Top 10 John Carpenter Films

Written by Niki Neptune He’s got a gifted eye for the dark and the twisted. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 John Carpenter movies. For this list, we’re looking at those films made by this prolific director that left an indelible mark on our young, impressionable minds. While Carpenter has been in the movie-making business longer than most of us have been alive, his cult classics can stand up to some of the most CGI-laden flicks that grace the big screens today. His filmography has given us some of the best chills and campiest fun film moments. Special thanks to our users jwiking62, JakeMaringoni, Jordan Albers, Walter Johnson, PhilBale, JedI.Knight64:), tom dray and Louie M Solivan Jr for submitting the idea through our Suggest Tool at WatchMojo.com
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Written by Niki Neptune

Top 10 John Carpenter Films


He’s got a gifted eye for the dark and the twisted. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 John Carpenter movies.

For this list, we’re looking at those films made by this prolific director that left an indelible mark on our young, impressionable minds. While Carpenter has been in the movie-making business longer than most of us have been alive, his cult classics can stand up to some of the most CGI-laden flicks that grace the big screens today. His filmography has given us some of the best chills and campiest fun film moments.

#10: “Vampires” (1998)

Sure, there have been a ton of vampire movies throughout the years, including vampires of the sparkly, lovelorn variety. But our favorites have always been the bloodthirsty, ruthless breed. In this film, Carpenter gives us James Woods as an anti-hero vampire hunter who must stop a centuries-old master vampire before he can get his hands on an ancient cross. There’s lots of blood and bites and even a Baldwin, and all the signature gore and nasty humor you’d expect from a John Carpenter joint.

#9: “Dark Star” (1974)

As Carpenter’s earliest major directorial effort, this film wasn’t a smash success, but it did put him on the map in the industry. The film centers on a skeleton crew of planet destroyers who’ve been in space for longer than they’d like. Along with that story come elements of dark comedy as well as science fiction, but what was probably most impressive was its quality in spite of its shoestring budget – which is another of Carpenter’s trademark skills.

#8: “The Fog” (1980)

While fog may usually only be a major concern for motorists and sailors; Carpenter threw some murderous ghosts into the mist to up the ante. Set in a fishing town on the coast of California, this movie deals with a menacing, glowing fog packed to the gills with the ghosts of vengeful sailors looking to kill anyone caught in the haze. With scream queens Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh acting in the film, “The Fog” became a minor horror classic.

#7: “Assault of Precinct 13” (1976)

Carpenter’s second major film was a deviation from the science-fiction and fantasy classics we associate him with. “Assault on Precinct 13” follows a police lieutenant, a convicted felon and a small group as they struggle to stay alive in a police precinct undergoing a full-on gang attack. While the film wasn’t initially a success in the United States, it blew up overseas, prompting a critical reassessment in later years. Today, it’s seen as one of the finest action flicks of its time, and one of Carpenter’s best.

#6: “Starman” (1984)

This film is a softer take on the sci-fi genre, starring Jeff Bridges as an alien who falls in love with a human woman as tries to make it home. After the alien’s spacecraft is shot out of the air, he takes on the appearance of a widow’s deceased husband and the two journey to reconnect him with this alien recon crew. It’s like “E.T.,” but with grownups and baby making, and it’s the only John Carpenter film to ever receive an Oscar nomination, thanks to Bridges’ unique performance.

#5: “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986)

The film may not have been a great commercial success, and may’ve been the flick that turned Carpenter back towards indie fare but it’s one of the filmmaker’s most celebrated cult classics. The film follows Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, and his friend Wang Chi, as they set out to rescue Chi’s girlfriend from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. As an action adventure film, it’s like Mortal Kombat meets Indiana Jones, but with a needlessly self-assured hero.

#4: “They Live” (1988)

It’s a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy, complete with the alien overlords. The film stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as a construction worker who uncovers an alien scheme to keep humans in a perpetual state of obedience and conformity using mass media. Which, you know, probably isn’t that farfetched. After getting into an unnecessarily long fight with Keith David’s character, the two head out to unravel the scheme and reveal the truth to the masses. And the result is another Carpenter cult classic that meshes politics and horror with sci-fi and comedy.


#3: “Escape from New York” (1981)

In a not-so-distant future, or past really, Manhattan has transformed into a maximum-security prison for life-long prisoners. When the President’s plane crash-lands smack dab in the middle of the island, renegade inmate Snake Plissken is commissioned to save the President’s life before a lawless gang leader can execute him. Not only was the film a critical and commercial success, it also established Kurt Russell as a Carpenter favorite, as he would go on to star in several of Carpenter’s features, including a return for this film’s sequel, “Escape from L.A.”

#2: “Halloween” (1978)

While “Dark Star” may have put Carpenter on the map, this film launched him into the stratosphere – although film critics were still slow to get on board. The film follows the story of a babysitter, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s stalked by the murderous masked madman Michael Myers on Halloween night. Not only did the film go on to become incredibly successfully commercially , it also set the standard for future slasher films that followed with its uses of unique camera angles, minimal gore and its primitive thrills.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “In the Mouth of Madness” (1995)
- “Prince of Darkness” (1987)
- “Christine” (1983)
- “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” (1992)

#1: “The Thing” (1982)

Kurt Russell takes the lead again, this time playing MacReady, a helicopter pilot stuck on a remote Antarctic outpost with a shape-shifting alien and a crew that’s trying to stay alive.
The film was released to moderate financial success but was overshadowed by another alien-themed movie released a few weeks prior that had a much more positive outlook on extra-terrestrials. Decidedly dark and wonderfully creepy, “The Thing” is nevertheless now considered one of the best of its genre thanks to its groundbreaking special effects and makeup and Carpenter’s characteristic creepiness.

Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite John Carpenter films? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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