20 Movies Like Do the Right Thing (1989)

Staff & contributors

Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, but also rejoice at the powerful love that exists in our world. We will not spoiler the premise of this documentary and urge you not to do so yourself. Instead, we recommend watching it and prepare to be changed forever. Call it true crime if you will, but this documentary is much more. Hailed as one of the most important documentaries of the 2000s, it is a testament to friendship and love, a real-life thriller, and a political denouncement all in one.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Andrew Bagby, Bob Bagby, David Bagby, Dr. Andrew Bagby, Dr. Shirley Turner, Heather Arnold, John Barnard, Jon Atkinson, Kathleen Bagby, Kurt Kuenne, Pat Bagby, Paul Barnard, Zachary Andrew Turner

Director: Kurt Kuenne

Rating: Not Rated

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

Mary and Max is the tale of an overlooked 8-year-old girl from Australia starting an unlikely friendship via mail with a middle-aged Jewish man from New York. Shot completely in monocromatic claymotion, it is the first feature film by Australian stop-motion animation writer, Adam Elliot, and the first ever animated film to score the opening slot at Sundance Festival. In all its playful absurdity, Mary and Max is an emotional and wise gem of a film that examines the human condition through the eyes of a troubled child and an autistic American. In contrast to its clay-based animation, it deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, but succeeds in balancing those with happiness and absurd humor. Moreover, Elliott gathered an ensemble cast to do the voice-overs, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana. We recommend it 8 condensed milks out of 10.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Elliot, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Christopher Massey, Eric Bana, Henry Karjalainen, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Ian Meldrum, John Flaus, Julie Forsyth, Michael Ienna, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renée Geyer, Renée Geyer, Toni Collette

Director: Adam Elliot

Rating: Not Rated

A period comedy set in New York in the summer of 1994, the Wackness is a coming of age story about Luke Shapiro (Joshua Peck), as he deals with family trauma, love, and economic hardship while selling pot to his strange psychologist. Rescued from a somewhat typical bildungsroman plot by sharp character acting, a firm directorial hand and an absolutely fitting soundtrack that evokes the golden age of rap music.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Yoo, Alexander Flores, Ben Kingsley, Bob Dishy, David Wohl, Famke Janssen, Jane Adams, Joanna Merlin, Josh Peck, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man, Olivia Thirlby, Roy Milton Davis, Shannon Briggs, Talia Balsam

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rating: R

Fear of abandonment is at the heart of The Vanishing. Lovers Rex and Saskia are separated on their way to France after the latter vanishes without a trace. For the next three years, Rex dedicates his life to finding out what happened to Saskia in whatever way possible, endangering his own safety in the process. George Sluizer’s chilling psychological thriller shows the evils that curiosity and obsession can bring, and is a uniquely perverse look at the ugly side of truth-seeking.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bernadette Le Saché, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Caroline Appéré, Gene Bervoets, Gwen Eckhaus, Johanna ter Steege, Pierre Forget, Roger Souza

Director: George Sluizer

Named for all the connections that form a functioning society, Threads is a harrowing look at what might happen when those ties are rent apart by nuclear war. This British TV movie — released during the Cold War — so violently seized on the nuclear anxieties of the time that its premiere was dubbed “the night the country didn’t sleep.” Depressingly, it hasn’t lost that initial resonance, and so it remains a panic attack-inducing watch.

Threads begins in the kitchen-sink vein of a Ken Loach movie. In the northern industrial town of Sheffield, a young couple from different social classes (Reece Dinsdale and Karen Meagher) discover they’re about to be parents — but looming above their small-scale drama are the clouds of war, as televisions and radios blare out the details of escalating tensions between the US and the USSR. And then, it happens: the town is strategically bombed, and Threads unfurls into an unrelenting nightmare. In the documentary-like approach that follows, it spares no graphic or emotional detail, charting both the personal devastation caused by the bomb and the annihilating impact of the nuclear holocaust on all the vital infrastructure we take for granted. In short, one of the bleakest, most terrifying movies ever made.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, War

Actor: Ashley Barker, Brian Grellis, David Brierly, Dean Williamson, Ed Bishop, Harry Beety, Henry Moxon, Jane Hazlegrove, Joe Belcher, Karen Meagher, Lesley Judd, Maggie Ford, Michael O'Hagan, Nat Jackley, Patrick Allen, Peter Faulkner, Phil Rose, Reece Dinsdale, Richard Albrecht, Rita May, Ruth Holden, Steve Halliwell, Ted Beyer

Director: Mick Jackson

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

Martin Scorsese had just spent a year prepping for The Last Temptation of Christ when Paramount Pictures unceremoniously pulled the plug on the movie just one month before production was due to start. After Hours was Scorsese’s way of exorcising all that disappointment and frustration, and you can feel it: this black comedy vibrates with manic intensity as it charts a night from hell in the life of Paul (Griffin Dunne), a somewhat scuzzy yuppie living in ‘80s New York City.

In keeping with its title — which suggests the movie is suspended in temporal limbo — After Hours feels like it takes place in some mythological hellscape, a demonic underworld in which everyone Paul meets has been sent forth with the express mission to make his life more miserable. Surreal coincidences pile up, deepening his paranoia and turning his simple goal of returning home into a labyrinthine quest for survival on the deserted, rain-soaked streets of SoHo. It’s the kind of celluloid nightmare that terrorizes and thrills you at the same time (a la the Safdie brothers’ best works, which draw inspiration from After Hours). Only a director of Scorsese’s caliber could turn profound professional disappointment into such a win as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bronson Pinchot, Catherine O'Hara, Charles Scorsese, Cheech Marin, Clarence Felder, Dick Miller, Frank Aquilino, Griffin Dunne, Henry Judd Baker, John Heard, Larry Block, Linda Fiorentino, Margo Winkler, Martin Scorsese, Murray Moston, Paula Raflo, Robin Johnson, Rocco Sisto, Rockets Redglare, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Tommy Chong, Verna Bloom, Victor Argo, Victor Magnotta, Will Patton

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that's actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing - these moments are true cinematic magic. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian Thornton, Bryant Tardy, Chloe Sevigny, Colby Boothman-Shepard, Daniel Kaluuya, Dickson Obahor, Flea, Gayle King, Gralen Bryant Banks, Indya Moore, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jodie Turner-Smith, Joseph Poliquin, Karen Kaia Livers, Lucky Johnson, Melanie Halfkenny, Robert Walker Branchaud, Soledad O'Brien, Sturgill Simpson, Thom Gossom Jr.

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Rating: R

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Spike Lee burst onto the filmmaking scene with this, his groundbreaking debut feature. Low in budget but high in confidence, She’s Gotta Have It fizzes with unadulterated energy and style, from its kaleidoscopic opening montage of stills depicting life in Brooklyn (where the film is set) to the joyous direct addresses of its credits sequence.

The film helped to kick off the independent movie movement in the US, and it’s not hard to see why: Lee and his collaborators (including members of his own family) do so much with so little here. Along with its visual and formal inventiveness — including ample fourth wall breaks and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s momentary, audacious switch from black-and-white to vibrant color — She’s Gotta Have It also broke new ground with Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns), the young, Black, unapologetically polyamorous artist whom the film’s forthright exploration of sexuality and feminism is centered on. Lee has since expressed regret about one scene in the film — an ill-judged moment that unavoidably dilutes some of its brilliance — but this aside, She’s Gotta Have It stands overall as a radical, exuberant, and impressively assertive lightning bolt of an entry into the medium that Lee changed forever.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Bill Lee, Cheryl Burr, Eric Payne, Erik Dellums, Ernest R. Dickerson, Fab 5 Freddy, John Canada Terrell, Joie Lee, Monty Ross, Raye Dowell, Reginald Hudlin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Spike Lee, Tiziano Cortini, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Tracy Camilla Johns

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

The '80s saw an influx of coming-of-age dramas, with John Hughes’ “Brat Pack” films reigning supreme. For better or worse, their most iconic scenes are embedded in pop culture, like students dancing in detention in The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles’ belated birthday cake. Perhaps the most iconic '80s movie moment comes not from Hughes, but from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…: Lloyd Dobler (John Cusak) in a trenchcoat, blue Malibu parked behind him, boombox raised over his head in defiant loyalty.

On their last day of high school, Lloyd Dobler resolves to ask out the class valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye). Their summer-long relationship is awkward, intense, tender—and familiar to anyone who has ever opened themselves up to falling in love. Say Anything… emotionally outclasses its contemporaries, as Crowe’s writing lends itself to two authentic characters fleshed out beyond caricatures. And as Lloyd crushes hard on Diane, it’s hard not to feel like you’re falling in love with each of them, too.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Brooks, Bebe Neuwirth, Bill Stevenson, Chynna Phillips, Dan Castellaneta, Don Wilson, Eric Stoltz, Glenn Walker Harris Jr., Gloria Cromwell, Gregory Sporleder, Ione Skye, Jason Gould, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ziesmer, Jim Ladd, Joan Cusack, Joanna Frank, John Cusack, John Hillner, John Mahoney, Johnny Green, Jonathan Chapin, Judy Prescott, Kim Walker, Lili Taylor, Lisanne Falk, Lois Chiles, Loren Dean, Montrose Hagins, Pamela Adlon, Philip Baker Hall, Polly Platt, Richard Portnow, Stephen Shortridge, Stone Gossard

Director: Cameron Crowe

You can tell Drugstore Cowboy was written by someone who has been through drug abuse and incarceration himself. This is the kind of film that has to be lived, not researched. It’s realistic, sure, and it gets at the interiority of a drug user with ease. But there is no judgment to be found here, no preachy criticism or misguided glorification of a hardened lifestyle. Bob (Matt Dillon) and his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) have created a nomadic, transient life that allows them to live on drugstore lootings one district at a time, while looking out for each other and the other couple they live with, Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (Heather Graham). They chose this outlaw life, and because of the agency the film affords them, there is joy to be found despite their difficulties. It’s an authentic story, elevated by imaginative editing, a jazzy, heart-thumping score, and believable performances by a quartet of capable actors.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Beah Richards, Grace Zabriskie, Gus Van Sant, Heather Graham, James Le Gros, James Remar, Kelly Lynch, Matt Dillon, Max Perlich, Michael Parker, Ted D'Arms, William S. Burroughs

Director: Gus Van Sant

Rating: R

A young Steve Buscemi leads this wry farce about a calamitous film set where nothing goes right. The sardonic script skewers the ins and outs of low budget film production and the various personalities on set from belligerent directors, pretentious cinematographers, and egotistic actors. 

A playful three-act structure and trips into dream sequences keep things light, while a strong supporting cast, including a cheeky appearance by Peter Dinklage and the fantastic Catherine Keener, gives the film the backbone it needs. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Catherine Keener, Danielle von Zerneck, Dermot Mulroney, Hilary Gilford, James Le Gros, Kevin Corrigan, Lori Tan Chinn, Norman Fields, Peter Dinklage, Rica Martens, Robert Wightman, Steve Buscemi

Director: Tom DiCillo

Rating: R

Spike Lee’s adaptation of Richard Price’s novel might appear lesser next to his best work, but it still a gorgeous showcase for all of his talents as a director. Its case is further bolstered by a stacked cast including Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Pfifer, Isaiah Washington, and John Turturro. 

Clockers is set in the world of small-time drug-dealers during the crack epidemic, and much like The Wire (which Price would go on to write for) applies a multifaceted lens to the material. Lee’s uncompromising and emphatic direction lends a gorgeous gravity to the taut drama while top-notch performances fuel the emotional furnace at its core.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Arthur J. Nascarella, Bray Poor, Brendan Kelly, Brian Konowal, Christopher Wynkoop, David Batiste, Delroy Lindo, Elvis Nolasco, Frances Foster, Fredro Starr, Ginny Yang, Harry Lennix, Harvey Keitel, Hassan Johnson, Isaiah Washington, J. C. MacKenzie, James Saxenmeyer, Jeff Ward, John Turturro, Keith David, Ken Garito, Lawrence B. Adisa, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Arrindell, Marc Webster, Maurice Sneed, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Badalucco, Michael Cullen, Michael Imperioli, Michael McGruther, Mike Starr, Norman Matlock, Orran Farmer, Paul Calderon, Paul Schulze, Peewee Love, Regina Taylor, Rick Aiello, Ron Brice, Scot Anthony Robinson, Skipp Sudduth, Spike Lee, Steve White, Sticky Fingaz, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Tim Kelleher

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R