10. Iron Man (2008)
The film: Here’s how a cocky billionaire became a planet-saving superhero. Let’s roll the years back to 2008 and the debut film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which sees Tony Stark build his first mechanised suit of armour and take down his first bad guy. In this case, it’s his second-in-command Obadiah Stane, who builds his own exoskeleton suit in an attempt to destroy Stark and take over the company.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s crazy to think how far the franchise has come since Iron Man, taking in intergalactic comedies like Guardians of the Galaxy and psychedelic flights of fancy like Doctor Strange. It’s only reached some kind of definitive conclusion with the box office-destroying Avengers: Endgame. But, even though Iron Man may now seem humble in comparison, you can still see the ingredients that made the MCU the unstoppable force it is today. It never lets its CGI blowouts drown out its characters, who are all perfectly cast – Robert Downey Jr. truly is Iron Man. And he’ll always be Iron Man.
Also of note, Thor: Ragnarok has joined the streaming service, and the other MCU movies are also coming in due time. They're all worth a watch, but Iron Man's where it all started, and *spoilers* lower down is where it all ends...
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
The story: The Force Awakens had a lot riding on it. It needed to kick off the revived franchise and soothe everyone’s memories of the prequels. It introduced us to a new trio of heroes: Rey, a scavenger whose mysterious origins are still hotly debated today, Finn, the stormtrooper-turned-rebel hero, and Poe, the hotshot pilot. Their journeys all intersect as the Resistance stands firm against the rising threat of the First Order. The Last Jedi, though divisive, built upon this, offering an exciting new story set in that galaxy far, far away.
Why it's worth a watch: As much as director J.J. Abrams may have played it safe by replicating the familiar beats of the original trilogy (yes, there’s another Death Star) with The Force Awakens, he also revived many of the elements that were crucial to those movies attaining their classic status. Episode 7 has that same childish sense of excitement that sweeps you up and takes you on a journey across the stars, meeting all kinds of fascinating and bizarre individuals, revisiting old friends, and settling back into the eternal fight of good vs evil. Then, The Last Jedi took the series in a brand new direction, featuring unfamiliar story beats and a new look at our beloved hero, Luke Skywalker.
8. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The film: As expected, all the highlights of Disney's Renaissance period will be available to stream on Disney Plus from day one, since the studio knows there might otherwise be riots. Based on an old French fairytale, the “beauty” of the film’s title refers to Belle, whose love of reading has made her an outsider in her own village - probably because they think a vain, arrogant slab of meat like Gaston is the best there is. But when she becomes the prisoner of a monstrous lion/buffalo hybrid who lives all alone in a decaying castle, she discovers that she’s developed a very unusual case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Why it’s worth a watch: Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful example of what Disney does best: it uses modern technology (including computer animation, which was still in its relative infancy) and modern thinking (Belle is a smart, independent princess), but the result is still as sweepingly romantic as the oldest of folktales. That’s thanks partially to the songs, created by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
7. Mary Poppins (1964)
The film: Although this adaptation of the P.L. Travers book series had its troubles (see Saving Mr. Banks), the film was still much more warmly regarded than its source material. The Mary Poppins in question is a magical nanny who flies in to help troubled families, including the Bankses, who live on Cherry Tree Lane. The patriarch of the clan, you see, has become far too obsessed with his job at the bank and has lost sight of how much his children need him.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s a fairly simple celebration of the joys of imagination and playtime, but the whole affair is wrapped up in an irresistible, whimsical bow. We get to jump into chalk paintings, float up to the ceiling, or tidy rooms with a single snap of a finger. Mary Poppins captured how limitless and full of potential the world felt as a child – which makes it as soothing for adults as it is for the little ones. And what a practically perfect presence Julie Andrews is, making Mary as stern and correct as she is secretly mischievous. Everyone needs a Mary Poppins in their life.
6. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The film: Hans Christian Andersen’s original version of this story was a little more upsetting than what we’re used to. Instead of Ariel getting both her man and her voice back after defeating the evil sea witch Ursula, she (a) has to deal with her new human feet bleeding constantly and being agony to walk on and (b) ends up sacrificing herself to save the prince and dissolves into a pile foam. It’s hard to imagine Disney trying to market “Ariel as foam” or “Ariel with realistic bleeding feet” dolls to the general public.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s the film that kicked off the Disney Renaissance and arguably still boasts the studio’s best princess. Unlike pretty much all of her predecessors, Ariel isn’t some genteel, perfect doll waiting to be rescued. She drives the film’s plot, and most important of all, she’s deeply (but relatably) flawed. Rebellious and excitable, her story is defined by her curiosity and her committed belief to the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side – or, in this case, that the grass exists in the first place.
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The film: While it’s going to hard to pack the entire decade-long history of the MCU into one paragraph, safe to say this film was a long time coming. Weaving together characters and plotlines from every single entry so far, Endgame served as an epic and conclusive follow-up to Infinity War. After the warmongering Thanos collects all the Infinity Stones and causes the Snap, instantly wiping out half of all living things, the surviving heroes are left to pull up their bootstraps and try to get everyone home safe and sound.
Why it’s worth a watch: Love it or hate it, but you’ve got to admit that Endgame is unlike any other film that’s existed before it. It’s the final chapter of a story that’s been gradually told over 22 different films (it’s an interesting mark of how the boundaries between cinema and TV are starting to dissolve). But that’s the kind of ambition that would be doomed to fail if Marvel didn’t get the balance right: it needed to be epic on an unimaginable scale, while still servicing the characters that fans had grown so attached to over the years. And it worked, as long as we ignore the controversy over Black Widow’s fate.
4. Toy Story trilogy (1995-2010)
The film: Pixar immediately branded itself as the studio obsessed with ambitious concepts, positing the idea back in 1995 that all your toys are alive and run around your room when you’re not looking. Instead of giving kids nightmares, it was somehow endearing. So the studio kept pushing and pushing until we got to Toy Story 3, which had Woody and Buzz Lightyear coming to terms with their own mortality after they were thrown into a garbage incinerator. There are some twisted geniuses at work here.
Why it’s worth a watch: Toy Story really did, right out of the gate, establish the trademarks that have made Pixar a powerhouse animation studio. Its unusual premise has philosophical and moral underpinnings that adults can pore over and analyse to death. Meanwhile, the kids in the audience are kept entertained by the bright colours, lively characters, and funny jokes. Toy Story 4, if you’re wondering, will arrive on Disney Plus at a later date, probably next year.
3. The Lion King (1994)
The film: Who knew lions could get so Shakespearean? Young Simba’s life is changed forever after his villainous uncle Scar hatches a plan to get his brother Mufasa, the King of the Pride Lands, killed. And it’s Simba who gets the blame. After the cub flees into the jungle and carves out a new Hakuna Matata lifestyle for himself, it’s the call of duty that inevitably brings him back to Pride Rock so that he can take his rightful place as king.
Why it’s worth a watch: The Lion King is often heralded as the jewel in Disney’s crown and it’s easy to see why. Everything about it just feels so big: the scale of the stampede sequence, the sombre tone of James Earl Jones’ voice, the “Circle of Life”, and the grand themes of legacy and sacrifice. Thank god for Timon and Pumbaa, who step in right at the moment things start to get unbearably depressing. It’s an epic story painted on such an exquisite canvas, from the vast plains to the bubbling green lava of Scar’s lair. It also spawned an entire generation of people who like to lift up their pets into the sky like they’re Rafiki showing off baby Simba.
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
The film: This classic musical is actually based (although it’s no winner when it comes to historically accuracy) on the real-life Maria Von Trapp. She was a nun who married the Austrian naval commander Georg von Trapp and became the stepmother to his seven children. They performed concerts together under the growing shadow of Nazi rule, before packing their bags and moving to the United States. In reality they just took a train to Italy, although the film creates a much more dramatic escape.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s the unwavering sense of optimism that makes this musical sing, as best exemplified by “My Favourite Things”. When dog bites, when the bee stings, or when evil is encroaching from all sides, sometimes it’s the smallest and most fragile of joys - like music or the sound of a child’s laughter – that can get us through the darkest of times.
1. Star Wars Episode IV - VI (1977-1983)
The film: A princess, a scoundrel, and a farm boy: it’s this simple trio of characters that sparked one of the biggest cultural phenomena of all time. Each of them found their own way to save the day. Sometimes that involves taking up Jedi training and discovering your dad is the last person you’d want them to be, at other times it means choking a giant slug kingpin with your bare hands. Occasionally it means getting frozen into a man-sized ice cube so you can finally pay your debts.
Why it’s worth a watch: These movies have crafted a fictional universe so rich and deep, there’s the constant threat that once you fall in you might never come out. Next thing you know, you’re three hours deep into researching the true origins of chindinkalu flute player Droopy McCool. Star Wars is the kind of world you yearn to live in, because it’s a place where the most insignificant person can become the greatest hero and where there’s always hope that good can triumph over evil, no matter how bleak it might seem.