The Top 10 Movies of 1997
As we did in both 2015 and 2016, we are counting down the best movies that celebrate a decade anniversary in 2017. First up is the batch that is just a couple years out of high school, not yet old enough to drink. Join us as we take a look at the Best Movies of 1997.
One movie on this list eclipsed all others in 1997: James Cameron’s Titanic obliterated box office records, becoming the first film to gross over $1 billion at the box office. It held the (unadjusted) record for highest-grossing film until Cameron himself returned to blow it away with Avatar in 2009. Along the way, Titanic pulled in a boatload of awards, including 11 of the 14 Oscars for which it was nominated, among them Best Picture. Notably, two of its fellow Best Picture nominees eclipse it on the global Flickchart, coming it at #1 and #2 on this list. (The other two nominees don’t quite make the global Top 10, but both get a mention among our Bloggers’ Picks!)
Here, in ascending order, are the Best Films of 1997, as decided by the individual rankings of Flickchart’s users.
Even after the RMS Titanic and her sister ship Britannic wound up on the bottom of the sea, people were still booking trips on a third sibling, the Olympic. If an exact replica of the Titanic were built today and scheduled a voyage along the original ship’s route, tickets would undoubtedly sell out. The allure of Edwardian splendor trumps the lessons of hubris and the fear of history repeating. Most people never had a problem appreciating James Cameron‘s romantic take on Titanic, but in case you’re one of the contrarian holdouts, understand this: Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) exist to serve the story of the ship, not the other way around. Their outrageously unlikely melodrama is sometimes fun — “paint me like your French girls” has entered the lexicon — but more often it feels cliché and convenient. That’s because it has to be. In order for Cameron to take us on the full tour of the ship during the days of its splendor and the hours of its destruction, we must have characters who can go into every nook and cranny. Accordingly, the first-class Rose and the third-class Jack visit the prow (“I’m the king of the world!”), the dining hall, the boiler room, the lower decks, the stern, the lifeboats, and even the sea of frozen bodies. No real passengers could have been in all of those places at the very moments of maximum dramatic effect, but nitpicking the narrative is beside the point; because we are with Jack and Rose, we are with the Titanic at each of its fatal turning points, and that’s the arc Cameron cares about. Accordingly, the film’s weak points are its supporting roles: Billy Zane (aided by David Warner) as the gleefully villainous aristocrat, an underused Kathy Bates as “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown, and Bill Paxton as a caricature of a present-day Titanic treasure-hunter. For all its faults (some argue that it’s not even the best movie about the Titanic), Titanic busted box office and tied all-time Oscar records. Like Celine Dion’s heart, its influence goes on, as reflected by its success on AFI lists and the global Flickchart. – David Conrad
- Global Rank: #760
- Ranked 676,265 times by 85,338 users
#9. Grosse Pointe Blank
Grosse Pointe Blank is the rare action comedy that is memorable for both its action and its comedy. Rather than merely sprinkling jokes between action sequences, it takes being funny seriously while maintaining an intensity that underscores the unfolding drama. The film stars John Cusack (he also co-wrote the screenplay) as Martin Blank, a professional hitman, who attends his ten-year reunion amidst troubles both personal and professional. The supporting cast of characters includes the endearing ex-girlfriend (Minnie Driver), charming best friend (Jeremy Piven), dry-witted spook (Hank Azaria), delightfully acerbic secretary (Joan Cusack), skittish shrink (Alan Arkin), and Blank’s competition in the assassination business (a surprising turn for Dan Aykroyd). The soundtrack has a retro ’80s vibe and is packed with punk, ska, and new wave classics from the likes of The Clash, The Specials, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Whether or not you attended your own high school reunion, be sure not to miss Grosse Pointe Blank. – Ben Shoemaker
- Global Rank: #746
- Ranked 136,417 times by 14,869 users
#8. Jackie Brown
There exists a mature, subtle(r) director and writer within firebrand Quentin Tarantino. That auteur is visible in Jackie Brown, where characters plot robberies and not heists, where they explore crushes through cassette tapes and not overwhelming lust. Elmore Leonard gives Tarantino the story, and the actors fill out the characters. But by maintaining patience and a nostalgic, cinematic haze, Tarantino manages to stage all this as an elegy to aging. The film is filled with familiar mortality, and it depicts some relationships too soaked through to unpack. Special shout-outs to Pam Grier and Robert Forster, who give powerful and quiet performances. – Alex Lovendahl
- Global Rank: #624
- Ranked 354,395 times by 34,867 users
#7. Life is Beautiful
Life is Beautiful is almost certainly the most controversial in our 1997 roundup. There are very few “Eh, it’s all right” viewers; it’s almost all love-it-or-hate-it. Apparently enough of us fall into the “love it” camp that it made its way onto our list. It’s a beautiful story about how we use humor to cope with the most terrible of situations, how laughter can reignite hope when nothing else does. The first half of the story is pure romantic comedy, establishing our main character who uses his time and energy to bring joy to those around him through laughter. When tragedy strikes in the second half, that character is still just as determined to bring joy to those around him, even when there is no joy to be found. He refuses to let the atrocities being committed around him and to those he loves strip him of his humanity and his humor. It’s a risky film that takes co-mingled comedy and tragedy to the extreme, and, in my opinion and those of the Flickcharters who ranked it into this list, those risks pay off. – Hannah Keefer
- Global Rank: #574
- Ranked 150,472 times by 15,350 users
#6. Men in Black
Coming on the heels of the previous year’s Independence Day, Men in Black solidified Will Smith’s position as Box Office King, a title he wouldn’t relinquish until he teamed up with M. Night Shyamalan in 2013. It isn’t the only sci-fi film from 1997 that walks on the weirder side (double-feature MIB with #3 on this list for a smorgasbord of sci-fi silliness.) But while The Fifth Element adds color to the traditional Star Wars-style space opera, MIB keeps things a little more down to Earth. Literally.
Rather than the wisecracking military pilot of ID4, Smith plays the wisecracking NYPD cop who gets pulled into the unseen world of policing alien activity on our planet. The genius of the film comes in pairing Smith’s attitude with the perfectly deadpan Tommy Lee Jones, resulting in one of the oddest odd-couple pairings of the ‘90s, if not ever. (And this is the decade that gave us Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour, and Buzz and Woody in Toy Story.) Add to this ingenious creature design, a giant bug stuffed inside the decaying skin of Vincent D’Onofrio, and a talking pug, and you have something truly unique.
Hollywood has been trying to replicate the lightning that director Barry Sonnenfeld corked ever since, from MIB’s own sequels to the dismal R.I.P.D. in 2013. Their continued missing of the mark is simply further proof of how special Men in Black is. – Nigel Druitt
- Global Rank: #439
- Ranked 680,499 times by 88,193 users
#5. Boogie Nights
All of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are ostensibly about family. Whether it’s the father-son relationship of There Will Be Blood or the search for the one woman who felt like home in Inherent Vice, PTA has always been intrigued by what makes a family and how to achieve that family. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his second film, Boogie Nights, a vibrant masterpiece that identified Anderson as a true auteur. Boogie Nights is a film that hearkens to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, and shows that Anderson belongs in the same league as these masters. In Boogie Nights, Anderson creates a world where a de facto family is created around a desire for success, fame, and simply fitting in. Anderson doesn’t criticize these people for finding these things in the world of pornography, but rather embraces the importance of finding what you love to do and excelling at it. Boogie Nights rarely gets credit for its scope, following an ensemble cast of over a dozen characters through two decades. It’s a staggering achievement that deconstructs filmmaking, the porn industry, the stigmas associated with each, and it remains fun throughout its almost three-hour run time. – Ross Bonaime
- Global Rank: #403
- Ranked 417,960 times by 43,922 users
#4. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke was the first time American critics noticed Hayao Miyazaki in a big way, paving the way for Spirited Away‘s Oscar success four years later. But to his longtime fans and in his native Japan, Miyazaki’s sprawling, bloody, technologically-innovative epic represented a comeback for the beloved storyteller. One of his early retirement attempts had lately been derailed by the death of his would-be successor at Studio Ghibli, Yoshifumi Kondo. Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, who deserves a great deal of credit for keeping the eccentric director churning out content for the better part of three decades, convinced Miyazaki that his comeback movie should be Mononoke rather than a story about a caterpillar that Miyazaki had been hoping — and is still hoping, twenty years later — to make. It was a bold choice; Princess Mononoke is less cute (and therefore less merchandisable) than most Ghibli movies, features grotesque imagery and tense action sequences, and stars warriors from Japan’s ancient Emishi ethnic minority instead of a more conventional kind of anime protagonist. At the same time, the environmental themes common to the studio’s movies are as urgent as ever in Mononoke, and the spiritual dimensions of Miyazaki’s work are more literally expressed than in his earlier movies. All this experimentation and intensification paid off with domestic and international success both critically and with audiences. The baroque yet primitive story of god-like wolves and boars, warlords and toiling villagers, sacred deer and mysterious forest beings has real weight to it, and Mononoke’s “adult” content makes it the kind of movie that has awakened snobs and skeptics to the artistic value of animation in general and Japanese animation in particular. Though four other Ghibli titles precede Mononoke on the global chart, for many viewers this remains the apex of that peerless studio. – David
- Global Rank: #371
- Ranked 182,678 times by 17,411 users
#3. The Fifth Element
I think we’re still kind of recovering from this film as a culture. This film is stealth surrealism, Trojan-Horsed inside Bruce Willis and sci-fi guns. Never has it been so clear that Luc Besson is a trans-dimensional mescaline prophet. The Fifth Element makes Dune look like “Lost In Space”. The colors are lurid; the camera warps and reels around people dressed like they’re in an SNL sketch about a fictional science fiction fandom. And unlike literally every other film before it about the future, there’s no attempt AT ALL to ease the audience’s transition into the new world by trying to make it seem “realistic” (i.e. as much like the present as possible), because that’s not what the future is going to look like. It’s going to keep getting louder and glossier and more Bessonian because that’s what the inside of our egos look like. Yet the film is not just weird-for-the-sake-of-weird; there is an incredible sense of the universe of the film extending far past the borders of the frame. I mean, what the fuck is “laserball”? Are powdered wigs really going to come back? Why is Hawaiian music being played in orbit around an extra-solar planet? I LOVE that sort of thing. We’ve been dropped into a future that feels real because we don’t understand it, just like we don’t understand the present. The world of The Fifth Element feels legitimately complicated, and that is a hard thing to make enjoyable while simultaneously being a well-crafted action film, trying to make a point about human morality, and giving us a glimpse into the future of live classical vocal performance. This film warrants INTENSE study, because behind all of the popcorn badassery lies a level of worldbuilding that defies expectation and rational logic. Which is what science fiction used to be all about. – Doug Van Hollen
- Global Rank: #281
- Ranked 555,555 times by 68,870 users
#2. L.A. Confidential
I may be an odd choice to write about L.A. Confidential: I have little direct experience with or love for classic film noir, which heavily informs the film. But what draws me into novelist James Ellroy, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and director Curtis Hanson‘s 1953 Hollywood world of celebrity scandal and police corruption are the three central cops: Guy Pearce‘s Edmund Exley, Kevin Spacey‘s Jack Vincennes, and Russell Crowe‘s Bud White. Exley is a Dudley Do-Right political animal who’s lost sight of the reason he became a cop; Vincennes is the liaison/adviser to a Dragnet-style procedural who accepts bribes to make meaningless busts that look good on the cover of Danny DeVito‘s Hush Hush tabloid rag; and White is a violent, corrupt cop who’s made it his personal crusade to bloody or outright murder any wife-beater or rapist he can find. As they join forces to solve a series of interconnected crimes, their flaws and virtues rub off on one another, and they begin to remember who they were and discover what they are truly capable of being as police officers. I am a sucker for stories about morally complex characters reaching a crisis point and overcoming their own corrupt nature to choose to do what is right, and of enemies putting aside their differences to form alliances, and L.A. Confidential has those themes in spades. It helps that the 1950s-via-1990s aesthetics of the film achieve a perfect compromise between grittiness and nostalgia. Add James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, and David Strathairn, and you have one of the best casts of the ’90s in what is my personal highest-ranked film of 1997. – Tom Kapr
- Global Rank: #257
- Ranked 452,951 times by 43,593 users
#1. Good Will Hunting
At first glance, Good Will Hunting may appear to be a stereotypical movie about people going through emotionally troubling times. But if you take more than a cursory glance at it, you will see a movie with a vibrant heart and well-written characters, acted by a trio at the height of their prowess as actors. The script was penned by stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who presumably drew from their experiences living in Massachusetts to inform their characters’ backgrounds. Either way, Will Hunting (Damon) and Chuckie Sullivan (Affleck) feel like living, breathing characters and help draw the audience into the film. It’s curious that this is a movie about a genius letting personal issues drag him down, akin to 2014’s The Gambler. Yet unlike the Mark Wahlberg-starring film, this movie does everything right to make you care about its title character. The central relationship in the film is of course between Will and his therapist (Robin Williams). While it has given rise to many a parody, the scenes between them are played perfectly. Damon and Williams are excellent together and Williams’s subtle touches to the role make it stand as one of the best of his career. The climatic scene (“It’s not your fault”) arrives well-earned after the movie spends its running time developing Hunting’s emotional scars. Good Will Hunting is ultimately a very intelligent film, likely benefiting from the more indie tendencies of director Gus Van Sant, and deservedly stands as the best of 1997. – Connor Adamson
- Global Rank: #135
- Ranked 600,550 times by 68,818 users
The above list is the Top 10 films of the year, as established by the aggregate rankings of Flickchart’s many users. What follows are some additional films from 1997 that our bloggers feel are worthy of recognition.
As Good As It Gets
Jack Nicholson starring as a grumpy codger has become something of a stereotype, between his turns in About Schmidt, Anger Management, and many others. As Good as It Gets wasn’t even the first time, with Terms of Endearment (also directed by James L. Brooks) beating it to the punch by over a decade. Yet the strength of this film lies in the fact that it’s ostensibly a romantic comedy, yet features Nicholson at his most hateful and misanthropic since The Shining. Brooks plays that to great effect, taking the rom-com formula and using it develop real people and not just cardboard cutouts. Both Nicholson’s Melvin and Helen Hunt‘s Carol are characters suffering from different emotional baggage. Yet they are drawn to each other despite all of the personality ticks that might prevent it. Melvin is a man trapped within his condition that might have had his heart turn bitter because of it. Yet he craves human affection and struggles to open up to Carol. The unique characters and developed arcs keep you attached from start to finish and, despite an ending that may annoy those who know better about mental health, the emotional impact is effective. If you love Jack Nicholson, this is a film for you. – Connor
One movie night, many years ago, a friend announced we were going to watch a movie I had never heard of and knew nothing about, except for the goofy VHS cover art and the immediate information that it was an Australian comedy. I was dubious. Yet that friend will forever hold a special place in my heart — for several reasons, but, for the purposes of this article, for introducing me to The Castle. Michael Caton stars as Darryl, Kerrigan family patriarch and king of his particular “castle” – a tacky little house on a nothing swath of ground that the government wants to compulsorily acquire through an eminent domain law and bulldoze in order to expand a nearby airport. Darryl isn’t having it. This is a quirky underdog-fights-the-system comedy, but its real charm lies in its family dynamics. The Kerrigans are a brood wholly oblivious to any sense of social normality or sophistication, but they love and support each other wholeheartedly and unconditionally, and it is one of the most hilarious and heartwarming things you will ever see in a film. Yes, you’ll spend a lot of the film laughing at them (rather than the perhaps more preferable with), but in the end you will love them for their eccentric authenticity. They are easy to root for. (This movie also has the distinction of being future star Eric Bana‘s first feature film role.) The Castle is one indie flick that deserves the highest honor imaginable: going right on display in the pool room. – Tom
No, not the 2005 romantic comedy starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. While both are based on the same book by Nick Hornby (of High Fidelity and About a Boy fame), the American remake squeezes every last inch of charm out of the story and presents us the withered remains. This version of Fever Pitch stars Colin Firth as a soccer-obsessed man and Ruth Gemmell as his partner who feels like she always comes second place to Firth’s adoration of his favorite team. Those who have read Hornby’s work or seen any of the the solid film adaptations of his novels know what to expect. It’s funny, down-to-earth, and engaging as a story, and Firth and Gemmell have a natural chemistry that Fallon and Barrymore never found. Check this one out. – Hannah
The Full Monty
A sleeper indie hit when it premiered, this film has grown more relevant with each passing year. It’s all here: examinations of modern masculinity, the evaporation of the working class, the Eighties finally ending in 1996, and his Royal Hipness Sir Tom Jones, telling you to leave your hat on, except in this case he means you should leave it on your willy. (You heard it here first: this year you’re going to see Tom Jones coming back in a big way, like a Welsh hurricane.) Like all great independent comedies, The Full Monty prevents you from drawing a firm bead on what precisely you’re supposed to be laughing at, or with. The film doesn’t make you laugh at the men struggling with their lives any longer than you want to, and it makes precisely the correct number of penis jokes (i.e. fewer than an American writer would think) for a movie about male strippers. In many ways, this is a return to the classical forms of comedy: jokes are front-loaded in the story, which then taper off as we build in emotional momentum towards an ending that is so happy that it blasts through the Narm-Schmaltz Horizon and achieves Joy Singularity. This is comedic storytelling at its most bold precisely because it is extremely tactical in its deployment of jokes, the net result of which is a meatier, more nutritious sense of well-being. – Doug
Most people seem to divide Jim Carrey’s performances into two categories: the “serious” (The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the “not serious” (Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective). As though, somehow, those “not serious” performances require less skill on the actor’s part to pull off. Regardless, Liar Liar is rarely mentioned when the subject of favorite “not serious” Carrey performances come up, and that’s a shame. Liar Liar is Carrey in full rubberface mode, yet it’s in service of a script that is not just dumb for dumb’s sake.
In true fairy tale fashion, a child’s birthday wish results in his dad being unable to tell a lie for an entire day. Hilarity ensues, especially in Carrey’s capably nutty hands, but beneath all the shenanigans, Liar Liar asks an interesting question: Just what happens when all your filters are forcibly removed, and no lie – no matter how little, or how white – is even possible?
Endlessly quotable (“I’m kicking my ass! Do you mind?”), delightfully madcap, and sweet and schmaltzy in all the right ways, Liar Liar is Jim Carrey’s finest hour. Seriously. – Nigel
Tomorrow Never Dies
Tomorrow Never Dies is a ’90s modernization of The Spy Who Loved Me, which was a ’70s modernization of You Only Live Twice: a madman, in this case a media mogul (Jonathan Pryce), tries to create global war by making it appear that the East is attacking the West and vice versa. It’s no GoldenEye, to be sure, and it doesn’t rank alongside Connery or Moore or even Dalton’s best, but it’s a strong Bond flick, certainly better than what came next for Pierce Brosnan. Among its strengths is Teri Hatcher, who delivers a clever line traced to an idea in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale — “Tell me, James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?” — before meeting her inevitable Bad Bond Girl end at the hands of Vincent “Sad Eyes” Schiavelli. Michelle Yeoh, certainly one of the most well-regarded actresses to appear in a Bond movie, is Wei Lin, the first Asian Bond Girl in decades and the strongest since Maud Adams and Barbara Bach. She leads 007 on a motorcycle- and kung-fu-powered chase through the alleys of Hong Kong before sparring with him about the decadence and corruption of the capitalist order he upholds. Tomorrow Never Dies features one of Judi Dench‘s best zingers as M, and Desmond Llewellyn‘s Q has his last solo appearance (he would share time with his supposed successor John Cleese in 1999’s The World is Not Enough before retiring from the series.) Sheryl Crow’s title tune isn’t among the most memorable in Bond-dom, but the end-credits song by k.d. lang has an almost legendary status among fans of the franchise. Flickcharters collectively consider Tomorrow Never Dies the 22nd-best official Bond movie out of 24, leaving ample room for reappraisal. – David