You probably have at least one movie you could watch six dozen times—you can quote every line, know every detail—a movie that’s your cinematic equivalent of comfort food.
Some films seem designed to reward such obsessive repeat viewing, like these underrated gems and revered classics. Sprinkled across different genres, they all have one thing in common—the more you watch, the better they get.
1995’s Friday is, just in case you’re unaware, one of the greatest stoner comedies ever. The trials of Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker), as they spend the day before the weekend trying to come up with enough cash to pay local drug dealer Big Worm, couldn’t be simpler. Yet, the movie’s deft writing, loving characterizations, and ridiculous attention to detail make it special. The film is so densely packed with gags and clever touches that every viewing will yield a joke you didn’t notice on your previous viewing—even if you’re watching it for the twentieth time.
For example, Smokey tells a story about a terrible night after accidentally smoking PCP; it comes midway through the film, and the resulting exaggerated shoulder twitch after he recounts it helps land the punchline ("I ain’t been right ever since"). But around the seventh or eighth time you see Friday, you’ll finally notice that the twitch is present throughout the whole movie.
Also, tiny slice-of-life details—such as the opening shot of shoes hanging on a clothesline, and the insane clutter of stoner artifacts in Smokey’s room—are peppered throughout the film. There are tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em gags too, like the fact that Craig’s girlfriend has another man in her bed when she calls him up to accuse him of cheating.
Friday is a hilarious gift that keeps on giving, and the rare stoner comedy you’ll want to see over and over, even if your memory isn’t impaired for some reason.
As the followup to the notoriously divisive Donnie Darko, nobody expected Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales to be anything but a complete mind-screw. What we got, however, managed to be even more divisive: set in an alternate reality where terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb in Texas, the film juggles multiple storylines while playing extremely fast and loose with conventional narrative structure. It also features supporting performances that were rather unexpected.
In particular, Sarah Michelle Gellar (as porn star Krysta Now) and Mandy Moore (as the hardass daughter of a Senator) both do an excellent job playing against type, as does much of the cast—none more so than Dwayne Johnson as amnesiac actor Boxer Santoros, who at times seems positively meek. This is a film fascinated with duality (not to mention security, surveillance, and quantum physics), embodied in Seann William Scott’s turn as twin brother police officers who may or may not be the key to a looming interdimensional crisis. Many critics called the film half-baked or underdeveloped, but nothing could be further from the truth—its vision is remarkably coherent, even when it pauses the proceedings to let narrator Justin Timberlake wander through a production number lip-syncing a Killers song in a bloody T-shirt. Southland Tales is a singular piece of art with a bizarre narrative that will probably take multiple viewings to unpack, and it’s worth it.
Before South Park really hit its stride, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were courted by Hollywood to become the next big comedy duo. It didn’t exactly pan out that way, but BASEketball—co-written and directed by David Zucker, who also co-wrote and directed the comedy classics Airplane! and The Naked Gun—should have punched the pair’s ticket to live-action film stardom. It’s an absolutely overlooked, underrated comedic gem with gags laid on so thick, it’s impossible to spot them all on the first viewing.
The plot centers around a pair of slackers who create the eponymous sport in their driveway before seeing it rise to the level of beloved national pastime. "Drama" ensues when the villainous owner of the Dallas Felons (Robert Vaughn) tries to change the sport’s bylaws to allow teams to move and corporations to inject dirty cash into the franchises. Stripped of all the gags, the film would function perfectly as a conventional sports movie, hitting every single beat on the way to its obligatory triumphant ending. A great deal of the fun comes from seeing real-life TV personalities grapple with the ridiculousness of the sport (such as when Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne present an insanely convoluted postseason schedule), and practically every scene contains background gags that any sports fan will appreciate. Plus, it’s great fun trying to catch all the South Park references, which may take a few viewings—except when Parker lapses into Eric Cartman’s voice. That one’s hard to miss.
John August is a veteran screenwriter who’s written both Charlie’s Angels films, several Tim Burton movies, including Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the live-action version of Aladdin. However, his sole directorial effort, The Nines, is one of the most unique, strange, and uplifting films ever made—although it may leave you wondering what you just watched the first several times around.
Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, and Hope Davis star in three separate but oddly interconnected short films, playing different characters in each one—or are they? The shorts sometimes seem to bleed into each other, and the weird dynamic between the three leads only gets weirder as the movie goes on. To say anything more would be spoiling a fantastic, singular film that approximately nobody has seen, which is a crime. The performances of all three principals—particularly Reynolds—are amazing, and the film presents huge ideas about humanity and the nature of our reality in a package that’s supremely watchable, at times suspenseful, and always fascinating.
The big picture of The Nines isn’t likely to completely register on first viewing, but that’s fine because the phrase "demands repeat viewings" could have been coined specifically for this film. It’s one you’ll want to watch again and again, and it’ll certainly make you see Reynolds and McCarthy in a whole new light.
Charlie Kaufman has become known as one of the greatest screenwriters of his era, with a voice and sensibility that are highly unconventional, to put it mildly. Perhaps best known for his insane opus Being John Malkovich, Kaufman produced what might be his greatest work in 2002’s Adaptation, a film whose title itself contains multiple layers of meaning.
The film is ostensibly an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s novel The Orchid Thief, a slight and mostly narrative-free book which Kaufman was inexplicably hired to bring to the screen. The screenplay that resulted is nothing short of brilliant: the film stars Nicolas Cage as Kaufman himself (and also, in a dual role, as his fictional twin brother Donald), tasked with adapting Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) nigh-unadaptable book and struggling mightily with the job. If that sounds weird and pretentious, well, Kaufman thinks so too, but, as this crazy puzzle box of a film plays out, you’ll be forced to confront questions about the nature of art, life, and the very film you’re watching.
An unexpected third-act turn might seem jarring and out-of-place to some viewers, but it’s the repeated viewing that will show you it had indeed been broadcast well in advance. For all of Kaufman’s neuroses, this is an astonishingly assured film, one that rewards its viewers with both intriguing and intricate storytelling.
1998’s Dark City (directed by Alex Proyas, in his followup to The Crow) begins as a neo-noir mystery and ends as something else entirely. A man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a dingy motel room with a dead woman; he has no idea how he got there, what happened, or even who he is. As he slowly begins to put together the missing pieces, he starts to notice odd inconsistencies and qualities of the world around him, things that almost nobody else seems to notice—not the least of which is the fact that in this city, the sun never seems to rise.
Without venturing too much into spoiler territory, Sewell’s John Murdock (if that is his name) comes to discover the crazy truth about his city and himself with the aid of Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland, in perhaps his best performance), whose meek nature and odd speech impediment hide a terrible secret.
You won’t see the film’s shocking twist coming, but it’s even more fun to watch on repeat viewings—you’ll begin to notice new bits and pieces as the fearful and confused Murdock hurdles headlong toward his incredible destiny, and Sutherland’s performance reveals itself as even more nuanced and heartbreaking. Note: Try to see the director’s cut, which beefs up some scenes and removes opening narration that some feel kills a lot of the mystery.
The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski has become part of our cultural lexicon. Even those who have never seen it have probably heard the phrase "the Dude abides." The Coen Brothers’ comedic modern-day noir forces Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) through a gauntlet of impossibly weird situations. Lebowski—also known as the Dude or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing—mistaken for another man with the same surname just wants his cherished rug ("which really tied the room together") returned to him. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi turn in hilariously supporting performances, and John Turturro steals his brief scenes as renegade bowler Jesus, one of the oddest characters ever put to film.
The film is wildly idiosyncratic, which is why it demands multiple viewings: simply put, many viewers just don’t get its gonzo sensibility the first time around. It’s the rare comedy that literally gets funnier every single time you watch it—you may even swear you’re watching a different cut of the film each time as subtle gags that had previously slipped by you magically begin to land. It seems as if only multiple viewings can reveal The Big Lebowski for what it is—a comedy masterpiece and one of the greatest films in the Coens’ formidable canon.
Denis Villeneuve’s first-contact drama Arrival is an incredibly thoughtful film which begins much like your standard alien invasion thriller: a dozen gigantic, silent alien spacecraft position themselves at various points around the world, and it’s up to the international scientific community including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to figure out why they’re here and what they want. While the film does build to a rather tense climax, it then gives way to a shattering revelation which—without spoiling anything—forces an immediate re-evaluation of everything we’ve seen thus far.
Particularly important are a series of flashbacks experienced throughout the film by Adams’ character, the nature of which don’t come into focus until the film’s end. Repeat viewings render the character’s journey as a great deal more poignant and add a completely new dimension to the relationship between the determined but frightened linguist and a physicist (Jeremy Renner) who is part of her team. Arrival is one of the truly great science-fiction films of this decade and offers an even deeper experience the second (or third or fourth) time around.
One of several 2006 films to look at the lives of 19th century stage magicians, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is the story of rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) who will stop at nothing to outdo each other, even when their machinations inevitably lead to tragedy. It’s a supremely well-crafted film with a labyrinthine plot and a late twist that pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief—both qualities that are mitigated on repeat viewings.
Nolan isn’t exactly known for holding viewers’ hands, and The Prestige may be the most obvious example of his high level of trust in his audience. The bizarre twists and turns of the plot make this a film that demands to be followed very carefully, and the whopper of a twist ending is actually softened a bit when viewers know it’s coming (the great Roger Ebert called it "a cheat," proving that even he was not always right). The performances of Jackman and Bale are stunningly nuanced and impressive—even more so when viewers are already privy to late-film revelations about their characters—and the late David Bowie’s brief appearance as Nikola Tesla, short as it is on screen time, is fantastic and deserves to be seen more than once. Fans who pored over Memento while selling The Prestige short are missing out on one of Nolan’s most elaborate and satisfying films.
Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s something of a miracle that Mad Max: Fury Road managed to get made at all. Coming three solid decades after the series’ previous installment, and with original director George Miller at the helm, Fury Road was stuck in development hell for years. Nobody seemed to be sure if Miller was up to the task, if new star Tom Hardy could fill the shoes of previous series star Mel Gibson, or if the world even needed another Mad Max movie—until the film was released and just blew everybody’s faces off.
Fury Road is a film that requires multiple viewings for many reasons; it’s short on dialogue, which can make its dead-simple plot (which is essentially one long chase) seem much more complicated than it is, especially to viewers who are accustomed to constant twists and turns. Hardy’s near-wordless performance—while perfect for the material—is virtually free of exposition as well, but upon repeat viewings the plot’s simplicity becomes more apparent, leaving viewers free to simply bask in the insanity taking place onscreen. Charlize Theron’s ferocious performance as the steely Imperator Furiosa can’t be witnessed just once, nor can the ridiculous array of thrilling and death-defying stunts, nearly all accomplished with practical effects. All of which points to the real reason Mad Max: Fury Road should be a regular viewing experience for any film fan: it’s probably the greatest action film of all time, and you just owe that to yourself.