By the time we shuffle off this mortal coil, most of us will have seen hundreds, possibly thousands of movies—ones that make us laugh, ones that make us cry, ones about a talking pig who runs a summer camp, ones that feature a monkey who does superfunny monkey things, etc. But every so often, a man pauses the DVD he’s watching, right around the scene where a guy gets hit in the crotch with a softball, and asks himself: Have I seen the essential movies of our time? Am I really, truly dude-cineliterate?
So as a public service, we’ve compiled the 25 films every guy must see: Westerns and war movies, comedies and dramas, gladiator epics and crime flicks, road movies and sports docs. Some contain valuable life lessons about what it takes to be a stand-up gent; others are simply filled with sex, violence and an excessive use of the word “balls.” (Heh, heh!)
So drop everything you’re doing and watch these man-sterpieces ASAP. You’re welcome.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Go ahead, keep your SNL cheerleader sketches and your Old School quotes; this is where you go for the unfiltered gonzo genius of Will Ferrell, all arrogant bluster and wild jazz-flute solos. Like a ’70s aftershave ad come to life, Ferrell’s manly TV newscaster brings the musk-scented heat, making you miss the days when a man was judged by how much his apartment smelled like rich mahogany even as the movie mocks such primitive notions. It also reminds you that you should always carry a trident in case a news-team rumble goes down, a lesson that has gotten us out of more jams than we can count.
Animal House (1978)
Ah, Delta House: How your residents made higher education seem like such a hedonistic blast! The granddaddy of modern raunch comedies, this blockbuster instantly made fraternity life synonymous with binge drinking, toga parties and a total disrespect for authority figures. (When nothing could be further from the truth, right? Right?) You could use this film as a male-archetype personality test—are you closer to an Otter? A D-Day? Or god forbid, a Pinto?—were it not for the fact that John Belushi’s one-man tsunami tips virtually destroys the grading curve. We all want to be like Bluto Blutarski, not so much when we grow up but because then we’d never, ever have to grow up.
Bull Durham (1988)
With all due respect to Field of Dreams (yes, we have the same father issues you do; no, that was just, like, dust motes or something caught in our eyes), when you reach for a Kevin Costner baseball pic, you should be reaching for Ron Shelton’s ménage-a-trois-on-the-mound masterpiece. For starters, there’s The Speech, a litany of minor-league star Crash Davis’s beliefs—the small of a woman’s back, good scotch, the hanging curveball—that’s a major-league lesson in verbal seduction. Then there’s Susan Sarandon, who dispels any foolishly held doubts that middle-aged women can’t be sexy. Finally, there’s the notion that a man has to know when to walk away gracefully—and that you can lose an inning or three but ultimately still win the game.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Seriously, has there ever been a more manly mantra uttered in a motion picture than “What is good in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women!” We like the first two Terminator movies as much as the next dude, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was born to play Robert E. Howard’s sword-swinging he-man—and lo, a generation of gents learned the proper way to punch a camel and throw an evil wizard-priest’s head down stone steps. Forget the wisecracky sequel and the 2011 remake: This is the real-deal barbarianism you need, unclean and uncut.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
You couldn’t swing a cat in the late ’60s without hitting a charismatic antihero, and on paper, Paul Newman’s chain-gang Christ figure might read like just another nonconformist sticking it to the man. Then you see what this blue-eyed devil does with the role, and damned if you aren’t convinced that Luke isn’t the second coming. It’s one thing to stand up for your rights, and another to go to fatalistic lengths in the name of not backing down; Newman somehow makes the character’s death wish feel like the ultimate you-can-chain-me-up-but-not-knock-me-down statement. Cool doesn’t even begin to cover it. Also, don’t try that 50 eggs trick at home. Trust us on this.
The Dam Busters (1955)
Even if George Lucas hadn’t borrowed heavily from this old-school WWII adventure to make Star Wars—see both the flying sequences and the pilot intercommunications scenes—this slab of he-man cinema, British division, should be considered required dude viewing. Having exhausted every attempt to blow up Germany’s dams and thus cripple their munitions industry, a group of military eggheads design a special air-delivered bomb that can skip over water (cue awesome aeronautical-engineering porn). It’s then up to the RAF’s finest stiff-upper-lippers to deliver the payload or die trying. The mere act of typing this synopsis just grew 20% more hair on our chests. It’s that manly.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
You like men-on-a-mission movies, huh? This one continues to set the standard: On the cusp of D-Day, Army Major Lee Marvin recruits the twelve meanest, nastiest, most low-down convicts you could imagine and whips them into shape for a top-secret commando raid. You can practically feel the testosterone oozing out of the screen from the list of credits alone: Ernest Borgnine! Robert Ryan! Jim Brown! Charles Bronson! John Cassavetes! Telly Freakin’ Savalas! Not even Donald Sutherland WTF-is-this-hippie-doing-here? character can dent the sheer level of full frontal dude-ity on display here.
A quartet of college buddies—including a post-Breakfast Club Judd Nelson and a pre-fame Kevin Costner—plan a final road trip before graduation, marriage and [gulp] adulthood force them to head their separate ways. You don’t need to have grown up with (or grown away from) a tight circle of friends to appreciate Kevin Reynolds’ beautiful, bittersweet portrait of bonding with your buddies one last time. Nor do you have to be a Costner fan to recognize that this is some of the actor’s best work, especially when it’s clear this Peter Pan is going to be lost in life without his Lost Boys. And we don’t care how manly you think you are: Have a box of dude-Kleenex handy for the ending.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Robert Mitchum always looked like a perpetually hungover slab of granite, yet the star’s laconic guy’s-guy act is the perfect complement to this adaptation of George V. Higgins’ underworld masterpiece. A sad sack crook caught between vicious bank robbers and overeager feds, Mitchum never loses his what-me-worry? deapan, even when the noose slowly starts tightening around his rumpled neck. The dialogue is pure pulpy pleasure and that ’70s sound track is funky as a barfly’s bad breath, but make no mistake: This is easily one of the seediest, grittiest crime movies from an era full of them.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The hat, the pancho and the cheroot sticking out of a stubbled face: it’s possible that another actor besides Clint Eastwood could have pulled off that outfit and still turned the gunfighter that embodies the first of the title’s holy trinity into a Spaghetti Western icon. (Keep in mind that good is a relative term here.) But they wouldn’t have given the character the same steely stare, gritted-teeth line readings or sweaty-sexy-cool sense of amorality, and that makes all the difference. Did we mention there’s also Eli Wallach’s over-the-top bandit, an epic Civil War set piece with exploding bridges and the greatest shootout in a graveyard ever?
The Great Escape (1963)
Everyone knows Steve McQueen is the end-all, be-all of masculine cool, and this is the movie where he really seals the deal: His stick-it-up-your-arschloch responses to the Nazis. His anachronistic gray sweatshirt and chinos. The one-man baseball game he plays during his his numerous stays in solitary confinement. That incredible motorcycle chase that ends with McQueen jumping his Triumph over a barbed-wire fence. All this, plus the ultimate boys-adventure story of gutsy guys tunneling their way out of a POW camp. We could watch this movie every weekend. In fact, we’re going to throw it on right now.
Hard Times (1975)
Desperate times require desperate measures, and for rough-and-tumble drifter Charles Bronson, that means—what else?—bareknuckle fistfighting. Having ridden the rails into Depression-era New Orleans, our hobo hero falls in with reptilian promoter James Coburn and soon dominates the underground circuit. Bronson played loads of strong, silent types, but he never played a stronger or silent-er hero than this amateur boxer with a killer left hook. And you have not seen a more knockdown, drag-out fistfight than the climactic one featuring the star and ’70s stuntman/character actor Robert Tessier—a violent, wordless conversation between men who earn their living one bloodied knuckle at a time.
De Niro, Pacino, cops, robbers, one of the single most exciting gun fights in screen history: what more could you ask for? Michael Mann’s takes that whole two-sides-of-the-same-coin to the extreme, setting up both Shouty Al’s detective and Stoic Bob’s career criminal as consummate (if obsessive) professionals even as their personal lives both end up going to hell. And then there’s the pièce de résistance: A face-to-face conversation between two acting titans that doubles as a dick-measuring contest. “You do what you do, I do what I gotta do,” Pacino says, between a volley of eloquent threats, and you can tell these archrivals respect each other—though that won’t stop either of them from seeing things to the bitter, bitter end.
High Noon (1952)
Sometimes, a man can count on those around him to help him out in times of need; other times, well, he has to do a dirty job all by himself. This Western pits taciturn lawman Gary Cooper against the clock, as his cries for help fall on deaf ears and he waits for four-on-one showdown with murderous outlaws. But that’s not why this Oscar-winner is the favorite of CEOs and U.S. Presidents (it remains the single most screened movie at the White House). It’s because it advocates the notion that when the buck stops at your desk, you’re in charge of taking responsibility: not the yellowbellies around you, not your underlings, not even your loved ones. Just you.
The Hustler (1961)
They called him Fast Eddie Felson, and no young buck was better at running a pool table or a quick-cash con. This kid wants to be the best, however, which means a showdown with the legendary Minnesota Fats—and getting out from behind the existential 8-ball, which is much harder. You can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke, the spilled cheap beer and the sheer desperation in this classic tale of a guy who could have been a champion if he weren’t his own worst enemy, and no movie has filmed the world of two-bit pool halls with more noirish grace or grit. Rack ’em up.
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Say hello to the best heist film you’ve never heard of: A British caper flick involving group of Her Majesty’s military men who, years after serving queen and country, find themselves being vastly underappreciated. So they’ve decided to put their finely honed tactical expertise to work in the name of liberating some loot. You want detailed preparation scenes? Tense sequences in which Swiss-watch timing will determine fates? A bank robbery set piece that involves guys in gas masks? It’s all here, done in such a beautifully professional way that put this underrated gem in a league of its own.
Men in War (1957)
September 6, 1950. The Korean War has kicked into gear, and a U.S. platoon is pinned down by a sniper. The only way these soldiers can make it out alive is to march over a ragged hill. Dogface dramas were a dime a dozen in the 1950s, but Anthony Mann’s war-is-hell flick may be the beefiest of the bunch. From its testosterone-posterboy cast (Robert Ryan looks like he actually chews nails, and you could sand a table with Aldo Ray’s sixty-grit stubble) to its sweaty sense of existential dread, this is you father’s combat movie: rugged, unforgiving, manly as all get out.
Raging Bull (1980)
Most men wrestle with what Nick Lowe dubbed “the best within”—that animalistic creature inside you that lashes out at everything and everyone in its path. And no film has looked more unflinchingly at that struggle than Martin Scorsese’s biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, a heavyweight champ who could knock down opponents in the ring but kept getting KO-ed by his own self-loathing. You can thrill to Robert De Niro’s madness-to-his-Method acting, the whipcrack editing of the fight scenes and the poetically profane dialogue. But it’s a must-see because of the moment of grace LaMotta finally achieves at the end. He looks at himself at the mirror and doesn’t want to punch his own reflection. He’s finally put the bull back in its pen.
Rio Bravo (1959)
“That’s all you’ve got?” asks a character, eyeballing the ragtag group of hired guns that John Wayne’s sheriff has assembled. “That’s what I’ve got!” the Duke replies, proudly asserting his faith in the men he’s got watching his back. Made as a response to High Noon’s go-it-alone ideology, Howard Hawks’ Western is, like most of the director’s movies, a story about taking pride in one’s professionalism. But it’s also an incredible ode to the power of male camaraderie and how real men don’t let their friends down. Just watch the wordless five-minute sequence involving Dean Martin’s down-on-his-luck drunk, a spittoon and a bar fight. It’s not about being a tough guy; it’s about picking your buddy off the ground when he can’t be tough.
Le Samourai (1967)
Every film that revolves around a stonefaced hit man who approaches his job like a monk owes Jean-Pierre Melville’s thriller a monumental debt; you do not get Chow-Yun Fat’s gun-for-hire in The Killer or Javier Bardem’s bad-hair-eternity deathdealer in No Country for Old Men without it. Clad in the world’s coolest trenchcoat and fedora, international superstar Alain Delon goes about his business as if he had ice in his veins, taking out his targets and always looking like a million francs. A sense of ennui will eventually haunt him, as it must for all French antiheroes, but nobody has made being a stoic assassin seem so damned stylish.
Most of us will never know what it’s like to round a corner at 200mph in Formula One racecar, or what it’s like to be a three-time-champion like Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna. But Asif Kapadia’s documentary offers a closest-you’ll-get experience, telling the racing legend’s story solely through press-conference films, newsreels and actual behind-the-wheel footage from the races themselves. You literally feel like you’re in the driver’s seat as Senna competes against his rival Alain Post for the top spot in the speed demon world, as well as getting a 360-degree look at genuine sports hero with a steady hand and nerves of steel.
The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven (1954/1960)
Akira Kurosawa got there first, crafting as perfect a tale of sword-wielding warriors standing together in the name of honor and duty as the movies have ever produced. (Some experts credit this breakthrough Japanese movie for creating the men-on-a-mission film template.) John Sturges’ version of the same story retold as a Western is arguably just as great. But the idea that we have to pick samurai over gunfighters? Steve McQueen over Toshiro Mifune? We’re not going to do it. You can’t make us. They’re both required viewing for dudes, and if you’re truly hardcore, you’ll watch both of these masterpieces back to back with seven of your best friends.
Gladiator films are a staple of every man’s cinematic diet (just ask that pilot from Airplane) and Stanley Kubrick’s epic about the dimple-chinned slave who took on the Roman Empire is arguably the single best sword-and-sandal movie ever. Kirk Douglas fighting Woody Strode in a pit! Centurions battling rebels by the hundreds! Laurence Olivier hitting on Tony Curtis in an ancient hot tub! It may be Kubrick’s most straightforward, no-frills entry in his filmography (he was hired on as a replacement), but he still lends a sense of grandeur and guts to this tale of a man sacrificing himself to the greater good. Say it with us: I am Spartacus!
The Wages of Fear (1953)
A group of European laborers are hired to drive two trucks across rocky terrain in South America. Did we mention that their cargo is several gallons of nitroglycerin? French director Henri-Georges Clouzot wanted to use his thriller to comment on the exploitation of the working class, but the message plays second fiddle to nerve-shattering scenes of grimy, grim-faced men inching across a landscape in which every bump equals a potential boom. Desperation has forced these guys to engage in a staring contest with death, yet they also have the courage (except for one) to push themselves to the limit—even if such mettle-testing literally and figuratively drives them crazy.
When We Were Kings (1996)
“I wrassled an alligator, done tussled with a whale, I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail,” said Muhammad Ali, describing his training to fight George Foreman for a legendary bout that would become known as “the Rumble in the Jungle.” Everyone knew that the former Cassius Clay was the most poetic trash-talker the sweet science had ever seen. But Leon Gast’s extraordinary anatomy-of-a-fight doc on this fight lets you see exactly how much the former heavyweight champ had on the line, how hard he trained and how his eventual win would change both participants’ lives. Watching the footage of this incredible display of skill and will, it’s clear to see that here was an athlete who was, in fact, the greatest. Ali, bomaye!