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Thomas F. Wilson, Tracy Pollan, Woody Harrelson

Director: Davis Guggenheim

If you grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, you may find yourself now humming along: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? 

If you did not grow up watching this iconic children’s television program, you may still be familiar with its host, the late Fred Rogers. Rogers was an advocate for empathy and extending kindness toward people of all races, religions, and ages. He never talked down to the neighbors who paid him visits on the show, which aired from 1968 to 2001, even while tackling heavier subjects like grief, divorce, and loneliness.

Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor best captures Rogers’ ability to build communities and make you, the viewer, feel less alone. Through interviews and archival footage, a clear portrait emerges of Rogers’ legacy and singular force of goodwill. Both the documentary and Fred Rogers’ spirit serve as reminders that each of us are worthy of love, exactly as we are.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Al Gore, Ayden Soria, Betty Aberlin, Bill Clinton, Bill Isler, Brian Kilmeade, Christa McAuliffe, David Bianculli, David Letterman, David Newell, Eddie Murphy, Eleanor Way, François Clemmons, Fred Rogers, George Wirth, Hedda Sharapan, Hillary Clinton, Jim Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Joe Negri, Johnny Carson, Josie Carey, Junlei Li, Koko, Lorin Hollander, Lynden Liu, Lyndon B. Johnson, Major Hawbaker Manask, Margaret Whitmer, Max King, McColm Cephas Jr., McColm Kona Cephas Jr., Nick Tallo, Robert F. Kennedy, Susan Stamberg, Tom Junod, Tom Snyder, Yo-Yo Ma

Director: Morgan Neville

Saying that the program I Love Lucy paved the way for television would be an understatement. Lucille Ball inspired a generation of female comedians, Desi Arnez blazed a trail for Latinos making it in America, and the show that they starred in broke records upon records, redefining what sitcoms could be at a time when no one took them seriously. 

Millions tuned into their love story as Lucy and Rick, but their real-life relationship as Lucy and Desi was just as compelling. It was complicated by jealousy, race, gender, and class, but it was also solidly grounded in true, enduring love. This documentary, directed by Amy Poehler, does well to tell us the couple’s truth without sensationalizing it. Instead of blowing things out of gossipy proportions, she zeroes in on the messy facts and weaves them into a nuanced, enlightening tale about marriage, celebrity, and fame. Thanks to Poehler, the story about Lucy and Desi is just as riveting as their legendary show. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Charo, Desi Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, Preston Foster, Vivian Vance

Director: Amy Poehler

Rating: PG

A dramatic recreation of the last 10 years in the life of famed pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas), told primarily from the perspective of his young lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film follows from naive young Thorson’s early introduction to Liberace through his 6-year romance and live-in relationship with the celebrated luminary. Coming from a broken home and multiple foster families, Thorson finds newfound comfort in the fawning adoration and financial protection that Liberace provides to him, as they quickly become lovers and confidants. Much of the story re-enacts their often stormy, behind-the-scenes affairs in candid fashion—including the lengths to which Thorson alters himself physically to conform to Liberace’s standards. Both Douglas and Damon are excellent in their roles, with Douglas in particular providing a striking recreation of Liberace in both appearance and mannerism. He truly embodies the role, and provides the viewer with a genuine glimpse into the personal life of “Mr. Showmanship"—replete with all of his passions, concerns and insecurities. It’s an intimate depiction of a real-life May-December relationship, told with striking honesty, and ending with a remarkably touching tribute to Liberace in all of his campy yet sincere glory.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam J. Kassel, Amber Lee Ettinger, Anna Wendt, Anthony Crivello, Aussie Guevara, Austin Stowell, Ayesha Orange, Barbara Brownell, Becca Sweitzer, Boyd Holbrook, Brandon Henschel, Brian Blu, Brittany Perry-Russell, Bruce Ramsay, C.J. Stussi, Cal Rein, Casey Kramer, Cassandra M. Bellantoni, Cassidy Noblett, Charles Moniz, Charlotte Crossley, Cheyenne Jackson, Corey Eid, Dan Aykroyd, David Dustin Kenyon, David Koechner, Debbie Reynolds, Deborah Lacey, Dominique Kelley, Eddie Jemison, Eric Zuckerman, Ferly Prado, Fielding Edlow, Francisco San Martin, Garrett M. Brown, Greg Baine, Gregg Atwill, Gregory Niebel, Harvey J. Alperin, Hugo Pierre Martin, Jane Morris, Jason Williams, Jerry Clarke, Jimmy Scanlon, Joe Filippone, Johnny Carson, Josh Meyers, Kass Connors, Kc Monnie, Kelli Erdmann, Kelly Allen, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Kristin Lindquist, Krystal Ellsworth, Lance Patrick, Lenny Jacobson, Lisa Frantz, Matt Damon, Max Napolitano, Meredith Ostrowsky, Michael Douglas, Mike Jerome Putnam, Mike O'Malley, Natacha Bachour, Nellie Sciutto, Nick Lanzisera, Nicky Katt, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Pat Asanti, Patty Chong, Paul Borst, Paul Reiser, Paul Witten, Peggy King, Rachael Markarian, Randy Lowell, Richard Allan Jones, Rick L. Dean, Rob Lowe, Roby Schinasi, Ryan Novak, Scott Bakula, Shaun T. Benjamin, Stephanie Maura Sanchez, Thure Riefenstein, Timothy Skyler Dunigan, Tom Papa

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: TV-MA

For kids and kids-at-heart who find Jim Henson's technical mastery of puppets riveting, this documentary on the classic and still-contemporary Sesame Street provides a ton of behind-the-scenes footage that's endlessly fun to watch. Street Gang rebuts any arguments that could be made about children's TV being low-effort—showing just how much craft is needed in a show like this. But more importantly, the film's first act illustrates the risky process of building Sesame Street from the ground-up, specifically as programming for inner-city Black children who weren't getting the education they deserved. It's nothing short of an inspiration to see this ragtag group of creatives and communication experts—none of whom wanted to take sole credit—coming together like a superhero team to create one of the most iconic and enduring TV shows in American history.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Bob McGrath, Brian Henson, Caroll Spinney, Christopher Cerf, Dizzy Gillespie, Emilio Delgado, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Fred Rogers, Holly Robinson Peete, James Earl Jones, Jesse Jackson, Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, Joe Raposo, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Jon Stone, Lisa Henson, Lloyd Morrisett, Loretta Long, Matt Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Norman Stiles, Odetta, Orson Welles, Roscoe Orman, Sonia Manzano, Stevie Wonder, Will Lee

Director: Marilyn Agrelo