As I write this post, I am currently living in the Seattle area which has turned into something like ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic and my family and I are firmly in “social distancing” mode. Every day bring some an exhausting mix of news to give us hope and news to send us into a fear-spiral. Things we did routinely a mere couple of weeks ago now seem to be part of a bygone age, and the swiftness in which our lives has shifted is tantamount to emotional whiplash.
One of the places of solace I have found, and ironically the reason I started this blog in the first place, is the reality that we now live in an age where home entertainment options have never been more accessible to us. And while movie studios are taking the unprecedented move of releasing movies that were currently in the cinemas for home release the reality is that we are probably going to be hunkered down for the long-haul. Frankly, we might just need more content to keep us going.
And so I present to you what I think are some of the best movie series that will keep us going (mostly because coming up with this list was an act of therapy for me). When trying to narrow down the multitude of movie franchises available to us I had to give myself a bunch of criteria (as one does). This is what I came up with:
- Series length: Whatever series we embark on should be long enough to last us at least a week, if not much, much longer. In this time I want something that can serve as an automatic and familiar point of contact for an extended period of time because the less gears I have to shift during these chaotic days, the better.
- Availability: With the search for simple groceries enough of a challenge, the last thing you should need to do is hunt down an out-of-print copy of a DVD. For the most part, almost all of these movies are readily available on a streaming service or at least for digital rental. In some cases the entire series comes in a single box-set.
- Variety: Some entries here are consistently great, some vary wildly between the good and the bad, and some are here because they are camp classics. Each type of series has its own merits and if I can find joy in each type of series far be it from me to deny you that same variety. A caveat: Unfortunately due to Hollywood being somewhat sexist, almost all of these movies here are very-much male driven. I will try and fix this imbalance in a future post.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoy the list, and maybe find an anchor for something resembling normalcy through it. And seriously, listen to health officials, social distance as much as humanly possible, wash your hands, stop hoarding toilet paper, and be safe. Hopefully I’ll see all of you on the other side.
THE OBVIOUS ONE:
Marvel Cinematic Universe (23 Movies, 50 Hours 3 Minutes)
It’s the most recent series on this list and most successful. While there is plenty to criticize about the MCU (including the way it has irreparably made other Hollywood studios chase IPs and inferior cinematic universes of their own) you cannot deny that it has a lot of CONTENT. In addition the series itself is consistently good, with even the worst entries of this series still being watchable. However the converse is also true in that the MCU is very rarely transcendent or great. On the plus side the wide array of superheroes, almost all of them perfectly cast, mean there is plenty of variety to help keep the series from becoming too stale. But the MCU also suffers from a “generic villain” problem; it is no coincidence that the very few great MCU movies also tend to have a great villain. The continuity can be daunting as each movie keeps building on the previous installments meaning that very few movies on the list can be skipped; you might need to keep a notebook handy to keep the disparate timelines and enormous cast straight.
Who Should Watch This: Comic-book fans, people who are incapable of watching movies made before this century, people who like to be at the center of pop culture, Disney+ subscribers.
THE OTHER OBVIOUS ONE:
James Bond Series (24 movies, 50 hours 44 minutes)
It’s the granddaddy of franchise filmmaking and like any cultural artifact that is almost 60 years old, there are good and bad things about that. Since this series spans six decades it can serve as a clear roadmap for how action movies have evolved and changed over the years. Also unlike the MCU this is a series that almost no continuity to speak of so you could conceivably watch this in any order (apart from probably starting with Dr. No). And since this is a series that has also recast James Bond several times, you could also just focus on your favorite Bonds (Lazenby fans anyone?). However this is a very formulaic series and over twenty-four movies that could get tiresome quickly. And lets be candid, the series’ overall attitude towards women is not one that has aged particularly well.
Who Should Watch This: Dads, action-movie fans (who are probably dads), people who were gifted a James Bond boxset for Christmas (who was most definitely your dad), sons of dads (who will inevitably be watching it with your dad).
THE ONE FOR BUDDING CINEPHILES
Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit Trilogies (6 movies, 17 hours 12 minutes; Extended editions, 20 hours 58 minutes)
Sure there are only six movies in this series but they are absolute behemoths – the average runtime of each extended edition is just under three hours long! And while I have been controversially and publicly on the record saying the theatrical cuts of The Lord of the Rings are better, I am presuming that you have tons of time to kill so go for it and bust out the extended editions. The extended editions are also worth owning because they have an unprecedented amount of behind-the-scenes extras going into extensive detail about how the movies were made (the Lord of the Rings extras are somehow and impossibly longer than the actual movies). While the movies are great, this is the real reason to jump into this series as there is plenty of other content to dive into once the movies are done. However the drop-off in quality between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy is considerable; everyone who is not a completionist should consider dropping The Hobbit altogether, but if you love Middle Earth who am I to argue against hanging out in that world for a few more hours?
Who should Watch This: Fantasy (and Tolkien) fans, people curious about how movies are made (and want to finally know the difference between Sound Production and Sound Mixing).
THE ONE TO MAKE YOU PAINFULLY AWARE OF THE PASSAGE OF TIME
Harry Potter Series (8 movies, 19 hours 28 minutes)
There are many other series that have installments released over a longer period of time. But no other series I know has the sobering reality of seeing a bunch of child actors grow up before our eyes and play characters who begin in innocent childlike wonder but end in sober and haunted victory. The Harry Potter series (both in books and movies) is always a tricky one to navigate when trying to introduce it to children because it does begin tonally in a much more magical and lighthearted place but eventually descends into something much more tonally grim. But this shift does in some way evoke the journey from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood, and I cannot think of a series that has navigated those changes better. Plus while most series have the reputation of getting worse the longer it goes, Harry Potter is one that does get better and better (this is of course helped by the fact that The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets are quite abysmal so the bar for improvement was quite low).
Who should Watch This: YA Fantasy fans, fans of classically-trained British actors (from series regulars like Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman to one-offs like Kenneth Branagh and Jim Broadbent).
THE WARM-HUG ONE
The Muppets Series (8 movies, 12 hours, 53 minutes)
I realize that the Muppets are the epitome of anarchy, but theirs is an anarchy not borne out of cynicism but purely out of sincerity and earnestness which is a welcome balm in an age where our all-pervasive chaos seems to only be come from meanness. The Muppets in their never-ending quest to please, to succeed, and to belong certainly have been bountiful sources for laughter, but that quest is also one that inevitably, and sneakily, manages to fly past our best defenses and end up warming our hearts. If the sight of a frog playing a banjo on a log causes you to get a little misty-eyed, then perhaps this is the perfect series to plow through.
Who should Watch This: Parents with small kids, people whose humor runs silly, people who need warm hugs.
THE SCI-FI ONE TO INSPIRE COUNTLESS (AND PROBABLY TIRESOME) DEBATES WITH THE LOVED ONES WHO YOU ARE CURRENTLY TRAPPED IN THE HOUSE WITH
Star Wars Series (11 movies, 24 hours 56 minutes)
Taken at face value, the Star Wars franchise is a pretty-fun space fantasy series that is the perfect mix of silly-childlike fun and heart-pumping adventure. However from as early as there has been a Star Wars movie, there has been a strand of Star Wars fandom (of which I considered myself a part of) that bordered on religious obsessiveness which has, especially with the last two entries, made liking a Star Wars movie a bit of a tiresome act. But here’s hoping that now that the “Skywalker” saga is finally done, we can all get back to actually enjoying this saga about space wizards that was made for children. And if the movies aren’t enough for you, check out the extensive animated series (Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance) or The Mandalorian, which is unabashedly the most fun I’ve had watching something Star Wars related in a long time. And for the record, the CORRECT watching order is the release order: IV-V-VI-I-II-III-VII-VIII-IX with Rogue One and Solo optional. Any other order is ludicrous
Who needs to Watch This: Anyone bummed out that they won’t be visiting Galaxy‘s Edge anytime soon, people who get energized by Twitter arguments, people with kids who don’t know the famous twist, Disney+ subscribers.
THE SCI-FI ONE THAT MIGHT REMIND US OF OUR BETTER NATURES
Star Trek Series (13 movies, 25 hours 13 minutes)
From the offset the Star Trek series has been categorically uncool but that’s because it has always been something better, namely being a never-ending beacon of optimism. The world that Gene Roddenberry built is one where the notion expanding our horizons is not something we should fear but something we should excitedly embrace. This idea has remained surprisingly sticky for nearly seven decades even as we as a people have gotten increasingly cynical and frightened and I think it is because at its core the Star Trek series hits at something that is true. And it is a message that has rung true even as the tone of the series has changed, from the orginal series’ goofy seriousness, to the Picard-era’s glorified TV-episode movies, to the flashy (and lens flare-filled) new trilogy. As someone who admittedly grew up being on the Wars side of the Star Wars vs. Star Trek side of things, Star Trek’s eternal commitment to remind us that we can indeed be better than we are is something that in recent years I have found myself more drawn to. If you’re going to spend an extended time immersed in a universe in these scary times, why not choose to gladly go “where no one has gone before?” Plus with easily a couple thousand hours of TV episodes outside of the motion pictures, this is a series you are certainly not going to exhaust anytime soon.
THE SLASHER ONE(S)
Friday the 13th Series (12 movies, 18 hours 26 minutes)
Halloween Series (9 movies, 13 hours 59 minutes)
Both of these lean and mean horror franchises are both endlessly entertaining for the horror fan and testament to the depths of cynicism a studio will go through to milk a franchise dry. The Halloween series began earnestly with director John Carpenter and writer Debra Hill truly wanting to create something original before the series quickly descended into a series of increasingly campy sequels (before rebounding somewhat with the reboot). But Friday the 13th is perhaps the more fascinating series in that the original was explicitly a Halloween clone, and subsequent sequels were green-lit solely to make more money; it is a fascinating to watch actors and directors, none of whom probably ever chose to be a part of a Friday series, put in perfunctory shifts at movie-making (plus this series gets pretty weird in the latter half). If you really want to get into it, the podcast In Voorhees We Trust with Gourley and Rust (and its sequel podcast In Myers We Trust) are great deep-dives to help you pass the time with episodes frequently ending up longer than the movies themselves.
Who should Watch This: Horror fans, campy-horror fans, people who want to see a cavalcade of stars in their earliest roles (Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman, Paul Rudd, Crispin Glover, Tyra Banks, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland among others), people who can appreciate that a movie can be objectively bad and still be entertaining.
THE DYSTOPIAN SCI-FI ONE
Planet of the Apes Series (9 movies, 16 hours 20 minutes)
While most people, in the face of possible dark disaster, tend to choose to spend their free time dwelling on the brighter side of life, others find solace by staring their fears straight in the face. In that case, what better series to dive into than the one where our place in the universe is supplanted by a bunch of apes? And in going through this series you also get to see a broad swath of filmmaking. The first Charlton Heston-helmed entry is a bonafide classic while the next four entries are a perfect introduction into the joys of low-budget B-movie filmmaking. The recent prequel trilogy is a great example of modern blockbusters (with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes easily one of the best movies of the past decade) and then there is 2000 Tim Burton remake that is a fascinating relic into a time when major studios saw “nerd” movies as a necessary evil to a financial end.
THE CRITERION ONES
Godzilla: The Showa Years (15 movies, 21 hours 48 minutes)
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (25 movies, 36 hours 52 minutes)
If you are somehow unfamiliar with it let me just tell you that the Criterion Collection is a marvelous and wonderful gift to the cinephile community. If your goal is to expand your usual film-watching boundaries then I cannot recommend their extensive film collection highly enough. And I chose these two gigantic boxsets that they have put out because it highlights an aspect of international cinema that is often ignored: namely that international cinema can be every bit as genre-based as American cinema. The Godzilla series is the epitome of the Japanese blockbuster, establishing a cinematic universe long before Marvel even thought of making movies. Meanwhile the Zatoichi series, about a wandering blind swordsman who chooses to establish some semblance of justice wherever he lands, fits in well with our North American understanding of a Western. And with each movie averaging about 90 minutes a pop, it is hardly daunting getting through an installment. (Also if international cinema is what you want to get into, the Criterion Channel is an excellent supplement to whatever streaming package you have).
Who should watch this: Movie nerds (and aspiring movie nerds), people remotely into monster movies and/or Westerns and want to branch out, Criterion Channel subscribers.
THE OTHER OPTIONS
Mission Impossible Series (6 movies, 12 hours 51 minutes)
Possibly the closest movie series to enter my main list up top, but misses the cut because it is too short. Still, here is a franchise built solely on the premise that Tom Cruise desperately wants to keep you entertained and for the most part that is exactly what he does.
Fast and Furious Series (9 movies, 18 hours 15 minutes)
I will gladly watch installments 5 through 7 of this series just about anytime, but the first four movies range from boring to not-bad-enough-to-be-entertaining, while the 8th ride out from Dom’s family is when the series over-the-top car antics start descending into parody. And the less said about Hobbs and Shaw, the better.
Terminator Series (6 movies, 12 hours 3 minutes)
You know the first two movies are great, followed by a decent but disappointing third entry. Then the dystopic series becomes a fascinating study of a studio desperately trying to recapture the magic of James Cameron’s early success.
Alien Series (8 movies, 15 hours 18 minutes)
Like the Terminator series, the first two Alien movies are all-time great movies before the series takes a turn for the mediocre (although Alien 3 is at least an interesting failure).
Rocky Series (8 movies, 14 hours 57 minutes)
Your mileage on this series depends exactly on how high your Sylvester Stallone-tolerance levels are (mine is not nearly enough to watch half of these in one go)
DC Extended Universe (8 movies, 17 hours 43 minutes)
After an extremely rocky Snyder-heavy beginning, the DC Extended Universe effectively threw in the towel against their Marvel rivals and scrapped their continuity in favor of simply telling good individual stories. That move has most certainly paid off with the latter input of Aquaman, Shazam, and Birds of Prey being some of the most fun superhero movies I’ve seen in awhile. Wins “Most Improved Series” award.
X-Men Series (12 movies, 24 hours 21 minutes)
I would have elevated this series to a main option except for the fact that (a) its timeline is an almighty mess, (b) exactly half of its movies are unquestionably bad, and (c) half of the good movies were directed by Brian Singer which… yikes.