Director Picks: Top 5 Movies by John Carpenter

Written by Jesse Gelinas December 02, 2012

The man himself, John Carpenter

John Carpenter was a hell of a movie man. In the 70s, he started one of the longest running horror franchises in Hollywood’s history. In the 80s, he made some of the most entertaining sci-fi flicks of all time. He is a crowd pleaser. He’s got something for everyone. Whether it’s action-thrillers, sci-fi romance, kung-fu fantasy, or straight up horror, he has done it, and he’s done it well. He even writes his own music. Carpenter hasn’t been around much anymore, but back in the day, he made magic. Here are his best…

5. Starman

Jeff Bridges in the John Carpenter film, "Starman"

“The Dude is not in.”

In the early 80s there was a slew of alien visitor films. Spielberg dominated with “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Fewer people will remember “Starman” as fondly, but with this film, John Carpenter really showed his chops with his balance of sci-fi and romance. Jeff Bridges stars as the titular alien who crashes to earth and looks to Jenny (Karen Allen) for help in getting home. Appropriate sparks fly and the two embark on a cross country journey to send the Starman home. The plot may be a bit familiar, but the film is great, and Bridges garnered an Oscar nod for Best Actor, making this the only Oscar nominated film in John Carpenter’s repertoire.

4. Escape from New York

This movie is just badass. Kurt Russell stars as Snake Plissken, ex-special forces operative, now a career criminal, is sent deep into the heart of a dystopian New York, transformed into a gigantic prison, in order to rescue the President. It has badass lines, badass shootouts, a badass villain, and a badass soundtrack (see above). This formula for awesomeness would later be recycled for “Escape from LA” with less pleasing results. The original, however, stands as a great example of the entertaining and intelligent action John Carpenter is capable of.

3. Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis in the John Carpenter classic, "Halloween"

Look out! Rob Zombie’s coming to ruin your franchise!

This is definitely one of, if not the most famous film John Carpenter made, and it was relatively early in his mainstream career. Michael Myers, the troubled, murderous child grows in an unstoppable killing machine hell-bent on killing his sister. In Michael, Carpenter created an iconic horror franchise that would span five decades. This is classic horror and classic Carpenter, and it holds up today as a benchmark for the slasher subgenre.

2. Big Trouble in Little China

James Hong in the John Carpenter crowd-pleaser, "Big Trouble in Little China"

“It’s all in the reflexes.”

Oh my god, I love this fucking movie. I will stand behind “BTiLC” as being the most purely entertaining film of all time. It has it all: action, comedy, drama, horror, kung fu, magic, monsters, and Jack Burton (Kurt Russell at his finest), the ultimate everyman hero. This is not just one of John Carpenter’s best, but it’s one of my favourite movies of all time.

1. The Thing

A shot from John Carpenter's masterpiece, "The Thing"

“This is really not gonna sync up with the prequel.”

Okay, maybe Kurt Russell + John Carpenter just happens to equal cinematic gold. I don’t know; I’m not a doctor. But “The Thing” is a testament to the director’s undeniable talent. Thirty years later, this film about a parasitic alien that can take on the form of those it assimilates, holds up with great practical effects, and an all-star cast (including another Carpenter alum, Keith David). “The Thing” is not just great sci-fi horror; it’s a great piece of filmmaking.

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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