Lists

The 10 Best Paramount Pictures Movies of the Last Decade

You know times are tough when losing $39 million in a single year is somehow considered a win, yet that’s where Paramount Pictures currently finds itself. Once the industry standard for excellence, Paramount’s turnaround effort is finally underway, with veteran executives either newly hired or promoted and a diversified slate of TV and movie projects…

Ugh.

Haven’t you read this story before? Today, Paramount. Yesterday, Sony. Before that, MGM.

The specifics may change, but the general outline remains the same: a once-vaunted institution falls on hard times due to an almost comical inability to adjust to new trends, chronic mismanagement, and a senior leadership which unforgivably passed on multiple opportunities to get ahead of the game. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz wrote a whole (highly recommended) book about how all of those things spelled doom for Amy Pascal at Sony. Now, The New York Times has a long piece arguing the same about the sad demise of Paramount Pictures under the direct leadership fo Brad Grey and corporate control of Sumner Redstone’s Viacom.

It’s a great read for anyone interested in the history of how the 107-year-old studio behind some of the greatest films of all time devolved in this new century into the industry’s cellar dweller. But I’ve already written at length about Paramount’s financial woes and synergistic strategies for a rebound under new chairman Jim Gianopulos and Viacom boss Shari Redstone.

So, today let’s focus instead on the actual movies, specifically Paramount’s 10 best from the last decade. I single out the last decade because, well, if you grew up watching movies in the 70s, 80s, or 90s that Paramount mountain logo was an ever-present companion. It flashed in front of Love Story, The Godfather, Grease, Airplane!, all of the Indiana Jones movies, most of the Friday the 13ths, too many Eddie Murphy titles to count, Major League, Ghost, all of the good SNL movies (and some of the bad), Forrest Gump, the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies, The Truman Show, and, of course, Titanic. All rewatched ad nauseum over the years.

It’s far more challenging to remember what Paramount has made over the past decade other than a bunch of Mission: Impossible and Transformers movies. And do you even count the early Marvel Studios movies since all Paramount did was distribute those, leaving the actual filmmaking to Kevin Feige’s crew? I tend not to think of them as Paramount movies for that very movie.

Marvel movies notwithstanding, under Brad Grey and now Jim Gianopulos’ watch, some fantastic films have been unleashed. Here are my picks for the 10 best, in alphabetical order (because ranking movies is so two weeks ago):

10 Cloverfield Lane (2017)

One-Sentence Pitch: John Goodman’s plays the absolute last person you’d ever want to get stuck in an underground bunker with – he’s crazy, creepy, but also just might right about everything in this surprise Cloverfield sequel.

Where Can I Stream It?: FX or FOX

A Quiet Place (2018)

One-Sentence Pitch: Like Bird Box, but good.

Where Can I Stream It?: Epix or Rent It

Annihilation (2018)

One-Sentence Pitch: A more estrogen-infused version of Predator with an all-time mind-fuck ending, although the irony of including this in a list of Paramount’s best even though Gianopulos famously sold it to Netflix overseas is not lost on me.

Where Can I Stream It?: Amazon Prime or Hulu here; Netflix everywhere else

Arrival (2016)

One-Sentence Pitch: Fewer movies have so successfully stripped away the Spielbergian sentimentality of a first contact story, replaced it with cold, scientific reasoning, and still managed to have so much heart without seeming trite about it, thanks in large part do Amy Adams’ mesmerizing central performance.

Where Can I Stream It?: Amazon Prime or Hulu

Fences (2016)

One-Sentence Pitch: I won’t mount an entirely passionate defense if you want to argue this is basically just a filmed play, but August Wilson’s words and story – which I think of as a kind of Death of a Salesman for 1950s African-Americans – have rarely seemed as vital as they do here thanks to Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ powerhouse performances as the feuding heads of a struggling family.

Where Can I Stream It? Amazon Prime or Hulu

Hugo (2011)

One-Sentence Pitch: Challenged to find the actual artistic – instead of purely financial -potential for 3D, Martin Scorsese turned toward the life story of one cinema’s very first innovators, Georges Méliès, for inspiration and delivered both one of the most heartwarming and visually arresting films of his career in the process.

Where Can I Stream It?: Amazon Prime or for free on Tubi TV

Interstellar (2014)

One-Sentence Pitch: Look away if you are turned off by sci-fi’s odd propensity for “And the fifth dimension is…love!” plot twists, but definitely stay for one of Christopher Nolan’s most nakedly emotional efforts to date, a twisty space exploration tale that not-so-secretly functions as a love letter to his daughter.

Where Can I Stream It?: FX, Fox or Rent It

Mission: Impossible-Fallout (2018)

One-Sentence Pitch: He climbed the tallest building and stuck to the side of a plane like glue, but this is the one where Tom Cruise finally slipped and got hurt, not that you’d notice since his on-screen counterpart, Ethan Hunt, has his best and most emotionally satisfying adventure yet.

Where Can I Stream It?: Rent It

Star Trek (2009)

One-Sentence Pitch: If you can ignore the persistent lens flares and are not the type of fan who will use “They blew up Vulcan! They’re dead to me!” as a rallying cry, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is the gold standard for how to take an old, somewhat calcified franchise and breathe new life into it in a way that honors the past (again, RIP Vulcan) while boldly facing the future.

Where Can I Stream It?: Amazon Prime or Epix

The Big Short (2015)

One-Sentence Pitch: Never has a dry lesson about macroeconomics, bank loans, and the real estate industry seemed so understandable, immediate, and engaging, as director Adam McKay and his talented ensemble make us laugh to keep from crying before ultimately making us want to rage against the machine.

Where Can I Stream It?: Rent It

All streaming availability listed above is as of 1/21/19.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Anomalisa
  • Bumblebee
  • Rango
  • Shutter Island
  • Silence
  • Super 8
  • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • True Grit
  • Up in the Air
  • Young Adult

What about you? What are some of your favorite recent Paramount movies, if, indeed, you have any?

19 comments

  1. Interesting list! In my humble opinion, both The wolf of Wall Street and Shutter island could have made it to the top 10, but hey, at least they’re honorable mentions! :–)

    1. Oh, believe me, earlier versions of this included either one of those over Hugo. However, with The Wolf of Wall Street I kept thinking about the way the film oddly seems to be celebrating Jordan Belfort and the 80s orgy of greed even if you know that’s not what Scorsese really means. Always left a bad taste in my mouth, as much I still enjoy the movie, of course. Then it came down to Silence, Shutter Island and Hugo. Silence is too long and slow at times. Shutter Island and Hugo are both in their own ways exercises in genre storytelling, and I gave Hugo the slight edge over Shutter Island for maybe doing just a little bit more to elevate its kid’s movie genre than Shutter Island does with the mind-fuck thriller. But if someone else did a similar list and picked Shutter Island over Hugo I wouldn’t argue too hard.

      1. I agree with you, after all it’s still a Scorsese movie!

        By the way, I also get angry when I watch The wolf of Wall Street, and I think that it demonstrates that Scorsese made the right movie. If I get angry, it means that I hate what I see, and I hate the 80s orgy of greed!

        Not that many things are too different today, unfortunately…

  2. Nice list you have there. And I should probably start putting Hugo and The Big Short on my top priority.

    I would put Anomalisa in the top ten. For movies not in your list, I’d include these three in the top ten:
    Tropic Thunder
    Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
    The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

    Honorable mentions:
    The Fighter
    How to Train Your Dragon

      1. No, I’m serious. I like it, regardless whether “it made money but clearly not enough to make a sequel” or not. Regardless whether it’s high on RT or not.

        It was fun. According to Wiki: “its original concept, excellent gore and action sequences, and the film’s ability to not take itself too seriously”—the same reasons why I like the movie.

      2. It was okay. It was slightly fun. We’re all entitled to our opinions but you are the only person in the universe who thinks it should be in any top 10 list.

        And for a plot that involves diabetes, it’s so stupidly wrong.

      3. Well, lists, top ten lists, are personal. And it’s not because “we’re all entitled to our opinions” kind of reasoning. Top ten lists are not supposed to be the gold standard or something. Nor are they supposed to be the same for all the geeks in the universe. Kelly’s list is his list. Mine would be mine. My own biases, my own preferences. People will always have different take on things. If I’d make a list, I’ll definitely include it, diabetes, hemorrhage, and all.

        “And for a plot that involves diabetes, it’s so stupidly wrong.”

        This, I would say is the biggest flaw of the movie (well, Annihilation has flaws, Interstellar has flaws). How come it gets right all the “fantasy horror” stuff (witches, weaponry, costumes) but not the thing about diabetes? A horror fantasy movie gets diabetes wrong. That’s just stupid, right? At least it gets hemorrhage right.

      4. That movie has its fans, for sure, and I’m not going to argue against a movie you find to be fun for all the right reasons. For my tastes, I just don’t personally find it quite fun enough to crack a top 10, but I’m with you on enjoying the film’s obvious knack for not taking itself too seriously.

    1. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”

      Oh, wow. I completely forgot about that one. It’s a total acid trip of a kids movie in the best way possible. If not in my top 10 it deserves an honorable mention for sure.

      “The Fighter
      How to Train Your Dragon”

      I considered The Fighter, but one that one I subscribed to the “test of time” criteria where do I look back on it now and still love it. The answer is not totally. Mostly when I look back on it I remember a great Christian Bale performance and Boston accent/culture porn. (Remember all that talk about doing a spin-off movie about Wahlberg’s family in the movie?) That being said, that might be one I need to re-watch because it was one of my favorites the year it came out.

      Before I re-watch that, though, I need to actually watch How to Train Your Dragon. I’ve never seen it, somehow.

      “Tropic Thunder”

      I was just doing movies released between 2009 and 2018, and Tropic Thunder just barely misses the cut as a 2008 release. Otherwise, your damn straight it would be in my top 10! I’m totally with you there.

      1. Was thinking 2008 to 2018. That’s 11 years. Haha. Tropic Thunder is great. Would you say it’s the type of comedy Hollywood doesn’t make anymore?

        I probably have the same take on The Fighter. But I’ve seen fewer movies. So, it’d probably make the Honorable mentions in my list.

      2. Tropic Thunder is definitely the kind of comedy they don’t make anymore. For one thing, I imagine the race humor in there would probably give them more pause in today’s environment. For another, it’s a Star (Ben Stiller & Robert Downey, Jr.) + Concept (idiot actors get dropped into a real war zone) project, which is exactly the kind of thing Hollywood used to see as its bread and butter, right up until The Dark Knight and Iron Man combined for nearly 1.6 billion at the worldwide box office in the same summer.

    1. I most clearly remember it, myself, with Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Airplane!, and Friday the 13th. Basically, anything that had a lot of or at least one sequel and seemed to always play in TV marathons.

  3. Yes, to Star Trek and A Quiet Place! But will Star Trek movies continue with Paramount now that Discovery is available online and others are in the works???

    1. Oh, that’s a seriously complicated/confusing web of legal entanglements. For reasons known only to him, Summer Redstone split CBS off from Viacom in 2005, and in the NY Times article I linked to, it’s but one of the many egregious and serious misreadings of market trends that has spelled so much doom for Paramount and, actually, Viacom.

      But that wasn’t your question. How this pertains to Star Trek is that when CBS was spun off, Redstone sent most (though not all) of Viacom’s other TV operations with it, including Paramount Television and Showtime. Star Trek, at that time, had just died. Nemesis bombed three years earlier and Enterprise had wrapped up its final little-watched season. So, no one really cared about Star Trek’s future because, really, what future? If they had, maybe more people would have realized the following: by splitting the two operations, Summer Redstone had inadvertently split Star Trek in half. The film rights stayed at Paramount Picture; the TV rights, however, went over to CBS.

      Shari Redstone, Summer’s estranged daughter who left the entertainment business entirely only to suddenly come back and aggressively take control of Viacom once Summer lost control of his faculties, is currently trying to reunite Viacom and CBS. (If all of this behind the scenes drama sounds juicy enough to be its own TV show, HBO agrees – the Redstones are a huge inspiration for HBO drama Succession). Until that happens, however, Paramount is free to keep making whatever Star Trek movies it wants while CBS All Access could make as many TV shows as it wants.

      That’s not exactly what’s actually happening, though. Paramount has reportedly ceased development on a new Star Trek movie that would have seen Chris Pine’s Kirk time travel and meet his dad, played by Chris Hemsworth. The problem: everyone wanted more money than Paramount wanted to spend. Meanwhile, CBS All Access has Discovery going, a Michelle Yeoh spin-off in development, a Star Trek Academy series from an OC creator in development, and an animated series as well. CBS All Access is basically about to become the Star Trek All Access considering how many shows they might have. So, right now the future of Star Trek is back where it all began: on TV (er, techncially streaming, but you get the point).

      1. Thank you for your thorough answer, esp the behind the scenes info! Although I adore Star Trek, I am worried that are over playing their hand on the small screen. Disney did this with Star Wars and had to delay and/or cancel some of their projects. While I am loving Discovery, and am excited about the Picard series, I thought the Michelle Yeoh series (although I love her) was over kill. Plus an animated series & academy series??

        As for the movies, when I heard that Pine & Hemsworth’s talks had fallen through, I wasn’t worried, I figured they’d come to a deal eventually and/or get rid of Hemsworth to keep costs down. But no luck. I’m disappointed, as I liked this Kelvin timeline with the Spock/Uhura romance. But how would they have explained Chekov’s absence?

      2. Agreed about them probably overdoing it with all the Trek content on All Access. It seems a bit early, for one, to be plotting a Discovery spin-off. I’m not convinced all of those in-development projects will actually go anywhere. Picard and Discovery are the only two I would say I 100% see happening or keeping on as they have. The others I’m less sure about, even if by “less sure” I mean “maybe only an 85% chance that happens.” The thing is All Access doesn’t really have anything else right now. CBS put it together to get out ahead of the oncoming streaming wars, and it still feels either additive for CBS fans or a must-have for Trekkies or nothing else. The Good Wife spin-off is on there and gets no attention. Ditto for a Kevin Williamson horror series. So, going so all-in on Star Trek is just their strategy to get noticed, even at the risk of overdoing it.

        As for movies, last I saw an industry trade wrote a report about HBO’s Game of Thrones spin-off and included a sentence or two about how the woman who was going to direct the new Star Trek movie has been scooped up for this GoT series since her movie has been canceled, for now.

        But in the NY Times article, the people at Paramount still dangle the idea of a Quentin Tarantino Star Trek movie and the franchise is listed as being a part of the studio’s long-term plans. So, they might not be giving up entirely. They’re just taking longer than expected to make up their minds. Really, they’re in a financial bind. Nobody in the cast is under contract. Many of them now have better leverage to demand more money since they don’t need the movies as much as they maybe once did, but since the movies struggle to make money handing out higher salaries is the last thing Paramount would want to do.

        However, I’m with you – I grew to really like the Kelvin timeline and would certainly watch another adventure with this crew. Chekov’s absence could be handled quite practically – he simply got transferred to another ship or died in-between movies. I’m just not sure if that’s a problem they’ll even get to solve considering all the behind the scenes intrigue as to whether there will ever be another movie with this particular cast or not. Whatever they do on the movie side I do believe J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot have to be included, contractually.

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