19 Movies Like The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Staff & contributors

Written and directed by Academy-Award-winning Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea, Gangs of New York), you can certainly count on the qualities of this subtle, beautiful, and moving drama about two siblings growing apart and reuniting later in life.

An Academy-Award-nominated Laura Linney plays Sammy, a single mother in a small town who is extremely protective of her 8-year-old son. When her younger and somewhat troubled brother Terry (played by the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo) visits her out of the blue, Sammy has to deal with a slew of contradicting emotions towards her brother, whose appearance threatens to upend her life as she knew it.

Straight, thoughtful, and beautifully crafted, You Can Count on Me is an honest and genuine exploration of unconditional love in celluloid form. Think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Adam LeFevre, Amy Ryan, Betsy Aidem, Gaby Hoffmann, Halley Feiffer, J. Smith-Cameron, Jon Tenney, Josh Lucas, Kenneth Lonergan, Laura Linney, Lisa Altomare, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Michael Countryman, Nina Garbiras, Rory Culkin, Whitney Vance

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Rating: R

Mary and Max is the tale of an overlooked 8-year-old girl from Australia starting an unlikely friendship via mail with a middle-aged Jewish man from New York. Shot completely in monocromatic claymotion, it is the first feature film by Australian stop-motion animation writer, Adam Elliot, and the first ever animated film to score the opening slot at Sundance Festival. In all its playful absurdity, Mary and Max is an emotional and wise gem of a film that examines the human condition through the eyes of a troubled child and an autistic American. In contrast to its clay-based animation, it deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, but succeeds in balancing those with happiness and absurd humor. Moreover, Elliott gathered an ensemble cast to do the voice-overs, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana. We recommend it 8 condensed milks out of 10.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Elliot, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Bill Murphy, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Christopher Massey, Eric Bana, Henry Karjalainen, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Ian Meldrum, John Flaus, Julie Forsyth, Michael Ienna, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renée Geyer, Renée Geyer, Toni Collette

Director: Adam Elliot

Rating: Not Rated

Of all the Christmas-set films to have come out over the last couple of months that were, inexplicably, about grief and regret (you'd be surprised by how many there are), The Holdovers easily outdoes its contemporaries by being confident enough to just sit with its characters. Like the best of director Alexander Payne's other films, there are no melodramatic crescendos or overcomplicated metaphors; there are only flawed individuals going about their lives, occasionally noticing the things that bind them together. Payne's gentle touch means the characters (and the audience) aren't forced to "solve" their grief, but allowed to come to terms with it in their own way, with each other.

Payne evokes the film's 1970s setting through a muted color palette and analog—almost tactile—sound design, giving warmth to this New England despite all its snow and chilly interiors. It's understandable that these characters are similarly cold to each other on the surface at first, but they manage to thaw the ice simply by taking the chance to listen to each other's pain. It's the kind of film in which relationships develop so gradually, that you hardly notice until the end how much mutual respect has formed between them when they return from their dark nights of the soul back to their status quo.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Cook, Andrew Garman, Bill Mootos, Brady Hepner, Carrie Preston, Carter Shimp, Cole Tristan Murphy, Colleen Clinton, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dakota Lustick, Dan Aid, Darby Lee-Stack, David J. Curtis, Dominic Sessa, Dustin Tucker, Gillian Vigman, Ian Dolley, Ian Lyons, Jim Kaplan, Joe Howell, Jonathan von Mering, Kelly AuCoin, Kevin Daigneault, Kevin Fennessy, Melissa McMeekin, Michael Malvesti, Michael Provost, Naheem Garcia, Oscar Wahlberg, Osmani Rodriguez, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Paul Giamatti, Rena Maliszewski, Stephen Thorne, Tate Donovan

Director: Alexander Payne

Rating: R

Perhaps the most depressing but vital movie produced by animation giant Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is a searing and sweeping drama that covers the horrors of World War II through the eyes of teenager Seita and his young sister Setsuko. Between the violence of war and the tragedy of loss, the siblings struggle to preserve not just their lives but their humanity. In typical Ghibli fashion, there are moments of gentle beauty to be found, but instead of conflicting with the overall stark tone of the film, they successfully underscore war's futility and brutality, making Grave of the Fireflies one of the most important anti-war narratives ever told. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, War

Actor: Akemi Yamaguchi, Ayano Shiraishi, Hiroshi Tanaka, Kyoko Moriwaki, Masayo Sakai, Tsutomu Tatsumi, Yoshiko Shinohara

Director: Isao Takahata

Serenity is a futuristic sci-fi film that serves as a feature-length continuation of the story-line from the TV program Firefly (2002-2003). The story revolves around the captain (Nathan Fillion) and crew of the titular space vessel that operate as space outlaws, running cargo and smuggling missions throughout the galaxy. They take on a mysterious young psychic girl and her brother, the girl carrying secrets detrimental to the intergalactic government, and soon find themselves being hunted by a nefarious assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The first feature-length film from Joss Whedon (The Avengers), Serenity is a lively and enjoyable adventure, replete with large-scale action sequences, strong characterizations and just the right touch of wry humor. An enjoyable viewing experience that stands alone without demanding that you have familiarity with the original program beforehand.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Amy Wieczorek, Brian O'Hare, Carrie 'CeCe' Cline, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Patrick Lynch, David Krumholtz, Demetra Raven, Dennis Keiffer, Elaine Mani Lee, Erik Erotas, Erik Weiner, Gina Torres, Glenn Howerton, Hunter Ansley Wryn, Jessica Huang, Jewel Staite, Linda Wang, Logan O'Brien, Marcus Young, Mark Winn, Marley McClean, Matt McColm, Michael Hitchcock, Morena Baccarin, Nathan Fillion, Nectar Rose, Neil Patrick Harris, Peter James Smith, Rafael Feldman, Rick Williamson, Ron Glass, Ryan Tasz, Sarah Paulson, Scott Kinworthy, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Tamara Taylor, Terrell Tilford, Terrence Hardy Jr., Tristan Jarred, Weston Nathanson, Yan Feldman

Director: Joss Whedon

Rating: PG-13

A marvelous combination of perfect casting and a sizzling script. William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter are such natural talents they could make reading a dictionary watchable, but seeing them weave through James L Brooks punchy dialogue is a delight to behold. The three form the foundation of this drama that is as much about journalistic ambition as it is about love.

Hunter and Brooks are principled workaholics at a news station juggling a platonic friendship that seems destined for more but lacks a driving spark. Enter Hurt, a charming though self-admittedly stupid news anchor, who Hunter at once resents and yet can’t help falling for. What seems like a ready-built rom-com plot, however, churns into something else entirely. It’s a delicious film crackling with wit and character and is as funny as it is astute. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Amy Brooks, Christian Clemenson, Ed Wheeler, Frank Doubleday, Gennie James, Gerald F. Gough, Gerard Ender, Glen Roven, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Kimber Shoop, Leo Burmester, Lois Chiles, Luis Valderrama, Marc Shaiman, Marita Geraghty, Martha Smith, Nat Benchley, Peggy Pridemore, Peter Hackes, Raoul N. Rizik, Richard Thomsen, Robert Katims, Robert Prosky, Robert Walsh, Stephen Mendillo, William Hurt

Director: James L. Brooks

Before The Rain is a very intriguing and unique film, to say the least. Its cyclical narrative structure may not be for everyone, it will puzzle most, leaving some in wonder while others fume at the illogicality of it all.

While the film's general production values have not aged very well, its intercut story of war and romance is a timeless one, makes this film one that is essential viewing for all international cinema lovers, and serves as a great introduction to Macedonian cinema as a whole.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Abdurrahman Shala, Aleksandar Mikic, Daniel Newman, Džemail Maksut, Gabrielle Hamilton, Grégoire Colin, Ilko Stefanovski, Jay Villiers, Josif Josifovski, Katerina Kocevska, Katrin Cartlidge, Kiril Ristoski, Labina Mitevska, Meto Jovanovski, Milica Stojanova, Mladen Krstevski, Petar Mirčevski, Peter Needham, Phyllida Law, Rade Serbedzija, Rod Woodruff, Silvija Stojanovska

Director: Milcho Manchevski

Rating: Not Rated

A documentary about two "climbing" friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Nicholas Aaron, Ollie Ryall, Richard Hawking, Simon Yates

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rating: R

There are comfort food movies, and then there are films like Big Night: comfort food movies about comfort food. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub are brothers running a failing Italian restaurant. Their last chance to save it from foreclosure is to throw a colossal dinner bolstered by a dubious promise of a visit from singer Louis Prima.

The comedy is mellow and pleasant, and Tucci and Shaloub have wonderful chemistry as bickering brothers. Meanwhile, a great supporting cast featuring Isabella Rosellini, Ian Holm, and Allison Janney more than make up for the somewhat predictable script.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Allison Janney, Andre Belgrader, Campbell Scott, Caroline Aaron, Christine Tucci, David Wenzel, Dina Spybey-Waters, Gene Canfield, Hélène Cardona, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Jack O'Connell, Karen Shallo, Ken Cheeseman, Larry Block, Liev Schreiber, Marc Anthony, Minnie Driver, Pasquale Cajano, Peter Appel, Peter McRobbie, Robert W. Castle, Seth Jones, Stanley Tucci, Susan Floyd, Tony Shalhoub

Director: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci

Rating: R

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Even if it doesn't provide the most comprehensive information about treatment and care for multiple sclerosis (MS)—especially for those who can't afford a ridiculously expensive stem cell transplant—this isn't really the point of Introducing, Selma Blair. This is still mostly a biographical documentary about a (self-confessed) "not-so-famous" celebrity, who gets to be incredibly honest about some of the privilege she enjoys, and how that privilege still doesn't make MS any easier. Blair's determination, her sense of humor, and her articulate way of expressing herself keep the film from descending into total sadness, but it also never shies away from the uglier, more difficult parts of her journey.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Selma Blair

Director: Rachel Fleit

Shattered Glass tells the unbelievably true story of Stephen Glass, a popular and promising young journalist at The New Republic. Stephen's storytelling skills are sought out not just by his admiring colleagues but by other publications as well, so when a rival journalist from Forbes finds holes in one of Stephen's stories, no one takes the accusation seriously at first—except perhaps for Charles Lane, Stephen's editor. Immune to Stephen's charms, Charles digs for the truth and tries, despite an alarming lack of support, to pursue what's right.

Set in the '90s, Shattered Glass may be a throwback to old-school journalism, but its ideas about the integrity of facts still hold water, especially in an age fraught with rampant disinformation.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Andrew Airlie, Bill Rowat, Brett Watson, Brittany Drisdelle, Caroline Goodall, Cas Anvar, Chad Donella, Chloe Sevigny, Christian Tessier, Hank Azaria, Hayden Christensen, Howard Rosenstein, Isabelle Champeau, Jamie Elman, Linda E. Smith, Louis-Philippe Dandenault, Luke Kirby, Lynne Adams, Mark Blum, Mark Camacho, Melanie Lynskey, Michele Scarabelli, Morgan Kelly, Owen Roth, Pauline Little, Peter Sarsgaard, Pierre Leblanc, Rosario Dawson, Russell Yuen, Simone-Elise Girard, Steve Zahn, Ted Kotcheff, Terry Simpson

Director: Billy Ray

Rating: PG-13

One of those long-lost mid-budget dramas that's content with observing the rich yet uneventful lives of average folk, Nobody's Fool reminds us that nothing exciting or shocking needs to happen to make a good story. The late, eternally charismatic Paul Newman leads an ensemble of character actors in relaxed, memorable roles—Bruce Willis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Margo Martindale, and Jessica Tandy, among others. It's the authentic, neither-love-nor-hate relationship among all these characters that drives all their individual drama forward and keeps the film from stagnating into anything less than endearing. Here, the idea of things never really changing in this small community is meant to be a comfort, not a lament.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Goodwin, Alice Drummond, Angela Pietropinto, Angelica Page, Anibal O. Lleras, Bruce Willis, Carl J. Matusovich, Catherine Dent, Drenda Spohnholtz, Dylan Walsh, Elizabeth Wilson, Gene Saks, Gerry Robert Byrne, Jay Patterson, Jerry Mayer, Jessica Tandy, Joe Paparone, Josef Sommer, Marcus Powell, Margo Martindale, Melanie Griffith, Page Johnson, Paul Newman, Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Richard Mawe, Shannah Laumeister Stern

Director: Robert Benton

Tsotsi, a delinquent from Johannesburg, South Africa, realizes after shooting a woman and stealing her car, that her baby is on the back seat. A movie with very few words but which manages to be extremely touching. As you witness the transformation of Tsotsi, through his increasing affection for the baby, you will be astonished by the amazing actor, who manages to communicate so many feelings through his sight. This film won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Ian Roberts, Israel Makoe, Jerry Mofokeng, Kenneth Nkosi, Lennox Mathabathe, Mothusi Magano, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Owen Sejake, Percy Matsemela, Presley Chweneyagae, Rapulana Seiphemo, Terry Pheto, Thembi Nyandeni, Zenzo Ngqobe, Zola

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

This documentary is about the life of New York rapper Nas around the time of the release of his first album, Illmatic.

It spans a quick and summarized 74 minutes and, while embellished by the direction of street artist One9, it remains a great snippet of recent American history. Nas’s album was a reflection of many realities that characterized his upbringing, while the movie serves to further explore those very realities.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Cornel West, DJ Premier, Fab 5 Freddy, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., M.C. Serch, Marley Marl, Mrs. Braconi, Nas, Pete Rock, Pharrell Williams, Q-Tip, Skip Gates, Jr., Swizz Beatz

Director: One9

Rating: TV-14