20 Best Movies That Are Pure Entertainment, Ranked

There’s a class of film that we all can agree on in calling “classics”: a bout of unflappable, stone-cold crowd pleasers that even the most erudite of film snobs can appreciate. These undisputed classics have it all, but offer something beyond just a simple distraction. While their intentions may be as simple as hitting all four quadrants and making a boat-load at the box office, there lies something sublime in their construction that elevates these films past just mere objects of fascination. We study these films just as we would an offering from Bergman or Ozu, but can also talk to any random person in a grocery store about them with the same voracity.

The idea of “pure entertainment” gets thrown around a lot. Should a film meant to sell in every market be non-confrontational and devoid of meaning? In order to appeal to everyone, does a film have to be made (in a roundabout way) for no one at all? These 20 films prove those ideas to be false, as they accomplish the unthinkable: approaching the denomination of “pure entertainment.” These are the movies that everyone you know loves whether they took a film class in college or couldn’t tell you the difference between Paramount+ and Peacock. This is the list of 20 movies that are pure entertainment, ranked.



20 Avatar: The Way of Water

A flying Na'vi in Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
20th Century Studios

It’s hard to overstate how influential James Cameron has been on the modern sensibilities of blockbusters, especially considering the guy now has three films in the top five highest-grossing films of all time. Avatar: The Way of Water is just the latest in a long string of unfathomable and irreproachable success that Cameron has been riding since The Terminator.

The Way of Water continued the story of the first Avatar film, while opening up the scope of the world and story so that an entire new generation of filmgoers were able to jump into the world of Pandora without much table-setting. The most complicated aspect of this film is the technical prowess and level of visual effects on display, which means that very little is standing in the way of each and every person in the audience from clamoring to this film. Let’s see if Cameron can do it again with Avatar 3.

Related: 20 Movies That Pushed the Boundaries of Censorship

19 Limitless

A scene from Limitless
Virgin Produced

One part of the trifecta of films that cemented Bradley Cooper as one of the greatest living movie stars (in cooperation with The Hangover and Silver Linings Playbook), Limitless is just one of those movies that you’ve seen 10 times and enjoy a little more each time. A staple of mid-2010s cable movie presentations, Limitless offers audiences a movie with Cooper at the peak of his scummy but affable character streak with quite a simple premise: what if there was a pill that gave you everything you ever wanted in life?

What ensues is a lavishly depicted and simply constructed drama that sees Cooper get to play both high and low status to great effect. Throw in a bit part from Robert De Niro that results in the two going toe-to-toe years before they would reunite in Silver Linings Playbook, and you have a recipe for a great midday watch.

18 Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick Cast
Paramount Pictures

The movie that everyone and their mother saw in the summer of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick is the sort of earth-shatteringly massive blockbuster that audiences had been deprived of for years. Among the glut of overstuffed comic-book movies and non-starter franchise fare, Maverick felt like a return to the golden age of popcorn cinema: to the days of Jerry Bruckheimer productions and Tony Scott-driven bombast. It certainly helps that the film had Tom Cruise to anchor down what could have easily turned into yet another legacy sequel.

Cruise lends his otherworldly charisma and death-defying dedication to the film in a manner that renders each and every scene — no matter how cliché some are in construction — a certain level of power and gravitas. Top Gun: Maverick is just the pinnacle of modern blockbuster entertainment, fusing together everything that worked about the blockbusters of yesteryear and what we’ve learned in the time in between.

17 The Dark Knight

Ledger as The Joker
Warner Bros. Pictures

One might say that Inception was the peak of Christopher Nolan’s power as a blockbuster machine. Sitcoms, daytime talk shows, and everything thing in between dedicated entire episodes and extended bits to joke and jeer about “not understanding Inception.” But, at the end of the day, there is one film that every third or fourth person you meet will regard as one of the greatest films of all time — and it isn’t Inception.

The Dark Knight just felt like a lightning bolt moment in popular film culture, shifting the focus of studios and how they made comic book films for years after its release. Heath Ledger’s instantly iconic performance as The Joker is, of course, the big thing that everyone remembers from the film, but for good reason. Without Ledger, the film doesn’t have as much tension in all of its immaculately constructed set pieces. It’s a testament to not only Ledger as an actor, but Nolan as a filmmaker that he fundamentally understood what each scene needed to pump them up to tip-top shape. For a film that we haven’t stopped talking about since it came out, the conversation doesn’t seem like it’ll ever end.

16 The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Instantly iconic due to the twist ending to end all twist endings, M. Night Shayamalan announced himself as a talent to be reckoned with after making The Sixth Sense. We’ve all seen the various parody versions of some of the most iconic scenes from this one, but it gets a little bit lost on people how genuinely fantastic this film is even outside the obvious bits.

Bruce Willis is incredibly tapped into the haunting uncertainty of his character, while Haley Joel Osment gave the child screen performance to end them all. Toni Collette also deserves the same recognition for being astoundingly brilliant as Osment’s mother, but rarely gets uttered in the same breath as the other actors in the film. Really, The Sixth Sense is a broadly appealing, but still genuinely unnerving thriller that approached the sublime with gusto.

15 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim.
Universal Pictures

While maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World may as well be the best video game movie ever made — even though it isn’t based on a video game. Borrowing the aesthetics of both the original series of graphic novels and classic arcade games, Edgar Wright’s fourth feature failed to impress at the box office on release, yet found a cult audience soon after.

Now, its one of the most celebrated films of the 2010s, and for good reason. Scott Pilgrim is bombastic and irreverent like all of Wright’s films, but managed to toe the line between kitschy and referential perfectly. The whole extended cast — from Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead to Kieran Culkin and Brie Larson — is pitched to the absolute breaking point of believability, but it ultimately works in the films favor. Like the best, most effective video game, Scott Pilgrim is exhilarating and emotionally resonant all at the same time.

14 Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

ghostprotocol (1)
Paramount Pictures

For the second time on this list, we must speak on the influence and importance of one Tom Cruise. His contributions to cinema have been plentiful, but none more influential or entertaining as the Mission Impossible series. Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry, was where the franchise reached a precipice: where the films ceased to be about espionage and gadgets and more about the insanity of the stunts that Cruise was willing to put his body through.

The sequence wherein Ethan Hunt (Cruise) scales up the side of the Burj Khalifa with nothing more than some futuristic suction cups at his disposal was where audiences all got clued in that Cruise was willing to die for their entertainment. We’ve never looked back, as the M:I movies get crazier and crazier, and we continue to be entertained. Ghost Protocol was the beginning of all of that.

13 Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can
DreamWorks Pictures

While still rooted in the same solemn sentimentality that Steven Spielberg is known for, Catch Me If You Can might be the most out-and-out comedic film he ever made (barring his misguided WWII comedy 1941). Pitting young Leonardo DiCaprio against Tom Hanks is bound to result in some truly fun setpieces, but Catch Me If You Can goes full force into cat and mouse antics.

The ebbs and flows of their predator-prey relationship results in Catch Me If You Can feeling like this globe-trotting, mile-a-minute romp, while the down tempo moments ground it with the kind of genuine humanity that only Spielberg can mine out of a screenplay. DiCaprio is charming and wry as lead con man Frank Abagnale Jr., while Hanks’ G-man character Carl Hanratty provides the perfect foil to Abagnale’s antics. This is far from the only time Spielberg will appear on this list, but it feels appropriate to give this particular film a shout-out.

12 Bad Boys

Will Bad Boys 3 Really Begin Shooting in Early 2019?

It wouldn’t be a list about entertaining movies if Michael Bay didn’t make an appearance. Bay’s first feature Bad Boys was not only the launch pad for his long and storied career, but also catapulted Martin Lawrence and Will Smith from just television actors to full-on movie stars. The film’s crass but off-the-cuff dialogue was often improvised, leading to extended sequences of Smith and Lawrence just mining the scene for all the comedic gold at its core.

Bay’s instincts when it comes to directing action were obvious from the jump, as his slate of tools and shot choices make for a dynamic and breathlessly exhilarating action film. At the end of the day, however, the greatest strength of Bad Boys is the chemistry between the two leads. If it weren’t for how genuinely charismatic and funny both Lawrence and Smith are, the film just wouldn’t come together quite as well.

11 The Incredibles

The Parr family in The Incredibles
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Pixar has made a whole host of films that are endlessly entertaining, but people of a certain age will remember The Incredibles as being the one that really got to them. The ragtag family of superheros that must defeat a misguided product of their own hubris is as strong a premise as they come, and Pixar and director Brad Bird really were able to make this whole affair as perfect as it could be.

Incredibly strong voice performances from the entire cast fused with the bombastic and eccentric direction pair to create something that is almost as good as animation can get. While it might not be everyone’s favorite Pixar film (which we will get to eventually), but it is undoubtedly up there with the best of the best.

10 Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Paramount Pictures.

And, once again, we must sing the praises of Steven Spielberg. It’s hard to really definitively say which film of Spielberg’s is his absolute best, but there is an argument to be made for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Launching the Indiana Jones franchise, of which would end up turning into five films and a couple TV shows, and giving Harrison Ford yet another iconic leading role, Raiders is about as perfect an adventure film as you could ever hope to get.

Its set pieces are simply constructed, but endlessly entertaining. Each and every moment of intrigue and unbelievable stakes is topped by the next, keeping you continually guessing how Spielberg and Co. are going to be able to maintain this level of hype the whole time. As we all know, Raiders accomplishes that perfect blend of humor, terror, and magnificent stunts to result in an undeniable and timeless film.

9 The Matrix

Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves in The Matrix
Warner Bros.

Continuing on with the theme of perfect films that approach the sublime, The Wachowski Sisters really struck gold when they ventured to make their follow-up to 1996’s erotic thriller Bound. The Matrix transformed the action genre for the better almost overnight, changing the landscape of a continually over-wrought and tired genre for the better.

Every decade or so, action films need a template to follow, or they’ll fall prey to the worst impulses. The Matrix provided a new aesthetic and a new shape of action filmmaking — heavily inspired by rave culture, queer culture, and Hong Kong action films. For everything that might feel passé or oldhat about the film now, it was positively groundbreaking upon release. There simply is no modern action filmmaking without The Wachowskis or The Matrix. Point-blank period.

Related: 11 Overused Tropes in Action Movies That Make us Roll Our Eyes

8 Heat

Neil McCauley - Heat (1995)
Warner Bros.

Michael Mann’s epic, three-hour heist film, Heat, is a totemic film for a lot of reasons. It was the long-awaited on-screen reunion of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Mann was finally able to fully realize his earlier-produced screenplay The Jericho Mile with a bigger budget and movie stars. And, as we know now, Heat would end up influencing an entire generation of filmmakers and screenwriters who grew up watching it on repeat on cable.

From the night vision scene to the two-hander diner sequence, there is no shortage of iconic images contained within the confines of Mann’s opus. This isn’t even mentioning how absolutely astounding each and every performance is in the film, from Kilmer to Ironside and way beyond. It’s a magnificent confluence of things that all manage to work together and create something relentlessly entertaining.

7 Apollo 13

A scene from Apollo 13 (1995)
Universal Pictures

Another staple of the midday cable circuit, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is potentially the best film about American exceptionalism in the face of impending danger. While it definitely deals in extremely tense moments of potential destruction, it never allows all hope to be drained from the film. Howard and his unbelievably stacked cast of the best and brightest of the 90s — Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, etc. — manage to make every moment of this film feel like the most substantial thing you’ve ever seen put to screen.

The workman-like facade of the direction paired with the to-this-day astounding technical achievements pair to make Apollo 13 feel more life-like than almost any space film before or since. Maybe only Kubrick or Ridley Scott have approached the level of space perfection that Howard did with Apollo 13. Whether you’ve seen it 10 times or for the first time, it pays out in spades each watch.

6 Ratatouille

Pixar Animation Studios

The other Pixar film that we are going to highlight here (and yet another Brad Bird vehicle), Ratatouille is justifiably considered by many to be the best Pixar film of them all. Many can relate to the plight of young Remy — a rat who, at the end of the day, just wants to be a chef — who is scorned and secluded from his family of garbage eating miscreants. While his intentions are true, the world is just too cruel at the outset to allow Remy to be who he wants to be.

Ultimately, the film and its antagonists are proven wrong, and Remy is vindicated: amidst a bout of delectable looking food and some truly heartwarming moments between Remy and his compatriot Linguini. Ratatouille is not only one of the best animated films ever made, but it could genuinely be considered one of the best ever put on the silver screen.

5 Jurassic Park

Jurassic park
Universal Pictures

The last appearance of Spielberg on this list, but potentially the most important, Jurassic Park is another film that you might argue deserves the title of Spielberg’s greatest. While the arguments are plenty for others in his filmography, it is sort of undeniable that Jurassic Park is just one of the most impressive things ever put to film.

Even beyond its technical achievements, Spielberg and his team of absolute master craftsperson were able to create a film that is as exciting and breathlessly exhilarating the 15th time as the first time. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum deliver three of the most iconic performances in any film of the 20th Century, period.

The set pieces are brilliantly timed and perfectly executed, while all of the character beats are pitched to perfection as well. There really isn’t a more entertaining film in the entirety of Spielberg’s filmography, but it isn’t quite enough to break into the top spot.

4 The Fugitive

Ford in The Fugitive
Warner Bros.

Yet another staple of the television syndication run, The Fugitive is pitch-perfect thriller cinema. The finest blend of Harrison Ford’s gravitas-laden performances, a stoic Tommy Lee Jones, and a breakneck pace that promises to never let up so long as you keep your eyes glued to the screen — all of these elements and more combine to create one of the most easy-to-watch films of any era.

There is so little to bump off of while watching that you may as well be watching a movie with the bumpers on. The truly fascinating thing about The Fugitive, however, is that nothing about the film feels cheaply constructed or short-changed. It’s brilliant on all fronts while still being perfectly tuned to hit all four quadrants with ease. They truly don’t make them like this anymore.

3 Ocean’s Eleven

Warner Bros.

Steven Soderbergh always delivers, but he really managed to hit a sweet spot with his 2001 reimagining of the Rat Pack star vehicle, Ocean’s Eleven. More than just empty popcorn movies, the entirety of the Ocean’s franchise fused together magnetic star power with workman-like heist set pieces of relentless tension. You get to see some of the most charming actors ever to grace the silver screen deliver positively neck-breaking lines while scouring around the most extravagant locales. What more could you really want?

At the end of the day, Ocean’s Eleven earns its number three placement on this list because there is nary a movie more fun, more eccentric, nor more breezy than Soderbergh’s masterpiece right here. It’s a feat of modern filmmaking in every respect and, quite simply, earned its placement here by being as perfect a film as both of the other top three entries on this list.

2 Back to the Future

back to the future
Universal Pictures

The most perfect high-concept comedy that has ever been made, or will ever be made, Back to the Future is just endlessly entertaining in all respects. Michael J. Fox gives one of the most unendingly enrapturing performances from any lead performer ever, while his scene partners in Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson provide the best foils for his yuppie intensity.

Is the overall concept of the film — the premise of which may be the best bit John Mulaney ever did — sort of ludicrous to take seriously? Sure, but who the heck cares? Watching Back to the Future is like riding a bike: each and every time you hop on, it feels like the first time you experienced that level of exhilarating freedom. It’s pitched perfectly in every single regard and is, in a lot of ways, beyond reproach.

1 Titanic


Let’s be real: it had to be Cameron. There isn’t a single filmmaker who has made as many out-and-out, earth-shattteringly huge hits as James Cameron. Spielberg may have more films, but the simple virtue of Cameron having three of the five highest-grossing films of all time puts him into a sphere all of his own. The fact that Titanic — a monster-length melodrama wherein we all know the ending before even seeing the opening credits roll — became the most substantial, highest-grossing film ever is a feat all of its own.

The fact that the film is also astoundingly brilliant and endlessly re-watchable is another feat entirely. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are the most alluring on-screen pair that has ever and will ever be put to film, while the third act turn into disaster film is a fever-pitched detour that will never ever be replicated to the same of efficacy again. It’s a monumental film in all respects and thus deserves to be sat atop the list of the films that are just pure entertainment.