7 Movies Like Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Staff & contributors

The last work by legendary American director John Huston is this exquisitely rendered adaptation of a James Joyce short story. The Dead is nestled inside an intimate festive dinner shared by the family and close friends of the Morkan sisters, two well-to-do elderly spinsters living in Dublin in 1904. The film is a family affair in more ways than just that, too: for Huston’s final feature, son Tony wrote the script and daughter Anjelica (as Gretta) was its star.

As with so many end-of-year gatherings, the prevailing mood of the dinner is one of sentimental nostalgia, as the hosts and their guests swap memories, toast each other, and tearily reminisce about the way things were. Anjelica Huston’s performance is also a quiet architect of that atmosphere, as Gretta slips in and out of dreamy reveries throughout the evening to the puzzlement of her husband Gabriel (Donal McCann) — something that surges to the fore in an astonishingly moving final revelation. Huston directed the film on his proverbial deathbed, which infuses it with significance — but, even if it wasn’t the capstone to his illustrious career, The Dead would still stand as one of the finest treatments of mortality and longing ever committed to the screen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Bairbre Dowling, Brendan Dillon, Colm Meaney, Dan O'Herlihy, Donal Donnelly, Donal McCann, Helena Carroll, Ingrid Craigie, Kate O'Toole, Maria McDermottroe, Marie Kean, Rachael Dowling, Sean McClory

Director: John Huston

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

With a premise straight out of a cheesy sci-fi B-movie, you wouldn't expect Little Shop of Horrors to be a bona fide spectacle, and yet its tale of a wish-fulfilling yet bloodthirsty plant remains as thrilling and intense as ever. More importantly, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's rock-musical songs remain boisterous and theatrical, gleefully performed by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs. And buried underneath all this is a comedy with a heart of darkness and a legitimately disturbing morality tale.

Musicals and horror movies are genres that typically cater to a more niche audience, but Little Shop of Horrors should be fun enough to draw anybody in, thanks to the film's impressively tactile sets, director Frank Oz's knack for physical comedy, and animatronic special effects that look better than most CGI creations today. As both a horror movie monster and a massive puppet, the vicious plant named Audrey II is entirely worth the price of admission, no matter which version of the film you seek out.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Barbara Rosenblat, Bertice Reading, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Danny John-Jules, Edward Wiley, Ellen Greene, Heather Henson, Jill Goldston, Jim Belushi, John Candy, John Scott Martin, Kevin Scott, Levi Stubbs, Mak Wilson, Michelle Weeks, Miriam Margolyes, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Vincent Wong

Director: Frank Oz

Forget everything you know about the music biopic. One-on-one interviews, chronological storytelling, silent moments with the subjects—Moonage Daydream isn’t that kind of movie. Just as David Bowie isn’t your typical pop star, this documentary about him, directed by Brett Morgen, forgoes the usual beats for something extraordinary and fun.

Moonage Daydream is a concert, a light show, and a masterclass in collage editing. It's a feast for the senses, a fantastic neon fever dream that paints a picture of Bowie in his own words, drawn from archival footage, interviews, and concerts past.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Bing Crosby, Catherine Deneuve, Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie, Dick Cavett, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Iman, Keanu Reeves, Lou Reed, Maria Falconetti, Max Schreck, Max von Sydow, Mick Ronson, Mike Garson, Russell Harty, Tina Turner, Trevor Bolder

Director: Brett Morgen

Rating: PG-13

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Spike Lee’s semi-autobiographical film is a loving and nostalgic ode to the Brooklyn of his childhood. It also happens to be his sweetest work and while overshadowed by the explosive Do The Right Thing, remains an easy contender for one of his very best. The world of Crooklyn is told through the eyes of Troy, a young girl growing up with her four brothers, and her mother and father in a cramped brownstone. 

Lee’s Brooklyn is a colorful delight set aloft by a swooning soul soundtrack. His ability to capture the vibrant magical tones and textures of the city feels as complete as ever, and marvelous performances from Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as Troy’s parents help create a touching and all-encompassing experience. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfre Woodard, Arthur French, Bokeem Woodbine, Carlton Williams, Carmen Tillery, Christopher Knowings, Christopher Wynkoop, Dan Grimaldi, Danielle K. Thomas, David Patrick Kelly, Delroy Lindo, Frances Foster, Gary Perez, Hector M. Ricci Jr., Isaiah Washington, Ivelka Reyes, Joie Lee, José Zúñiga, Keith Johnson, Manny Perez, Maurie A. Chandler, Michele Shay, Mildred Clinton, Norman Matlock, Omar Scroggins, Peewee Love, Rene Ojeda, Richard Whiten, RuPaul, Sharif Rashed, Spike Lee, Tracy Vilar, Tse-Mach Washington, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

For skeptics of the western, Silverado might be too overstuffed with storylines that feel more appropriate for a series than a single film. But those willing to give it a chance should find a consistent level of entertainment with the movie's wide array of cowboys and sheriffs trying to outmaneuver each other. The action gets surprisingly intense, with impressive stunts and shootouts selling the idea that these characters could go at any time. And with the relatively young and fresh faces of Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, John Cleese, and Jeff Goldblum popping up, it feels like a greatest hits of the '80s and '90s, with these charismatic actors all getting a turn playing in the sandbox.

Genre: Action, Action & Adventure, Drama, Western

Actor: Amanda Wyss, Autry Ward, Bill Thurman, Brad Leland, Brian Dennehy, Brion James, Danny Glover, Dick Durock, Earl Hindman, Gene Hartline, Jake Kasdan, James Gammon, Jeff Fahey, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Haynie, Joe Seneca, John Cleese, Jonathan Kasdan, Ken Farmer, Kenny Call, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Linda Hunt, Lois Geary, Lynn Whitfield, Marvin J. McIntyre, Meg Kasdan, Patricia Gaul, Ray Baker, Richard Jenkins, Rosanna Arquette, Rusty Meyers, Sam Gauny, Scott Glenn, Sheb Wooley, Thomas Wilson Brown, Todd Allen, Troy Ward

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Rating: PG-13