7 Best Movies to Watch From 20th Century Studios

Staff & contributors

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, Doreen Montalvo, Feiga Martinez, Gaby Diaz, Harrison Coll, Ilda Mason, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Jess LeProtto, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Kyle Coffman, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Iveson, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Natalie Toro, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Reginald L. Barnes, Rene Ojeda, Ricardo Zayas, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Sean Harrison Jones, Shade Rupe, Skye Mattox, Talia Ryder, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg

The Last Duel propped high expectations as the Closing Film at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but its theatrical release later that year proved to be a flop. Ridley Scott blamed it on millennials, but both critics and streaming audiences have been much more favorable than moviegoers. As a film, it's a rather monumental project: quite a dark period piece set in Medieval France, dealing with harsh and offensive themes. Or better said, it deals with ethics and morality through these harsh and offensive themes. There are many ways where this could have gotten wrong—and it's evident from the labels that have been circulating from the very beginning, that Scott has made his "MeToo" movie—but the truth is much more nuanced. From Eric Jager's 2004 book to a script co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and (most importantly) the astute Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is really the best of both worlds: action-packed and devoted to the right side of history.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Driver, Adam Nagaitis, Alex Lawther, Ben Affleck, Bosco Hogan, Brian F. Mulvey, Brontis Jodorowsky, Bryony Hannah, Caoimhe O'Malley, Chloe Harris, Christian Erickson, Clare Dunne, Clive Russell, Harriet Walter, Ian Pirie, Jodie Comer, John Kavanagh, Julian Firth, Marton Csokas, Matt Damon, Michael McElhatton, Nathaniel Parker, Oliver Cotton, Paul Bandey, Peter Hudson, Sam Hazeldine, Serena Kennedy, Shane Lynch, Simone Collins, Stephen Brennan, Tallulah Haddon, Thomas Silberstein, Tyrone Kearns, William Houston, Zeljko Ivanek, Zoé Bruneau

Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: R

Rarely do we get horror movies that are as dedicated to toying with audience expectations as Barbarian. Even rarer is a horror movie that pays so much attention to setting, and how men and women approach and interact with physical spaces in different ways. It's a film that's ultimately about entitlement—except it's delivered to us with jet-black humor and manic energy, shifting from romantic to ridiculous to raving mad. But with instantly charming performances from Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård—and Justin Long doing a brilliant job playing an absolute jerk—Barbarian never leaves you grasping in the dark, even if it leads you deeper into hell.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bill Skarsgård, Brooke Dillman, Derek Morse, Georgina Campbell, J.R. Esposito, Jaymes Butler, Justin Long, Kate Bosworth, Kate Nichols, Kurt Braunohler, Matthew Patrick Davis, Rachel Fowler, Richard Brake, Sara Paxton, Sophie Sörensen, Trevor Van Uden, Will Greenberg, Zach Cregger

Director: Zach Cregger

Kenneth Branagh’s third Hercule Poirot movie does everything it can to divorce itself from the quaintness of a typical Agatha Christie adaptation. Loosely based on the novel Hallowe’en Party, this outing swaps exotic locales for the claustrophobic confines of a gothic Venetian palazzo and flirts outright with horror. The film, shot through more Dutch angles than an Amsterdam maths class has ever seen, uses the genre's visual language to credibly suggest that this mystery might actually have paranormal undertones. Forcing Poirot to reconsider his die-hard loyalty to rational explanations is an interesting twist — it punctures the idea of him as a mystery-solving god and gives the film bigger questions to chew on than whodunnit.

What that does, however, is sap the satisfaction of watching him expertly crack the puzzle, because the movie spends so much time centering Poirot’s crisis of confidence. A Haunting in Venice’s tone switch to serious horror is also at odds with the campily bad accents and mostly overwrought acting from the (much less starry than usual) cast. It’s not the same kind of reliable guilty pleasure we expect these vehicles to be, then, but this outing of Branagh’s Poirot is at least an interesting experiment in expanding these stories' usual limits.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ali Khan, Amir El-Masry, Camille Cottin, David Menkin, Emma Laird, Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Kelly Reilly, Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen, Lorenzo Acquaviva, Michelle Yeoh, Riccardo Scamarcio, Tina Fey, Vanessa Ifediora

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rating: PG-13

Part sci-fi and part psychological horror, No One Will Save You is an impressive outing that serves as a vehicle for Dever’s one-woman show. She is a powerhouse, a nonstop show of talent that doesn’t seem to run out of fuel. The scenes are grueling and excruciating, they involve a lot of physical, mental, and emotional turmoil, but somehow, Dever rises to the challenge with unbelievable ease. Sure, sci-fi lovers will find much to discuss in these unearthly creatures, and cinephiles will appreciate how the film relies almost solely on sound design and a single line of dialogue. But it’s Dever who does the heavy lifting here, and it’s especially apparent when the film tries, weakly, to delve into Brynn’s psyche and the town’s sociological workings. It’s not as impressive in those regards, but Dever is strong enough an actress to make you forgive the movie’s frailer parts. 

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Bridget Malbrough, Dane Rhodes, Dari Lynn Griffin, Elizabeth Kaluev, Emani White, Evangeline Rose, Geraldine Singer, Kaitlyn Dever, Lauren L. Murray, Zack Duhame

Director: Brian Duffield

Rating: PG-13

Two months after its premiere in TIFF, Quiz Lady arrived on streaming this November. The comedy film has a sort-of buddy cop dynamic, with an anxiety-ridden, tightly-wound Awkwafina as Anne, and a chaotic Sandra Oh that lets loose with free-spirited Jenny. The film does take its time to get to the good part, and in certain scenes, it feels like it’s torn between the heartfelt and the humorous, but the leads’ acting smooths over some of the awkward writing. Quiz Lady still leads up to a fun watch, though better pacing and writing could have made this charming comedy a classic.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Al Bayan, Alan Heitz, Ammie Masterson, Amy Tolsky, Angela Trimbur, Annie Boon Karstens, Atul Singh, Awkwafina, Betsy Holt, Camrus Johnson, Charles Green, Charlie Talbert, Choppy Guillotte, Christine Lin, Davina Reid, Derek Roberts, Eddy Lee, Holland Taylor, Jane Yubin Kim, Jason Schwartzman, Joe Chrest, Jonathan Park, Jophielle Love, Justiin A. Davis, Larry Weissman, Maria Bamford, Martin Yu, Matt Cordova, Ned Yousef, Nicole Marie Appleby, Paul Reubens, Phil LaMarr, Sandra Oh, Shirley Chen, Summer Selby, Tawny Newsome, Tony Hale, Will Ferrell

Director: Jessica Yu

Rating: R

Producer-turned director Sean King O'Grady has some fresh ideas about what can shake up the dystopia genre, but The Mill needs more than a corporate critique to lift it off the ground. Even with Lil Rel Howery's apt acting skills (you'll probably remember him from Get Out), the film falls flat in its second half, losing the momentum built up by the original idea of the gristmill as an exteriorization of the corporate grind and its meaningless nature. The issue is that, aside from this smart use of symbolism, The Mill plays it rather safe by relating dystopia to capitalism. It's almost like O'Grady hasn't the slightest clue that capitalism and dystopia have been one and the same thing for decades now; if only he would have taken the equation to much, much darker places...

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Allya F. Robinson, Blair Wilson, Getchie Argetsinger, Jaiden K. Brown, Karen Obilom, Lil Rel Howery, Pat Healy, Patrick Fischler

Director: Sean King O'Grady

Rating: R