The Top 5 Most Entertaining-Yet-Meaningless Movies of All Time

Some movies are a whole lot of fun, in spite of the fact that they do not particularly inspire me towards better behavior or a closer walk with God.  I think there is value in a good story, as a story; and as long as the movie isn’t morally bankrupt, I can enjoy a fun movie just like I enjoy a football game.  

With that thought in mind, I present to you my list of movies that I love, in spite of the fact that they do not inspire me in any meaningful way.  Don’t misunderstand: There might be plenty of movies that I think are entertaining, but which I believe are directly morally harmful.  None of those movies make this list.  (And no, I’m not going to put out a list of movies that I think are super harmful – that feels a little like publishing a blueprint for making a nuclear bomb). 

All the movies on this list, then, I am comfortable recommending – I don’t think they are likely to damage your soul, but I don’t think they are likely to make you a better person, either. 

Now, this is a funny list in the following way.  Most movies have at least some moral content and thus many of these movies contain moral themes that might be viewed as useful.  But on this list, containing clearly positive moral themes really hurts you.  The highest-rated movies on this list contain no moral themes at all and yet are highly entertaining.  So, for example, two of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride and A Few Good Men, didn’t make the top 5 primarily because I think they do mean something to me personally – in small ways, they have helped inspire me to better behavior, though perhaps not overwhelmingly so.

I also want to emphasize that I don’t mean these movies are meaningless in some broader sense.  Many of them – such as A Few Good Men and The Truman Show – are quite usefully thought-provoking, even if they aren’t overwhelmingly inspiring.  A Few Good Men, for example, started a long chain of thinking that made me change my view about Just War.  So please don’t be insulted if a movie that meant a lot to you is on this list!  Meaningless here means “not super inspiring to me” – and nothing more.

Enough, already!  Let’s get to the movies.

1. The Hunt for Red October

Why it’s entertaining: One of the greatest plots ever.  A rogue Russian submarine captain wants to defect and turn over the most powerful submarine ever to the U.S; but the U.S. doesn’t know that – and Russia convinces America to try and shoot the sub down.  Throw in great acting and music, and you have one of the most entertaining movies ever.  Not to mention the fact that the whole world almost gets destroyed – one of the things making this list has taught me about myself is that I obviously enjoy movies where the earth almost gets completely wiped out.  (And the more things that get blown up on screen, the better – as long as the things aren’t people or animals.)  Now my moment of self-reflection is over, and so I’m not going to spend any more time evaluating what this fact might mean for the larger psychology of Luke Conway.

Why it’s meaningless: It’s a harmless movie, but there isn’t anything inspiring in it.  I mean, it’s a feel-good thing where it seems like the good guys win, but there isn’t a clear picture of good and evil coming across – only a picture of America versus Russia. I’m more patriotic than most people I know, but my patriotism isn’t blind; it is rather based in values that don’t really come across clearly in this film.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Why it’s entertaining: Best…movie…ever.  A crazy genetic mutant quoting Shakespeare and trying to kill Captain Kirk.  The classic scene with Spock in the nuclear chamber.  Ricardo Montalbán’s fake muscles.  Bones and Kirk over-acting. This movie has everything!

Why it’s meaningless: Really, although you don’t want Khan to win (I mean the guy clearly is coo-coo for cocoa puffs), it isn’t like the other side is really all that great or inspiring.  It’s just a fun, harmless, entertaining space movie.

3. Crimson Tide

Why it’s entertaining: Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman yelling at each other about the possible end of the world.  Come on, are you serious?  Do I need to say more?

Well, ok, I should note that I seem to have a thing for submarine movies.  Just sayin’.

Why it’s meaningless: See: The Hunt for Red October.

4. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Why it’s entertaining: This movie is so cool that it cannot even be ruined by occasional bad acting and a somewhat muddled plot.

Why it’s meaningless: My dear friend Peter (a huge Star Wars fan) is going to pitch a fit about me including this movie in the meaningless section (hi, Peter!).  The reason it is here: I could write a long time about the hopelessly confused and consistently contradictory moral landscapes in the Star Wars sagas.  But while I find them harmless for the most part, I certainly do not find a clear picture of good and evil that I can get my head around.  I’ll take just one example:  Is anger good?  The whole premise of all the movies is that anger is bad.  Yet most of the good things that happen involve aggressive fighting, and the main “good” characters are constantly urging the dual message of aggression and non-aggression, without explaining how everything fits together.  And all of this because they don’t acknowledge the obvious truth that anger is not always bad – it’s good to be angry at injustice, for example.  It’s good to hate evil – just not to hate evil persons.  But even that fairly low level of cognitive complexity seems beyond the Star Wars universe.

In the end, the movie we’re evaluating here (Episode IV) is morally about in the same category as The Wrath of Khan – a feel-good story about an obviously-wacky bad guy who wants to rule everything, being defeated by less-bad folk who stop him.  Nothing wrong with that, but, other than the fact that no one wants an evil maniac running the universe (fair enough), the moral message really has little to inspire.

5. The Man From Snowy River

Why it’s entertaining: Entertaining isn’t quite the right word for it.  It’s a slow, plodding movie that I actually didn’t like much the first time I saw it.  So why is it on this list?  Because it’s one of the movies I’m most likely to pull off my shelf to re-watch.  It’s got a little bit of Western chutzpah, a little bit of romance, a lot of cool horses, and maybe the best music soundtrack ever.

Why it’s meaningless: It’s a nice romance, but it isn’t really placed in a moral context that inspires me.  The main themes of the movie seem to be that mountains are good and that men should earn their title as “men.”  I’m sympathetic with the first theme, but the second bit of machismo is hardly morally inspiring.  For inspiring romance, see The Sound of Music.

This last slot almost went to The Princess Bride, which is more entertaining by far…but The Princess Bride was hurt by the fact that it actually has some meaningful Christian themes in it.  It’s kinda caught in between two categories: Not inspiring enough to make the first list, and a little too inspiring to make the top 5 here. Remember that in this list, meaningful is bad!

The Best of the Rest (In Order of Preference):  6. The Princess Bride. 7. A Few Good Men. 8. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. 8. Air Force One. 9. Monsters versus Aliens. 10. The Day the Earth Stood Still. 11. The Core.  12. Deep Impact. 13. Tron: Legacy. 14. Star Trek IV. 15. Star Trek: Generations. 16. The Fugitive. 17. The Pelican Brief. 18. Monty Python’s Holy Grail (minus the scene with the nuns, which I find deeply offensive). 19. The Client. 20. I, Robot. 21. The Day After Tomorrow. 22. Apollo 13.  23. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. 24. Godzilla 2000 (or almost any other movie with giant rubbery monsters destroying large cities) 25. Independence Day.  26. National Treasure. 27. The Queen. 28. Captain America: The First Avenger. 29. Thor. 30. The Truman Show. 31. Mission Impossible (only the first one). 32. Jurassic Park (again, only the first one).

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One Response to The Top 5 Most Entertaining-Yet-Meaningless Movies of All Time

  1. Just a few brief and random remarks: first, my own favorites for “meaningless entertainment” (though I’m not convinced there really is such a thing) are “Back to the Future” (the original), “Last of the Mohicans” (the Michael Mann version), and “Beetlejuice”–just for a start. Second, thank you for reminding me of “The Princess Bride”–I love that movie, and should have included it on my list of non-Christian but inspirational films. Third: I grew up Catholic in the days when there was still a “Legion of Decency,” which published a regular list of movies that were either approved, discouraged, or officially condemned by the Church. Naturally, as teenagers my friends and I carefully scrutinized the list of “condemned” films and made a note to try to see them as soon as possible. So you’re probably wise not to publish a list of films that you think are “super harmful”…though I for one would be interested in it. Finally: how about a category of “thought provoking” (morally, theologically, or philosophically) films? I nominate “Dogville,” “Judgment at Nuremburg,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and “Blade Runner”–just to get things started.