Desert Island DVDs

You may think Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, but could you watch it every day if it was the only movie you had?

Airplane. Built to last.

Tremors (1990)David Bayon

Aside from being the only film I can remember with the word “mother-humpers” dubbed in, it’s also the version of Dune David Lynch (probably) wishes he’d made. Giant worms attack the inhabitants of a valley from under their feet/wheels/pogo sticks, but instead of easy pickings they’re greeted by a redneck Kevin Bacon, elephant guns and a nutjob couple who just happen to know how to make pipe bombs. Chuck in a painfully awkward romance, plenty of blood and guts and some impromptu pole-vaulting and you end up with the perfect B-movie to watch repeatedly on your desert island. Stay on the rocks though, or the Graboids will find you.

Project A (1983)James Clayton

If I was doomed to indefinite exile on a desert island and only allowed one DVD, I’d have to opt for the most awesome flick to explode out of the ‘80s Hong Kong martial arts scene: Project A (a.k.a. ‘A’ gai waak). Featuring the three-dragon triple-whammy of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, the movie not only offers the expected furious fight sequences and the niftiest stunt and action choreography, but also boasts buccaneers-a-plenty. As a concept, it doesn’t get much cooler than the combination of pirates and kung fu. Mix in three Hong Kong legends, back it all up with brilliant colonial period sets and costume and you’ve arguably got the most entertaining and exciting Asian action movie ever made. Chan’s bicycle chase scene, clock tower drop and Dick Wei’s pirate chief villain also deserve special mention as outstanding features in this maritime martial arts masterpiece. I don’t think you could get bored of Project A; I’d select the chop-socky flick as my pick for forced film solitude.

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Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)Mark Oakley

In my top three films of all time, with replay value playing a major role in that, this 1971 film evokes so many joyful childhood memories for me. The story’s a stone cold classic, the songs are simply wonderful, the central performance of Gene Wilder immense and the effects still hold much charm today.

I watch Willy Wonka at least four or five times every year and it never fails to make me smile. My favourite scene? Tricky, but I’d have to say it’s a tie between Wonka’s chastising of Charlie and Grandpa Joe (“You stole fizzy lifting drinks. YOU LOSE!”) and the far-too-scary-for-kids Wondrous Boat Ride, featuring, among other nasties, a chicken’s head being chopped off and some rather large worms crawling all over someone’s face. It’s a genuinely eerie and psychedelic sequence that lends Wonka just the right level of creepiness, something sorely lacking in the sub-standard remake.

Aside from the film, the U.S. DVD features illuminating interviews with the cast and crew, including all the now grown-up children, some sing-a-long songs to keep me entertained and a feature-length commentary. Plenty to keep me coming back for more. And more.

Shaun Of The Dead(2004)Ben Jones

In this time of economic hell and turmoil, the thought of being trapped on a desert island is seeming more and more enjoyable. With my survival skills I wouldn’t last very long, but probably longer than I am in the financial industry that is my lively-hood. Now I’m depressed. Anyway, the film I would take with me is Shaun Of The Dead. Although not the greatest film of all time, it’s the one film that seems to have been written specifically for me. If someone sat me down and asked me to list all the things I’d love to see in a film the outcome of that would be Shaun Of The Dead. Favourite British comedians and actors, check. Witty, laugh out loud script, check. Zombies, big check. Also the bonus with the Shaun Of The Dead DVD is the hilarious cast commentary with Nick Frost’s bukkake Phyllis story. Fried Gold.

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Dr. Strangelove (1964)Philip J Reed

In terms of sheer rewatchability, I’ve got to cast my vote for Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. It’s Kubrick’s comic masterpiece, and as many times as I’ve seen it, I remain in awe at how perfectly the whole thing is put together. George C. Scott gave us (involuntarily, according to folklore) one of the most brilliant comic performances ever set to film, and Peter Sellers was at the absolute top of his game playing three characters that only get funnier with each successive viewing. The suspense even manages to remain affecting so many years after everybody’s committed the film’s iconic, bomb-riding ending to memory. Chalk that up to the still-lingering terror of Mutually Assured Destruction, an omnipresent global catastrophe that spares nobody…but provides one hell of a foundation for one of the finest comedies ever made.

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)Craig Snell

It’s fun, scary in a few bits and Jason’s best outing. Its also got a kick ass soundtrack from Alice Cooper and some pretty funny death scenes. I watched it first when I was about 14, owned it on Betamax, VHS and now DVD. I must have watched it dozens of times, I can’t say why I love it, its just to me the ultimate ‘stick on and watch’ disc.

Dumb And Dumber & Serenity (1994/2005)Louis Turfrey

There are few movies that can stand being watched again, and again but my favourite at the moment is split between Dumb And Dumber and Serenity. I simply can’t choose, so if I was stuck on a desert island, I’d probably be satisfied with either. D&D because of its comedic innocence, (and the scene on the toilet), and Serenity because it has one of the best special effects scenes that I have ever seen. It is also a very under-rated movie that allows for grit, romance, comedy and action without compromising its core goals. Plus it’s a bloody good laugh.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)Parsley the Lion

Years in the making, Kubrick’s masterpiece merits years in the watching. Gorge yourself on the sumptuous furniture fashion icons. Freeze frame your way through the futuristic designs provided by genuine NASA ideas men. Revel in the birth of special effects ideas that would shape cinema for years after. There’s so much to enjoy, from fleeting appearances by UFO star Ed Bishop and Rising Damp‘s Leonard Rossiter, to the iconic use of classical music. Is it any wonder that completely different directors such as Gasper Noé cite it as a seminal influence? Well, no frankly, it isn’t!

Cloverfield (2007)Matt Haigh

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched this film. My first experience of it was in the cinema, which subsequently saw me buying the DVD and showing it to just about everyone I know. Even now, I still get shivers down my spine when the Statue of Liberty’s head goes spinning across the sky, bounces off a skyscraper and smashes into the middle of the road; in years to come I’m sure that’ll be an iconic movie moment. It’s hard to pin down exactly why it’s so watchable, but perhaps it’s because everything about this film – the acting, the script, etc. – is so brilliantly executed, and almost without a single film cliche in sight. By turns terrifying, thrilling and heartbreaking, it’s also quite short, and so easy to watch again and again without ever feeling like a chore.

Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2004)Mike Jennings

Hopefully, I’ll be allowed to pick a trilogy (it is, after all, one work that was split into three parts to make them a cinema-ish length for viewing purposes) and, if I am, then I’ll pick the best one going. As well as its absolute epic length – near thirteen hours with extended editions – which is ideal for a desert island when longevity will count.

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As well as its day-devouring length, the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy is ideal for its content. A fantastic, sweeping story that encompasses the fate of entire continents, superb, archetypal characters and plenty of fighting – important, as a proper, meaty film like that is good to keep the morale up when waiting for the inevitable rescue boat.

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)Robert McLaughlin

There are very few (if any) movies that combine Kung-Fu, Kurt Russell and immortal lightening-firing gods all wrapped up in a big John Carpenter synthesized score. One of my favourite films as a kid, this movie has always stuck with me as being a film that has everthing I love in it and is a great example of the types of ‘un-safe’ experimental movies we don’t see anymore. I am not aware that there were any commerical tie-ins or merchandise for the movie when it opened and I guess the marketing test groups were not looking for franchise ideas; it is just a one-off movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has all the elements to make a film just that little bit special. From Russell’s wise-cracking Jack Burton who (like the audience the lot of the time) has no clue as to what is going on, to Lo-Pan and the many Chinese hells, Big Trouble is a film I watch at least once a year and find endlessly entertaining. An hour and a half guilty pleasure filled with exploding people, crazy ninja battles and a underground complex with a giant skull and neon escalator in it… What more could you want?

Blade Runner (1982)Aaron Birch

It’s not exactly high on happiness and isn’t the first film that you’d think of to keep up your spirits when trapped on some godforsaken piece of land in the middle of an ocean somewhere, but I can’t evangelize Ridley Scott’s epic take on Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, enough. For me, Blade Runner is the epitome of great film making. Ridley Scott’s difficulty in getting the film out, its initial poor reception, and its growth into one of the most respected pieces of fiction ever committed to film make for a whole caterpillar to a butterfly tale of success.

So many films, books, games and other media have borrowed heavily from the world Scott created in the film, from the cyberpunk society and the now iconic sprawling dystopia, to the character of Deckard himself, whose template has been used countless times. There’s a reason for this duplication – Blade Runner was designed and delivered almost flawlessly, and it worked, even if it took the general public many years to appreciate it.

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Okay, so the awful Sam Spade voiceovers were guff, and the alternate ending was a bit of a travesty, but with these hiccups fixed in the final cut, and when the final line of “It’s too bad she won’t live… But then again, who does?” rings out before we see the paper unicorn in Deckard’s apartment, bringing with it the film’s mighty revelation, you just can’t help but feel a shiver down your spine. Amazing stuff, and a film I could happily watch over, and over, and over again. Which, of course, I have.

Seabiscuit (2003)Gaye Birch

I’ve already mentioned Tremors as my go-to anytime guilty pleasure and my abuse of that particular disc, and I have so many films I’d watch on a never-ending loop: Mr Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse, Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride, Willow, Harvey; they all make me happy. But if I was to take the Desert Island DVD idea literally, stranded, with only one film for company, I’d want the one that makes me feel most hopeful, and that’s Seabiscuit. I watch that film whenever I’m frustrated, disappointed or angry with people. Which is far more often than it should be. It’s a salve. A balm. It keeps me off alcohol. Love the film, Bridges and Banks, Maguire and Macy, and the glorious Chris Cooper. And alliteration also, apparently.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)Martin Anderson

I’m kind of guessing that someone else is going to cover Groundhog Day, and I already mentioned The Dambusters in last year’s feature about Movies That Cheer Up Den Of Geek. Therefore it will have to be The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1963). This absolute treasure from Val Guest tells the story of how the Earth is tilted off-axis by competing nuclear experiments between east and west, bringing a massive rise in temperature, floods, disaster…and martial law. It’s witty, intelligent, superbly acted (particularly by Leo McKern) and full of attention to detail. It’s also highly atmospheric – makes you thirsty just looking at it. The avant garde but low-key eroticism in the film underpins a love story that is refreshingly essential to the plot. Sci-fi with brains, beauty and balls; you’ll always notice something new on each viewing, though the average viewer won’t take many to spot Michael Caine in a walk-on part as a traffic cop!

Airplane! & Quiz Show (1980/1994)Simon Brew

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I’ve got two films that sit on a constant rewatch pile, and they really couldn’t be much further apart. On one hand, there’s the zany wonderment of Airplane!, which may not be the best film to be stuck on an island with, given that you’d be half-looking to aviation to carry you away. But in the old VHS days, it was one of the very few films that I could get to the end of, rewind, and start all over again. Batman used to fall into that category too, but it’s harder to carry off in these post-Nolan days.

The other is Quiz Show, for my money one of the most criminally forgotten films of the 90s. It’s quite heavy for a Desert Island film, and yet it’s a dish I can feast on repeatedly. I maintain it should have beaten Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings and Pulp Fiction to the Best Picture Oscar that year, and it’s an acting tour-de-force – that even brings the late, great Paul Scofield into the supporting cast – that I’ve rarely seen beaten.

Clerks (1994)Arron MacDonald

For anyone who knows me, they know how difficult a choice any single DVD is…having spent six months pretty much in bed once due to a shoulder reconstruction, my DVD collection has swollen to the point it’s overrun the spare room.

However, my choice was made a little easier upon the realization that someone would almost certainly choose Shaun Of The Dead, and that, however much I felt I could justify the selection of Scrubs Season Five Disc 2, it probably wouldn’t be in the spirit of things…

It pretty much came down to either Clerks or Office Space. Alas, I arrived at Clerks, easily the finest piece of Kevin Smith work to date, hysterically funny, and it hasn’t dated to the extent that people would automatically presume. It’s also one of the few recent films that I can think of that’s filmed in black and white and doesn’t come across as being pretentious. I should add, being that I only sleep two hours a night and as such have probably watched this movie at least once a week for the past four years, I know that I could comfortably re-watch it for all time.

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Independence Day (1996)Kevin Pocock

Will Smith’s (first) alien-smacking adventure remains, to this day, the only film I’ve seen at the cinema twice. In my younger years, the optimism I had for a humanity that could pool its resources and strike back at a menace that sought to rid us of existence was in its prime. Combine that with my fondness for the style of the geek-chic Jeff Goldblum (I knew he was right all along), the ‘embodiment of humility’ President as played by Bill Pullman, Will Smith at his effortless peak and the dog-fighting scenes featuring any aircraft humanity declared fit for flight, and it had me hooked. Indeed, it still does and, if I ever need a moment of cinematic history to visualise, the destruction of Independence Day‘s White House is enough to send shivers down my spine.


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