Ready for some serious movie watching?
Perhaps at the outset of this year, you’re feeling frosty enough to curl up and commit to a Movie Marathon. With the recent completion of the eight-part Harry Potter film franchise fresh in everyone’s minds—at least for fans, it ought to be, as Warner Bros. saw fit to announce the imminent pull of the entire series off the shelves, to be discontinued Disney-style for a time—it’s easy to picture the fun of sitting down for the entire run of a popular movie franchise and follow a great character or story through a long and entertaining arc of action.
For the sake of this discussion, the term “Movie Marathon” will refer to the viewing of any film series consisting of four or more installments. Why set the bar at four, when the greatest trilogies can be so darned fun to watch back-to-back? I say we leave trilogies aside in this discussion of movie marathons since the commitment to three films feels not so much like a marathon than, say, a sprint.
So: no explorations here of whether or not we will be gearing up to watch the three Smokey and the Bandits or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. This restriction likewise eliminates your Beverly Hills Cops, your Godfathers, your Conans, your Matrix (Matrices?), Jurassic Parks, Back to the Futures, and Man With No Name films.
Yes, definitely. Trilogies excluded: they’re just too easy. Unless, of course, we’re talking about wall-to-wall viewings of The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions, which would require, what?—about a month to view? I will also unilaterally (if reluctantly) exclude the George A. Romero zombie films, as there is not much in the way of any continuity of time, place, cast, nor story from film to film. But, since we’re on the subject of horror, let’s quickly indulge the common jones for a monster movie marathon right up front with our first Movie Marathon Showdown:
The Universal Monsters
Frankenstein vs. The Mummy
Very little in the way of a contest here. The discerning viewer will get the most out of their movie marathon if they strap themselves to a steel table and hook up their electrodes to receive jolts aplenty from the classic Universal Studios series showcasing the misadventures of the Frankenstein Monster and his various creator(s). Beginning with the first two bona-fide classics from 1931 and 1935, this series delivers many delightful moments and variations on the story, from the monster learning to speak (in Bride) to his special relationship with Bela Lugosi‘s Ygor (in Son and Ghost), to the variety of dramatic interpretations delivered by the stars who played the Monster (Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Lugosi). As for the exploits of everyone’s favorite slumbering Egyptian, there is exactly and only one truly classic film in that series—the 1932 Karloff. How many of you out there can honestly recall the differences between The Mummy’s Hand, Tomb, Curse, and Ghost? We can at least distinguish Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy by the comedy team that officially ground the franchise into dust.
Dracula and Creature from the Black Lagoon managed only two sequels in this era; it’s tough to classify The Invisible Man Returns, despite the promising title, as any sort of genuine continuation of the magnificent James Whale original; more accurate to have called it The Invisible Man’s Serum Returns. The “House of…” monster mashes are sort of their own thing, but you could easily add them to any marathon involving your favorite classic monster.
So, for the perfect Universal Monster Movie Marathon, go with: Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (which I will conveniently label here as a Frankenstein, rather than a Wolf Man, film, though you could successfully argue me out of that).
On Safari with (Which?) Tarzan
I am already on record as favoring Gordon Scott ‘s distinguished run as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ apeman, choosing the top-drawer jungle action epic Tarzan the Magnificent as one of my Desert Island Movies. I wouldn’t say, however, that Scott has the highest number of quality films in the series. Tarzan fans have many choices when it comes to picking a vine-swinging movie marathon, since the logical way to break down the series is to enjoy the run of a single actor in the role. Lincoln? Barker? Henry?
Sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid the necessary choice, no matter how dully traditional: I’m going to have to go with the Johnny Weissmuller films. Not only do we see the relationship between Weissmuller’s Tarzan and Maureen O’Sullivan‘s (very best) Jane flower and mature over the course of six films, but we can enjoy watching adopted son Boy literally grow up (long before Harry Potter did) onscreen. While Johnny’s monosyllabic performances were the absolute antithesis of the literary Tarzan, the spirit of the Weissmuller pictures probably comes closest to capturing the rough-edged blend of romance and action favored by the novels.
You may split this into O’Sullivan and post-O’Sullivan films should you like, but the movies in this Tarzan Movie Marathon include: Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and His Mate, Tarzan Escapes, Tarzan Finds a Son!, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure, Tarzan’s New York Adventure, Tarzan Triumphs, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, Tarzan and the Amazons, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Tarzan and the Huntress, Tarzan and the Mermaids.
No Mystery Here: Mr. Wong vs. The Thin Man
I get the strangest feeling we may have mentioned the Thin Man series of films on this blog more than any other set of movies, excepting perhaps a certain British secret agent we’ll get to momentarily. My evidence? Well, there’s this. And this. And this. But, what other choice do we really have if we’ve got a mystery itch we want to scratch by way of a franchise movie marathon? There’s always the B-grade fun of watching Karloff the Uncanny work his way through the Mr. Wong series (which I absolutely have enjoyed in the past), but those films, on the whole, are a little too slapped together to come out on top.
Many might prefer the cycle of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone, but I frankly lose a lot of interest once he starts fighting the Nazis. Charlie Chan is fun, but I’m sticking with Powell and Loy for this marathon. The case has been made for this series by others extensively elsewhere (so follow those links up there), so let’s just give the six-film series its well-deserved nod once more and move on.
Family Affairs: Blondie Films vs. Ma and Pa Kettle
This past Christmas, I put together an Ozarks-themed set of presents for a friend of mine that included not only the Ma and Pa Kettle films, but a book about the Bald Knobbers, a CD of authentic Ozarks music, and the recent thriller Winter’s Bone. So, by virtue of that and that alone, I say: head to the Ozarks!
And hurry up, ‘cause you’ve got 10 pictures to watch in this Movie Marathon: The Egg and I, Ma and Pa Kettle, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm, Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair, Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation, Ma and Pa Kettle at Home, Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki, The Kettles in the Ozarks, and The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm.
Hammer’s House of Horrors: Dracula vs. Frankenstein
I tend to favor Dracula films over Frankenstein pictures (who knows why, I suppose there’s a worthy psychoanalysis to be done on that sort of preference), so while I didn’t hesitate to recommend the Frankenstein Monster sagas of the Universal era, I’m doubly pleased now to say that, when it comes to the gory glories of the Hammer Films era, it’s the Count who emerges as the better candidate for a movie marathon in my eyes. Yes, Curse of Frankenstein has few equals, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula…well, sucks. Even as I write these words, I’m second-guessing myself and thinking well, but the Frankenstein pictures are more throught-provoking and interesting script-wise, aren’t they…? The hell with it. Go with the Christopher Lee Dracula films and soak up their bloody good thrills.
Your Dracula Movie Marathon includes: Horror of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.
Here’s where I would normally insert much yatta-yatta of a James Bondian nature, but I’ve ”had my six” about 007 from my long-range project awarding superlatives to the Connery films, the Lazenby picture, the Moore era, the Dalton flicks, the Brosnan movies, and the Daniel Craig reboot.
Like the Tarzan series, it’s really a matter of choosing which actor’s run you wish to celebrate with your marathon. If you pressed me to make this Movie Marathon choice (in spite of my conclusion that “Nobody Does Bond Better”), I’d have to go with Moore.
Because he made…well, more.
It’s very tempting for me to talk up the virtues of the sleazy and violent Charles Bronson series, but that’s only because I haven’t enjoyed a good run of Bronson pictures for quite some time.
That will be rectified soon, but no one with good conscience can place the Death Wish movies at the top of a marathon list; they are simply too repetitive, with the exception of the startlingly odd and unintentionally hilarious Death Wish 3.
The Gibson-Glover franchise is a fun mix of explosive mayhem and goofy humor, but when it comes to shoot-‘em-ups, I’m just wild about Dirty Harry. The Eastwood series has the best in bad guys (or girls, as the case may be), unforgettable one-liners in every installment (“Do you feel lucky?,” “A man’s got to know his limitations,” “Marvelous,” “Go ahead, make my day,” and…well, ok, “That’s not gonna happen” is not quite so unforgettable) and while The Dead Pool was a little too limp to close out the franchise, each of the films has its own unique identity.
Wars vs. Trek
Now we’re really going to get into sensitive territory, but the truth—to paraphrase what they say in The X-Files—is just simply out there: There are exactly two great movies out of six in the Star Wars franchise, so if you want to host a more successful movie marathon, you’re going to choose to beam down the six “Original Cast” films of the Star Trek series. No doubt the whole Star Wars-versus-Trek is a topic that could be (and has been) the source of all sorts of clamorous (and, let’s be candid, now somewhat tedious) debates. Once exposed to all of these films, people do tend to fall on one side or the other even when liking both. For the purposes of our prospective Movie Marathon, I’m casting my lot with the Trekkers.
Blast off with: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Indiana Jones or Rambo?
Admittedly, it’s an odd pairing. Who in their right mind would set these franchises against each other? It’s not quite as crazy as you might initially think. Both series originated in the early 1980s (Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, followed closely by First Blood in 1982) and first “ended” as trilogies, only to be revived with fourth chapters many argued had arrived far past their sell-by date. This one is tougher for me to call than I guess it would be for most of you. I never got around to seeing Rambo III, but I love the hell out of the über-violent Rambo. Like every other person with a heartbeat on Earth, I left the theater feeling cruelly deflated after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Both series persist in threatening (and yes, that is now the right word for it) to return with fifth installments.
What to do? Do you go with the devil you know or the devil you don’t? Which is more grievous—the risk of a disappointment from Stallone (if that third one isn’t as enjoyably ass-kicking as the second), or reviving the experience of feeling let down by Steven Spielberg? Oh, who are we kidding here?
It’s Indy, by a nose. For this Manly Movie Marathon, cue up: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and yes, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Superhero Sagas: Superman I-IV vs. the Burton-to-Schumacher Batmen
Both the Superman and Batman franchises of the ‘70s-‘90s feature middling third chapters and both end in maddening (or heartbreaking) train wrecks, but if we’re sticking to the gotta-go-with-four-or-more rule, these are the only two series that make our cut. I discount that whole Marvel Universe-to-The Avengers setup, as fun as it will eventually be to have that as its own marathon, mainly because each of those movies has already (or will) spawn its own set of sequels.
Oh, this is a tough one. Superman made my Desert Island list. But, ouch, there’s Richard Pryor truly out of place in the third film…and then, there’s the sad spectacle of the Cannon Films budget that made the fourth a low-rent closer. Yes, I am no fan of nipples on the Batsuit, and Batman & Robin is a painful movie experience by almost any measure. But wait: Joel Schumacher did actually apologize for it, which is more than we ever got from Sidney J. Furie, right? And George Clooney has demonstrated such a good sense of humor about his trip to the Batcave that this choice now seems a little easier to make. The Batman Movie Marathon comes out on top because it takes you on a most unusual journey of style, from the hipster Goth of Tim Burton to the fluorescent camp of Schumacher and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Modern Horrors: Planet of the Apes or Alien?
What, you say? A heading of “modern horrors” without setting up a potential marathon of either the “original” eight Halloween or Friday the 13th films? I see, Saw fans; we may be due for yet another Jigsaw-related opus even after the seventh (3D) outing. If I’d just waited a little longer, we could be talking about four Paranormal Activity films instead of three.
And, I can hear kaiju junkies shrieking already: What about Godzilla, for cryin’ out loud? Now there’s a horror Movie Marathon. Well, sure. I know at least one person who would be ready for that festival right now: bow to his great love of Godzilla right here.
I close out with this category and these particular choices because both of these series are recently relevant again. The Apes franchise has now twice been rebooted. The second time was the charm, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes paying just the right amount of tribute to the old Apes classics while successfully looking forward to its own series potential.
But now, there’s Ridley Scott‘s upcoming film Prometheus. It’s been a hot topic of conversation just how much this film does or does not relate to Alien, with Scott being quite cagey about it. I’m not sure there’s so much mystery about that anymore. Watch:
Hm. Looks like Alien to me. A lot. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. So this choice is easy. It’s time to do your homework and revisit the Alien quadrilogy in preparation for this very exciting-looking space opera, which appears to be expanding upon matters just hinted at by Scott’s 1979 shocker.
I know, I know. I write this from Philadelphia, and there has been no mention of the Rocky franchise as a worthy Movie Marathon candidate. All I can say in my defense is that the continued existence of Rocky IV makes the act of viewing this otherwise entertaining series in its entirety impossible. So the Rockython will have to wait for an appropriate mention until the completion of the article Movie Marathons Where You Not Only May, But MUST Exclude One Movie In Order To Survive.